Sketchy Adventures in The Badlands

First, I have to note something. Long before we took off on this trip, we had a talk with the kids about what would be different on this trip, and I noted that it was likely that Mike and I would fight more, because when you move outside your normal comfort zones and routine, it’s pretty common for there to be some tension and struggles as you negotiate the terms of how your new approach to managing life will go. I pointed out that this doesn’t mean that we would suddenly hate each other, and that the girls should know that it didn’t mean we were having problems or going to get divorced or anything like that. It just meant that we were adjusting to the new realities of our lives, and negotiating the new terms of our relationship for this year of travel.

I think this was some of the better advice I’ve given them about this trip. For the most part, considering how completely we’ve uprooted and changed our lives, I think we’re doing really well, and almost two months in, I’m really enjoying that all of us are having so much more of a chance for good conversation and appreciating each other. We’ve got inside jokes, and more belly laughs happening with each other than had happened in a long time when we were stuck in our rut back in New Jersey (and the girls’ closeness impresses me more and more each day). Oh, and thank goodness for podcasts!

One funny side note: since we’re in the car together A LOT, usually with little to no cell service (and enough proclivity to car-sickness that reading is not an option), we do a lot of talking in the car. When we’re in restaurants there is usually wifi and we’ve spent hours doing togetherness in the car, so we look like the most disconnected family on the planet as we usually spend all of the meal other than the actual ordering/eating on our phones and/or Kindles…

So anyway, a few days ago, this happened:

I got in our car and asked, “What’s that smell?” The kids had a similar question: why did the car smell so weird? It wasn’t the wildfire smell… so what was it?

But we ignored the smell on our way to lunch.

And we blew it off again on our way from lunch to the library.

And we blew it off again on our way from the library back to the hotel.

And we blew it off again on our way from the hotel over to grab dinner.

Well, on our way back from dinner to the hotel, it hit me: “Is there still stuff in the cooler?” You know, the cooler with no ice or other source of cooling in it. The cooler that has been sitting out in our car for days since we last camped. At The Badlands. Last Wednesday… the 16th… Four days before we started to smell it (on Sunday, the 20th).

The cooler that still had a quart of milk and a bunch of eggs in it.


I freely admit that one of my weird quirks is that I’m completely horrified by milk that might be in the least little bit perhaps maybe sort of kind of approaching souring soon. When I lived alone in my early 20s, I literally had at least five containers of possibly sour milk in my fridge because I was too afraid to touch any of them to throw them out. It’s a thing.

As you can imagine, I said that there was NO WAY IN HELL I was dealing with it.

There was a lot of screaming and yelling and laughing from the backseat too.

We all cracked up. We started making suggestions for uses for the rancid milk and eggs. Most of them involved Trump.

Back at the hotel, Mike, our hero, saved us. I seriously didn’t know what to do because this particular issue squicks me out so much. If I was alone, I would seriously — no joke — find a way to throw out the entire cooler and buy a new one. But back at the hotel Mike the practical one saved the day by laughing at the fact that this was going to be the fastest that Julie, Elizabeth, and I had ever exited the Blaine Bomber, and he then calmly removed the offending milk and eggs and threw them in the trash can conveniently located outside the front of the hotel. So this story is all to say that we are really lucky that Mike is so calm, detail-oriented, and level-headed, and that we appreciate him immensely.

Mike the hero on his way to dispose of the offending milk and eggs.

Now let’s rewind about a week to our arrival at The Badlands. That night was not one of our finer moments.

We had some miscommunication that resulted in neither Mike nor me realizing at different times the other’s feelings about camping with a threat of thunderstorms. Once we bought food for camping I thought he believed we were committed. I didn’t realize that he was open to change. It was just a reminder of how easy it is to screw up when we assume that our partners can read our minds.

The long and the short of it was that we proceeded to a KOA campground to buy a campsite for the next two nights. On our way to White River KOA, we crossed the White River, which was a light brownish muddy stream through a much larger creek bed.

Then I compounded the problem by checking the weather — thunderstorms ahoy — while Mike was in the store booking the campsite and I didn’t think to go in to talk to him about maybe suggesting that some of those little motels didn’t look so bad compared to camping before he booked and paid for a site. I also didn’t express my preferences about campsites effectively, so Mike came out having done his best to book the type of campsite we’d said we wanted without realizing my strong preference not to be camped in a tent amidst a bunch of RVs. Some tense moments ensued, and eventually I went back into the office and changed our campsite.

But in the meantime… the thunderstorms were moving in. Granted, it was The Badlands, and you can see thunder from much, much further away than is possible back in New Jersey. But I was freaked out, and we had dinner fixings in the car, but no time to set up camp before the stormy hit, and dark was approaching. Thankfully, despite my less than awesome handling of the campsite booking situation, Mike was willing to listen to my request that we head to town to get food and hopefully wait for the storm to pass.

Let’s put it this way… we weren’t the only east coast tourists to find ourselves sitting in the Wagon Wheel Bar in Interior, SD (population 67) that night. And the power only went out in the bar twice while we were there.

We did a lot of reading and screwing around on iPads (see earlier side note) and eating and we had an interesting discussion trying to explain video poker to the kids.

Around 9 pm — now that it was full dark — we headed back to the campsite to try to figure out what to do next.

