Montana, of course! Tues-Sat, 7/19-7/23

Briefly, we left Theodore Roosevelt Nat'l Park Tuesday morning in a thunderstorm, and drove to Forsyth, Montana, where we set up and braved yet another bigger, stronger thunderstorm!  Smartie, our bicycles, and Tergel are covered in dust, dirt, and road grime like never before.  The day was a cooker by the time we stopped at a small campground in Forsyth, which is in eastern Montana.  We had a lunch date in Billings with friends on Wednesday before continuing on to to Livingston by late afternoon, and it all worked out splendidly.

Eastern Montana is ranch land, open ranges and the occasional abandoned cabin.

Killer view of the Yellowstone River in Eastern Montana.

If you recognize this sign, then you know we're in Livingston, Montana!  Though we couldn't camp at our favorite place (Rock Canyon RV Park) because they closed their doors after 43 years, we wangled two nights at Osen's.  We loved staying at Rock Canyon -- right on the river, close to town, and on the bike trail. Really sorry they're no longer in business.  But, we love coming to Livingston -- it feels like a second hometown. 

At Osen's, we closed our shades and got the A/C going -- it was H.O.T.  We were happy that we arrived on Wednesday afternoon, because by 4:30 we were at the Wednesday market, buying eggs, Flathead cherries, lettuces ... and an apple pie.  Another favorite of ours ... the market, that is. 

It just stared at me, unafraid, and didn't move, even tho I moved closer and closer.

Thursday found us on our bikes, as we usually do in Livingston, pedaling to Carter's Bridge (above), and back into town.  We dropped in at our friend, Kim's, shop (below) -- Copper Moose Oil and Vinegar, and even bought a couple of goodies.  Man, I tasted some fantastic oils and vinegars!  Following this, we bought a sandwich at The Pickle Barrel, and had a nice visit with the owner.  Easy biking in Livingston.

And we pedaled past Livingston's Carnegie Library (circa 1903), but didn't venture in today.

Along the trail ....

I figured out this is a win/win for horses.  Not only does the swish of a tail brush flies off your own backside, but it takes care of your friend's face.  We've seen lots of horses standing nose-to-tail like this.

Thursday evening after dinner, we took our fishing poles and a small container of night crawlers to the Yellowstone at Rock Canyon to try our luck.  The river was down, but what really thwarted us were swimmers and dogs and two swimming muskrats near where we throw in our lines.  Obviously we didn't catch any fish, but the evening was so fine, beautiful really, and our friends greeted us with warmth.  After a bit we gave up the fishing and simply sat on the bench to appreciate our great good fortune to be where we were. 

As we drove to Osen's, we gasped when we saw the western fire-in-the-sky!  The sunset was so vividly red, it looked like a forest fire, but it was nature's way of bidding us goodnight.

Friday morning, we broke camp early and hit the road.  From Livingston to Bozeman and south toward Idaho.  We made it all the way to Cactus Pete's in Jackpot, Nevada -- 430 miles.  Long day.  You know we were grateful to have W/E, so we could use the A/C.

Saturday morning we were on the road before 9am again,  From Jackpot to I-80 and then we just kept going, changing drivers every couple of hours.  Sometimes we chatter away, sometimes we're quiet, but the tires keep rolling.  A brief stop for a lunch of yogurt and granola and we were on our way again.  Our aim was Battle Mountain, but we gained an hour when we entered Pacific time, so it was too early to stop; next was Winnemucca, but there were many hours of daylight left.  We tried to stay in Lovelock, but couldn't find a campground, and returned to I-80, towards Reno.  At that point, we knew we were only two hours from Nevada City, so ... we drove home.  492 miles today.

Two days from Livingston to home:  922 miles.  We were dog tired when we walked in the door, happy to be home, somewhat daunted as to what had to be done, but we had no time frame and could pace ourselves.  (Jimmy and I both have medical appt's this upcoming week.)  10 weeks on the road and all of it good, tho we had bips and bumps.  We'd never traveled the northern tier of the US in summer, and didn't much care for the weather, but wet days didn't deter us.  My brother's heart problem was a real bump, but the best news is he was released to go home on Tuesday (7/19).

My sister asked me what "events" we had next planned.  After getting everything squared away, we'll take some short hops hither, tither or yon.  Hope to be in the mountains some to escape the heat, but we're happy to be home.


Caprock Coulee Trail - Monday, 7/18/16

Here's the stats.  And we did explore all of the above.

