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Rip &Go

Sage Creek Loop


Badlands National Park, SD
Explore off-trail in a wilderness with more bison than boot prints.
Do it The frontier lives on in Badlands National Parks Sage Creek Wilderness Area. Bison and pronghorn roam freely on prairies riddled with labyrinthine washes and surrounded by rock pinnacles. And so will you on this three-day, 22-mile loop. From the backcountry trailhead (1) at the Conata Picnic Area, 12 miles south of Wall, head southwest through knee-high grass (watch for rattlers), skirting the base of the Badlands formations and the occasional pronghorn boneyard. After two miles, pass through a gated barbed-wire fence (2) and veer northwest toward a clutch of rock spires. Just over a mile later, climb gravel mounds into Deer Haven (3), a juniper-lined oasis amid the spires. Camp on a flat gravel bench in this natural amphitheater (there are no designated sites on this route). On day two, weave through juniper stands and ascend .2 mile to a narrow ridge (4), the routes high point at 2,900 feet. Descend into a steep wash pocked with mud puddles and bison prints. Follow several snaking bends northwest to a T-junction at mile 4.1 (5); turn left. At mile six, bear left where a dry creekbed enters on the right (6); leave the wash .6 mile later (7). Then traverse the Sage Creek Basin, a 3.5-mile-wide grassland veined with gullies. Stop for lunch at a grass-lined pond (the routes lone water source)(8) 8.2 miles into the loop. In 3.4 miles, hike west into Tyree Basin; spend night two here (9). On the last day, navigate south-southeast through a maze of drainages to Sage Creek Pass (10), a large gap in the Badlands formations. At mile 15.5, angle east along a private ranchs fenceline before ducking under another north-south running fence (11) blocking the route. Descend to Conata Basin for the three-mile stretch back to the first gate and the trail to Conata Picnic Area.

COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS: THE TRAILHEAD AT CONATA PICNIC AREA UTM 13T 0724983E 4857326N

PHOTO BY KIM PHILLIPS; BACKSIDE: COURTESY (LEFT); DONNA IKENBERRY. TEXT AND MAPPING BY KIM PHILLIPS

Data Map
mi. 2 1.1 .2 .8 1.9 .6 1.6 3.4 3.2 2.2 5

3 5 4

6 7

10

11

2,900 ft 2,600 ft

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3 Total Miles: 22

Trip Planner
Driving From Wall, take SD 240 south for 11 miles. Turn right onto Conata Basin Rd. In 1.1 mile, turn right onto Badlands Loop Rd. and follow it to the

backcountry access parking area at the Conata Picnic Area. Map USGS quads: Wall SW, Quinn Table SE ($8 per quad, store.usgs.gov) Gear Up Nearby roadside attraction Wall Drug also

stocks a variety of lastminute supplies such as white gas, duct tape, sunscreen, and batteries. 510 Main St., Wall, SD; (605) 279-2175; walldrug.com

MAP PLUS Send a topo, photos, and route info to your cell by texting imap 490492 to 32075.

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11.2009 BACKPACKER

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WEEKENDS

DESTINATIONS

Sage Creek Loop

Key

See This
AMERICAN BISON
Youd never guess by the droves of bison that roam Sage Creek that these thousand-pound behemoths disappeared from the area late in the 19th century (they were reintroduced in 1963). Today, roughly 600 bison live in the areas washes and grasslands. Caution: Bison are unpredictable and can charge at speeds of up to 30 mph. Check for them before heading in and out of the routes many gullies, and stay back at least 200 feet. A raised tail signals agitation.

Gear
Hydration bags

Water sources in the Badlands are few and far between. And even if youre tempted to filter the chocolate-brown mud puddles and silty pools that dot the washes, its a lost cause: The high sediment content of the water makes it undrinkable. To stay hydrated, hikers must pack in all of their waterat least one gallon per person per dayin heavy-duty reservoirs like the MSR Dromedary Bag ($30-$40, msrcorp.com).

Locals Know
Tucked far away from the glow of city lights and major interstates, the Sage Creek Wilderness is the best place in Badlands National Park to gaze at distant galaxies and glimmering constellations. Light pollution is absolutely nonexistent here, says Badlands ranger Aaron Kaye. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, and even the color variation of individual stars. Time your visit for periods of high solar activity (and no moon), and you may be treated to a rare showing of the northern lights. Ive seen them here about two dozen times in the last 10 years, notes Kaye. They fill up two-thirds of the skysometimes with a vibrant range of colors, sometimes with a greenish glow. Best times to catch aurora borealis: September through November and late January through March.

Camp Paleontologistsand fossil thievesflock to Badlands National Park. The well-preserved Chat fossil beds here date back to the Oligocene period (34 to 23 million years ago), and contain the remains of prehistoric ancestors of mammals such as the horse, sheep, rhinoceros, and pig. Its illegal to remove artifactslooters may be fined up to $250,000but officials routinely catch otherwise law-abiding visitors trying to poach fossils because its just a little one. Discuss: Do you think its wrong to take fossilsof any sizefrom the park? What do you think is fair punishment for stealing artifacts?

On The Menu
Breakfast 1 Wall Drug Caf for muffins and $.05 cups of coffee Lunch 1, 2, and 3 Peanut butter and jelly on bagels Dinner 1 Prairie Pesto Breakfast 2 and 3 Oatmeal with brown sugar Snacks Trail mix, dried fruit, ginger snaps Dinner 2 Badlands Curry

THE GROCERY LIST


[ [ [ [ [ [ [ [ [ [ [ ] 1 jar peanut butter (1) ] 1 jar jelly (1) ] 2 packs dried fruit (1) ] 4 oz. spaghetti (2) ] 1 boil-in-bag rice (2) ] 1 box oatmeal (3) ] C. cashews (4) ] 1 box granola bars (4) ] 1 box ginger snaps (4) ] 1 package bagels (7) ] 2 packs trail mix (7)

(AISLE #)
IN NEAREST STORE BELOW

Prairie Pesto
A fresh pasta dinner 4 ounces spaghetti noodles cup mushrooms 2 tablespoons olive oil teaspoon garlic powder 2 tablespoons dried basil cup grated Parmesan cheese Cook spaghetti in boiling water, then drain. (Water is scarce; set aside for tea.) Stir in olive oil and all remaining ingredients. Mix well and eat.

Badlands Curry
East meets Midwest. 1 boil-in-bag rice 1 cup bison jerky, shredded cup cashews, chopped 3 tablespoons curry powder 1 teaspoon coarse salt cup dry milk 3 ounces pepper jack cheese Cook rice as directed. As water boils, add jerky. Dice cheese. When rice is done, remove from bag and drain all but cup of water. Stir in curry, salt, and dry milk. Add cashews and cheese.

[ ] 1 C. buffalo jerky (checkout stand) [ ] C. grated Parmesan cheese, 3 oz. pepper jack cheese (dairy) [ ] C. mushrooms (produce) Pack Olive oil, spices

NEAREST GROCERY STORE

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WALL FOOD CENTER


103 W. South Blvd.; Wall, SD; (605) 279-2331

PIT STOP Grab a posthike meal at the Elkton House. Locals rave about the hot beef sandwich. Top it off with a scoop of Fjords Ice Cream (voted Best Ice Cream in the Black Hills). 203 South Blvd., Wall, SD; (605) 279-2152

BACKPACKER 11.2009