Wednesday, October 31, 2007


"TRICK OR TREAT!" How many ghosts, goblins, Spidermen, witches, and teenagers with no costume did you have at your doors tonight?

We had ZERO! even though Husband sat outside in the pleasant evening with the bag of candy.
Whoo Hooo!! that means a whole bag of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups for us to eat.

The rain held off until after trick-or-treat hours were over.
?When did they start scheduling hours for trick-or-treat?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Black Hills - chapter three - Needles Highway and beyond

After we left Sylvan Lake there was another tunnel, this one the narrowest at only 9 feet wide. The road twisted and turned as it wound among the amazing fingers of rock that stuck up from among the pine forest. Six miles south east of Sylvan lake we noticed a person perched atop one of the impossibly smooth and thin fingers of rock. Suddenly we came to a wide spot in the road filled with cars and people. It was the "parking" area at the base of the "Needles Eye" formation. The parking lot was full so we crept to the 90 degree left turn that led into the third tunnel. It was long and open at the top for part of it's distance. We waited for several vehicles to clear and then sounded our horn, turned on our lights and started through. When we got to the other end there was a guard rail straight in front of us as the road took another 90 degree turn to the left. We pulled into a just vacated wide spot on the shoulder against the guard rail and parked the truck. We ran back through the tunnel behind a vehicle going the right direction. If you go to my Picasa picture gallery there are a lot more photos of this amazing part of our drive.

Our next stop was at the top of Mt. Coolidge Lookout at an elevation of 6023 feet. This is an active fire lookout station and the gravel road that wound around the mountain to the top was hair raising. Looking out over miles of forest the ravages of at least two forest fires were visible. We later learned that the same year that Yellowstone burned, 1988, the whole north half of Custer State Forest also burned. Those fires were so hot that the soil was burned to a depth of several inches and it took ten years for regrowth to begin. The black skeletons of the burned trees still stand as evidence. There was another fire, not nearly as extensive in 1991, and one just three weeks before we were there. The air had been hazy the whole time we were in the Black Hills from the smoke of fires that were still burning to the south. We saw Forest Service and State Forest fire trucks parked and at the ready in many places we had been and would be yet.

Forest management has changed considerably since the the big burns of 1988. In those days there was no effort to control fires. Now the Forest Service tries to reduce the fuel for fires so that even if a fire gets started they will not be as hot or large as in the past. We saw evidence of this change in what looked like large Tee-Pees of logs stacked among the trees. The forest floors were being cleared of dead logs and brush which was stacked in piles to be burned during the winter when there was enough snow to make the project safe. Unfortunately there had not been enough snow for the last three years to do the burns.

The southern part of Custer State Park has large areas of open range land dispersed among the forest. We saw Pronghorns occasionally, extensive Prairie Dog towns right up close, and the large Bison herd in the distance. The herd is managed by the Park Service which includes a roundup every fall on October first. The animals are inspected and inoculated and about 300 are sold in November for various purposes from meat to breeding stock. You can see movies of the round up and more here.

At one time the Park Service kept a herd of Burrows to use as pack animals for tourist excursions. When those programs were discontinued the Burrows were turned loose. Today they roam the south end of the park begging from the tourists. When we met the herd one lady in an SUV who had just passed them stopped to tell us that "they will eat anything you offer and even put their heads in the car with your kids to be petted."

Going back north toward Mt. Rushmore put us on another scenic drive named Iron Mountain Road. Again we drove through hair pin turns and twists and turns. The Norbeck Scenic highway consisting of the Needles Highway and the Iron Mountain road were built by Peter Norbeck former governor of South Dakota. He wanted people to be able to see the beautiful rock formations without damaging the natural beauty. The Iron Mountain Highway includes three more tunnels - each of which frames Mt Rushmore as you drive through and two "pig tail" bridges which are complete twists of the road going under itself in order to loose altitude without having to build switch backs. It is a hair raising drive and ride and there were no wide places to stop and take pictures as the traffic was fairly heavy. Here is a link to a picture of one of the pigtail or "Piggly Wiggly" bridges as they are called.

