Monthly Archives: October 2016

2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct. 13-14

Examples of the fall colors that greeted us in Saint Paul MN

Examples of the fall colors that greeted us in Saint Paul MN

Saint Paul, MN Oct. 15

The deep black soil in MN agriculture

The deep black soil in MN agriculture

Our trip finished by driving through South Dakota and Minnesota agricultural areas. To us, the difference was obvious. The MN soil was a deep black color. MN had more trees than South Dakota. MN had more towns and a larger population in those towns. Not huge populations, mind you, but the range of the populations was definitely higher. As we expected, we also saw more fall color in Minnesota, with the greatest abundance in the Twin Cities area where the hardwood forest topography provided more trees with a greater variety of species.

The Minnesota River flowing out of Big Stone Lake

The Minnesota River flowing out of Big Stone Lake

Thursday, after we left the Redlin Art Museum, we drove to Big Stone Lake State Park. This state park is on the border between South Dakota and Minnesota. The lake is 26 miles long and is notable for being the headwaters of the Minnesota River. In this area is a sub-continental divide, where waters north of here flow into Hudson’s Bay; south of here they flow into the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. The Minnesota River flows almost in a “V” direction, heading SE and then NE until it joins the Mississippi River at St. Paul, less than two miles from our house. Glacial Lake Agassiz covered portions of western Ontario, northwest Minnesota, northern North Dakota, and much of Manitoba and Saskatchewan 10,000-12,000 years ago. At various times during its existence, Glacial Lake Agassiz was fed by melting glaciers and portions of the lake drained southward into what is now the Minnesota River. This ancient river was much larger than the current Minnesota River.

Part of Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge in west central MN

Part of Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge in west central MN

Big Stone Lake is well-known for fishing and waterfowl. The lake is on the pathway for numerous migratory birds but our time here was not propitious for viewing any great numbers of birds. After a hike in the park, we left for the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge. We attempted to have lunch in Odessa, a small town of 150 people but the one person cafe was not interested in scrounging up a meal at 1:30 PM. Instead we had a granola bar and drove the wildlife loops. This refuge has rock outcroppings like Blue Mounds Park and a series of marshlands, pools and streams where fish and waterfowl congregate. Again, no major flocks of birds were present but the views were enjoyable.

Lac Qui Parle Mission

Lac Qui Parle Mission

Our next stop on Thursday was at Lac Qui Parle State Park. Lac Qui Parle is a French translation of the name given by Dakota Indians to this lake, meaning “lake that speaks”. The lake is also on the migratory path for Canada Geese and other waterfowl. Again, we saw, and heard, very little. We had stopped at these locations hoping we might be at the correct time for migrations but our timing was off. One of the earliest mission settlements along the river was located at Lac Qui Parle. In 1835, the first church in Minnesota was built here by missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. During their time here, the missionaries devised their own alphabet for the Dakota language. The mission was part of the effort to assimilate American Indians into the culture and ways of the European immigrants. It had only partial “success”. In 1854, when one home burnt, the mission moved farther south to Yellow Medicine Agency.

The reconstructed dormitory building at Upper Sioux Agency

The reconstructed dormitory building at Upper Sioux Agency

We spent the night in Montevideo MN and Friday visited our last state park on the journey home, Upper Sioux Agency State Park and historic site. The Upper Sioux Agency was also known as the Yellow Medicine Agency where the Dakota, also known as Sioux, people dug for medicinal herbs. The Upper Sioux Agency grew into a small village where a U.S. Indian agent supervised the application of the Indian treaties. In 1851, under pressure, the Dakota gave up their lands in Minnesota for a swath of land 20 miles wide along the Minnesota River along with cash payments, goods and services. In 1858, the twenty-mile swath of land had been reduced to ten miles wide. By 1862, tensions had arisen between Indians willing to accept the white man’s ways and those favoring the traditional hunting and gathering ways. Worse, the cash payments were usually delayed or withheld. White traders got much of the payments first to pay inflated costs for items the Indians needed to farm. Food shipments were late, rotten, or of poor quality. Redress to the government provided no relief. A 1861 crop failure and severe winter made conditions explosive in 1862. In August a six-week war broke out when Dakota Indians attacked another mission agency nearby. When the six-week war was over, both Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies had been burnt, over 500 white settlers were killed along with an unknown number of Dakota. The government hanged 38 Dakota men in one mass hanging and forced the rest of the Dakota onto reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota. Besides reading the displays about the Dakota War of 1862 and the Agency tasks, we took two hikes along the Minnesota River.

Lunch was at a family owned restaurant in Glencoe MN as we said goodbye to the agricultural area of MN and returned to St. Paul. As predicted, fall colors were at their best when we returned home.

Panorama view of Mississippi River in the Twin Cities

Panorama view of Mississippi River in the Twin Cities

Ed and Chris

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2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct.12-13

Watertown, SD. Oct. 12

Harvest time in South Dakota

Harvest time in South Dakota

“Leo’s is happy to make a chocolate malt for you, but it will take a few minutes.” Such was the comment from a waitress at Leo’s in Redfield SD where we stopped for lunch. Small town restaurant where the waitress was concerned that we knew the impact of ordering a malt. I love it. The malt was great too.

