Sunday, July 30, 2017

On the Pawnee National Grasslands

Saturday, July 1, 2017; from the Pawnee National Grassland to the Rockies.

As I bedded down for the night overlooking the Pawnee Buttes, I assumed, the industrial nature of the eastern section of the Pawnee National Grasslands, was readily apparent, with all the lights from the various oil facilities, stretching away to the east and the warning red lights atop the wind farm turbines lurking on the far ridges to the north.  In the morning, however, it was difficult to pick out the oil facilities in the morning haze; difficult but not too difficult … they were still there.  The wind turbines were more noticeable, being silhouetted against the sky, but not as large as apparent as they had seemed in the dark.  Breakfast was eaten down the hill at the trailhead for Pawnee Buttes.  A few photos were taken and then I headed for the Western section of the Grasslands, as I wished to get a feel for what these prairies were like in the days of old, just as I had during my journey through the Nebraskan Sand Hills.

Pawnee Buttes from my Campsite …

… and from down near the trailhead .
…and where I breakfasted.

Some sort of flower, lurking in the grass.

And a closeup.

As I topped the ridge above Pawnee Buttes, I ascertained that the low clouds on the western horizons were, in fact, the distant Rockies, almost lost as their colour was only a tad darker than the sky itself, and their snow patches were just a might lighter.  The drive took me through the town of Grover, beyond which was the western section of the Pawnee National Grasslands.  About 35 or 40 miles west of Pawnee Buttes, and a few miles from the western edge of the Grasslands themselves, I paused for lunch and an afternoon of bird identification, and just soaking up the quiet of the prairie.

Wildhorse Tit, in the western section of the Grasslands ...

… and the track where I had lunch.
White Prickly Poppy_Argemone polyanthemos;

these were the same poppies I had not yet identified
at the Dismal River in the Nebraskan Sand Hills.
My first Prickly Pears set up in ambush
for unsuspecting passers-by.

Lark Buntings … I saw many of these on my drive through the Grasslands, startled into flight by approach.

Horned Larks were the other birds flying up as I drove the Grassland roads.  It took me a longtime to make this identification as their little feathered ‘horns’ are not always so obvious as they are in this photo t0 the right.

Chestnut Collared Longspur… not as many as the first two birds.

Meadowlark; they came and went and were the least in number watering here.

I considered remaining here for the night, but the smudge of distant mountains beckoned, and so I headed west.  I resupplied with ice and petrol on the very north edge of Fort Collins, and then proceeded into the mountains west and a little north from there.  I might have been better to have remained on the prairie, as it was the fourth of July weekend, and many seemed to have flocked to the mountains, even on the desperate mountain track I had chosen.  I prepared supper as the night closed in, smelling the wood smoke from the next campers a few hundred yards away.  There was not a congestion of folk near at hand, but all the convenient clearings were occupied, so I took what was available.

And the mountains beckoned.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Crossing Nebraska

Friday, June 30, 2017; from Valentine, Nebraska to Pawnee Buttes, Colorado.

In the morning I headed south on Hwy 97, and breakfasted a few miles down the road next to a small water called Alkali Lake  (I found out later).  Here showers came and went and observed the local birdlife while eating.  Here there were White Pelicans; a first for me.  We are now in the Sand Hills of northwestern Nebraska, and in this part of the Sand Hills every low spot between the rounded hills there are ponds, small lakes or marshes, and while not conducive to crops, it is perfect for grazing.  Continuing on through intermittent showers, this Sand Hills topography remained similar until, Mullen, forty miles or so further south, after which the Hills were drier.  In Mullen I crossed the railroad tracks just in time to miss being halted by an extremely long coal train, probably from Wyoming.

Alkali Lake … breakfasted here.

White Pelicans at Alkali Lake.
In the Sand Hills.

Four or five miles south of Mullen, I turned right onto the Dismal River Road, which turned out to be a single track road, for the next forty miles, ten miles of which were dirt.  I loved every minute of it, enjoying the solitude (I met only two vehicles, one at the beginning and the other just before the end), and seeing a few herds of cattle, and the odd pronghorn antelope along the way.  Turning West at the end of the Dismal River Road onto State Hwy 92, I immediately passed a picturesque lake (Schick Lake, I later discovered), and stopped for a few photos.

The Dismal River … not so dismal today. 

Cattle herd in the Dismal River Valley.
The 10 mile dirt road section began at th Dismal River.
Some sort of White Poppy, I’ve been told. 
I hope to ID my flower photos at some future date,
when I get access to a reference source.

