// Mt. Rushmore Road had a new median: rows of bumbling motorbikes. Each with the heft of an antibiotic, force-fed cow. And the same went for their owners, who were parading around like Macaque monkeys in their cheek-perforated leather pants. One of every two bikers tramping around was grossly overweight and the same statistic was applicable to the quantity of bored, stupefied facial expressions on the passersby as they peered into Rattlesnake Jakes, Full Throttle Saloon, and Dakota Leather Outlet.
Cabo San Lucas t-shirt vendors had made the journey north for the month of August, and left behind their beachcombing, shot-sipping and sunburnt gregarious customers for, well, the same. Only this time their patrons digressed to hair metal instead of chicano rap.
They had reassembled their hawker stands with banners loudly pronouncing their menu del dia: Sleeveless Denim, and Gun Pocket Vests (which pictured a sinister pocket knife emblazoned with the American flag).
Two Polaris mules pulled up and parked, three more inches and they would have made it inside. The drivers were clad in fuzzy house slippers and carried themselves with the implied attitude associated. As the man picked over the merch, he revealed the ink show on his arms: a hollowed skull bedazzled in a headdress next to a PBR. Thirty minutes later I would see them processing behind a skinny Indian boy carrying a wicker replica of a motorcycle.
The absurdity of Custer was soon to be trampled by the Crazy Horse Memorial - yet another monstrous human defection on the granite walls of the Black Hills. This memorial seemed even more outrageous and hypocritical than Mt. Rushmore as it ran contrary to the Native American tenant of good stewardship of natural resources.
// All night long, sleep was interrupted by the rumbling of motorbikes on their pilgrimage. I awoke the next day with an annoyance and desire of flight similar to how one feels at the end of a soured relationship. I had to get out and take refuge somewhere where the sound would not carry or a knife fight would be imminent. The strangeness had also reached another level as an 8 y.o. child had been running through the campground at the break of dawn wielding an axe shouting ‘DIE’. I peered at the map and headed to the nearest trail system and body of water, Sylvan Lake.
After a nice respite, it was finally time to head west towards the Badlands.
Beheld on the drive west:
// Everything is gargantuan in South Dakota, the road signs, the parking lots, the baby blue sky. And then, at once, the vastness becomes meticulously fine-tuned. The Badlands is its own space, with its own canon. The sky grays, colors fade into a matte, dusty palette. The crusty earth exposed, frothing up, writhing. Soft yet stolid. Hints of green swaths providing the only depth perception.
If you go:
Horse Thief Lake Campground
Sylvan Lake - Cathedral Spires Trail
Sage Creek Campground - Badlands (enter from the east side of the park)
Castle Trail - Badlands' longest trail, it's easy to complete all the trails in one day/ one attempt
The Highline Trail is synonymous with Glacier National Park. The 11-mile trail follows the Sun Road – curving through the pass to bestow immaculate views of the Continental Divide and surrounding peaks. The trail profile is practically a straight decline from Logan’s Pass to the Loop. The route follows along the mountainside so that you can see every nook and cranny of your surroundings.
Like the weather or traffic in the city, there are two impending dooms that are staples of everyday conversation in GNP – bear sightings and wildfires. During my first day in the Park, a local calculated my fate: at the rate of hiking 12 miles a day for 10 days, I was destined for at least three sightings. Maybe four.
Like any other runner (or human), I used my biased rationality to prove why this trail was an exception to the GNP tenet ‘avoid running’ (running increases the chance of a bear attack). Since this was a popular trail with unimpaired panoramic vision - it was safe for me to jog along this trail. Plus I had bear spray and a bear bell*, this was my chance.
As I galloped along the ridge, I couldn’t help but concentrate on the dry river beds, streams, waterfalls, glaciers. Smoke filled the air and a wraithlike haze lingered - a cornea over the landscape. The land dry, too. Dirt whirled around my feet. Is this a snapshot of the world that lies in our future?
The Sun Road is usually known for evoking a humbling sense of wonder in the face of nature’s grandeur. Below along the Pass, motorists stood on the side of the road with their binoculars hanging idle. Midwesterners seemly stymied in more of bewilderment than awe while looking out at the landscape. Although it was nonetheless still gorgeous, there was a deep sense of loss for the land.
I emerged near the historic Granite Chalet without even realizing that I was near the final decent - somewhat surprised that my half-baked timing was actually going to get me where I needed to be before sunset. I stopped to admire the view with a family that was perched on a rock in the bend. Five minutes later I was invited to stay in their extra bunk bed at the Chalet. The Chalet’s entire lodging for the season typically sells out within a few days of going live. I won the lottery.
Normally I would say yes immediately, but I’ve grown somewhat weary about whether invitations are sincere these days. I thought about this invitation for the half-hour as I climbed the steep trail up to Grinnell Glacier. The sight was if I was beholding a fragile, fragment of scenery. The glacial lake below looked broken, shattered bits and slivers of ice cut their way through the lagoon. The red faced peak looking straight at me behind its defeated body. Spectacular. As I crumbled down with the mountain. I saw the stone Chalet in the background. An patriarchal presence. In the foreground the family was waiting for me.
Dedicated hikers share a common bond which is rooted in underlying appreciation and willpower. That night we watched the sun set until 10pm with about 30 others then laid on our backs to catch the meteor shower. At sunrise the next morning, I tiptoed out of my bunk and ran down the mountain like a little kid who spent the night in an amusement park.
If you go:
Granite Chalet & Highline Trail details
The moment you land in Calgary and approach the city, you can instantly tell that it is a gateway to a natural landscape. The river, which separates the city into two distinctive parts, leads the eye to meet the peaks of the Canadian Rockies into the distance. Beyond that, the dubbed ‘Glacier Highway’ and miles of preserved lands await for exploration await within Calgary’s expansive natural preserves.
Calgary is a tiny city that has all of the precursory traits of a metropolis, however in infancy: an emerging neighborhood with art and subculture (Kensington), a chain-filled pedestrian mall downtown where tourists graze on fake-local dishes, the young professional zone with the newest farm-to-table cuisine and high-end cocktails. However, what makes it a truly enjoyable city was set years before the recent population boom. The most notable aspect resides in Calgarian’s love and appreciation for nature. A bike-friendly city with miles of running and biking paths and an efficient tram system connects the pockets of the city, making it easy to jump around town.
Calgary is a day-city that acts as an overture to nature-enthusiasts to the plethora of natural parks in the Canadian Rockies. Alberta is home to five immense National Parks. Banff, the first, is only 70 miles away from the city and the journey goes on endlessly from there.
If you go, you simply must:
314 10 St NW
- When you walk into the door of this tiny dark coffeeshop in Kensington, it feels like you've uncovered a traditional shop whose purveyors have been roasting for centuries.
Dine & Drinks
Ox & Angela Tapas Bar
528 17th Ave SW
Bike west of the city along the Bow River and up to McHugh Bluff Park for a dazzling panoramic view of the skyline and the endless landscape beyond.
Head out of town
- Head Northwest to Jasper National Park & Banff.- Stop in Lake Louise for a quick trail run and keep heading northwest towards Banff on the Plain of 6 Glaciers
- Camp along the North Saskatchewan River off of Hwy 11