Category Archives: National Park or Forest

National Park or Forest

Bison, Prairie Dogs & Horses, Oh My! AUG 18, 2020

After two months in Montana we entered into North Dakota, a new state for us. Unfortunately the very hot weather followed us. Our first stop was the tiny town of Medora, pop 128.  Our reason for coming here was to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park. IMG_20200818_150523IMG_20200819_114704IMG_20200819_115655

This 70,448 acre park, located in the badlands of North Dakota, became a national park in 1978.  The North Dakota Badlands were formed through large volumes of sediments of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone and clay being deposited into the plains. IMG_20200819_114944MVIMG_20200819_115017IMG_20200819_115156

Over time the Little Missouri River carved the terrain into many strange and brilliantly colored formations. Erosion from water and wind continues to shape the badlands today. Theodore Roosevelt first came to the badlands in 1883 at the age of 23 to hunt bison and experience adventure in the west. IMG_20200820_122721IMG_20200820_122725IMG_20200820_122910

After the tragic death of both his mother and wife only hours apart on February 14, 1884, he returned to this area to grieve in solitude. He liked the area so well he established a ranch and adopted a rancher’s lifestyle. Even though the ranch failed, his love for the beautiful rugged land brought him back time and again for the rest of his life. During his presidency he signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, proclaimed eighteen national monuments and worked with Congress to create five national parks, 150 national forests and dozens of federal reserves. This resulted in 230 million acres of protected land, earning him the name “Conservationist President”. IMG_20200819_150942

At the South Unit Visitors Center we saw Roosevelt’s cabin which had been moved to this site. IMG_20200820_134328IMG_20200820_134225IMG_20200820_134240IMG_20200820_134217

The park is divided into a North unit and a South unit. We spent the first day exploring the North unit which was located an hour from our campground. In the park was a fourteen mile scenic drive with colorful majestic formations. We also saw some bison. IMG_20200819_121326IMG_20200819_124158IMG_20200819_124327PANO_20200819_130223.vr

Another day we drove the South unit of the park with a 36 mile scenic drive. The entrance to this section was located less than a mile from our campground. We had a wonderful day seeing bison, prairie dog towns and herds of wild horses. IMG_20200819_144958IMG_20200819_150423IMG_20200819_150449IMG_20200820_110910

We saw many herds of bison, one of which walked down the middle of the road, passing on both sides of the car. This time of year is rut season for bison and they can be more volatile and quick to anger than usual. IMG_20200820_121200IMG_20200820_113925IMG_20200820_121258

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Taking A Dirt Bath

It was more than a little unsettling to have them so close, especially after seeing a news report on TV of a bison attacking a car and destroying a tire with his horns. IMG_20200820_121313

Click this link below to see our bison video. VID_20200820_121344

We also saw plenty of really cute prairie dogs as we passed through several prairie towns. IMG_20200820_102700

We loved seeing them pop up out of their holes and look around. Since they were very close to the road we had to be especially careful with driving. IMG_20200820_102959IMG_20200820_104157MVIMG_20200820_104318IMG_20200820_111743

Our favorite part of the day was, seeing several herds of wild horses. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few national parks where you can see free roaming horses. By the late 1800’s European settlement of the plains had reached the Dakota. Ranchers turned horses out on the open range to live and breed. When needed, they would round up horses and their offspring and use them as ranch horses. When the area that would become the park was fenced in 1954, they removed 200 branded horses. IMG_20200820_112946IMG_20200820_120728

A few small bands of horses eluded capture and went unclaimed. These horses continued to live free range in the park in stallion led groups. The park conducts roundups every three or four years and sells horses at public auction. IMG_20200820_130306IMG_20200820_130536

We were told this little foal was just two weeks old.

We had a short, hot but pleasant stay in Medora. IMG_20200820_132306

Next up: the capital city of Bismarck.

 

Billings, Montana AUG 11, 2020

We drove from Lewistown to Billings (pop 104,000) for a one week stay. The weather during our stay was hot, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees on our last day! 

Billings most striking feature is the Rimrock, a natural feature rising 500 feet above the Yellowstone Valley. Legend says that in 1837 two Crow warriors, dressed in their finest and singing death songs, rode a solid white blindfolded horse over Sacrifice Cliff from the Rimrocks. They did this to appease their gods in order to halt the spread of smallpox among their people. The Native Americans call the cliff “The Place Where the White Horse Went Down“. The Crow, who had no immunity to the disease, had contracted smallpox from the people of the American Fur Trading Company. The disease caused great loss to the Crow people between 1837-1838. IMG_20200814_142111

The Rimrocks sandstone formations were formed 80 million years ago. The Western Interior Seaway, where Billings is today, slowly rose and fell over time, leaving behind compressed sand that became this massive formation. The Yellowstone River has been cutting into it for a million years, leaving a canyon in the bedrock. IMG_20200814_144013

We drove along the top of the Rimrocks with nice views of the city of Billings below. MVIMG_20200814_143927

Then we visited Riverfront Park where we found a geocache and got a glimpse of the Yellowstone River. We had several views of the Yellowstone River flows through Billings. IMG_20200814_155839IMG_20200814_152617

We also stopped by Boothill Cemetery, the final resting place between 1877-1881 of three dozen individuals, many who died with their boots on. This is one of many such named cemeteries throughout the west. Buried in this cemetery was Muggins Taylor, the scout who brought the world the news of Custer’s last stand. There was a large rock memorial with quotes on each of the four sides.

