Monday, August 29, 2016

Custer State Park part III - The Black Hills underground

There is so much to see aboveground in the Black Hills, and Custer State Park in particular, that it's easy to miss the other half of the scenery here. Fortunately there are two sites that make it easy to experience.

Neither of the caves that are open for tours are in the state park, but both are within easy driving distance. Neither of these caves features the "classic" stalactites and stalagmites that one often sees in photos of caves, but each has their own unique "claim to fame".

Wind Cave National Park is just south of Custer State Park. Discovered by settlers in 1881, it became our 7th national park in 1903.

We've heard from other campers that road to the cave is a favorite place for Elk to hang out in the early morning and late evening hours. We didn't see any elk, but they aren't always predictable and we were probably out a little later than their preferred grazing hours.

Wind Cave, so named for the blast of wind that sometimes moves out of the very small opening, which was originally the only opening, is regarded as sacred by several Native American tribes, and is considered by some to be the origin place for the human race. Many Native American tribes' origin stories involve people coming up from underground, through a small opening. It makes one wonder when the same story occurs in so many cultures. This tiny opening was the only access point when the cave was discovered, and remained so during much of the early work in mapping the cave's chambers and passageways.

There are over 100 miles of mapped passageways, and researchers know from barometric studies that they have only explored and mapped a small percentage of what exists. Estimates of the mapped area indicate that it's about 5% of the total area the cave covers. This means, in short, that the entire area is honeycombed with caves. It's amazing that the whole surface doesn't collapse!

About 60 million years ago the geologic force that uplifted the Rocky Mountains also uplifted the Black Hills, producing large fractures and cracks in the limestone layers that had formed over the area. Over millions of years water slowly seeped through those cracks, dissolving the limestone, to produce the cave's passages. Later erosion removed the softer stone, leaving the harder calcite deposits that had been left behind in cracks in the soft limestone. These thin, honeycomb like formations are called "boxwork".  It seems this is actually a fairly rare formation, and about 90% of the known boxwork in caves is located here.

Passageways in this cave are very narrow, and though the Park Service has placed limited lighting in areas that assist visitors in seeing the depth of side tunnels and some of the formations it's difficult to really get a perspective on just how deep some of the side rooms and channels are.

The narrow passageways make the tour a bit of a challenge. When you look up, you may hit your head on the wall behind you, if you turn around to take a photo, your elbow may brush the wall - all things to be avoided by the way, to avoid contaminating the atmosphere and damaging the formations.  Not for the claustrophobic, to be sure, but an interesting tour none the less.

The Wind Cave geology driving tour brochure does a great job of explaining the geology of formations seen throughout the park.

Jewel Cave National Monument - the third longest cave system in the world, to the west of our camping area, was our second experience with the underground wonders of the Black Hills. By the time we reached this park we'd already climbed so many stairs, and hiked over so many steep hills, that we opted for the short tour.

Calcite crystals in the wall
The cave "room" in which we gathered to hear the ranger's presentation was lined with calcite crystals and limestone flows. It was spacious and well lit, so photos were a little easier to take, and there seemed to be, in this one area, a greater variety of forms. The tour included an informative presentation by the ranger and lots of time for questions and discussions.  It came up during the discussion that there is a distinct possibility that this cave is connected, somewhere, to Wind Cave.

So much of each cave remains unmapped it's hard to know. It does look as if they are both impacted by the same aquifer, so research continues.  It was a short tour, but not a disappointment. If we're here again we'll definately come back for a longer tour.

The entrance is at the end of the path, on the right
After leaving the cave proper we drove a mile up the road to Hell's Canyon, where the original cave entrance is located. After parking near the historic ranger cabin we followed the trail from the parking area up to the cabin, over the hill, down steep stairs, and along the edge of a cliff to the entrance which is protected by an iron door. This entrance is still used by some of the most strenuous tours.

While walking to the entrance there was an opportunity to view several places where the crystals and formations are visible along the path.

This entrance was used  from the time the monument was established in 1908 until 1972. The current entrance is through the visitors' center, which is the most informative of any we have visited in the Black Hills area. The center has displays and information on the cave, of course, but also other natural history of the area.

