Leaving Austin for Brighton, CO at sunset, following the crimson trail while Venus illuminated the evening sky, chased the sun down to Mountain time. Setting out on the first of three long legs of our tour, rolling through the grasslands of Nebraska with miles of sunflowers, corn and sandy hills – prairie grasslands swaying a welcome to the Great Plains. Grass fur stretched out like the pelt of a giant beast, wanting to run my hands through fields that look softer than they really are.
Pheasants and grouse popped up from tall grass, thought I saw some sandhill cranes in the distance but mostly hawks circling fields, catching thermals. This was our only day in the grasslands, the driving destination being Badlands National Park. Taking a slight detour to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument was the first clue that we were stepping back in time to the land of the dinosaurs. The plains, first covered by a shallow inland sea, then evolving into a tropical forest after the upthrust of the Rocky Mountains, gave way to a Serengeti-like savannah as the climate cooled and dried. Many of the land formations in the park and in the Badlands speak to eons of water’s ebb and flow followed by the wind’s incessant, wearing erosion. Layers of sediment, paleosoils and volcanic ash combine to form the shapes and colors of hills and buttes that look like roaming dinosaur herds, still present as human beings enjoy our brief ascendancy. Stepping into the context of geological time was conveniently dwarfing, preparing us for the transcendent lunarscapes of the Badlands. Formed by only 500,000 years of erosion, the Badlands are a virtual hourglass of time, eroding to prairie over the next millennium. They are like nothing I have ever seen or felt, and emanate a deep and abiding peace.