Black Canyon of the Gunnison

After Estes Park it was off to Denver for a night. Primary purpose: to see the Astros play the Rockies. It’s always nice being at Coors Field. I was there for the second game (a day game) when the place opened, circa 1994, the inaugural game having been the night before. When we walked in they were giving out commemorative lapel pins to all the fans. Upon receipt I stopped and examined it: Opening Day – Coors Field. I pointed out to the usher that handed me the pin that yesterday had been opening day. She immediately replied “No, that was opening NIGHT! This is opening DAY!” Ahh, the power of marketing. Anyhoo, it’s still a great place to watch a game.


Turned out to be a full house and the Houston lads won to boot!

A bonus of the stop in Denver was the chance to catch up with my pal Lila, late of Houston and proprietor of the dear, departed Just Dinner. She and Cruz are adapting to life in Denver and it seems to suit them well.


Denver seems to be big on building art these days. At several places in the downtown area I noticed huge murals on the side of buildings.


The next day I drove to Montrose, CO. No surprise, it’s another very scenic drive.denver to montrose

Coloradons seem particularly proud of their “14ers”: 53 mountain peaks within the state with a summit higher than 14,000 feet. Quite a few of them are west of Buena Vista, which can be seen on the route map above, about halfway between Denver and Montrose.

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Hwy 50 took me up and over Monarch Pass. Glad I wasn’t pulling The Beast.

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Past the town of Gunnison they have dammed up the Gunnison River, making for a nice little lake area.

Next day’s mission: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. At Rocky Mountain Park the neck was constantly craned looking up. This place is the opposite: forever looking down into the canyon. The claim to fame is how narrow and steep and deep it is. At its highest point the road is 2700 feet above the river below, which makes for some nice views.

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It’s fascinating to me that tall trees can grow on the side of the canyon, as in the photo above, but they don’t really grow on the flatter areas on top of the plateau.

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There’s not much in the way of flowers along the trails. A wee bit of color shows in the pic above. Most of the growth is shrubbery or shorter trees like juniper.

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Unfortunately, the parks must deal with the scourge of modern technology: nix on the drones.

I found a couple of species that we normally associate with tall hardwood trees, but not here.

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There was a lot of what I call “scrub oak”, but not surprisingly there’s a name for it:

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Off in the distance is the West Elk mountain range.

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I’m guessing down the wall of that canyon is evidence of a seasonal waterfall…but maybe a gang of guano?

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There’s a small distillery in Montrose, a good spot to sample the local wares on the 4th of July.

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Good work is being done at this spot. They are also brewing some whiskey, but figure to keep it in the barrels for a few more years.

Next stop: Durango and the Mesa Verde National Park.


Colorado National Parks

From the National Park Service website:

“Writer and historian Wallace Stegner called national parks the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

Ken Burns did a documentary entitled “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”.

I don’t know that you could call it the “best” idea, but it’s a doggone good one, and it is one that never disappoints in the execution. Figuring it was time for a road trip, I set off a week ago with the goal of hitting three National Parks in Colorado: Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde.

The longest haul of the trip was from Show Low to Grand Junction, CO. The first leg, from Show Low up Hwy 77, then going through Greasewood on Indian Road 15 to US 191, was a first for me. It goes through Hopi/Navajo reservations and it is pretty desolate territory. I call it Butte Country: mostly level or rolling land interrupted by the occasional upthrust. Pimples on the prairie, if you will.

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There were a few sights familiar to us Texans of a certain age:

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Despite the desolation (or maybe because of it), I saw a lot of buildings or signs for churches: Bible Church, Baptist, Lutheran. And a lot of signs for VBS and Revivals…sights also familiar to most Texans. But then of course it IS that time of year on the worship calendar.

After hitting Hwy 191 I was back on plowed ground, having tilled it at the end of my last trip with The Beast.

