Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bonus Post... Poem

Well, as I have gone along, I've been jotting down thoughts as I am moved to do. The scenery and experiences prompt different creative connections. Driving through the wind farms of Minnesota and seeing that one unit wasn't turning, I had lots of thoughts that I wove together for this attempt at a poem. Maury, forgive me if this one isn't quite up to your high standards!

Wind Power

Blades quietly and slowly spin
Gentle downslope breezes from self
Rotate the generator above the plain
Fueling and sustaining satisfaction

A gust from another
Sweeps down the shimmering field
Excitedly electrified she turns
Into the face of this new love

Wind direction shifts
Reflecting and expressing emotions
The turbine shudders and groans in fear
It cannot pivot and freezes in blame

Unable to accept the wind as offered
She becomes as the sunflower
Droopy and heaving with her back
Turned toward the moving air

Having difficulty finding her own sustaining wind
She cries "Blow Only This Way"
Winds and emotions go the way that they will
All one can do is adapt to the changing weather

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Near Billings Montana...

Well I'm overnighting in a low budget campground right off of I-90 about 45 minutes from Billings, Montana in a small town called Hardin. Surprisingly, I found a wi-fi signal so I figured I'd post about today.

After stocking up in Rapid City , I had a couple hour ride to Devil's Tower National Monument. I got there late afternoon. It is a spectacular sight with eagles circling around the top, taking advantage of the upslope wind currents. It is 867 feet high and I'd guess about 400 feet across. No alien sightings to report. It was a very hot and sunny day. Since the side that I was on was all lit up by the sun, I decided against circling the tower. Especially since it was late and I knew that I had a LOT of ground to cover to get to Canada. The ride from Devil's Tower to Hardin was 4 hours. I tell you that roughly half of the distance covered had no electrical or telephone lines! Just miles and miles of prarie with cattle and sometimes white-tailed deer and antelope. In one 100 mile sretch I went through 2 towns that had no more than 15 buildings!

There was a prarie dog town on the access road to the Tower with some particularly friendly prairie dogs. I included a picture of one of these cute rascals!

The driving started to get to me mentally and emotionally this evening. This prarie landscape with an occasional butte is scenic, but it looks much the same after a while. I've just looked at the mileages involved and weather forecasts and it would appear that going all the way to Jasper may not be worth it, both in terms of time, distance and weather. It is another 10-11 hours driving rountrip. I'm already looking at 10 hours to get to Calgary tomorrow which puts me in close proximity to Banff. I think I'll settle for that. Lauren, it sure is easier to get to Calgary if you fly! But you already knew that!


I awoke Tuesday morning, got myself packed up and decided that I would complete the rest of the Needles Highway and take in the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. I was told that they had a herd of 1500 Buffalo that were usually visible. Well, little did I expect that when I left the campground a HUGE bison bull was right alongside the roadway! I watched him for about 15 minutes and got some great pictures. At one point, he was no more than 5 feet from my car! What a start to my day!

Home on the range, I found where the deer and the antelope play! Along with prarie dogs and the buffalo herd. I saw a group of about 200! It was like an American Safari. All of these animals in their natural environment.

By afternoon, I completed the loop and headed to the north trail up to Harney Peak. I started around 2:15 PM. It was a 12 mile roundtrip, gaining about 2000 feet in elevation. It was tough because of the altitude factor (less oxygen per breath!). Harney is the tallest mountain (7,242 feet) east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrennes in Spain. I was virtually alone the entire hike and it was beautiful with lots of lookouts. Incredibly, this trail is used by horses as well! At its top there is a CCC stone tower with fantastic views into 4 states. On my way back down, I was greeted by a mother and two fawns near the trailhead!
It was nearing dark and I decided to stay at the Hilton less than a mile away. If you are a camper, you know that the Hilton is the KOA! I ate dinner, showered and went back for an evening viewing of Mt. Rushmore. Quite honestly, it was a bit eerie. Since the monument relies on shadow for the pupils of the eyes, at night when illuminated, it almost looks like the faces have no eyes!

I've awoken this morning, did the laundry, wrote these posts and I'll be re-supplying in Rapid City before heading onto my next stop - Devil's Tower National Monument. It has been a great visit to South Dakota. One could definitely spend a week here, no problem.

Rushing to Rushmore..

Well, just after making my last post, I returned to the campground in the wee hours. As a courtesy to my fellow campers, I drove in with just my running lights on. As I rounded the corner, two deer appeared directly adjacent to my Element!

I arose Monday morning to be greeted by a woman who was riding her bike solo 900 miles in the course of three weeks. All she needed for camping was a single panier on the front wheel of her bike! She said she didn't care about what she smelled like!

