Camping in the Badlands

by Tiffany Mueller October. 08, 2016 3710 views

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. 

Prairie Dogs

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.

I'm pretty sure prairie dogs that don't live in parking lots aren't as portly as these cuties.

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:

A big horn sheep sizes me up and decides whether or not I'm okay to have around.

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. 

Farewell, big horn sheep!

His two friends were out of there, too.

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. 

There were wildflowers and sage everywhere. It was the sweetest smelling fresh air!

Desert Solitaire

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.”
--Edward Abbey

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...

I think this was the first time I noticed their tongues were very dark colored, a shade of blue-ish black!

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.

Join the conversation
There are 17 comments , add yours!
Andrew Wakefield 3 years, 6 months ago

Hi Tiffany - thanks for liking my little owl blog. I just read this one of yours and I have to say the fusion of images and words in your badlands blog transported me to that place. Wonderful stuff! I'll be following you from now on that's for sure!

3 years, 6 months ago Edited
Sara G 3 years, 11 months ago

Love all of these animal shots! Great place, the Badlands. We really enjoyed and camped three months in S. and N. Dakota.

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Sara G 3 years, 10 months ago

You're so lucky! I would love to be able to spend a few months camping in the Dakotas--such an energizing place. :)

3 years, 10 months ago Edited
Antonio Gil 3 years, 11 months ago

Love your nature images. That's the kind of travel pictures I like. Congrats

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Antonio Gil 3 years, 11 months ago

Thank you, Antonio! I'm learning to focus more on shooting what I love, nature and travel are definitely at the top of the list. :)

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Antonio Gil Replied to Tiffany Mueller 3 years, 11 months ago

Just like me. :-))

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Joe 3 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for sharing your trip through these fabulous photos. Did you get to see the vast fields of sunflowers?

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Joe 3 years, 11 months ago

Oh yes! I LOVED them! I still need to edit those photos, hahah, thanks for the reminder! Those fields really have a magical way of making me smile :)

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess 3 years, 11 months ago

These are wonderful. Your commentary is fascinating & humorous, as well! Thanks for taking the time to share these with us! Bravo!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Jay Boggess 3 years, 11 months ago

Thanks Jay, I have a pretty silly life--the stories write themselves. ;)

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess Replied to Tiffany Mueller 3 years, 11 months ago

I like silly......Our old world needs all the silly it can get........(((GRIN)))

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Helen Hooker 3 years, 11 months ago

Fabulous travelogue and photos - thanks for taking us along with you!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Helen Hooker 3 years, 11 months ago

My pleasure! Thank you, Helen :)

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Arun Tp 3 years, 11 months ago

excellent work

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Arun Tp 3 years, 11 months ago

Thank you for your kindness and support, Arun!

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Ram Ya 3 years, 11 months ago

Wow! Loved reading and seeing all your images,Tiffany.
I could see why you decided to extend your trip! I would do the same myself :)

#8 This Bison seems quite intrigued by the sound of your flute. You gave them their first concert :)
BTW, what zoom lens did you use to capture the big guys?

3 years, 11 months ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Ram Ya 3 years, 11 months ago

I'm not so sure they enjoyed their first concert, but at least they didn't seem to hate it! :)

For this, I had a Nikon 28-300 3.5, but had it on a crop sensor so it was really more like a 42-450mm. I didn't really need a zoom to capture them though. There were times when they wandered really close, right up to the fire ring. They're really magnificent animals. Hard to imagine their sheer size until they are right up on you like that.

3 years, 11 months ago Edited