First time ever staying in Grand Junction. It’s a pretty town, sort of reminded me of my old stomping ground in Durham, NC: the streets, the trees, the sway of the terrain. Had a nice dinner at a spot called 626 on Rood which had a fun menu:menu

A small but interesting wine list (yes, they make wine in Colorado):

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And they had a whiskey I’ve never seen:


Quinoa whiskey? I guess it’s the free market at work…

Second leg took me from Grand Junction to Estes Park. At this point things started to look like Colorado.


I-70 in western CO tracks right along the Colorado River for an hour or so.

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Around Vail the road runs along the Eagle River. All very picturesque. And of course, the mountains are never far away.IMG_7507 (2)IMG_7510 (2)

Ran into a bit of traffic around the Eisenhower Tunnel. This stretch of I-70 may be one of the most scenic of the entire Interstate Highway System. I-40 in eastern TN/western NC or I-91 up into New England might be competition, but I’d award the prize to I-70, Grand Junction to Denver.

The weather acted up a bit once I got off I-70 and headed up north to Estes Park.

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This took me through the town of Nederland, a place of some family history. It’s a beautiful little town, right on a lake. The middle of the town has a roundabout with roads spoking off in 5 or 6 directions, it seems. I drove through Nederland circa 2004 with my boys and I had to stop at the visitor center to find out which road I should take off the roundabout to get us to Vail. The visitor center was staffed by a little old lady from central casting, had to be in her 80s. She asked us to sign their visitor book, which we did, and she noted we were from Texas. “Well, we get so many visitors from Texas! In fact every year we go through the book and tabulate all the different places we get visitors from. Texas is almost always in first place. In fact, there on the wall is last year’s list.” A quick perusal of the list confirmed that the year before Texas had indeed led the pack with about 450 visitors. But in second place, with 200-some odd visitors was…The Netherlands! Huh? I guess they like to go there because of the name. I wonder if Nederland, TX observes the same behavior. I meant to stop again this time, but it was raining and traffic was heavy due to some festival or flea market or something they had going on. I’ll give it another 15 years…

Alright, day 3, down to cases. The goal: Rocky Mountain National Park, which was very close by, maybe 5 miles from my hotel.

Didn’t take long to get through the entrance, especially with my trusty Senior Pass (which is the best deal going for anyone who has attained geezerhood and spends time at national parks – parks like this may charge $25 a day or more, but with the Senior Pass, which cost me $10: bupkis!).

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The plan was to drive the Trail Ridge Road, which runs along the northern and western edges of the park, for about 48 miles or so, from Estes Park to Grand Lake. There’s a ton of pullouts and scenic overlooks along the way and I stopped at quite a few of them. But really every turn of the road presents its own spectacular vista. It’s just one of the most breathtaking drives you can take. So I’ll give over the next 25,000 or so words of this post to the pictures.

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At this point, maybe 15-20 miles into the drive the road starts to run above the treeline. This concept has always fascinated me. I’ve been that high before once or twice and it creates kind of an eerie peacefulness. The entry to the park is at about 8,000 ft elevation and goes as high as about 12,200′.

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I think this is a marmot. At first I thought it was a carving because it was perfectly still, even though there was a crowd of people maybe 10 feet away.

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These fellows were grazing maybe 100 yeards away.

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About halfway to Grand Lake is a visitor’s center up on the tundra. I had never seen this construction technique before, but a sign inside the entrance explained it.

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In the middle of the day on the way back from Grand Lake there was a bit of a traffic slowdown, for good reason as it turned out.

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These elk were in no hurry. They were a little shy to cross the road at first, but then they stood on the road and nibbled something on the side of the road, like the little guy in the picture above.

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This youngster was happy to stand by the road, maybe 20 or 30 feet from my vehicle.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a magical place: a feast for the eyes, a blessing for the heart, and for the soul? Well, chicken soup at least, if not homemade lasagna.

