This was perhaps our busiest, and perhaps also our most memorable day this far of the trip! Our planned agenda includes: starting at 8am for a day of hiking, attend the Medora Musical in the evening, and finally to watch the Medora fireworks which are lit in front of the badlands.
At 8am we arrived at the Ranger Station to get hiking maps and some advice on the best locations.
There is some debate amongst the girls, but they agreed that we would try a 'moderately' strenuous hike. The Rangers suggested going into an area called the Petrified Forrest, which contains tree remains that date back 50-60 million years. Since the girls have read about these and show interest, we agreed that this sounds like a good plan. There were several hiking options, that ranged from 5 to 11 miles, and we could make the decisions as we went. So we were off.
Now, to begin this hike, we had to drive 5 miles down a dirt road...it was pretty far out! We finally arrived at an area that contained 5 other cars, and an arrow pointing to a hole in a fence. What was most amazing about this whole hike was that nothing was off limits...there were trail markers to provide you guidance, but there were no restrictions in terms of where you could go or what you could touch.
The first mile involved hiking over some ridges and grasslands, and at about 1.5 miles we approached the Petrified Forrest area.
As we walked into it, Katelyn commented "Wow, it looks like we are on the moon." Which was precisely what I was thinking.
There were amazing sandstone figures scattered about with this petrified wood shooting out of the rock bottom. We could walk right up to them, sit on them, and pick up scattered pieces. This wood has turned into rock, and with many crystals have formed to create varying colors.
They are all quite heavy because they are now rock, and the girls spent the better part of an hour running from 1 to another collecting the best crystals and rocks. Once again, as we looked around us, it is desolate, and we are the only people in any direction.
So after a solid hour of archaeological exploration, I called the girls in to make some decisions about how we would proceed. I showed them a map and explained that we had hiked about 2 miles and showed them the options.
Emma and Madison wanted to keep going further, and Katelyn agreed with less enthusiasm. At this point I made the decision that I would push them to complete the entire 11 miles. I knew that it would pose some challenges and not be easy for them, but my hope is that it would give them a sense of accomplishment.
I also figured that if I got them through this one, that when I suggest 5 mile hikes later they will seem easy!
We headed out of Petrified Forest #1 and hiked another 2 miles in some terrain that was a bit more challenging with some vertical climbs and descents.
Our real challenge came at about the 5 mile mark when Katelyn just seemed to run out of gas. She complained of feeling weak and wanting to vomit. I was concerned now because she really did not look good and we were really out on our own and in the middle of the hike. There was not a great difference between going back and continuing, and both Madison and Emma were still enthusiastic and wanting to continue. So, I forced Katelyn to eat and drink, and I put her on my back and carry her. Madison and Emma took the backpacks and marched off ahead, while I talked and walked with Katelyn. I told her that a long hike is not always a thrill, but a physical test where you just have to push through the physical discomfort. As I spoke, and as she saw her sisters pushing ahead with big backpacks on their backs, she asked to be put down and to walk again. I was very proud of Katelyn at that point, and even more when she completed another 6 miles of hiking with virtually no more complaining. We all realized that this was not her favorite activity, but she dug down within herself and fought through it.
From the time we left the Petrified Forest #1, it was about 6 additional miles of hiking along the ridges of the Badlands before we got around to Petrified Forest #2. It was quite a long way, and as we came over the final ridge and saw the forest there was a sense of excitement, and everyone ran down to explore once again.
The exhaustion that the girls felt as we hiked across the ridge line was in the past, and they had a renewed enthusiasm as they explored the forest.
We continued to work our way around some high rock formations when I was shocked to walk right into the path of a large male buffalo.
I stood about 25 feet from him as I made a turn, and he was as startled as I. We literally looked each other in the eyes, and I shouted back for the girls to take cover and quickly looked for options to flee if necessary. Fortunately, after maybe 10 seconds that seemed like 10 minutes, the buffalo changed directions and began walking away from us.
He was still in our path, so we let him walk and kept a save distance behind him. He finally made a turn off the path and down to a water hole, when I told the girls to quickly run past him on the path. Once they were safely past, I also circled around and we quickly made it to higher ground and watch the buffalo emerge from the water hole a few minutes later.
The rest of our hike was not nearly as exciting, and we made it back to the RV approximately 30 minutes later.
Our 11 mile hike took over 6 hours, and was a significant test for the girls. They were all tired, but also quite proud of themselves for making it. Katelyn now seemed a bit down because I carried her for a period, but I told her I was most proud of her perseverance.
We were all hungry, bur everyone agreed to just put on the air conditioning and proceed to the first ice cream shop. I think that was the best ice cream that they have ever had!!
It was already a long day, but we had tickets to the Medora Musical that evening, as well as tickets for a behind the scene tour, which all started at 7:15.
So, we only had a couple hours to eat and shower before our evening began. The musical was actually a nice production, and the girls enjoyed it.
Their only complaint was that there was no storyline. It did cover some of the North Dakota history, and many of the current and past country hits. Overall, the 2 hour show was quite entertaining and well performed.
Our final event of the night was fireworks, which we were able to watch from our campsite sitting on top of the RV. It was a nice production, and a unique way to watch them. By the time they ended it was almost midnight, and we were all ready to get some sleep!