Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sturgis – Deadwood

Got up this morning to go photograph the Badlands at Sunrise,  but the clouds came in heavy last night and no sunrise this morning.  I drove the whole park and got a few shots,  but no Bighorn sheep, or any other animals to be found.


I decided to head through Sturgis just to see main street,  there were no rallys going on, so it eas a pretty dead town.  Headed towards Spearfish canyon.  On the way I went through Deadwood.  Touristy, yes, but with a little class.  This is an old western town with brick streets. 


On towards Spearfish Canyon,  first stop was Roughlock Falls. This was an impressive small falls and  definitely worth the stop.  The rest of the canyon towards Spearfish was really nice and peaceful drive.  Too bad I didn’t go this way to Rushmore instead of going through Keystone.  Next time…


The drive up to Theodore Rosevelt National Park was through the prairies of South and North Dakota.  Nothing much to see but hundreds of miles of hay bales.  The storm was coming in so not much of a sunset as I set up camp in the national park. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Badlands National Park

On the way to Badlands,  There are brainwashing signs along the highway for miles and miles advertising Wall Drug.   The two that hooked me were homemade ice cream and a 6 ft rabbit.  So, I stopped at the largest tourist store I have ever been in.  I found the ice cream right away and went in search for the 6 ft. rabbit.   This store has every piece of tourist stuff that could find in almost every gift shop, anywhere,  but all in one place.  Well the ice cream was not that good,  and I couldn’t find the rabbit after 2 passes.  So that was enough it was time to go to the Badlands.


Badlands National Park is the edge of what they call the wall.  From the north, it looks like the plains just dropped off,  from the south, the Wall stretched for a hundred miles.  The edge has been eroded to form pinnacles and gullies revealing many different colorful layers of earth.  Some of the mounds were similar to ones I had seen in the Petrified Forest.


I thought I had escaped the Texas heat,  but it
has been rather warm the past few days.  Today was just HOT.  It was 96 degrees and high plains desert.  I drove the loop from west to east in the afternoon.  Interesting, but the colors were just not there.  I needed to go back during sunset and sunrise.  I got to the visitor center and campground and decided to wait out the afternoon till sunset.  It was so hot,  for the first time in the camper,  I paid for an electric campsite so that I could run the air conditioner in the camper.  


For those who have not read the whole blog,  my camper is solar powered and runs everything I need except for the air conditioner.   Last year,  I only plugged in twice, not because I had too,  but because the campsite was the same price with, or without electricity and I thought I would try it.  I found it not even worth the hassle of getting out the electrical cord.  I did not even plug in Death Valley last year!


I got back out about an hour before sunset to go photograph.  Definitely worth the wait.  At one point there was a big horn sheep, silhouetted on the mountain crest.  I got one shot with my normal lens,  and wanted to put on the 400 to get the real shot,  but a ranger pulled up behind me and made me move on.   That would have been a shot for the books.  I turned around down the road to try again, but it was gone.   The rest of the shots were pretty good though.


Back to the campsite, with electricity for the night and off towards Theodore Roosevelt National Park tomorrow. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Wind Cave National Park.

I made it to Mount Rushmore before sunrise, and was able to hike the president’s trail close to the mountain.  What a wonderful time of day to see the mountain.  I only saw 2 people the whole time and got incredible sunrise colors on the faces.  Breakfast sounded like a good idea, so I waited for the cafeteria to open, and sat with a view of the mountain and free WiFi!  Was able to get some pics and blogs work done and uploaded.  What a nice office for the morning!

I used a whole computer battery, and by the time I left,  there were hundreds of people around.  Good thing I got there early and avoided the masses.   I got a Thomas Jefferson recipe ice cream on the way out,  couldn’t pass that up!


Leaving Mt Rushmore, there is the Iron Mountain Scenic road.  This road is a blast!  It has 3 pigtail bridges, and 3 tunnels through the mountain; each having a view of Mt. Rushmore.  This road is very steep and curvy and they said the road could not be built.  If you ever get a chance,  definitely worth the time.


From there I drove the wildlife loop through Custer State Park and on to Wind Cave National Park.  Wind Cave was a little more crowded,  there were about 40 people on the tour,  but did not really seem that crowded.  Wind Cave is a dry cave with over 145 miles of explored cave, but the cave is only about 5% explored.   The cave was formed as fractures in the early made the Black hills rise.  Millions of years ago, there was subsurface water that flowed through the cave for a time that dissolved the limestone and left the calcite in a formation called Boxwork.  It is a thin, honeycomb shaped structures on the walls and ceilings.  Wind cave has 95 % of the Boxwork formation in the world. 


Next was the Needles Scenic Drive.   This was even more fun than the Iron Mountain drive this morning.  There are 2 tunnels.  The first one was through a crack in the Needles and the tunnel was 8’ 4” wide.  With the mirrors fully extended, the truck and camper are exactly 8’ 4” wide.  I know this because at one point, both mirrors barely grazed the sides of the tunnel.  That was FUN!  There was a guy at the end that was watching intently and was sure I was going to get stuck.  Good thing I know my truck well.  He was really amazed I made it through.