…to be continued






Going Baldy

In out last episode I resolved to check out some trails over at Mount Baldy. Promise kept. Another very nice day, moderately sunny, about 47 degress at 1:30 at the trailhead.

The West Baldy Trail is about 30 miles from mi casa, on the “back way” to Show Low. (Some day soon I’ll document that drive – it’s my favorite in the area.). The trail starts near the road and then tracks the West Fork of the Little Colorado River, which begins on Mount Baldy and eventually meets the big daddy Colorado River in the Grand Canyon (as some of my readers can personally attest.)

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The trail itself apparently runs about 14 miles to the top of Mount Baldy, but the last ½ is on Apache land and not open to casual hikers. The trail itself was quite scenically diverse. It started out in a forested area, opening up into a meadow.







The trail started out about 200 feet north of the river, but after about ¾ mile it merged with another trail that closely follows the river and morphed into more of a river valley scene. The river itself is fairly dynamic, swollen as  it is by snowmelt.








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At 9300 feet, there’s some residual snow in places. In fact it was necessary to cross a mighty glacier at one point.





And there’s runoff from the mountain, the water forming temporary brooks in a joyous terpsichorean jaunt  to the river.





A couple of times there were views of Mount Baldy from the trail.


As is quite common, I saw almost no wildlife on this hike. Today’s tally: an ant, a bird, 2 humans. It’s like they know I’m coming and run for cover. Maybe I have cooties.

However, shortly after leaving the trail and heading home I drove past some of our friendly White Mountain neighbors


Passing strange to see a herd like that out in the open in the middle of the day.

A few miles later I saw a sign pointing to Big Lake Lookout. I had seen it many times but never explored it, but this seemed like a good time. So up I go on a rocky dirt road that got continually narrower for the next 2 miles and about 500 feet up the hill.

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There was a crude set of steps to the top of this hill.

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Obviously the Romans were never here. From that point there was a lot of underbrush that was hard to see over, but I scrambled up on a rock for a fabulous 360 view of the area. The next 3 pictures were taken from the rock.

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West to Mount Baldy

LO to Big Lake

North to Big Lake.

LO to Escudilla

East to Escudilla.

Strange, but clambering up on rocks isn’t as much fun (or as much of a cinch) as it used to be…




Shimmering Spring Day in the White Mountains

There’s a hiking trail up on the rim above the Eagar-Springerville metropolis, about 45 minutes from my place. I checked it out about a month ago but there was still a bit of snow at the trailhead and I wasn’t properly dressed to take it on.


But today was an absolutely beautiful day hereabouts, so I made the trek over there again.

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My place is at the red tomahawk, the trailhead is the white marker.

Here’s a view of the Alpine Valley from the edge of the massive, sprawling Alpine central business district (i.e. right in front of the post office), offered as proof of weather loveliness.


Eager is at 7100’ elevation and this trailhead is almost 9000’. There’s a scenic overlook near the crest with some very long range views:


If you expand that picture you see the Springerville-Eagar metropolis. There’s a big white bubble there in Springerville, which is actually a “domed stadium”. I’m told the Round Valley High school plays football there.


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When I first came to this area about this time of year 2 years ago I was taken aback by the miles of rolling golden meadows with the occasional round upthrusts. In fact the area is called the Round Valley. I surmised at the time that the meadows would green up in the summer, and they do a little bit, but not all that much. Come to find out this is an area called a volcanic field, a recognized geologic occurrence. The exhibit at the scenic lookout gives some useful info, more at:

The trail is essentially flat and starts off in a meadow and then moves into a moderately dense stand of pines. This view looking west from the trailhead gives a sense of the meadow. In the background is Mount Baldy:

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Mount Baldy is the highest point in the White Mountains, fifth highest in Arizona. There’s a ski resort over that way called Sunrise Resort, owned by the Apache Indian Tribe. Looks like some good hiking trails over around Mount Baldy: hope to get to them in due course.


