The Badlands

The Badlands, South Dakota

The Badlands were a big change from the Black Hills.  Less than 100 miles due east the scenery changes from the lush, Ponderosa Pine covered hills to a dry, arid, almost alien moonscape.

We arrived at our campground (Cedar Pass CG) around noon and the temperature was already in the low 90’s.

A big change from the Black Hills! Badlands campground.

After setting up we explored the park a little, stopping at the visitors center to get info on hiking.  Even though it was brutally hot we did the short Cliff Shelve Trail.

A couple of hot hikers on the Cliff Shelf Trail
View from the Cliff Shelf Trail.

Everywhere you look the views are stunning. But, at least in August, it is hot, hot, hot. We decided to forgo anymore hiking until the next morning when the temperatures would be more reasonable.

The Notch Trail

We had planned to stay for two nights but both because there really aren’t that many trails (we did almost all of them in one afternoon and one morning) and because of the heat we decided to leave after one night.

Hikes in the Badlands.

We were up early (5:15 AM) and making coffee and packing up. We wanted to do the Notch Trail while it was cool(ish).  The trail is “not recommended for people with a fear of heights” so it sounded perfect! Roberta was VERY excited.

Sunrise as we start the Notch Trail

The trail is less than two miles round trip but the sign warns that it is difficult and can take up to 1.5 hours to complete.  We did it in 40 minutes with lots of stops for pictures but it was a lot of fun and…. there was a ladder to climb!

Climbing the ladder on the Notch Trail
View from the notch looking back the way we came (you can see the ladder).
View from the Notch looking south(ish).
Medicine Root/Castle Trail Loop

After finishing the Notch Trail we headed over to the Medicine Root trail to get in another 5 miles before it got too hot. On the way over we ran into some wildlife.

A bighorn sheep on the way to our second hike.

We did a loop, 2.5 miles out the Medicine Loop trail to Saddle Pass and then back along part of the Castle Trail.

View looking south from Saddle Pass
View west from Saddle Pass

On the way back on the Castle Trail we saw some very strange formations.

I guess the Egyptians settled in South Dakota.

After finishing up our hike (and just as it was starting to get hot) we drove out the Badlands Loop Road which has some of the most stunning scenery  in the park.

View from the Loop Road.
More wildlife as we exited the park. Also saw lots of prairie dogs but those guys are hard to photograph!

The Black Hills….. Mt Rushmore

We arrived for our two night stay at a lovely little campground (Grizzly Greek Primitive) in the Black Hill National Forest after a long (~8 hour) drive from Colorado Springs. It was sprinkling when we arrived but stopped soon after and the campground had a lovely stone picnic structure that looks like it was built by the WPA.

Rain shelter …. and cocktails!
Our home at Grizzly Creek Primitive CG classifies this campground as “primitive” but it had everything we wanted (pit toilets and water).

We spent the next morning in the land of big heads, first visiting Mt Rushmore. We arrived before 7:00 and for the first hour saw very few people. By 9:00 AM it was starting to get a bit peopley.

Some REALLY big heads…. explains why Trump want to join (replace?) them.
A little head and some big heads.
George, in profile.

It took the Gutzon Bordlum 14 years to reshape Mt Rushmore and I have to say it is pretty impressive. Unfortunately, unlike Cary Grant in “North by Northwest”, you can’t climb on George Washington’s nose. Or even Lincoln’s.

And, to keep things balanced, we also visited the (very unfinished) Crazy Horse Memorial a few miles from Mt Rushmore.

The very ambitious Crazy Horse Memorial
They have a long way to go!

The Black Hills (named that because, from a distance, the Ponderosa Pines make the hills look dark) are lovely with lakes and hiking trails (and mountains with very big heads).  We did a couple of trails ending up briefly on the 110 mile Centennial Trail (traverses pretty much the entire Black Hills National Park from north to south).

Pretty streak on a hike.
Rocks and trees in the Black Hills.
Typical view in the Black Hills.

So, after two nights in the Black Hills, we head northeast to The Badlands. The Black Hills were quite nice,  the weather was moderate, even in August and the Centennial Trail goes on the list of potential thru-hikes!

Kayak #9, Sims Bayou, May 27, 2020

Sims Bayou is a combination of a natural and channelized bayou. The bottom of the bayou is made up of interlocking concrete blocks, and is flat, unlike the other channelized bayous that have a central deep channel. And this made it tough to kayak because, even with recent rains, it was very shallow, especially west of MLK Boulevard.  My kayak only needs about a foot or two of depth but there were several sections where I was scraping the bottom.