More photos of the caves.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Custer State Park part II - Touring in the Black Hills

August 16-25

We took the first day in Custer State Park to do some driving and get oriented to the park. Much of this park can easily be experienced from a vehicle as the road system was designed so as to highlight the scenic features.  There are three major routes, Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway, and the Wildlife loop, and during our stay we enjoyed all of them. Here, the name of each route is linked to additional information specific to the route. Each is worth a full day to experience, as there are so many pull-outs and short trails to explore it's doing the area an injustice to rush through it all.

We spent quite awhile on the Wildlife Loop Drive, the first of three major routes, stopping at the historic State Game Lodge and the main Visitor Center, which focuses mainly on the buffalo.

The State Game Lodge is a beautiful structure, with an atmosphere of solid but rustic elegance. It first opened in 1921, then burned to the ground 72 days later. It was rebuilt and opened again in 1922.

It must be comfortable as it became the "summer White House" for President Calvin Coolidge when he visited 1927. He intended to stay for 2 weeks, but it turned into 13. . .  I guess he liked it here! The lodge is still serving visitors with a restaurant and lodging rooms of several types.

We mosied along the road admiring the scenery and the animals, and also stopped at the Wildlife Station Visitor Center, one of those beautiful stone structures built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) in the 1930's.

The CCC crews were instrumental in building most of the stone structures in the park. It's amazing how many years it has been, and still their handiwork stands, strong, sturdy, and beautiful for all of us to enjoy. In addition to the stone buildings the CCC projects also included work on some of the roads, tunnels, and the many bridges that were needed to complete the routes through the park.

Our second long drive was the Needles Highway, which is well is well named. The road artfully wends its way through tall spires of granite, through two amazing tunnels which were specifically
designed to highlight the view as one passes through.

There is a small parking area at the Eye of the Needle's Eye formation for the convenience of visitors who want to photograph it. Of necessity the road is very narrow, and the tunnels are even narrower, towing anything through one of them is not recommended.

The views along all the drives are spectacular and the geology amazing. The roadsides literally sparkle with the coarse grained granite outcrops and the finer grained mica schist, as well as veins of pink feldspar. I've tried every camera setting available and nothing can quite capture just how reflective all this stone is, but picture some coarse glitter sprinkles over a boulder, on a really sunny day, and you'll be close.

The granite in some cases has mica flakes as big as 3 inches square, so they act as large mirrors, then the pink feldspar, while not quite crystals, has flat surfaces that shimmer in the sun. It's amazing!

Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway were planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course of the Needles Highway on foot and on horseback.

He specifically designed the tunnels so as to frame certain views, and he was the driving force for much of the work done in the park. The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is a 66 mile double loop that honors him, and includes all or portions of each of the three individual scenic drives within the park.

Exploring the roads he designed is a treat. The tunnels, the "pigtails", and the artistry in the development of the bridges enrich the scenic experience. (The pigtails are loops that cross over themselves, as a way to move the road down, or up, a severe slope while keeping the grade fairly gradual)
Tunnel at the Needles Eye
Most of the tunnels are one lane only, so though some have a bypass, drivers must be careful and observant, taking turns and using pull-outs as needed.

When you toss in random wildlife crossing the road, and weather, there's a good reason for the 25 mph recommendation in most areas. In some places going even slower makes sense. We had a spot of rain during this stretch, and then there's always the odd deer that decides to make a mad dash across the road, not to mention the occasional tourist who decides to stop in the middle of the road to snap a photo.

Norbeck himself recommended 15 MPH as a good speed at which one could travel the road and enjoy the views. I think he knew what he was talking about. Buffalo, if they are in your way, make a serious dent in the radiator!

We really did see a lot of wildlife - a buffalo herd and a few solitaries, a few antelope and deer, the ever present and always chubby prairie dogs, and wild donkeys.

Well, they aren't really very "wild", to watch them in the parking lot. We had turkeys and deer right in the edge of our camp and meandering through the campground on several occasions. After a while the dogs got used to them as visitors and didn't bark (much).

There are signs everywhere warning people not to approach the buffalo. We saw in Theodore Roosevelt NP how "tame" they seem, so it's understandable that people get overconfident. The ranger in the Wildlife Station told us a woman visiting this park was gored this spring when she got too close to a buffalo and then reached out to touch it. Personally, I'm happy to look at them from a distance, or through the screen door!

While walking with the dogs over a little-used-much deer trail a great horned owl swooped over my head, then landed on a branch where he looked down at us without blinking.  As rare as it is to see an owl in the afternoon, he was among the few birds we saw. There were a few blue jays, and a young hawk being encouraged to flight by his parents, but not as many varieties as I would have expected. The dogs bouncing around in camp probably had something to do with that.