Quote 1:
“This Monument Marks A Historic Site
Where Thirty-Five Lie Buried
For Fortune and Fame
Lost Their Lives Lost Their Game” 

Quote 2:
“Upon This Rugged Hill
The Long Trail Past 
These Men Of Restless Will
Find Rest At Last” 

Quote 3:
“The Stream Flows On But It Matters Not
To The Sleepers Here By The World Forgot
The Heroes Of Many A Tale Unsung 
They Lived And Died When The West Was Young” 

Quote 4: was unfortunately too worn to read IMG_20200814_154906

On Saturday we drove to Red Lodge, Montana to begin driving the Beartooth Highway (All-American Highway) which goes from Montana into Wyoming. Charles Kuralt called this “the most beautiful roadway in America“. IMG_20200815_143822

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Can You See The Bear’s Tooth?

It is also designated one of the most dangerous roads in America as it climbs to 10,947 feet with numerous switchbacks.

On our GPS you can see the five switchbacks which gain about four thousand feet. IMG_20200815_125116IMG_20200815_111529PANO_20200815_115105.vr

Completed in 1936, it provides views of some of the most rugged and wild areas in the lower 48 states.  Along the way are visible twenty peaks over 12,000 feet, 950 alpine lakes, glaciers, Rocky Mountain goats, waterfalls and wildflowers. It took us eight hours to make the round trip drive with all the scenic overlooks. What a beautiful drive! IMG_20200815_121312IMG_20200815_122042IMG_20200815_131837IMG_20200815_122318IMG_20200815_131631IMG_20200815_130922

This is a herd of Rocky Mountain Goats, many are still shedding their coats. IMG_20200815_125852_1IMG_20200815_125854

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Pilot and Index Peaks

We saw Lake Creek waterfall and snagged a short video with sound. MVIMG_20200815_140748


Lake Creek Waterfall
Select this above link to see and hear the video. MVIMG_20200815_140844

We went to Crazy Creek waterfall and turned back for home. IMG_20200815_142828

We liked this old wrecker we found in one of the small towns we passed through. It looks like one of the cars (Mater) in the animated movie “Cars”. Mater is the rustiest, trustiest tow truck in Radiator Springs. IMG_20200815_165750
And an interesting sculpture as well! IMG_20200815_165828

After two wonderful months in Montana, it is time to move on to North Dakota. 

Next up: Medora, North Dakota 

Cascade, Montana July 16, 2020

This blog posting is dedicated to our good friend and blog reader Bob M. who grew up in Great Falls and Helena. Bob, you have a really beautiful home state. We are certainly enjoying our time here! 

Our current stop was south of the tiny town of Cascade, Montana near the Missouri River about thirty miles south of Great Falls for a six night stay.

This is such a beautiful part of Montana. Interstate 15 goes back and forth over the Missouri River.

One day we went sightseeing and geocaching. We saw lots of fishing and people enjoying the water. MVIMG_20200716_133334IMG_20200716_144620IMG_20200716_144955IMG_20200716_145027

Bill found a geocache located at the 1930 Hardy Bridge which crosses the Missouri River. This bridge was used in the 1987 movie “The Untouchables”. This area was portrayed as Canada in the movie. During filming a sign saying “Welcome to Canada” hung from the bridge. After filming ended they left the sign on the bridge which really confused people traveling through the area! The sign is gone today. IMG_20200716_132551IMG_20200716_132603IMG_20200716_150747

On Sunday, July 19th we took a two hour boat trip with the Gates of the Mountains boat tour company. The marina is located on the Missouri River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains between Helena and Great Falls. IMG_20200719_094659IMG_20200719_09531600000IMG_00000_BURST20200719100145261_COVER

In July of 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled down this section of the Missouri River, marveling at the limestone cliffs at a height of 1,200 feet. The Expedition was traveling against the current as they sought the headwaters of the Missouri River. 00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200719100346470_COVERIMG_20200719_100729IMG_20200719_100815IMG_20200719_102147IMG_20200719_103309IMG_20200719_103349IMG_20200719_110619IMG_20200719_105404

From a distance, the bends in the waterways made the great stone walls appear to block passage only to then open up like gates as the expedition approached. IMG_20200719_104707IMG_20200719_105545IMG_20200719_105514

Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal, “I shall call this place: Gates of the Mountains”. 

Our boat was named Sacajawea 2. This tour boat company has been giving tours for over 100 years and the two hour tour was a great deal at only $14 a person (senior price). We saw four eagles, a huge eagle nest and bighorn sheep. IMG_20200719_103900IMG_20200719_103948IMG_20200719_113404IMG_20200719_113603

This actual boat was used in the Clint Eastwood 1974 movie “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”. In the movie the boat was named “Idaho Dream” a mailboat on the Snake River. Several scenes were filmed on our section of the tour. As the guide pointed out the Snake River does not look like the Missouri River. MVIMG_20200719_111637

We also saw a Native American pictograph of a bison which was hard to see in the distance. IMG_20200719_104339

We also have rock formations that appear to be various animals.

