Sunday, March 11, 2007

Till These Badlands Start Treating Us Good

After a long winter (which will probably come back to us before too long), this week's warmer weather signalled that it was time to head back out to the great outdoors and enjoy an evening of camping. This time I didn't go far--Badlands National Park is 30 miles away from my house, which, for around here, is pretty much my backyard. So Kim, Kate, Matt and I met up at the visitor's center around noon and headed out for an adventure.

I had heard that the Badlands aren't that great for hiking: there are only about four trails in existence, and once you've done them, you've about used them up. What I did not realize about the park, though, is that you are allowed to go literally anywhere. There is no need to stick to the posted trails. So we parked the car at an overlook, saw a plateau about a half a mile away, and decided to make our way across to it.

Picking out a trail. It looked like these formations would take us all the way across to the plateau we were aiming for, but eventually we realized there was a valley in the way.

In the valley.

Looking for a way up. Since it was hard to see which formations would really lead straight up to the plateau, I was up on top of a different one, trying to scout out which slope looked most promising.

Matt, sheepish after his cellphone rings in the middle of the Badlands.

Lounging on top of the plateau.

The view on the otherside. What we didn't realize at the time was that not only was it legal for us to go hiking across this random valley, we also could've brought out tent and pitched it right down there--you can camp anywhere in the park. So I think next time we will be lugging along some frame packs, a GPS tracker, and some topographic maps to really make the most of the park.

If you enlarge this photo, you can see a speck on the horizon. That is my car, which gives some indication of how far we trekked and the terrain we had to cross.

After we made it back to the car, we went back to the visitor's center, loading up with our camping gear, and then drove down to the Sage Creek Primitive Campground. It's just two pit toilets and a couple of ugly picnic tables, but for us it was even less, just a place to leave the car. When we first arrived there was an elderly cowboy driving a pickup with a horse trailer attached, and the guy warned us that there were about four bison bulls right back from where we parked that were looking a little "off." And he mumbled something about how he'd been running bulls all his life. Undaunted, we signed in on the backcountry registration, and then successfully carried our gear about a quarter mile into the "backcountry." We followed a couple bison trails into a wooded draw, where we pitched the tent for the night.

Bison trail, not people trail.

Setting up camp.

Here is where we chose to pitch the tent. The tree had clearly been used by the bison to scratch themselves pretty regularly. The bark had been worn smooth and there were lots of lovely clumps of bison fur around.

After we had picked our campsite, Matt and I walked up a little hill to see what was on the otherside. And right on top, there were the bison.

I don't think this picture really gives a good perspective on how close we were to the bison. Maybe about 300 feet away, which is pretty close to a buffalo. But we left to go to Wall for dinner (no fires allowed in the park, and we had no camp stove), and, walking to the tent in the dark we didn't see much wildlife. We we half expecting to see a big ol' guy grazing right outside our tent when we woke up, but the bison had cleared out by morning.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ice Fishing

Our neighbor and elementary P.E. teacher, who is one of the more legitimate cowboys I've ever interacted with--former rodeo steer wrestler, or "wrastla," as he would say, former ranch hand, and he still breaks horses on the side--invited Luke and I to go ice fishing at a lake a little bit out of Wanblee with him. Neither of us have fishing licenses, but it's pretty clear that it wasn't a very big deal: in the two years that he has been fishing at the lake, no ones ever asked to see his papers (nor has he caught anything since the first time he fished there...). Near 60 degrees out, it was the perfect day to be sitting around outside, although perhaps not the perfect day to be out ice fishing on a lake. When we pulled up we could see a big patch where warmer water flows into the lake from a spring, and the ice had melted clear through. But we stayed on the other side of the lake, and no one had to be rescued from the water. I haven't been fishing since I was about eight years old, and for about one week I decided it would be cool to fish. Back then I realized fishing required patience, and that I wasn't patience. Maybe I've matured since then, or maybe I was resigned to fishlessness today, but I was able to enjoy a day of kicking back on the ice. Unfortunately there will be no fish fry tonight.

The pull up to the lake.

Unloading the truck.

Drilling into the ice.

Fishermen at work.

Portrait of a cowboy.

In search of the perfect spot.

Apparently we were fishing for some big ol' slimy guys. Luke got a bite at one point, but it ripped his lure right off and swam away, so he had to get set back up again.