Thursday, July 02, 2015

Bad to the Bone

After our second consecutive night of "Camelot Rain" (it only rains after 10 PM and is dry and beautiful the next day), we headed east from Rapid City to have breakfast at Wall Drug (pancakes for me and biscuits and gravy for Terry) before heading even further east to enter the Badlands National Park at the northeastern end.

The rest of the morning was spent driving the "Loop" and stopping frequently to enjoy the views.

The Badlands are often reminiscent of Bryce Canyon down in southern Utah. However, while Bryce is brightly--almost festively--colored in oranges and yellows, the Badlands are much more subdued in shades of white, gray, and occasionally blue and red. And, while the Badlands are spread over miles and miles of land, Bryce Canyon seems very compact. So compact is Bryce that you actually walk the park to get the best views.

When things are cloudy the rocks can be more colorful. The sun seems to bring out a brightness that blinds the eye.

Having formed in a shallow sea, the muds and clays contained few fossils from the time of the dinosaur. There are bones in the upper layers from early mammals who found themselves trapped in marshes and such.

The muds and sediments of a shallow inland sea millions of years old are hardly tilted in the entire park. Erosion has been the shaping force here.

The exception to the color rule. Orange, yellow, purple and blue layers of clay in one small area of the park.

Two of the three Bighorn Sheep grazing along the side of the road.

We ended the day driving through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands before returning to our camp site for dinner.

We did see a couple of bison, but there were also many, many prairie dogs in the Grasslands.

Prairie Dog

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Mucking About in the Black Hills

We spent the day visiting several sites in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Our first stop was at Mount Rushmore. While we found the mountain itself unchanged from our last visit in 1993, the rest of the complex was brand new. Beautiful visitors' center and observation deck as well as several short trails that get you even closer to the mountain and in among the debris at the base. Nearly all of the new construction was due to donations by corporate and private individuals. ( I didn't take any pictures of that stuff which included a nice tribute to the men who actually worked on the mountain. Suffice to say it was pretty nice.)

Mt. Rushmore from the visitors' observation deck 1/4 mile away.

From along the Presidents' Trail at the base of the mountain.

From along the Presidents' Trail at the base of the mountain.

From among some of the larger pieces of debris.

From along the Presidents' Trail heading back toward the observation deck.

After viewing the four presidents, we drove over to see how work on Crazy Horse was progressing. Being as this monument is privately funded (through the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation) and essentially the work of one family (the Ziolkowski family), they are doing pretty well. When we first visited in 1993 there was just a coarse outline of his face and little of the extended arm and, certainly, no opening beneath the arm. Even the flank of the piece facing you in this photo was pretty much untouched.

Crazy Horse Monument as viewed from over 1 mile away at the visitors' center.
 The head of Crazy Horse is 87 feet high. In contrast those on Mount Rushmore are a mere 60 feet high.
The sculpture in the foreground is what the finished work will look like.
 The Crazy Horse Memorial has a marvelous museum of the construction of the mountain carving but also of Native Americans. The museum has easily trebled in size from when we first visited in 1993. Artifacts from tribes in the desert southwest to the Iroquois Nation are on display. The Crazy Horse Memorial will be the center point for a Native American College in the near future. It already has something of a prep school in operation.

Beaded vest.

Beaded dress.

Beaded purse.

We stopped and had lunch in the restaurant on the premises. Then spent another 45 minutes trying to figure out how the exit the vast museum.

Leaving Crazy Horse behind, we drove toward Hot Springs to visit the Mammoth Site. Our route took us through Custer State Park. At 71,000 acres it's one of the largest state parks in the nation. It is also home to 1500 bison. We didn't see that many since we stayed on the state highway that cuts through the park and didn't venture onto the Wildlife Loop, but we did see around ten of the big beasts lounging in the grass not far off the road.

Hot Springs is home to The Mammoth Site. The Site is a former sink hole that trapped at least 61 Columbian and wooly mammoths as well as camels, llamas short faced bears and other critters. The Site is an active dig where volunteers can help unearth the thousands of bones and where youngsters can learn how to be paleontologists and how to throw an atlatl.

Woolly Mammoth and Columbian Mammoth. (An African elephant could walk under the chin of the Columbian Mammoth.)

Nearly complete skeleton of a Columbian Mammoth.

Partial skull showing the tusks.

