What’s wonderful about the state of South Dakota is the abundance of outdoor activities. Along with the Black Hills and Custer State Park, one place I go to again and again is the Badlands National Park. I can’t even begin to express how much I love this place and it’s safe to say it’s one of my favorite National Parks.
When I found out I was moving to Rapid City nearly two years ago, one of the things I asked myself was, “What is even in Rapid City??” Mount Rushmore of course! The National Memorial is about 40 minutes from Rapid City near a small town called Keystone.
Last summer I was on a two-week work trip through the southwest. My road trip started in Tucson, Arizona, where I lived previously, and I drove to Alamogordo, New Mexico. I was scheduled to attend a class on the medical and psychological aspects of flying remotely piloted aircraft for a week with a follow-on trip to San Antonio, Texas to finalize an aircraft accident investigation.
Bungee jumping was one of those bucket-list items that I desperately wanted to achieve. It’s not the same as skydiving, which I got to do while in Arizona four years later, but it’s still a rush. There was no better place to take that leap of faith than off the Bridge to Nowhere in the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains.
Day two of my road trip was an especially long day. I drove a lot longer than I really needed, but the sites and park visits were totally worth it. I will say that Utah has some of the best scenic roads that I had seen in a long time, the different shades of red and brown painting the roads less travelled. The fresh-air smell of the wilderness was like a rush, filling my lungs.
The first thing on the agenda was the tour of Antelope Canyon, which I had seen so many pictures of but never had visited. It would have been lovely to have gone on my own, but the only way to see the canyon is though a guided tour since access to the canyon was limited. I wish that our guide had shared more history and the spiritual significance of the canyon, instead of the best places to take photos, but it is unfortunately a very touristy spot. From my understanding, older generations of the Natives were bitter on how commercialized the canyon had become with tours offered daily by different tour groups.
Regardless, the canyon is an absolutely beautiful sight. The best times to go are in the mid-late morning and early afternoon, when the sun beams are shining down through the canyon. Because of my long-planned day, I went to one of the earlier tours, and although the canyon was pretty dark, our guide was kind enough to help me find the right adjustment for my camera, resulting in some beautiful photos.
Because it was so close-by, I decided to make a quick stop to Horseshoe Bend, just a few miles south of Page. The name comes from the horseshoe-like bend of the Colorado river on the bottom of the canyon. An easy three-quarters of a mile hike from the parking lot leads you right to the rim of the canyon and it was a site to see.
I continued to drive east on Arizona State Route 98 and US Route 163 to get to Monument Valley. It had been years since I first saw it while on a family road trip, taking the 17-mile dirt road through the buttes, the dust, red from iron oxide, blanketing the car in a thin layer of dust. I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted to this time around since I still had to drive to Goblin Valley and finally to Salt Lake City, but I made sure to drive through a few miles on that same dirt road.
With a car full of stuff being thrown around everywhere, I was glad to have a vehicle that better fit the rugged terrain of the trail as opposed to some of the other vehicles there. Becasue it was a holiday weekend, the trail and visitors center was jam packed with people, all waiting their turn to see the amazing sites.
Finally, I started my drive toward Goblin Valley State Park. To be honest, the only reason I know about this place (nerd alert) is because of the movie “Galaxy Quest.” What looked like a made-up place was an actual park with unique rock formations called hoodoos, or the infamous goblins. After braving treachurous one-way roads going five miles an hour, seeing maybe one or two other cars in a period of a few hours, I finally found the park. Well…some road that was blocked off. Of course, I started cursing the fact that I may have spent hours on these back roads looking for this park that I had wanted to see for a very long time. But I persisted, continuing my drive, hoping to find another entarance or road that’ll let me enter the park.
And I found it! Passing through a herd of antelope, I drove up to the park entrance, paid for a pass, and excitedly drove to one of the main hiking and viewing areas of the park. I was greeted by a formation of hoodoos right at the start, called The Three Sisters, prominately displayed by main road. With only a couple hours of sunlight (and still another five hours until I reached Salt Lake City), I parked the Jeep and took in the view, enjoying these unique rock formations and the sheer oddity of them. Grabbing my camera and a bottle of water, along with the map I picked up from the visitor’s center, I attempted hike one of the established ‘trails’ and ended up getting a bit lost among the many hoodoos. As long as I kept a visual on the parking lot, I was fine and continued my way.
It was quiet. So quiet. The dirt untouched with the exception of a couple footprints by hikers and animals and I didn’t see another soul for at least half an hour. He was heading toward the far end of the park, insisting on seeing a beautiful and perfect sunset. I would have joined him if it wasn’t for my long drive to Salt Lake and wished him on his way.
After hiking for about an hour, I finally decided it was time to finish my drive for the day. The sun was setting and I had lost an hour when I crossed state lines. Other than getting lost about an hour south of Salt Lake City, the drive was relatively uneventful. I was ready for a good night’s rest for the long drive to Casper, WY the next day.
The Meadow Loop Trail is one of the shorter hiking trails at 1.6 miles, but if one is not used to the higher altitude and occasionally prone to mild altitude sickness, it’s a good trail to start with.