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This Looks Like a Person

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Do You See an Elephant?

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This Looks Like Groot from the Marvel Movies

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Do You See a Monkey’s Face?

We stopped briefly at the Meriwether Picnic Area, named for the area where the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery camped on July 19,1805, exactly 215 years ago on the day we took the boat trip. IMG_20200719_110553IMG_20200719_111156IMG_20200719_111004

One evening from our campsite we could see a doe and her fawn. We love Montana! IMG_20200719_185038IMG_20200719_185029

Next up: Great Falls

Yellowstone NP part 4 June 28, 2020

On our last day in Yellowstone NP we drove from our campground to Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way we passed the 45th parallel sign. IMG_20200627_092030

As we entered the village of Mammoth Hot Springs we were delighted to see a large herd of elk grazing in the traffic circle. We especially enjoyed seeing all the calves. IMG_20200627_092725MVIMG_20200627_092838IMG_20200627_092754

We continued on to the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces area. MVIMG_20200627_100856IMG_20200627_101630

Mammoth Hot Springs has mineral laden hot water from deep within the Earth’s crust which finds its way to the surface and builds beautiful tiers of cascading, terraced stone.  Hot water and gases ascend through limestone deposits, sculpting the rock.  Once exposed to the air, calcium carbonate from the limestone is deposited as a rock called travertine.  These hot springs do not erupt but instead build these spectacular terraces.  The terrace sculpting has been going on for thousands of years as thousands of gallons of water well up and deposit large amounts of travertine, or limestone, daily and as quickly as three feet per year! IMG_20200627_093730IMG_20200627_094605IMG_20200627_094707IMG_20200627_100314IMG_20200627_100616

We walked around the extensive boardwalk area, up and down many steps as we made our way around the area. Just beautiful! IMG_20200627_100840IMG_20200627_100958IMG_20200627_101150IMG_20200627_101308IMG_20200627_101313IMG_20200627_101416

Near the parking area is what they call “Liberty Cap”, a dormant hot spring cone 37 feet tall. The 1871 Hayden Geological Survey strangely named the cone after the peasant caps worn during the French Revolution. They were also depicted on early American coins. IMG_20200627_093722

The village of Mammoth Hot Springs is where the Yellowstone park headquarters is located and it has a village of stores, gift shops, a Visitors Center and a couple restaurants.  In the early days of Yellowstone National Park’s existence the park was protected by the U.S. Army from 1886 to 1918. From what you might wonder. From people damaging the geothermal areas and hunting the wildlife.  The original buildings of Fort Yellowstone such as the guardhouse, jail and soldiers’ barracks are preserved and still standing in Mammoth Springs today. IMG_20200627_101706IMG_20200627_101816IMG_20200627_102322IMG_20200627_105550

This concludes our time in Yellowstone NP. Next we continue our summer travels into Montana. 

 

Yellowstone NP part 3 June 24, 2020

Yellowstone is such an amazing national park. Whatever your interest, it has something for everyone. Geysers, hot springs, animals galore, gorgeous scenery and waterfalls. On our third day into the park we focused on waterfalls. IMG_20200627_105328

Yellowstone has a grand canyon. Not as huge or magnificent as THE Grand Canyon, but still fabulous and beautiful with not one but two magnificent waterfalls. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River was created from a lava flow 484,000 years ago.  It is mainly made of rhyolite rock.  Past and current hydrothermal activity weakened and altered the rock, making it softer.  The Yellowstone River eroded these weakened rocks to deepen and widen the canyon, a process continuing today.  The canyon is twenty miles long, more than a thousand feet deep, and between 1,500 and 4,000 feet wide with two waterfalls. IMG_20200624_100902

One end of the canyon begins at the 308 foot tall Lower Falls which may have formed because the river flows over volcanic rock more resistant to erosion than rocks downstream.  The same is true for the 109 foot Upper Falls. IMG_20200624_100707IMG_20200624_110656

When we were here five years ago we hiked several trails around the falls and one strenuous hike with 13 switchbacks that took us to the top of the falls. This time the trail was closed due to the pandemic. Just one of many things still closed throughout the park. But we still had plenty to see and do to keep us busy. IMG_20200624_105630IMG_20200624_110752

Along with visiting the canyon we drove through Hayden Valley where we saw plenty more bison, some elk and a bear. IMG_20200624_141025IMG_20200624_142401

We didn’t get a picture of this bear since he was too far away to get a clear picture. IMG_20200624_123955IMG_20200624_123747

This area took us along Yellowstone Lake (elevation 7,733 feet) with stunning views of water with snow capped mountains in the distance. IMG_20200624_124355

