Thirty-one years ago my young family, soon to be characterized by our first friends in Portland as "the bold and the stupid", traveled our version of the Oregon Trail from Washington, D.C. to Portland. These images are my first impressions of our first encounter with the "real West", the Badlands of South Dakota. We had been on the road for a week or so, but Iowa and Nebraska, while certainly different, in no way prepared us for the beauty, the alien landscapes, and the shear emptiness of what was to come.
YOU HAVE GOT TO HAND IT THIS TREE - YOU COULDN'T MAKE IT IN THIS PLACE!
YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE
WANDERING AROUND THE BADLANDS
We had a very limited understanding of the meaning of "The Badlands", since rural America already had impressed us as extremely different from our East Coast environments. Then we met the first place that even Native Americans and then settlers realized was not really fit for human habitation. It was a shock to our systems. We were used to small mountains and forests that lacked people mostly because they were far away, but these lunar landscapes mocked any people that might even cross them, much less civilize them. The settlers that had tried clearly lacked any sense way beyond refusing advice from the natives who had long ago decided that the Badlands were not worth the effort.
TRAILS IN THE BADLANDS ARE SOMETIMES ASPIRATIONAL
Fran immediately realized that she should have been a geologist rather than an English major. She absolutely loved what most would characterize as shear desolation. We set up our campsite, and a few days of exploration and wonder began. It took awhile to realize that our campground was the largest collection of people in the entire area. It felt less like a park than the end of the world. The first time we parked and four-year old Benjamin scampered to an overlook probably hundreds of feet high, with no pretense of a guardrail, was our first clue that we certainly "were not in Kansas anymore."
ANOTHER TURN IN THE TRAIL TOWARDS YET ANOTHER GULLY
FRAN AND BENJAMIN EXPLORE THE PRAIRIE SURROUNDING THE BADLANDS
A few days in we experienced our first "cold front." As I was pumping gas I realized that the temperature had seemed to drop nearly ten degrees in the time it took me to fill the tank. When we got to our campground, it was mostly gone. Dozens of tents and camping equipment were scattered over a quarter a mile in all directions. Somehow our "home" held on by one tent stake, and we packed up and skedaddled to a hotel that was rumored to exist about thirty miles away. The surreal night concluded with a wonderful dinner of Indian Flatbread under a raving review on the wall of the restaurant from the New York Times.
We would continue on for another thousand miles, enjoying the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Glacier before we arrived in Portland thirty-one years ago on October 1, 1992. Fran agreed that we could rent an apartment on the campus of Portland State with the proviso that she would kill me if it wasn't safe. For the next six months we introduced ourselves to Portland. Fran negotiated Psycho Safeway and our tiny kitchen, with a view of Mt. Hood! Benjamin half-way believed that the South Park Blocks were his backyard. I reveled in the views from the terraces of the apartments on the floor above ours that never rented and were my personal retreat via a fire escape at the end of our hall. Fortunately my wife somehow convinced the bank that we could actually buy a house and our Downtown idyll ended after we moved to our 1911 Bungalow where I am writing this essay.
A VIEW TO THE EAST FROM OUR APARTMENT'S "BORROWED " TERRACE
If you ever get a chance to visit the Badlands I heartily recommend you do so. In fact any road trip across this incredible country is not to be missed.