On The Doorstep

28 August 2016

The good news when we woke up was the lack of mosquitos and over-night thunderstorms. The bad news was how wet everything was, including what was inside the car. Needless to say we were ready for South Dakota where it was assuredly dry AF. We hastily made breakfast, where we found that we accidentally purchased a bag of whole bean coffee instead of ground, and packed up our sopping tent.

On the way out we decided to drive through the massive bison enclosure where we saw zero bison and the car got a nice workout because there was no outlet on the other end. An hour later we were back on the road, 6 hours to the Badlands. It felt like our longest day yet. The temperature climbed from 88 to 92 to 95 to 98 as we drove across South Dakota. And the road was wide open and the sky was nearly cloudless and nowhere we stopped had any shade.

Finally we hit the east end of Mountain Time, gained our hour, and saw the sign for Badlands National Park looming ahead. The eroding peaks that make up the park rose up in front of us out of nowhere. And there we were driving into a city of very dry and cracked sand drip castles. It was pretty stunning in its own lonely way.

The campground was only a few miles into the park and we were glad to see dry grass waiting at our campsite. We got assigned a great site at the edge of the campground with a perfect view of some badlands peaks. At 8:30 PM the park rangers ran an instructional about the park and led some stargazing. Since there was almost no light pollution, we were treated to a night sky as pristine as a planetarium. We saw Mars and Saturn and were able to see the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy as a haze of stars. If you broke out the binoculars you could see the stars making up the haze in the galaxy.

I already knew of course but was reminded about the speed of light and how long it takes light to get to earth from various stars - 25 years, 500 years, 65 million years, etc. Standing where we were, where the ocean used to be, with talk of prehistoric fossils, it was easier to grasp the fact that there is a place out there that is seeing light from earth when dinosaurs existed. And if in your imagination that place had a telescope that could the surface of our planet, they would not see us, but those dinosaurs. It is also strange to realize that if a star died in my lifetime, I would probably never see its super nova (or however it dies) nor would it disappear from the sky.