Saturday, October 31, 2009

Badlands NP

Badlands NP was my last stop during my trip to the Dakotas. This park was a very nice surprise. Much more interesting than I expected. This is one of those NP you either hate it or love it. I loved it!

Badlands NP protects "the Wall", a range of badland mountains which separates the lower plains from the upper plains. It is a step in the middle of the plains. An the step is spectacular! You can see it clearly in the following photo. Click on it for better resolution.

And when you get to hike in them, it just looks like being in the Moon! It can't be so different up there ;)

Even hikes are pretty nice. Can you see the ladder going up on the left? This setting looks like "Tomb Raider"...

It was pretty cloudy and cold, and that made the Sun look quite ghostly!

When the Sun starting setting, it went below the clouds and lit the badlands with warm colors.

Some peaks were so rough!

I saw nice landscape wherever I looked!

Some more photos of mountains in the Badlands, as I drove along the scenic drive that goes across the National Park:

These mountains were an incredible yellow color...

Finally, the sunset was impressive. Really dramatic.

The trip to South and North Dakota ended up being much more interesting than expected. The huge prairies, the badlands, the Black Mountains, caves, and all the animals I saw... highly rewarding!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Theodore Roosevelt NP

In North Dakota, I visited Theodore Roosevelt NP. It was a long drive from SD, so I decided to stay there a bit longer (almost 2 days) and visit it thoroughly. Theodore Roosevelt NP protects some of the North Dakota's Bad Lands. It is divided in two main sections, North and South. The South Section is easy to access from I-94, whereas the North Section is around one hour drive from that highway. Both places are kind of different. The North was an area covered by glaciers. Therefore, hills were carved by them. The South is the area created when those glaciers melted. The North has the coolest hills in my opinion. They are more colorful and color stripes are better defined. In the South, it is more like many hills many of which do not even have color bands. Fauna is just amazing in both places: snakes, bison, deers, wild horses, prairie dogs... This NP was named after Theodore Roosevelt for two reasons. The first one is he was living in this area for most of his youth, and learned the tough ways of the Badlands. Due to his close contact with nature, he started appreciating how truly unique nature is and he learned to respect nature. The second reason is that, when he became president of the United States, he did a lot to consolidate the National Park System and protect many areas in the country.

I started my visit just off I-94, in the vista point called Painted Canyon. It is an overlook of one of the parts of the South Section and it is so easy to access that it is a mandatory stop to start getting a feeling for this park.

My next stop was the North Section. It was simply spectacular! Striped hills with many many herds of bison!

There is a road that gets into the section and at whose end, the view is amazing. You can see a river lazily bending in the badlands.

After all day driving and hiking in the North Section, I decided to go to the South to catch the sunset there and put up my tent to spend the night there. That night was extremely cold. I have never experienced something similar. The temperature went negative (in C, or below 32F) and a thin layer of ice covered the inside of my tent. I woke up at around 5.30am and had to go into my car to try to warm up a little bit. After a lot of effort, I managed to remove the ice and wrap the tent up so I could keep on moving. My hands became ice in the process and really hurt for a while. Not kidding.

That morning, I wanted to complete the scenic drive loop in the South Section, so I started driving before dawn. I saw the sunrise as I was driving.

When the sun started lighting the park, I could notice it was really different from the North Section. So many low-rising hills... and not so colorful... At dawn, there were many animals feeding.

Before leaving, I stopped to see some bison for the last time in this trip and to play a little bit with prairie dogs.

As I was leaving, I visited the original cabin used by Theodore Roosevelt and which is now located at the entrance of the NP.

After that, a long drive South, to visit Badlands NP in South Dakota.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Devil's Tower National Monument

After visiting Mount Rushmore, I drove into Wyoming. I wanted to sleep at Devil's Tower NM. One old guy told me to visit it last July, when I went to Yellowstone. He told me, in his opinion, Devil's Tower was the most impressive sight in Wyoming. Due to time limitations, I could not go at that time. But now, I was near, and I did not mind departing a little bit from my original plan (Dakotas) if that meant visiting a truly cool place.

