Saturday July 26, 2014
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Medora, North Dakota
First let me say that the folks at Red Trail RV Park in Medora are great. They run a nice campground and if you need W/E or FHU, I would not hesitate at all to recommend them. It is a family business for 35 years, an older campground but well kept. It has laundry, showers, Wifi that actually works well in every site and cable if you want it. David says it has one of the most well set up dump stations he has seen. They even ENCOURAGE you to wash your car or your rig. AMAZING!
Also amazing is that they came out, looked at the LP flame problem and in an hour cleaned the solenoid, put it back and showed David how to replace it down the road if need be. This caused it to work more effectively and produce a proper strong blue flame. We hope this is the reason for the poor performance we had experienced in the National Park. For the work done, we were charged 1 hour labor, $65.
This was what we did on Friday. The fridge was down to 30 degrees Friday morning after being on shore power at the campsite over night. So we hope that means no problem with the refrigerator itself.
If you are in Medora and need a campground with hook ups or an RV Technician head over to Red Trail. Tell them Sherry and David with the refrigerator problem sent you. Only time will tell if this is the fix we need. Right now, the flame looks great.
Since Friday was going to be lost to getting the LP fixed and some other things David wanted to do. He told me to go on the Petrified Forest Ranger Hike at 8am since he couldn’t leave until they came to work on the solenoid. So I did and it was a another great hike. So good that I am going to take David there on Sunday so I’ll combine the pictures in that post.
On Saturday we return to Cottonwood to pick up where we left off.
We’ll know for sure if the fridge problems is fixed after running the Refrigerator on LP all night tonight but for now it looks promising.
So back to having fun. We got up early, packed up and and headed back over to our site at Cottonwood Campground in the park. We were parked and leveled by 7:45am We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out to finish FINALLY the loop drive that we started 5 days ago.
The high temperature today was 78, simply fabulous, but the winds were way up as you will see from some of these pictures.
We’d done nearly the first half of the drive earlier in the week so we drove through that area not stopping at any of the things we’d already done. Our first stop was at a pullout from which you could see in the far distance the old East Entrance Station built by the CCC in the 30’s. I’m not sure when they stopped using it but there sure is no sign of a road anywhere around.
Most people on the drive just stop and look over there or use binoculars but we decided to hike over. About a half mile.
On the way we see evidence of wild horses, lots of evidence in pretty large piles. I was wondering whether it was a community restroom. But no horses. Darn.
The hike took us right through a Prairie Dog town, a huge flat area of land with lots of little mounds in every direction. As we approached they were issuing warnings all along our trail. It was like a relay set up.
The closest guy was chipping, and chirping with his head just out of his hole enough to whistle. As soon as we got too close, he ducked down in the hole and the next one down the line took up the warning. It was too cute but I felt badly that we’d made them so worried. You don’t think Prairie Dogs die of stress do you?
Not sure if you can see his little mouth open. He’s whistling the warning.
Unfortunately for the Prairie Dogs’ stress level, there was some bird activity going on in their town. The magpies were playing and we stopped to watch and take pictures. I know some folks from the west consider them pests but apparently in North Dakota they are decreasing in numbers so we were happy to see them here. Since we don’t have them in the east, they were a real treat for us. I think they are beautiful and love their long tails.
We did make it to the Old East Entrance and tried to figure out how it was used. We think the cars must have driven in between what was probably the sign on the right and the station door on the left. The station was built by the CCC and the stone work is excellent. The large rail fence is also still in excellent shape although it appears no upkeep has been done on either one.
Golden Aster? Cutleaf Ironplant? Can someone help me with this identification? The splits in the end of the petals are what’s tripping me up.
This turns out to be one of the best of the hikes we take today in terms of the wildlife. Of course it is also the earliest one. So far Prairie Dogs and Magpies. Then we see something we have never seen before.
There are about 6 bluebirds. It is a windy day and they are flying into the wind and hovering over the ground before alighting. Because they are moving so fast the pictures are not as clear as they might be. They don’t stay long on the ground.
I later discover that the Mountain Bluebird is well known for its hovering flight as it searches for insects. We see both the male and female. What fun!
And then I look up and wild horses are trotting across the ridge line. There are 3 in all but I’m only fast enough to catch the last one. They look fantastic up there. Guess we know who’s been leaving those piles we saw on the way in.
On our way back to Ruby we walk along the foot of the stone formations. They are just beautiful and I love the bluish gray betonite. We are looking for two holes we saw on our way in and decided to check out on our way back. Good thing our search got interrupted since later in the day we learned that black widow spiders like to make their homes in the holes in these hills.
So what interrupted us? Well I was walking along the edge of the formation on the right in the picture below.
I turned the corner and saw two brown bushes on the ground and then I looked more closely and one of them was a resting bison. As you can imagine, being that close, I stopped dead in my tracks and started walking backwards as he got to his feet. This is what I then saw.
I was standing where the little green plant is coming out of the side of the stone in the picture below. The buffalo was lying down out of sight exactly where you see him which put him behind the skirt of the stone from me.
David was following me and we both backed away far enough to take the first picture. The bison is the dark brown at the end of the formation on the right. Now that you know he’s there you can probably see him. Go back and look.
The bison was a very big fellow but very nice about it all and seemed rather bored with us. I hope he got to go back to his nap.
I was thrilled to see him and not really afraid just surprised. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting when I went around the corner. But I knew I needed to appear non threatening so backwards I went.
We head on down the road less than a mile and find a group creating a bison jam on the road. We are the first car they stop on this end. There is one other car on the other end.
