We were headed to our national park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, for a night at Cottonwood Campground. Readers of my husband's The Prairie Blog know that we are big-time campers. Tenters. He writes about one of our most memorable trips taken this past winter at the Elkhorn Ranch here and here.
But first, on a beautiful North Dakota Monday, we had some Medora time. Mission numero uno was to deliver fresh cilantro from our garden to our friends the Morlocks who run Dakota Cyclery.
|Jennifer Morlock, as usual, on-the-go!|
|When I was in college I worked for two summers at Badland Lutheran Bible Camp and "Doc" Hubbard was brought in for our staff training. He was an extremely interesting man.|
|How many thousands of people have lived in the TRMF dormitory over the years I wonder?|
Next was a stop to visit our good friends Doug and Mary Ellison at the excellent bookstore they operate. Yup, big surprise. Us and books.
Time to go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) and snag a campsite.
I walked over, taking the sidewalk I walked hundreds of times when we were living in Medora and I was working at TRNP as the museum technician.
After a hello from NPS Park Ranger Grant (pictured below), I went inside to renew our TRNP Nature & History Association membership (I was on the board in the early 80s and have been a member ever since) and for a little more memory lane time, including a stop in the library I used to take care of as volunteer and a quick peek at the curatorial room. In the years I was both working and volunteering there, the other staff never did quite know which I was on any given day. Oddly enough I had a volunteer uniform and wore street clothes most of the time I was working at the museum, and I had two different name tags.
|This job was a big responsibility and it was very cool to have the keys to this room and full access to all of the artifacts as well as files, which were jam-packed with interesting items.|
Although we didn't take the time to watch the park film (we've seen it several times), I paused before the sign with gratitude that my friend Valerie Naylor, the former superintendent, and her staff had produced such a fine product, narrated by another friend of mine, Terry Tempest Williams. If you've not watched it, I give it my highest recommendation. Watch the long version.
My first park photo op was this sandstone formation, which my daughters and I used to call The Sleeping Lion. Some of the rock has fallen in the natural process of erosion and it doesn't perhaps look as much lion as it used to.
We snag a terrific spot in the campground and erect our tent. Here is our bedroom for the night.
That darned North Dakota breeze is still blowing, but in this location, we are grateful for it as it keeps off the tiny biting flies that live here in the abundant green ash and cottonwoods. We are just a few steps from our sacred Little Missouri River.
But, now, for us, our first hike. We head to Wind Canyon and go bushwacking (for you non-hikers, that's lingo for "making our own trail"). Sometimes Jim forges the trail, sometimes I, in nothing but deep silence--just bird & bug song and the ever-present breeze, the song of the spotted towhee and grasshopper and field sparrows.
|This was the only portion of established trail we used.|
|One of North Dakota's almost slot canyons|
One of my missions was to take photographs of the abundant wildflowers for my nephew who is in summer biology class and needs these for a project. This involved lots of stopping and bending, putting the stick in the ground next to the flower, and SNAP. I hope he's happy that, in the course of two days, I took thirty photographs for him. Here is one example of this.
The prairie was ablaze with wildflowers. I used to lug along with me many different field guides until I memorized most of the common flowers and plants and birds.
This is my favorite guide.
|One of my favorites Butte Candle|
|Butte Candle with bison fur|
|Another favorite of mine is Red Pussy Toes. Isn't that a charming name?|
|Scarlet Globemallow finally makes an appearance|
As I mentioned earlier, we have both volunteered extensively in TRNP doing everything from cleaning up trash to trail building and maintenance to library tasks. One project we labored over in the hot sun was the removal of graffiti from the sandstone formations, therefore, it annoys me to no end when I come across these rude carvings and Wind Canyon is filled with 'em, even though the signage is very clear that this is prohibited. As my Grandpa Andy would say to his grandchildren "Fool's names and fool's faces, always appear in public places." He, too, was disgusted when he would see this kind of defacement. Watch out if I'm in the vicinity. Last year I witnessed someone in the act of this, and I took a photo of their license plate and reported them to the law enforcement rangers. I was told they paid a fine of a couple hundred bucks and rightly so!
Time to head back to the campsite for more river time.
|The new chef's appetizers were mighty fine.|
|"The Tjaden House"|
|Medora Lutheran Church, where my sister is a member|
|The beautifully restored Von Hoffman House|
|This was the only band of feral horses we saw on this trip. Our daughter will be dismayed with us.|
|Someone had a little too much fun, I guess|
We've arrived early in the season so the campground is very quiet and the summer programming has not yet begun.
After bacon and pancakes, we head out for our next hike.
I have in mind more bushwacking, in an area near to the horse camp. I get a quick glimpse of a bull and cow elk, but they disappear into the thick brush before I can get a photograph.
|Downy paintbrush, what we called "honeysuckle" when I was a kid, due to the sweet juices one can suck from the blossom.|
|The horse camp below|
Channeling our inner mule deer, we make our way down the steep canyon.
|We use bison trails in our bushwhacking adventures|
Along the way, we find this pour-off and must detour around it.
Our place for sandwiches and an orange is next to this rapid in the river. This video mostly captures the wind noise, but you'll get a sense of this sweet spot.
|Leave No Trace is a hiking philosophy we follow|
|Huge gravel bar on the Little Missouri River|
|Need to identify this butterfly.|
|These bison were wallowing in the dust, but I was too slow to get my camera out of my pocket.|
|This is what happens to the old style trail markers in bison country.|
|The new trail markers. When we've helped with trail maintenance project, we've dug holes for these and I can report that it requires an enormous hole!|
As we neared the end of the hike, Jim said, "I'm worried that my arm will be so tired from moving my walking stick I'll not be able to lift my Manhattan later." The car was a happy site at the end of the trail and we made our way back to the campsite for a sponge bath for me in the comfort station and a swim in the river for Jim. By some miracle, given the time of year, we had only a few wood ticks. One time a couple of years ago, after a long day hike with friends, we spent the night in the hotel and by the time we were finished picking them off, we had hundreds in the toilet bowl!
One hiking trick I have is to always keep a pair of flip flops in the car. It feels so good at the end of a long hike to take hot feet out of boots and let 'em breathe.
Gentle reader, you will understand why we've earned our car's bumper sticker as shown below.
|Yup, that's us!|
Back to Medora for cocktails and supper at Theodore's. Aren't we decadent? Turns out we had no trouble lifting our Manhattans.
Here's our two-day bird list:
That's 43 different birds!
If you'd like to learn more about the history of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, this is an excellent resource. I'll write more about this topic another day.
"Happy trails to you, until we meet again."
|Photo by Jim Fuglie|