My brother and I trekked off to Rapid City after our short sojourn through the Black Hills. Because we had another day on our trip we wouldn’t be spending in the Hills, we decided to journey down to the Badlands. Dave had a friend who was studying to be a Jesuit (think Pope Francis) at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, so we decided we would spend the night at the top of Sheep Mountain in the Badlands National Park nearby
That photo above is what the entire park looks like. It is simply breath-taking. And in the summer, it truly does carry the aura of this desert wasteland on the South Dakota/Nebraska border. I found this video of the view from the top of the mountain to help paint a picture:
On one side of the road leading to the top was the drop-off to the valley below. In some places, there was a few feet of grass and sand before the drop. In others, one could open the door and nary a foot would touch the ground before you plummeted to your death. I don’t know how far the drop actually was as this was long ago, but to my untrained eye, it looked like miles.
The drive to the top of the mountain was spectacular. Just spare desert everywhere you looked. I’ve had a thing for this area of the country since before Dances with Wolves, I’ve read Crazy Horse and Custer by Stephen Ambrose (same guy who wrote Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan). And if I didn’t already have plans to retire to Alaska, this is where I would spend the last of my days on this earth.
When we got to the top, it was really a ceremonious last night to our first real trip together and my brother and I threw our arms over each other’s shoulders and wept (okay, not really, but looking back, we really could have.) We didn’t suit up for a day hike or anything as it had been kind of late when we got there. Instead, we cooked up the last of our food and spent the rest of the evening and into the night laying on our backs and sharing our dreams for the future, for love and the roads that lay ahead (okay, again, we did no such thing. We’re guys). We pitched the tent and crawled on for one last night, paying little attention to the dark gray clouds that we’re moving in over us.
At some point in the night, I awoke and Dave was sitting up in the tent. He was staring up at nothing that I could tell, but his look was intent. He appeared to be gauging something. The sound of a soft rain on the tent was peaceful, as was I. But Dave wasn’t going back to sleep.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Well, I was just thinking.” He said. “About that sign.”
“Impassible when wet. It was by the side of the road as we were going up.”
The electric sensation of a bucket of a fear splashed over me. “What?” I was fully awake now.
“Well yeah, and I was was wondering if we should …”
“If we ahould what?” I asked. I was growing quickly frantic.
“I was wondering if we should but out the pots to catch water. Y’know, in case we’re up here for a while.”
Was this guy serious? Should we catch rain water in case we’re stranded in the desert?! In South Da-fuckin-Kota?!
Dave might have still been in the tent when I started packing it up to put in the car. I’m not sure. What I do remember is blathering something about him being out of his mind as I shoved everything we had taken out of the car back in the car, then getting into the passenger seat. I wasn’t sure how long it had been raining or how wet the impassable road was, but I sure wasn’t gonna be drinking rain water two days later because my brother wanted to be Davy freaking Crocket and live out his little “Riders on the Storm” fantasy with me. No sirreebob.
When we started our gradual descent, the road was still safe and stayed that way for a little while. I cursed myself for being a Sally May Tenderfoot (apparently I carry my mother’s neurotic gene, at least a little) and dozed. I was jolted awake when Dave had to do a small correction in his driving to keep us stable and looked out my window to stare into the inky blackness of the sharp descent that started where the road ended only inches away. In front of us was about 3 feet of lit road, then nothing beyond. I don’t remember much about the ride down to the base of the mountain, but I do remember saying the entire rosary from the Joyful Mysteries to the Glorious (this might be the only part of the story that is most likely true) until we reached terra firma. Once off the mountain, we drove to the small house where Dave’s friend the Jesuit was living and caught a couple hours of sleep in the car until morning.
I never thought I’d be so happy to see a priest’s house in my entire life.