I found a campsite in Custer State Park.  Off to Badlands tomorrow.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse SD

After watching a nice sunrise over the Tower,  I headed towards Mount Rushmore.  I made a  mistake as to the how I arrived.  I went through Keystone,  wow… what a tourist trap.   I thought I would get there earlier in the day so it would not be as hot,  and , incorrectly, thought it would not be as crowded.  I found out later there were almost 30,000 people there that day.  Next time,  I need to make sure to come in from the east and enjoy the Black Hills.


I took a few pics,  as I dogged people with Ipads, and decided that coming back for sunrise would be a more peaceful way to enjoy the mountain.   One saving grace is that they had some Thomas Jefferson recipe ice cream. This was probably the best ice cream that I have ever had; it only had 3 ingredients;  Cream, sugar and eggs.  Delicious!


So next I decided to head towards Crazy Horse Memorial.  It was worse,  9 busloads of people with Ipads were everywhere.  I could hardly take a picture without someone walking in front of me.


It was time to get back to the solitude of a park.  I headed to Jewel Cave National Monument for  a cave tour.  I got there a few minutes before the tour,  and imagine,  only 15 people on the tour.  What a relief!  Jewel cave has a number of different cave formations.  It has some Boxwork formations (more on them it the upcoming Wind Cave blog).  The name comes from the Calcite Crystal formations.  There was also an interesting Fried Egg formation (see pic).  There was also a four foot long soda straw formation (this is the longest I had seen).  Definitely worth the trip.


From there, I headed to find a campsite near Mt Rushmore,  so I could get there for sunrise in the morning.  On the way I stumbled across the Naked Winery Tasting room.  Worth stopping for the name alone,  and as a nice surprise, the wine was really good too,  and the whole presentation, and label reading was very entertaining.  After a few tastes,  it was off to the campsite.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Devils Tower National Monument

I got up this morning,  enjoyed a nice breakfast, and headed to the hot springs for a soak.  They had an outdoor pool with the 127 Degree water flowing in,  the pools temp in most places was about 104.  They allowed 20 minutes to enjoy the hot springs,  and that was just about right.  I left feeling really refreshed. 


On to Devils Tower.  I was not sure quite what to expect,  but when I arrived,  it was better than I could have imagined.  They have a 1.3 mile trail all the way around the tower so you can really see it from all sides and with the different lighting.  You really get a feel for the tower and understand how this is a sacred place for many of the Native Americans.


I actually like the Indian name better – “Bear Lodge”  The legend is that a brother and his seven sisters were out in the woods,  suddenly,  the brother changes into a bear, and starts chasing the sisters,  the sisters find an old stump that tells them to climb on top.  The stump rises towards the heavens,  as the bear claws at the sides to try to get to the sisters.  The stump rose so high that the sisters eventually became the constellation Pleiades.   With the bear (the big dipper) right behind them.


After the hike I drove to a viewpoint to watch the sun set over the tower.  After the sun set a thunderstorm rolled in,  and I got some night shots with the lightning illuminating the tower.  It was a nice night.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Yellowstone to Thermopolis

Today I got up before sunrise to see if there was any other animals on the road.  I drove down the east side, not really seeing much besides bison.  To set the scene,  we are at a pullout,  sun is coming up, a little fog is over the meadow,  you can hear the elk bugling in the distance,  the bison grunting, and the geese cackling.  All is peaceful and right with the morning.  Then…I really can not believe how clueless and inconsiderate some people are… A guy pulls up in his ancient motor home, and fires up his generator,  We could not even hear each other talk.  So we pack up and head to other parts of the park to enjoy the peace and quiet.


I decided to go back to Artist Point,  where it started raining yesterday,  and was greeted by sun on the falls and got some terrific pictures.  I’m glad I stopped again.   What a difference a day makes in the lighting of a shot!  On the way out of the park, I got some decent bison pictures and was also able to watch a golden eagle going up and down the river.  It was a little too far away to get some descent pics,  but was still a nice site to see. 


I took my time heading out of the park, and headed towards Thermopolis;  this town contains “the worlds largest mineral hot springs”  at least according to the writing on the mountain.    The state park has one free and a couple pay springs you can rejuvenate in.  The free one closed at 5:30,  so I will try that one in the morning before I head out.


A local recommended the “Front Patio CafĂ©”  I went for a burger and beer and it was excellent!


Tomorrow off to Devils Tower and on to Mount Rushmore.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the first National Park, and has over 3 million visitors a year.  I was hoping to miss the Labor Day weekend, but needed to continue my travels east so that I could spend some good time in the Dakotas.  I decided to arrive via the north entrance, thru the Theodore Roosevelt Entry Arch.  This was part of the park I had not seen and hoped it would not be as crowded as the geyser portion.


