Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Badlands and Storm Warnings

8/11/2014 an i90 rest stop near Wall, South Dakota

Getting a jump on this entry even though I haven’t gone far since the last one. Drove down to Hot Springs then across to 79 and up. There was some nice mottling happening to the landscape as the sun set, and the moon rose fat and red into the dark blue horizon. At first I wasn’t even sure if it was the moon, due to not watching it rise so suddenly ever before as far as I remember.

Had a nice conversation with Mom and Dad and sorted out the final details of this trip. It’s just going to be National Parks and driving from here out, with a stop in Portland to see the old familiars. Three weeks to go, which gives 11 days to get to Santa Cruz to retrieve my stuff from storage.

8/12/2014 an i90 rest stop not at all near Wall, South Dakota but also very far from Sioux Falls

I had a very fun an enjoyable day at Badlands National Park! I arrived and the campground had a sign that said full, and I was bummed to not be able to stay, but camping was also more expensive than I anticipated so I wasn’t too bummed. Later on the sign indicating fullness was removed (I guess once people had checked out) but my mind had already recalibrated to enjoying the most out of the day I had and continuing on in the evening, so that I didn’t feel like occupying a site. I got my stamps at the visitor’s center, as well as postcards. I watched the video talking about wind and erosion. Badlands is eroding at an inch a year, and it is an oddity in terms of National Parks because it allows visitors to roam wherever they want, over rocks and through grass. There are lots of great areas where you can hike up and around the formations. There are also apparently tons of fossils to be found. I didn’t find any.

The scenic overlooks provide many different points of view of the park, instead of the same view just slightly down one way. There was a surprising amount of green stretching through the park, among the pale rocks. I saw big horn sheep…or were they prong horns? Or deer? Something on my evening drive through the park. I saw the fossil talk, and then hiked the Door hike, which was a stretch of boardwalk and then you make your own path from marker to marker across the rocks. 9 markers in total. The Window hike was just a boardwalk to a nice vista and I talked to Max and Lauren (Laura?) who were very seasoned travelers, and they had their lovely 15 month old daughter Razlin (pronounced raz-lynn, not sure how it is spelled) with them. She walked the walk on her own. They are headed to the same parks I am headed to, so maybe I’ll see them again! Notch was awesome. All three trail heads came from the same parking lot. I devotedly brought and drank water on all of these hikes. Notch goes through the canyons and then up a huge semi-difficult ladder (though younger kids managed it) ontop of the formations, and then along the cliff side to a wonderful vista. I sat there in the shadow, holding onto my bookmark against the breeze, and read for a while. My legs seem to have gotten a good amount of sun today, and I’m trying to remember if my arm hairs have always been blonde or if they have been bleached by the sun. My face is slightly pink in places, but not burned. I have too good of a base tan going on right now to burn, unless I really worked at it.

The visitor’s center’s water fountain has a part built into it for refilling water bottles (more flow than the sipping part of the fountain) and it has a “how many plastic bottles have been saved from you refilling here” counter. This was also present at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I kept my bottles filled. Hydration is important! There were many people on the trails that lacked apparent water bottles. I get that they are heavy to lug around, but they are very important things to have! I did one final scenic drive and got pictures of the sunset from Bigfoot Picnic Viewpoint Area Place, where I ate lunch earlier in the day (a lunch of Subway I bought when leaving Wall, viva the 5 dollar footlong!) and worked on my postcards. Gorgeous sunset.

I caught the ranger program, which was general knowledge of the plants and animals. The highlight was the star tour! A different ranger had a high powered flashlight and was able to point out different constellations, which were very visibly in the post-sunset pre-moonrise sky. Gorgeous starry sky, especially with the dark outlines of the rock formations. There was a telescope set to Saturn, so I got to see the rings through that! Also I saw the International Space Station whizz by. I overheard a mom telling her kid to go look at Saturn and the kid whined “but I’m not into planets”. She threatened to revoke technology from him for the next day, so he in a huff went to go look through the telescope and see Saturn and her rings. Overheard at National Parks would be a good book/blog/twitter.

