Monday, October 30, 2017

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, October '17

Day One - Leaving the City Behind, Embracing the Wilderness

 (A click on any photo will enlarge it to screen size.)

Feeling the need to step away from it all for a while, I enlisted my friend, Eric, for a road trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the North Dakota Badlands.  We were on the road at 6:30 a.m., armed with hot coffee and tea.

It's a long, long drive across the prairie of North Dakota to Medora, the gateway to the park.  We passed the miles with lively conversation encompassing family, baseball, politics, books, movies, the state of the world, the state of our own lives.  We remembered aloud our trips together to Big Bend National Park and to the great national parks in southern Utah.

I brought along my copy of the newest Terry Tempest Williams book, "The Hour of Land," so that Eric could read the chapter on Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  As he read, I played a CD of piano music, and for a while my need for silence was satisfied. 

Mark Settergren, owner of our local hardware store, was excited to learn of our upcoming trip.  He recalled a trip to the park a few years ago and told of waking up one morning and looking out his tent door to see several bison right in his campsite.  This, I thought, is what I want.

We arrived at the park late in the afternoon, with the temperature an un-Octoberlike 81 degrees.  I always like to talk to park rangers to get their ideas and insights about the park, so our first stop was the visitor center.  It was too late to get in a good hike, so we found a campsite and set up our tents. (We each brought our own tent, a luxury of car camping.)  Then we set out on a mini-hike along the road.  We hadn't left the campground before we encountered wild horses, mule deer and grazing bison!

The view from the Visitor Center
Teddy Roosevelt's first cabin in the North Dakota Badlands
Feral horses grazed just steps from our campsite.
We had dinner in the dark, thick strip steaks, potatoes and broccoli accompanied by a Santa Barbara County pinot noir.  We decided as we ate that this would be our last dinner in the dark.  As we fried the steaks on our camp stove (no fires permitted in the dry grasslands), we heard wild movement in the dark prairie surrounding out site.  I grabbed my flashlight in time to see fast-moving shapes which we determined to be deer.

The one downside of our campsite was that, even though we were five miles from the entry point, we could hear the faint hum of the long-haul trucks speeding along I-94.  We were eager to visit the North Unit, sixty miles closer to the Arctic Circle.

That night I reread Terry Tempest Williams' chapter on Theodore Roosevelt National Park until I fell asleep.  I awoke sometime in the middle of the night, shivering.  I had not put the rain fly over the tent, wanting to look up at the stars before I went to sleep.  I now reluctantly crawled out of my sleeping bag to put up the rain fly, which made a surprising difference, and then added layers of fleece and wool on top of my polypro long johns.  A polypro balaclava topped it all off.   I fell back to sleep to the sound of nearby coyotes howling and barking, a good welcome to the wilderness.

Although I knew we would not have long hours of summer light, I was still a bit surprised by the short days and long nights.  Eight a.m. was still too dark to crawl out of a warm sleeping bag.  And we needed to be back in camp by five pm. to meet our daylight dinner goal. 

Day Two - The South Unit

We woke up to find our water bottles topped with ice.  That night was supposed to have been the warmest of our stay!  After breakfast, we drove the 36-mile loop road, which offered great views and a few interesting short hikes along the way.  The day quickly warmed, and by lunch time the temperatures were back in the high 70's.

Along the way we encountered prairie dog towns that spread over vast, empty acres, pockmarked with countless dwelling entrances.  Everywhere the little critters chattered back and forth before diving beneath the surface.  I think they were alerting the community.  Humans!  They appear harmless!  Still, be careful!  A few remained above ground, close to the safety of their tunnel entrance, to watch our progress.  One fellow wandered through town, his head down, searching for whatever prairie dogs search for.  He came within just a few feet of us, heedless of the warnings from the others.  He never even gave us a glance.

Hundreds and hundreds of prairie dogs!
We stopped in tiny Medora (winter population about 120) to purchase some supplies, including four gallons of water.  We had been warned by the rangers that there was no water to be had in the North Unit at this time of the year.  At the store, the woman behind the counter told us we had to try their breakfast sandwiches.  She gushed with enthusiasm.  They are made right there, fresh each day.  It was clearly a point of local pride.  We promised her that we would return for a sandwich.

