Yosemite Diaries: From Bears to Beers in Yosemite Valley

Sept. 23. 2015: Hetch Hetchy to Yosemite Valley

Mileage: 15.59 miles
‘Floors’: 90

IMG_5972One of the great things about camping trips is that it’s easy to change your plans around, “Choose Your Own Adventure” style. After 4 days of hiking in the Hetch Hetchy area, Kurt and I decided to check out Yosemite Valley. It would be an hour-to-90-minute drive from where we left our car at the backpacker campground, so we woke up bright and early at 6:30 am to get an early start to the day. We had trail mix for breakfast instead of cooking a hot meal to make packing up easier.

P1070114The trail back to the trailhead took us past Rancheria Falls, which was already dry for the season. Someday, it would be awesome to go back to Yosemite earlier in the year to see all of the big waterfalls gushing at full volume. The high season means more crowds and harder-to-get trailhead permits, so it’s always a toss-up when picking what time of year to travel. The last 5 miles of trail wrapped around the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Back at a lower altitude, we were quickly reminded how HOT it was outside. It was close to 90 degrees, and the sun was unrelenting on the unshaded trail. Once we were close enough to see O’Shaughnessy Dam, we became eager to finish. All I could think of was ice-cold Gatorade from the nearest gas station. We ran into a couple out on a day hike who was surprised to hear that we had been camping for the last 4 days, and offered to give us a beer from their cooler. We told them that since we were coming out of the backcountry, there was a 6-pack apiece with our names on them in the near future.

IMG_6031We got off the trail in the mid-afternoon, and drove straight down to the valley, stopping at a visitor’s center to inquire about a place to spend the night. All of the campgrounds in the valley were full, but we found a vacancy in the tent cabins in Curry Village. As we drove into valley, El Capitan suddenly appeared before us, with Half Dome looming in the distance. “It’s our screensaver in real life!” I saved. “It’s our whole Mac operating system in real life!” Kurt replied. We pulled over, joining the clusters of cars and tourists on the side of the road getting their first pictures in.

Upon checkin, we stuffed our food and bear cans into the bear vaults (a bit redundant, but we couldn’t bring the cans into our soft-sided tent) and ran straight for the showers. I attempted to hand-wash our nastiest clothes in the shower with me, which we hung dry on a rope strung across the top of our tent, pure camp-style.

Once we were feeling fresh and clean for the first time in days, we walked into Curry Village and ordered a giant pizza with beers, which we ate outside on the patio. There was a wi-fi lounge across the way with a wraparound porch full of rocking chairs, so we picked up a 6-pack of beers from the gift shop, grabbed some seats, and spent the rest of the evening Instagramming (me) and catching up on Packers news (Kurt). That night, we went to sleep in a real bed, listening to drunk tourists stumbling to their cabins instead of the hooting of owls.



Yosemite Diaries: All Downhill From Here

Sept. 22, 2015: Lake Vernon to Tiltill Valley

Mileage: 11.51 miles
‘Floors’ ascended/descended: 74

In the morning, I went to filter some water at the edge of the lake.  A loud whooshing noise approached, like a swiftly moving plane or train. I looked up into the sky; three birds in formation, their wings steady in a V,  swooped down over the lake at an incredibly high speed. In seconds, they were gone. “What was that?” Kurt called from inside the tent where he was rolling up our sleeping bags. “It sounded like a car driving right at us.”

21939545792_2814d294ea_oAs we finished packing up, we spotted a bear across the lake near the water, our fourth sighting in 24 hours. It was time to hit the trail again, and it was a 750-foot climb to get over the ridge surrounding the lake. It didn’t feel as hard as I thought it would be; as they say, you get in shape on the trail. As we climbed higher, we got a great view of Lake Vernon, including a bear walking along the water (probably the same one I saw earlier continuing his stroll).

21763764508_4e6c0d6bed_oAt the top of the ridge, the trail flattened out and we found ourselves in an alpine forest. “It’s the forest moon of Endor!” Kurt said. In the fresh mud, we saw a bear print and what could possibly be a mountain lion paw print. The trail meandered through a high meadow, and as we entered the deep brush we heard a crash to our right; we had startled a mule deer. It hopped away from us about 25 yards, then looked back to check us out, hanging around to nibble on grass while keeping an eye on us.

somebody got got :(

somebody got got 😦

When we reached the far end of the ridge, we started a long climb down (1800 feet, to be exact). The switchbacks took us back and forth through thorny bushes that made me wish I had left the legs on my convertible pants. At the bottom of the steep descent, we reached Tiltill Valley, our destination. However, in the search for a perfect campsite, we continued another .75 or so of a mile to see if we could find a scenic view on the other side of the valley. It turned out there wasn’t a decent water source, so we backtracked closer to the trail marker, where we ended up finding a pretty cool well-hidden spot across the river and over a large rock. Tucked away from the word, we set up camp then took a dip in the bubbling creek to clean up. The rocks created a small pool, our own personal spa (that happened to have freezing water).

