Sky clearing, Badlands

Sky clearing, BadlandsSky clearing, Badlands

Wind gusting at 55 miles an hour this evening nearly blew me off my feet (hard to do!) up at the Panorama Lookout, where the parking lot was coated with ice, and the wind pushed me around like a hockey puck on a polished rink. I was there to watch the sun, which looked like it would emerge completely from a cloak of snow-clouds for the first time in a couple days! Well, it did… and it was absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately, this solar event happened about 30 minutes before the sun dropped below the horizon for the day.

Sunset lasts a long time here — not like living in the city, where it beamed and readied itself, but prematurely ducked behind a neighbor’s house each night. Liquid gold, bronze, red gold, brass — you name it, there were metallic daubs and streaks and smears of warm light painting every cloud and mound of snow. The clouds were bruised and flecked with orange, the grasses burned red, and the snow turned intensely blue of course, a trick we often don’t notice because the sun has our full attention.

Panorama Overlook: Badlands SunsetPanorama Overlook: Badlands Sunset

But the real show was behind me — opposite that giant burning tablet of Vitamin C.

Panorama Overlook: Badlands SunsetPanorama Overlook: Badlands Sunset

From the Panorama Overlook, one has a thrilling vista of Badlands topography: the eastern edge of the Conata Basin Wilderness (Chadron formation over paleosols), the lower grasslands of Interior, the erosion plain of the White River, and the high distant turrets and buttressed walls of The Castle (banded rocks from the Oligocene, deposited in the Brule and Sharps formations — sediments and layers of volcanic ash and more sediments). Whew! All in one view (panning your gaze from right to left).

All this geology was partially hidden under snow, but there was sure enough rock peeking out to catch the sunlight! As far as the eye could see, rock formations blazed up in a bouquet of native colors: cutleaf goldenweed, common sunflower, yarrow, coneflower — bands of warm ochre wheatgrass, russets of prairie dropseed and buffalo grass — and deep ravines stained as if by wild black current juice.

Panorama Overlook: Badlands SunsetPanorama Overlook: Badlands Sunset
Panorama Overlook: Badlands SunsetAfterglow: Badlands Sunset

Tomorrow the Badlands are supposed to start another warming trend — high 40s for the next several days. My fingers are ready for some warm sunny days! And the truck is ready to explore more back roads, as soon as they’re clear again.

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