Nearly complete skeleton (left) and another skull (right) missing only the tip of the right tusk.
All in all a pretty enjoyable day!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Visit to Little Bighorn

Tuesday, we left Billings, Montana and head over to The Little Bighorn National Monument. As a history buff, this is a must see spot. It was the turning point of the Indian wars of the 1870s. After the inglorious defeat of Lt. Col. Custer and his men which outraged the federal government and the folks back east, the Indians of the northern plains never won another battle.


the monument commemorates those who died on both sides and the interpretive videos and talks speak of the cause for the united effort on the part of the plains Indians in their fight against the white man's incursions. (It actually sounds a lot like what may be happening today with the federal government's trampling the rights once guaranteed by our Constitution.)

Atop the hill is a monument to the soldiers, civilians and Indian scouts who died here on June 25, 1876. The remains of nearly all were interred beneath this stone. Some few have been reburied elswhere, like Lt. Col. Custer who has been laid to rest at West Point.

Standing on the north side of the monument and looking down toward the Bighorn River there are a number of white stones marking where those under Custer's command were found in the days following the battle. Most are on this flank of the little knoll.
 If you look closely, you'll see one stone has it's engraved statement of identity in black.
 This stone, seen above, marks the spot they found Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

Other stones are to be found in the area around the battle site. Some, like the one below mark the place Indian braves were known to have died in defense of their way of life.

And one, marks the burial site of the horses belonging to the 7th Cavalry. Many of these were shot by their riders who were in desperate need of protective shelter.

The Little Bighorn National Monument is a place for reflection and remembrance.


The Monument, surrounded by the Crow Reservation is also the start of Route 212 also called the Warrior's Road which runs east southeast through Montana and into Wyoming and South Dakota. We drove along that road today heading to the Black Hills and Rapid City.

Tomorrow we go to see Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument.

Glacier National Park

Terry and I visited Glacier National Park over the weekend. After spending Saturday getting our air conditioner repaired--a necessity as the temperatures were into the upper 90s and even hit 100!--we sent over to the park on Sunday to view the glaciers and the work the glaciers had done in sculpting the landscape. We didn't get a chance to tour the park on the red buses as we had hoped. I should have made reservations weeks ago before we started on our trip.

We did drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road on our own, however. And the views were spectacular. A little less ice and snow than I expected--then again it was approaching 100 degrees!--and there were scars from forest fires on the shores of Lake McDonald and elsewhere, but the ride was fantastic!

Being on the passenger side, Terry got the best view of the steep drop offs to the valley below--whether she wanted them or not! There were a couple of times she almost climbed over the gear stick and sat in my lap and several times I heard her say, "I'm shutting my eyes! La, la, la...."

Monday we headed south along the east shores of Flathead Lake and on to Billings, Montana--where we had to get our refrigerator repaired!

Thank goodness, both Glacier and Billings had competent repairmen who made house calls. And hopefully we won't need to see any more of them on this trip!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ten Days on the Road

Well, not really. We've been parked in an RV park just off I-84 in Fairview, Oregon for the last week as we visit with Rick, Sandy and, of course, little Chelsea Rose.

Chelsea Rose with a BIG smile. (photo from Rick & Sandy's Tinybeans page)

Grandpa, Chelsea Rose, Grandma & Penny and Harbor

After five days of visiting, (and watching Chelsea eat sleep and poop--a lot) Terry and I decided to revisit Mt. St. Helens. The volcano blew in the spring of 1980 when Terry was still home with our first born, Jessica. We then visited the northeast side of the mountain back in 1993 when Jess was 13 and Rick was 10. This time, Terry and I approached from the southwest and took the long ride along the Toutle River drainage on highway 504.

We could see Mount St. Helens from our campground back in Fairview (south side of the Columbia River), but then we could also see Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. The campground is approximately 50-60 miles away from Mt. St. Helens--as the crow flies. Driving took a wee bit longer. First west (I-84) then north by northwest (I-205 and I-5) then east on Washington 504--a very twisting, winding east.

For much of the time, but especially while on 504, you can see the mountain with its snowy flanks. What you can't see is the land laid bare by the lateral explosion that took place 30 years ago.

Our first stop was at the visitors' center on 504 which is still some 48-49 miles from the observation center at the end of the road.

At this point you are still many miles away and well outside the "Blast Zone."  Up on the ridge, you would have experienced the ash fall but little else. Down in the valley of the Toutle, however, it would have been a far different story! The landslide on the north face of Mount St. Helens send huge amounts of earth down into the valleys below burying the rivers, creeks and lakes. The hot ash and gases melted the snow and ice that lay on the mountain side sending cascades of water downhill. When the buried water and the runoff joined together there was a wall of water tens of feet high filled with ash, rock, logs, homes and anything else that got in its way.