These days continue our travel back home, mainly through back roads and small towns. It is harvest time, tractors, combines, tractor trailers clog the fields and roads. We did not make this trip to see fall color; in fact we left the Twin Cities at a time when the changing leaf color was just beginning and we will probably return as it is near completion. Along these roads, we have only seen yellow fall colors, no orange or red.

Looking at the hydropower intake gates at Oahe Dam

Looking at the hydropower intake gates at Oahe Dam

We left Pierre SD and stopped at Oahe Dam. This is a US Army Corps of Engineers facility, constructed in the late 1950s on the Missouri River. This dam and four others on the Missouri try to balance competing priorities: flood control, irrigation, recreation, fish and wildlife enhancement, navigation on the lower Missouri River, and hydropower.

The hydropower plant alone can produce sufficient power for all 300,000 homes in South Dakota. The dam creates the fourth largest reservoir in the U.S. Before the dam was constructed, Pierre and Fort Pierre, just downstream from the dam location, suffered severe flooding.

Oahe Mission Chapel

Oahe Mission Chapel

Oahe Dam is constructed of dirt, with separate areas for water to flow to the hydropower turbines and for water to flow directly to the Missouri River. The visitor center has an educational display, and tells us that, like other dams, the reservoir created by the dam did submerge homes, buildings and facilities used by the people living here at the time. Included in that list was the Oahe Mission Chapel, built in 1877 to serve the Congregationalist minister to the Sioux Indians of the region. The mission church has been moved next to the visitor center. Oahe comes from the name of an old Arikara Indian village that had been located where the dam was built.

After the dam, we visited (sort of) the town of Zell, past home to relatives of my brother-in-law. The town is pretty much deserted now, although the Catholic church will be having a Hunter’s Mass this weekend since it is the opening of pheasant hunting for non-residents. Normally the church is closed. The town is now only populated by 50 persons.

Historic Redfield SD train depot

Historic Redfield SD train depot

The nearby town of Redfield, population 2300, was a more lively community. My brother-in-law does still have relatives here. We had lunch at Leo’s, referenced above. They expect a hopping time in town this weekend with pheasant hunting underway. After lunch, we visited the historic Chicago & Northwestern Railroad depot. A volunteer gave us a tour of the depot, with its separate waiting rooms for women/children and for men. Meals were served to travelers and locals in the in-depot dining room. Passenger service ended in the 1950s and the depot was rehabilitated in the early 2000’s. The Chicago and Northwestern rail line, like many railroads, went through numerous expansions and contractions and was finally sold to the Union Pacific in the 1990s. The track through Redfield, however, was separately sold to the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad.

The Terry Redlin Art Museum in Watertown SD

The Terry Redlin Art Museum in Watertown SD

After Redfield, we continued on to Watertown SD. Watertown is the home of the Terry Redlin art museum. We only had time to view a portion of the musuem Wednesday and finished it Thursday morning. Dinner Wednesday night was at Buffalo Wild Wings. What is it nowadays that menus do not display the prices for non-alcoholic beverages? Is this a new “in” thing like not providing spoons with the silverware? This is the second restaurant where we have had to ask the cost for pop, iced tea, milk, etc. Everything else has a price prominently listed. This time instead of asking the staff, I sent an email off to Buffalo Wild Wings.

A portrait of Redlin with his chair and easel

A portrait of Redlin with his chair and easel

The Terry Redlin art museum was a surprise to us. I must have seen his work previously but his name did not ring a bell with us. He died just this April but his museum opened in 1997. At age 15 he lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. The state of South Dakota gave him a scholarship to art school in St. Paul. He began work as a graphic artist, not dissimilar to Norman Rockwell. He worked for companies in St. Paul and then moved on to having his own art career.

One of Redlin's paintings with waterfowl

One of Redlin’s paintings with waterfowl

In 1981, Redlin won his first competition for the state of Minnesota duck stamp. He went on to have a fantastic career in wildlife and nostalgia painting. He won numerous awards for artist of the year and lithograph of the year. For eight years, he won the US Art Magazine award for most popular US artist. During his career, he gave away millions of dollars to non-profit organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and the Courage Center in Golden Valley Minnesota which helps disabled individuals.

Redlin married his high school sweetheart who was from Watertown. Her family had begun a local dairy and ice cream company called Langenfeld’s. His son came up with the idea of saving Redlin’s original paintings, rather than selling them, to create the centerpieces of the museum. Redlin normally created signed prints and also had sold the originals to support his family.

The Redlin art museum is a three-story, dramatic structure just off interstate 29. Over time it has added an Event Center, park, and, of course, gift shops. One specialty area of the museum focuses on an ice cream memorabilia collection created by one of the Langenfelds. There is an introductory video presented in the amphitheater surrounded by those ice cream memorabilia.

A typical Redlin painting

A typical Redlin painting

One statement included in a framed newspaper clipping on the wall as you enter the museum was a comment by his art teacher that she wished Redlin had broadened his focus. As I went through the galleries, I can understand better her comments. His art is striking, colorful, (even though he only used three basic colors to mix his palette), and notable. But the themes of the South Dakota outdoors, wildlife, and nostalgia for rural and small town family life are everywhere.

