Badlands National Park, SD
Door Trail, Window Trail, Notch Trail , Saddle Pass Trail
The first National Park on my cross-country circuit was Badlands National Park - a small but hauntingly beautiful mix of open prairie, plunging canyons, and towering buttes in western South Dakota.
After driving all day from Chicago, we were relieved when the oppressively flat landscape of Minnesota finally gave way to fields of sunflowers and rocky spires, and getting out of the car for the first time at Big Badlands Overlook felt a little like stepping onto another planet. In every direction, jagged rock formations pierce the sea of rippling prairie grass - you'd be hard-pressed to find an uninteresting landscape in this park.
The daytime temperatures held steady at a stifling 95 and on our last night in the park we watched thick storm clouds roll in from the West. Just after dark, the camp host came by our site to warn that the storm would be passing overhead and bringing 75 mph winds. She seemed unphased and we knew that if we left the tents we'd likely lose them entirely, so we opted to batten down and the rain started only a few minutes later, bringing hail and frequent lightning with it. The wind was so powerful and unrelenting that the tent walls nearly collapsed around us (I can now attest to the durability of REI’s Half Dome 2+.)