From the visitors' center we drove closer to the mountain passing several view points along the way bit stopping only when we got to the end of the road: Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Still 5-6 miles away from the volcano, you are definitely in the Zone now! The land before you was first covered in rubble and debris from the land slide that crashed into the ridge before being turned westward, then coated thickly with ash and other pyroclastic materials from the explosion. The ridge itself was scoured and sandblasted.

Nothing was left standing for some 7 to 17 miles after the blast, A lot depended upon your exact location. Some valleys funneled the destruction others, laying perpendicular to the direction of the blast, offered limited protection.

On our way back down highway 504, we stopped at the Forest Learning Center built and sponsored by Weyerhaeuser, the largest landowner in the area affected by the 1980 blast. It's a very interesting place with displays on forestry practices and some that contrast the natural approach for succession being used in the National Monument to the assisted reforestation that Weyerhauser is using. Weyerhauser foresters planted 18 million fir seedlings (mostly Noble Fir, Douglas Fir and Lodgepole Pine) in the three years after the eruption. (Other landowners--including the National Forest Service--planted trees on their own properties outside the Monument. The Forest service alone planted 10 million seedlings on 14,000 acres.)

So much time was spent in discussing the destruction that took place I wanted to stand up and remind everyone that this was instead a natural process of rebirth for the land. Yes, old, mature forests were leveled, but like the fires that sweep through the forest, there will be new and different life forms for a time. What Weyerhaueser has done is speed the process up and skipped over steps that may take decades so as to provide a return on their (and by "their" I mean their stockholders') investment while producing usable forest products within a reasonable amount of time.


Well, we've one more day in Portland and one more short visit with family, before we head out on the road again tomorrow. First stop will be in the Coeur d'Alene area and then several days at Glacier National Park.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Report From the Road

Well, we departed Hills Creek State Park bright and early on Friday ahead of what seems to have been some hellacious T-storms and high winds in the Northern and Southern Tiers. We did run into some heavy rains along I-80 in western PA but nothing too unusual.

Our first stop was in the Toledo, Ohio area and our next was in Kellogg Iowa. Our third (tonight's) was in Ogallala, Nebraska. We've made some good time and have had the benefit of crossing two time zone lines and gaining those hours on consecutive days. This has allowed us to go just a wee bit further than planned each of the last two days. As a result, Monday's travels will be a tad shorter than anticipated. We still plan on stopping in the Rock Springs/Green River area of Wyoming.

The Tundra is behaving admirably under the strain of towing the Vibe. However, it's getting only around 8 mpg which necessitates our stopping every 160 miles or so to get fuel. And the gas prices.... They were pretty damn high in Indiana and Illinois. And let us not mention the tolls in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The tolls in Ohio were higher than our campground fee. And the toll booths in Indiana are not manned. The result of that is a sizable delay if someone can't follow the directions on the board or has trouble swiping their credit card. (Like the trucker ahead of us.) How they work if you're paying cash, I haven't a clue.

The trailer is doing well also. Although there were a few instances where a screw wasn't tightened sufficiently and eventually came out (the shower door and where the drain pipe from the sink separated because it too wasn't tightened properly). Cushions and draws under the couch and bench seats seem to slide out with some of the rough roads and boxes in the pantry will have to be battened down a bit better, but other wise all systems (hot and cold water, electric, stove top, AC, etc.) are go. Oh, except for the grey water tank sensors. They don't seem to be registering a thing even after several instances of washing dishes, faces and hands. They should be reading something. Maybe after we both take showers tomorrow. The black water tank is reading 2/3 full so it's time to think about dumping that and what ever is in the grey tank. After all, we have some extra time I hadn't planned for.

I mentioned the exorbitant tolls.... Perhaps Illinois should use some of that money to repaint their rest area signs. Have of those blue signs are missing letters  or just plain look like crap. Maybe they could get one of their former governors to do something about them while they serve time.

And Nebraska should do something about the parking at most of its I-80 rest areas. Semi trucks and RVs must parallel park in about six or seven spots along the side of the entrance roads. We drove through two of them without stopping because there was no way. Both times we were following a tractor trailer whose driver came to the same conclusion. Only once, as we approached North Platte, did I see a rest area with a large enough truck/trailer parking area where vehicles could pull through and park on a diagonal.

The rains in western Nebraska must have been quite heavy last week The Platte River, noted for being a mile wide and an inch deep, was way over its normal channel flooding many corn field and pasture. The cows seem to like their new swimming holes, however.

Well, that's about all for now. I'll write when I'm able, bit you can also follow my scriblings on Facebook--which is a wee bit more iPhone friendly.