Oh so Bad in the Badlands

It usually happens when my anticipation is at its highest, barely containing myself to climb in the car and go, when the trip ahead is doomed for disaster. We’ve had plenty over the years, whether a kid is vomiting with a high fever, Nikos and I are arguing about everything including time travel possibilities, we are out in no-man’s land with no stops or a place to set up camp or lodge, the car fails, or its the weather.

We have witnessed too many disastrous trips than I’m motivated to discuss. Yet, they are inevitable and are necessary in order to fully grasp when the trip has been kind. Above, as you can see from the picture, is a representation of our latest disaster. We went on a brief road trip out West in July. We all love the Badlands in this family of five.

We’d arrived and Nikolas was immediately begging to go on the Fossil Beds walk. The kid is very science-oriented and we do try to be encouraging of the children’s interests. We first stopped by the Visitor’s Center and then picked out our campsite. I wanted one in the middle to avoid the lurking rattlers that were lurking out there in the course field. I’m irrationally terrified of snakes. Then, we drove off to appease Nikolas’ desperate wishes.

The kids were way too wild and embarrassing us as they jumped off the walkway and then fell, then were yelling that it was the other who started it. I grabbed both of their arms, pulled them up and dished out my threats. We are always a spectacle wherever we go. I can only imagine what well-behaved perfect kids might be like, but I might be failing in this department. But how can perfect kids come from imperfect parents? It helps lower the expectations, fortunately. Although, I never give up trying.

Nikolas kept running off the trail and I kept my eagle-Mama eyes out for rattlesnakes. Nikos’ forehead was all wrinkled in frustration, clearly wanting all of this to be over. Elizabeth seemed to be showing off and acting like she was going to ascend a vertical crag. Then, he found it. Nikolas discovered a fossil planted smack in the ground, resembling a marbled cow patty. Nikolas was hyperventilating and I thought I saw his eyes roll back in his head. Nikos took some pictures and Nikolas was dancing and grabbing his head and exclaiming how incredible his strike of fortune was, two thousand times. On the way back to the park headquarters, Nikolas said it was by far the very best day of his life. So, how can I place this story in the “disaster”section?

We gave the description to the ranger and Nikolas had to write down the description, location, etc. The ranger said it certainly was a fossil and that it would be documented and labeled. The pride of my sweet eight year old boy was unparalleled to any other great moment of his life.

We headed back to the campground for Nikos to pitch the tent. I set out the camping chairs, and began to enjoy a lightening show. Every time we’ve visited the Badlands, there has always been a spectacular performance of dancing lightening. Elizabeth and Nikolas were squabbling over who got to hold the ladybug kite, while Katerina tried her very best to blow bubbles with her new Dora bubble bottle. All she ended up with was bubble lip gloss and by the look of her scrunched face, bubble juice in her mouth. I was filled with that familiar sense of pure joy when all seems in order at the campground.

Nikolas joined me to watch the nearing lightening streaks, stemming from the sky to the arid earth. Nikolas was asking me endless questions about space and fossils in which 99% of my answers were, “We’ll have to look that up on the internet when we get back”. Nikos joined the girls who were working on the kite, Katerina’s bubbles long abandoned. The kite fell and Nikos mentioned that it was not a good sign that the air had grown eerily still. The wind always blows in the Badlands. Within a mere thirty seconds, the ferocious wind slammed against us. It was frigid, a contrast to the 85 degree temperature just moments ago. The chairs began to fly, the kids fell, and I saw the tent with all of our always too much luggage, began to tear and blow away. I screamed at the kids to get in the car and Katerina began crying. I had to scream three times to be heard to get the baby in the car as Nikos and I used all of our weight (thanks Tudor’s breakfast Sundays) to hold onto the tent and its contents inside. The tent was tearing on all sides like a possessed parachute. Rain began pounding upon us, drenching and cold. A fellow camper, once snug in his camper, kindly came to our aid. If you camp you will understand this precious campground camaraderie.

The storm finally subsided enough for Nikos to drag whatever was left of our tent underneath the heavy picnic table. Once we made it to the car, Katerina was wailing and seemed a bit traumatized. Nikos and I both knew but did not discuss the fact that Katerina would have easily been swept up by that wind. We went to the lodge to eat and the power was off. When it returned we booked a room at the Badland Inn, located just outside of the park. It could not be too bad for $95/night. I felt miserable, wet and cold. Nikos on the other hand, was annoyingly chipper, likely glad that I wouldn’t bug him to camp at least for the rest of the trip.

Dinner was less impressive than our visit the year before. The kids loved the sweet potato fries, at least. We were tired and I was cranky when we pulled up to our accommodations for the night. In one quick word-depressing. As we strolled down the walkway, I noticed a wide open window with a man sprawled out on the bed and two questionable women on the other. One was sporting only a bra and shorts. They were drinking beer and looked about as sorry as slicing into an under-cooked still-frozen turkey at Thanksgiving dinner. I found out the following morning that one of those women was the dude’s daughter! Thanks Nikos for talking to the motel neighbors.

Our room had a kelly green rug draped over a concrete floor, serving as carpet. There were dead bugs scattered about and live ones on the walls. The bathroom wood-sided paneling had streaks of I only hope I don’t know. I slept uneasily while the rest of my family were conked out in minutes.

The following morning we went back to the campground with slumped shoulders and heads hung. A few of the survivors (which were embarrassingly several) came out to talk to us. Nikos went to throw away the tent, and I know he took way too much satisfaction in doing so. I wonder about his ingrained resentment towards my obsession with camping. It just so happened that a meteorologist pilot who works with the government chatted to Nikos while I spoke to his friendly wife. They live in MN. The meteorologist explained to Nikos that what we had witnessed was a series of mini-tornadoes which had touched down on the ground. Nikos seems to still believe that it was the cheap stakes he used.

Two days after arriving back home, I ordered the same tent.





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