Sims Bayou at Scott. It looks deep!
Downtown view on the hike down to Sims Bayou
Walked through Sunnyside

I took the Metro Red Line south to the end of the line and started hiking toward Sims Bayou at Scott where I put in and started paddling. There was very little flow and it was very shallow.

I had to portage around one very low bridge a mile or so east of Cullen.

Oops! Not going through that.
Dragging around the bridge.


Saw the usual wildlife, turtles, birds and lots and lots of big fish.

After kayaking a bit over six miles, paddling the whole way since there was almost no current, I pulled out at Reveille Park in Southeast Houston. From there I hike to the southern end of the Metro Purple line for the ride home.

Pullout spot in Reveille Park
Waiting for the train.

Kayak #8, White Oak Bayou, May 27, 2020

Got an early start walking to the Ensemble/HCC Metro station and was on a train around 6:00 AM (foolishly trying to beat the heat) heading north.

Metro red line train at 6:00 in the morning….

Took it to the end of the line and then starting hiking west on Crosstimbers. Five miles (or so) later I was on the White Oak Bayou Hike/Bike trail looking for a way into the bayou.

Nice place to put in. Just north of 43rd street.

The bayou was flowing nicely.  I had found a NOAA website that shows flow rates and depths of the bayous around Houston (NOAA) . It showed that the bayou was a bit over it’s nominal low depth from the recent rains.

In the water and moving nicely!
Typical view from the water.

This was my second “channelized” bayou and, like Braes Bayou, the current was moving nicely, making for easy paddling. But there is NO SHADE at all so I’m glad it was early in the morning.

Wildlife admiring the graffiti.

Did not see as much wildlife as on the wilder bayous (as expected) but did see some birds, a few turtles and the ever-present fish. And there are some big guys in there. And something causing the fish to jump, one almost ended up on my boat.

Short section of rapids…. fun!

For the first 8 miles or so the bayou moved nicely with even a few short sections of rapids. The cross-section of the bayou is not a uniform depth. The sides are quite shallow, sometimes even dry. I had to stay in the deeper center part which is only about 10-12 feet wide so I had to pay attention to keep from bottoming out. On the plus side, there were almost no obstructions (i.e. tires, trees, shopping carts).

Little White Oak Bayou – a small tributary.

I took one short side trip a few hundred yards up Little White Oak Bayou which enters into WO Bayou just west of the I-45, I-10 interchange.

First good view of downtown.
The concrete (and the flow!) ends a mile or two from downtown.

As I neared downtown the flow slowed to almost no noticeable movement and the concrete ended.  It got prettier and harder. Typical.

The underside of a bridge – Harvey remnants?
And someone lost their garbage can.
Buffalo Bayou!
Allens Landing and the end of my kayak adventure.

After about 10 miles of so White Oak Bayou empties into Buffalo Bayou just across from Allens Landing. I paddled over and pulled out. Buffalo Bayou was moving well from all the recent rain. Then a short walk to the UH Metro station and heading home.

Kayak #7, Buffalo Bayou, May 23, 2020

The only kayak-able  part of Buffalo Bayou I had not done was a 5 mile  section from the West Belt to Briarbend Park. This turned out to be a surprisingly fun little section with several small rapids and cool animal sitings.

Put-in spot under the West Belt
No idea…

I biked to Briarbend Park,  left my bike and hiked out to the West Belt. There is a pretty good put-in spot under the freeway (i.e. no mud, no brambles).

Cool tree #1
So that’s where the storm drains go…
Cool tree #2
And, just in case you forgot you are in the city.
Harvey damage? Clearly someone had a bad day.

I saw lots of birds and the largest turtle I have ever seen – it’s shell was at least 3 feet across. And a very large fish – at least 3 feet long –  surfaced next to my boat. The bayou is teeming with fish.

And flying

The pullout point is just past some rapids which made for an exciting exit.

Pull-out spot.

And it is important to hit this pull-out as the next one is 3-4 miles downstream.

Kayak #6, Braes Bayou, May 21, 2020

For my first attempt at a “channelized” section of a Bayou, I picked Braes Bayou from just inside Loop 610 back to Hermann Park.  Large swaths of Houston Bayous were turned into concrete ditches in  the middle of the last century for flood mitigation (the efficacy of which is open to debate).

My hiking setup – ready to start inflating.
Ready to put in….
… down these “escape” stairs.

Getting in (and out) of these sections isn’t always easy. Fortunately most of the bayous have escape stairs (for people who fall in, I would guess) every half mile or so. And that is how I entered (and exited).

The view from the water.
Heading under another bridge.

I expected this to be less fun because the view is pretty monotonous, but I was surprised. The water moved much faster than in the more natural sections so I had to pay more attention to stay in the middle (the depth is not constant, the sides are very shallow) and there were several small rapid sections. And…. any day on the water is a good day!

