Our 2021 Road Trip #14: Back to the Badlands

Badlands in a storm.

The Badlands on a stormy day. Somewhere within lurks a 2021 metaphor.

Show of hands: who wants an entry that contains more pictures than words? The sort of blog post you can scroll through in twenty seconds or less and still feel as though you’ve given the author an appropriate amount of attention?

Wow, that hurts, y’all. But maybe we can accommodate.

Badlands storm clouds!

Full disclosure: some photos are in order. Some aren’t. Feel free to nitpick the continuity if you think it serves a noble purpose.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

Badlands climbing area!

One of the areas we remember seeing in 2009. But reruns can be cool.

Less than two hours west of the Missouri River was I-90 Exit 131, our entry point into Badlands National Park. Miles of rock formations sprawl across the plains, with valleys to the south and peaks surrounding us in every direction. The park was a highlight of our 2009 South Dakota vacation and used up more storage space in our primitive cameras than any other location that year (not to mention a bonus gallery).

Here, have a recycled intro:

South Dakota achieved statehood in 1889. The Badlands preexisted our occupation, but have been viewed as capital-M Monuments since only 1929 and weren’t labeled a National Park until 1978. I assume the paperwork took a while. Travelers can navigate and sightsee the Badlands via twenty-odd miles of convenient highway. We parked a few times at different locations throughout and walked around at length, just enjoying the vistas, walking over mounds, climbing up miniature cliffsides, avoiding suspected rattlesnake harbors…

…and so on. Same deal this time, except 12 years later we have somewhat better cameras and we have smartphones, which weren’t in our toolkit until 2013. This time we also had storms that loomed in the distance, overtook us for some limited drenching, then miraculously dissipated. Our pics consequently look as if they were taken on two different days.

After a gas station stop near the park entrance…


…we headed down a familiar path for the first few miles, but made a point of turning northwest at a particular junction so we could see miles of highway that we’d skipped in 2009. Some areas definitely felt newer than others.

Regardless, after the first ten or fifteen miles, a certain Hanna-Barbera repetition sensation sets in if you let yourself get too inured. You have to remind yourself you’re the middle of the Badlands, which are awesome, and slide back into that reverie head-space.

Badlands valley!

Everyone stops and gawks at the deep Badlands pit not far from the entrance, even on their second visit.

Badlands storm clouds!

Storms are more fun to watch when they’re not obscured by cityscapes and they’re not directly over your own head.

Badlands grass and rocks!

The formations are cooler than the flora, but the juxtaposition can be odd. It’s not all desert.

large Badlands rocks!

I lost count of how many times we stopped. After a while I’d just let Anne go roaming while I chilled out in the car and unwound after driving hundreds of miles from Sioux Falls.

Badlands greenery!

Some folks would rather spend their vacations just unwinding and chilling out. We try to make time to relax. Sometimes we succeed.

Badlands whiter clouds!

Multitasking while tired: that was my state of mind for parts of this vacation and much of 2021 in general. In that sense our travel “getaway” could feel like the same fatigue as back home, but in prettier scenery.

Badlands clouds!

In fact, I’m fatigued while typing this. But I’m typing this anyway. Because I’m tired of being too tired to do things.

Badlands hills!

What can I say? It’s been a long year, and a sequel to an even longer year. And the past six weeks since Dragon Con have felt like a year unto themselves.

Badlands rock colors!

Among the highlights and lowlights: multiple relatives hospitalized with COVID, one relative who totaled their car and needed chauffeuring for a while, another one dealing with multiple heart attacks, too much day-job overtime for a major project, and most recently a friend’s wife passed away. Not from COVID. Sidebar: cancer, like COVID, sucks.

Badlands peaks!

I was tired in 2020. I’m tired in 2021. I’m extra tired in October 2021. And the word “tired” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. But not TOO much lifting, because tired.

Badlands sandy wall!

Fatigue is why we’re only on Chapter 14 of a series that began in July and will need at least three dozen chapters. We’re not even halfway through, and definitely nowhere near Yellowstone yet, our primary objective referenced in the recap.

Badlands green and yellow hills!

I won’t be 50 till next year, but I’ve already had to accept I can’t get by on 5-6 hours of sleep every night. I spent MCC’s first several years that way. Sleep deprivation leaves more time for writing.

Badlands dirt!

My brain is willing to forgo some pleasures and even some necessities if it’s properly motivated. One proven form of temptation: attention.

Badlands peaks!

I’ve found writing is more enjoyable for me when I think the output might entertain others besides myself. Anne is my #1 fan and a fantastic cheerleader. But if my words might entertain a second human? Or two others? Three, even? Ooh, excitement, says my brain.

Badlands imaginary castle!

But if I think no one’s reading? Or the next thing I want to write is potentially a dull waste of time? Then my brain needs another reason to devote hours to an activity that might as well be a paper journal tucked inside a drawer to be read by others only upon discovery after my death. Whee?

Badlands strata!

So these chapters don’t get produced until and unless writing feels fun for me regardless of whether or not anyone notices I’m still here.

Badlands gray!

For me to get into a truly sincere and lighthearted writing mood, it has to feel like the thing I want to do most in a given evening. More than binge-watching, more than doomscrolling, more than hiding in Skyrim, more than early bedtime. Even if Anne is the sole audience. But I can send her long, wordy, nimble, fun-filled emails anytime during the day. And I do.

Badlands yellow red!

Hence the days-long gaps between entries. It isn’t writer’s block. Writer’s block is when you actively try writing but the words are stoppered and won’t flow. I’m not lacking for words and in nine years of blogging here I’ve never lacked for potential topics. Never.

white red yellow green!

Y’know what motivates me to write tonight? Venting. Just…the venting for the sake of venting. Straddling that thin line between self-deprecating confession and unseemly white-boy whining. Tough to do online without folks misinterpreting the intent. I mean, feel free to.

Badlands panorama!

Oops, last picture, out of secret caption space to hide from readers who are ignoring these and only looking at the photos. And yet, somehow I feel less tired now than when I started. Really, though, I am tired of being too tired to do this. Call it fatigue fatigue.

…and in conclusion, the Badlands are a land of contrast.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

4 responses

  1. What beautiful photographs!

    Your captioned statements to these photographs have induced me to subscribe via e-mail to Midlife Crisis Crossover!. After a mere ten?-eleven?-twelve? years of reading it on my own schedule I feel it’s a long overdue step that I shorten any and all delays between you posting and me reading. Your writing is a source of, among other things, entertainment to me and I certainly do count as one (1) human.


    • You most assuredly count! Thanks very much for the kind words and your subscription to our free intermittent content generation service. Destiny permitting, MCC will celebrate its tenth anniversary in April 2022 with no small amount of gratitude and incredulity. Sincere apologies in advance for any future middling entries that instill ennui or scholarly disdain!


      • Cool! I’ll offer you now my own sincere congratulations several months early for that particular milestone coupled with my EQUALLY sincere assurances that at no time ever has any entry of this here blog, middling or otherwise, ever filled me with anything even close to ennui or disdain of any stripe or variety — be it scholarly or otherwise. No apology needed!

        I am often entertained by this blog but just as often I am inspired by it, or awed by it; to the point that I often wish I could find some way to persuade the good people at them there MacArthur Genius Grants or MacDowell Fellowship Colonies to fund it. That’s what I meant by “among other things”. I meant that I want to make dead Scotsmen shell out cold hard cash so there could be even more of it.


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