on July 22, 2012
Having driven over 750 miles my first day out of Milwaukee, I was hopeful to make it midway through South Dakota before stopping for the night. I was pleasantly pleased that thanks to my Bruce Springsteen CDs, I was able to push on all the way to the Badlands before having to stop. It was as he blasted into a live version of the song of the same name, that I reached MM131 and the exit for the park. Badlands in deed! I was happy to have made it.It was just after dark and there was nobody at the entrance gate; the sign said to pay upon exit from the park. I continued in on the park road to the Cedar Creek area where their campground and a lodge are located. I was able to pull in and pick a spot, directly across from the restrooms (flushing toilets/no showers). PERFECT. At $16/night this was an ideal campground perfectly located for me to get an early start the next morning.I was up and out of my campsite before dawn. I enjoyed the company of a small bunny as I awaited sunrise over Norbeck Pass. In my prior two visits through the Badlands, I have only seen the geological formations under the harshest of daylight around noon or mid afternoon. On this trip I thoroughly enjoyed the red and orange hues as I drove through the various peaks and overlooks.I was serenaded by a lovely yellow songbird as I took some photos of the wildflowers alongside the road. I also started the resident community of prairie dogs which resulted in their chirping away to their neighbors to warn of the human's presence.There was a lot of wildlife to be seen, much of it very close to the road that crosses through the park. I also saw deer and pronghorn sheep. There were a lot of sheep (two or three groups of them) in the area around Dillon Pass. After passing one small group and moving on, I had to jam on brakes coming around the next curve to another group just standing around in the road as if they had nowhere else to be.The best animal sighting, by far, was the coyote that I saw in the road about 100 yards in front of me. It was shortly after 6:30am. As I stopped, he jumped off the road to my right and started a slow gate along the road . .. parallel to the road, maybe 10 yards away. I would stop so as to not get too close. It could be seen tilting its head as if to be listening for something. Next thing I knew, it was pouncing and coming up chewing on something. In my photos, I caught the canine eating a few times. Not chewing with its mouth closed, it appeared to be some sort of ground rodent . . . too small to be a prairie dog and with a long thin mouse-like tail (no hair or fur on it).I watching, followed and photographed the coyote for around 10 or 15 minutes. Near the end of our time together, ti stopped and laid down. There it could be seen throwing up and rechewing. Because it was down in the deep grass, it was really difficult to see all that was happening. Then out of nowhere, I saw a couple of small heads (presumably young pups). Amazing. It would appear that I had stumbled upon a momma hunting and feeding her young. Unfortunately, I could not get a clear shot at a photograph of them . . . but to have shared in that brief moment was especially memorable!Like all of the other US National Park Service parks, there are several programs available to guests at the visitor center at Cedar Creek as well as the campground amphitheater. This is one national park that I think visitors can take in and experience in less than a full day. If you an avid hiker and want to do more than a drive-through visit, there are plenty of interesting areas to explore. Be sure to carry plenty of water, however, as the prairie is vast and dry. During my time in South Dakota it was very hot . . . over 100F the entire day on my return drive east towards home. My personal recommendation would be to only do the portion of Hwy 240 that goes between MM exit 131 and MM exit 110. The portion of the park to the west of there, is by a very rough gravel road and frankly, there wasn't much to be seen out that way.
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