There are a few must-see, man-made attractions here, and Mt. Rushmore National Memorial is certainly one of them.
Mt. Rushmore has been on Steve's bucket list for years, and now we've done it! We set out on Iron Mountain Road fairly early as we wanted to beat the heat. Consequently the day was rather cloudy and dim for the first hour or so, and then the clouds thinned and we had beautiful blue sky with a few decorative clouds to set off the amazing granite structures in the distance.

Many of the distant formations are actually the backside of the Needles structures we saw when we drove the Needles Highway.

The monument is visible from a good distance on the highway and it was a challenge to catch glimpses of it as we wended our way through the forest. Of course, very impressive when viewed from a closer vantage point. The visitor center presents the history of the sculpture in a variety of ways - videos, signs, displays, and an audio tour.

There are displays of artifacts and documents used during work on the monument, photos of work in progress, and a short ranger presentation delivered right next to the model used to determine the measurements for the final sculpture. A trail around the complex and under the sculpture affords a variety of perspectives and lots of photo opportunities. It's pretty much a full day activity. This project was truly an amazing undertaking, and a national treasure.There's some fascinating information on how the carvings were done, with dynamite, and jack hammers, here.

We'd heard the evening program, in which the sculpture is illuminated, was worth seeing, so we made a return trip. The program was scheduled to begin at 8 PM, so we planned to have dinner in the cafe there, and this was the only down-side to the visit. The food was pricey and totally "below par", so to speak. The only bonus out of the deal was the can of beer we picked up to accompany the meal.

A local brewery, in Hill City, worked with the staff at the monument to select four brews to name for the four founders depicted on the mountain.

We selected Honest Abe Red Ale, which was pretty good, and informative! On each can the label includes several historic facts about the person the brew is named for. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln is the only president who was also a licensed bartender? In his younger years Abe and a partner owned a store/drinking establishment in Salem, Illinois.

The evening program was very enjoyable. A short movie along with a presentation by a ranger made up most of the program, then all military service members were invited on stage.

It was a huge group, and each was introduced along with their branch of service. At the end of the program several service members, including Steve, assisted the ranger in taking down the flag and folding it.

The lights on the mountain, as well as other areas of the visitor center make the night display very dramatic, and we were glad we took the opportunity to go back for the second visit.

The following day we decided to explore some of the areas beyond the park boundaries, and since we had enjoyed the Honest Abe Red Ale we decided to look up one of the brewery's tasting rooms. They have one in Custer, but er ended up in Hill City, at the brewery/winery joint tasting room and restaurant. We checked with the staff and they were perfectly fine with the dogs joining us on the patio, so we had a light lunch and shared a sampler.

Hunting around on their shelves later we found a four pack of the four brews named for the founders, so Steve has the set for his label collection shelf! (I'm not sure who's going to drink that lemon grass/mint beer the park people selected to represent Theodore Roosevelt!)

Hill City is also home to the South Dakota State Train Museum - known as the 1880 Train. There are several antique rail cars in varying states of restoration displayed on the grounds. We didn't tour the museum, we'll leave that for the next trip through here.
This post covers so many days that the photos are divided up into multiple albums. If you want to see more pictures here are the links.

Custer State Park - History (buildings, roads, etc.)
Custer State Park - Flora and Fauna
Custer State Park - Scenic Geology

When viewing the photos, click on the little "i" at the top right to see the descriptions.

All good things must come to an end, so the touring comes to a close and we're on to other adventures. We'll head back to Rapid City to catch up on chores, and then work our way east.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Custer State Park part I - Camping in the Black Hills

Custer State Park, North Stockade Lake Campground

We arrived here on Tuesday, August 16
The sites here are huge, especially for a park in a highly popular area. Spaces are fairly wide, and deep, so it's easy to get yourself tucked into the trees, or find the perfect location for a tent. We're going to be here for several days so it's nice to have a little space to settle into.

The wildlife here are so accustomed to campers that deer and wild turkeys often stroll through the edges of camp. In fact, when Steve opened the door one morning to take one of the dogs out there was a deer standing right outside the door! Fortunately there don't seem to be any bear concerns at all, and I don't know how they do it, as the park is so large, but somehow they have established cross fencing to keep the buffalo out of the housing and camping areas.

We often take afternoons off to just sit and enjoy the area, or to walk around the campground and chat with the neighbors.