While climbing up the rock to our ‘kitchen’ area where we cooked dinner/kept our bear cans away from the tent, I heard Kurt exclaim “Snake!” I ran over to check it out; he had found a Sierra Mountain kingsnake, which is very colorful but not poisonous. After the sun set, we went into the tent (we were now at too low an elevation to legally have a campfire) for a “tent party,” which basically meant that I journaled by headlamp while Kurt went over our maps, and then we both read our books until falling asleep while listening to the hooting of owls.



Yosemite Diaries: All the Bears

Sept. 21: Laurel Lake to Lake Vernon

Mileage: 7 miles
‘Floors’ climbed: 69

In the morning, I peeked out of the tent door to check on our bear canisters like a kid on Christmas Day, wondering if they’d be knocked out of place in with fresh claw marks on the side. But they were just as we left them the night before. We made a breakfast of powdered eggs, dehydrated hashbrowns, coffee, and tea, then packed up our tents and packs.

The route to Lake Vernon traveled out of the grassy meadows and onto the granite rocks that Yosemite is famous for. We quickly learned that the trail, when traveling over rocks, was much harder to follow. Looking ahead for cairns quickly became a habit. The hot sun bounced off the white rocks onto our arms and faces. After we crossed over the peak, the rest of the trail snaked downhill towards the lake. We followed the trail halfway around the lake, looking for a spot where it got close to the water; we needed a good entry point where we could filter clean drinking water. After going a bit off trail, we found a grassy spot where Kurt could crawl out onto a log and dip the gravity filter bag into the lake. We took a lunch break while filtering 3 Nalgene’s worth of drinking water, then came up with a game plan to backtrack and continue along the trail to an area on the opposite shore that looked like a small sandy beach.

As we bushwacked back to the trail, Kurt pause in front of me. “It’s a bear,” he said. About 25 yards away, I saw the furry rounded back behind a bush. The bear briefly lifted its head, looked at us, then returned to its bear business. “HEY BEAR!” we shouted, waving our arms to look bigger, following the ranger’s advice. Slowly, we backed away, keeping an eye on him while continuing to wave our arms and make noise. He showed zero signs of wanting to follow us, or any interest in us whatsoever, so as soon as we reached the trail we walked away like normal humans (with pounding hearts).

IMG_5954On the other side of the lake we found an ideal campsite–a sandy beach with easy access to the water, and a primitive trail leading into a wooded area with a fire ring and enough space to pitch our tent. We set up camp and relaxed; Kurt fished while I read my trashy time travel romance novel. At one point while sitting on the beach, I heard the padded footsteps of something behind me. I spun around; a young bear had spotted us and ran away. I remembered the ranger’s words: “they’re afraid of us.”

At dinnertime, we took our Jetboil and baggie of dehydrated mac and cheese and hiked partway up the ridge to watch the sunset. No picture can capture the beauty of a Yosemite sunset. The tops of the granite bluffs took on a rose hue as the sky darkened, reflecting its mirror image into the glassy lake. Further up the ridge and in the distance, we spotted the shape of a black bear rambling along the rocks. As the last remaining light waned, we walked back down to camp. Kurt noticed a fresh pile of bear scat by our fire ring.

We made a toasty fire and laid out the socks that we had rinsed and wrung out earlier on the rocks to dry (camping laundry). With the moon behind the ridge, the stars began to come out. I caught a glimpse of a shooting star. When we turned off our headlamps, the nighttime view was breathtaking; the white rocks glowed in the moonlight, creating an otherworldly vision of another planet. In the warmth of the fire, we reflected on the views, the stars, the stillness. This was everything we came to the backcountry to experience.


Yosemite Diaries: Hiking Out

Sept. 20, 2015: From Hetch Hetchy to Laurel Lake

Mileage: 12.68 miles
‘Floors’ climbed: 164

We woke up just before 7 a.m. Pacific time and immediately began to pack up our stuff. Our first day was going to be our hardest; besides the fact that we’d be carrying full food and water (as the rangers mentioned, most rivers in the area were already dry), we’d also be climbing out of Hetch Hetchy Valley on a switchbacking trail, gaining about 1,200 feet in about 2 miles. We’d be adjusting to the heat, the altitude, and pack weight all at the same time.