I arrived there at night and the campground was open! Good news! and it was for free. Actually, it was supposed to be closed, but the last days had been pretty good in terms of weather and it had been temporarily opened again. I tried to plant my tent there but surprise! my new backpacking tent did not come with the right instructions! Those it came with were completely wrong! So, I was there, in the middle of Wyoming, really tired after driving quite a lot that day and with a tent I had never used before. It took me more than 30 minutes and the help of my neighbors to finally plant it... but it worked.

The night was too cold. It reached temperatures near zero degrees. I woke up at around 6am, shivering due to the cold temperatures. Just in time for the sun rise!

This is the first time I saw Devil's Tower. It looks ghostly under this light.

The place was completely empty. I was the only one visiting it before sun rise... Only deers were around at that time.

The light kept on changing and it was really spectacular! The sky seems to be on fire, and those colors really suit the strange shape of Devil's Tower.

When the sunrise was over, so was the show. The sky was covered in clouds and it was time to try to get some good photos with me in them ;)

Another perspective on Devil's Tower.

After a good while, the sun really started to come out when I was leaving the place. At that time, I saw this prairie dog town. Nice panorama.

Then, it was time to leave. I was going to drive to Theodore Roosevelt NP in North Dakota. A long drive...

Monday, October 26, 2009

South Dakota's Black Mountains

Near Rapid City, SD, the Black Mountains host many protected areas: Wind Cave NP, Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer State Park, Mt Rushmore National Memorial... Along with such a concentration of amazing places, there are many tourist facilities, and doubtful touristic attractions... probably tourist traps...

The most interesting places I visited there, apart from Wind Cave NP, were Custer State Park and the famous Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Custer State Park is the most interesting State Park in South Dakota and it is home for many bison.

As soon as I got into the park, I had to stop to let a bison herd pass by! I had already seen some bison this summer, when I went to Yellowstone, but still it is quite impressive to see such large animals!

Your blood freezes when such a beast passes by just a few centimeters away from you... even if you are within your car!

Scenery was also beautiful in this place. Quite a lot of nature and peace.

Nearby, there is a mountain in which the image of Crazy Horse is being carved. The sculpture will be the largest in the world. But, for the moment, it is still unfinished. The price ticket was too much compared to my interest in it and the time available... so I did not get in that place. I could take a far away shot anyway.

I kept on driving and got to where I wanted to go before the end of the day: Mount Rushmore.

Yes, Mt Rushmore is the mountain with the face of the first four presidents of the United States. It is quite famous and it appears in many movies. It is surprising it is located in such a remote area in the middle of the Great Plains.

As it usually happens with such famous things, the place looks smaller than you'd expect. It is small but beautiful. Actually, I preferred it this way.

There were quite a lot of people in there, but I could manage to get some quiet time watching the sculpture. The light changed from strong day light to dim twilight. And the faces stayed there, looking over this country they founded and which needs so much help these days :P

The whole sculpture was designed and carved by one man, Gutzon Borglum. He also has one sculpture in the memorial. Here it is, the man and his work:

There were many more places to visit in the Black Mountains, but I wanted to visit too many places in a short time. That's always a pity. Too many places to visit in this world and not enough time to enjoy them all. Anyway, I did my best as usual and tried to visit as many places as possible without feeling I was unforgivably rushing them. ;)

Tomorrow, Devil's Tower NM in Wyoming.

Wind Cave NP

Wind Cave is the third largest cave in the World with more than 200km of explored tunnels! It is located in the Black Mountains in South Dakota and preserved as a National Park.

It is not only the cave, but the above-ground world is also nice: prairies with prairie dogs, bison, etc. Not bad, really.

The cave was discovered around 1880 when two brothers found a hole in the ground from which wind came out. Some early explorers adventured into this hole with candles and ropes tied in their ankles to see what it was, and they found a huge cave.

This is Devil's Pass,a crack which is as high as a 4-floor building!

Wind Cave is famous for two structures in its walls:

1. Boxwork

2. Pop Corn

These two structures are created through two different geological processes. Explanation here.

Some more boxwork:

And the enjoyable prairies once again.