Saturday, October 5, 2013

North Dakota Badlands: Day One

One quick note before I begin these posts: we left Theodore Roosevelt National Park on September 30th...and the government shut down on October 1st.  All of the NPS websites are currently dark.  I'll link to them in this post (in the hopes that they'll eventually come back up!) but be warned that the links are kind of boring right now.

We sure packed a lot of Parktime into Day One at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  We hiked 5 miles of the Jones Creek Trail, toured around the Scenic Loop Drive, climbed Buck Hill, and attended an Astronomy Festival (which was fun, but we have no pictures for obvious reasons)...and even got in a game of Ticket to Ride.

We stayed in Medora, North Dakota, which is a town of about 800 right at the entrance of TRNP.  Being late September, it was definitely shoulder-season.  Many of the stores and restaurants were closed for the season, and we rarely had any company on the road or trail.  Fall color was in full swing, and - even better! - Saturday was National Public Lands Day, so we got into the park for free!  We stayed in the South Unit (the North Unit of the park is about 60 miles north) for the entirety of the trip.

We started out the day with the Scenic Loop Drive.  It is a 36-mile drive that includes short hikes, trailheads for longer hikes, overlooks, and visitor centers.  The badlands scenery is impressive, the hundreds of prairie dogs were adorable, and we got to see the first of many bison and wild horses.

Bison on the hillside

It seemed like there were only about four cars in the whole park,  but they were all in front of us.  And they were all doing the same thing we were doing: looking at the bison and at the wild horses.

Wild, wild wild wild horses...including a colt!!

We decided to pick one big hike for today: the Jones Creek Trail.  It is an out-and-back, so we followed it out about 2.5 miles and then came back.  We hiked through a valley surrounded by the Badlands, wild with fall color and under a brilliant blue sky.  We didn't see any wildlife other than birds and insects while we were out on the Jones Creek Trail.

Hiking through the brush

The trail was mostly flat, but we had to scramble up and down a few steep paths in order to avoid a muddy ford (on the way out) and then to brave the muddy ford (on the way back!).  The scenery was great, of course, and the trail was well-marked.  I'd recommend this trail to anyone who is comfortable with walking a few miles.  Since it's an out-and-back, you can turn around at any time.  Another thing I really liked: there is a hill right at the beginning of the trail, so once you're on the other side you can't see the road...or the car...or anything other than the Badlands all around you.  All of a sudden you're in the wild.  It's very cool.

Autumn colors in the Badlands

There are more coniferous trees than deciduous trees in the Badlands, and more scrub than trees overall.  The deciduous trees were transitioning to brilliant color, and the prairie grasses were also aflame in reds and oranges.  Every once in a while we'd come across a grove of trees like in the above picture - just brilliant.

Beautiful blue skies...just that one teeny cloud

When we came to the first creek crossing and looked down about 20 feet of steep mud, we said "whaaaaat!" and decided to find another way around.  Ordinarily I'm the "let's do something spontaneous" person, and Joe is the "let's make a well-thought-out plan" guy.  This time, Joe took the lead as he forged a path through the brush.  I got a bit nervous that we were wandering out into the depths of the Badlands, never to be seen again.  Luckily, Joe also has a pretty good sense of direction (and there was a creek to follow).  We found our way back to the Jones Creek trail, and decided to brave the creek crossing when we came back.

Nice picture, Joe!  Steep climb up from the creek crossing.

Going up steep embankments is much easier for me than scrambling down them, so I did not mind going first.  Joe went next, carefully swinging his camera to a position behind his back.  Note the incredible difference in color between our two cameras!  Joe's Badlands are brown and brilliant blue,  my camera recorded the greys and silvers of desolation.  Joe assures me this is just a matter of camera perspective.

Joe in full color - honest!

See - the next picture was also taken by my camera.  No greys and silvers here (except for Joe's sweater).

Joe on the hillside, sky and clouds

After we got back to the car, we continued the Scenic Loop Drive around the South Unit of the park.  We got out and hiked the half-mile steep trail up to the top of Buck Hill...and were nearly blown off by the force of the wind.  The panoramas are well worth the glute-conditioning climb to the top, and the core-conditioning workout you get staying upright in the wind once you get there.

Buck Hill overlook


You could say that we were blown away by Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Stay tuned for day two...

Total miles hiked today: 6
Total miles hiked in 2013: 107
Total Superior Hiking Trail miles hiked in 2013: 19.7
Total ticks today: 0
Total ticks in 2013: 54

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