Like many mountain areas around here you can see the scarring effects of the big fire in the region in 2011. This trail was no exception, as you could see in the foreground of the photo of Springerville-Eagar above.

As such the trails are usually compromised in some way, often looking like an obstacle course:

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And even the oddly misplaced implement of medieval torture:


I passed what may have been a lake in another life, though rather paltry now. It has many of the indicia of a lake, but with all the snow we had this year I’d guess this is about the most lake-like as it gets. Pending proof of a prior claim I christened it “Barely Lake”. Enlarge the photo and you can see Escudilla Mountain in the background.

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It ended up being about a 3-mile hike, I reckon. Not too strenuous, which was good as I’m getting over a month-long bout of cough/congestion crud.

The road that took me up to the trail continues on, though it was closed when I was there a month ago, so I checked out where it went. As it turned out it runs into another road that I take as the “back way” going to Show Low, which is really my favorite drive in the area, going past a couple of lakes (using the term loosely) and through a real alpine meadow bit of scenery. On a day like this it’s just totally fabulous.

Salt River Canyon

When driving between Phoenix and Alpine there are 2 available routes, equally delightful and each stunning in its own way. When I leave I check Google maps to see if there is any significant time differential: usually they are within 5 minutes, one way or the other. I’ve previously written about the trip from Phoenix to Alpine through Payson, AZ, and even some about the route through Globe, (; but the trip through Globe has recently become my favorite because it passes through the majestic Salt River Canyon at about the halfway point of the trip.





This picture is from the north side, descending into the canyon. Sufficient evidence for the claim of “majestic”?


This view is at about 4250’ elevation, maybe 800 to 1000’ above the river. Across the way you can see the road at about the same elevation. Guessing it’s maybe ½ mile away as the crow flies, but about 5.5 miles by the road. During those 5.5 miles the road (US Hwy 60) twists and turns down to the river  and then winds its way back up the wall on the other side of the canyon.





At the river crossing there’s a rest area with info about the local Apache tribes.



This is looking up river from the bridge. This time of year those yellow flowers on the north wall add a lovely touch of color. Texas friends will be interested to know there are also bluebonnets here in Arizona. I saw a lot of them beside the road coming down into the canyon, but then on the south side nary a one for almost 25 miles. Passing strange…


This is from the south side looking north across the river. I took this figuring some rockhound may find the geologic structure interesting or instructive. Personally, I know bupkis about that kind of stuff




These 2 were taken from the south side, the second one as the river flows down toward Phoenix. Surely there’s another treasure trove of geologic information in that wall across the way, the secrets yielded up to those who know the lingo.


Across the canyon you can barely see a mine entrance, the telltale tailings cascading down toward the river.



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Globe and its neighboring town Miami are mining towns. The scarring of the landscape is jarring, but the huge scope of the enterprise is impressive. Copper is the main attraction.,_Arizona,_Arizona.

A Hike in the High Country. No Joke!

Winter seems on the run in the White Mountains, so this old bear decided it was time to leave the den and forage for some exercise and sunshine. Still a bit of snow on the north face of the peaks, but otherwise spring has sprung.

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About 4 miles east of Alpine is Luna Lake. They seem to have their fair share of lakes in the region, but mainly of the fairly puny variety. Heck, we got stock tanks in Texas bigger’n most of ’em. But not to be obnoxious: always grateful for whatever Mother Nature provides.

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So there are a couple of trails just north of Luna Lake: a short loop and a long loop. They are designated as bike trails, but I’m a biped so that qualifies, right? The first third of the trail had downed timber along the left side. I suppose they mark the trail that way, but most of it looked freshly cut. Guess I should have brought a cart and packed out some firewood.

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Passed a small pond that I thought was maybe overflow from Luna Lake, but Luna Lake is behind me when this photo was taken, by several hundred yards. Plus there’s a dam on the other side of Luna Lake that can be used to drain the lake. Then I saw a small stream feeding this pond, so that seemed the better explanation.


