Badlands National Park: WOW! …Plus Wall Drug

Badlands National Park has great beauty. it also has interesting— and amusing— wildlife, such as three curious prairie dogs that posed for Peggy. With winter and hibernation coming, these guys have obviously been putting on the pounds— or at least ounces! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Lakota people, who have occupied the area for hundreds of years, called it mako sica. To early French fur trappers, it was known as  les mauvaises terres. Both names mean the same thing: Badlands. If you can’t hunt it, fish it, farm it, or mine it— what good is it? Fortunately, our tastes have changed. We have come to appreciate areas for their natural beauty and Badlands National Park has an abundance. BTW, where there is a will there is a way. People have finally found a way to make money off of beautiful places. It’s called tourism.

Speaking of tourism, we stayed in a small campground near Wall Drug, a tourist attraction that has mastered the art of pulling people off of the road. It started with offering them free ice water in the 60s and 70s by advertising on 3,000 small wooden road signs throughout South Dakota and neighboring states. I first came across the signs in the 60s. It was impossible not to be curious. This time, Peggy and I found the small wooden signs had been morphed into numerous billboards as we crossed South Dakota on I-90.

Wall Drug still uses come-ons to lure travelers off the road with large billboards along I-90. The small, original drug store has turned into a massive tourist attraction with the drug store occupying maybe 1,000 square feet out of the 76,000 square feet the attraction now claims.
Wall Drug advertises that its store has something for everyone. Including Jackalopes.
Peggy found one to ride.
One of the billboards along I-90 advertised “Come to lunch— or be lunch at Wall Drug.” This smiling T Rex was apparently offering the latter. As an aside, numerous fossils have been found in Badlands National Park, but not dinosaurs. The area was part of an ocean at the time dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The term wall, in Wall Drug, comes from the primary feature of the Badlands, a hundred mile wall from which the Badlands have been eroding at an inch per year for the past 500,000 years or so creating mesas, ridges, and gullies with unique structures of considerable beauty. The 31 mile Loop Road the National Park features takes visitors along the wall and down into the Badlands, providing a great introduction. We will feature views from along the Loop Road today.

Erosion, cutting through some 45 million years of geological history between 75 and 30 million year ago, has left behind unique structures of great beauty. The upper right corner shows the wall from which the Badlands have eroded. Look carefully and you will see vehicles parked at one of the many pull-offs along the 31 mile Loop Road that winds its way through the park.
One thing that is guaranteed along the Loop Road: Great variety. Compare this picture with the one above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
What caught our attention here, was the contrast between the green trees and the white ridge. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The erosion here had created a mesa left standing alone above the smooth mounds below.
Rabbit bush added a touch of yellow here to complement golden hills above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Jagged peaks are also found along the 31 mile drive.
A close up of one of the peaks along the way.
Pink and mauve top off yellow hills. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Another example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I liked the tiered look here and the way erosion had cut through over 40 million years of geologic history.
We wondered how long it would be before the finger rock on top of this peak fell. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
One of the pull-offs along the road is dedicated to Chief Bigfoot of the Lakota tribe. He was ill when he reached this site on the wall. His followers helped him down. Not long after that, he and some 150 member of his tribe, including women and children, were massacred at Wounded Knee. it was one of the darker moments in US History.
I conclude today with this photo of the Badlands taken near the Visitor Center. Peggy and I will take you for a drive along Sage Road in our next post. It’s noted for its wildlife. Get ready for buffalo, turkeys, big horn sheep, and a raucous town of prairie dogs!

The Hottest, the Driest, the Lowest… Death Valley: Featuring Zabriskie Point

Today’s post marks the beginning of Peggy’s and my journey around North America. We will be sharing our insights into what it’s like to live full time on the road plus our adventures along the way. A special focus of the blog will be visiting some of the most spectacular wildlands remaining on our continent. Death Valley is up first, starting with an overview and featuring Zabriskie Point.

Peggy and I were greeted with this sign when we stopped at Death Valley National Park Visitor at Furnace Creek on our recent visit. As noted, Death Valley is a land of superlatives. The word I use is extremes. I reserve superlatives for the scenery. It’s why we have returned to Death Valley over and over again. 