The dogs enjoy visiting too, and all the kids want to pet Watch, which works out just fine as he loves kids. Shiner has finally figured out that if she's friendly she gets petted too.

As this is a state park, not federal, their rules for dogs are a bit different. Dogs they have to be on a 10 ft. leash in the campgrounds (it's 6 ft. in federal parks), they are allowed on trails, and can be off leash in areas that aren't in the campground. That means they won't have to wait for us in the trailer so often, and they get quite a bit more exercise.

Stockade Lake is just through the woods and over the hill, so that was one of our first long walks. It culminated in a nice swim in the lake.

We soon discovered that, much easier than hiking over the hill and through the dense trees, we could just load the dogs up in the truck and go out on the highway less than 1/4 mile to the Gordon Stockade area.

The dog's favorite swimming hole is just down the gravel road from there the Stockade parking area, so we've been there several times to let them swim and play keep-away with the stick they chase. It's rough work supervising them!

On our second visit to the lake we discovered an added "bonus", and least I thought it was fun. Watch loves to woof when he and Shiner are playing, and that large granite wall across the lake sends back not one but two perfect echoes. As they both wanted to bark at those other dogs across the lake it took awhile to get things quieted down. It's not often you hear a good clear echo, much less a double one!                      

These visits to the lake provided a good chance to inspect some of the large grain granite that is exposed here and there along the roadside. It's not as course everywhere, but this type is very attractive. It's very eye catching, as the chunks of mica, tourmaline, and quartz are so large they reflect like mirrors. There is an abundance of pink feldspar mixed in, which makes for a really pretty overall color in the cliffs. This whole area is a geologic wonderland!

I know it looks like oatmeal, but it's really shiny!
This stockade is the historic structure for which our campground and the lake are named. The stockade was the result of illegal occupation of the area by gold miners, who had been told to leave as the land was not open for mining, but belonged to the Native Americans by treaty. They occupied it anyway, and occupants were eventually removed by the cavalry. More of the history here. The existing stockade is a replica, but along one side there are three small buildings that are older than the rest of the structure. They are what remains of an earlier incarnation.

Across the lake from our little swimming hole there is a tall marble marker. On one of our afternoon drives we stopped to check it out.

The marker is for Annie Tallent, the first white woman in the area, a teacher, who with her husband was part of the group that illegally occupied the stockade during the brief time is was used. Her story is long and very interesting. The details of it are here, with the last few paragraphs describing her time in the Black Hills, and what she represented to the Whites as well as the Native Americans.

The general weather pattern this time of year seems to be dark clouds building up in the afternoon and then chilly evenings or a little thunderstorm. We only had one or two days that were really stormy, and over all the temperatures were nicely warm during the day.

We usually "tour" in the mornings and then take some time in the afternoon and just sit under the huge ponderosa pines and watch the dogs snooze and the deer wander around the edge of camp. One of the brochures we picked up said the largest of these pines are sometimes called called "yellow bark" as their bark does turn more yellow with age. We've been around these before, but never knew until it was pointed out here, that the bark smells like - depending on your individual nose or the individual tree - vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, or pineapple. Sure enough, we sniffed a couple of them, and found a vanilla and a pineapple. That pineapple one is right at the back of our trailer in the photo. No wonder the forest smells so sweet!

The nearby town of Custer is handy for picking up groceries or shopping for souvenirs. There are a variety of shops and restaurants, and lots of lodging options for those who don't want to camp. Everyone is friendly, and though the place gets busy it never seemed too crowded.

Camping photo album

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dickinson, Rapid city and The Slim Buttes

Aug 13, Saturday

A one night stop in Dickinson, North Dakota, at North Park Campground (it's really an RV park with a few tent sites on the side). Groceries, laundry, and of course, a quilt shop! The only shop in town, Dakota Sew and So, didn't have their license plates yet, so I ordered one. It will probably be waiting for me when I get home. Here's what it looks like.  Fabric collecting addicts will understand!

Aug 14 Sunday
Yeah! After traveling through miles rolling grassland and huge fields of sunflowers we passed over the South Dakota state line about 10 AM.

We're heading for Rapid City, to pick up a new Select Comfort bed, at the UPS Store, but can't pick it up until Monday.

So, where to stay for the night? Steve found us a fantastic, out of the way, really picturesque site. The Castles, in the Slim Buttes  up in the NW corner, near Reva Gap, and the camping is free!

