“If mommy falls, don’t move. Stay where you are and make sure you are safe and wait for help.” Once this phrase has passed your lips there’s a good chance it’s too late.
Backing up for a minute. We finished a nice visit at Mount Rushmore which I was pleasantly surprised to have exceeded my expectations. From there we headed to Badlands National Park. We arrived around 5 in the evening and easily found our campsite and then proceeded to put our tent up in the rain; for the second time in a week- because apparently that’s how we roll. The 85 degree rain under a blue sky was lovely compared to the 60 degree rain under a black sky at Yellowstone though, so I was actually pretty relaxed. After rapidly getting the tent up and dropping my dry 4 year old directly from the car to the tent to close up the windows I was pretty calm. I worked on the outside and she “worked” on getting the inside ready. By the time we were done the rain was letting up and the sun was starting to set and we were surrounded by beauty. It was then that the quiet, calm, and serenity of the area hit me. I loved Yellowstone and could happily keep busy there for weeks but I was instantly relaxed in the complete calm of Badlands. Open planes, not dense woods (already more relaxing with a small one running about), a fraction of the people, and instead of driving to the sites we were surrounded by them on all sides just taking it in.
After getting everything set up we headed to the visitors center to ask about the Junior Ranger Program and a hike for the following day. We found useful information for both and were off and running. We then headed to the small camping “store” and by store I mean aisle in the massive souvenir store. I had hoped to find a can of … really anything for dinner, no luck. So off to the restaurant we headed for dinner. After dinner we headed to bed, very ready and with a plan for the morning.
All was well until 5:30 when I and everyone else (except my Sidekick) awoke to massive wind gusts. I laid in bed for a while wondering if I should be concerned and then the corner furthest from me and closest to my Sidekick nearly caved in. At which point I thought this was something I needed to address. Once exiting the tent I rolled up our shade section as much as possible, trying to limit our profile from the wind. I then staked in everything and anything that could be staked in and stood back and watched briefly as the side of the tent right up against my still sleeping Sidekick kept caving in. I then removed the shade structure all together and instead of adding stakes to help it stand I added stacks to keep it flat against the ground, just trying to not have it fly off. – Back to the tent … only slightly better. I inspected everything for about a minute before coming to the decision there was nothing else I could do except take the tent down all together … and at 5:50 am in the morning with a sleeping child inside I was prepared to have it break before doing that. So I did the only thing left and went back to bed. On the way in I opened both the windows in the tent, which are located across from each other. And while that did turn the tent into a wind tunnel it did take a lot of the pressure off the outside of the tent and since it was in the high 60’s or low 70’s it wasn’t too bad.
At 6:30, while I lay in a wind tunnel in the middle of a wind storm my Sidekick slowly woke up, pushed the side of the tent which was nearly hitting her out of the way and wandered over to me and asked if she could come in [my sleeping bag]. Apparently completely unaware of both the wind storm outside and the fact that her sleeping quarters had been turned into a wind tunnel. I side “yes” and made room for her while still completely puzzled as to how she could have no idea what the heck was going on!
Anyhow, after a very early start to our day we were up and ready for the day in plenty of time for our day’s plan. – Which was to hike up Saddle Pass a ¼ mile hike straight up to the sky to Castle Trail, which we would be intersecting with at the halfway point. Our plan was to go up Saddle Pass and take Castle Trail for 2 miles to a Park Ranger Fossil Talk at 10:00 (a Park Ranger Talk was a Junior Ranger Requirement) and then back track the same way. We could actually just have driven to the Fossil Talk (which I kept to myself), as my Sidekick didn’t want to go on a hike; but if that was how to get to a Ranger Talk (which she is fully aware is a Junior Ranger requirement), then off she went as happy as could be. It went great! I couldn’t be happier with anything; the hike was amazing, the timing even worked, we arrived at the talk at 9:30. It was all great!
That being said – Saddle Pass was a bit of an adventure. When you have to review with your 4 year old not to follow you [over a cliff] if you were to fall, but to make sure she was standing safely and and to wait for help things have probably taken a turn you didn’t expect. I knew the severity of the hike going in, but at ¼ mile, my thought was I could do anything for ¼ mile. I still think this, and would do it again. It wasn’t the hardest hike I’ve ever done (by far), but it was without a doubt the steepest piece of climbing I’ve even done and was trying to do it backwards to keep an eye and hand on someone else.
After going up I knew we would not fit through the tight squeezes between rocks and that my balance would not be stable enough to carry her on my back on the way down; so I carried her for about 3 out of the 4 miles of easy prairie walk on the top of the plato because I knew she had to walk down on her own and I couldn’t have her worn out. So after the first half of our walk, and ranger talk, and break, and walk back I took her down from the carrier and we had all the talks about safety and being a good listener, etc. and we set out; for better or worse. She once again did great! She amazed me both up and down, but I knew I wasn’t alone in my concern over the hike when she told me on the way down; “Mommy you were right, down is a lot harder, and not fun”. It was at that point that I had to pick up the pep talk so that she didn’t get scared; (she’s fearless, but was on the edge of scared for the second half of the walk down).
After we made it to the bottom – still in one piece, or two with only one small scratch between us we had a little party. We then headed out to find a good or at least shaded location for a picnic lunch; which was then followed by a drive of the park. The drive was beautiful but the highlight was Prairie Dog Town. Prairie Dogs are awesome! I could watch them for hours and there are fields full of their little homes with a prairie dog standing look out of top – you wouldn’t believe it’s real.
From Prairie Dog town we headed back to camp and had a well-earned hot shower and dinner before some wine and ice cream for dessert at the restaurant. An amazing day! I never would have guessed how much I fell in love the largely overlooked Badlands National Park, but I have!