Friday, September 28, 2007

Badlands National Park

From the north, the approach to the Badlands National Park is through a National Grassland. You leave cultivated farm fields and drive into sea billows of grass as far as you can see. We came to an old homestead which had a small prairie dog town beside the parking lot. Our first view of Prairie Dogs was up close to very tame "dogs" sitting by their burrows.

Prairie Dogs are a large rodent that lives in extensive underground colonies. We later saw colonies that covered acres and extended for miles along both sides of the roadway and for hundreds of feet out across the landscape. It became evident why ranchers and farmers hated the critters. The colonies were nearly barren of vegetation as the "dogs" are plant eaters that eat everything right down to the ground from above and eat the roots from below. The boundary of the National Grassland is marked by a fence. In areas where there were prairie dog towns on the Grassland side of the fence the colony extended right under the fence onto private ranch land - but only for a short distance because the ranchers wage a battle of poison against the voracious plant eaters. The Park Service is trying to work with ranchers to manage the population. Long ago Black Footed Ferrets lived in the colonies with the "dogs" which were their food. With the reduction of the Prairie Dog populations by ranchers the Ferrets were nearly exterminated. Today there are efforts by the Park Service to reestablish the Ferret populations in the "dog towns".

The day we visited the Badlands was HOT. Thank goodness for the AC in "White One". It was a bright day with huge puffy clouds drifting across the sky to offer blessed shade occasionally. The temperatures hovered around 102* in the sun but under the shade from the clouds or rock formations it felt as though it dropped at least 20 degrees. But the sun was INTENSE, so we slathered on sun screen, and huddled under large brimmed hats when we ventured from the cab of the truck and the AC to walk a trail.

SURREAL is the only word that comes to mind to describe the works of God and nature that have created the earth and rock formations that are the Badlands. From white to grays to dark mustard yellow to maroon the formations of rock and earth were constantly changing as we rounded curves in the road. Mostly we drove along the edge of the plateau looking south across the eroded landscape of spires, ridges and mesas standing on the outwash plain below. In the distance we could see cattle and horses on the open range beyond the park boundaries. To the north were expanses of gently rolling grassland in stark contrast to the eroded landscape on the south. Sometimes the road wound down among the formations with towering spires, or rounded mounds, or flat topped mesas on all sides.

Wildlife was visible near and far. At one spot we passed a Park Service vehicle stopped on the side of the road. The occupants were out of the vehicle using binoculars to look across the valley in the foreground at a mesa. So we stopped and sure enough there were bighorn ewes with lambs on the top of the mesa high above the valley floor. We saw another herd of ewes that had to be shooed off the road, all were wearing radio collars. There were also Mule Deer, Pronghorns, Buffalo - or Bison - and of course lots of Prairie dogs. At one stop as we walked along one of the many boardwalks that were provided to keep people on trials and protect the soil from erosion we encountered a tiny rabbit that looked like a miniature cottontail, which we later learned was a pigmy cottontail. . Everywhere were signs warning of rattlesnakes if we were to leave the boardwalks - Husband pointed out that the boardwalks provided nice shady places for the rattlers to hide under. The native chipmunks, called Least Chipmunk where everywhere, seeking the shade often clinging to the sides of cliffs or rocks. They were about the cutest thing I had ever seen. They were more gray in color than our Eastern chipmunk but they were TINY with much longer tails. I was never able to find one that stood still long enough to have his picture taken.

We did not get an early start and if we ever do this again we will start very early in the morning - at dawn. We would beat some of the heat and have better light for photography. I think the east gate is the best place to start your exploration. Here you are closest to the highest rock formations and you can walk right out among them. At the west end of the park you are farther from the rim of the valley below or down in the valley where the formations are less craggy, but never the less still interesting as the color is vivid with yellows and reds below gray caps.
Late in the day the predicted thunder storm passed to the west of us going north. We watched it approaching while we sat on a bench at the end of a long boardwalk, in the grasslands with its cooling breeze blowing across the acres of grass. The tail end of the storm caught us with light rain as we walked back to the truck.

If you go to my Picasa album there are more pictures of the Badlands.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Continuing the trip west

It is time to continue the travel log of our trip west this summer. The second day we left Cooks at noon. For me it was hard to leave Lake Michigan behind. Because of a south wind driving the warm surface water to shore it was as "warm as bath water" compared to the usual bone chilling cold of the Great Lakes and I was disappointed that I did not get a chance to swim in the unusually warm water. There is a beautiful sandy swimming beach at Thompson between Manistique where my husband was born and Cooks where our relatives live in their retirement.

From Cooks it is a three hour drive to Iron River where our Nephew, his wife and our two God Sons live with their three dogs. We spent two nights camped in their driveway. After waking the trails on their property which is adjacent to a national forest, they took us to a lovely waterfall. We walked a trail up along the series of falls to the lake which had been created by a dam above the falls.

We set out early then next morning as our next destination was Wall South Dakota. The rest of the distance across the UP of Michigan and Wisconsin passed quickly. We crossed into Minnesota from Superior Wisconsin to Duluth on a beautiful bridge spanning the tip end of Lake Superior.

The drive across Minnesota was the part of the trip I least enjoyed. I do not know why but it seemed to go on forever with not a single rest stop. We drove through northern hardwood forests with lots of small lakes interspersed, it was not unpleasant but also not very interesting country. Once we crossed into North Dakota at Fargo we entered a landscape I had never before experienced. It was like going through a gate, the landscape changed abruptly.