We saw the "castles" first from the highway. No wonder they call these formations "castles"! They look mideval to be sure.

We took the road into the campground off the highway slowly, as it's gravel and a bit steep, and there were several horseback riders getting organized to set out for the day.

The road heads south and then loops around through the camping area. Some sites are carved back into dense trees, we choose an open space, and it worked out well. It was easy to navigate and we had great views in all directions.

We walked to the ridge just behind our site and discovered an amazing view. Quite a contrast to the grass and forest we stood in.

The castles themselves are sandstone, layered over multiple and varied color mud accumulations. Erosion has created the fantastic shapes - it's a photography wonderland!

We had the place to ourselves, so the dogs could go off leash, and we had great places to hike. I took the dogs down into the canyon and examined the formations a little more closely.

The seemingly smooth, rolling shapes at the bottom of the canyon are dissolved mud layers and while they look like piles of powder the texture is actually rather crispy, like the surface of a rice crispy cookie. Shiner didn't like it on her feet and would take alternate routes whenever she could.

There were plenty of clouds passing over to cool things off occasionally, but as evening approached the really dark ones moved in, along with the thunder and lightening. A bit of a sprinkle to settle the dust and then everything quieted down.

As we left The Castles the next morning we passed this monument. A sign described the event it marked, The Battle of Slim Buttes.

The short version of the history is this: The Battle of Slim Buttes was the first U.S. Army victory of the Great Sioux War of 1876 after George Armstrong Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25 and 26, 1876. There's more here.

Next stop: Rapid City to pick up the Select Comfort mattress we ordered in Great Falls, but couldn't do that until late afternoon. We got set up at the local Elk's Club, then ran errands and checked out a bit of the city.

Downtown Rapic City has a very urban feel to it. There are outdoor cafes, sculptures on the street corners, refurbished historic buildings, and a huge variety of eateries. Working on a theme established at nearby Mt. Rushmore, the statues are all of presidents. There are some really interesting poses, and as they are life-size it makes for a very impressive display.

Steve tried out Paddy O'Neills Pub for a local brew while I went around the corner to check out The Quilt Connection, where I picked up a license plate for South Dakota,
their Row-by-row pattern and some fabric. Perfect to commemorate our trip to this state don't you think?

We picked up the mattress at the UPS Customer Service office (which is only open from 4-6 PM) Rushed back to the trailer, opened up all the boxes inside the shipping container only to discover the salesman had ordered the wrong item. SO, Steve spent the afternoon on the phone making arrangements for replacement.

We felt it was time for a bit of relaxation after all the hassle, so went into the Elk's for a drink and a light dinner. Nice folks. Spent the evening chatting with members, another traveling couple (who were having such trouble with their coach repairs it made our mattress issue seem really minor) and the bartender. This particular club has a golf course, which pretty much surrounds the facility, and it makes for some very nice scenery, for a city RV situation.

When the email receipt for the replacements arrived, the parts ordered were the wrong size. Do you ever get the feeling something is just not supposed to happen?  The next day we made arrangements to ship the whole thing back, cancel the order, and start over when we get home. Done with that!

The Castles photo album is here for more great angles of the formations.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - South Unit

Aug. 10 - 12

We again traveled through miles of grassland before reaching the south unit of the park. This section has some of the same layered, colorful geology as the north, but the colors aren't as dramatic, and there seems to be more wildlife.

We'd just gotten things set up and Watch and I headed out to take our payment to the drop box when I noticed something moving in the trees behind our space, on the road. A buffalo looked up at me, and kept munching, but I turned around and went back to the trailer until he left. No point taking chances, and Watch always wants to shake hands with everything so we avoid those opportunities with wildlife!

I finally got the payment envelope dropped off, and we were back inside the trailer, getting dinner together, when Steve said "Look outside!"

Our space, and the one next to us, was full of buffalo! We'd heard they like to hang out in the campground and it does seem they're quite at home here, RV's and tents don't bother them in the least.

'Best advice to campers is "stay in your tent", we overheard a ranger say to another camper. "But what if they don't go away?" asked the camper. "Just stay in your tent" was the response. So, we did, so to speak.

The dogs sat inside and watched them through the screen door, and eventually they all wandered off. Talk about wildlife close up! We have noticed the buffalo walk slowly as they graze, so they seldom stay in one place for very long, that tent camper needn't have worried about them taking up residence in his site.