Redlin’s early success was helped by his victory in painting “duck stamps”. These are stamps sold by the U.S.and States to finance the purchase of wetlands and wildlife habitat. These are national competitions and Redlin won the Minnesota competition two years after starting his career and placed second for the Federal Duck Stamp three years after the Minnesota victory. Ducks, geese, deer and other animals make a frequent appearance in his paintings.

One of the America the Beautiful paintings

One of the America the Beautiful paintings

Later in his career, Redlin did produce a series of paintings that moved away from his earlier work. So, his “America the Beautiful” is a group of eight paintings representing scenes over the history of America. Another series of paintings portray the growth of an individual boy from his move to the city from a farm to his death serving his country in the military. His work strikes a chord with many people and continues to be popular even after his death.

It was a pleasant day and a half. Our next, and last, post for this trip will consolidate the last 36 hours spent primarily going through Minnesota state parks on our way to St.Paul.

Ed and Chris

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2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct. 11

Fort Pierre, SD. Oct. 11

Sunrise in the Badlands

Sunrise in the Badlands

Great Plains or Ground Zero? So read the sign at the Minuteman Missile Historic Site just north of the Badlands of South Dakota. We left Cedar Pass Lodge in time to reach the site when it opened its doors at 8 AM. A limited number of 6 tickets to view a launch control center are given out first come, first serve. It was tough to get out of bed since overnight winds blew in a cold spell that should last two days. Luckily most of today was spent driving or indoors.

Why visit this National Park Service site? Some of you may not remember, or maybe even never knew about, the Cold War between Russia and the United States. The two powers faced each other and competed to stockpile nuclear weapons, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Thousands of these missiles existed. In the United States, most of these missiles were placed in hardened, underground concrete silos across the Great Plains. The strategy during the Cold War was mutual deterrence. If each country possessed vast numbers of nuclear weapons and if one side started a war, the other side could retaliate at such a level that each side would be destroyed.

The START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was signed in 1991 and mandated a reduction in the number and quality of nuclear weapons held by the United States and Russia. Each country would inspect the removal efforts by the other. It is estimated that the treaty reduced the number of nuclear weapons by 80%. ICBMs located in South Dakota were among those targeted for removal. As the shut down was occurring, the National Park Service and the U.S. Air Force cooperated to save facilities that would demonstrate how the ICBM missiles were controlled.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site consists of three sites: the visitor center with displays and exhibits, a decommissioned control facility about four miles from the visitor center, and an empty underground silo about 11 miles from the control center. Our tour guide was a volunteer who had once been a missileer, he had worked at a silo in the Great Plains and completed twenty years in the Air Force before retiring.

The above ground control facility at Minuteman Missile Historic Site.

The above ground control facility at Minuteman Missile Historic Site.

The tour covers two facilities. The above ground building housed the cook, facility manager, and security police. There were extra rooms for maintenance and missileers to sleep in when necessary. There was an armored vehicle used by the security police to travel from site to site. Communications equipment and towers are present behind the fenced in enclosure.

The underground facility at Minuteman Missile Historic site.

The underground facility at Minuteman Missile Historic site.

The below ground “building” was an egg-shaped, steel hardened shell with an elevator access to the huge, safe style door. Two missileers worked down here, 24 hours at a time. Our guide spent considerable time explaining the intricacies, redundancies,and safeguards built into the system which are too numerous and intricate to recapture here. In the early years, the crews were all male. By the time the missiles were de-activated, crews could be co-ed.

When other sites were de-activated, the missiles were removed, the silos filled in and capped with concrete. At the control facilities, equipment removed, underground facilities imploded and capped with concrete. The above ground buildings were offered back to the owners of the land around the sites. Some are used to store hay, some removed, a few are now bed and breakfast inns. Only this site remains as a memento of a time in history when mutual destruction was a commonly understood term.

One scary note. The visitor center display mentioned “near misses”, where missiles were almost fired. In 1983, a Russian Lt. Col. chose to ignore an alarm that the US had launched five ICBMs. He figured the US would not just send five missiles if they were launching an attack. He was right. If he had reported it at the time, a period of heightened national concern, the Russians would probably have retaliated. This incident was not reported to the West until much later. The Russian was honored by the UN in 2006 for his actions and came to visit this NPS site in the spring of 2007.

By the end of the tour we were hungry. Cedar Pass Lodge was not open for breakfast when we left this morning so we detoured a few miles to Wall Drug in Wall SD. Now Chris and I have been here before, and if you are not aware of Wall Drug, then you have never traveled. Wall Drug dates to 1931 and was founded by a young couple. The husband had just graduated and was looking for a drug store to buy in a small town with a Catholic church. They settled on Wall, SD, a town of 326 people. They had a five-year lease and as the five years were coming to a close, business was not good.

The wife had an idea. There were travelers heading to the Black Hills along a nearby highway. She said: Let’s offer them free ice-cold water. They put up Burma Shave type signs (look it up, young’uns) and before the signs were all installed, the crowds started pouring in. They have continued to pour in to this store, still owned by the same family. However, Wall Drug is now a one block square cornucopia of necessary and frivolous items for sale. We had a tasty breakfast, with its five cent coffee. Okay, we also bought a few trinkets.