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The trail went right through the stream, so time to explore an option to keep the feet dry. I found an easy place to cross as my mind hearkened back to playing Jump the Brook in second grade recess. Yep, lotsa good came outta second grade.

The back side of the loop trail didn’t have the timber “guardrail”, more like an old forest road I reckon. But along here I saw several hundred yards away a herd of 20 or 30 elk running down the trail. Someone must have rang the dinner bell because they were haulin’ it. Or maybe it was happy hour at Luna Lake. I saw them again a little further down the trail, frolicking in an open area.

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Yep, them elk: they’s a frolicsome bunch. You can just barely see one in the background of the above picture.

Just as the hike was ending it was another case of no bridge over troubled water.


You can see my truck in the background. Second grade skills to the rescue again.



Then again, nothing quite as soothing as a brook, swollen by Spring, bubbling and gurgling down the mountainside.

All in all a nice little hike, although I do enjoy it when there’s more wildlife around. Other than the elk spotting, not much wildlife to be seen, except for the odd waterfowl here and there.


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Apparently there are some eagle nests in the Luna Lake area, but no sighting today.

Though you can’t see it from Alpine, we are about 6 miles away Escudilla Mountain, the third highest peak in Arizona at almost 11,000′. The trail I was on was at about 8500′, so you can see how the spring runoff could effect the area.

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Here’s Escudilla coming from the other direction, where you can see it from as far away as 100 miles, but quite clearly from 30 miles.



Southern Utah

Heber City, UT to Alpine, AZ is more than a one day drive when hauling The Beast, so I broke up that leg of the journey by stopping, for no other reason, in Blanding, UT. And, a bit out of the norm, I decided to stop for 2 nights. Good call.

Blanding is in southeast Utah, not far from the Four Corners state line convergence. It’s mostly desert and red rocks, but there is a snow capped mountain not too far away.


First stop today was at Goosenecks State Park. Spectacular views of the canyon cut by the San Juan River:


As noted on the plaque, the top of the canyon is 1000 feet above the river. So my question is: which of these rocks will be next to fall into the abyss below? And when? 100 years? A thousand?IMG_5245

When you get down to the level of the river, it’s a big ole muddy thang.


Next up was Monument Valley, which I thought was a National Park, but no. It is part of the Navajo Reservation, so it does have federal protection. The scenery is just amazing.


South of Blanding is a little town called Bluff, very aptly named. It’s down in a canyon with bluffs rising up from the road.


I especially got a kick out of their “welcome to Bluff” sign, which indicated it was established in 650 AD.

There’s another formation in the area called Mexican Hat, for obvious reasons.


I don’t know what claim to fame Blanding may make, but ya gotta love a town that has a combination gas station/convenience store/A&W Root Beer stand (with drive-thru)/bowling alley.


And the bowling alley is legit. Six lanes or so, nice looking. Is this a great country or what?



Montana checked off the list: my 49th state. Stayed for a few days in Billings. Lots of prairie ‘tween Dickinson, ND and Billings, lots of cows. One thing that has puzzled me on my travels over the past year and that is the apparent lack of land usage for agricultural purposes. Out west it makes some sense because so much of the land is owned by the government, but even so, it’s been noticeable and puzzling, as I say. Found a cool trail to hike at a place called Phipps Park. The main geologic feature of the area is a series of rimrock ridges left by the sea that was here millions of years ago and as further cut by the Yellowstone River. The trail at Phipps Park takes you up on one of these ridges.


It’s about 300′ up to the ridge, so in my case there was plenty of huffin’ and puffin’, but once on the top there were some spectacular views.

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There were a lot of little side trails, as can be seen in the photo just above, making for an interesting place to explore. The other neat thing: there was a disc golf course that ran all up and down the ridge.



Blisters, though. My boots failed me with blisters on both heels.