The rolling prairie with its pot holes and the huge rolling fields of grain and hay along I -94 were fascinating. There were huge round bales of hay stacked or just lying randomly along the right of way. What an idea the right of ways were planted to hay and it was harvested - no land wasted. We observed that practice all over the west. I-94 is a beautiful road with numerous rest stops by Prairie Pot Holes. There were white pelicans, Canada Geese, Cormorants, grebes and numerous small water birds that we could not identify because of our distance from them. The prairie is not flat it ROLLS like sea billows with large and small pot hole lakes tucked in the hollows. Many of them are designated as wildlife areas and have acres of wild grassland surrounding them. At the rest stops the trees were full of pretty medium sized birds with nests tucked into crotches of branches up against the trunk. Each tree had several nests. They were a King Bird much more colorful than our eastern variety, with lovely soft yellow breasts and white chins. I could not see the outer white tail feathers so at first identified them as Cassin's Kingbirds. But they they were more likely Western Kingbirds, which we saw all over the west with their white outer tail feathers. I would have to go back with book in hand and a better pair of binoculars to be sure.

I have posted, in my Picasa photo album, some of the pictures I took on that stretch of road along I-94 to Jamestown North Dakota where we spent the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot. When my husband asked the manager for permission to park in the lot overnight, he was warmly greeted with "Oh Sure" when the question of what kind of trailer we had was answered with "Airstream".
The next morning we decided to avoid the construction at the highway entrance ramp which made for very narrow lanes, tight turns and lots of orange barrels to maneuver around. So on the way out we followed cars whose drivers we figured knew where they were going and went out the back of the parking lot. We wound up on a prairie soil, BLACK DIRT lane between farm fields with corn growing right up to the edge. WOW!! but we finally reached a graveled road and made our way back to I-94.

We continued west and then turned south toward Wall South Dakota. As we traveled south the Prairie Pot holes disappeared, the prairie became drier and the temperatures rose into the 100s - 101*- 104* Thank goodness for AC in "White One". We crossed the Missouri River on US 212 and drove through the Cheyenne Indian Reservation. As I write this, I just realized it was the same highway we drove from Red Lodge Montana, up into the Beartooth Mountains near the end of this trip. But more of that amazing drive later.

We arrived in Wall South Dakota in time to explore the famous Wall Drug. We were glad to find a small private RV park where we could get full hook ups and enjoy our Air Conditioning for the first time in the trailer. The next day was to be our trip to Badlands National Park. The prediction was for a high of 102* with thunderstorms in the afternoon. As it turned out they were right on!

Monday, September 24, 2007

How time flies and how they grow!

Wow life is crazy! Or does it just seem that way? I never think I have a long enough piece of time to continue my story of our trip west this summer. That will occur, when the weather gets worse. I guess I need to learn to use the small moments and write bits and pieces if I am going to become a "proper blogger".

So I will post a pair of pictures of that little pup Duncan who is no longer a little pup. At 4 1/2 months and 31 pounds, he seems more a dog than a pup. We have to keep reminding ourselves he is still a baby when he has an accident or gets that stubborn, "make me" look on his too cute face.

So above is a picture that the breeder sent us when he was 5 weeks old, and below is a picture I took yesterday. In my last post is a picture of him at 12 weeks when we picked him up in Lovell Wyoming. I would guess he weighed about 13 to 15 pounds then, because the next week when we took him to the vet for his new puppy check up he weighed 17 pounds. Three weeks later when he got his last puppy shot he weighed 25 pounds. I am AMAZED at how fast he is growing. I wish I had been busier with my camera.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A new beginning all over again.

After I started this blog, a long time ago I could not find much to write about so it has languished. Now life has changed a bit and I have a lot more to write about.

After my husband retired we decided to "See the USA in your Chevrolet" if you remember that old car add jingle. Well we are beginning to do just that. Only our Chevrolet is a GMC truck and it is hauling a small travel trailer.

Right after we got the new trailer we took two short trips, just to shake out the bugs and learn this RVing thing. The first was with husband's Sister and her husband to Hartwick Pines State Park for a week. The second was just the two of us to a private RV park on Lake Leelanau near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore. The picture here is of us in our shady spot at lake Leelanau RV Park. We decided we like this RVing thing. But both of these experiences were at full hook up facilities. I was still not convinced that "Boondoocking" or dry camping was quite my bag. I want my shower in the morning.

The next trip was a summer sojurn which lasted four weeks. The objective was a date in August when we were to pick up a 12 week old Golden Retriever puppy named Duncan. Duncan is to be my husband's new hunting dog. He has not had one since his yellow Lab Rip died many years ago. Rip was his best friend and hunting companion when I met him and we have known one another for 34 years and been married for 32. The trip turned out to be a roaring success. As soon as we got home I wanted to be gone again. That is in the planning, and since I still work another long trip has to wait a while, like - until I retire.

Here is Duncan on the day we picked him up from the trainer who had raised him and given him 4 weeks of head start training.

But that is almost the end of the story of our trip. I should probably begin at the beginning.

The first leg of the trip took us through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to avoid Chicago but also to visit relatives in Cooks and Iron River. Once across the Big Mac bridge, the drive along higway US - 2 is always enjoyable. We saw an adult Bald Eagle hovering over the Lake Michigan shore and arrived at our Niece's In-Law's by mid afternoon. They have a lovely home about a mile from Lake Michigan with acreage that is growing back to forest. We fell asleep to the sound of a gentle rain on the aluminum skin of our snug abode.