We took the 36 mile scenic drive, and thoroughly enjoyed the views, and the wildlife. The geologic formations are colorful, and as the shadows shift with the moving sun the colors change. Fascinating.

There are prairie dogs all over the place here, and they're FAT!
Excuse me! Who did you say is fat?

There are wide pull-outs at frequent intervals where the prairie dog villages are, so the little critters are accustomed to cars, people, and cameras.

They sit up and chatter and bark, and watch the people who are watching them. I suppose they think we are there to entertain them.

We heard coyotes singing during the night, so there are probably  a couple fewer of those prairie dogs now. Judging by the numbers they they aren't endangered by any means, and they are probably the reason the coyotes and other meat eaters thrive here.

There are cottontail rabbits too, but they are seldom seen, the presence of our dogs probably has something to do with that.

The Little Missouri River runs by the campground, but there's not much water in it. The area has had frequent light rains all summer though, which accounts for all the green grass and the wildflowers still blooming. I'm sure the buffalo are enjoying the pasture grass they wouldn't normally have this time of year.

South unit visitor center - This is the main visitor information center, where TR's Maltese Cross cabin has been relocated.

This cabin was built near where it is situated now, but the park service did move it in order to protect it. It was TR's home when he was here for the first few visits, but he found that so many people wanted to come and visit that he could not have the solitude he wanted, so he built another cabin, north of Medora by several miles. That cabin is completely gone now except for a few foundation stones, the rest of it carted off by collectors.

The visitor center museum has a lot of very nice artifacts and does a nice job of presenting the history in their displays. They also have very clever way of displaying Theodore's vest and other personal clothing items.

After touring the visitor center we took a tour of the Chateau De Mores State Historic Site, where the town of Medora began. A wealth French Marquis bought up much acreage in the area and built a beef processing and shipping business.

He convinced the Northern Pacific Railroad to build a station here, and once the settlement began to take shape he named the town after his wife Medora.

The Marquis' biggest contribution, I think, was the invention of a refrigerated shipping car. The cars were built with double walls which were filled with an ice/salt mixture, much like an old fashioned ice cream freezer. This device allowed for the local processing of beef, and subsequent shipment of it to eastern cities. Previously, cattle had been driven, on the hoof, to the slaughter plants closer to the east. In the process they often lost so much weight that the profit was lost. . . not to mention, the meat was tougher!

The Chateau, with red roof, in the distance
The marquis and his wife entertained many european and American visitors, and did so quite lavishly by local standards. Their home was so large the local residents dubbed it The Chateau.

The chateau isn't much by European standards, but the 27 room house (10 bedrooms) was pretty grand by local standards when it was built in 1884. It was built high on the cliffs overlooking the town. It is now maintained by the state as a historic site. All that remains of the once extensive meat processing plant is the tall brick chimney that is now at the center of a city park. (on the left in the photo) (Photos from inside the Chateau are in this album)

After the touring we went back to camp to give the dogs a bit of an outing and to have some lunch. A brief thunderstorm cooled things off, then we went back into Medora for a performance that had been recommended to us by another traveler.

Theodore Roosevelt Salute to the National Parks was "Absolutely delightful!" as Theodore Roosevelt might have said.
Joe Wiegand portrays Theodore Roosevelt in a one hour performance that is both entertaining and educational. He's obviously well versed in the history, and much of his dialog comes directly from Roosevelt's own writings. I'm currently reading Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children, and have found many of the passages were used in developing the performance. Wiegand does a wonderful job of portraying Roosevelt's exuberance and it's infectious. As we all filed out after the performance you could tell by the big smiles and the tears in a few eyes how much everyone in the audience had been inspired.

Time to pack up, we're heading south. We made a brief stop at the third Theodore Roosevelt NP visitor center, Painted Canyon, for one last look at the beautiful mountains on the way out. The geology here is amazing and it's too bad we don't have more time to explore the surrounding areas.

The South Unit album is here

Friday, August 19, 2016

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Unit

Aug. 9
We'd been rolling over hwy. 85 for about 70 miles, through the edge of the Little Missouri National Grasslands, contemplating all the petroleum wells and storage tanks, intermixed with golden fields of wheat. We were commenting on how the tanks added variety to the seemingly constant rolling and otherwise flat green of the prairie when suddenly . . . Wow! what a view. This was our first glimpse of The Badlands, in the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

After all that flat, velvety green  grassland the deeply cut valley and colored hills were quite a surprise.

