Friday, August 28, 2009

The Badlands

We left Nelson, Wisconsin as the dawn cracked through the fog on the Upper Mississippi River.  Twelve hours later we arrived in Murdo, South Dakota, where we spent the night at the very comfortable (and quiet) Graham's Best Western.  We got out very early, and headed west - to see the morning light dance on the geological formations.

I can't resist a scenic overlook, so just before we got to the exit for Badlands National Park, I took a brief detour.  Just as I put the Prius in "park" the sun broke out from the clouds.  We walked up the little path to the overlook just in time to see the light hit the first line of chalky white "badlands" hills off in the distance.   Then I heard sharp-tailed grouse chattering.  I spotted not one but two, on a wooden fence 20 yards away.  What a great way to start the day!

Mountain Bluebirds were everywhere.  In the parking lot at the Visitor Center, on the roof of the building, on the ground at the side of the road and on the rocks.

We also spotted our first black-billed magpie, lots of American Robins, a lone Killdeer, Western Kingbirds and very close looks at Wild Turkeys.

Charadrius vociferus - Killdeer

But I really wanted to see a prairie dog town.  I had great memories of a doggie town in Hastings Nebraska.  I missed their seeing antics and hearing their vocalizations.  We finally found them - hundreds of them - on the scenic byway (to Wall, SD).

We were amazed that only 2 cars stopped to see what we were up to.  The rest zoomed by at 65 mph, oblivious to the drama.

Tom wanted to find a burrowing owl.  It took awhile, but he finally did.  We spent about an hour watching a little black-tailed prairie dog waddle up to the owl, and violate the owl's inter-personal distance.  The two of them did the dance - to a stand-off.

While we were watching the little doggies, a Ferruginous Hawk flew right over our heads.

Later after we attempted to stop at Wall Drug for their famous 5-cent coffee (everyone between Wall and Rapid City lost electrical power for much of the day - so everything was closed and tourists filled the streets and sidewalks), we headed to Mt. Rushmore National Monument for a bison burger.  That turned out to be the most expensive burger, fries and bottle of juice I've ever had ($28.75 for food and parking in the new 3-story "airport style" underground parking facility).

Mt. Rushmore was PACKED with people from all over the world.  But everything had changed to accommodate the crowds.  And the bison burgers and the ambiance were a huge disappointment.  I joked with the park ranger at the information desk:  What would Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) think?  She gave me a "I am clueless" look.  The look didn't change, even after I explained (North by Northwest - the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film).

We decided it was time to hop back into the Prius and head south to Custer State Park.   I promised Tom a wildlife viewing experience that would more than make up for Mt. Rushmore.

I have to confess, I have a fear of heights.  Not quite paralyzing, but enough to make my hands sweat and my arms shake.  I mention this because on the way out of Mt. Rushmore, I turned at the first sign that said:  Custer State Park.  That's when I "remembered" how terrified I had been on my first trip years ago, driving the barely two-lane "Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway" with the pigtail turns and claustrophobic barely one-lane "tunnels." (honk, honnkkk).

Wildlife?  Scenery?  I couldn't look.  I kept my focus on the intermittent guard rail system.   The little voice in my head kept saying:  focus, focus, focus.  I couldn't wait to get off that "too narrow" (for me) mountain road.  I white-knuckled it all the way up - then all the way down.

A reward awaited us at Custer State Park.

No comments:

Post a Comment