After a breakfast of almond oatmeal, we were ready to go. We filled our water at the campground and took our last pee in toilets; the women’s room door was covered in warning signs mentioning bears, mountain lions, and plague (transmitted by squirrels). We were not on a Club Med Vacation; that much was clear.

IMG_5931The trail began by taking us over O’Shaugnessy Dam and through a tunnel dug into the mountain ridge. We took our obligatory first day photos, then got down to the business of the trail. There was a handful of other people out and about, mostly day hikers with tiny packs or no gear at all.

As the switchbacks grew more and more grueling,  the view of the valley became even more impressive. We stopped as needed to suck down water (the sun beat down on us on an 87-degree day) or rest our legs. I tried to count how many switchbacks there were on the map, but gave up. Just when we thought we were close to the top, the view would expand and we’d see a whole new ledge of rock we had to climb. Pinecones as big as my head were scattered across the trail. When we finally reached the last switchback, the trail continued to climb uphill but at a less steep progression. Still, it was enough to knock us on our asses.

During a lunch break of trail mix and Clif bars while sitting on some rocks, a ranger caught up with us. We chatted for a bit, and we gave us a heads-up that there had been a lot of recent bear activity at Laurel Lake and Lake Vernon, our destinations for the next few days. “Don’t forget,” he said, “they’re scared of us. Wave your arms, shout at them, throw rocks–not to hurt them, but to remind them to keep away.” We thanked him and said goodbye and he continued down the trail, giving us a view of the large shovel strapped to his pack. “That must be for a lot of poop,” Kurt joked. The ranger overhead and turned back to smile. “It’s for breaking up coals in fire rings,” he explained.

The trail continued to climb; Kurt’s legs were jelly and I was wheezing from the pack weight. When I stopped to rest against a tree and apologized for the pause, Kurt waved it off. “There’s no hike-shaming today,” he said.

Just when it felt like our legs were about to give out from underneath us, we reached Laurel Lake. As we set our backpacks on the ground to eat a celebratory snack of goldfish crackers, I spotted a black bear moving through the trees about 75 yards away. “Look!” I pointed it out to Kurt. Our first bear sighting–that’ll give you an adrenaline rush. We set up our tent, then took a dip into the lake to rinse the sweat and stink off our bodies. Back at camp, we made our dinner of rehydrated broccoli and chicken with rice-a-roni. A mule deer doe wandered through our site, unfazed by our presence. We made a campfire in an existing fire ring and rested our weary limbs while watching the stars come out. I told Kurt that my Fitbit estimated we had climbed 164 stories. Ever the mechanical engineer, he said “That’s almost the Sears Tower AND the Bloomingdale Building!”

Sleep came easily.

Yosemite Diaries: Arriving in Hetch Hetchy

Sept. 19, 2015: Hetch Hetchy Backpackers Camp

Our alarm in Chicago went off at 4:30 am; it was quiet and dark on our street. After groggily rolling out of bed and getting dressed, I took our dog for a walk before leaving for the airport. My brother, who was housesitting for us, would arrive later that day to take care of her and our cats. As River and I walked along our block, I caught a glimpse of a skunk lurking in our neighbors’ front yard. I guess that counts as the first wildlife sighting of our vacation.

We took a taxi to the airport and a little over four hours later, landed in San Francisco (my in-flight move: Pitch Perfect 2; Kurt’s: Focus). After picking up our rental car, we left the city immediately, heading southeast towards Yosemite, with one quick stop at an REI in Pleasanton to purchase fuel for our Jetboil (as we couldn’t carry it onto the plane). There was an attempt at In-N-Out Burger for lunch, but a line snaked around the parking lot so we gave up and hit McDonald’s. My last non-dehydrated meal for the foreseeable future was a Big Mac. After stopping near Stockton to use a gas station bathroom that looked like about 50 junkies died in it, we finally reached the Yosemite area. Our cell reception went from spotty to nonexistent. The pines began to tower over us, and I was reminded of Special Agent Dale Cooper’s first impressions of Twin Peaks: “Oh Diane, I almost forgot. Got to find out what kind of trees these are. They’re really something.”