South Dakota State Capitol Building

South Dakota State Capitol Building

After Wall, it was on to Pierre SD. Pierre is the capital of South Dakota and a town of about 20,000. Pierre is the second smallest capital city of any U.S.capital city. We spent an hour touring the capitol by use of a written self-guided tour script. The building was constructed in 1910 and renovated in the 1980s. Given the size of this state, we were surprisingly impressed with the quality of the building and its beauty. It was not stunning, but very, very nice. It was also interesting that the selection of which town should be the capital of the state was subject to four state-wide referendums; all of which proclaimed Pierre as the capital.

Interior shot of dome of SD State Capitol

Interior shot of dome of SD State Capitol

Shot of inside hall at SD State Capitol

Shot of inside hall at SD State Capitol

The Governor’s Reception Room had a “Come On In” sign, so we did. The receptionist gave us a pleasant description of the room. The Senate and House chambers were open, but empty, so we were able to view each one. Their aesthetic decor differ but present well. The Capitol Building rises slightly above the surrounding land and there is a small, nearby lake that sets off the building nicely.

Ed and Chris

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2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct. 10

Interior, SD. Oct 10

A view of the badlands

A view of the badlands

Rocks and Prairies. That is the Badlands of South Dakota, our current location. We left the Black Hills, a relatively small set of mountains in western South Dakota. The name Black Hills comes from Lakota Sioux words based on the fact that this mountain range appeared dark from a distance due to the number of trees on its slopes. All to the east are mixed grass prairie, so the mountains stand out. Our drive to the Badlands took us to a little used entrance at its southwest corner to the north unit.

Sunflowers waiting to be harvested.

Sunflowers waiting to be harvested.

Just before the town of Scenic, South Dakota, we took a gravel road through farmers’ fields and the Buffalo Gap National Grassland before entering the Badlands Wilderness Area. Sunflowers were one of the crops here. The sunflowers are not harvesetd until there has been a frost. That may come tonight or Tuesday night. Today the sunflowers looked black and dried out, not a vibrant yellow that we observed in Minneosta in August. The sunflowers here are primarily used for bird food.

The Badlands Wilderness area is a more restricted access area with bison, mountain goat, deer, coyote, and prairie dog colonies. Today we observed a few bison, evidently the vast majority of the herd of 1100 were farther south. A ranger later told us that the yearly round-up of excess buffalo, they try to keep 800 here, did not happen this year as the herd stayed in an area too difficult to allow for the roundup. Custer State Park evidently sells their excess bison; Badlands National Park will give them to other parks and people raising herds.

Coyote in Badlands Wilderness Area

Coyote in Badlands Wilderness Area

Prairie dog colonies were frequent; we probably saw more prairie dogs here than anywhere else we have travelled to. The numerous prairie dogs have allowed for the re-introduction of black-footed ferrets, previously almost extinct. The ferrets have started to thrive here. Chris spotted one coyote pouncing on prey; I spotted a second one later. The wilderness area is distinct from Badlands National Park; less public access allowed than in the park. The gravel road seems to discourage most visitors who stick to the paved Loop Road.

The Badlands were named by European settlers. The Native Americans found enough bison and elk to hunt, the water supply sufficient for their needs. The settlers found insufficient rainfall, tough prairie grass to plow up, and the ravines/cliffs difficult to penetrate. Most of them left. The Lakota Sioux were forced on to the nearby Pine Ridge Indian reservation, site of the infamous Wounded Knee massacre of 1890.

Prairie to the right, badlands to the left

Prairie to the right, badlands to the left

Once one leaves the Wilderness area, you enter the actual park. On the north side, usually, are the prairie grasses. The Loop Road frequently separates that prairie area from the eroded rock formations for which the Badlands are so well-known. The formations are not that different from places like Tent Rocks, NM or other rock formations of the southwest US. The formations are heavily influenced by volcanic ash that arrived by air and water from further west. The lack of iron makes most formations either white or gray. Color appears but is not overwhelming. Chris and I stopped at a variety of overlooks and trails to take pictures and enjoy the view.

Another view of the Badlands

Another view of the Badlands

The Badlands

The Badlands

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

The ranger at the visitor center suggested a location for good sunsets but either we misunderstood her or it just was not a night for a great sunset. We did take, and agree with, her suggestion for dinner. The Wagon Wheel Bar in Interior, SD, population 100, served great burgers and good fries. There were only three people in the bar when we arrived but it was up to about 20 by the time we left. The barkeeper was bartender, cook, waitress, hostess and cashier. She did a great job filling in for her brother who owns the place. The food was better than the restaurant at the Cedar Pass Lodge where we are staying this evening. The Cedar Pass Lodge restaurant closes at 4:30 PM now that it is the off season, we had lunch there earlier. The Cedar Pass Lodge and restaurant will be closed for the season in another week.

The Cedar Pass Lodge cabins are very nice. They appear to have the same design. Our room is neat, large, with wood walls, two queen beds with refrigerator and microwave. The cabins are nicer than our rooms at Sylvan Lake although the Sylvan Lake Lodge is more impressive than the functional gift shop/reception area for Cedar Pass Lodge.

It should be a quiet night here in the middle of nowhere. We have watched the stars and moon and hopefully the bed will be comfortable.

