I received an invitation to help some rangers with a wilderness hike. The plan was to meet at a campground and take visitors on a longer hike through the Badlands Wilderness Area. Those who are helping are Jessica the wilderness and wildlife expert, Mark the history expert, led by Ed the geology and paleontology expert and myself, the novice botanist. We were later referred to as the ‘dream team’ (dibs on being Michael Jordan) and also the ‘Power Rangers of the park’ (dibs on being the green ranger). The names stuck even if I was the only one using them.

The day of the hike came and we left the visitor center at 7 am. We arrived at the camp ground and waited to meet the visitors who signed up for the hike. We waited for 15 minutes and there was no sign of anyone interested in out hike. After 30 minutes it was safe to assume that the visitors that signed up are not coming. We decided to venture out into the wilderness and try to find a route for the next hike. As soon as we left the campground we became swallowed up by fields of yellow sweetclover.

This has been the summer of the sweetclover. Most hills and prairies in South Dakota have been dominated by sweetclover this summer. It is an invasive species that alternated years of growth. Some years you will not see it very much, and there are years like this which all you can see is sweetclover.

First Burrowing Owl I seen in Badlands standing in front of a wall of sweetclover

Finally we made our way through to a river bank with old fossils everywhere. It was a cool sight where you did not have to look very long to find a fossilized shell of an ancient creature. I admit that I was slightly more excited about a bush of black currants by the river than the actual fossils. We had to climb over the bank to continue the hike and it surprised no one when we found more sweetclover. Old prairie dog holes made trekking the jungle difficult as each one of us fell down and disappeared into the vegetation. A prairie dog town saved us with a clearing where I got to see my first burrowing owl of the summer. A lovely sight needed by some very tired park workers. I got some pictures and everyone decided it was time to go back to the campground. Again we marched through fields of sweetclover back to the vehicle. An interesting wilderness hike to say the least but I very much enjoyed. I only wonder if they tried it again or yielded to the sweetclover.


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