Upon arriving in the Badlands, I wiz through the entrance gate – it’s so early in the season it’s not manned right now, and the park rangers are relying on people being honest and self paying on the way out. I was expecting to see snow, but there’s hardly any. Now that the sun has come out the temperature has climbed into the mid 50’s, and it’s melting rapidly. The next few days look colder though, with the possibility of more snow.
I stop by Cedar Pass Lodge, where the gift shop I’ll be working in is located. I was told to report here to find the campground manager so he can show me to my temporary spot – the ground is so muddy with the recent snow melt that the permanent employee housing complex up at Circle 10 isn’t open yet. In the meantime, all the RVing employees are staying in the campground meant for guests within walking distance of the Lodge. Before I pull out of the Lodge parking lot, I snap a picture – I think I’ve finally got this picture-of-rig-with-epic-background thing down, what do you think?
The campground likewise has an amazing view of the badlands – badlands with a lowercase “b” describing terrain where erosion has gouged out features like this. There are badlands in other places around America – North Dakota, Wyoming, mostly out west. Badlands National Park is just the best display of such features. These peaks you’re seeing here aren’t rock you see, neither are they mountains. It’s all volcanic earth with a clay like consistency that has eroded back from ancient river beds over millions of years. Because the climate tends toward arid, vegetation doesn’t grow to protect against the erosion, and when it rains it usually pours, which loosens up more dirt to keep the faces looking fresh. There, don’t say I never taught you anything.
This place is incredible, I can already tell from the tiny bit I’ve seen so far. It’s every bit as neat as I remember it being when I came out 15 years ago. I won’t be going in for my orientation and paperwork signing until the bosses get back on Monday, so I have the rest of today and tomorrow free. I have no map, no park pass for free entrance and exit, and no access to WiFi – all of that stuff won’t be coming until Monday, but that doesn’t matter right now, I want to get out and explore.
Before unhitching I drive down to the dump station to get all of the chlorinated water I’ve been letting slosh around in the fresh water tank out. Right there at the dump station is a herd of what I later discover are mule deer, just hanging out and grazing. They let me drive up close to them, and I take a couple pictures from Bertha before they wander off. That was pretty darn cool.
Miracle of all miracles, the hoses look clean and free of black oook after dumping, hurrah! Once I get Cas leveled back at the campground I take a picture of the view from my large rear window, that’s the view I’m looking at right now as I write this. Then I heat up supper, and eat it out at the sheltered picnic table at my site, also complete with jaw-dropping view. Then I go out walking towards the Lodge.
Here it is, the place I’ll be working for the next 6 months if everything goes as planned. Inside it is a cabin rental desk (the cabins are behind the Lodge), the gift shop, and a restaurant. I’ll be learning more about all that on Monday though. From the Lodge I turn towards the badlands, and as the sun goes down I get a little camera-happy. It’s really hard not too.
When I turn in for the evening, the night is beautifully silent. I haven’t slept somewhere this quiet in ages, the Interstate is on the other side of the park and the local roads get little traffic. There are few campers tonight, and the stillness is so relaxing. I sleep very well.
After a slow and lazy start to the morning, I take a walk around the campground and Dave the campground manager and I get to talking. He’s a seasonal employee like me, and not quite a full-timer but nearly so. He loves hiking as much as I do, and invites me out to go hiking in the afternoon. I didn’t expect to be connecting with my fellow employees this early on, but am very happy to be doing so. My biggest problems working at Amazon last fall was that I didn’t really have anyone to hang out with, or fun things to do, and it wore me down after a while.
Dave picks me up later, and we swing by the Inn just outside the park where the Lodge employees who don’t live nearby or have RVs are staying. Like us they’ll be moving out to Circle 10 once it opens, but Dave lets me know that it might be several weeks – besides being muddy it was also just purchased by Forever Resorts this year and the maintenance people are still working on getting it ready. We pick up Pat, who works in the gift shop like I will be, and we head out to the trails.
The sky is mostly cloudy today compared to yesterday afternoon’s sun, and it lends a whole different mood to the badlands. It’s still lovely though in a different way. We walk through a juniper forest on a shelf halfway up the side, and there is more evidence of mule deer. After that Dave takes us around the whole park loop, and I gawk at every vista we drive past. When I get some time, I’m coming back to several of these places with my kindle to read and hike.
We find a herd of bighorn sheep at one of the overlooks, they’ve been hanging out in this area lately and almost seem to pose for the cameras. Because of the cooler weather and possibility of rain there are very few other visitors in the park. We almost have all of this natural beauty to ourselves, it’s breathtaking. Now this, this is more like what I imagined when I dreamed of what full-time RVing would be like. Again I can’t believe how close we can get to the sheep, my poor iphone camera is certainly getting a workout. The females and young ones are by the cliff edges themselves, while the males are across the road grazing on the grass. I do my best to get pictures, although with no optical zoom I’m rather limited when it comes to wildlife photography.
After that quick tour, Dave takes Pat and I out to Wall, which is about 30 minutes from the park and the closest town of any reasonable size, but notably still too small to have a WalMart. Our destination is the infamous Wall Drug store. What makes Wall Drug unique isn’t what it sells, which is some useful but overpriced items for travelers and then plenty of gimmicky tourist stuff, but rather what the owners did to promote the store. In the early days they sent store customers home with signs with the distance to the store printed on them, be it 100 miles or over 1000 miles. Folks traveling would see signs to Wall Drug and wonder what was so amazing about that store that there were signs half a country away and go investigate. It was a brilliant bit of advertising really.
Back home I enjoy another quiet evening, although the promised rain has started as a drizzle and at some point during the night it’s going to switch over to snow. 3-7 inches of accumulation are expected by tomorrow afternoon, and then the temperature tomorrow night is suppose to drop to 15, brr! It’ll be the first time I’ve been living in Cas when it has really snowed, and the first time I’ve RVed in temperatures this cold. Dave is going to lend me his second heater, and I’m grateful since my small electric one can only keep the temp indoors about 30 degrees warmer than it is outside.