We stopped at an area with rapids where we actually talked with a park ranger, our only real interaction with a ranger all week. He told us if we looked closely we could see fish. This time of year is when the water flows at its highest. The fish were waiting because they knew as the water flow decreased during the hotter summer months, it would be time to swim back to the lake. We enjoyed some time there, watching the fish near the surface occasionally jumping out of the water. Too fast to catch with a camera! MVIMG_20200624_132732IMG_20200624_132824

This hill side is called Roaring Mountain. On the hill side if you zoom in you can see two active steam vents. IMG_20200624_150410IMG_20200624_150855

We stopped at a mud volcano area with a nice boardwalk around the hot springs. There were plenty of signs warning people to stay on the boardwalk because thermal areas have a thin crust above boiling hot springs and scalding mud. Some of the pools are acidic enough to burn through boots! More than twenty people have been scalded to death and hundreds more badly burned or scarred because they left the boardwalks. Imagine our surprise when we saw three bison very close by as we reached the halfway point around the boardwalk. A ranger was there and stopped people from continuing to get close to the bison out of fear of them becoming agitated.  We saw this happen on our first day when a lady with a camera got too close, and we were glad of the strong fence.  One was rubbing against a small tree, evidently trying to rub off the last of his winter coat. IMG_20200624_135718

Another was drinking water from a small pool of muddy water, yuck!! IMG_20200624_135544

The third was actually inside a mud pot area and we wondered how hot the ground was on his hooves. Eventually another ranger came with yellow caution tape and stopped anyone from entering that area of the boardwalk.  IMG_20200624_135520

The elevation drops significantly by a waterfall on the Gardner River as we travel to Mammoth Hot Springs and eventually to the North Entrance at 5,314 feet. MVIMG_20200624_153847

Near this waterfall we saw a lone Dall sheep high on the hillside feeding on the grass. He was so high up it was difficult to get a clear picture. IMG_20200624_154120IMG_20200624_154219

The next day Bill took a half day white water rafting trip on the Yellowstone River with the Yellowstone River Raft Company located in Gardiner MT.  IMG_20200627_111804MVIMG_20200626_095218

They went right behind our RV and I was waiting to take his picture. IMG_20200626_103952IMG_20200626_104012~2

The river was running with a good volume/flow of 10,000 cubic feet per second. He had a great time/ride and was glad to add the Yellowstone River to the lists of rivers he has rafted. IMG_6614~2IMG_0815~2IMG_6604

Next up: Our last day in Yellowstone NP

 

Yellowstone NP part 2 June 22, 2020

After our two night stay in Island Park to see the south part of Yellowstone and Old Faithful, we moved to a new location north of the park. In order to get to our next campground we drove into the west entrance of the park, quickly crossing from Idaho into Wyoming, through the park crossing from Wyoming into Montana and came out the north entrance. Three states in a short distance. Remember in the last blog I said Yellowstone is in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana with the largest section of the park located in Wyoming. Along the way we ran into a brief “buffalo jam” which is always fun! MVIMG_20200622_105255MVIMG_20200622_105352IMG_20200622_105355IMG_20200622_105401

Near the north side of Yellowstone we saw this coyote. IMG_20200622_120101

We went by the Park’s Post Office and noticed the bears had on face masks! IMG_20200623_152756
IMG_20200623_152725In this picture you can see the historic arch at the North entrance to the park and there is Bill making the turn in front of me. The cornerstone was laid down by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.
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Our next campground was located in the tiny town of Gardiner, Montana, conveniently located just outside the park. We checked into the campground and started to get settled into our new campsite along the Yellowstone River. Bill was outside getting things set up and talking to our new neighbors, also from Florida. Suddenly I heard a commotion and the lady next door was very upset. Going to the window I discovered a large snake had slithered up the tree behind us and was going after a nest of baby birds. Her husband grabbed a long pole and knocked the snake with a baby bird out of the tree. The snake coiled up and began to hiss. IMG_20200622_150256

Everyone backed off and the snake quickly ate the baby bird and then continued to coil and hiss. The neighbor managed to use the pole to flick the snake over the river bank. The mother bird was quite upset screeching and circling overhead. The neighbor looked at us and said, “Welcome to the neighborhood”. If we hadn’t prepaid and had nowhere else to go, I would have been tempted to pack up and leave. I wondered if there were more baby birds in the nest and the snake would come back. After some discussion it was determined it was most likely a bull snake since it didn’t have a rattle. In case you are wondering, we thankfully never saw the snake again and after a couple days I forgot about it. 

The next day we left the campground early and spent the day touring one of my favorite places in the park, Lamar Valley, known as the  premium place to see wildlife. This is a blog where pictures can describe better than words. We saw many bison, pronghorn sheep and even a bear. We loved every second of this day! IMG_20200623_121641IMG_20200623_112503IMG_20200623_112808IMG_20200623_113401IMG_20200623_113440IMG_20200623_141729IMG_20200623_123620IMG_20200623_142742IMG_20200623_144434IMG_20200623_144034IMG_20200623_142813IMG_20200623_142641IMG_20200623_133751IMG_20200623_133254IMG_20200623_120056IMG_20200623_142130MVIMG_20200623_142006IMG_20200623_132720IMG_20200623_140013IMG_20200623_135954IMG_20200623_132608

 

Next up: Yellowstone part 3 Waterfalls and more animals

Yellowstone NP part 1 June 20, 2020

We looked forward to visiting Yellowstone National Park again this summer. We were last there in 2015. We left Idaho Falls and traveled to Island Park, Idaho for a two night stay. Along the way we could see the beautiful Grand Tetons mountain range in the distance. IMG_20200620_120115MVIMG_20200620_120131

Island Park, located just outside the west entrance of Yellowstone, was the perfect place to stay to visit the Old Faithful geyser. 