After viewing more of the rock formations, I dropped down to below the butte and dined amongst the caverns and multi-colored rock. I met a 23 year old woman from North Carolina who had no job and decided she was going to back-country camp solo for 4 1/2 months out west. She decided she would make lemonade out of lemons!

I share these stories with all of you, because I am hardly doing something as daring as these two ladies! I've got the comfort of my Element, which is actually working out spectacularly.

After leaving the Badlands, I made the obligatory stop at Wall Drug. It is the South of the Border of the West. I first started seeing signs 355 miles away in Minnesota. It was interesting and I got a few more supplies. Ready for the Black Hills!

I arrived at Mt Rushmore in the mid-afternoon. It was much more compelling and interesting than I had expected. The artist, Borglund, was an amazing man and there is quite a lot to the story and I'm glad I attended a program on the construction of the monument. After leaving there, I went to another stone memorial under construction... Crazy Horse. When completed, if completed, it will dwarf Rushmore. Right now, his face is the only part finished and it is 4 times the height of the 60 foot profiles on Rushmore.

On the way to my campsite for the evening, I drove down the Needles Highway. What a spectacular drive through one-way tunnels, hairpin turns, and stone spires! On my way near dusk, I encountered three more white-tailed deer off the side of the road.

In a word, my campsite sucked. It was sloped about 20%. I spent the evening sleeping pinned to the inside of my Element!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Badlands.. At Last...

Well, I figured I'd file another post this evening after an incredible late afternoon and evening. After a brief stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell (yes, they design murals using corn cobs), I beat it along I90 and got into the Badlands (only 5 hours of driving today!). I took a short hike out to an overlook near the entrance and was blessed with some fantastic views.

This evening, they had an incredible astronomy program. There is no light pollution out here whatsoever. The sky is big and bright and the National Park Service brought some major league tools. A multi-media show including laser pointers to navigate the constellations and three high-powered telescopes that allowed me to see multiple distant galaxies and the moons and stripes on Jupiter. Of course, the Perseid meteor showers are still continuing so we had shooting stars to add to the spectacular show. Glad that no rattlesnakes found me while wandering in the dark back to my car. As I sat down to add this blog entry, I saw a satellite pass through the ladle of the Big Dipper. The last time that I can remember a sky so big and so bright was on Prince Edward Island. Remember, Dave & Lauren?

Fortunately, I was able to get a camp site in the park. Tomorrow, I will choose to leave the park after taking in more of the scenic overlooks. Talking to others, I've been told that I really need to spend plenty of time in the Black Hills. Several sources have told me that there is awesome wildlife and hiking in Custer State Park and that I need to get on the Needles Highway. At least two, perhaps three days before heading north to Jasper National Park. It is finally starting to feel like a vacation...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Corn & Soybeans...

It was another long day of driving through Wisconsin and Minnesota. Quite a few hills in Wisconsin and dare say they have a real affinity for water parks (both indoor and outdoors). It must be the capital of water parks in the U.S.! The landscape in Wisconsin in the Dells area reminded me of southern New Hampshire.

I stopped for lunch at Lock #7 on the Mississippi River. I've included a picture. The river had a surprising amount of algae on it. The locks were efficient with the water rising 7 feet in a matter of minutes.

The drive across Minnesota was much like that across Indiana. Except there is no irrigation. All fields of corn and soybeans as far as the eye could see. Given that I was only a few miles from the Iowa border, it makes sense. I understand why processed foods are so much more inexpensive seeing this wide expanse of corn! But there is much more growing in Minnesota these days. Along my drive I saw hundreds of huge wind turbines dotting the landscape in scores of clusters from 5 or 6 to over a hundred, mostly spread along the low, wide ridges.

There is a cost to all this agriculture though. At one rest area, it indicated that in the 1800's and early 1900's ditches were dug to drain much of the swampland of Minnesota. In fact, so much so that a nearly 20% increase in farming land occurred. But more importantly, the use of nitrate fertilizers is polluting the water and groundwater. That probably explains the algae on the Mississippi and this sign that I saw in my campground last evening explaining that the drinking of water to infants under 6 months of age could be deadly! What does that do to adults? We take our safe drinking water largely for granted in New England.

Last evening I stayed at the Blue Mounds State Park. I got in a swim before sunset, a nice dinner on the campstove, a great night's rest and a shower this morning. A nice change from casino parking lots!

This morning, I add this posting from Sioux Falls, SD. It is one of the two main cities in South Dakota, but quite frankly, it is no more the size of Danvers. My signal is courtesy of the City Hall in the downtown area. The falls weren't particlularly remarkable, but I did see the adjacent stockyard and the John Morrell meat handling facility across the street.

Today I plan to drive to the Badlands which is about another 4 hours. By the way, the speed limit in South Dakota is 75. You understand when you drive these highways. No traffic and nothing but straight lines!