We rose early, quickly took in a continental breakfast courtesy of the hotel we stayed at, and headed south on 240. We traveled through Buffalo Gap National Grassland and came upon our first entrance where we decided to stop and take the requisite photo next to the Badlands National Park sign. Back in the car heading further into the park we stared at the unique landscape unfolding in front of us. Sage Creek Rim Road was the first turn off we encountered requiring a quick decision: do we continue on or take this turn. Sage Creek Rim Road it was hoping to find a spot nearby in order to stop and study the list of events and map that where handed to us at the entrance in order to get a bearing on where we want to go. Our first stop was at the Hay Butte Overlook where the map and events list were quickly forgotten as we got out of the car and focused our attention at the amazing hills sitting before our eyes. This is a moment forever engrained in my memory as I was struck by the beauty of colors, textures, and shapes creating this incredible landscape. I could no longer feel myself standing as this moment became very spiritual for me while I became a part of this place that has existed for thousands of years and will continue to be here long after I am gone. After accepting this, my attention turned to other family members taking in all there was to see. Down in the valley roamed one loan buffalo. Our first wild buffalo experience. The day had just begun and I had experienced all that I expected. What more could there be?
We could have spent the entire day just exploring this one area in the Northern portion of the Badlands but there was much more to see. Grudgingly I returned to the car as we looked over the list of events. Ohh, there’s a ranger program starting in 15 minutes that sounds interesting. Unfortunately we were 30 minutes away from the meeting place so this wouldn’t work. The next ranger program of interest didn’t start for over an hour at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center so maybe that would be a good place to start. Everybody returned to the car allowing us to head back towards 240 which would wind through the Badlands and end at the visitor center. There were many places that begged for us to stop as the scenery continued to be amazing and show us different views. We resisted in order to get to the visitor center to learn more about this park. Once at the visitor center we began looking over the models on display showing the evolution of the Badlands.
During the course of this examination we stumbled upon the junior ranger program. Wow! A program directed completely at children. The kids received a booklet and needed to complete a certain amount during their adventure and then explain what they had learned to a ranger. Once the ranger is satisfied with all the kids learned, the potential junior ranger pledges to help keep the park as it is so other can learn and enjoy this special place. Upon completion of the pledge they receive a junior ranger badge. Both of our children decided to accept the journey to become a junior ranger. Fortunately, the ranger program we had made this trip for was a junior ranger program which would help them earn their badge. As the program wound down it was time for the board signature. I quickly headed towards the car to get our National Parks edition of Monopoly board and rushed back where the rest of the family was sitting. We asked the ranger for an odd favor – to sign our board on the Badlands property. He did so with an excited demeanor. Lysa and Kristy completed their necessary requirements and received their first junior ranger badge. Our first park complete! Time was passing as if with a purpose and we were starting to get hungry. What is available for food nearby? There was only the restaurant in the visitor’s center providing a meal without having to travel some distance. In we went for a bit of food, something to drink, and some refreshing cool air. After some rejuvenation we headed back out to explore a trail or two before the next ranger program of interest. There were two ranger programs on our agenda for the remainder of the afternoon and many stops throughout the Badlands just to enjoy the landscape.