RV Road Trip Week 2:
First let me say, good internet connections on the road are challenging at best. I am also struggling with finding time to sit down and focus on writing, selecting and editing photos, and incorporating all of the internet links into one blog post. That’s the reason for the long delay in between posts. Perhaps there are too many distractions in my way for successful blogging on the road. However, blogging is something I want to continue to focus on, and I must develop a strategy for getting posts done when I’m not at home. Onto week 2, which is woefully overdue.
On the morning we departed Rapid City, we ate breakfast at the KOA campground. They boasted $2.99 all you can eat pancake breakfast. Who could turn that down? The breakfast was great, although the weather was damp, rainy and chilly.
Next stop, North Dakota
Sturgis, South Dakota
We drove through Sturgis, South Dakota, which doesn’t look like much of a town for 51 weeks out of the year, however, from the first Friday in August until the following Sunday, the most famous motorcycle rally in the world takes place, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. In 2015, an estimated 739,000 people attended the rally. For the remainder of the year, the population of Sturgis is less than 10,000 people.
Medora, North Dakota
However, just before you reach the exit for Medora on I-90, there is a rest stop and overlook that is part of the park, called the Painted Canyon Visitor Center. The overlook provides spectacular views of the valley below, and includes hiking trails, picnic area, rest stop, and wildlife viewing (as pictured above, a bison was busy grazing, and didn’t mind all of the cars buzzing in and out of the visitor center).
The town of Medora was very quaint, a wild west town revived for the modern era. Many of the businesses were already closed for the season, however, there were a couple of restaurants, and a gas station/convenience store. Walking through the downtown area, I came across a post office, the sheriff’s office and a church.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The park was established on April 25, 1947. Theodore Roosevelt first came to the North Dakota Badlands to hunt bison in 1883. He fell in love with the area and invested in a ranch seven miles south of Medora. Ranch life was harsh, and Roosevelt lost his cattle due to starvation in the winter of 1886-87. Roosevelt was passionate in his pursuit of conservation policies as President from 1901-1909, and he was largely responsible for the establishment of the National Park Service on August 25, 1916.
We saw this buffalo taking a nap off of one of the scenic routes. On May 19, 2016, President Obama declared the bison the national mammal of the United States. In prehistoric times, millions of bison roamed North America, from Alaska to Mexico and from Nevada’s Great Basin to the Appalachian Mountains. By the late 1880s, there were only a few hundred buffalo left due to loss of habitat and hunting until the mammal was almost extinct. If not for the actions of a few individuals, Native American Tribes, and the government, the bison would be extinct today.
On our tour of the park, we ran across these adorable prairie dogs. They are SO cute. They are burrowing herbivore rodents that live in large colonies in Central and Western North America. Prairie dogs are considered a “keystone” species because their colonies benefit 150 other species. They are also a food source to coyotes, eagles, badgers, and the endangered black-footed ferret. The prairie dogs live in a complex network of tunnels with multiple openings. The tunnels have rooms for storing food, raising young, and waste elimination. Prairie dogs are very social and live in groups. Usually you’ll see a few prairie dogs keeping watch over the colony. They have a complex system of communication that includes high-pitched barks to warn of trouble.
I photographed these wild hoses on a hillside in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There are an estimated 67,000 wild horses and burros roaming throughout the America’s public lands as of March 2016, and these lands are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Bureau states that public lands can only sustain about 24,000 horses. The BLM gathers up excess horses and burros and adopts them out. The wild horse and burro herds double about every four years. However, there is some controversy that cattle grazing on public lands are given preference over wild horses. Cattle grazing on public lands consume 155 million of the 245 million acres of public lands. Trust me, we saw far more cattle grazing around and walking on the road that we saw wild horses or burros.
Glacier National Park
We departed from Medora at 6:35 a.m., we drove straight through to St. Mary/Glacier East KOA, in St. Mary, Montana, for 560 miles, and arrived at 6:45 p.m. It takes much longer when you are towing a 17,000 pound fifth wheel. However, the scenery along the way was beautiful.
The next morning, we headed to Glacier National Park. The Visitor’s entrance was only a few miles from the campground. I was not fully prepared for the stunning beauty of Glacier. Of course, I had read about its magnificent beauty and viewed hundreds of photos; however, to see the park in person, with my own two eyes was nothing short of spectacular. Photographs just don’t do the park justice. That has been the case with many of the scenic views on this trip. You have to witness these landscapes personally to fully grasp the expansiveness of these natural treasures. We took the amazingly scenic Going to the Sun Road. This road, by far, is the most traveled road within the park, and connects the east and west entrances. There are dozens of hiking trails along this route, and even in mid-September, during the week, every parking lot near a hiking trail was full of cars with people out hiking. At the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center, there was a waiting line to get into the parking lot, and the Park Service employees had to declare the lot full, and ask visitors to move on and come back later.
Around every turn, and every scenic view-point the scenery was nothing short of stunning. Huge majestic mountains plunging downward thousands of feet into valleys with rivers and creeks meandering through the landscape. Waterfalls slowing wandering down the mountain, or in stark contrast, gushing with tremendous force and speed down towards the valley floor.
The weekend before our visit, there had been a substantial snowfall, and although the weather was in the 60s during our visit, there was still snow evident in some areas of the park.
Glacier Park Lodge
We stopped at the Glacier Park Lodge, completed in 1913, by the Glacier Park Company. When you step through the large massive front doors of the lodge, you are transported back in time to another era. The grand hall has a 48 foot high log colonnade, and each log still has the bark attached. The lodge is built around a three-story lobby lined with Douglas fir columns 40 feet tall. The trees were imported from the Pacific Northwest because trees in Montana rarely grow that tall. There are rocking chairs on the expansive front porch and through out the lobby. A stone fireplace provides a warm welcome from the chill of the fall air. I could definitely spend some time here, however, not on this trip.
Rainbows and Moonbows
We had a wild weather weekend with some fairly significant rain. On the way home from Glacier, I captured this rainbow.
In the evening under the full moon, I captured this “noon bow,” which is a rainbow produced by moonlight rather than sunlight. Pretty amazing stuff. I was glad I was fortunate enough to capture the moon bow (with my tripod and DSLR camera set on manual).
There were so many beautiful things to photograph and see both inside and outside of the parameters of Glacier National Park.
Unfortunately, there is also a dark side.
Stray Dogs, Browning, Montana
One of the sad realities of life out in the west is an abundance of dogs roaming loose, especially on Native American lands. Many Native Americans have a cultural bias against spaying and neutering dogs. The dog above sat outside the grocery store in Browning, Montana, which is within the confines of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It sat there waiting patiently for someone to feed it. People just walked by like the dog wasn’t even there.
We stopped to take a photo at this monument.
And a stray dog tentatively approached me, friendly, however cautious. I couldn’t get close enough to touch it, but I fed it three hot dogs and a can of tuna. I wish I could have taken it with me, but it wasn’t possible. There isn’t even an animal shelter in Browning because of lack of funding. Absolutely heartbreaking.
We ended our second week on the road in a hotel in Butte, Montana, heading towards Wyoming. The images of these dogs are burned into my brain, and feeling heartbroken that I can’t do more.