The Badlands: great place to visit.  They are basically in the middle of nowhere, and miles from any major airport.  It took us the better part of two days to get there from Minneapolis.  As a result, they are fairly devoid of tourists.  The only visitors we saw were serious outdoors lovers, and scores of bikers from the Sturgis rally, taking place while we were in the Badlands.  Maybe the tough-sounding name of the Park appealed to them, or maybe just the rally’s proximity to the Badlands worked to draw them in, but the roar of Harleys was an ever present during our stay.  A staffer at the lodge told me that there were over one-million bikers in Sturgis for the rally and that they had come from all over the world.  Interestingly, the bikers seemed to stay away from any of the serious hikes, just checking out the vistas with very serious-looking cameras pulled out of their saddle bags.  They were all very nice to Jude despite some pretty offensive, unbecoming, and sometimes racist slogans adorning their bikes and clothes (not fit to re-print here).  An amusing aspect of the Sturgis Rally website is a list of the most commonly violated state laws and city ordinances during the rally (e.g. “indecent exposure[,]” bond amount $111; “deposit of filth[,]” bond amount $86, etc.).

The Badlands is a great-looking national park.  Massive arid buttes jut out over the deserted landscape.  Apart from occasional bighorn sheep, cicadas (and the aforementioned Harleys), the visitor feels as if he has the run of the Park.  It was a great couple of days.

Our cabin Jude called "home."



We stayed right in the Park in a no-frills cabin with one room and a bathroom.  We kept to the same basic schedule every day which worked well for Jude.  We had breakfast in our cabin, then took a long hike in the morning.  We came back for lunch and Jude’s nap, then took a shorter hike in the late afternoon.  After dinner we watched the sun set with a mini bottle of Robert Mondavi chardonnay each for the adults and a bottle of milk for Jude.

We tried the most difficult to most easy hikes in the Park.  The easy ones were fairly short, and some Jude could do on his own.  Since there are rattlesnakes in this area, we wouldn’t let him down from his backpack on trails that had particularly high grass.

One challenge of the Badlands is that the terrain is fairly soft and crumbles easily; this means that hiking with a toddler on your back can be unnerving at times, such as when going down a steep trail.  We found the key was to take it nice and slow, and to send Mom (a seasoned hiker and NOLS veteran) ahead to perform recon on any particularly dicey-looking areas.

The food was pretty poor – there is only one restaurant, and the burgers tasted to us like D-quality meat.  (I can’t remember having meat that bad since Belle Sherman Elementary School cafeteria’s sloppy joes.)  In the restaurant’s defense, Bliss did enjoy her veggie burger.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any good restaurants near the Park, either – we did extensive Internet research on this subject and talked with some frequent visitors.  However, we wouldn’t let this problem stop us from returning to the Badlands, but next time, we’d pack a travel grill, cooler, and a large amount of groceries.

A Badlands "taxi"

You can take the boy out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the boy: when this yellow car pulled into a parking lot in the Park, Jude shouted “Taxi, mommy, taxi!”

One great thing about the Badlands is that you can go anywhere you want in the Park (you don’t need to stay on the trails).  We ran into a free-spirited family that was doing some intrepid off-trail exploration.  Two barefoot sons and a barefoot mom scuttled down a (near-vertical) 12-foot drop, and then mom demanded that her sneaker-clad completely scared daughter follow them.  The daughter did as told, with a lot of direction from her mom, and from there they jumped on and across the landscape until the whole family was off into the distance.

After-dinner exploration

On our last evening, we walked the Window Path and then went off trail for quite a while.  The next morning we got up at sunrise, had breakfast at the infamous and well-advertised Wall Drug (better than expected – delicious homemade donuts and cherry pie), drove back into the Badlands and across Sage Creek Rim Road (a part of the Park we had not visited before), checking out the buffalo along the way.

Sunrise over the Badlands

After exiting the Park, we headed straight for Mt. Rushmore.  We were underwhelmed by Mt. Rushmore, but glad to have checked it off the bucket list.  I wish we could have gotten closer, and looked out from on top of the presidents’ heads.  Jude enjoyed counting the presidents.  Mt. Rushmore also felt crowded after the Badlands.

Buffalo burgers were being grilled just outside of the main cafeteria at Mt. Rushmore, which (after smelling) we felt we had to try.  Although I found mine slightly overdone, but basically pretty good, Bliss enjoyed hers a lot.


Our kiddie backpack definitely earned its keep and some of the trails wouldn’t have been possible without it.  The backpack often felt like a bit too much in Brooklyn, except during the snow storms of the last year, but it was perfect for hiking – very comfortable with lots of pockets.  Jude definitely loved the view he got from my shoulders.

Elmo napping in Jude's bed

Jude’s tent bed for sleeping got its first workout of this trip at the Badlands.  It folds up very small and expands to a perfect snug size for a two-year-old.  It’s great, too, in that it gives him consistency every night—no matter where we are in the world, his bed always looks the same.




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