Of course we take a million pictures as these huge bison walk down the road and come on either side of the car. They own the road and they seem to know it. They just ample on. I read the other day that they walk and graze all day long and cover 5 miles an hour. That seems pretty fast to me.
You can see that these pictures are taken right out of the front and side windows of the car. If the bison are in front of me, I can open the door and stand behind it watching to see if I am irritating them. But today they were walking along the sides of the car and at one point these two did what I assume was some head butting play. I was really hoping they were not considering having Ruby play too. The black line at the bottom is my window rolled only party down.
Lots of calves were part of the group.
David had his share on his side as well. They were big and close. Today must be bison day for us.
For a while a young one just stood in the middle of the road and did nothing. Everyone else walked on but he stood. Finally he heard the big boss coming bringing up the rear and he gave way. Two huge bison walk right down the middle of the road toward us. The head man is in the back bellowing as he comes and as he goes by. Can you see his mouth open in the second picture? What a great time we are having and it’s only 10:00.
Another mile down the road we turn onto the 8/10th mile spur to the trail head for the Coal vein trail. This trail goes through the area where a coal seam burned from 1951 to 1977. That’s a fire that burned for 26 years!
The hike is also 8/10th of a mile and really lovely. Learning from the first self guided hike on the rim that we took last week that there might not be any Guides at the trail head, I picked one up at the Visitor Center Yesterday.
This area has formations with black bands of lignite coal running through them. Burning coal seams are a natural process in the badlands. Lightning, range fires and spontaneous combustion are the usual causes.
The heat from these fires bakes the overlying rocks, reddening them and making them harder. Prominent throughout the badlands are layers of this brick-red rock called clinker. And if you pick up pieces of it and sift them back and forth through your hands or drop them on the ground against each other they definitely make a sound like a CLINK.
You can see the seam of coal in the picture below running horizontally just above the tops of the ground junipers. A closer picture follows.
We took another ton of pictures on this wonderful hike. It took us to beautiful vistas, one with a great gnarled Juniper tree, down steps through hillside juniper shade to low lying coulees and beside giant pieces of clinker created by the burning seam. All this and all along our guide explained what we were seeing at each numbered post.
And to top it all off, all along I kept seeing all these little brown birds that I assumed must be the same sparrows we were seeing along with the bluebirds in Prairie Town.
I said to David, I really want to see a western wren. I just love little wrens, they are so cute. I didn’t any more than have the words out of my mouth than up flew a rock wren as though she’d been sent.
She’s standing on and in front of the betonite that I think looks like elephant skin. It was not formed by fire but from volcano ash drifting east from the volcanoes spawned by the emerging Rocky Mountains over 55 million years ago. Time, heat and the pressure of burial under additional sediments transformed the ash into clay. Our information says it is found in candy bars, milkshakes and toothpaste. REALLY??
The skies were brilliant blue, the clouds puffy white and the winds getting stronger and stronger as we headed up to the highest point in the park, Buck Hill, at 2855 feet.
A 100 yard foot trail leads to the top of the hill. And today it was a fight with the wind to get up there and stay. I’m estimating that the winds up there were between 30 and 35 mph.
I had on my hiking hat which has a chin strap and the wind ripped it off my head anyway. You can see me holding on to it in the pictures below taken at the top of Buck Hill. Even my outer shirt which is not buttoned had its tails whipped around my binoculars.
So how is David keeping that ball cap on his head in the picture of us? I haven’t the faintest idea. But he grabbed it for the picture I took of him. The 365 degree views were spectacular although it was hard to keep my hair out of my face so I could see them.
David says “turn around” as I’m on my way back to the path down.
Are you kidding, I’m got all I can do just to keep upright.
On the drive to our last stop, the Boicourt Overlook, we see this group framed against the sky. What a beautiful sight.
I’m laughing as we get out for our last hike to an overlook on the day with the strongest winds since we’ve been here. But Prairies are known for winds right. I must say, the winds sure do keep the skies clear. This trail leads up to a long skinny spit of land high up in the air. Hope we don’t get blown off.
The wind’s not so bad here.
Up here is a different story.
But the views are superb!!
Look at the green table there in the bottom
Isn’t that just a wonder! Nature is so incredible.
While David is wandering around taking the following close up pictures of the fantastic formations, I sit on the downside of the slope and am amazed to find,at my fingertips, the grass I’ve been looking for all day. It’s called porcupine grass but it is really green needlegrass. When he returns and I show it to him, David gets a great picture of it. Have you ever seen anything like this. The seed heads have an attached “needle” which is sharply bent twice in the middle. That needle point is sharp all right.
We are heading back to the campground when I look over on the other side of the road and see the same wild horse that I saw from such a distance when we were hiking Windy Canyon on a day when there was no wind. So here are some much better pictures of him than those you saw in that post.
As you can see, we had a great day doing the last part of the drive.
There just aren’t words or even pictures that will describe the stunning beauty of this landscape.
When we returned, the refrigerator had been on LP for a total of 8 hours and the temperature is 37. David says he thinks it’s fixed. I say it gained 7 degrees in 8 hours and if it continues to do that over night it will be 50 degrees inside, and that is not fixed despite the fact that the flame looks perfect. Is this Mr. Optimist and Ms. Pessimist or Mr. Wishful thinking and Ms. Realistic? More reports tomorrow.
Thank you all so much for all your suggestions and information. If what we’ve done isn’t the fix, we will be checking into all the things you have recommended that we haven’t already done.