Established in 1872, Yellowstone is the world’s first national park.  Of the 2.2 million acres, 80% is forest, 15% is grassland and 5% is water.  Ninety-six percent of the park is in Wyoming with 3% in Montana and 1% in Idaho.

Yellowstone is HUGE with:

  • five entrances into the park
  • ten visitor or information centers
  • three medical clinics
  • six gas stations
  • seven general stores
  • five hotels or lodges
  • twelve campgrounds of various sizes
  • and numerous restaurants and gift shops

But it was a very different Yellowstone than what we visited five years ago. The Visitors Centers were all closed. We always really enjoy the movies about the park shown at the Visitors Centers and we were disappointed not to see them again. With the Visitors Centers closed, access to Rangers and information on the park was very difficult. There were no informative Ranger talks and hikes. Restaurants were closed leaving tourists scrambling for food at the few general stores open. Most lodges and hotels were closed. Crowds were down but there were still plenty of people enjoying the park, some with masks and many without. In spite of it all, we were very grateful the park was open for us to visit and enjoy. 

Unfortunately the day we chose to visit Old Faithful was cold and windy with rain showers. The cold and high humidity gave us a very different perspective at the geysers. IMG_20200621_103745

This was most noticeable at the Grand Prismatic Spring. The wind was blowing so hard and there was so much hot steam as we walked along the boardwalk, we were not able to see the beauty of the hot spring. We noticed that some Bison had stomped around before we got here. IMG_20200621_101446

As we walked along the boardwalk we were enveloped in hot blowing steam, which quickly would fog your glasses. Here are pictures taken today IMG_20200621_095725IMG_20200621_101001IMG_20200621_101020IMG_20200621_101253IMG_20200621_102650IMG_20200621_101436

followed by pictures taken five years ago on a much better weather day. IMG_20200621_101706IMG_0555IMG_0560

It is always a thrill to see Old Faithful, the most popular and famous attraction in Yellowstone. It is rightfully named because it faithfully erupts every 60 to 90 minutes, spewing 8,400 gallons of steaming hot water up to 180 feet into the air. It is one of the most predictable geysers on earth. We timed our visit just right so we only had a ten minute wait for the next eruption. MVIMG_20200621_105605IMG_20200621_105910IMG_20200621_105741IMG_20200621_110637

Yellowstone is home to more geysers than any other place on earth and is one of the world’s most active geothermal areas.  Within the park are hundreds of geysers, hot springs, mud pots and steam vents.  This is because the park sits atop an enormous “supervolcano” and the immense heat from the underground magma powers the geysers.  The volcano last erupted 640,000 years ago and shows no signs of erupting anytime soon. Water from precipitation seeps into the ground, meeting the superheated earth near the underground magma chamber.  Tremendous pressure builds up until the water is forced back to the surface.  Some geysers like Old Faithful have their own underground “plumbing systems” and erupt at predictable intervals.  Other geysers share plumbing “pipes” with adjacent geysers and erupt more sporadically.

Yellowstone has approximately 700 to 3,000 earthquakes a year, most not felt. IMG_20200621_140157IMG_20200621_140245IMG_20200621_141824

After seeing Old Faithful show off, we explored some more of this side of the park. IMG_20200621_134327IMG_20200621_134054IMG_20200621_134439

We stopped by beautiful Kepler Cascades IMG_20200621_131058

and then impressive Gibbon Falls. IMG_20200621_145509

We also stopped at the Continental Divide and had lunch. IMG_20200621_125739

Despite the weather, a great first day in the park! 

Next up: Yellowstone part 2: Bison, pronghorn sheep and bears, oh my! 

Bryce Canyon N.P. May 8, 2020

We left Cedar City, Utah and traveled north on Interstate 15, still during the isolation rules of COVID-19 Pandemic. Since it was a short distance and we would be traveling over a steep pass, we decided I would follow behind in the car rather than towing. Look! There is Bill ahead of me with snow capped mountains in the distance. IMG_20200506_125325

We arrived at our campground near the tiny town of Panguitch, Utah. Its claim to fame is Butch Cassidy was born just down the road. Butch Cassidy and his gang once had their photograph taken in Panguitch. We last camped here in late August, 2015.  It is a no frills and very reasonably priced campground. We settled in for a two week stay. The first few days the temperatures were perfect during the day but too cold at night. One night the temperature got down to 21 degrees! We left the faucet dripping during the night and fortunately had no problems. 

