It was Sunday morning, September 7, and although we had already broken camp at Sage Creek Campground, we weren’t quite finished exploring Badlands National Park. Instead of immediately exiting the park via the west entrance, we drove east on the Loop Road one more time to see a few more sightsnear the eastern entrance of the park that we’d skipped the previous day.
While we’d finished striking camp, we’d noticed some cloud cover moving in. Now on the road it added some drama. Although a few raindrops fell on the windshield, we could see that it wouldn’t last. (Note the Black Hills in the far right along the horizon in the image below.)
Our first stop was the Fossil Exhibit Trail near the Castle formations above the visitor center area. It was a short boardwalk with interpretive stations covering tens of millions of years of the fossil record of the Badlands.
After Fossil Exhibit Trail, we descended beneath the Wall for the final time.
We stopped briefly in the visitor center to drop our postcards in the mail and to look for our friend Lori’s son Connor’s photo on the fossil finder wall. They’d been in the park in August, and Connor had found a fossil.
After the visitor center, we drove on to the parking lot for the Notch, Door, Window, and Castle Trailheads, the same parking lot from which we’d departed on the Notch Trail the previous afternoon.
First, we ambled the short boardwalk to the Window, a natural gap in the formations with easterly views of dramatic Badlands. Rock Wrens and Least Chipmunks were busy along the trail.
Video: Brandon Hayes
After the Window, we walked the farther distance (again along a boardwalk (which was new in the decade since I’d last visited)) toward the Door. The boardwalk extended a short way into the Badlands, but then a more rugged trail led out across the Badlands to another gap one can walk through for stellar 360-degree views of canyons, formations, and vistas.
Sean remarked on how quickly this trail gets you from a busy parking lot to a sense of vastness and, the farther you go, near solitude.
Eventually we passed through the Door to just beyond where the trail ended at a small outcrop with canyons on either side. Capstone formations on one end of the outcrop felt like the ramparts of an ancient castle.
Video: Brandon Hayes
Out at the end of the trail, we were alone, although we’d passed other hikers heading back and knew there were more behind us. We’re fortunate that this has been a general trend on our adventures.
It was time to bid Badlands National Park farewell. We climbed into the Jeep and headed north toward the park’s eastern entrance and I-90 beyond. It was time for the Black Hills.