Full moon over the Badlands National Park

Off the Loop: So Much More to the Badlands (Day 1)

With my blog I hope to share some places that most people don’t go to and provide some tips on making the trip better.

Several times in my life I have driven the Badlands Loop while traveling to and from the Black Hills. I have walked many of the paths and stopped at the scenic view points. This time I wanted to see the Badlands in a different way.

My husband, Brian and I started our trip traveling across southern South Dakota. It’s a longer trip, but many have never traveled through Platte to the rolling bluffs of the Missouri River. Or driven through Mission to witness the poverty of our native people. You’ll also see their creativity and artistry in, and through the town.

Coming up from Martin, Kyle and Interior is a unique and thought provoking route I recommend.

Now back to the Badlands trip. Just before the southern entrance we stopped in to Interior at the Old West Wagon Wheel for a beer. This bar has a selection of cattle skulls for sale. And it houses a great collection of Hamm’s, Pabst and Budweiser antique advertising. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a clean, functioning Hamm’s rotating nature scene light.

The locals are welcoming and bartenders happy to serve and find out where you’re from. The bar owner’s sister Lou Lou was helping out the day we were there. A local resident, Pat obliged us with stories about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in this town of just 94 people. Fun times.

We entered the park near the Ben Rifle Visitor Center and headed west on the loop. Our destination is the Sage Creek Camp Ground. Along the way we had to stop to see the big horn sheep, prairie dogs and bison. Four pronghorn turned out to be quite entertaining as one chased another around the prairie. I’m not sure if they are in rut or if this was a show of dominance but we got to see the speed and agility of the pair.

Upon arriving at Sage Creek campground we see how full it is. Camping during the second weekend in September we expected it to be pretty quite. You couldn’t have fit another tent or car in this night.

I was also shocked and thrilled to find bison roaming right through the camp ground. Now, I do want to caution everyone. Although bison are somewhat used to people at Badlands National Park, that does not mean you can let your guard down. They are wild, they can be aggressive and do not approach them. There are over 800 in the park and you should stay alert and aware of where they are. If you want to observe bison, Sage Creek Campground is a great place for it.

The campground also has an active prairie dog community straight east of it. Coyotes howl all around the campground both in the evening and the morning.

Our timing on this trip was fortuitous. A full moon rises around 7:15 p.m. It came over the rocky ridge to the east and cast it’s bright glow onto a valley full of grazing bison. Coyotes in three different groups started to howl to each other. Both chilling and beautiful at the same time. This is a scene I will never forget. It was almost magic.

We sat in our foldout chairs and watched as the bison moved closer to the campground. One stopped just across the road to bed down.

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