Ed and Chris

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2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct. 7-9

Custer, SD. Oct. 9

Panorama view from Rankin Ridge

Panorama view from Rankin Ridge

From the top to the bottom. The last three days have seen us go from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado to Jewel Cave in South Dakota. From mountains over 14,000 feet to a cave 700 feet below ground. Quite a contrast, but at least all three days have been great weather-wise.

US 34 along the Big Thompson River

US 34 along the Big Thompson River

After breakfast on Friday the 7th, we said our goodbyes to Jude, Bernie, and Tony (and Lacey) at Crags Lodge in Estes Park around 9:30 AM and we all headed to our homes via different paths and timelines. Our timeline will be the longest. The road out of Estes Park goes down US 34 along the Big Thompson River. This river has flooded several times in the past decades as it goes through a narrow chasm carved through the rock walls, causing great devastation. Most of the residents seemed inured to its past and future destruction.

Rammed earth wall at Wyoming Visitor Center

Rammed earth wall at Wyoming Visitor Center

Supposedly there were two Dunkin Donuts along our route but they were hidden so we had to suffer without a morning food break. The drive up I-25 was busy but with the speed limit normally 75 or 80 mph, the miles flew by. Our first stop was at the Wyoming Visitor Center just inside the border. Normally I don’t comment on these centers but I have to comment since I admired this one. The Visitor Center is only 6 years old and is a stunner. It had the clean bathrooms, etc. one expects; it also had probably the best educational display I can recall observing in any previous travel visitor center. The displays were both educational and entertaining. There was a fine display of travel literature. Finally, the building, while not LEED certified-which costs money-it has incorporated enough features to qualify for silver level LEED. I was most impressed by their use of rammed dirt construction. This is an updated technique that takes natural materials including dirt, and under pressure creating building walls. The walls at the Visitors Center were particularly attractive.

The State of Wyoming has the highest average elevations across the state. As we ventured north and east, we left I-25 for secondary two lane roads. We passed five or six Union Pacific trains backed up waiting to move their loads of coal to other places around the county. This northeastern portion of Wyoming roughly corresponds to the Powder River coal basin; even with the reduction in the use of coal, this is still a large coal mining region. Mining, ranching, and transportation are all key economic drivers in Wyoming.

In these trips, we are observing the vastness of the United States, state by state. In this area, we observe pronghorn antelope co-existing with cattle. The area between Estes Park and Custer SD is forest, ravine, and grassland teeming with life. It is not the urban scene of large cities with craft breweries, artisan restaurants, night spots, art museums, etc. that many travelers prefer to experience.

Our lodging for three nights is at Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park. The park is in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills are an area sacred to the Native Americans and had been protected by treaty rights as belonging to them. However, some gold was found in the Black Hills and those treaties were ignored and the European settlers soon had posssssion of the Black Hills which continues to this day.

Our first night at the lodge was interesting. The TV did not work, the HVAC was off, and the bed was really soft. The first two issues were quickly resolved, the last one was resolved on Saturday when we switched to a different room. Chris and I had been here years ago, we remembered great breakfast buffets with delicious bacon. Unfortunately, the breakfast buffets are only during prime time and we are just days away from the lodge closing.

Flowstone at Jewel Cave National Monument

Flowstone at Jewel Cave National Monument

On Saturday and Sunday, we visited two different caves operated by the National Park Service; Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park. I think the best way to describe it is to compare the two caves. They are similar in some aspects, and vary in others. For instance, they are similar in that both were first “discovered” by non-Native Americans when settlers noticed a great rush of wind coming from small holes in sides of ravines. Both started as tourist attractions before being brought under the National Park Service umbrella.

Boxwork formation at Wind Cave National Park

Boxwork formation at Wind Cave National Park

Jewel Cave has tunnels that are wider and taller. Jewel Cave is deeper, and a tour visitor takes an elevator up and down to the tour area. Wind Cave tunnels are narrow, with low ceilings and tight pinch points. In Wind Cave, one walks down a series of steps that takes the visitor to 200 feet below the ground but we get to take an elevator back up. Wind Cave has 95% of the world’s caves formation of “boxwork”. (See the photo description.) Jewel Cave has more flowstone and stalactites and stalagmites due to its greater wetness.

Wind Cave has 30 times as much land area as Jewel Cave. The extra land area at Wind Cave is used as a preserve for wild animals. The combination of prairie, forest, and ravine is excellent sourcing for bison, pronghorn, prairie dogs, deer, etc. Both caves are extremely long; Jewel Cave is the third longest, Wind Cave is the sixth longest in the world.

Finally, scientific studies estimate that both caves may be only 5-10% explored. There may be hundreds of miles left to explore. Since these caves are relatively close to each other, maybe they will find a connection linking the two. Both caves have visitor facilities that were constructed during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. In Wind Cave, the stairs were constructed with concrete carried in 40 lb sacks by CCC workers. They are still being used. The CCC workers had no access to elevators at that time, but they made the elevator shafts where elevators were later installed for use by visitors.

