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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX >Never Was a Park More Mis-Named

Chamberlain, SD to Badlands National Park, ND  07/02/06 (Day 68)

Never Was a Park More Mis-Named


Before leaving Chamberlain, we visit the Akta Lakota Museum which is free (donations accepted) and well worth everyone’s time. They’ve got some very compelling displays of traditional Sioux life and a lot of eye-opening information. For example, we learned that the word Sioux is a bastardization of the French word for “enemy” and was/is used to encompass a bunch of different tribes including the Lakota, and the Dakota. Originally, these were all part of one tribe, but as white men encroached they dispersed further west and splintered into separate groups with individual dialects.

Even though we dip off the highway and travel on back roads toward Badlands National Park, we still encounter 53 billboards for Wall Drug, perhaps the most aggressively advertised roadside attraction on earth. Somehow we manage to resist the allure of “free water” and more cheap souvenirs than you can throw a jackalope at.

There may be land, but there is nothing bad about it in the Badlands, at least not for us since we don’t have to walk across the arid, sun-baked, rattle-snake addled expanse as the original Native American inhabitants who named it did. The rugged valleys topped with endless flat prairies come at you all of a sudden and take your breath away, like a cross between Bryce and Cappadocia.

It’s a compact park with one main paved road that’ll take you all the way through it, past a bunch of short, boardwalk trails, in one long day. But the real action takes place on a side trip out Creek Rim Road, a good dirt loop that gets you back to where the animals really hang out. We see North American prong horn, big horn sheep (with babies), white-tail deer (with babies) and more squeaking, scampering prairie dogs then we will bore you with at this time.

After glimpsing some buffalo in a dip off to the left, we turn down a side road in search of  better vantage point. What we discover is a camping area completely occupied by a huge herd of slowly grazing buffalo. The animals, munch, snort, and kick up dust as they travel slowly past the porta-potty and a few people’s tents. In that instant we decide we MUST camp there, so we race to the top of the nearest rise, get an OnStar signal and cancel our Motel 6 reservation just moments before their remarkably generous 6 pm day-of cancellation deadline.

Now all we have to do is find some water to haul back to the campsite. That turns out to be as easy as asking (so we smack our handy Staples “Easy” button) when the ranger at one of the park entrances lets us fill our Coleman water containers from the tap at the nearby ranger housing area. Back at the campsite, the buffalo continue to mill around as we set up our Coleman tent and stove, eventually wandering away from our cozy little home, off to who-knows-where, as the sun sets taking the warmth of the day with it.

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