Hiking, lunch, water, OH! Wall Drug! I started the day by going to Wall Drug. I picked up the (actually free) bumpersticker for Carmen to replace one that was lost. I also got a few postcards and souvenirs from the clearance section. A mug and a little something something. I like postcards. I like mailing them to people and thinking who to send what design to. I have a stack to drop in a mailbox, which I will probably do in Nebraska. Wall Drug is a little compound of stores, which combines tourist shlock and local craft and some higher end stuff. A nice little oasis of things on an otherwise pretty unremarkable highway.

So now I’m on to Nebraska! I really need a shower. Maybe I’ll call campgrounds in Nebraska and the first one to say they have shower facilities is getting my patronage.

8/13/2014 Chadron State Park, Nebraska

This park is DECKED OUT! It has a pool, which costs extra, showers, a crafts center, cabins. Tons of stuff. It’s like a mini resort in Nebraska. There is a thunderstorm warning, and it is supposed to start pouring around 6. I didn’t take the stuff out of my tent, just piled it in the center as usually when it rains it is the seeping of the sides that fills the tent around the edges, so stuff in the middle is fineish. I just really hope it doesn’t rain. I think the thing that aggravates me the most on this trip is being rained out of a camping spot. But for the time being, I’m glad to not be driving and I’m happy to being full showered. My feet get it the worst from not bathing, .then my hair gets gross. The rest is easy enough to tidy up.

So I woke up at my rest stop and drove east on 90, filled up my tank where I turned south on 85 and in retrospect it probably would have been quicker to go to the park and backtrack south to Carhenge, instead of going allllll the way south to 2 and then over on 2 to Alliance. It was a pretty big down and over…but I did get to see a lot of Nebraska. The rolling hills, the road construction, the fields and fields, the road construction…it was blue skies and hot.

Now it is gray skies and still hot. I got to Chadron State Park, got my tent site, which was primitive, which just means no electricity and there were not clear lines of which tent site was wear. I dig a park that has cheaper tent camping. I showered half way (no shampoo) and went to find out the pool cost extra, so I showered all the way (yes shampoo) and now I’m at the “Trading Post”. I may quickly go back to my site and remove all my camping gear from inside my tent, and come back here.

Stay tuned!

Monday, August 11, 2014

take me back to Teddy

8/10/2014 a rest stop on i90 between Sturgis and that place that is east of Sturgis
I got my second Junior Ranger badge, and third total at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Honestly that park is going to be one of my topsies, it is really pretty! It is flatter than the Utah parks, but it has some nice buttes and the grasslands just do that iconic thing of being pretty and wafting in the wind. The sunsets are nice because the buttes catch the light in just such a way. The skies could twinkle a little more; they don’t have the clarity that was present in the Adirondacks or by Big Sur on the ocean. Those have been the top skies thus far. I spent two wonderful nights at TRNP, and considered staying a third but decided the road must go on.

Currently I am going to car sleep nearish Mt Rushmore, so I can knock it off in the morning and then go to Wind Cave NP. It doesn’t look like there is camping in the park, so I’ll probably head East after that towards Badlands, depending on timing. I’m right now in a sort of cluster of things to do. I wish I could sleep at this rest stop but it seems to be one of the “no sleepy overs” ones, but I’m sure there is a Walmart nearby. I’m near a big enough city. I’m just going to sit at this rest stop a while, do some computer things and charge the devices and load up the MP3 player. I get three hours here, I’m going to use them! Plus driving while the sun is setting is no fun at all.

So, Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There is a North Unit and a South Unit. North Unit is 52 miles North on 85 from iwhateverIwason. I drove up there on my second day, which was a nice little drive, and did the drive. A ranger had a telescope set up and he showed the visitors the deer through it, so that was cool to see. There was lightning in the distance and a thunderstorm/scattered showers warning, but wonderfully it only barely rained for 5 minutes in the evening! Still on the second day I had unloaded everything from my tent just in case it rained while I was gone. I’ve learned me a thing or two! The North Unit was a bit, well, absent. Not much going on, but it is a pretty isolated park. But it didn’t have the road construction that was going on at South Unit. Dirt washboard as dad put it. I went slow, to the annoyance of other drivers, and my car is riding fine. Doesn’t seem mad at me, though it does seem like it wants a wash. I got in early (sorry this write up is happening after the fact so it is rather disjointed) on the first day, so I got almost three whole days at the park, plus a bit of a fourth as I was leaving. I got my site first, it was in the walk in tent section, but my spot just had about 15 feet from where my car was parked to my tent area. I opted for walk in not because of availability, but just because I have a smaller car and less stuff, so I figured I’d leave a place for someone with more stuff. Got the tent up and I went to do the scenic loop around the park.

I had my fingers crossed that I would be able to see a Prairie Dog, but dang did I see many more than one! The loop went through several towns, and they were all over the place making little meep meep meep squeaky noises. Cute little creatures, though at the second ranger talk I attended I found out they cannibalize each other’s young! Aggh! Grotesque! I still bought a plushie, to go with the bison from my 2011 Utah trip and the turtle from 2013 Hawaii. I’ve been waiting to see which plushie I get on this trip and it was a prairie dog! Speaking of bison, the first time I got held up in traffic, there was one walking in the lane towards me, with a line of cars being it. I slowed to a stop till it passed me, and continued on. Closest I’ve ever been to one! It gave me some side eye, but I think every eye a bison gives is from the side. The second time a herd was crossing the road. The first night, there was some heavy huffing in the fields by the campground, and me and my campsite neighbors (Jeff, Michael, Bennet, and amazingly: Aunt Lisa and Niece Brynn, for realsies) shown our flashlights out and there were bison in the fields! Pretty far away, but they sure were there! On the last day, I took a little hike but didn’t feel like continuing the hike due to having to wade across the Little Missouri River, but it’s all good because there was a herd of bison across the river just chilling. So many bison! And I saw several wild horses. One walked in the middle of the road, seemingly oblivious to the cars it was holding up. The animals out here both don’t care about humans, but also don’t get close to them. It’s a good combo for wanting to see animals, but not wanting to be threatened by them.

I slept in the first morning, but woke pretty early the second. I changed and then lay in my tent reading for a few hours, before finally packing things up. I’m currently reading The Marriage Plot, and I am loving it! I’m already well past half way, and looking forward to what happens in the end. I’m not sure what I want to happen, I just want to spend more time with the characters.

I got the Junior Ranger pamphlet from the ranger at the Painted Canyon visitor’s center. Her last name was Zylland, and when I commented on never hearing that last name before she said that she and her husband combined their last names when they got married. At the main visitors center I met the other Zylland. The latter Zylland was the ranger who gave the dangerous animals talk, at which I learned about the cannibalism of prairie dogs.

The Junior Ranger book was tough! Lots of activities and very specific things to think about and find, information wise, but I completed it! Ranger Amanda Allen (two first names, another ranger told me not to trust people with two first names but Amanda Allen struck me as very kind and trust worthy AND she was a Hitchhiker’s Guide fan) swore me in with enthusiasm, and I got a round of applause. This ranger badge has a prairie dog on it, not the standard National Park crest.

The hikes at the park unfortunately are a lot of one ways. I prefer loops. I did the Coal Vein Burning Coal Thingy trail and the Wind Canyon trail and a bit of a few others. Very nice views. I drew one of the views for the booklet, and Amanda Allen photocopied it. OKAY SO I HAVE A CRUSH ON AMANDA ALLEN! SHE WAS REALLY NICE! And she did the tour of the Maltese Cabin that Roosevelt lived in. The first night, the ranger talk was actually from a Lacotah man who spoke about the Sibley Campaign and the massacre that followed, as well as about oral traditions, stories, and what the actual local tribes are called.

