West Coast Tour 2016 – Badlands – Part Two
Timeline: August 27-29
Our plan for our last day in the Badlands would be to hit the Fossil Talk at 10:30am and then head down to Saddle Pass to do a four-mile hike on the loop trail from there. It gave us some time to relax in the morning, always a pleasure in camp when the weather is nice and you can lounge about reading or writing.
At the appointed time we drove back out on the road we came in on the day before to the Fossil Exhibit Trail. Soon after we arrived the female ranger appeared and provided us with an informative lesson on what fossils can tell us about the story of ancient life in the Badlands and why they should be protected. Present in our group were a number of children, most under ten and we were delighted to witness just how knowledgeable they were on about the fossils and the beings that produced them.
Finished with the talk, we walked the short loop trail with more displays about the geology and its role in creating the fossils found in the area. Back in the car we drove back towards the Visitor’s Center to the Saddle Pass trailhead to start our hike. We crossed a dry creek bed by bridge to get to the start of a steep climb of a quarter mile, as described in the park brochure:
Strenuous. This short trail climbs up the Badlands Wall to a view over the White River Valley. The trail ends where it connects with the Castle and Medicine Root Loop Trails.
No part of this accurately portrays the steepness of this section, how we had to scramble, how loose and slippery the surface was. Once we reached the top and the connector with the other trails, we concluded that nothing short of an impending natural or manmade disaster would lead us to descend the same trail.
This altered our thinking about the rest of the hike as one or more of the options would require hitchhiking back to the car or putting in more miles than we cared to walk that day.
So we opted to hike out to the Fossil Trail parking lot, then walk the approximately two miles back to Saddle Pass Trailhead.
The road is not heavily trafficked making for simple hiking, a flat surface with minor ups and downs. We arrived back at the car with a total of about six miles for the day, not bad for amateurs.
Back at camp, not sure about what to do for dinner, we jumped in the car and drove out of the park a couple of miles to the closest town, Interior. A small windblown sparsely populated locale (less than 100 at the latest census), it’s the kind of place one often finds in desert climates, one that makes you wonder why folks would want to live there. Our first stop was the Horseshoe Bar, a long rambling building close to the two lane highway.
We walked in, the only customers in the place, and roused the barkeep from his nap, he sitting in front of a big screen TV in a big comfortable looking lounge chair. We ordered a couple of Coors and conversed with our host, about the bar, what it was that brought him there (a motorcyclist passing through, probably for the Sturgis Rally, he landed here for some part time work), and the general range of things one talks about in a bar. We finished and settled our tab of $5 and drove a long block to the other watering hole in town, the Wagon Wheel Bar.
Crowded in comparison to the Horseshoe, there was a family of four (Mom, Dad and two youngsters) at eating at the bar and a few others sitting at tables. We ordered two more beers, Coors Light’s this time around and contemplated ordering something from the bar menu, but decided we’d just stop at the small market a couple of storefronts down the block and cook dinner in camp. We again settled up, $6 this time around and stopping at the market, picked up a small jar of pasta sauce, a bag of frozen vegetables and box of spaghetti.
Another camp food dinner, not as good as some given that the bag of veggies were past their prime (if they’d ever had a prime) but filling none the less and marginally healthy. We decided to forgo the ranger program as it would likely be about geology again (the one downside of this park is the limited range of attraction, unlike a Yosemite) and just sat in our camp chairs, sipping a beverage, reading our books and glancing up every now and then to admire the starry sky.
Camping in a tent like we do can be inconvenient at times, downright uncomfortable as well, but often there are these transcendent moments, when you are outside in the chair, glancing around at the other sites, mostly folks locked up tight in their trailers or motorhomes, and the beauty of the moment takes your breath away. How often do we spend time outdoors when the option most often taken is to be indoors?
Tent camping forces the issue, usually bringing a positive benefit, getting us one step closer to the nature we’ve abandoned as modern homo sapiens. I’m going to keep tent camping as long as I can so I can continue to enjoy these random moments, as the day will come soon enough when I too will seek the shelter of my rolling mobile home. Until then, bring on the cold, the bugs, the uneven ground to sleep on, and all of the other annoyances that come with this lifestyle. It’s a small price to pay for being in the moment.
Horseshoe Bar: https://www.yelp.com/biz/horseshoe-bar-interior-interior
Wagon Wheel Bar: https://www.yelp.com/biz/wagon-wheel-bar-and-grill-interior-2