At this point, the only thing we had left at the campsite was a plastic water jug half full of water that the kids had abandoned in their fear as the thunder grew louder while they were at the pump filling it.

The storms seemed reasonably far off and people were moving around outside at the campground, so we decided to set up the tents (at that moment I was thankful for the Coleman Instant Tents). We set them up (yay that they literally take about 90 seconds each) and moved some of our bigger bags into the tents, as we didn’t have time to find the stakes to stake them down.

And then the thunder and lightning returned. Louder. Closer. Scarier.

So, at that point we probably spent about another hour sitting in the car which — awesomely — I’d forgotten to fill with gas so that we were below 1/4 of a tank while waiting for the thunder and lightning and serious rain and strong wind to maybe, eventually pass. So we mostly left the engine off and sat in the hot dark car. Quiet hours began, but Mother Nature wasn’t observing them. Mike and I read on our phones because — yay — our tent-only site had no WiFi service and you’ve got to be kidding if you think T-Mobile had data service out there. The kids didn’t have that luxury as their Kindles don’t have backlighting. When we were able to catch glimpses of our tents, they were blowing like crazy in the wind (remember, we hadn’t had a chance to dig out the stakes to stake them down yet) and they were somewhat misshapen by the wind and wherever in the tent we’d dumped our large bags.

Eventually, about an hour later, when it became apparent that despite the intermittent rain, the actual thunderstorms were moving further away, we got out to survey the situation. Mike agreed to my suggestion that we switch the tent assignments around, as I knew there was no way in hell that the girls were going to be willing/able to get to sleep alone in their own tent (despite being two feet from our tent). So Mike — again the trooper — agreed to sleep alone in the girls’ smaller tent, and I spent the night in the larger tent with both girls.

I discovered that in our haste, I hadn’t checked the windows on the larger tent, where my stuff was. Thankfully, and to Coleman’s credit, nothing got more than a little damp despite half the windows of the tent gaping wide open during the thunder, lightning, rain and wind storm.

Somewhere around midnight, the thunder and lightning storms were finally done and we were able to get some sleep.

Proof that the girls finally did fall asleep (although not until after midnight).

The next morning it was still a little wet around breakfast time, but before noon the sun was out and the day was beautiful. Mike made French toast. The girls and I did the dishes. Division of labor for the win.

On our way to the park, we crossed the White River, which now filled the creek bed with its light brown, muddy water.

We explored Badlands National Park and had a long but great day.

The sky was still looking a bit threatening when we arrived at The Badlands visitor center around 11 am.

By noon we were looking at blue sky and sun behind the very same peak.

Dad. Chef. Pragmatist. Self-appointed humorist. Hiking leader. Jets fan.

The window. Probably my favorite shot of the day.

Mike and I managed to control our helicopter parent-y inclinations while the girls climbed on this rock formation. See them up there?

Relaxing a bit at fossil trail.

Mike also did an excellent job putting up with the heights issues, as heights are not his happy places.

This prairie dog takes no prisoners and feels no fear.

Big horn sheep. No telephoto.

Anyone who has known Mike for any length of time is not surprised that he got a kick out of the “yellow mounds.”

A long day of National Park exploration calls for a trip to the nearest tourist trap serving ice cream — in this case, Wall Drug.

Wall Drug: your home away from home for all of your jackalope and dinosaur needs.

After a long day of exploration, Mike cooked a tasty steak dinner, the girls and I did the dishes, and we went to bed much earlier than the night before.

Our campsite. Remnants of the beautiful sunset. Julie’s dance moves.

The second night it poured. Really poured. In the Badlands. In summer. This time we at least closed the tent windows before any harm was done. And thankfully there was no more thunder and lightning. Just a bad rainstorm.

So our second National Park camping experience had a rocky start, but turned out okay. Except that although we dried them off as best as we could, we had to put away somewhat damp tents in the roof box. Thankfully we have modern tents and no harm was done, as we discovered when we set them up at Glacier without encountering any weird smells.


4 thoughts on “Sketchy Adventures in The Badlands

  1. Whoa, the thunderstorms and rain sound intense! Can I just say how much I admire you and Mike discussing the potential relationship adjustments with your girls ahead of time? Chris and I were so focused on how the kids would handle our new life, we didn’t really think about us as a couple. We’ve reached a good equilibrium and are still having an incredible time a year in, but let’s just say that there have been some conflicts that have been unpleasant for all of us, and it would have been great if we had prepared the kids (and us!) for it ahead of time.


  2. Wow- sleeping in a tent during rain and thunder is super scary! Steve and I did that to celebrate our first anniversary this summer. We were in our tent, with our terrified pup, in the middle of the woods in VT when the distant thunder turned into a full-on storm. We were hunkered down in our sleeping bags when it occurred to me we hadn’t checked for dead branches dangling above the tent (“widowmakers” they are called.) So in the dark storm, I asked him to go out and check. (He went out. There weren’t. He got drenched.) Then once he was finally dry and warm, we realized we forgot to hang the bear bag. So he headed out again. He was annoyed, but bravely went out twice and both times soaked and shivering. Three cheers for pragmatically minded and action oriented husbands!! (Even if fights happen, as they did with us on that trip because I was walking too fast and he got annoyed I wasn’t waiting up enough.)


  3. “We started making suggestions for uses for the rancid milk and eggs. Most of them involved Trump.” I adore you guys! Fabulous pictures too.


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