We have a pretty rock solid routine of hitting up gas, groceries and laundromats as we roll through cities.
So Sunday we tackled all the errands, while getting some work done. We did ALL of this before we headed out to find dispersed camping on BLM land just outside of the Badlands National Park Pinnacles Entrance Station.
After passing the one million Wall drug store signs we turned off the freeway towards the free camping spot. If you’ve driven this stretch of highway, you know what I’m talking about…
We could see RVs and trailers scattered across the horizon but when we cruised up to the BLM land entrance there was a barbed wire gate.
Not to worry, a quick check of freecamling.net let us know this was the right place and you were fine to open the gate to head on in! What luck, a little (free) gated community!
We had read that this place was pretty spectacular and man it did not disappoint!
We hung a left where the dirt road Y’d and drove down the road a-ways before nestling the van right along a ledge that looked into the park and over badlands.
This spot ended up being our home for the next four nights. Checkout our campsite views below!
We had decided that since we were working all week, we would alternate the days we would be going into the park.
So, Monday we slept in and woke up to a herd of big horn sheep bedded down in the grass just 50 yards from the van.
Throughout the week these sheep would just mill about, often right next to people’s campers, and would eventually take a mid morning siesta on the badland ridges (see below).
Monday was a pretty standard day, splitting work up with weightlifting and metcons (workouts for you non CrossFit folk).
It was pretty hot for most of the day with the sun blazing down on us and no shade, and man oh man, the wind here was insane! It would kick up and cool you right down, and also blow everything not secured away in a second.
Sleeping in the pop top that night, I was wondering if we should be concerned and if the top had a wind rating. I never did figure that out but we survived with no damage and the gusts had to be up to 70mph, or so.
Another cool thing about boondocking here was how many people we met. Just by walking around we were able to meet and chat with several other full timers, some with really awesome adventure stories from the road!
Tuesday we planned to work until the mid afternoon, then head into the park for the first time.
According to the map we didn’t have a lot of hiking options but there were several short hikes that we wanted to take down.
With our hopes high, we loaded up the van and drove the scenic road through the park from the Pinnacles Entrance down to towards the visitor center.
It was slow going as there were so many scenic turn outs with epic views to stop at for pictures.
At most of the turn outs (aka view points) we were able to see down into the badlands and even walk on a few boardwalks to get close to the features. It was awesome!
The sky was brewing a storm and the lighting made for some dramatic pictures as we headed East through the Badlands National Park.
Once we made it to the trailhead that served The Door, The Knotch, and The Window trails we hopped out and started exploring.
The trails were all very short, the longest was the knotch at maybe a mile, however they actually wound down and around the badlands and offered striking scenery.
On our hike up the notch we met an awesome couple @microadventurefamily and hiked back to the parking lot with them. They are on the road with two young kiddos, and a goal to hit all 50 states! In fact when we saw them they only had eight or so left!
It was getting to be dusk, so we did one more quick short walk to an overlook, then filled up our water tank at the campground before heading back to our free campsite.
On the drive back to camp we saw a coyote, a million prairie dogs and a few herds of big horn sheep.
The Badlands also offered up some spectacular sunsets! We spent almost every night sitting in our camp chairs just watching the sky change colors.
Once the sun went down the stars lit up the sky. It was so dark and still out here it made you feel quite small.
Wednesday was another day working.
I think this was the hottest day of the bunch and I cooked myself working in the sun all morning.
We did a few more workouts, including some buddy back squats which were pretty entertaining and a bunch of lunges, which ended up making both Joe and I sore for a number of days. It was great!
Now on to the fun topic that I know you’re wondering about… poop!
As some of you may know, we opted to not have a black water tank on the van. That being said, we do have an awesome Laveo dry flush toilet (think diaper genie for your poo). This toilet has been great for times when we’re boondocking, but we do not use it regularly since each use is essential $1.75.
Anyways, we had been using the toilet all week with no problem, until Wednesday afternoon…
I used the toilet, pressed flush, and nothing happened. I pressed it again, and again with the same result.
After trying to research online, reading the manual over and over, and tinkering with the battery I could not solve the problem. We assumed the battery must be dead so we plugged it in to let it charge and we went outside for an evening workout.
Two hours later and the battery had not charged. We decided the best course of action was to pull out the remainder of the cartridge and tie off the bag.
Well, turns out this was the last cartridge! Perfect! No money lost :-).
We tied off the bag and closed everything up before putting in a new cartridge, feeling like we must have solved the problem we hit flush again and NOTHING happened. Sigh. As of today we still don’t know what’s going on, we suspect we need a new battery or need to charge the battery in a home outlet or something. Updates to come!
Ok ok, back to the good stuff!
Thursday morning we finished our work day before saying goodbye to our lovely gated community. And off we went to sleep at the Cedar Pass Campground.
We decided to move so we could wake up and get to the trailhead early (ish) for a ten mile trail run (before the sun made it too hot).
Cedar Pass Campground itself is nothing special, and a pretty tight fit between spots. But, there are some beautiful views of the badland peaks and a Ranger program!
That night we attended the Ranger program called The Night Sky and were able to see Jupiter and Saturn through some fancy telescopes. The Rangers also showed us where a bunch of constellations were. It was epic!
Friday morning we woke up, Joe fired off some emails, and we were at the Saddle Pass trailhead by 11:30am. We hiked up the STEEP Saddle Pass before jumping on the Medicine Root Trail where we started our run.
Our goal was to run the entire Medicine Root Trail and link that up to the Castle Trail for a total of ten’ish miles.
Welp, oh boy, we got our asses kicked!
Here we thought we would cruise this 10 mile run and everything would be nice and easy. Wrong!
Although it was very flat, it was hot! Scorching hot, with no shade!
But… the trail itself was really cool, and winded through rocks and prairies. But man oh man, after three miles we took a break at the trailhead for The Doors and we were just cooked!
Not being quitters we drank a ton of water, had a snack, and set out for more running! We didn’t pass many folks on the trail and once again, it was very cool terrain.
We eventually stopped at about 7 miles for another break and realized this was going to be more than a 10 mile day. Woof. We trekked on, hot and sweaty and tired.
After another 2 miles we reached the other end of the Castle Trail, this was our turn around spot! A quick bathroom break and a peek at some fossils from a Ranger presentation that was about to start, and we set off to finish our last two miles.
With the end in sight, we cruised back down the final 2 miles of trail to the van, and had completed 11.5 miles for the day. It felt like 20, we were just wrecked.
One more pit stop at the Badlands National Park Visitor center to pick up our token sticker (we get these at every National Park) and checkout the fossil lab (which was very cool), and we hopped in the van to drive as far as we could towards Theodore Roosevelt before it got too dark, or we got tired of driving.
We stopped in Rapid City for a delicious Panera salad (Joe had two!), a lot of bread, a refill on groceries and a Dairy Queen Blizzard for me.
Sometimes you just have to treat yourself!