The Rig has 2 propane tanks, each holds 10 gals of propane. When hooked up to electricity most things run on electric, except the oven/stove. But when boondocking with no electric then the propane or battery power takes the lead: refrigerator, heater, the LED lights, vent fans. Some things don’t work without shore power: microwave, A/C, the AC outlets. Bottom line: I don’t use a lot of propane. So far while traveling I’ve had to refill one tank a month. But in Billings I ran out of propane in both tanks. Fortunately I was in a place where it was no problem getting them filled. Seemed odd, though.

Spent the weekend driving from Billings to Heber City, UT, which is near the ski areas just outside of Salt Lake City. The drive from Billings took me west to Bozeman then south, along the west side of Yellowstone Park. The scenery on this part of the drive was fabulous. Most of Yellowstone Park doesn’t open until May 1st, so it’s still a bit early in the season, a good bit of snow still on the ground.IMG_5161 (2)IMG_5162 (2)IMG_5167 (2)

The scenery from Billings to Bozeman was less rocky than that seen back to the east: rolling hills with lots of greenery and some heavily-forested patches. Some rock outcroppings, but not a lot.

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Salt Lake City is underrated as a mountain destination, I think. Of course it’s located on the Great Salt Lake, which is an interesting geologic feature, but not particularly scenic, but SLC is also surrounded by mountains. Here’s a shot driving through downtown on I-15.

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Hard to beat the view from my RV site:

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Heber City is about 45 minutes southeast of downtown SLC. It’s not itself a ski town, but just a few miles away from Park City and Deer Valley (think 2002 Olympics), which are world-class ski areas. Heber is in a valley with a couple of beautiful lakes within a few miles. So, all in all, a good location. Time to check on some hiking trails…

Badlands, Jr.

Here in western North Dakota is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is where TR came to escape his grief upon the death of his mother and his wife in the same house on the same day. He ultimately ran a cattle ranch out here.


As a rancher, old Teddy didn’t put up with no crap.


They call this area the Badlands also, but it’s not as bad as the South Dakota Badlands. For one thing, there’s a decent river that runs through this park, ergo much more in the way of trees and greenery. Plus, the wildlife here seems more abundant.



Those wascally prairie dogs: you can’t stop ’em, you can only hope to contain ’em. And, the buffalo were definitely roaming today:

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Even though these might better be referred to as the lower case b-adlands, the scenery is still pretty darn stunning.


Saturday I drove over to see some truly iconic scenery


Looks like they had some snow the night before, although the altitude there is only about 5000′.

Whilst in the area I couldn’t pass up the Crazy Horse Monument.


This sucker is gonna be WAY bigger than Mt. Rushmore. But they still have his arm, hair, body and the horse yet to do. Since it’s taken them 70 years to get this far we may be looking at next century before completion.

Badlands, baby

Hanging out now at an RV park right on the doorstep of Badlands National Park, which is an unusual place. The default geography around here is grass prairie, but every now and then you see upthrusts or canyons of exposed “rock”. The rock erodes easily (really, it seems more like mud waiting to happen), they say at the rate of an inch a year. So, in 10,000 years, kaput! It does make for some very interesting sites, though. I took a ton of pictures. Here they come.


It seems this area was under water 75 million years ago. And then after the land thrust up it was quite tropical. As a result they have a rich fossil record in the area.

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In several places they have clusters of junipers, as can be seen in the picture above. Kind of odd when they are on the side of the hill like that. Otherwise, not much in the way of trees, other than along a waterway. They get about 16 inches of rain a year.





I bet it would be especially interesting to view the area after a heavy rain.

This area of the country housed a bunch of missile silos during the Cold War, so of course they have found a way to memorialize that glorious chapter of our history.


Some of these historic sites have some odd things. This struck me as odd:


But mostly it made me yearn for the good old days when women knew how to wear hats and you could count on a mushroom cloud cake always nearby:


And here’s another thing I realized today walking through a gift shop. It’s official. We have too much wine.

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