Mary Beth Writes

4/29/2022

The Lakota call this land "mako sica" which translates into "badlands." They and many other wanderers and settlers named it this because it is so hard to travel through.

The first time I saw Badlands was July of 1962. I was in the middle of the backseat of our family’s boiling hot Pontiac and I was trying to see out the windows past my sister and brother. I remember how urgently I whined to my dad to pull over, pull over PUL-LEASE, so I could get out to touch and climb those crazy striped hills. He didn’t pull over. Dad was driving us to the Seattle World’s Fair and there were 1200 miles to go.

I remember the Space Needle and nothing else about the Fair. Which is about the way kids work, right? Move heaven and earth on their behalf and what they will remember that thing you didn’t do.

I think that’s when the Badlands became my Brigadoon - a rare and inconvenient place of magic and power.

In 1984 Len and I visited the Badlands and Black Hills. I loved it all though what I mostly remember are the spectacular naps I took with the car window open while Len and Brother the dog walked around and did actual things. I was four months pregnant so that’s how that went.

The next few times we visited the kids were 4 and 2. Then they were 7 and 12 and 14. Len and I visited in 2014 before we retired. Talking in the car on the way home is how I decided I had to quit my job that was making me so angry and frustrated. Speaking of the inconvenient power of some places.

Each time we hiked short and long hikes. Scrambled up hills. Slid down on the seat of our pants. Tried to walk up the log ladder at Notch Trail and lost my nerve. Camped one rainy night and caught a big cold. Camped with the kids once; I took the kids swimming in that campground’s cement block pool. They were cooled off in about 45 minutes and when we got back to our designated tenting spot, Len was still hammering pegs into the cement-like caliche.

We visited a soddie house that was a family home into the 1920’s. Watching dirt gently drift from the ceiling, listening to the rustle of mice in the walls, standing at the door to gaze out at that dry harsh moonscape where men and women lived their whole lives – that was the first place where I asked myself what people were leaving behind that made this a better choice. It’s where I first understood that American history is as much about what people were leaving as what they did when they got to their next place.

The sky at night is a holy thing. The heat on a hot day will bake your shoes. There are mountain sheep and coyotes and birds that cackle like demented old men in nursing homes. The setting sun turn the hills red, tawny, greenish gray, bluish grey, and those soft colors of cut peaches and apples.

We are leaving in a few days for the Badlands. We have an Airbnb reserved in a town with a population of 65. We have a friend who will spend a lot of time here with our cats and Len says I should mention that person is an ammo-strapped Marine.

So anyway, I was nine years old the first time I needed to get out of the car in the Badlands and I still do. 

Do you have a place that calls to you and you don’t know why?

 

 

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Safe Trip!!!

The first and only time I visited The Badlands was by accident. My husband and I visited South Dakota in 2018 to fulfill a dream of mine to see the places in that state where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived as a girl and young woman. We were coming back from the Black Hills where we visited the town Carrie Ingalls lived after marrying and off to the side of the highway I noticed large cuts in the land that seemed deep and wide. I was intrigued as this East coast girl had never seen anything remotely similar to this. We saw signs for The Badlands and pulled off. Amazed, astounded, awestruck...all of the above. In addition to the strange and dramatic landscape, this was where I first saw a Prairie Dog, in fact, hundreds of them. We walked a few trails and drank in the beauty. We held hands and stood speechless looking down into a canyon. We drove and drove, not wanting to leave anytime soon. The National Parks were celebrating their birthday that day so we were also treated to cake and freshly squeezed lemonade at the visitors' center. I am so glad we pulled off the highway that day, a day I won't forget.
Mary Beth's picture

This is a wonderful comment! Exactly, there seems to be a cut off to the side of the road - and suddenly you are staring out over miles of canyons. Prairie Dogs - for several years I wrote a weekly newsletter which I called the Prairie Dog Quadrilateral. I do love small community members who watch out for each other. And did you go to DeSmet? We took the kids there. Laura Ingalls Wilder was our spirit animal when we were kids, right?

Yes, we did go to DeSmet, that being my primary destination. We took a tour of the Ingalls "town" house and their homestead. We also visited the cemetery where Ma, Pa and other family members are buried. I stood there and wept, not so much out of sorrow but gratefulness for the lessons of what a wonderful home and family life they were able to give their children and then impart them to me through Laura's words. It seemed like all hell was frequently breaking loose in the house I grew up in. I know the Ingalls family were poor but it seemed to me they were still able to provide a home where love and stability abounded. Ha ha...love that Laura was our spirit animal when we were kids! Absolutely!

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