We arrived at the Hetch Hetchy entrance to Yosemite around 3:30 pm and checked in with the ranger to get our backcountry permit. The ranger checked our packs to make sure that we had bear canisters for storing our food: “A bear got some food at Lake Vernon about a month ago, so they might be a little more aggressive.” She mentioned that one bear near Snow Pass had gotten smart enough to roll bear cans off of cliffs to break them open, allowing her access to the food inside. Oh yes, we were officially in bear country for the next few weeks.

P1060800After arriving at the backcountry campground, we selected a site for our tent and threw our food and toiletries into a bear vault. We drove our rental Nissan around the loop, giving us a fantastic view of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of San Francisco’s drinking water. In the early twentieth century, John Muir had unsuccessfully protested the damming of the Tuolumne River, as Hetch Hetchy Valley was one of his favorite sites in the Yosemite River. We took a short walk from our campsite up past a helipad landing area to get a higher view of the reservoir and Kolana Rock.

Tomorrow, our adventure would begin.

The Mountains are Calling…

…and I must go.

It’s an appropriate time to quote John Muir. In just a few days, my husband and I will get on a plane and fly to San Francisco, then drive down to Yosemite National Park and Emigrant Wilderness Area for an adventure. We will spend 2 weeks camping, hiking, backpacking, exploring, and getting incredibly dirty and smelly.  I am greatly looking forward to this trip. I need this trip. It’s been a long time since I’ve fully immersed myself in nature, and this will be the longest time we’ve spent “off the grid” together yet. After months of devouring hiker blogs online, I’m finally going on my own hiking trip! It will be a far cry from a 5-month long thru-hike, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

My backpack holds: one bear canister full of snacks and dehydrated meals, one quick-drying t-shirt, one sports bra and pair of underwear, two pairs of socks and sock liners, one pair of long underwear, one nano-puff jacket, one set of trekking poles, a headlamp, travel toothbrush, two empty water bottles, a water filter, rain jacket and pants, a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, tent, pocket knife, hat and gloves, a solar charger, a small journal, and a paperback copy of Outlander (because who doesn’t love reading trashy novels in the wilderness?). Kurt’s backpack is similar, plus or minus a few odds & ends we split up between the two of us (he’s reading The Martian). Other than the clothes on our backs, that’s all that we’ll have for 2 weeks.

There may be bears, fires, and plague. We may have to improvise our plans at times, or deal with rough weather. We may want to strangle each other. We may give up after 3 days and get a hotel room in Reno. Who knows?! I can’t wait to find out.




Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 12: the East Side of Glacier

Wednesday, June 11: our last big day of kayaking and hiking in Glacier

After two days on the west side of the park, we were ready to spend our last full day in Glacier on the east side. Since the Going-t0-the-Sun Road wasn’t yet open, this meant that we had to drive around the outside of the park. On our way, we stopped for breakfast at the Izaak Walton Inn. I had delicious huckleberry pancakes (if you couldn’t already tell, I really embraced the huckleberry). Someday, I would love to go back to the inn and stay in one of their cabins, which were created out of old rail cars.

Izaak Walton Inn

a rail car cabin at Izaak Walton Inn

When we reached the east side of Glacier, we unloaded our kayaks on Swiftcurrent Lake. This lake was much smaller than Kintla, and to my relief there was barely a light breeze in the air. Many Glacier Hotel sits right on the lake, and view was phenomenal. We enjoyed a nice, easy kayak trip across the lake to the small channel connecting to Josephine Lake. It being early spring, the water through the channel was rushing prettily steady and too strong to paddle against. We attempted the most bone-chillingly cold portage (and this from someone who’s done the Polar Plunge in Lake Michigan during a Chicago winter), but ultimately decided that the water was too high and we’d have to skip kayaking Josephine.

kayaking Swiftcurrent Lake near Many Glacier Hotel

kayaking near Many Glacier Hotel

Swiftcurrent Lake

Swiftcurrent Lake

We took the short trail to Josephine to gaze at the stunning, crystal clear water, so calm it perfectly mirrored the mountains surrounding it. Then we followed the Grinnell Glacier trail, climbing steadily up the mountain. As we got higher, I thought back to a ranger’s words of warning on walking the glacier trail while there was still snow and ice present: “Just be smart. If you fall, you’ll get a concussion and keep sliding ’til you’re dead.” I have a pretty bad fear of heights, but kept going with Kurt’s encouragement. Mountain goats are definitely not my spirit animal; I’ll stick with my original Buzzfeed quiz result of “dog wearing sunglasses.” As we hiked, we spotted mountain goats high up on the steep ledges above us. Down below, I alerted Kurt to a grizzly sow in the valley with two cubs tailing behind her. (The two best things I did before this trip were chop off my hair and get LASIK eye surgery).

