And we did.
Though, first was the introduction at the east end of the park:
It was really easy to see how anyone and nearly anything could hide in the crevices easily. Though the name came more from the fact that it was a hard land to cross than from bad guys using it as a hiding place, I think, or at least that's what the Parks Services said.
Then we drove in a little ways and went up the Castle Trail, half a mile right up the Wall.
It was funny, the visitor's center was pretty well equipped, and had a nice movie about the Badlands and the wildlife around here. It's sedimentary rock that's wearing away at a rate of about a foot a year, compared to the 1/10th of an inch a century that the granite at Mt. Rushmore is not going anywhere at. But while John and I were checking out the hiking trail maps, Jet was climbing the rock borders along the rangers' desk and one of the rangers said to Jet, "I think you're going to get to do some climbing for real in a little bit."
"He needs it," I said, and indeed he really did.
We did the half mile trail nearly straight up, and was rewarded with this view at the top.
There's nothing quite like a trail that has warnings that if you're scared of heights, if you have knee or ankle problems, and if you have any trouble with following a trail and trail markers, that it would not be a good idea to take the trail. There were warnings of rattlesnakes, ticks, and painful cactus as well as a recommendation that one take along two quarts of water per person for every two hour hike. Luckily, we were only doing the half hour trail, not the two or three mile hikes.
Though Jet really liked looking over the edge as we went back down, too. No fear of heights on that kid.
I was set for the light, the heat, and the stone. It was a crumbling kind of stone and the paths were all wearing away into gravel and dust. But the wind was really Plains-like. There's nothing to stop the wind at the top of the climb, as it's coming from the North and the West, and it just flows and blows steadily all the time. So it was pushing me down the path at the top. That was a little hard, when it was so steep.
Jet took a bunch of the trail down on his butt, which we all found quite sensible, as he was sliding down a bunch of it as he just didn't quite have the experience to keep his footing. The chute of the trail was deep enough for that to be really safe.
But Jet loved the hike. It was really hands on with what the Badlands was made of. I remember, as a kid, we drove by all this stuff, perhaps a small walk at an overview or something; but being able to go out in the quiet, the light, the heat, the crumbling stone, and wind was wonderful. I think Jet got a lot out of the doing, too.
We went to the fossil display and walked around there, too. The ranger did his talk as well, with a whole display of fossils and casts and a bunch of placards with all the different kinds of life that used to exist here. The shallow sea that this used to be, and then the tropical jungle that gradually gave way to savana and then the Plains while in the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains. It's a very dynamic view of how the earth changes over millions of years, and the extremes of climate that can all be in what one might think of as "one place".
From there we cut back through the National Grasslands, and hit Wall Drug. Yeah, anyone that does the cross-country drive will always see the advertisements for Wall Drug, free Iced-water, 5 cent coffee, and free coffee for honeymooners. laughs The billboards are across and all up and down the country.
The actual place is just as hokey as one might imagine. There's now a whole shopping mall all built under three different roofs, and since we'd only had the leftovers of our squeeze cheese and cracker lunch of yesterday, we were all starving by the time we got there. I inhaled a hot beef sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes, Jet ate an entire grilled cheese sandwich and fries, and John ate a fresh roast beef sandwich and we all drank nearly half a gallon of lemonaide and iced tea together. I guess we hadn't quite drunk enough while on the trail.
After actually eating, we were able to wander through all the stores with a little more discrimination. Jet got a tube of his favorite sour powder candy, but that's been a favorite of his for just about ever, and we went back to the hotel, dunked ourselves in the cold pool until I was shivering. And then we hot tubbed and I realized that every muscle I have in my legs and ass was just aching from that steep descent. I feel pretty good about it, though, the hot tub really, really helped with the aches.
Jet, of course, is now swimming like a seal boy. He goes the whole 36 length of the pool underwater, with nary a breath. With his dark hair and limbs from the sun, he looks like a seal, too, and prefers being underwater to over. It's almost scary, sometimes when he just doesn't come up and doesn't come up, but he's obviously really, really comfortable. He was even giggling when he was above surface before going under again without a breath.
Almost exactly the same giggles he gives when he's watching Looney Toons on the DVD player in the back seat while we're driving.
It's been a good trip. Tomorrow we'll do the 400 miles home, after the 200 miles today and the 300 miles yesterday, it should feel pretty good.