Mt. Rushmore was our final destination that day. We arrived very late. We were just a little ahead of the crowds that would come for the evening light display. I had a huge dish of raspberry/vanilla twist soft serve for dinner. It was very good and more than even I could eat which is unusual for me, so Husband got some too. The memorial is very well done. The buildings below the great sculpture are very nicely understated. The gift shop on one side and the food facilities on the other are very large and tastefully designed. As the crowds of tourists from all over the world began to gather for the light show we decided to leave. We were exhausted from the long day and we would not be back to the "Silver Dog House" before it was very dark, even though the campground was less than 20 miles away. We drove through the very crowded and touristy town of Keystone and under the last bridge - this one wide and high enough for the 4 lane divided road that ran under it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Black Hills - chapter two - Sylvan Lake

Here is a small piece of the "Big Green Map" by which we navigated the Black Hills for 4 days. We camped at Sheridan Lake Campground which you can see at the center top of the map.

On our LONG DAY of exploration our first stop was at Sylvan Lake located in the tan rectangle at the left center of the map. The Green area is National Forest the tan is State Park. The white bars across the black roads are tunnels. Now these tunnels are not the ordinary tunnel that you just drive through on a two lane road. The black lines, depending on the thickness and emblems, are national, state and county highways. Standard, if sometimes narrow, two lane blacktops. The tunnels on the other hand are definitely ONE LANE the narrowest was only nine - yes I typed 9 - feet wide! The lowest was 10' 10" high. In Michigan you could NOT have narrow one lane tunnels on a two lane road. It would lead to mayhem and deaths. But in the Black Hills everyone approached a the tunnel slowly - by the way you almost never approached a tunnel even nearly straight on, it was almost always it at a sharp angle to the roadway or there was a sharp turn to enter the tunnel. You approached the tunnel slowly and peeked through. Then if there was no one in the tunnel or entering from the other end, you sounded your horn and drove in slowly. Everyone was polite and patient, did not rush at the tunnels, and waited their turn. We only saw two drivers who were less than patient, one from California and one from New York, figures. It was AMAZING! If there had been an accident at one or two tunnels at the same time - it would have been a total snarl. The widest of the tunnels we encountered that day was 13' 7" and there were 6 of those tiny tunnels.

After crawling through the first one we came to Sylvan Lake, It looked interesting and there were lots of people there so we decided there must be something of interest. Turned out it was a local popular local attraction. Once we parked and walked toward the lake we could see why.

Sylvan Lake is an artificial lake laying at the top of a steep valley. In the picture to the right you can just see a white line at the water line in the gap in the foreground rocks, that is the walkway on top of the dam. The lake had a solar powered device anchored near the dam that was attached to a paddle wheel that helped keep the water aerated and circulating to reduce the algae buildup. There were kids and adults fishing along the grassy verge and there were a few people in Kiaks.

We walked around the lake including out on the walkway over the dam. But to get all the way around you had to backtrack from the dam, find a narrow opening through the rocks and follow a steep path into the valley below the dam. There you either walked along the base of the rock wall, across the tiny creek, and around to the other end of the wall or you could choose to hike a treacherous rocky trail down into the very steep mountain valley below. We went part way down the trail that was in many places marked by a pair of handrails to help climbers down or up the steep, rocky climb. In some places steps had been poured with forms and concrete. I can not imagine the work that was done by hand lugging the forms, iron pipes for the railings, and cement up or down that valley to create that trail. It was a very small stream that formed the steep sided valley we climbed a very short way down and back up. ferns grew in the crevices of rocks and trees grew tall to reach above the rim. We met a number of people going up and down the trail as we slowly worked our way along. In some places the trail was over practically vertical rock faces where I clung to the handrails. In other places we stepped over the stream as it flowed between great boulders we walked across the tops of. Or we stepped over the stream on the grassy edges among wildflowers in bloom. Often we stoped to rest in the shade of either the shade of the valley wall or a tree.

Returning to the base of the dam and heading around the far side of the lake, we found very large, tall Ponderosa pines standing hard up against the rock wall. A wildflower meadow greeted us at the edge of the lake as we came from among the rocks and people were spread out along the lake edge setting up picnics.

Monday, October 8, 2007


It is October 8th, 87* out and the roses are in full bloom. Unusual weather for this late in the year. My Chicago Peace was covered with buds two days ago and now they are fully open - GLORIOUS!!

Charisma really is that glowing orange color.

The Fairy is showing off its tiny pink blossoms.