Lower Grinnell Lake

Lower Grinnell Lake

As we approached the view of Salamander Glacier and Lower Grinnell Lake, we came across a sign warning of ice on the trail. A couple approached from behind the sign and told us we could still go another couple hundred yards. I silently cursed them, as I was ready to get back to a lower, less deadly elevation. Kurt, however, wanted to keep going for a bit more, so I reluctantly followed. We carefully maneuvered around a giant snow boulder blocking the trail, my heart beating like crazy. After reaching a spectacular view of Lower Grinnell Lake and snapping dozens of photos, we finally turned around and headed back down the mountain.

passing the snow boulder

passing the snow boulder

snow hazard sign

snow hazard sign

We took a leisurely paddle back across Swiftcurrent, enjoying snacks in our kayaks. As we floated mid-lake, we heard a group of about twenty tween girls taking the “sing while hiking” advice to heart, belting out “Let It Go” from Frozen at the top of their lungs. “I think they’ve scattered every bear in the park,” I said to Kurt. They were just beginning to follow it up  One Direction’s “Beautiful” as they finally, mercifully disappeared into the woods and out of our range of hearing.

After stowing the kayaks back up on the roof rack, we said a wistful goodbye to Glacier. We grabbed dinner and huckleberry margaritas at Two Sisters, then began the long drive back to the cabin. On the way, we made a few more sightseeing stops: the Continental Divide marker and Goat Lick. At the latter, along the highway, a plentiful amount of mountain goats grazed while the young ones frolicked on the rocky ledges. We all gasped as a young goat lost its balance and tumbled, but luckily it safely recovered. It made me way too anxious; I could never be a mountain goat mother.



We reached our cabin during the last of the light, and began to pack up our things in preparation for the following day’s departure.


Wildlife sightings: mountain goats, grizzly bear with two cubs


Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 10: Kintla Lake

Monday, June 9: kayaking, hiking, and glacier spotting

One of our guidebooks perfectly summed up Upper Kintla Lake with the line “It’s a place you have to get to on purpose.” Once again, our alarm went off at 6 am. We took North Fork Road, which is unpaved, gravelly, and full of potholes (when we told locals where we planned to go, they always immediately followed up with the question “Do you have 4-wheel drive?”). On our way, we stopped in the small town of Polebridge to get coffee. Polebridge has no electricity and uses solar power or generators in their mercantile store and bar.

We made our bumpy way up the 40 miles of North Fork to reach Kintla Lake. The campground was open, but we only saw two other people there. Otherwise, it was just us (and about a million mosquitos). No motorized boats are allowed on Kintla, so the lake was completely calm. We immediately unloaded our kayaks and got onto the clear, inviting water.

Kintla Lake

Kintla Lake

Kintla Lake is about 5 miles across. On our way out, the wind was at our backs, making the trip relaxing and peaceful. We drank in the gorgeous scenery and bright sunshine. It was a perfect, beautiful day of 70 degrees. As we reached the end of the lake, we spotted the campground.

crossing the lake

crossing the lake

As Kurt secured the kayaks, we noticed a young mule deer grazing nearby. He saw us but didn’t startle. We continued about our business, getting out our daypacks and lunch, and he continued to hang around, keeping a safe distance while watching us curiously. I felt calmer with the deer nearby, thinking that that must mean there weren’t any bears around. Glacier has the highest concentration of grizzlies in the lower 48 states, a thought that was constantly on the back of my mind.

our deer friend

our deer friend

After our lunch, we said goodbye to our deer friend and started a hike towards a view of the Kintla Glacier. After a while I got tired of constantly shouting “Bear! Bear!” and began to sing any song that came to mind. By the time we reached a meadow clearing with an amazing view of the glacier, I had run through most of the pop divas (Britney, Miley, Katy, Madonna). The mountain range behind us was the last on U.S. soil; beyond them lay Canada. We took pictures and drank in the gorgeous setting before making our return trip. I worked my way through 80’s rock and Disney soundtracks. Kurt politely did not complain about my terrible singing voice, but did say “I didn’t know you knew all of those songs.”