As an aside, relative to the recent bevy of activity in the oil fields here, North Dakota has done an exceptional job of keeping their roads in good shape in spite of all the oil field trucks. . . unlike Texas. We talked to a resident who said when all the activity heated up the state set aside a fund just to keep the infrastructure maintained. Smart politicians.

Arriving early made it easy to locate a campsite, so we dropped the trailer, had lunch, then headed out to the visitor center. It's housed in temporary buildings at the moment, but it looks like they'll soon be moving into a nice new log structure.

The scenic drive through the park is amazing. From lush prairie to fantastically eroded sandstone forms, views of the Little Missouri River at the bottom of the canyon, and BUFFALO!

We captured a couple of solitary fellows who were grazing fairly close to the road, and a small herd that was lower down in the canyon.

The vastness of the canyons, the depth of color and the amazing intricacy of the eroded cliffs are difficult to capture in photographs.

Even with a panorama photo, there is still that bit missing on the side that impacts the rest of the view. If you are a lover of wide vistas, this park's for you!

The contrast of blue sagebrush, golden and ruddy prairie grasses, and the jewel tones of the eroded mudstone layers would inspire any artist.

Not to mention the strange geologic formations that go beyond interesting erosion. This group of "bowling balls" is right at the entrance to our campground. On our drive through the park we saw mushroom shapes, tall spires, and layer cakes. Fascinating!

These Badlands are one of Mother Nature's finest accomplishments.

  (Click on any photo and it will take you into the photo album, where there are more photos of the area)

One can easily understand how Theodore Roosevelt became so enamoured with this area. The scenery is fantastic, the wildlife abundant (even more so in his day) and ranching here would certainly have provided the challenge he was looking for at that a time in his life.

For those who don't know TR's life story, the tragedy that drove him to seek hard work and solitude occurred when he was only 23, when his young wife died after giving birth to their first child. His mother died only a few hours later, in the same house. He was so distraught he left the baby with his sister to care for until he returned, and headed west. (A brief biography of Theodore Roosevelt can be found here)

We took a brief siesta in the afternoon, and when we awoke the beautiful sunny skies had been exchanged for Payne's gray - and some fantastic cloud forms. If I'd painted clouds like that no one would believe it.

A thunderstorm soon followed, so after enjoying the sounds and lightening show for awhile under the awning (fortunately Texas dogs are used to this sort of thing) we, and the dogs, all moved inside.
The North Unit album is here
We'll move on to the south unit of the park tomorrow.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

More Forts

Aug. 6 - Saturday
Wow - rough day of travel . . . 75 miles to our next stop!
From Malta we went east on highway 2 to Glascoe, then to nearby Fort Peck Lake.

The actual "fort" had quite a history. It was one of those forts that was originally a trading post. It served as an Indian agency from 1873- 1878, and then the agency was  moved to Poplar. The current, new, town of Fort Peck is about 2 miles from the original one. The new town has a very interesting theater, built many years ago, and several small businesses.

The visitor's center explains the history of the unique dam - an earth filled structure that was the largest project undertaken under the New Deal program.

Several men died during the construction phase, a sad story, and unfortunately not unique. Heavy construction is dangerous. There is a collection of memorials in a large parking area beside the road,  honoring those who died during construction of the dam.
There were approximately 60 deaths in all. This monument is remembering those who perished in an early phase when a huge mudslide buried several men and their equipment.

The lake is huge. This is the fifth largest "artificial lake" in the U.S.! and there are a variety of camping choices around the perimeter. We stayed at the West End campground, where electric is available but no water hook-ups. Electric but no water seems to be the standard in this land of harsh winters.

The visitor center is amazing. Though it explains a lot about the dam, the major emphasis seems to be on dinosaurs.

This whole area is rich with ancient fossil beds - and that includes dinosaurs. They have wonderful dioramas of dinosaurs skeletons, as well as more modern animals like buffalo and coyotes, set in natural surroundings. It's a great place to take the kids, and they have activity ideas and worksheets available to take home too.

We had fun watching the fish in the two demonstration tanks as well. It's the best visitor center we've seen so far this summer!

Aug 7-8
After driving for miles through flat land and wheat fields we arrived at Fort Buford, North Dakota, in the afternoon.