What a Peach, is a tiny last hurrah of the summer.

David Austin's Golden Celebration is celebrating this last chance to put on a show.

Even this Red Admiral butterfly is taking advantage of the heat and sun to get a last sip of nectar from the Butterfly Bush.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Black Hills - chapter one

From Wall South Dakota we took I-90 west past Ellsworth Air Force Base to Rapid City and entered the Black hills.

The Black Hills is an "island of trees in a sea of grass", a small isolated mountain range in western South Dakota and east Wyoming. It is a complicated dome of rock layers resembling an oval bulls eye, which have been eroding for over 2 million years since their uplift from the plains surrounding them. I loved studying geology in college but when I tried to understand what was happening in the Badlands and the Black Hills and the mountains in Wyoming and Montana I was lost in the complications. I live in an area of the world that was repeatedly covered by a series of continental glaciers that left their jumbled deposits behind. Our house is built on an sandy moraine above a wide glacial river bed. Glacial geology is very complicated but the remains you can see are not very old, 10,000 to 12,0000 years in our area. However during our trip to the west we were in areas that had evidence of long gone valley glaciers, great ancient uplifts of even more ancient complicated sedimentary deposits. Interpretive materials talked in terms of Millions of years - many millions even billions of years of geological forces. Repeated volcanic activity, sedimentation, uplift and erosion redeposited and uplifted and eroded again before our eyes. I gave up trying to understand and just enjoyed knowing that what I was seeing was ancient and complicated and beautiful.

Our first stop in the Black Hills National Forest was at Pactola Lake Visitors Center. Pactola Lake is actually a large reservoir, which provides the Rapid City water supply, laying behind a dam on the Rapid River. The visitor center building is a beautiful edifice holding a very nice interpretive exhibit of the natural and human history of the area, warnings about forest fires, souvenir sales area, and a large glass wall looking out over the lake. The shore line looked very odd - there seemed to be a wide band of bare ground between the water line and the trees. We were told that due to the drought they had been suffering for a number of years that the lake was 30 feet low. Of course it was still over a hundred feet deep - so not to worry. We spent some time talking with staff and volunteers at the visitors center and were given lots of suggestions on where to camp and what to see while we were there.

The map we were given was colored, had lots of detail, and was torn off a pad of maps. We later learned that everywhere we went including stores in areas surrounding the Black Hills, there were pads of these maps affectionately called "the big green map" I included a scanned excerpt of the area of the map which shows our next day's explorations in my Picasa photo album. You can find it under the maps link here

We chose Sheridan Lake Campground and found a spot among large Ponderosa Pines to call home for the next four days. The host warned us that they had been having unseasonably hot humid weather and even the nights had been hot and humid. Fortunately the weather relented and while not cool during the day the nights provided comfortable sleeping weather. Here was my first experience with National Forest Campgrounds. There were no hookups but there was a dump station available and there were pit toilets - not too bad at this campground if you got there soon after they were cleaned everyday-, and a pitcher pump with pretty good water. I learned how to take a "navy" bath using the shower and a dish pan to catch the gray water. I could wash my hair and bathe with only two pans three quarters full of water and feel clean. Our retired Navy friend in whose yard we camped our first night out would not have called it a navy shower, I used too much water. But we managed to not fill up our gray water tank by washing dishes outdoors like the tent campers and dumping the bath water the same way. Husband had been trying to convince me all along that it would work and happily I discovered it would. By the time this trip was over I much preferred a national Forest Camp ground to a full-hook-up one, as long as it was high enough to be cool.

The next day we set off on a journey too far. We laid out way too much to do for one day - but it was and amazing day none the less.

Dew on webs

How time flies, life gets in the way, and the posts I mean to put up as things happen end up waiting for another day.

What an amazing morning it was last week. Husband was walking Duncan early and called me to come see the dew on the spider webs. The sun was just coming over the tree line and the dew glittered on thousands of strands of spider silk. Not just the Orb webs which we think of on Halloween which are built by Garden Spiders, but what looked like miles of silk strands stretching long distances from tree branches to tree branch or from tree tips to the grass. They were especially visible on the spruces but the fruit trees and shrubs were shrouded too. The spiders had been busy creatures during the night decorating our yard for Halloween a month early.

Thursday, October 4, 2007