Kintla Glacier

Kintla Glacier

mountain man

mountain man

We knew that the return kayak trip straight into the headwind was going to be rough, but once we got back onto the water, we realized the true extent on how much more difficult it would be. The wind whipped between the mountain ranges and straight over the lake, creating small whitecaps. We attempted to hug the shoreline for calmer waters, but unfortunately it didn’t make as much of a difference as we had hoped. Kurt said that at one point he turned to look at me, I was padding as hard as I possibly could and I was still drifting backwards. If I paused for a second, the wind would spin my kayak to the side and it was a strenuous battle to get straightened back out. “Are we halfway there?” I called out to Kurt at one point. “We’re not even a quarter of the way there yet!” he shouted over the howling wind. With no rangers or other boaters in sight to save us, we had no choice but to put our heads down and paddle through it. My shoulders burned from exertion.

blue waters

blue waters

When we could finally see the other side of the lake again, the clouds above the mountain range grew ominously dark. I could see gray sheets of rain pouring in the distance. We were in a race with the wind, and we were at a distinct disadvantage. I ignored the burning in my muscles and continued to push through it, with renewed hope as the shoreline grew closer. Finally, we could see the boat launch. “We made it!” Kurt shouted in celebration. The rain was held at bay by the mountain range, and we reached land exhausted but dry.

We loaded the kayaks onto the roof rack and chowed down on snacks, then started the long journey back on North Fork Road. I was gazing out the window, enjoying the scenery, when suddenly a mountain lion wandered across the road. “Whoa!!” Kurt and I both shouted in unison. The mountain lion looked at us then bounded up the hill in three easy leaps. We fumbled for cameras but the moment was too quick. Seeing a big cat in the wild felt otherworldly; it felt like something had escaped from the zoo. “It’s like Jumanji!” I said.

We stopped at the bar in Polebridge for a few cold beers out of their cooler and a delicious bowl of chili. The bartender was a friendly guy originally from the East Coast. We talked about the area and how it was not for the faint of heart; he said that you had to be pretty adventurous and self-sufficient to go as far as we did. Getting AAA service out there could be a whole-day event. We enjoyed our conversation with the locals and the welcoming, rustic ambiance of the bar.



As the bar closed up, we settled our tab with cash (no electricity = no credit cards) and finished the drive back to the cabin. Along the road, we saw a baby moose spot our car and run back into the woods, his little knobby knees kicking adorably. Deer frolicked in the meadows along the road as the dusk settled in. We finally reached the cabin after our longest day yet, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing; everything about it was pretty perfect.


Wildlife sightings: snakes, mountain lion, moose calf, deer

Honeymoon Roadtrip, Day 2: Exploring the Badlands

Sunday, June 1: Our first full day

We woke up and cooked a breakfast of scrambled eggs with sausage and veggies using a pan and Jetboil on our front porch. In the light of day, we saw that ours was the third Subaru Forester in a row on our block of cabins. After breakfast we checked out of our cabin and began to explore the park. There were several short hikes that we completed, including one known for its spectacular view that came with a warning “not for those afraid of heights.”



I am pretty acrophobic, but I gave it a shot and climbed the ladder that took us to the next part of the trail. The view was indeed fantastic, which I enjoyed a nice and safe full 5 feet away from the edge.


Kurt is braver than I am when it comes to heights

After we finished hiking, we left the park to check out Wall Drug (where we purchased the mounted jackalope head I’ve always wanted because I am a weirdo) and tried to see the Minuteman Missile Site, which was sadly and inexplicably closed. On the way back, we drove the Badlands Scenic Loop, keeping an eye out for bison. Sure enough, we spotted their distinctive shapes dotting the green meadows. Once we got to the primitive campground at Sage Creek, we saw a few more hanging out about 200 yards away on a hill, grazing calmly. The forecast called for rain, so we quickly set up our tent and cracked open a few local beers we had picked up at the grocery store in Sioux Falls. After a brief rain passed, Kurt and I got in one more quick hike towards the river, coming across yet another bison on the way. It was our closest view of one yet, and their size was impressive. Though they seem pretty chill, they can be aggressive and do serious damage with their horns, so we kept a respectable distance. The wet ground acted like clay, clumping to our boots with each step. It made it difficult to hike very far, so we headed back to camp to clean ourselves up and relax before night fell.

our first campsite of the trip

our first campsite of the trip

As the sun went down, other hikers staying at the campgrounds slowly returned from their explorations. A neighboring camper remarked that he had heard coyotes yipping at him. Sure enough, as we slept in our tents that night we could hear the howls and yips of the pack.


diamond doll at the Badlands

Sites visited: Wall Drug, Minuteman Missile Site
Wildlife sightings: bison, bighorn sheep, jackalope (heh), coyotes (heard only)