This post is dedicated to Hazel Birdsong, the strong mother of my friend Bob. Here’s to you Hazel. All good medicine for your health and happiness! Aho.

I was now driving in a direction untraveled in almost two months, due east. The time in Bozeman was fulfilling seeing the city and experiencing the surrounding areas in the mountains and forests. The land is beautiful and is an outdoors mecca with many natural resources to admire and enjoy for adventure. Horseback riding is on the agenda for the next trip.

Devils Tower / Bear LodgeDriving six hours in the direction of the sun I noticed signage for Devils Tower(5,114 ft), or the Lakota name Bear Lodge, America’s first national monument and place of sacredness to many Native American nations. Approaching from a distance I saw the massive protrusion which the vertical columns became defined as I drew closer. I stopped before the park and wondered how this object came to be with nothing similar or taller in the vast surrounding area. There is no definitive scientific explanation how this structure was formed about 200 million years ago. I entered the park and walked around the igneous intrusion continuing to be in amazed Devil's Tower - Wyomingby its size and formation. There were two climbers making an ascent and although a climber, I thought it to be sacrilegious to climb something so sacred to the Native Americans. Would it be OK for people to climb the Statue of Liberty or the presidential faces of Mt. Rushmore? Almost completing the walk around the monument I noticed small cloths that look like little ghosts tied to tree branches. These were prayer ties and prayer bundles. At the time I visited I only knew them to be an offering and have since learned the small swatches contain Prayer Ties and Prayer Bundlesa pinch of tobacco and before being tied closed a prayer is made or an intention set then are tied to a branch. Tobacco is used for prayer, to show respect, to heal, and give spiritual protection. The cured leaves are unprocessed unlike cigarette tobacco which contains poisonous additives never to be used for ceremonies. Prayer ties are an important part of offerings for vision quest and sun dance ceremonies where many are tied together. Prayer bundles are larger than prayer ties and are offered individually. Colors are important signifying the four directions, east/yellow, south/red, and west/black, north/white. Colors of the directions may vary depending on the tribal nation. Some nations include the directions of above (sky)/blue, below (mother earth)/green and within (our spirit)/purple or gold. With nothing in hand I made a silent offering to “Bear Lodge” giving thanks for this icon and prayed for safe travels. Respect SignI continued for a short stop into the visitor’s center to learn more of the site then carried on to Badlands, or as the Lakota named the area, “Maka Sica,” meaning “land bad”, wanting to arrive before dark.

To nowhere!Using the worlds biggest GPS (my laptop) I followed the red arrow while the orange setting sun was providing spectacular colors against the multi-layered eroded clay buttes on the outskirts of the park. I was further away than I thought as light was fading quickly. Having too much faith in the GPS I followed a right turn down a dirt road literally to the middle of nowhere. I reluctantly followed the GPS arrow and road driving slowly with thoughts of trespassing rolling through my mind. This was the first time on the trip an uncomfortable nervousness set in on what I could stumble upon. My heart was racing, beating faster and harder as I approached the crest of a small hill. I noticed the end point of the destination was just ahead. Being lost in daylight is one thing but in the dark on an abandoned dirt road approaching Pine Ridge Reservation where the Wounded Knee Massacre still scars Native Americans was unnerving. Not living near poverty stricken Native American communities caused from past European and government invasion I didn’t know what could transpire. Making the crest I saw nothing except the final rays of the day’s sun. My heart started to return to a normal rhythm and I went from fear to wondering, wondering where I was and where the park entrance could be. I stopped where the GPS said I arrived and stepped out of the truck. There was nothing except what looked like a stone foundation. I reentered the truck and made way back to the main road continuing in the eastward direction. A half hour later I came upon the interior entrance of the park at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and Cedar Pass Campground. “Home” at last!

Camp 1I was exhausted and hungry and found an open tent site in the massive camp area full of simple tents and over the top forty plus foot “campers”. Setting up the tent was quick since by now I could almost erect it blindfolded. A meal was prepared, quickly ingested and my head laid to rest tired from the driving, site seeing and expended nervous energy.

The next morning was time to move my legs after a day of driving. I perused the visitor’s center and watched a short video detailing the park and its natural creation millions of years ago then set out for some trekking. I hiked the flat Medicine Root, Castle, and Fossil Exhibit trails winding around layered formations giving the feel of being on the red planet Mars. After heavy rains a layer of ground is washed away sometimes Lower jaw Fossilexposing ancient articles. If you’re lucky as I was you could stumble upon dinosaur fossils. The park service asks that these fossils remain where found, the area marked and the service notified for a paleontologist to investigate. Completing loops and out and backs I drove through the park heading to the western Sage Creek Primitive Campground with no electricity or running water for solitude and trekking.

Grazing CloserA herd of buffalo were slowly grazing their way toward my direction while setting camp. Not wanting to be surrounded and trapped I grabbed light hiking gear and water and set out to investigate unmarked trails. I encountered prairie dog colonies which kept popping up from there boroughs “barking” their mouse barks then disappearing back into them. I now understood the silly prairie dog game found at traveling Praire Dogcarnivals. This area had scattered barren patches where buffalo would cool off by rolling in the dirt. In one patch was a prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). Looking and thinking the snake must have been slow to have a 2,000lb. muscular animal roll on it the snake suddenly coiled back not content with my presence. After observing for a few minutes it slithered away and I carried on the path taking me through dry riverbeds, flat lands and high grass until the sound of a rattle made me jump up and over 4 feet in the air. This wasn’t a cute little prairie rattlesnake this one was two Prairie Rattlesnake #1feet long and very agitated that it was almost stepped on. Being struck by a rattler in these wilderness areas would most likely not be a survivable situation. We were both, ahem, rattled by this encounter. I took a few pictures and headed back to camp to enjoy the rest of the evening and see if the buffalo left my tent standing or any surprises.

All was well and only a few sites were occupied as night fell. With no lights an infinite amount of stars could be seen in the planetarium sky. My eyes took in layer after layer of the dark atmosphere as stars and shooting stars appeared exponentially. During very early morning hours the buffalo came in again surrounding the area eating and grunting. In a stampede I would have been flattened, but all was Finding His Pathsafe while grazing. This area was home for a few days hiking the trails, taking in the views and wildlife only encountering one more snake. Knowing this was the last Midwestern national park I would be at before continuing east was slightly unsettling, but I enjoyed each minute of all of them. Bear Lodge and Badlands Packed and ready to go....Again!were two more great stops and there was much appreciation before packing up preparing for continued travel to…

Minnesota, Chicago? (I’ll explain!) and Allegheny National Forest…

Greg

“Sacred sites and areas are protection for all people — the four colors for man — and these sites are in all areas of the earth in the four directions.” – Traditional Circle of Elders, Northern Cheyenne

Note: Being at Badlands and Yellowstone increased my awareness of areas where Native Americans lived with the land and their history which I continue to expand personal knowledge today. Interest has pulled me to experience a few Native ceremonies and ways. The history I’ve read written by Natives and non-Natives has been interesting and disturbing. Much more occurred than was taught during early school years. I ask you to consider watching this 15 minute Ted Talk which details pieces of current times and past history. Also, I highly recommend reading Black Elk Speaks to learn more about Native American ceremonies and ways and Black Elk’s visions. Wopila. – Thanks in Lakota.

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