Tag Archives: south dakota

Badlands Are Bittersweet Companions

After leaving Glacier, I spent a night in Kalispell, then began the trek toward home, driving through smoke-strangled¬†Lolo¬†forest. I stopped for gas in Lodge Grass on Crow land. The large sign on the building read only “Gas Diesel Snacks.” A rez dog trotted onto the lot, lifted his head and howled.

After a night in Sheridan, Wyoming, I slogged through dense, early morning fog to Wall, South Dakota–tourist trap and relic tucked into a tiny country town, bookended by grain silos on one side and Badlands National Park on the other. Signs for Wall Drug had begun more than a hundred miles away, dotting the parched roadsides of I-90.

Free ice water!

Western wear!

Coffee 5 cents!

Experience Wall Drug!

Though camping and hiking are available at Badlands, the main event of the park is the 39-mile scenic drive. Upon entry, signs warned of plague-carrying prairie dogs. I decided to take my chances.

To step foot in the Badlands is to cross into an alien planet. Juxtaposed by prairie, layers of rock jut toward the sky like elaborate castle battlements. In places, the earth seems to have undergone one great squeeze, corrugating ground like cardboard. Temperatures soared into the 90’s and wind tore over the tree-less ground. I think, if one stayed too long, she too would become just a speck of dust.

All of us earthling tourists, in our brightly colored clothes, stopped again and again taking pictures then, gladly, crawling back into air conditioned cars. Strangely enough, having not showered for five full days, I had reached a curious new level of confidence (or at least lack of concern) regarding anyone’s opinion of me. Over one thousand miles from home, enveloped in strange, untamed land, whether or not my legs were shaved was of little concern.

For the next day and a half, one word sounded in my head. Home, home, home. My last night was spent in a hotel, a gift from Alan. How quickly ‘normal’ life becomes foreign! I fumbled through my things, feeling confused as I stared at shampoo and soap and clean, white towels. At long last, eyes closed and palms open, the humanizing effect of hot, running water brought me to tears.