Our afternoon hike required a short drive on I-94 to reach a gravel road that we followed north along the border of the park for about ten miles to reach the Petrified Forest trail.
A sight along the park road, South Unit
A common sight
Magnificent Creature
Badlands of the South Unit
The hike took us over rolling hills of wild grasses and a few scattered, tiny, persistent wild flowers.  Eric was excited about a surprise he had for our lunch.  I couldn't guess what it could be but was amused by his enthusiasm.  Finally we crested a hill.  Before us lay badlands that seemed to stretch to infinity.  A stray Park Service timber provided good seating for lunch with a view.

We sat, and Eric revealed his secret.  His backpack opened to become a portable picnic basket, complete with cloth napkins, plates, utensils and a bottle of Argentine malbec (stemware included).  The wine was good enough to finish off right there, but we still had miles to go.  We corked the bottle for further use at our campsite and set off down the trail to the petrified forest.

Our lunchtime view

Eric's Surprise
Along the way, we encountered a few groups of riders on horseback.  We chatted for a while with the first group we met.   The group moved on, except for Pete, a local who was happy to talk about this and that for a while longer.  In the distance, his friends had halted their horses on a hilltop, waiting for him.

Petrified forest.  Those rocks scattered about were tree trunks eons ago.
Pete and Novotny.  The badlands are popular with horseback riders.

Days Three and Four - The North Unit

That night, big winds rolled across the open spaces.  Lying in my tent, I heard the winds break the stillness, growing louder as they approached until they hit my tent like a heavyweight's best punch.  My tent caved in on me, popped back up, then collapsed again under the next gust.  I had experienced this before on a mountain top in Nevada, in Death Valley and in Arches National Park.  I knew it could go on all night.  So I crawled out of the tent, took the tent down and took my sleeping bag to Eric's tent, which was sheltered by trees.

In the morning, the plan was for a breakfast of eggs and bacon before heading to the North Unit.  Chilly temperatures, gray skies and lingering winds put that idea to rest.  Eager to get on the road, we thought of those breakfast sandwiches the woman spoke so proudly of and had our new plan.  We packed up our gear and were off.  A different woman was behind the counter, with the same friendliness we had encountered the day before, and the same enthusiasm for their breakfast sandwiches.

Soon we were on Highway 85, heading toward the North Unit, hot coffee and muffins filled with eggs, sausages and cheese in our hands.  Those sandwiches were as advertised, and we both regretted not buying two each.  After all, we had to fuel up for hiking later.

Back in 2014, when the Bakken oil fields had been the center of a drilling frenzy, Highway 85 was a dangerous road.  In "The Hour of Land," the park superintendent at the time, Valerie Naylor, told of a constant stream of "big, fracking trucks and oil carriers" barreling down the highway.  There were frequent obituaries of people killed in crashes.  These days, the boom has died down quite a bit.  We had an uneventful drive.
At the North Unit, we found the remoteness we were seeking.  No highway sounds here.  Not even a town.  (Watford, the closest town, lies eleven miles to the north.)  The terrain is much more dramatic than the terrain of the South Unit.  At this time of year, ours were the only tents to be seen.  Far from us in the campground, there were a few RVs, but we never saw their occupants or heard them.  That was on the weekend.  When we departed on Monday, we were the only humans in the campground.

Climbing to the river overlook along the Caprock Coulee Trail.
The Little Missouri River, which over time created much of the topography of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, is more prominent at the North Unit.  Bison roamed everywhere.  The weather while we were here was, like the land, untamed - winds blowing clouds and changing the texture of the sky most of the time.  Fierce gray clouds gave way to startling sunshine.  Temperatures changed with the changes in the sky.  On the Caprock Coulee Trail, which we had all to ourselves, we were continually adding or subtracting layers of clothing according to conditions.
The Little Missouri as seen from Sperati Point
The Little Missouri, looking north from the River Bend Overlook on the Caprock Coulee Trail
Eric is quite an amateur astronomer.  On this trip, he introduced me to the pleasures of stargazing through binoculars.  One of the joys of wilderness camping for me is staying up late to watch the night skies that come alive with stars in the wilderness far from the lights of civilization.  My knowledge of the heavens is pretty much limited to the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt, however, and I am content to look for shooting stars and satellites.

