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Another Hipcamp Adventure: Pine Ridge Tipi and Badlands Backcountry Camping

I was already contemplating where we'd camp next on the way home from our Appalachian Hipcamp road trip. So I booked a few camps out in South Dakota and Nebraska.

I guess this is the summer of Hipcamps. 

Hello, South Dakota.

Scott picked me up from work and we made it just past Souix Falls before calling it a night. We found a state recreation area (Lake Vermillion Recreation Area, actually.) and just as we arrived the park ranger was closing up for the night.

When we mentioned we were just staying the night he nicely waived the day fee. Luckily there was one tent site still available. 

  Always knitting that piƱata.

Scott talked me into leaving the rain cover off. Also the tent sites here were walk in only.

She survived.

The campground here had cabins too. If they have snow in the winter we may have to come back.

We heated up our instant oatmeal before hitting the road.

Wait, is that not the coolest picnic bench canopy ever?

All the parks should have these.

I have been through South Dakota a couple of times and never stopped at the Corn Palace. I was expecting a total tourist trap not an actual venue in downtown Mitchell.

Wait, you'd never been here?

Welp, now I can say I saw it.

Wait, I want to come back the next time they redo the exterior. Isn't that the draw?

Sometimes Meadow says she has to use the bathroom then refuses to go when you take her.

This was one of those times.

We kept stopping looking for food or taking Meadow to the bathroom. Only we never found something decent to eat, so we snacked the whole way.
Then we turned off the highway into the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is the same Reservation I went to during my summer after 8th grade for a church mission trip.

Suddenly the badlands showed up.

I've never witnessed a geographic feature so suddenly different than the surrounding landscape.

We picked up our camp host at Lucille in town and she directed us past the wild horses.

Our way in was right where these horses were crossing.

Then we arrived in solitude.

Just us, the tipi and the South Dakota rolling prairie.

   I wasn't expecting it to be so beautiful.

I drove Lucille back to town and when I came back the horses were grazing across the massive rolling hills.

The tipi was very open. No door, no top cover and an earth floor. This would be our closest to sleeping outdoors yet.

The open prairie was perfect for kite flying.

Meadow is a good kite flyer.

But I guess the wind wasn't quite steady enough.

My Minnesota mind was worried about bugs, but there aren't any!

Strange how dramatically a climate can change after a nine hour drive.

Meadow has been excited to stay in the tipi since we told her we were going.

For much of the day she lounged about inside.

I was impressed that the lodge poles were all uniform.

I made a kale, apple chip and pasta concoction. We were low on water, so we went to town.

The road into the teepee is blocked by gates to keep the buffalo and cattle in.

We drove into the village to get the water.

Porcupine isn't much more than a few buildings, including the trading post.

When we got back we drove a bit further down the road and found a prairie dog field.

They yipped at us as we drove by.

There was one cot available. Scott let Meadow and I have it while he set up his bed on the ground. What a guy.

We wanted to hike across the field, but were too busy relaxing.

I was afraid where we wanted to go was farther than we thought.

We did hike a bit around the tipi site.

The tall grass is a little sharp for little legs.

We read books while waiting for our hosts.

When they arrived we got a personal tour of the land. We really were the only people for miles. I felt like we had a national park all to ourselves.

Lucille and her partner, Ed, had to check on the gates and hoped to find the American Buffalo.

We only ended up seeing one buffalo in the distance, but we did get to ask Ed and Lucille about life on the reservation, traditions and the meaning of buffalo to his people.

Back at our teepee Ed made a fire for us.

It lit up the tent nicely.

Before going to bed we decided to put a blanket over the door at night. I'm glad we did. I heard coyotes howling in the distance and later I heard a hooved animal walking around. We also found lick marks all over our car.

Only, I don't think Brooke realized that the blanket had fallen off half-way through the night.

What a unique experience to stay here.

Meadow didn't want to leave. 

On our way to the Badlands we were in desperate need for gas.

We were pointed to nearby Scenic, South Dakota. It had a strange abandoned faux-ghost town.

We took the free back entrance into the national park.

We had already stopped in the Stronghold Unit where got the directions to the gas station and wanted to explore the Badlands Wilderness Area and the North Unit.

Each unit had a unique topography.

We got out of the car to see the prairie dogs.

Then we happened upon the bighorn sheep.

What a strange and beautiful place.

We then took a detour to touristy Wall Drug for lunch. 

Meadow was terrified of the dinosaur. This little girl turns around and says, it's not real.

I felt like it was not that long ago that I was on this jack rabbit. Insert photo here.

Not sure I got that one, Brooke, but I found this one.

After trying out a restaurant across the street and having bad service we decided to eat at the Wall Drug Cafe.

We waited freaking 20 minutes and no one came to take our order at the Badlands Saloon and Cafe.

We should've picked up more donuts.

Oh, Wall.

We debated back and forth on where to stay the night. Backpack into the Badlands or stay at some random campground in the middle of Nebraska. As you might guess the Badlands won.

You are allowed to camp anywhere you want along as you can't be seen from the road in the Stronghold Unit.

When we first backpacked at Afton State Park, way before Meadow and marriage, I saw a mom and two young girls hiking back from their campsite. I knew then that I wanted to be like that mom. Having Meadow hike with us has been my dream.

It's a pretty cool way to raise your kiddos.

I didn't know cactus grew up here.

Well, that's the Badlands for you.

We hiked around for a bit before settling on a spot.

We finally settled on a camp that wasn't too close to any cacti.

Then we did some exploring. Meadow insisted on going in the Ergo.

She quickly changed her mind when climbing the rocks looked like fun.

The weird thing is that it isn't really rocks, but layers of sediment that crumble beneath your feet. Thus, no rock climbing in the Badlands.

We would tell her, that's too high and she would come back down and then start all over again in another spot.

This place is so cool and we had it all to ourselves!

I wonder how many tourists overlook the reservation side of the Badlands National Park?

When we got back I had to make dinner, which was just pho noodle bowls from Costco. I want to get ramen packs like we used to get next time.

I climbed up for better views.

Don't be fooled by the green grass, it's razor sharp.

Trail mix and noodle bowls. Proof that Costco isn't just for soccer moms.

The Richard Scarry book we bought for Meadow at the rummage sale in Wisconsin has been her absolute favorite. She will look at this book in the car for hours.

Or in a tent in the Badlands.

The next morning we had to pack up early and get on the road. I was surprised we didn't see or hear any wildlife. I was hoping to see some buffalo.

I-haven't-had-my-coffee-yet Meadow wasn't up for hiking back to the car.

Goodnight badlands. Someday we'll spend a few days backpacking through your bad, bad landscape.


Anonymous said…
I absolutely loved this post about Badlands National Park. I felt like I was traveling right along with you. I am doing pre-research for my fourth graders and was looking for some info about the tipi village. While this isn't about that, it is far more informative about what you can do and see at Badlands. Thank you.

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