Our Good, Bad, Badlands Vacation

The Badlands, they say, get about 16 inches of rain a year.

They got about half of that while my family and I were there on family vacation.

Oh, we planned for some bad weather. Nothing says “vacation” like a sudden squall, we’ve learned. We’ve gone to Southern California for 10 days and never once saw the sun. We’ve spent an afternoon at the Great Sand Dunes in a windstorm. We still have the scars. We Asays are tough. We can deal with adversity.

After all, what would a vacation be without a little bad weather?

 I think we might’ve been fine if it had just been cold, or just been raining. Never mind that South Dakota’s Badlands are apparently made of really old mud. It was interesting to see half of the National Park wash away before our eyes. “No one ever gets to see the Badlands like this!” I said by way of encouragement. “Normally, it’s warm and dry!”

But the combination of the rain and the cold and the wind—40-mile-an-hour gusts that practically carried my 85-pound daughter away—were tough to take altogether. I’d planned to spend two good days in the Badlands, hiking all the while. Instead, we wound up seeing most of the park by car, through our rain-streaked windows. “Look!” I’d say. “More muddy rocks!” And then we’d all dutifully look, mutter a word or two of approval and turn up the temperature again.

The vacation was always going to be a bittersweet experience. My kids are both in college now. My son, Colin, will graduate next spring. This might’ve been the last hurrah for the traditional Asay family vacation—all of us together in one car, seeing the sights and checking out whatever tourist traps we might run across. (This year’s highlight: Carhenge. Definitely worth it.)

The weather cut down on our outdoor activities—definitely a bummer. But perhaps, in the end, it was for the best. Maybe we didn’t get to hike as much as I would’ve liked. But we spent plenty of time in the car together, or back at our little cottage where we played cards for hours. We had opportunity to talk, to listen and to laugh. Time together, no matter the circumstances, is rarely wasted.

Even the weather, I expect, will be a topic of many a family get-together in years to come. “Remember the Badlands?” I’ll say. “Yeah, and the ice storm?” Colin will chime in.

He’ll be kidding, of course. We weren’t pelted by ice. The rain merely froze to our face in the driving wind, that’s all.