If you want to get to the Badlands of South Dakota in the worst way, I can tell you how. First, however, I must say that the Badlands are badly named. The designation apparently originated with natives, because the harsh environment was not favorable to subsistence living. For the 21st century traveler, however, venturing through the massive, wind sculpted formations with their brilliant coloring is like entering a grand cathedral, hand-designed by the Creator.
But I digress, and because as a traveller I am prone to digression, I also get lost—at least once a day. My GPS voice has adopted an exasperated and sometimes irritated tone as it instructs, “Make a u-turn …”
I favor roads less traveled by and that, as Robert Frost advised, makes all the difference. In my case, the difference between smooth sailing from Point A to Point B at 70 mph on the Interstate, as opposed to rumbling across gravel, washboard roads while choking on dust at 15 mph tops. That’s the worst way to get to the Badlands.
I’ve driven through the Badlands in the past. This trip I wanted more time and fewer crowds. I consulted a map—never a good idea—and found a two-lane highway that would take me into Badlands National Park from the rear. Not only that, I spotted a gravel road that would cut off a number of miles. You can always count on a shortcut to extend travel time. The road was so rough, everything inside my van shook. The vehicle has been quivering ever since. When I finally reached blacktop, I wanted to jump out, get on me knees and kiss it.
My proclivity for misdirection landed me onto another gravel road in Indiana. I was headed for Harmonie State Park, only I wasn’t. One of my problems is an inability to cut my losses. When I’m on the wrong road, I stubbornly stick with it until I can’t go any further. In this case, I ended up in someone’s backyard. I was turning around, being careful not to hit the owner’s truck when I heard a bang. I’d knocked over a portable basketball hoop that was in my blind spot.
The owner came charging out of his house followed by his wife. He immediately pointed out that the post was rusted at the bottom, had long been a goner, his grandkids hadn’t used it in years, and was my van OK. Then we had a long chat about their visit to Washington state a few years back and various other topics. Do you want my insurance information, I asked. He guffawed at the idea and waved me back up the gravel road to the park, which had a paved road.
They were the first two people I met in Indiana, and they surely gave me a grand welcome to their state. If I hadn’t been lost, I would’ve missed it.