Rock spires along Needles Highway

Rock spires along Needles Highway

On both days, we drove several of the scenic tours in the Black Hills. On the Needles Highway, the road drives through several one lane tunnels along curve and switchbacks. The road passes through spire like rock formations. On the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, the road goes through pine forests as it rises to higher levels. This byway also has one lane tunnels but, uniquely, it has one tunnel that frames a view directly of Mount Rushmore. We drove by Mount Rushmore but did not stop in having visited there before.

A small selection of animal photos

A small selection of animal photos

The Wildlife Loop Road goes for 18 miles through Custer State Park. It took several miles before the animals started appearing but once it began, the animals were constant. The pronghorn are graceful animals. The bison are stunning, magnificent creatures. It was a great 90 minute drive through the prairie and the ravines.

But the best animal highlight occurred on the Norbeck Scenic Byway after passing Mount Rushmore. Two mountain goats were on the side of the road, our only view of any on this trip.

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Looking east from Rankin Ridge

Looking east from Rankin Ridge

Besides hiking through the caves, we hiked around Sylvan Lake, a small lake with towering rock cliffs on several sides on Saturday. On Sunday, at Wind Cave we hiked out onto the prairie and up to Rankin Ridge. Both views provide vistas all the way to the Badlands including hills, prairies, and forests. Tomorrow we leave to get a closer look at the Badlands, starting a new geologic and geographic view.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Ed and Chris

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2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct. 5-6

Estes Park, CO Thursday, Oct. 6

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

A good time was had by all. Our five day sojourn in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park ends as we check out tomorrow morning from Crags Lodge. We were fortunate; Trail Ridge Road has been closed both days so our journey early Tuesday was the best time to make sure we could complete the drive over the top of the mountains.

Towards the start of the Cub Lake Trail,  Rocky Mountain National Park

Towards the start of the Cub Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

Stellar jay and magpie along Cub Lake Trail

Stellar jay and magpie along Cub Lake Trail

Ed on the Cub Lake Trail at Rocky Mountain National Park

Ed on the Cub Lake Trail at Rocky Mountain National Park

Snow occurred early both Wednesday (high up in the mountains) and today (down here at Estes Park also) and impacted on our choice of activities. Wednesday Chris and I went out for a morning hike along the Cub Lake trail. The trail starts out along meadows and creek as it heads back toward the mountains. We only had two hours to hike so we only completed a portion of the entire trail. It is a popular trail. We encountered a group preparing a video on the meadow and the impact created on the meadow when wolves and other predators were eliminated from the park. We observed more stellar jays and magpies on this trail than we had elsewhere in the park.

Lily Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Lily Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Jude, Tony, Bernie and Ed at Lily Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Jude, Tony, Bernie and Ed at Lily Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Bernie and Tony went out for breakfast and shopping while Jude took care of some personal needs. We regrouped for lunch and then the five of us hiked around Lily Lake. The wind was slower, the sun was out, and the temperature reasonable. Lily Lake is across from the trailhead for the Twin Sisters peaks that Chris and I had attempted years ago. We agreed there was no way we could attempt that this year.

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park CO

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park CO

Late afternoon we toured the Stanley Hotel. The Stanley Hotel dates back to 1905. Twins F.E. Stanley and F.O. Stanley developed an early photographic process that they sold to Eastman Kodak and went on to also create and produce the Stanley Steamer Motor Carriage Company. The hotel grew out of the need for F.O. Stanley to gracefully die from tuberculosis. His doctor had little hope for him and recommended the Colorado air to ease his last days. Well, F.O.survived and many of the family friends and business acquaintances came from out East to visit them. From building a large enough place for them to stay for the summer developed the hotel.

The hotel has gone through rough times but its current owners have spent considerable sums to upgrade it and to allow it to attract clients year round. The tour discusses the history of the hotel and its tie-in to haunting. It is best known as the site for the inspiration for the book “The Shining” by Stephen King. King and his wife stayed here in 1974 during its run-down phase and that night was sufficient to provide the impetus for his novel. Portions of the hotel were also used for the movie “Dumb and Dumber”. The tour guide was happy to mention numerous paranormal experiences hotel guests have mentioned to staff. We finished up with an excellent dinner in the hotel dining room.

Starting our first time around Sprague Lake

Starting our first time around Sprague Lake

Second time around Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Second time around Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Today, Thursday, we woke up to the sound of rain and the sight of snow showers outside. We modified our hiking plans for the day. A morning hike to Sprague Lake seemed reasonable. It was flat, had a water view, and relatively short. We walked it twice, enjoying the falling snow the first time around and the slightly clearing skies the second time around.

After the hike, the adventure continued. This time we expanded our range and drove up to Cheyenne WY. Lunch was at the Albany Cafe. It has been in existence and owned by the same family for almost 75 years. Our waitress has been working there for 16 years. We could understand why it was still in business; the food (and desserts) were quite good.

A fancy saddle at the Nelson Museum of the West in Cheyenne WY

A fancy saddle at the Nelson Museum of the West in Cheyenne WY

Our afternoon exploration was at the Nelson Museum of the West. Founded by a local man, it focuses on numerous areas of western life. Nelson has been a major collector for years and most of the items here are from his collection. There are displays of western lawmen and outlaws, firearms, Native American art, saddles, military uniforms and stuffed animals from around the world. It was a pleasant diversion although not overwhelming.