Since our last visit here in 2015 we had been anxious to visit Bryce Canyon NP again. Of the five national parks in Utah, this was our favorite. While many Utah national parks remained closed, because of the virus, we were very fortunate to have Bryce reopen with some restrictions. The Visitors Center, most restrooms and most trails were closed. 

On Friday we made the 25 mile drive from our campground to Bryce Canyon. To get to Bryce Canyon we drove on Highway 12, The All American Road. We passed through Red Canyon, part of Dixie National Forest with its beautiful red sandstone and limestone formations and through two tunnels. IMG_20200508_140026IMG_20200508_140439IMG_20200515_162353-EFFECTSIMG_20200508_142051

The fee booth at the park entrance was not manned but they had maps and park information available. 

Our goal today was to do the eighteen mile scenic drive and stop at the fourteen overlooks. Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon but a plateau with a series of horseshoe shaped amphitheaters carved in the edges of the eroding plateau.  Bryce Canyon was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850’s and is named for Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon settler who homesteaded the area in 1874. It became a national park in 1928.

Some viewpoints could be seen from the road while others required short walks, usually on paved walkways. The views were all amazing. Our favorite was the many hoodoos, which are towering rock formations sculptured over time by ice freezing and thawing, some as much as ten stories tall.  There are approximately 200 days of freezing/thawing at Bryce Canyon each year.  IMG_20200508_152548

It was fun to let our imaginations run wild and imagine faces or figures in the formations.  The Paiutes, original inhabitants of the area, believed that the rock figures were people turned to stone by angry gods.  If you look closely you can also see fairy tale castle formations. Iron oxide gives red, yellow and brown tints to the limestone. IMG_20200508_145640

One overlook was at 9,100 feet and it was very chilly. The number of tourists was low and it was nice to be able to drive through the park with very little traffic and no crowds at the overlooks. IMG_20200508_145744IMG_20200508_150116IMG_20200508_150148IMG_20200508_150238IMG_20200508_150314IMG_20200508_150443IMG_20200508_152218IMG_20200508_153110IMG_20200508_153217IMG_20200508_153235IMG_20200508_153320IMG_20200508_154015IMG_20200508_154043IMG_20200508_154144IMG_20200508_160624IMG_20200508_161030IMG_20200508_162234

The following Friday we went back to the park. This time there was a person at the fee booth with the window closed, not taking fees but handing out information through a slot. Unlike the previous Friday the Visitors Center was open with limited capacity but the theater was closed. We wanted to see the informative movie about the park we remembered from 2015, but since the theater was closed we didn’t stop. IMG_20200515_141150IMG_20200515_141200IMG_20200515_141606IMG_20200515_141611IMG_20200515_144258IMG_20200515_144434

There was more traffic than the previous Friday. We passed by the prairie dog natural habitat area with signs warning of wildlife crossings. A prairie dog ran out in front of us and we stopped. He ran to the center of the two lane road, got confused and stopped. He then ran toward our car. We were unable to move until he moved to one side or the other. An impatient driver behind us honked his horn, and when we didn’t move, he zoomed past us on our right hand side. Not knowing where the prairie dog was we held our breath that he didn’t get hit. Usually when somebody does something irresponsible like this there are no police around to see it. But fortunately there was a Ranger headed in the opposite direction and saw what happened. He made a u-turn, turned on his lights and pulled the driver over. The Ranger looked pretty annoyed when he stepped out of his car. I never can understand why people come to places like national parks and are so impatient and in such a hurry. As for the prairie dog, he ran to the side of the road and lived happily ever after! IMG_20200508_163834IMG_20200508_164532

Our main focus today was to walk the rim trail along the top of the canyon. When we were here five years ago we made the arduous hike on the Navajo Trail down into the canyon. On this day the Navajo Trail was closed indefinitely due to severe damage from winter weather. We talked with a Ranger who said they were going to have to call in a geologist for advice on how best to repair the popular trail. IMG_20200515_151127IMG_20200515_151140IMG_20200515_154702IMG_20200515_154944IMG_20200515_155054IMG_20200515_153837

Our last days in Panguitch were very windy with gusts up to 45+ mph. We delayed leaving by one day because of the windy conditions since we would have to go back over the pass on the way to our next destination. Most of Utah is now open for business but physical distance and masks are required.

Next up: Provo, Utah

Big Bend NP Texas Oct 25, 2019

We left cold, windy Marfa and headed to Big Bend National Park located in southwestern Texas along the Rio Grande River and the boundary with Mexico. It is a long drive to Big Bend, one of the most remote and least visited national parks in the contiguous United States.  The nearest city is 75 miles away and there is no cell phone service and very limited WiFi which is only available at the park visitors centers. Conveniently there are two gas stations located in the park. IMG_20191026_130448

Big Bend gets its name from the 90 degree turn in the Rio Grande River near the southern tip of the park. The river is the natural border between the United States and Mexico which creates some complicated security issues for the Border Patrol in the area. We saw border patrol vehicles throughout the park.

