Hiking in the Badlands | VideoAlexander Gorney | 8/10/2012
"We wander around the back country of the wilderness, on trails the public doesn`t normally go on because they are unfamiliar with them," said North Unit Ranger John Heiser. "We do everything but take the official trails."
Heiser leads a group of sightseers on a wilderness hike through the North Unit once a month. Today, 11 eager hikers signed up to get a glimpse of plant and animal life they`d normally only see on a computer screen.
"We do quite a bit of observation of pants, birds, animals, everything that`s out in the wilderness."
Hikers will climb several hundred feet to the top of the hills with the chance of encountering bison along the way.
And they were in luck. Hikers came within a few hundred yards of bison on the trail. And it`s not just buffalo. Heiser says they occasionally spot bighorn sheep, mule deer and mountain lions.
"This hike is really a treat I think," said hiker Carlos Hawley. "Anyone who is interested in the history and the floral, fawna and the wildlife of the North Unit of the park should definitely try sometime to take this hike."
The Craig family has taking the hike for more than a dozen years. The Minnesota family travels to the Badlands every summer. They say not even a few snakes can scare them off.
"There was one time when there was a bison like eight feet away from us and we just walked around. That was kind of cool," said young hiker Rachel Craig.
"The kids really enjoy the chance to climb on the buttes and do the hiking and they help Jon lead the hikes," said Karen Jacowitz, Rachel`s mom. "He`s really great that way and its just a lot of fun."
Heiser leads the group across five miles of towering buttes under the hot sun. Those who remembered their cameras had no trouble framing up stunning landscapes in their viewfinders.
"It`s gorgeous out here," said hiker Adam Czach. "It`s different. The scenery is amazing."
Heiser admits the trail, at times, can be grueling. But with a lot of water and protective sunscreen, those who sign up will experience the untapped, rugged side of North Dakota.