Sunday, September 16, 2012

Badlands National Park - 09/16/12

We woke up to a very windy, partially overcast day with temperatures in the low 70’s. It was a very strong wind that would blow at a steady 35 mph all day long. Undeterred, we headed out for a day of windy adventure.

Our first stop was to the Saddle Pass Trail. We had hiked this trail in 1996, for about 4 hours at that time. It is a strenuous climb up a high rock formation. At the top is a large flat grassland plain surrounded by other higher rock formations. We had no intentions of repeating this hike this time. Age has a funny way of limiting some of your activities. In 1996 we had to climb over large boulders that lined a trail up to the top. Now the park service has carved a gravel trail to the top making it a much more manageable hike up the mountain. The boulder-lined trail we took in 1996 is still there for the more adventuresome to pursue. Looking at the Saddle Pass Trail today, we were awestruck we actually succeeded in hiking this trail in 1996. At that time the temperature was in the high 90’s and we consumed all of the water we carried in our two large canteens by the time we made it back down to the parking lot. It was a beautiful site at the grass-lined top. It was on this hike that we spotted our first rattlesnake slithering across the trail in front of us. Fond memories of a great hiking experience in the past.

We continued our tour of other scenic wonders within this magnificent park. Every turn on the winding, hilly paved road through the Badlands brings a new breathtaking barren mountain vista to enjoy. We stopped for a picnic lunch at the Conata Picnic area. Barren mountains surround this area on three sides that provided some relief from the harsh wind that was blowing fiercely out of the northeast. This picnic area is located on Conata Road (SD-509) a short distance from the western leg of the Badland Loops Road. Entertainment for our picnic was provided by tiny mountain chipmunks that scurried about the area looking for handouts. They were only about 6 inches long and the speed at which they ran up and down those mountains was absolutely amazing. It was a very entertaining and fulfilling picnic indeed.

We visited the missile Launch Facility Delta-09 just south of I-90 at Exit 116. There is a glass enclosure over the silo where the deactivated rocket is on display. Visitors call a number on their cell phone to receive an audio self-guided tour of this facility. It was a sobering experience standing right on top of a rocket that was once armed with a 1.2 megaton nuclear bomb. It brought back memories of how close the United States came to launching these missiles during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Thank goodness the Soviet Union blinked!

We wrapped up the day retreating to the comfort of our Casita, our vacation home on wheels. The velocity of the wind was brutal and the temperature had dropped into the low 60’s. Our nightly ritual of cheese and crackers with a fine glass of wine would be indoors tonight!

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

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