Our evening was spent at the movies, viewing “Sully”. Crags Lodge was hosting a wedding this evening and festivities were likely to continue until 10 PM. Our rooms are directly underneath the party room so we thought it wise to make ourselves scarce during the main noise-making time.

Ed and Chris

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2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct. 4

Estes Park, CO. October 4, Tuesday

View along Trail Ridge Road

View along Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road (TRR) traverses Rocky Mountain National Park. It is US Highway 34. It is also stupendous. Today it was also windswept and snowy. TRR is only open from about June 1 to about Oct. 15, depending on weather conditions. We wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to drive it during our stay and before it was closed for the year. We knew the day would be windy; Estes Park weather conditions called for 20-25 mph winds and temperatures in the high 40s.

At the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road

At the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road

TRR goes from the city of Estes Park elevation of 7500 feet to 12,183 feet above sea level. Eleven miles of the road are above the tree line. The six of us (including Lacey) rode in the Subaru Legacy which was roomy enough for a journey of a few hours. The beginning of the journey was sunny but breezy. We soon encountered blowing snow and the road surface had a light covering of icy snow. It is always cooler and windier at the top. When we reached the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet, we do know the temperature was 19 degrees and could only guess that the wind was much stronger than what we experienced at Estes Park.

All six of us at the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road

All six of us at the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road

One view of the tundra environment

One view of the tundra environment

We were dressed for it but chose not to go on the walk at the visitor center which climbed higher still and which was completely exposed to the wind. Lacey enjoyed the snow and wind tremendously; the rest of us bundled up and alternated between enjoying the outside view and shopping at the visitor center. The views at the top were more limited due to the low cloud cover, snow, and blowing snow. The drive up and down offered more views as the clouds separated when we were at lower levels. There are not a lot of parking areas and there are no shoulders along the road. Later we found out that the road was closed at 3 PM today; evidently due to the weather and road conditions. I do not believe the road closing is for the rest of the year, guessing that it will be open again tomorrow.

Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park

Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park

On the way back down, we stopped at Hidden Valley to have a walk and a picnic lunch. The temperature had risen to 47 degrees and the wind was maybe half as strong as it had been at the top. After lunch we went to Alluvial Fan. This area also had elk herds visible but our reason for visiting was the fact that Alluvial Fan is the area where on July 15, 1982, a dam broke on Lawn Lake. Lawn Lake is a small lake up in the mountains that had been expanded in the early 1900s by a dam to act as a reservoir for the purpose of providing irrigation water to farmers in Loveland CO. Lack of repair and maintenance led to the failure. Three campers lost their lives and million of dollars of damage was done to businesses in Estes Park.

Ed and Chris walking on boulders at Alluvial Fan, Rocky Mountain National Park

Ed and Chris walking on boulders at Alluvial Fan, Rocky Mountain National Park

Alluvial Fan is the area below Lawn Lake where huge boulders settled over acres of land after being carried down the mountain by the flood waters. One can scramble over the boulders along the stream and walk along the wetlands below Alluvial Fan. There are aspen in the meadow area with a great view up into the mountains.

Looking downstream at Alluvial Fan

Looking downstream at Alluvial Fan

After Alluvial Fan we stopped in Estes Park for an afternoon snack of either a malt, pie, hot chocolate, or a smoothie. The owners of “Shakes Alive” are two brothers from the Champaign Illinois area who work dawn to dark for the six months from May 1 to Oct. 31 and then spend the next six months in the Caribbean recuperating. We did not get the story for the “You Need Pie” shop but the apple strawberry pie was excellent.

Relaxation time filled the last two hours of the afternoon before we headed back to Moraine Park Discovery Center for the 6 PM ranger talk on “Elk Echoes”. The ranger gave an excellent presentation (outside-we dressed warmly) about the habits of the elk. She provided interesting tidbits about the rutting season and the various bugle calls and behavior patterns used by bulls and cows. Just a few pointers:
Bigger is better-the bigger the bull elk’s rack of antlers, the more the cows are impressed.
The elk antlers are grown each year, dropping off in April and then growing until the October rutting season.
Elk antlers can grow at a rate of one inch per day.
The bull elk spend the spring and summer in the forest alone eating and resting to focus on growing their antlers.
The cows and calves spend their spring and summer in the meadows in groups that provide protection.

On the way back home, we saw even more elk along the road with cars pulled over in long lines to view them and take pictures. Back at Crags Lodge, the tasty chili Bernie and Tony made in the crock pot was waiting for us.

Ed and Chris

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2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct. 3

Estes Park, CO. Oct 3

View of the Rocky Mountains from moraine park area along Big Thompson River

View of the Rocky Mountains from moraine park area along Big Thompson River

Our first day of seeing the park began with a ranger walk at the Moraine Park Discovery Center. Moraine Park is a meadow surrounded by glacial moraines backdropped by the mountains. Big Thompson River runs through the meadow. While this area normally receives 13 inches of rain per year, in 2013 13 inches of rain fell in four days and the river flooded out part of downtown Estes Park. It sure looked a lot quieter today.

View from Moraine Park during ranger walk

View from Moraine Park during ranger walk

The park ranger gave us an hour discussion of Moraine Park, its geology, its wildlife, its weather, and its people. He did an excellent job; but we knew he would, he was from Minnesota. The walking portion of the ranger discussion was shorter than usual due to repair work affecting the trail. During the talk, we could see elk grazing in the meadows below us. After the talk, we drove closer to the elk area.

