Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 10 Badlands National Park, South Dakota June 12, 2009

Captain’s Blog

Our first priority this morning was to wash the bug-infested windshield. The bad news – it was raining when we got up but the good news - the rain washed the bugs away for us.

Before leaving the area we stopped at Cabela’s sporting goods store. It is promoted in this area as a destination with lots to see. The store is suppose to be similar to the Bass Pro Shops but is nowhere near close. We walked around but there was nothing there to hold our interest so we journeyed on.

On the way to the Badlands we stopped at a scenic overlook and enjoyed the rolling hills of South Dakota. The weather had cleared and it was bright and sunny so we could see for miles and miles.

We arrived at Badlands National Park around 2:30 PM and found a campsite at the Cedar Pass Campground in the park. There are no utilities but we planned for that. The views from our site are magnificent and the price of an overnight stay only $ 5.00. OMG - could not believe that!!!!

After settling in we had dinner and as I was making coffee Ron called in to me to tell me we had company. I thought he was kidding because we’re far from home in South Dakota. He called again and when I went outside standing there was a classmate from high school – Richard Castro and his wife. What are the odds of that???? As it turns out they are also on their way to Seattle, are retired and spending time on the road three – four months at a time. It was great seeing them and sharing our travel adventures.

We decided to explore our area of the park and did some hiking. Every turn was beautiful and awe-inspiring. The terrain is different then anything we have seen before but at the same time reminiscent of places like the Grand Canyon and Big Bend National Park in Texas.

We were expecting to see dry, bland, brown terrain but there is greenery and blooming
wild flowers everywhere. The Park Rangers stated that the area has gotten 300% over the normal rainfall for the year and that it has been sixty-five years since most of these wild flowers have been in bloom. The rainfall this year was unusual and that we should all get pictures because we may never see this again in our lifetime.

It may be time for a history lesson regarding the Badlands. The area was once a portion of a giant salt-water sea. Volcanic activity pushed the sea floor up and as the water drained away it left behind broad, marshy plains. About 25 million years ago three toed horses, sabre- toothed cats and other prehistoric animals roamed the area. When they died many were buried in the sediment or just sank into the marshlands.

The steeply eroded land supports very little plant life and no deep-rooted shrubs or trees could take hold to preserve the land from the elements. As the water and wind chafed away the layers of deposits the landscape took on the appearance of huge castles and statutes resembling famous people. (As we drove along we would comment on what many formations reminded us of – dogs, people, building, etc)

The colors in the Badlands are the result of mineral deposits such as oxidized manganese giving the purple cast seen in the formations. Iron oxide produces the orange and tan layers while volcanic ash dropped from the Rockies results in white and gray layers.

The Badlands is a fossil heaven. The remains of three-toed horses, sabre- cats, crocodiles and even camels have been uncovered. Larger digs have unearthed the bones of dinosaurs and rhinoceroses.

The Badlands were named by French trappers who explored the west in the early 1800’s. They called the area a “bad land to cross” The Dakota Indians labeled it “mako sica” meaning “land bad.”

At 9 PM we attended a presentation and talk on astronomy by the Park Rangers (both astronomers). The presentation was excellent and mind - boggling. It is estimated that the debris field circling the earth has 28,0000 articles in it including the $150.000 tool-box lost from the space station. He explained that most of the shooting stars we think we see are actually pieces of debris burning up in the atmosphere as they fall to Earth.

Most exciting was being able to see a solar flare reflection bounce off of a communication satellite as it passed overhead in the night sky. It was a quick bright flash lasting only a few seconds but so bright you couldn’t miss it. Of course you would have to know where to look and what time. The Ranger had his clock set to alarm shortly before the sighting. Did I mention that the night was clear and the stars spectacular. We were also able to clearly visualize the milky way. The many constellations were pointed out to us but the best and most exciting was looking through a high-powered telescope and seeing Saturn with its’ ring and two of its moon s circling. It was amazing and such a wonderful opportunity.
It was then to bed and happy to have had such a wonderful day and night!

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