Photo by Peggy Mekemson

I doubt that the Death Valley people included the price of gas as either an extreme or superlative, but we found it amusing. And we weren’t the only people taking photos of the sign. We made sure that we filled our tank in Bodie, a small Nevada town just outside of the park. Adding serious injury to insult, the price of a six pack of beer was $20 at the Furnace Creek store! Now that’s something worth whining about. 

But let’s get back to the hottest, driest, and lowest. By hottest, they mean the hottest place on earth. It holds the world record at 134° F (57° C). Death Valley is not a place you want to visit in the summer if you can help it. Here’s the bad news. It’s getting hotter. We can thank global warming. The following chart sums it up.

The impact of global warming can be seen clearly on the National Park graph that shows average summer temperatures.

The normal definition for a desert is a place that gets under ten inches of rain a year and has an evaporation rate that exceeds its rainfall. Death Valley averages under two inches and has an evaporation rate that is 75 times its rainfall.  Sit in the shade doing nothing for a day and you can lose up to two gallons of water. The Valley holds the record for being the driest place in the United Sates. There is a reason why the Park Service always warns people to carry and drink lots of water when they are visiting. 

And finally, the lowest. At its lowest point, Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level, which just happens to be the lowest spot in North America. On an earlier trip, Bone was proud to pose on the Bad Water Basin Sign announcing the low point. 

Bone was feeling a little low that day…

I’m going to add another extreme. Wind. Death Valley doesn’t hold any records here as far as I know, but when I bicycled across the Valley on my 10,000 mile solo trip around North America, I remember being out of the saddle in low gear, and working my tail off— pedaling downhill. When I got back to camp, I discovered my tent had been blown a half mile away and was totally trashed. This time the wind was blowing so hard Peggy couldn’t get her door open on our truck! It took all my strength to force mine. Back at camp, I took a photo of “Cousin It.’

The wind gave Peggy a new hairdo. We decided to call her ‘do’ the Cousin It look. It’s the latest fashion in Death Valley.

As I noted earlier, Peggy and I have returned to Death Valley many times, always in the fall, winter or spring. Each time we try to include something we haven’t done before. This time it was going in search of the rare and endangered, but not so elusive pup fish, and hiking up Mosaic Canyon. We also returned to some of our favorites: 20 Mule Canyon, Zabriskie Point, and the Artist’s Palette. Peggy and I were busy with our cameras the whole time. I’ll let our photos speak to the beauty of the park. 

I’ll start with Zabriskie Point, a quick 15 minute drive away from Furnace Creek and the Park Visitor Center. Named after Christian Zabriskie, an early manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, it is probably the most photographed site in Death Valley. For good reason. It was once the site of an ancient lake where various sediments sank to the lake bed, giving the area its rich colors today. Early ancestors of both modern day horses and camels left their tracks along the shorelines. Tectonic plates moving beneath the valley lifted the mountains and dropped the valley, giving rise to the erosion which has done such an impressive job of carving out the ‘badlands’ shown in the photos below.

This photo captures the rich colors of Zabriskie Point. You are looking out on the Valley floor. The Panamint Range forms the background. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A popular photograph of the ‘badlands” at Zabriskie Point. The peak on the left is known as Manley Beacon. The cliff behind it is known as Red Castle.
This provides a close up of Manley Beacon. Manley is the person who rescued the prospectors who were crossing the desert in hope of finding gold in California in 1849. They were lucky. It was the miners who gave the valley its name, Death Valley.
I caught this picture of Red Castle at Zabriskie Point. Had we been there at sunset it would have been much more reddish.
One of many of the geological features of Death Valley are volcanoes and lava flows. The black lava here was part of a lava flow. Being a harder rock it provided a cap to the eroded rock below. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This provides a broader perspective.
This picture is particularly good at showing the various terrains, textures, and colors at Zabriskie Point. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I ‘ll conclude with one of my favorite views at Zabriskie Point.

NEXT POST: We will visit Artist’s Palette at Death Valley and then go in search of the rare pup fish at Salt Creek.