There is a time when one will go backpacking, there is a way where one will go biking, but here is the time when one needs a car, as long North American roads require.
Heading South through North Dakota happened in a blink of the eye. The friendliest (Dakota is the native Sioux word for “friend/ally”) highways with almost no traffic gave us the chance to reach our first way point very soon: Badlands National Park. Not that the lands we’ve seen in the first 2 days of our trip were any better (chuckle!), but I can’t really say that the prairies, or rather the Great Plains, were very appealing. The Great Plains cover most of North and South Dakota, and the endless plains, hills, shrubs and grass that you can see all over can make you think if these areas are really inhabited. But yes, ranching is the predominant agricultural activity, as we could see hundreds of herds of cattle with alternating fields with rolls of hay; so we figured out people are still living in these places (I guess only the brave ones), even though we very rarely saw anyone.
Deciding that we will visit several national parks this summer, in the states, we agreed to buy an Annual pass. I believe this is a great way to promote outdoor activities, since the pass provides access to all national parks in US, and there are really quite few!!
The Big Badlands (Badlands National Park) covers about 244,000 acres of buttes, pinnacles and spires mixed with and in the middle of grand prairies.
These desolated places, ravaged over ages by wind and water have become so colourful in their multiple sedimentary layers of yellow, red, white and orange, and where many fossils were discovered over time (e.g. three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats). Actually the park is considered the world’s greatest fossil bed of animals from Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals of approximately 30 million years ago.
Mother Nature, the actual sculptor in these forgotten landscapes, is carving graciously about 1 inch every year, creating surreal shapes, fantastic pinnacles, rugged dunes, and multicoloured layers in all the steep canyons and ravines. Deep gorges between these cute pinnacles make the hiking dangerous outside of the main path, and very few courageous or rather reckless people ventured to walk on top of these treacherous, adjoining little trails.
Driving the spectacular 30-mile Badlands Loop Road through this amazing cluster, myriad of pinnacles, I could see why The Lakota named this place “Mako Sica”, meaning “land bad”. Rocky but fragile ridges are spread as much as one could see along the horizon. Patches of prairie grass lay down below or far in the distance. And while the sky seems so close to this collection of hillocks, as a guardian over time, I could not stop wondering if these are truly earthly lands or they are some strange alien territories from another space or another time.