The best part was just sitting in nature, out in the fields, with a good book and a bottle full of water, and just…being there. Doing nothing much beyond being somewhere very far out, content. That’s really what it is all about. I love this middle of nowhere parks that have great vistas and silence and warmth, and I can just relax so well. Big Bend, Zion, Theodore Roosevelt, Acadia. Well, Acadia was more populous but again I just sort of sat out and enjoyed being there. I’m looking forward to more of this. Driving and driving, setting up my tent, and just that being it. It’ll be a nice way to round out this trip, after seemingly many weeks of driving and activities and doing this and that.

On the way down from the park, along the very straight Highway 85, I went off to see the “Center of the Nation” which is a pile of rocks and a sign that could be painted way better. One of those things you go a little bit (7.8 miles) out of your way to visit because when are you ever going to be on Highway 85 in South Dakota between Buffalo and Sturgis again? I think about that from time to time: when am I going to be here again? Cities are easy enough to fly into, so I don’t mind passing them up, but Theodore Roosevelt National Park? I almost didn’t drive up to the North Unit, but I reasoned it’ll be a while before I’m out here again so I should go and I’m glad that I did.

I dislike the times when I’m waiting till it is late enough for me to doze off to sleep. The few hours to kill till I know I can curl up across my front seas. Timing is sometimes hard to manage like that. I had perfect timing for North Dakota. I’m glad I did that much night driving. I saw Salem Sue, the largest Holstein cow, which is put on a hill overlooking just… what there is to overlook. It was great to look upon the land at night, with the little lights scattered across the nothing. And I could drive slower than the 75 that was asked of me (that just kills my gas mileage) and not fuss with other cars. I slept at a Walmart that was a short drive from the park, and because I crossed into Mountain Time, I arrived even earlier. I’m still adjusting to the new time. It’s good for it to be earlier in the morning, but not in the evening.

Hope all is well with you, sorry this is so late in coming. Wifi has been scarce.

8/11/2014 Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

I come out of a cave and find out Robin Williams has died. That is just tragic. Depression is a real struggle. I don’t know what to feel.

So uhh… Wind Cave National Park was nice! I decided to go for the tour, and it was really fun! An hour and a bit through caves with box formations, 85% of the world’s type of this formation is found in these caves. How neat! I chatted with Nathan, a guy who is photographing National Parks, and Lillie the tour guide. A nice bunch of people. I’m currently using their wifi as it seems like they won’t close for a while. I’m in the visitor’s center, not the cave, on the wifi. Would be fun if the cave was hooked up like that. The cement path through the cave was built by the CCC and it still holds good! I still say of the caves of this trip, Carlsbad Caverns are the best, but Wind Cave far surpasses Mammoth Caves. Sorry Kentucky!

I slept in my car and in the morning I got ice and cash back, using that cash I did my laundry. Clean shirts, clean socks, clean underwear, clean pillowcases! That should get me through the rest of the trip. Did I mention there was a big motorcycle rally? There are still bikers in the area, which adds a nice flavor to the tourism. Anyway, the laundromat was nice. I did the dated, working atmosphere of them. Got my clothes clean and I went to this bead shop Elnora recommended and picked up a bison tooth to turn into a necklace later on down the road. Then I went to Mount Rushmore!

Where my annual pass didn’t cover parking, but I paid it under the “when am I going to be here again?” clause. Mount Rushmore I am filing under: visit once but that’s really all. It’s a cool sculpture! And great monument to just America and its ideals and all that. And it was built by a Dane, so hurray for that. It seemed smaller in person, maybe because all the photos of it are so close up. I toured the museum and sculpture studio. I pressed a penny. It was very crowded, though not unbearable. Plenty of parking. Would so many people have annual passes that charging for parking is a better option than an entrance fee? Interesting loophole there, America. After two hours I was ready to scoot, so south I went to Wind Cave National Park. As I said I went on the tour. Tomorrow I want to cruise into Badlands National Park and secure some camping and then have fun in the park. The park called Badlands.

Two parks in one day! Whooo!