Last month I set out on a two week journey through South Dakota and Wyoming. I'm quite the curious traveler, so naturally two weeks turned into four. I ended up staying almost a week longer in South Dakota than I had originally planned. But the Black Hills and the Badlands were more than what even my wild imagination expected. I was certainly going to need more time if I was going to really take it all in.
The first encounter with any wildlife came with the prairie dogs. They seem to be everywhere. Including the parking lot of the store right before the entrance to the park, where I stopped to grab some supplies. Ever since listening to an episode of Radiolab about prairie dog language, I've been kinda enamored with the species. Needless to say, I was delighted with this encounter.
But these weren't your average prairie dogs. These were tourist fed prairie dogs. They were fat. Sassy. BOLD. They had no shame in scampering up to my foot and tugging on my pant leg with their cute little prairie dog hands, begging for peanuts.
I'd like to say I resisted, but...
It's kinda hard to say no when you look down and see their adorable, plump little faces staring up at you with eyes that are just beaming, "DROP THE PEANUT AND I WILL CONSIDER NOT RUNNING OFF WITH YOUR LENS CAP."
They might look innocent enough in these photos, but these fur balls are masters of social engineering. And on top of that they're terrible at sharing. If you accidentally drop a peanut, TOO BAD. It belongs to the prairie dogs now.
Big Horn Sheep
My next animal encounter was big horn sheep. At first, I came across a very small group of them. I would soon come to realize there were herds of the sheep all over the expansive park. I hadn't expected to see so many big horns in South Dakota. Since Wyoming is famous for their large big horn population, I thought I would get all my big horn spotting done there.
I'm glad I got to see so many sheep in South Dakota--I ended up only seeing two of them the entire time I was in Wyoming! But for now, let's take a gander at how noble these big horn sheep are. This was the very first sheep who appeared in my adventure. He really set the standard high in terms of handsomeness:
He actually hung around for quite a while, so I hung out with them in the prairie grass for a bit, watching him and his friends from a distance. After a bit of time passed, the ram became alert of something. I noticed a pair of hikers heading directly towards the ram at a pretty good clip. I'm not sure they even noticed the sheep were there!
The ram was not having it and started walking away, alerting his buddies to do the same.
Sage Creek Wilderness Area
Pleased with my big horn encounters, I pressed on to the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, where I would be camping. Sage Creek is a pretty remote part of the park. The road you take to get there is a really bumpy gravel road. It feels like you're getting rung over an old washboard--it's not very pleasant. Next time, I will leave the car at the gate and hike in.
I wish I had done this in the first place because the views were absolutely to die for and would have been better experienced on foot. To be honest, I didn't even care if the rugged
road shook my car into a million pieces right there on the side of the path.
If my car was going to fall apart, so be it. I imagined myself adapting by homesteading alongside the buffalo herds who roamed the rolling prairies. I envisioned myself spending my days collecting fragrant bundles of juniper, lavender, and sage. Maybe making friends with a few magpies along the way.
I was pretty sure my new life was going to suit me just fine.
However, a new life on the prairie was not in the cards for me that day. I carried on down the road, eventually making it to my camp. I spent a few minutes hanging up my hammock and found a sage patch to relax in and do some reading until it was time for dinner.
“Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.”
A few chapters into my book, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, I happen to glance up from my sage patch and notice I had some company. Some very large, very powerful company. A herd of bison had descended into the prairie.
Now, that's how you know a book is good. If a small herd of bison can surround you while you're reading it and you don't even notice them gathering.
Desert Solitaire. Highly recommended, would read again.
The Badlands Bison
The herd was very content and grazing peacefully . I didn't feel like I was in immediate danger, but I quickly spotted a few calves with their mothers and knew that was something I didn't want to encroach on. There was some distance between myself and the nearest bison, but I wanted to be respectful of their space. After all, I was the one intruding in their home.
I casually backed away to a safer distance without so much as a glance from the herd. I grabbed a couple portraits.
One of the them was feeling particularly photogenic...
They couldn't have cared less about what I was up to, so I thought it would be fine to play a song on my flute. Some of them momentarily turned a curious ear towards my direction, but remained relaxed. I tucked my flute away and watched them as they began laying down in the grass, one by one, ready to put away the day.
I followed their cue and sauntered off to my hammock feeling grateful for these so called Badlands.