Would you look at that sky!  While Jimmy and I were drinking our morning coffee and looking out our windows, we saw a clear, bright sky.  Good, we said, a nice day to do the Caprock Coulee hike that we'd planned.  Because high temps near 90 were forecast, we wanted to be Out and About early, and we were.  We took Smartie to the trailhead, and as we rounded a curve toward the North, the outlook changed completely to storm clouds! Our "oh, good" became, "oh, heck."  That dark blue line on the horizon (above) that Jimmy is staring at is a cloud bank!

Dressed to hike, and with hiking shoes on, waters in our packs, we set off on the trail anyway, figuring there's always a chance that the storm would pass us by.  As we were debating about which way to go, another couple came along and recommended we go in a clockwise direction.  It's the most scenic, they said.  Also, the first part is more strenuous, so we'd get that part done early.  The couple was dressed in "zipper" pants and long-sleeved shirts, hats and hikers.  We were in shorts and tees.  

This art piece was already where you see it.  Isn't it beautiful?

Wasting no time, we started up right away, and I do mean up.
That's a section of our trail above.

And sometimes we made our way down, as you see Jimmy gingerly finding footing.

Caprocks and Hoodoos.  It's great hiking country.  Amazing to see.

The Little Missouri River flows north through both north and south units of Theodore Roosevelt Nat'l Pk.  Eventually it joins the Missouri River at Lake Sakakawea.  We didn't get down to test the waters, however. 

We trekked under cloud cover for an hour or so, which helped to keep us cool, but when the sun peeked through, the views were  breathtaking.

As we did yesterday, we wondered if specimens like this were petrified wood.  Still don't know the answer, but we know petrified wood exists in the park.

We had to be careful in this section -- like trying to avoid a glacial crevasse.
Didn't want to fall in, especially since I saw a spider in one opening!

It appears Jimmy has lost his fear of heights!

We walked through peaceful grasslands.  Sometimes we had to beat back shrubs, while grasses tickled our knees.  The narrow trail was very overgrown in some areas.   

The storm did pass by; we didn't get rained on at all.  But ye olde sun shone down with a vengeance and it was hot.  We finished the hike in a little over three hours.  It was awesome.

That being said, by midafternoon, I began to see spots!  Spots on my arms and legs, and even my torso by bedtime.  Itchy spots.  Very itchy bumps, like bites.  In my shorts and T-shirt, my skin obviously touched some toxic shrub or plant or maybe the tall grasses, and I was in full-fledged itchy rash mode.  Did I learn anything?  Was there a good reason the other couple was dressed in long pants and long-sleeved shirts?  Okay, okay.  It was Benedryl time again.  I still say it was a superb hike.  Jimmy concurs.

A warm night followed the sizzling day, and we slept with windows open.  All the better to hear coyotes howl and other critters' voices.  We move out in the morning, very happy to have visited this national park.


On to Teddy's place! Sun/Mon - 7/17-7/18

Sometimes, maybe in a full moon or if sunspots are sending out high energy waves (hah!), driving through the country just feels right -- that all is right with the world -- fields of flowers adorn the roadside, no large trucks push you around, and the big RV tires simply hum.  That's how it was for me Sunday morning after leaving Spirit Lake Casino at Devils Lake ND.  I tooled along doing about 60, comfortable, thinking happy thoughts.

Then it was Jimmy's turn to drive.  His was a different kettle of fish altogether!  South of Minot, ND, he turned onto Hwy 23.  As he was turning, we saw a sign with the dreaded words:  Road Work Ahead.  The highway people could have at least given a driver more advance warning.  We would have taken a different route to Theodore Roosevelt National Park (north unit), but once committed, there was no turning back.  Trust me.  It was AWFUL.  And it went on and on, mile after mile.  We survived, but it sure wasn't fun.

So, when this stunning Field of Flax appeared, I asked Jimmy to stop, which was no problem, 'cause you couldn't go more than 20 mph and no one else was using the hacked-up road.  I wanted to take a picture, and I wanted to pick one stalk of Blue Flax for the RV.

Neither of us knew a thing about this national park.  Driving along this section of North Dakota, we encountered plenty of oilfields (way too many) in an otherwise featureless landscape ... as you've either seen yourself or heard about (the oilfield boom) from the news.  When we neared the park, we were delighted to find ourselves in a different landscape:  the remarkable badland hills.

Created in 1947, T. Roosevelt Nat'l Park has two separate units:  North and South, with Elkhorn Ranch in the middle.  We visited the north unit, near Watford City.  A 14-mile scenic drive provides easy access to popular vistas and wildlife viewing.  After setting up in Juniper C/G, Jimmy and I began the scenic drive.  (Note -- I called the park while we were on the way and was assured that the c/g would have space available.  "In seven years that I know of, the north unit c/g has never been full.")  No hookups, however, so we nailed the shadiest spot we could.