We had a wide range of temperatures the week we were there with daytime highs ranging from a high of 97 to a high of only 67 degrees in a matter of days. A cold front blew in near the end of our seven day stay and we had winds of 25 to 35 mph for almost 24 hours. IMG_20191026_165109IMG_20191026_151058IMG_20191029_171452IMG_20191029_171521

One striking thing about this park is how big the park is and how far you have to drive to get from one side to the other. To get from the east side of the park to the west side is over fifty miles and takes an hour and a half. Because of the extreme heat in the summer, the high season here begins Nov 15th and runs to April 15th. The park is so large it has five visitors centers but only two were open this time of year. The park has a limited number of paved roads and many gravel and dirt roads. We learned from a park ranger that since they had just finished their rainy season, any unpaved roads were in too bad a shape to drive our Honda CRV. This was disappointing because it limited the amount of park we could explore. IMG_20191026_161551

The first day we visited Panther Junction Visitors Center and saw the park movie. IMG_20191026_13435120191026_155109

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Our First Texas View Of The Rio Grande River West OF The Park

During our time in the park we saw many roadrunner and sharp eyed Bill caught sight of a javelina along the side of the road. He managed to get a picture before it got spooked and ran off. We learned from the park movie that javelinas have a snout like a pig and smell like a skunk. IMG_20191027_164932

One day we drove to Santa Elena Canyon to do a hike into the canyon. When we arrived we discovered that the river bed that is normally dried up and must be crossed to reach the trail, was now covered in knee deep water. We seriously considered taking off our shoes and socks and walking across until we heard from others that there was thick deep mud we would have to plow through. We watched other people cross and when they emerged from the sludge it looked like they had on gray knee socks from the mud. No thanks. IMG_20191027_135815

We were content looking at the canyon from a distance. This canyon, like others in the park, had nearly vertical walls made primarily of limestone. IMG_20191027_135527IMG_20191027_140520

We drove the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive enjoying the geologic splendor of the park. IMG_20191027_143838IMG_20191027_153213IMG_20191027_143435

We stopped by the Fossil Discovery Exhibit where we learned about the plants and animals that lived here millions of years ago. At one time a shallow sea covered Big Bend and much of Texas, leaving behind fossils of fish, sharks and swimming reptiles. As the water receded the area was inhabited by dinosaurs and giant alligators. IMG_20191026_171802IMG_20191026_172421

Over the years many fossils and bones have been discovered in the park. IMG_20191026_172516

Another day we drove an hour from our campground which was located in the park to the Chisos Basin section. To get to this area the car climbed two thousand feet above the desert floor. Here there is a lodge and the other visitors center which was open. We took a nice walk on a paved trail to the “Window View” with beautiful views of mountain vistas and the valley basin below. 20191029_15312520191029_15232920191029_15330420191029_163339

Near the end of our stay we drove to the hot springs section of the park. In the early 1900’s people began to come to the area to bathe in the hot springs. It was believed that the mineral springs had healing powers. The owner of the land recognized the potential monetary value of the 105 degree mineral springs and built a bathhouse and desert health resort. By 1927 the availability of automobiles and improved roads meant even more people visiting and so a store, post office and motel were added. In 1942 the landowner sold the land to the state of Texas. In 1944 Texas gave the land to the United States for a national park. 20191026_135024

The unpaved gravel road was very narrow and a little tricky to navigate but the Ranger assured us it was the one unpaved road still accessible. We parked and began the short trail to the springs. IMG_20191030_144448

We could see the remains of some of the buildings from this once prosperous community. IMG_20191030_142513

We arrived at the hot springs where three older women had arrived just ahead of us. They nonchalantly glanced at us and then proceeded to completely strip off their clothes and walk naked down into the springs. Any desire to go down and dip our toes in disappeared at that point. We didn’t stay long. IMG_20191030_144836_MP

Next up we drove to the Boquillas Canyon overlook with more spectacular canyon and Rio Grande river views. IMG_20191030_154528

Across the river, we could see the Mexican town of Boquillas. There is a border water crossing there that is open several times a week. 

We enjoyed our time in Big Bend National Park. It had been on Bill’s bucket list for several years. We probably would not return mainly because it is so remote and takes so much driving time to get there.

On the way back west in one small Texas town a crowd of people had stopped along the train tracks, some with cameras on tripods. We wondered what they were waiting for and then Bill remembered seeing on the El Paso TV news about the 150th anniversary of the Union Pacific’s Big Boy No. 4014, the world’s largest steam locomotive. It was doing a “Great Race Across the Southwest” run with stops in El Paso, San Antonio and Houston. We stopped along the roadside and snapped a few pictures as it went by. Great timing! IMG_20191101_14322320191101_143439

This ends our summer travels which took us to Monument Valley and into Colorado before making our way back down to New Mexico and Texas. 

Next up we are headed back west to spend some time in Tucson and Casa Grande before spending the winter once again in Yuma, Arizona. 

New Mexico & Texas, OCT 2019

After our visit to the Trinity Site we left Socorro and headed to Caballo Lake, New Mexico. We stayed a week at a small RV park owned by an 82 year old lady. It was one of the cleanest parks we have ever stayed at. Every afternoon she had Happy Hour on her covered veranda for everyone. She furnished snacks and each person brought something to drink. By snacks I am talking about meatballs in a delicious sauce, cheese and crackers, chips and guacamole, watermelon, cookies and cakes. Every day! After talking with other people we realized many of them come back for a visit year after year. I think these Happy Hours give the owner some social interaction and also enable everyone in the park to get to know each other. We can see why people come back year after year. 

