This trip was sort of a Hail Mary escape. While returning to the Badlands was a planned destination for this week, the weather forecast was not promising in the least and sort of read like an environmental scene from an apocalyptic movie; Severe Thunderstorms, potential Derechos and lightning. I guess sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and count on the potential for the forecast to be wrong. With that in mind we headed out, albeit getting a much later start than I normally would, which made the straight though drive quite long. After a day of driving and an arrival time of 11:45pm (adjusting for time zone change) the first destination in the Badlands was the Cedar Pass Camp Grounds for a brief night of R-n-R to get rested for what would be an early day and what I hope will be a beautiful sunrise.
June 5Up early again to try one more time to catch the sunrise before heading to the Black Hills area for a few waterfalls that I had researched prior to the trip. During the meandering drive towards the exit on the western side of Badlands, we were fortunate enough to meet a couple from Indiana who alerted us to the existence of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and the potential to photograph wild horses... sounded like an opportunity we couldn't pass up... and with that, we had an additional destination for the trip.
June 5The first place we arrived in the Black Hills is Spearfish. I bring this up for one reason and one reason only; a gentleman that I met at a gas station there. As we pulled into the station, a tornado chase vehicle was parked in front on us. The gentleman on the other side of the pump from me saw this and became extremely excited. It was like a little kid at Disney World seeing Mickey for the first time or something equivalent. Clearly he made an impression on me and I'll explain why later. So, back to the journey: there are two falls that we primarily headed to the Black Hills to see... Spearfish Falls and Roughlock Fall. Fortunately on the road to both is Bridal Veil Falls. Bridal Veils offered the opportunity to meet another very nice couple from Louisiana who really personified what I like about traveling. Most people on the open road or who are willing to drive around the country to see the sites are generally really nice and help to shore up a sense of pride in civilization. Again however, I digress. So in regards to the falls, each was progressively more beautiful. Roughlock was definitely the main one that I wanted to photograph and it did not disappoint. From Roughlock it was back down to Spearfish for a quick bite and then off for the almost 4 hour drive to North Dakota and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. On the way out of Spearfish there was one more memorable event. As we were heading north on I85 what do we see coming toward us in the opposite direction... well traffic of course but, in front of that traffic, galloping at full speed was the most beautiful black stallion I had ever seen. I had to do a double take not exactly believing what I was seeing and continued on our way.
After a very long very uneventful drive through some quaint little towns (microscopic in the case of Ludlow, South Dakota), we arrived in what appears to be the catch all destination for North Dakota tourism. That may sound a little harsh, but that is pretty much the info I received from locals to the question of "What else is there to see in North Dakota". When asking that question in Medora, the town right outside of the park, the response was an excited "Our musical is tonight and there's a rodeo tomorrow". The other reason that I make the statement that I do about this area is because in addition to being the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, it also contained what North Dakota considers it's Badlands as well as a petrified forest. We did not venture to the petrified forest and for all I know I missed out on something quite stunning. Regardless of a lack of additional destinations one thing is certain the locals we met were very friendly. As our arrival was late in the evening again, there was just enough time to set up the tent and go for a quick sunset drive through the park. Well as quick as a 36 mile loop can be in a park full of potential obstacles such as bison, horses, elk and deer; oh and of course prairie dogs. With regard to the horses, I think it's kind of a semantic distinction, but several of the rangers were quick to classify the horses as feral not wild. I don't know as I am no biologist and they may have started out that way, but if you were born in the wild then ummm.
June 6Up early again, but unfortunately not early enough to capture what based on the tail end appeared to be a beautiful sunrise. While the start of the morning was fairly beautiful, it quickly turned gray, wet and cold. The rest of the morning was spent driving around looking for animals who clearly were aware of something that we should have been as well; It was cold and wet out and those wiser than us were some place; if not warm, at least dry. Ok, fine we were in a car therefore warm and dry, but since our goal was to shoot animals that were not out, then we probably shouldn't have been either.
June 7Continuing the early pattern , we were up and at it at 4am to give the park one more shot. On this day the Theodore Roosevelt National Park did not disappoint. The animals were all out and a bit more active, allowing plenty of opportunity to get some if not all of the shots that I was hoping to get and maybe a few extras. With my goal here accomplished and while there wasn't really a set schedule to our journey, we decided that enough time had been spent at this location this time around and decided to make our way home and maybe hit the South Dakota Badlands on the way.
Badlands National Park
June 7This time, arrival was a bit earlier than the last, but it was now the weekend and the park was quite a bit busier than a few days ago. That meant, before stopping to enjoy the sites, we had to make a bee-line back to the Cedar Pass Campgrounds to secure a spot for the night. Once that task was out of the way, we headed back out to get some sunset shots and of course I hoped that I would finally have a chance for some astrophotography. The sunset was extremely beautiful, but unfortunately, the forecast for clear skies was wrong yet again. The clouds rolled in shortly after sunset putting an end to my shooting for the evening.
June 8Up at 4:00 for one more sunrise in the Badlands and then regrettably we as Simon & Garfunkel said were "Homeward Bound". We would have like to stay a bit longer, but the forecast was not in our favor.
So, earlier I mentioned the two memorable events in Spearfish, and the more I thought about them I realized that they were metaphors for the trip. A true sense of excitement for the seemingly little things and a free spirit on the open road. You know, sometimes it just doesn’t get any better.