The Little Missouri River flows through the park.
This overlook offers truly sweeping vistas!

Git 'em, Teddy!

I was interested in the geologic formations, and if you'd like more info, here 'tis. I did know that the blue-gray popcorn-like soil is called Bentonitic Clay. Black bands are lignite coal. Something I learned is that when Theodore Roosevelt lived in the badlands in the 1880s, he and his ranch hands shoveled lignite coal from the hillsides to use in their stove.

Such a picturesque place.  Lots of trails to hike, critters to see.  Still green in many areas, tho the park receives a scant 15" of rain per year.   That river is waaaay down there!

We wondered if this "log" above was petrified wood.

"The Bad Lands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth."
Theodore Roosevelt

Concrete concretions!

Haha, we circled Sullys Hill yesterday looking for bison!
Today we see them everywhere! 

Finally out of the middle of the road.  Marching beside it, instead.

From their website:  The entire park has been surrounded with a 7-foot tall woven wire fence to keep bison and feral horses inside the park and commercial livestock out. Other animals are able to pass over, under, or through the fence in specific locations provided for that purpose.  Makes sense.  The flying dust (above) is a bull bison rolling in a "wallow."

We slept with our windows open again, and were awakened by yip-yip-yipping coyotes, not too far away.  I love being back in the west. 

The End.


Sullys Hill -- Saturday, 7/116/16

On our way to the fort yesterday, we passed this impressive sign, but we thought a separate day to visit would be better so we'd have plenty of time to scope out the preserve.  Jan, the lady we spoke to at the Totten Trail Historic Inn yesterday, recommended -- no, she urged us to go.  Wouldn't you know that the day we pick, rain was heavy in the forecast. Geez.  Well, we set off anyway, taking our rain jackets with us and wearing waterproof shoes.

A 4-mile, self-guided auto tour route is open from May to October. It provides lots of wildlife viewing opportunities as it passes near wetlands and through the woods and prairies of the big game pasture. Of special interest for me and Jimmy is that this preserve used to be a national park, and it's only one of seven national parks to be disbanded. Of the seven, only two -- Sullys Hill and Mackinac Island -- are no longer under National Park Service control. And we visited both of these never-been-to-before places within a few weeks of each other!  

Two overlooks, Devils Lake Vista and Sullys Hill Overlook, provide breathtaking views of the area. The Devils Lake Vista is handicapped accessible.  Sullys Hill Overlook, above, involves a whole lot of climbing!  I started counting steps, but gave it up.  Jan said there were 193. Regardless, we were a bit winded at the top.  Smartie is parked down there somewhere in the dark green.  Also, a nature trail (varying lengths depending on which route or combo of routes you take) winds through the bottom lands and wooded hills.  From the VC, we set out on a 2-mile loop hike, with one eye on where we put our feet and the other one keeping watch on the darkening sky.

Really liked this vivid flowering shrub, called Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens).  It's in the pea family and it was a bee magnet.  This was a new one for me.

Big ol' bees were all over Purple Prairie Clover, too.  Dalea purpurea is another one in the legume family.  The two flowers above (prairie clover and lead plant) were similar in color -- an eye-dazzling purple.

Nice overlook, but we didn't tarry ....

White coral fungus, one of several types of 'shrooms growing in the damp woods.

Looks like this Carolina Wren has a family to feed!

Sullys has a prairie dog town, and they're so cool.  These are black-tailed dogs.  As soon as I got out of the car, camera in hand, this guy sounded the alarm.  He didn't shut up till I was up on the platform and far enough away that made picture-taking a real challenge!

Although the day was overcast, or maybe because the weather was so gloomy, the flowers blooming in Sullys Hill were really bright and colorful. 

Doesn't this look dreary?  Raindrops had begun falling as we made our way back to the VC and Smartie.  The rain was light and we weren't too terribly far out.  I think the dead trees lend a somber note!

The 1,674-acre game preserve has elk, bison, migratory birds and prairie dogs. We hoped to see bison while on the auto tour.  Jimmy drove slowly and we looked and looked.  Finally, a car in front of us stopped, backed up and stopped.  Yup.  Bison.  One.  Hiding in the woods.  Wait a minute, Jimmy saw a young one rustling in the bushes next to Mom.  Maybe it was newborn, maybe that's why she was in the woods.  Well, we can honestly saw we saw Bison!