After being "stuck" in Bristol, TN for 4 days, we wanted to make time and decided to have a few long boring highway driving days passing through tons and tons of corn fields in Nebraska. Basically, my wife said: “Ok, enough with off-the-beaten-path driving, let’s get to a national park!”, so we hit the highway to fast-track to Badlands, NP.
Looking at the map, I did notice there was a NP midway between where we were and Badlands, thus Mammoth Cave NP came into the picture.
Kansas City and Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park Before that, I found this gem of a state park in Missouri called Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. Came by it by chance when looking for some camping spots. Just wanted to make a mention if anyone is around the area and wants a place to take a dip, this is it. Very picturesque and you can basically have your own jacuzzi (ie. Shut-Ins) with waterfall cold water instead of hot steaming =P.
Private jacuzzi between the rocks
We were also able to make a quick-stop at Kansas City to hit a few jazz clubs. A former colleague urged me to make a stop there to enjoy the nightlife and he swore by it, so I could not ignore it ^^… We spent a night there doing some bar-hopping and ended up in 3 different jazz clubs that had just amazing music! Kansas City is definitely a place we want to come back to enjoy some more of it, it was just an introduction to some southern food (gumbo!) and jazz music, such a great scene down there.
Mammoth Cave National Park From there, it was a straight shot to Mammoth Cave. Getting there we stopped by the visitor center to book a cave tour (if you want to go deeper into the cave, you have to go in a ranger guided tour) and our eyes were caught by the “Violet City Tour”, where you go into the cave carrying old-style lanterns! It was a perfect choice of tour; that’s because even though Mammoth Cave is huge (one of the biggest in the world) it does not have amazing cave formations within, so doing a tour with old-style lanterns – with which you can’t see shit – was pretty cool and we weren’t losing much by not having enough light.
At the campground in Mammoth Cave NP we also came across a fully-fitted 4Runner in patriot blue color - saying patriot blue because he had the MaxTrax on that color and it perfectly matched the truck (I damn myself until today because I have no picture to prove it!). Nice couple travelling across from North Carolina, unfortunately they were not yet OverlandBound members but they did mention they were overdue in signing up for a membership.
I like to mention this couple on the 4Runner because that truck inspired the National Park sticker scheme I have on Howdy now (recent picture below).
Next stop, Badlands NP!
(If you want those stickers, I got them at Anderson Design Group (click here to go directly to the page no affiliation or sponsorship)).
Badlands National Park The arrival in Badlands NP is a shock to any first-timers. You just can’t believe what you are looking at is something of planet Earth, you think you took a wrong turn and ended up in Mars! I can’t describe it, easier to see it for yourself:
Notice the "sun effect" on the rocks/hills between pics above - same spot
That landscape is just astounding!!!
We decided to camp at a primitive campsite (free!) on the western side of the park (Sage Creek Campground) which besides been a little crowded it was very enjoyable. The campsites were spread around this huge circle, inside the circle it was a prairie dog town, so you just camped there watching prairie dogs going around on their errands all day – they didn’t bother us or other campers at all during our stay. We even saw a huge bird (will not risk it to what was it) trying to catch a few for dinner, no luck there.
Prairie Dogs - btw, the ladies love it, lol.
In the morning, we went to climb a nice hill to have a good view of the camping – Badlands, NP has a policy of no-frills backcountry travel, basically they encourage you to go off-trail – and Mari ended up doing some Yoga up there while I watched the prairies.
During the remaining days we did a few trails, climbed some rocks and had a fun time at the park. But the most fun was yet to come… while talking to a Ranger about backcountry camping, he mentioned that you could camp anywhere away from the main road, so I pointed out to him a dirt road that went deeper into the park and asked if was ‘ok’ for me to camp along it since it was away from the main road… for my surprise I got a thumbs up.
The place we went is called Sheep Mountain Table, the first few miles are just a graded dirt road but the sights are beautiful as you start driving inside the desert – some pics!
Just imagine you driving through the desert heading towards those red cliffs... huf!
After the easy part there was one of those classics’ signs “4WD Only – High Clearance Recommended” and, at the same time I spotted the sign, I also spotted a Nissan Sentra trying to reverse from the middle of those huge ruts… trouble ahead! I climbed out of the rig and walked over to meet a young Asian lady (I'm not stereotyping!!!) with a shaking face that she drove the car right into the ruts (it did seem like a rental, but not sure). Luckily, she realized her mistake early on and the car was not stuck yet, but there were some weird angles to be worked on, especially reversing (too tight of a track to turn around). Gave her a quick 5 minutes class on the signs we use as spotters and off we go to lead her out; it took 20-30 minutes to drive her out about ½-¾ of a mile without scratching too much of the underbody but we made it without getting stuck.
Goodbye Nissan Sentra; Hello ruts! The track was fun without been too technical and there were some great views as we were climbing the hills. We found a nice spot and setup camp.
For those who don’t know, because Badlands NP is such a big desert, it’s one of the prime spots for stargazing in the US and we were camping alone so… stargazing time!
No need for a description
And here I leave you guys until the next post! . Some more pictures of the "Badlands getaway" (like the ones above weren't enough =P)!