Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

What happened? We’re Still Not Sure

Saturday July 26, 2014
Cottonwood Campground
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.




Left side


Right side



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.


  1. Keeping my fingers crossed....Hope it holds through the night!

  2. What a great time you are having! Glad none of the buffalo felt like rubbing their horns on the car;)

  3. I remember being stopped by bison walking past on both sides of my car. The feeling is indescribable and intensely beautiful. I loved the pictures of the horses. I woke up in the campground one morning to find 3 wild horses calmly grazing right across the road from my tent. You don't get those kinds of experiences in most campgrounds.

  4. I hope the fridge IS fixed, the hike and horses are beautiful, unfortunately, whereas I used to like magpies, I have developed an extreme dislike for them after having them nest right outside our coach and having the loudest most obnoxious babies that cry from dawn to dusk all day. Oy! :-)

  5. A fridge should be about 40 degrees. I agree with David.

    That is a fantastic park! Thanks for the great pictures and explanations. I love the way Magpies fly, real acrobats.

  6. If you have a much better flame, as you thought, then I too side with David....after all, us "Dave's" need to stick together. Two years ago we had the same encounter, in car, with Buffalo while visiting Yellowstone. Only difference, we had two sleeping dogs in the car, one of which (Skruffy) awoke and started barking at the Buffalo just a few feet from the window. Only time I ever gave her a little swat to get her to shut up....it worked, thank goodness....that Buffalo could done much damage to our little HHR. (I still feel bad for the swat....)

  7. Howdy, I just started checking the blogs I read so I'm not sure if anyone mentioned this about Norcolds...Did you have ice build-up on your fins? Norcold is programmed to defrost periodically....I think that was the cause of my issue...I also smelled a bad odor and thought it was a goner..Still working swell, keeps the ice cream cold.
    Have fun!

  8. Sherry, we are crossing our fingers for you that the fridge is fixed. I didn't even know that you were having a problem until I read your post late yesterday. We are staying in Red Trail CG. I looked for you guys this morning, but I guess you were gone already.
    Looks like you had a great hiking day. We took the hike to the Petrified Forest on Friday and thought it was great. We'll be moving on toward Glacier NP on Monday, so perhaps we'll have to meet up down the road sometimes. Good luck with the fridge again!

  9. Wonderful wonderful day. Fingers crossed on the fridge. A ten year old fridge is really about the limits for an RV fridge we've read. Hope you get lucky and get a couple more years on it!

  10. I love the bison photos. Hope the fridge is working but remember not to keep opening it to look at that temp.

  11. I'm inclined to believe bison travel 5 miles a day, not per hour. They'd be too busy moving fast to clog up the roads at 5mph :)
    Hope optimistic David is right on the fridge. I'm sure the verdict is in by now. Fingers crossed for you.

  12. Love the bison! Funny how it's so easy to walk up on them. I hope your fridge is good!!!

  13. Hoping you got up this morning to perfectly cold insides. Loved your hike, and pictures, especially of the wild horses!

  14. Coming upon that hidden "Tatonka" would have been a heart stopper for me. What a surprise!

  15. Looks like your day on Saturday made up for all the problems you had during the week with the fridge.

    The area looks beautiful and how lucky you were with all the wildlife. Love the picture of the prairie dog, the bison (all of them) and the wild horses. We get the magpies here too and I love seeing them.


  16. This day seems to have made up for the rotten days before it! Gorgeous photos and commentary about an incredibly beautiful place.

    Fingers crossed that you've really got it fixed...

  17. Sherry, I hope you are backing up at least your narrative of all these posts. They will serve to stimulate your memories for many years to come. Each picture will bring you right back to where you were when you experienced the feeling the first time.

    Virtual hugs,


  18. I think I could live in that old entrance station. Beauty!

    Nice shots all around, glad you had such a great day and good temps.

  19. This was one day? Amazing. Prairie dogs are very resilient - I, however, would have likely had a heart attack coming upon that huge bull bison!! He's incredible, and majestic, and thankfully very zen :-). Wild horses make me happy - that herd is beautiful, as is the lone paint.
    I keep thinking how different the frig drama would be if you were on vacation - having to deal with that instead of seeing the beauty of the area, then just going "home" - rather than having to deal with it but still being able to see this amazing place because you're already home. Sorry you're doing all the work, but I do appreciate the reminder :-).

  20. I love when trails have good guides to explain what we see. What a great hike, well except for the bison surprise. And seeing those beautiful wild horses is Awesome. Bummer about the wind, but it is the plains. Hoping the fridge problem is solved.

  21. Hopefully the fridge problem is resolved. Sounds like you got a good deal on that. We'll take a bison jam over a traffic jam any day. Hopefully the old entrance station will be preserved!!! The CCC did such great work. So many beautiful pictures of great things to see... we've been wanting to go to ND, and now we want to go even more!

  22. The pictures are amazing. That area really shows the wonder of nature. Thanks for taking us on your hike. Hope the fridg is fixed.

  23. I'm not going to take sides in the fridge temp discussion, I'm hoping for the best. The course of corrective action the tech took makes sense to me, but I'll never go against a woman's intuition... ;c)

    Glad you didn't blow off that ledge with all the wind! We would have missed those wonderful pictures of the wild horses. What a great day, thanks for sharing it!

  24. Yay, back to having fun! What an amazing wildlife day you had, from rock wrens to wild horses! Such a gorgeous landscape, wind and all.

  25. Donna and I really enjoy your blog. The photos are great and it is a good record of your experiences. Thanks

  26. Some great horse shots, and as usual what a fun looking day despite all the problems you've had "at home". Life's little bumps in the road are what make those days so precious. I'd like to say I'll be on the next plane to join you out there, but unfortunately I still have to work and Wayne might miss me!

  27. I was looking forward to getting back to blogland to read how you were doing at TRNP! Gorgeous. Talked to Daughter Deanna tonight and she said the Dakotas are greener than she has ever seen them this time of year and everything out west is brown and dry from drought. You picked a good year for North Dakota. Those blue skies and all that green are lovely, and the wind makes it even more gorgeous. Hope all is well with the fridge. Now to backtrack and read some more.

  28. How fabulous! The people who just look from the car missed out! The horses are beautiful, the prairie dogs cute, the bison magestic, the birds unique, the wind strong and the views impressive; I'd say that was a fantastic day :)

  29. the wild horses are my favorite. . .love it!

  30. What a wonderful day, always have loved the wild horses.

  31. I've just loved your tour of ND....who wold have known! You just know until you check it out....what beautiful animals wild horses are! I love them way more than most anything!

  32. Hang in there, that frig is going to straighten out and be cool form ow on. Soooo looking forward to getting to N.D.

  33. Good news on the fridge and great photos of a neat area.


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