Just one shot of an elk in Moraine  Park

Just one shot of an elk in Moraine Park

Hopefully you recognize that elk are large and unpredictable. This is also rutting season, when the male elk compete to develop their own harem of cows and so the animals are more active than usual. Unfortunately, not all people are intelligent. We saw numerous people getting way too close to the animals. A theme to be repeated in this blog post.

The day had become quite windy, steady winds of 25 mph and gusts of 35 mph were the forecast. We took our lunch at a trailhead that was meant to be a little bit sheltered and enjoyed our sandwiches until the very end when it began to rain. The mountains create changing weather and we hoped our next hike at Lily Lake would be in a more favorable locale.

Tony, Chris, Bernie and Jude at Lily Lake--top. Lacey's fur blowing in the wind --bottom

Tony, Chris, Bernie and Jude at Lily Lake–top. Lacey’s fur blowing in the wind –bottom

When we pulled in to the parking lot, the wind had even picked up more. Frankly it was fierce. We walked a short way but headed back without doing the hike. This evening at our lodge, Chris ran into a young couple who had gone to Lily Lake and the woman had been pushed into the rock walls by the wind. We were just as happy to head back but we made one more stop.

Bull elk at golf course at Lake Estes

Bull elk at golf course at Lake Estes

Elk are native to this area. The elk herds live in the park and other elk live in the city. The golf course around Lake Estes is one of those places that elk enjoy city living. We drove by the golf course on our way to pick up part of dinner at the Safeway grocery store and, after seeing a large herd of elk, we stopped. There must have been 20 or more females being guarded by one bull elk. As we watched more closely, we observed the bull was laying down. Turns out he must have been hurt in a fight with another male since he was visibly limping. Our guess is that it was recent, that he was still “King of the Hill” but if another challenger came by, he might be dethroned. And of course, hordes of people were trying to get close to get pictures of themselves close to the elk. Even with young children!

I admit it. Some of us might not have been displeased to see the elk charge the people but it did not happen. BUT, back at the lodge, We were talking to three women from Louisiana. Turns out one of them had been charged by a bull elk and had the scars on her back to prove it. It did not sound like that action was going to change her actions in the future.

We had crock pot chicken for dinner in our room. We expect to take most meals here; the staff had some utensils to loan out and a crock pot was one of them. S’mores by the fireplace topped off the evening.

View from our room at Crags Lodge

View from our room at Crags Lodge

Ed and Chris

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2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct. 1-2

Estes Park, CO. Sunday night Oct. 2

Short post today. Yesterday was a drive day with no sightseeing stops of significance. We left Scottsbluff and made it to Denver International Airport in plenty of time to pick up Bernie and Tony. Their flight from St. Paul was on time and even had a few empty seats.

After a late lunch, we checked in and had a slight scare. We arrived at the Longmont Best Western Plus Plaza where I had messed up the reservations. Evidently I never confirmed the booking and we had no reservation. (The “confirmation” sheet we had printed and taken with us had all of our information and price but no confirmation number.) Luckily they did have three rooms available and, while not at the early booking price I thought we had, it was a very reasonable discount to the $200 per night walk-in-the door price. After almost four years and 550 nights on the road, this was our first booking mistake. Just a little humble pie for Ed.

Jude and Lacey arrived around 5:30 and we all had dinner at Pinocchio’s, an Italian restaurant in Longmont. The food was quite good and we had a waitress who had come from Italy about 10 years ago.

One of the outdoor sculptures at Leanin' Tree Museum

One of the outdoor sculptures at Leanin’ Tree Museum

Sunday we were at the Leanin’ Tree Museum of Western Art in Boulder CO as it opened its doors at 10 AM. Leanin’ Tree is a greeting card company started by two WWII veterans on a shoestring. The initial focus was cowboy Christmas cards. Over time, the company grew, one of the founders died, and their remaining founder amassed an amazing collection of western paintings and sculptures. We all found something to do; review the 250 pieces of art and 150 sculpture and/or explore the cards on sale. Celestial Seasonings tea company is located just down the block and we visited their gift store before we went to lunch.

Inside the Leanin' Tree Museum

Inside the Leanin’ Tree Museum

Boulder was a busy town, the University of Colorado is located here and it is well within the orb of the Denver metropolitan area. Lunch was at a restaurant along the Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian only couple of blocks that was drawing big crowds of walkers, shoppers, pan handlers and buskers.

Estes Park CO is the gateway town to the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. We will be spending five nights in Estes Park and were warned not to arrive too early. On weekends, the park is jammed and there was an “Elk Fest” running in town this particular weekend. Our drive up (Estes Park is at 7500 feet and Boulder is at 5400 feet above sea level) US 36 was scenic but not overwhelming. We checked in to the “Historic Crags Lodge” which is the third oldest lodge here having started in 1914.

Elk by Crag's Lodge

Elk by Crag’s Lodge

Tomorrow begins the viewing of Rocky Mountain National Park but we got a preview by seeing five elk just hundreds of feet from our lodging.

Ed and Chris

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