Eric is also a pretty good teacher when it comes to the night sky.  He helped me find Cassiopeia and and Pegasus easily enough.  Then he used them as reference points to find Perseus, Pleiades and Andromeda, all strangers to my eye.  The surprise came once I had found Pleiades and Perseus with the naked eye and then looked at them through binoculars.  Both star clusters burst into brilliant arrays with seemingly ten times as many stars as I could see with the unassisted eye.

I wanted to see all of Orion, but it rises too late at this time of year to be seen before bedtime.   Eric described it to me, and when I awoke later in the night, I left my tent to look up and see Orion in its entirety presiding over the night sky.  My grandson, Orion, died in infancy ten years ago.  Standing alone on the prairie and looking up at the constellation Orion, a sadness came over me at the great loss our family experienced.   Soon, however, the sight of the Hunter in the night sky began to comfort me.  I found Orion when I returned to the Twin Cities and found the same comfort at seeing it shining above the city.

The trail head of the eleven-mile Buckthorn Trail was just across the road, a short walk from our campsite.  Although we didn't attempt this big time hike, we did visit it before dinner on our last evening.  Eric went one way; I, another, for a last hour on wilderness trails.

A stream seen from the Buckthorn Trail
Looking west from the Buckthorn Trail
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a small park in comparison to many of the grand national parks of the west.  Over dinner on our last night, I said that I thought we had seen all there is to see and that I didn't feel the need to return, beautiful as it is.  After a few minutes, I corrected myself.  This wonderful, wild refuge is only a day's drive from my home.  The next time I feel the need to "get away from it all," I know exactly where to go.  There are still some trails I haven't hiked.  And there are those breakfast sandwiches!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Maine '17 - Kennebunk & Boothbay Harbor

(A click on any photo will enlarge it to screen size.)

Carol and I have just returned from a brief trip to Maine, where we visited our good friends, Jay and Claire.  It was our first trip to Maine in many years.  Although we had forgotten the allure of Maine, the bond with Jay and Claire has always been strong, and that is what drew us back.

Lunch (with a local specialty - lobster roll) with our good friends, Jay and Claire

Our New Friend, Penny

Our view at lunch at the Colony Hotel, Kennebunkport

We spent three days with Jay and Claire at their lovely, recently restored home in Kennebunk before we all moved up the coast for three days in Booth Bay Harbor.
A highlight of our time in Kennebunk was the location of Jay and Claire's home.  Behind their grassy backyard lie woodlands with a few miles of walking trails.  The woods, literally a minute's stroll from their door, are the property of Kennebunk's Hope Cemetery.  You can lose yourself in the solitude of the old growth forest for as long as you'd like; or if you're hungry, you can walk a trail straight into town to the local boulangerie in just a few minutes.  There you can enjoy an exceptional croissant along with your freshly brewed coffee.
19th Century Headstone, Hope Cemetery

A walk in the woods, Kennebunk

We walked one day to Wiggins Pond, which is no longer a pond.  In times long past, locals cut ice from the pond to cool their iceboxes in the summer months.  More recently, the pond was a natural skating rink until the old dam crumbled.  Now all that remains, like the Cheshire Cat's grin, is an open clearing in the forest.  There is local interest in rebuilding the dam and restoring the pond.
What remains of Wiggins Pond

After our stay at Jay and Claire's, the four of us, with Penny the Dog, headed up the coast to Boothbay Harbor, one of Maine's many charming ocean side towns.  On the way, we took in the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, a not-to-be-missed attraction if you're in the neighborhood.
The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Of all the cutesy coastal towns we might have visited, our choice of Boothbay Harbor was personal.  In her research of her family history, Carol learned that her parents, lifelong residents of St. Louis, had been married there in the church of Our Lady Queen of Peace.  We know Carol had (and still has) family in the area, but what brought Tom and Ann to Boothbay Harbor to wed at the end of World War II remains a mystery.

Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, Boothbay Harbor

Another highlight of our time in Boothbay Harbor was a ferry ride to Monhegan Island, ten miles out in the Atlantic Ocean.  The sparsely populated island holds art galleries, craft shops, a light house, a historical/cultural museum, two hotels and, the purpose of our visit, miles of hiking trails.

Residence, Monhegan Island

Lobster fisherman's gear

Retired Lobster Buoys

Hiking on Monhegan Island

After a long time away from Maine, we have it back in our thoughts.  Mt. Desert Island, with Acadia National Park, holds an important spot in our memories.  We spent two summers there when Paul and Ellen were very young.  We want to return to take in its beauty, see sunrise from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, hike some of the island's many trails, have dinner at the historic Claremont (where I tended bar long ago) and stick our toes in the chilly Atlantic.

That's it for this time.  May your travels be safe and filled with adventure.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

ISLA Grade 5 Photo Presentation

It's a long way to California!

My travel companions and best friends!

Tomales Bay After a Rain Storm

Mission San Luis Obispo

Moonipero Serra

Relax!  You'll get there.

Is there a flavor they don't have?

A five-minute walk from our home in the city.

What living creature do these flowers look like?

Balancing Act

This guy was sunning on our doorstep one day.

One of our morning walks with the dog

Bishop's Peak, San Luis Obispo

Bishop's Peak, halfway up to the peak

Made it to the top!  (San Luis Obispo in the background)

This area near Paso Robles reminded us of Italy

A hike along the Pacific coast three years ago.  Aidan El Plano was with us!

You never know who you will run into on a hike in California!

Be careful on this hike!  (Our dog, Rowdie, is chewing grass in the background.)

Later, we saw the Pacific.  Fortunately, no tsunamis today.

We hiked in a park that is a refuge for Tule Elk.  These are all young elk.

A reservoir for the city of Santa Barbara.  Notice how low the water level is because of the drought.

This guy was just fooling around on a hiking trail.

We found this gal at the top of a mountain we hiked to!

Now that is one optimistic coyote!  The herd did not seem to worried about him.

We like to ride our bikes to Avila Beach from San Luis Obispo to sit in the sand and maybe have a milkshake.

Hendry's Beach, our favorite beach (and Rowdie the Dog's too!)

Elephant seal males having a disagreement

A mom with her pup basking in the sunshine

Stand-up paddle boards - a new adventure for my wife and me!  (She's better than I am.)

I did NOT fall off!  We were practicing how to get back on if we fell off.

Somebody thinks the rule doesn't apply to them.

Duck!  (Not really.  Pelicans.)

Another look at a pelican

The Santa Ynez Mountains that border the city of Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara

Wild Thing Invades Santa Barbara!

Fresh local strawberries!  In February!

Sunny smile on a rainy day at the market.

The farmers' market draws many entertainers.

Another Farmers' Market Musician

The skateboard park in downtown Santa Barbara

I hope they have separate entrances and waiting rooms.

These people really like frogs!  There were hundreds of frogs along their wall.

Frogs only, thank you...

...unless you love pigs!

The Hermitage, an amazing museum in the mountains.  Do you think the owner loves books?

The mailbox for the Hermitage

On the grounds of the Hermitage.  Would you like to ride around in this bug?

Can you guess the title of this sculpture?  There is a clue in the photo.

A bust of Cyrano de Bergerac.  (He looks as if he is having a bad day.)

Each state is made from that state's license plate! 

I want this fence for my yard!

Think of any punctuation mark.  They were all sculptures at the Hermitage!


The owner of the Hermitage had lots of fun with his art!

Can you guess what this is made of?

More fun

And finally,  two puzzles...

What is wrong with this sign?

What is wrong with this scene?