Requisite selfie1
Medical Center.
Pull-out spot.

I missed my planned egress point because I was moving so fast and had to exit at the next available spot.  I had enough fun to try another channelized bayou – thinking of White Oak Bayou.

Kayak #5, Greens Bayou, May 14, 2020

To get to Green’s Bayou in far east Houston I left my bike at home and took the kayak and trailer on Metro Rail north to the final stop and started hiking east along Crosstimber Road. After 10 miles or so I arrived at a bridge over Greens Bayou (Ley Road)  where I had heard I could gain access to the bayou:

Right.  After 20 minutes of bushwalking through steep brambles I managed to get to a spot where I could inflate my kayak and drop down to the water.

A flatish spot under the bridge where I could inflate the kayak.

Greens Bayou is the wildest of the Houston Bayous. It is wide, deep and has lots of wildlife as it winds it’s way south to join Buffalo Bayou about five miles west of north Galveston Bay. I saw two alligators – did not get a picture of the second one as I was too busy paddling away!

One of the two alligators I saw…. the other one was a LOT bigger.

And, while it was quite a bit more bucolic than Buffalo Bayou, there was still the odd bit of urban junk in the water.

Weird bit of junk floating in the bayou

And there was no current – it was like paddling in a lake.

Wide, deep and no current.
Detritus from a past flood.
Old dock – no way to get out here.

I kayaked about five miles and was just beginning to think about looking for a pull-out when I passed a tiny little side channel. When I went up it to explore I found myself at an “official”  access point in Strickland Park. Of course there were no signs on the bayou so I found it purely by chance.

Lovely pull-out spot. No mud! No brambles!

And I enjoyed a snack waiting for my lovely wife to come pick me up. No more hiking today!

Kayak #4, Buffalo Bayou, Hwy 6 to West Belt, May 11, 2020

My biggest bike/hike/kayak trip yet was to far west Houston.  I left my bike at the beltway and hiked west to Hwy 6 where I managed, with some difficulty, to get the kayak into the water where I discovered that the water was only a few inches deep.  For the next mile or so I had to hop out out every 100 feet and drag my kayak over logs, rocks and shallows.

Bike locked and ready to hike west to Highway 6.
Another log!
Dragging through the shallows
And over rocks.

Slowly, as side channels added more water, the depth increased and the portaging sections got farther apart.

Deeper water…finally!!
Pretty section of the bayou
Bayou waterfall!
Tree roots – obviously the water is higher sometimes.

The bayou had a lot of obstructions which generated some small rapids in a few places which added a bit of excitement and fun to what was, at the beginning, a real slog.

Following an egret east.

Got back to my bike after 6 or 7 miles of bayou kayaking where I began a long ride home.

Pull-out spot under the West Belt. Time to start biking home.


Kayak #3, Buffalo Bayou, Downtown to Turkey Bend, May 6, 2020

Biked up to downtown and entered Buffalo Bayou heading east. I took the Bayou to just west of Turkey Bend, where I started seeing commercial barge traffic and heavy industry on both sides of the Bayou.  The end of the Houston Ship Channel is only a couple miles east.

My hike/bike trailer system
Downtown view from the bayou
The Wortham Center (Ballet, Opera)
Ballet bridge over the bayou

As the bayou heads east it gets wider and deeper becoming a commercial waterway.

The bayou really opens up
Selfie time!
A “waterfall” on the bayou

I made it to just west of Turkey Bend where a large barge was being loaded with scrap metal and I turned back to a lovely little take-out spot with a nice dock.

View of downtown as I headed back to my pull-out spot
No mud! No rocks! A real dock!

From here I hiked back to my bike at the Sabine Bridge.

Kayak #2, Braes Bayou, MacGregor Park to Buffalo Bayou, May 2, 2020

For my second kayak trip I used my new bike trailer to bike down to MacGregor Park where I left my bike and started kayaking Braes Bayou east.  Braes Bayou is “channelized” west of here but from here east it is quite natural.

Put-in spot near Macgregor Park
Fairly clean water but some debris
Pretty spot

At one point I took a side channel through a culver.

Side channel


Pretty wild on the other side of the tunnel

I saw a little wildlife, mostly turtles and birds.

Some birds
Fishing bird

As the bayou nears Buffalo Bayou (within a mile or so) it opens up and becomes more industrial.

Working boat near Buffalo Bayou
Working barge about 1/2 mile from Buffalo Bayou

At this point I decided things were getting too commercial so I turned around and found a pull out spot in Mason Park.

Pull out spot in Mason Park

I packed up the kayak and humped back to my bike in Macgregor Park.