Next up was Las Cruces, our last stop in New Mexico. When we arrived we unhooked the tow car and discovered the battery was dead. Using the RV, Bill was able to jumpstart the car. We took it to Walmart and since the battery was bad and still under warranty, they gave us another one. But we also learned that the alternator was bad. After learning it would be over $500 plus labor at the Las Cruces Honda dealer, we hired the Walmart mechanic to come to the RV park when he got off work and replace the alternator. For a total of $280 he picked up a new alternator at Autozone, took out the old one and put the new one in. 

After seven weeks, our time in New Mexico came to an end as we crossed into Texas. We took the bypass around the very congested El Paso and after overnighting in Van Horn, we stopped in Marfa, Texas for a three night stay. 

Our reason for spending three nights in Marfa was to visit three nearby places we wanted to visit. 

First up was the Fort Davis National Historic Site. Named after Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, it is one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post and the role the military played in the settlement and development of the western frontier. IMG_20191023_102128IMG_20191023_102212

From 1854 until 1891 troops stationed at Fort Davis protected pioneers, freighters, mail coaches and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road. The troops spent much of their time protecting area travelers from attack by Comanches and Apaches. During the Civil War the fort was first occupied by Confederate troops in the spring of 1861 until the summer of 1862 when Union forces took possession back. After the war ended the fort once again protected travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road from Indian attack. By June, 1891 the fort had outlived its usefulness and was abandoned. It became a National Historic Site in 1963. IMG_20191023_110253
During the summer months they have more activities and living history programs, but on this late October mid week visit things were very quiet. After watching a film at the Visitors Center, we enjoyed walking through the buildings that were open including the enlisted men’s barracks, the commissary, Officer’s kitchen, the post hospital and Officer’s Quarters.

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Enlisted Barracks

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Hospital Beds

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Operating Table

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Officer Housing For Two Families

In the kitchen there was a woman in period costume making chili, corn bread and banana bread over a wood burning stove. She was a little flustered because her wood fire had gone out and she had promised to provide lunch to the staff at the Visitors Center. 20191023_113516

The second attraction was the McDonald Observatory located 45 minutes from Marfa. The observatory is part of the University of Texas at Austin. IMG_20191023_124121

We had booked online a two and a half tour of the observatory. Before our tour started we looked around the Visitors Center and saw a movie. Our tour was a nice small group of fourteen and we had a fantastic tour guide. A former public school science teacher, it was quite obvious that she loves her job. After talking about the sun and showing us a live picture of the sun from one of the telescopes, we all boarded a shuttle bus to tour two telescopes. 20191023_145920

The first telescope we visited was located on Mt Locke which at 6,790 feet is the highest point on the Texas highway system. The view from there was beautiful. The Harlan J. Smith Telescope was completed in 1968 and supported NASA. This telescope’s mirror is 2.7 meters or 107 inches. IMG_20191023_162138IMG_20191023_153918

Our guide told us and showed us about how the telescope and dome moved. She talked about the mirror monthly maintenance which involves cleaning with dry ice. 

We all boarded the bus again to the summit of Mt Fowlkes (6,660 ft) to see the Hobby-Eberly Telescope dedicated in 1997. This telescope, after upgrades, is now tied with another telescope as the second largest optical telescope in the world (11-meter or 433-inch). IMG_20191023_16322020191023_163404IMG_20191023_165500
The mirror looks like a honeycomb made up of 91 hexagonal mirrors.

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Hexagonal Mirrors – The Curved Bars Are Reflections

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Our guide was so enthusiastic and eager to answer questions, our tour ended up lasting three hours instead of two and a half. Amazing to get such an interesting and informative tour for $7 (senior rate). IMG_20191023_165224

Mark you calendars – here is the time and places for the next Total Solar Eclipse. IMG_20191023_144009

Marfa is an interesting tiny Texas town. Most of the visitors, like us, pass through here on their way to Big Bend National Park. It has a very pretty courthouse and some interesting sounding restaurants, unfortunately for us most are only open on the weekend. IMG_20191023_095732

We did read about a Mediterranean food truck which had excellent reviews. Bill got a falafel called a Marfalafel named after the town. While Bill enjoys Mediterranean food, it was his first falafel and probably his last.  20191024_123122IMG_20191024_123158

Marfa is also known as having a phenomenon known as the Marfa ghost lights.  The town built a large viewing area outside of town with bathroom facilities and benches. One evening, just to say we did it, we drove to the viewing area and spent about thirty minutes looking for the lights. Other people there were convinced they saw the Marfa lights. We didn’t see anything that couldn’t be explained as man made such as lights from cars in the distance or radio towers. 
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Our last day in Marfa a cold front blew in. We had wind gusts up to 30 mph and that night a low of 27.  Time to move on! 

Next stop: Big Bend National Park, Texas