Thursday, 1 October 2009
We arrived at the Badlands, a range of lonely mountainous buttes rising up out of protected grasslands in western South Dakota, on a cold, windy, overcast afternoon, tired from a long drive along Interstate 90.
Cheered by the spectacle of the irregular, stripy landscape – formed by millions of years of erosion and housing an incredible collection of fossils – we were in no way prepared for one of the flashiest sunsets we’d ever seen.
Boring a small hole at the western edge of the duvet-like cloud covering, the sun snuck into the sky. It looked like a light switch had been flipped on, illuminating the peaks surrounding our very basic campsite located inside the National Park.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Soon, we saw Virga, the scientific term for rain that evaporates before hitting the ground, streaking down from the sky. And then a rainbow – Sophia’s first ever, long awaited rainbow. And then, as if that weren’t enough, the rainbow became a double – full- rainbow.
The crowd – which in this off-season numbered about ten – went nuts, pointing up into the sky, exclaiming superlative after superlative, pausing only to snap photos.
That night, we huddled with our fellow campers at the park’s amphitheater, where which offers nightly lectures. The park ranger delivered a lesson on the astronomy of the Lakota, a Great Plains Indian tribe. She explained the legends of local landmarks corresponding to what we know today as Custer State Park, Wind Cave and Devils Tower, as well as how they are seen to be mirrored in the sky as constellations.
By the end of the talk, which Sophia and Lulu had managed to sit through very patiently, the clouds had politely vanished from the night sky, leaving us a clear view of Jupiter, just near the moon. With the aid of the available telescope, Daniel, Sophia and I were all able to see four of the planet’s moons.