The dry air lashed my face as I stood among the towering castles, feeling like an alien on my home planet.
A high wind advisory was in effect, warning of gusts up to 60 mph. Apparently this wasn’t uncommon in the exposed landscape of Badlands National Park.
Badlands is the name of an area with clay-rich soil that’s been sculpted over the years by wind and water. The result is an otherworldly terrain. Canyons, ravines, spires, buttes, gullies, and mesas, dipping and jutting, draw an erratic pulse along the horizon. The geologic history was palpable as I wandered through the whittled shapes. I felt the torrents and squalls, the contouring surges, of prehistory.
Despite its standing as a national park, there’s surprisingly few hiking trails in The Badlands, likely due to the stark, ever-changing landscape and the lack of water. My boyfriend and I found a 4.2-mile loop for an afternoon hike. After scrambling up the silty 0.2 miles of Saddle Pass from the parking lot, we found ourselves in an entirely different setting, green and humming with insects. We had stumbled into the largest, undisturbed swath of mixed prairie grassland in the United States. It was a striking contrast to the dusty, vacant plains below.
We followed the Medicine Root Trail through the dancing blades, which eventually dissipated into a wash of white clay. The layered formations whispered secrets of the past through their bands of colored earth, weathered by time. Our path flowed from milky porcelain to brittle puzzle pieces.
“It looks hotter than it is,” I noted, as the ripening sun reflected on my face from the pale ground. We trekked along Castle Trail, occasionally taking refuge in the shadows of the ancient statues, for which the path is named. We connected back with Saddle Pass and made our way to the parking lot.
Back on black asphalt and florescent lines, I reflected on Earth and its inhabitants. As we drove into dusk, I could sense the primordial wisdom of all things.
Photos (C) 2015 Madeleine Boga
Madeleine Boga grew up under the redwoods of Northern California. After living in New York City for five years, she’s road tripping her way back home. Her background in Environmental Studies and love of nature saturate her writing, artwork, and travels.