Badlands National Park. Eclipse Day!
Day 17! Badlands National Park! I was so excited for this particular itinerary day, and it did not disappoint. After surviving the whirlwind of emotions the previous day, I woke up fresh faced and ready to go. Just kidding. I woke up the way all mothers of small children wake – abruptly. After a large mug of coffee and some under eye concealer though – I was fresh faced and ready to go.
When we (I) planned this trip, the eclipse was little more than an inconvenience. We couldn’t get rooms in the Tetons during eclipse days, so we had to adjust our schedule a bit. I really didn’t give it much thought, so it was very lucky that our itinerary took us to the Badlands during the eclipse. Once we caught on to the eclipse hype I realized that Badlands National Park still fell within the 90% totality range. My dreams of watching the eclipse over the Badlands commenced.
The day actually started off so promising. All 7 of us made it out the door ON TIME. This is a miraculous feat that can only be attributed to some sort of eclipse magic. It was a trip first. It’s hard to get 7 or 8 people, 2 of whom are toddler/preschool age, moving anywhere with efficiency. You’d like to be on the road by 8:30am? MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.
So we are driving and we are driving and the GPS is sketchy (cell service = questionable) and we see a sign that says Badlands National Park, so we turn. Onto a gravel road. I could literally feel in my bones my parents and sister laughing at the cosmic pull of the dirt road. It’s a family tradition at this point. I was a little nervous, but after consulting my old school paper (!) map, it was confirmed that Sage Creek Rim Road was indeed a part of the park and not a road to NoWhere, South Dakota.
Eventually we drove past an official park entrance sign, and we took the obligatory family photo.
On this gravel road we saw a prairie dog colony and so.many.bison. I’m laughing now thinking about how I was so worried I wouldn’t see any.
We stopped at several viewpoints on the road, all of which offered increasingly amazing views of the spires of the Badlands. Unfortunately, we needed to find a restroom STAT. I feel like this is a theme of our wilderness adventures. The Badlands does not offer a lot of natural cover either, so it got a little dicey there. After basically threatening to leave Jake on the side of the road with the bison, we moved on and found a pit toilet. It seemed like a marble shrine.
Then I was free to admire the ridiculous views of Badlands National Park.
We were aiming to watch the eclipse here, but there was a significant cloud cover. We drove back the way we came for a bit, and ended up getting out of the clouds and enjoying the start of the eclipse right next to the prairie dog colony. It’s as cool as it sounds.
While the rest of us tried to get a good look, my mom distracted the kids from going blind. It’s hard to tell in pictures but there were so many prairie dogs here, and a bison just laying down a ways out.
Eventually the clouds started to clear so we headed deeper into the park before the eclipse was at it’s peak. We stopped at a great viewing point maybe 10 minutes before the peak of the eclipse. It was so.freaking.cool. We weren’t the only people there, but it definitely wasn’t so crowded that it was unmanageable. The kids fell asleep in the car, so that was a win. Abby destroyed her eclipse glasses in about 2 minutes, so she was fired from all viewing opportunities.
There was a guy there with a telescope with the special filter, letting anyone grab a look who was interested.
Even though we weren’t in the path of 100% totality, it was still so crazy to see the light changing over the landscape and feel the temperature drop so significantly so quickly. The whole thing was surreal and one of my favorite parts of the trip. Being in such a vast place during such a unique event made you feel so small, but in a good way. It’s hard to fathom how I could be so lucky to have experienced this.
After the eclipse we drove on along the main park road. I’ll admit it was longer than anticipated. Maybe I just don’t know how to read a map? Plausible. We planned on making it to the visitors center for lunch, but my car was getting feisty so we stopped at the Fossil Exhibit Trail to grab our sandwiches and burn off some energy.
The park boasts off trail exploration, so there was a lot of rock climbing and exploring here.
Eventually we made to the visitors center, and the kids had a blast checking out the paleontology lab here. I know this second hand because I left to get coffee while Jake took the kids through the small center. Whoops. Caffeine probs. When I got back the I got a second to check out the lab as well, and I was really impressed. Overall the national parks do such a nice job, and this was no exception.
After our stop at the visitors center, we all coated ourselves liberally in sunscreen and prepped for our hike. I really wanted to do the Notch Trail, but I wasn’t sure how the kids would do. It’s a moderate to strenuous hike, but it isn’t too long. The biggest thing worrying me was the description on the national parks website. “Watch for drop-offs. Not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. Treacherous during or after heavy rains.” This trail also features a log ladder that I wasn’t completely sure Olivia could do. But the trail also boasts some amazing views so we decided to go for it.
I’m thrilled to report that we went for it and Olivia did fantastic. Probably even better than I did after that ladder. The up part was the easy part, coming back down was a bit challenging.
The trail itself is challenging, but my dear sweet husband whom I must remind myself that I love could not be satisfied without some daredevil climbing. Deep breaths. The biggest issue with this is that Olivia is right on his heels no matter what. Mom anxiety to the max. But we all survived. In the aftermath of over aggressive climbing by Jake, my parents legit just fled the scene and found some cool places to pose for photos. Wise move.
And then suddenly we made it to the “notch” of the Notch Trail, and we were rewarded with some amazing views.
And then we all the pleasure of going back down the log ladder. I can still feel the soreness in my arms from that climb.
I would say I don’t want to brag, but we all know that’s a lie. This log ladder was freaking long and Olivia nailed it. How my four year old is a more accomplished hiker than me I’ll never understand, but I’m going to take it as a credit to my awesome parenting and move on.