People have asked what we did out West so I thought I would share some pictures here, starting with our time in western South Dakota. Affiliate links have been used to link to items I am discussing.
OK before I regale you with images from my trip out West, let me first give you a glimpse into this neurotic blogger’s brain. I get behind–who knows why, health, travel, procrastination. All three in this case. And time goes by–and I have some gorgeous photos of a gorgeous dish that should be next up in the rotation, but I cannot find complete notes on making it. But I am mad about the gorgeous photos, so I become frozen with indecision about what to do. Which is stupid because we all know what is going to happen in the end, I will have to scrap the dish and move on. So to satisfy my neuroses, I present Chicken and Pasta Salad with Pea Pods– with no recipe, alas.
Which means now I can move on. I chose the picture at the top of this post because to me it sums up our time in western South Dakota best. We were there (in late June) when the clover blooms, and as a result everywhere was this insane, unreal neon green. We rented a car, so even though other images come to mind of all of the stuff we saw, when I think of South Dakota I will think in neon green because of the driving in between those places. And preferably with a bison in the center of it all, as in the photo above.
We actually went to Deadwood first. And while that was a wonderful experience, it did not inspire photography the way that other areas did. Deadwood was all about history–and as a result it was actually Sammy’s favorite experience of the trip. Normally I would be right there with her, but the nature and wildlife out West is so dramatic it blew anything humans have done out of the water for me. The picture above is of a bison we had to drive by (with some trepidation I might add) to get up Bear Butte, when we left Deadwood.
Through pure luck, while in Deadwood I discovered that if you start at the northwest corner of the Badlands National Park, you can take a scenic drive through the park. Before we even got into the park on that scenic drive, we encountered a herd of bison. I have become completely bison obsessed–I hope to write more about that at a later time–so this was a wild experience for me. By the end of our time out West we would become more blasé about wildlife creating traffic jams, but it is fair to say that at this point we all nearly lost our minds with excitement.
The first thing we did was search out the prairie dogs in Roberts Prairie Dog Town. There was something so wild about seeing an endless stretch of mounds with prairie dogs popping out that was not in a zoo. If you are concerned about the plague, rest assured I was using a zoom and not that close to the adorable little guys. Keep reading for information on what camera I was using.
We also had multiple encounters with Bighorn Sheep while in the Badlands National Park, and quite frankly much more “up close and personal” than any other animal at any time on our trip. The dark line at the bottom of this photo is our car!
I cannot emphasize enough how much I recommend taking the scenic route through the Badlands. We loved it so much we drove it again when we left. That second time took about 45 minutes, but the first time through took several hours as we stopped at almost every single scenic view stop. On one of the stops we had the exciting experience of listening to a rattlesnake warn us off the path we were on. The drive took long enough that we had both gorgeous, sunny, afternoon pictures, and then drove the end of the drive into sunset and nightfall…
Many people had warned us that the Badlands are similar to a desert, so we were relieved that our first day “in the Badlands” was actually spent driving to Custer State Park since the temperature in the Badlands was supposed to hit 100 F that day. Custer is famous for its bison, but we ironically only saw donkeys and pronghorn up close, but given how close we had been to bison the day before–twice!!–we were not disappointed. And just look at this pronghorn:
If any of you are curious, some of the pictures were taken with my iPhone XS Max and some with an Olympus TG-5 Waterproof Camera with 3-Inch LCD with an Olympus Telephoto Tough Lens attached. I chose the Tough (I actually bought it for this trip) because I knew I wanted something better than an iPhone with a bit more zoom oomph but I also wanted it to be waterproof so I felt confident taking it on rafting trips, etc. The lens is not a proper telephoto but achieves far more than the phone’s camera. (It is impossible to get a serious zoom on a waterproof camera because the lens is internal.) While I would love to have had my DSLR, it was not practical to risk it or to hike it around and the Olympus Tough with its lens paid for itself in my opinion (it was also a joy to have at the family beach vacation this year). The above pronghorn picture is a good example since I promise you I was not THAT close to it!
I recently updated my DSLR for food photography and gave my old one to Sammy. We gave her permission to bring it west, and I loved watching her take pictures. I am mostly sharing this photo because it makes me happy!
At the southeastern end of the Badlands, where we were staying, there is less wildlife but there are sections that are safe for people to explore. It was sweltering–but at least not 100 F!–when we descended into the canyons. The kids especially had a blast here and quickly left us in the dust (literally. It was dusty!).
It stormed at the end of this day, so we also got to see the Badlands washed out, which changed the colors of the rocks. It was a stunning experience and I highly recommend it to anyone headed West. Alex would tell you that the Badlands was her favorite part of the trip and she would move there in an instant. I liked Badlands National Park better than Yellowstone (which I will get to in a different post I hope) and would recommend it the most for sightseeing, but it was way too arid for me to imagine living there! I need trees!
The Bighorn Sheep came out for us when we left South Dakota also. There were about twenty-five of them scattered all over this ridge–including the side of it, clearly–but it was this mama and baby that caught me the most. I have read articles referring to the Badlands as more about dramatic scenery and less about the wildlife, but if you drive slowly through the scenic drive and pay attention, it provides a pretty amazing wildlife experience too.