Steve's extensive Internet research had indicated there was a campground around here somewhere, but there weren't any signs that seemed to indicate such, so he inquired at a local office and we followed the directions, just past the fort buildings to what looked like a picnic area. No services, and no charge!
The camping area

Tables and trash barrels, fairly level parking places, and a beautiful view. The campground is bordered by the fort buildings, the cemetery (that's the white line to the right, in back of Steve), and the historic Masonic lodge site, so all are within walking distance. Who could ask for more?

We got set up, had supper and were enjoying the (constant) North Dakota breeze when a couple of other campers pulled in and got set up themselves.

We got to chatting later. One couple was from Buffalo, New York, (he a pediatrician and she a tour guide)   and the other outfit was two guys from "central North Dakota" (an electrician and an antique dealer) who had a goal of staying only on gravel roads to do their exploring. They got tired of being pounded though, so had finally settled for sticking to the more minor backroads and byways.  We had a lively time discussing everything under the sun, and then discovered everyone had similar taste in beer, and so a sampling session broke out. Travel stories, beer comparisons, tips for places to visit, and we all finally went to bed around midnight.

We took our tour of Fort Buford early Monday morning,
Fort Buford barracks
and our tour guide was a lively individual - he's also an actor who portrays several historic characters in local productions.  His knowledge of the history of the area, and the era was very helpful. The other docent took us around several of the outer buildings and her knowledge was  impressive too.

The fort has several restored buildings, most furnished with original or of-the-time period artifacts, and the perimeter of the original fort is fairly well defined.  Kitchen artifacts, cast iron stoves, lamps, china and tableware, even small oil lamps made of bent spoon are in the fort inventory. The items are displayed in the rooms just as they would have been in place when in use. There's a barracks with several cast iron heating stoves, the mess hall and kitchen, and outside, a powder magazine and officer of the guard building mark the far wall.  Much of the historic information is displayed in the officer's home, covering the residence of the Buffalo Soldiers, battles in the area, and much more.
One of the most famous historic events at this post was Sitting Bull's surrender of his rifle in  1881, after returning from Canada. The point was made that he surrendered his rifle, HE did not surrender, and he never signed a treaty.

The markers in the cemetery have been restored, and they tell fascinating, though brief, stories of those buried below. Actually, the military personnel who were buried here have been moved to a military cemetery, but the markers remain to tell the story. Children who died of disease, Indian scouts, Native Americans, all were buried here, side by side.

The fort's location, at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers was strategically important for the purposes of defending settlements, during the civil war Civil War, as the cash flow from these gold fields was important to the Union government at that time.

Off to one side there's a new building, with a sculpture of a horse, and several flags. It's a Masonic Lodge, and it has an interesting history. The lodge now combines #88, which was the first Masonic Lodge in the area, with #135, which was brought with the Buffalo Soldiers from Fort Apache, Arizona.

Today the masons take a continuing interest in this historic site, and here is an interesting footnote. . . . . 
 When the North Dakota masons held a rededication ceremony for the Yellowstone Lodge monument in 2010, descendants of the buffalo soldiers were invited and attended, too-uniting brothers who in historic times there had been segregated. From this website.

From Fort Buford it's only a few miles to Fort Union, which is right on the Montana/North Dakota border. This fort was a commercial enterprise, not a military post. In fact, a docent there told us they were there for "an entirely different purpose" and they know the fort sold clothing and ammunition to Sitting Bull in the years before he surrendered at Fort Benton.

They have "living history" docents, who are pretty good at staying in character.

This young man was sitting by a fragrant, smoking fireplace when we stepped into the room and he gave us a very interesting rundown on the inventory of the trading post and how the procedures worked.

The visitor center has a nice display of artifacts along with a well stocked bookstore.

On the way back to our campsite we stopped at the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center. The displays here tie together the military and economic importance of the two rivers, and connect to the work that the Lewis and Clark Expedition did as they moved across the Missouri to the west coast.

One of the things we've been impressed with is the importance of riverboats. Though river travel is always mentioned in the history of the era, the importance of these special, shallow draft boats isn't highlighted, as it should be. This is a model of the river boat that carried the wounded from Custer's ill-fated battle at Little Big Horn.

As we were leaving the interpretive center we decided to explore a gravel drive off to the side and discovered another campground. This one, right on the bank of the Missouri River, within sight of the confluence with the Yellowstone, has electric service available for $15/night. Non-electric sites are $10. Signage around here is pretty bad, and even when you ask directions, you get vague or incomplete information.

A few more photos in the album