I like the quote at the top “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People


On the way in I saw some antelope, and some elk.  I took the northern road towards Tower Fall.  That campground was full,  it was getting dark so I headed towards Slough Creek campground for the night.  It was really nice to see a sky full of stars again, without the light pollution in the cities.  I hadn’t seen a night sky like this since Utah last November.   The Milky Way was bright, and the North Star could hardly be seen because of so many other stars around it.  I saw a couple shooting stars and one satellite,  what a perfect way to drop off to sleep. 


I got up before 6 to see sunrise and to see if I could see wildlife out at dawn.  I did not get very far from the campsite and there were already a number of people on the ridge.  A pack of wolves had been seen there over the past few mornings.  I waited for about 1.5 hours,  but no wolves today.  There was a herd of bison though.  By the time I left,  the crowds were all there, at least 50 cars.  Labor Day weekends last day and the masses descended... 


One thing interesting about the parks is all the people waiting to see the wildlife,  sometimes at a great distance even with a spotting scope.  Above I mentioned all the people waiting for the wolves.  There were a number on the ridge I was on, and a whole other crowd on the ridge above us.  At one point I turned around to see and it looked like they were all looking in their scopes,  wondering what they were looking at, I turned the camera on to see.  They were all looking at US!  To see if we had seen anything.  At that point it was definitely time to head on.  I headed the rest of the northern road to see what else was out.  It was a pretty quiet morning,  not much be a few different herds of buffalo, and not too many people on the road. 


I stopped to see Tower Falls.  Then I headed down the eastern road towards the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  I got some good pictures of upper falls, then descended the 328 steps down “Uncle Tom’s Trail” to get pictures inside the canyon and of the lower falls.    The elevation is about 8000 feet.  The walk down is fine,  but the climb back up all those steps is a pretty strenuous climb.  There were a lot of people, some in not very good shape, and some with very small kids that should not have been making this hike.  I hope they were able to make it back to the top.  I went on to Artist Point to photograph the canyon and the falls, and this is when the rain hit.  I decided to get an early campsite,  make some lunch and call it a day to wait out the rain.


Tomorrow more Yellowstone, then on the way to Mount Rushmore.

Friday, August 30, 2013

North Cascades National Park

A couple of years ago,  We drove through North Cascades National Park (on a 4 day trip back to Texas) and only stopped for one hike.   What a shame,  this is a wonderful place to be.  Even though it was the start of Labor Day weekend,  It wasnt even really that crowded.  I even got a campsite.  I hiked to and photographed a number of water falls.  The lakes are an incredible turquoise blue;   the color comes from the glacial flour caused as the glaciers move over the rocks, it grinds the rocks down to a fine flower that gets stored in the glacier till it melts.  I spent a couple of full days here.  It was a wonderful way to start the trip.  I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking for this park.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

2013 Travels

I know it has been a long time since I posted, and I will try to do better for the rest of this year.  I have already started my travels this year, I will be updating the website with pictures as time and internet connections allow.    I have been working on my book for My Travels: Western US and Canada; the trip I took last year.  A draft copy has been created, and direction is to be published by the end of the year.  Please stay tuned for more details.
Now to the travels for 2013....
The first leg of the trip was from April 8 30th,   I was able to go to  some of the parks in the west that I was not able to hit last year... and will hit the newly designated Pinnacles National Park that was not a park when I did the 8 parks in California, last year.  My trip took me through Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains Parks first, then on to Tucson for Saguaro, then I took Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH) from San Diego to the Olympic Mountains in Washington State.  This trip was a little different for me because I did the whole thing in a small Toyota MR2 convertible,  and stayed in hotels (rather than camping) the whole way.  It was kind of like backpacking by a very small car.  I had always wanted to drive PCH in a little sportscar/convertible, and this was my chance.  It was a blast!
For the second leg,  it was back to Texas to start the trip like I did last year.  My son and I drove from Texas to the San Juan Islands in Washington State and was from May 21-31st .   We took a different route this time.  First we stopped by Meteor Crater (AZ) , and stood on the corner in Winslow Arizona (it was such a fine site to see!).  Then on to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, on to Zion to hike The Narrows and the trail to Observation Point (looking down towards Angels Landing).   Headed to Great Basin NP (NV),  a Giants Game in SF,  Muir woods,  then on to Hendry winery (to get Trey to appreciate good wine),  on up to Crater Lake (which we unfortunately could not see due to clouds),  then on up to the Islands.  It was another great trip and hope to get to travel with my daughter up there next year.
I spent the summer on San Juan island, and now it off for the next part of my trip.  The journey for this year is the whole circumference of the United States.  From Texas to California to Washington to Maine to Florida, and then back to Texas, and hitting about 25 National parks along the way.  It will be interesting to see what the road brings me this year! 
Some quotes to start the trip:
“The mountains are calling…so I must go” John Muir
“You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So... get on your way!”
  -- Dr. Seuss
“The Journey is what brings us happiness… not the destination”  -- The Peaceful Warrior
Thanks for coming along my journey with me!