I'd never heard of the Badlands until I heard it sung in a Rich Mullins song. "There is a silence in the Badlands, and over Kansas the whole universe was stilled..." Our family didn't experience any silence, but the stillness was thick.
What a perfect word, stillness.
It was early evening when we arrived from Topeka. We set up camp in a windy and funky loop campground and then headed to the lodge for dinner. There are no campfires allowed in the park, so my idea of Dutch oven cooking over a fire was going to have to wait. Fine. With no working water in the airstream, cooking and cleaning would've been a pain. I always check reviews and I was wary of the lodge food, but people had said the Indian Tacos were good, and they were. These were sweet, fluffy bread topped w beans and veggies and they were delicious. The gift shop here was pretty upscale and not so kitschy as the others we've seen song the way.
It's hard to get kids to bed at a decent time when the sun shines til 10:30. All were late to bed and up early to explore Badlands.
I was excited to check out the Junior Ranger program. We headed to the visitors center very near our campground and grabbed Junior Ranger guides. We watched a video at the center and poked around the shop.
Shoot, nope. That was Custer. It's all running together now in a blur of miles and cities and parks. We pulled up to the visitors center at Badlands just as a Junior Ranger program on wildlife was beginning. The kids enjoyed it, more or less, and Henry answered all the questions loudly and incorrectly and with gusto.
We hiked and climbed and I was nervous - these are cliffs. There are no guardrails. The tired children complained the whole hike that they were "not allowed to do anything" and repeated choruses of "you think I am a baby" because I didn't let them scale the heights and jump to their deaths. I sometimes feel that we have gone for quantity rather than quality with our parenting and this was certainly one of those days, wherein I feel we are raising an overly large load of rude people who will one day ruthlessly steal your parking spots and cut in front of you in lines.
This is where the traveling honeymoon wore thin. The ripping wind at the campsite kept us stuck inside and it felt tight and frustrating and the water wasn't working and the fridge smelled like old bread.
We did, however, enjoy ourselves. We did some sketching atop the cliffs and had a wonderful view everywhere we turned.
Our car full of particularly grumpy kids rolled on to Custer State Park, which was meant to be a convenient stop over. It was so exceedingly lovely that we stayed for two days. I would absolutely go back to Custer. While I don't understand the distinction between National and State Parks, I'm not sure why this isn't a National Park. It's a secret treasure - nearly alpine in beauty, huge, and well managed. The Junior Ranger program at Custer outshined all the rest - even Yellowstone, as I write this days after both - and the children took a birding class that has left them true bird nerds and I couldn't be more proud.
The only drawback here was our exhaustion. Tired and in foul tempers, we pulled in to the curvy lake front campground at Custer and scraped a long scrape into the side of the trailer along a pine tree. When we were finally parked, I muttered and sputtered while I scraped sticky pine bark off of the side of Streamy McAirstreamFace.
Ah. Lest I seem more grumpy than I ought, I should mention the rock we pulled straight over the night before the pine-in-the-dark incident. We pulled right over a decorative boulder poorly placed in a parking lot the night before, which popped a hole in the bottom of the trailer. We have since duct-taped it. All better.