Wild Rose.

40 Miles of single track road.

Where I’ve been.

Where I’m going.

A few miles farther on was a grove of Cottonwoods and Junipers with a pull-off and a picnic table and a small regular shape lurking amongst the trees, looking suspiciously like a loo.
  And it was(!); a one-holer of the old school … not many of these about these days … especially in a public situation.   I availed myself of the facility, bringing my own TP with me, so as not to use the little that was supplied, and arming myself with a stick to beat off errant spiders, insects or larger varmints, that might feel an urge to rush me through the various cracks and holes in this venerable establishment.  It was not as unpleasant as it might have been, since odors were almost non-existent … I suspect it is rarely used, not just because of the loneliness of this highway, but also because of the ancientness of the structure.  Dodgy sheds over a hole in the ground are not easily found anymore.  There must be many a folk who have never seen, much less used such a treasure, but I for one am thankful that it was there.  Looking back on it, I must say I was remiss for not taking the odd photo of it. 

Schick Lake at the end of the Dismal River Road, on Hwy 92.

Outside of Lewellen, off of US Hwy 26, I attempted to find the Bluewater Battlefield (also known as the Battle of Ash Hollow), marked on my map.  I knew nothing about it, and in the end one could not actually get to it, but it was probably along the creek in the distance in the photo.  I later found out about it later.  In a nutshell, it was a punitive expedition in 1855, for the Grattan Massacre of the year before, when inexperienced Lt. John Lawrence Grattan and 29 troopers were killed by the Lakota, when the soldiers attempted to arrest one of the Indians responsible for killing a cow belonging to a Mormon emigrant heading for Salt Lake.  The Bluewater fight took place here when Brigadier General William S. Harney and 600 men attacked a village of 250 Lakota, killing 86 people and capturing 70 women and children.  Not the Army’s finest hour; but sadly, an all too frequent occurrence, in those days.  Those interested may read more about it here        

Blue Creek … I believe the site of the battle was
beneath the buttes in the distance.

From here I joined the Oregon Trail and came upon Chimney Rock about 60 miles on.  This was a famous landmark for those pioneer emigrants heading west on their way to Oregon, or California.  I was interested in seeing it as Albert Bierstadt painted it more than once.  More about the rock may be found here.  My first sagebrush were spotted on my approach to Chimney Rock … another sign I’m back in the West.

Chimney Rock, Nebraska.

Petrol and some few other supplies were onloaded at Scottsbluff a few miles further west, and then turning directly south my road led to the Pawnee National Grasslands.  Just over the State line into Colorado.  The Pawnee National Grasslands is divided into an eastern and western sections, but this belies the fact that only 30% or so of the actual Grasslands are Federal property; thus for every acre of the National Grasslands two are held in private hands.  Also the eastern section has a lot of oil or gas wells and wind-farms ensconced on the land.  But the most interesting geography is to be found here, in the form of Pawnee Buttes, and so that is where I headed, with the Sun setting into the west, as I entered this industrial eastern section.  In the darkening of the night I made several abortive attempts to reach the Buttes, before I found the right road.  At quarter of eleven I pulled into a dispersed camping site overlooking the trail to the Buttes, passing two other campers back down the road, and turned in for the night.

The crossing of the Great Plains was a surprisingly interesting journey on the back roads of Nebraska, and only 60 0r 70 miles to go, before I reach the Colorado Rockies.  I highly recommend the Outlaw Trail (Nebraska State Highway 12), and the Dismal River Road as well, to gradually ease oneself into the West, from the agrarian eastern part of the Great Plains.

Friday, July 21, 2017

On the Outlaw Trail across northern Nebraska

Thursday, June 29, 2017; from Mulberry Bend on the Missouri to 
McKelvie National Forest, near Valentine, Nebraska

Late in the night I awakened, and noticed the fireflies were now at rest in the long grasses, and quietly glowing, as they do, after a long night of firefly revelry.  I had forgotten that about fireflies, not having seen them for so many years.  Returning to sleep, I awoke with the dawn, just in time to photograph the rising Sun, through the trees across the waters of the Mighty Mo.  Two rabbits came out, nibbling grasses while I was eating my breakfast, and as I watched them a third tinier one gingerly joined the breakfast club.  The mid morning was spent squaring away the truck, finding places to tuck equipment into and making the travelling arrangements more efficient.  Later I watched the Martins on insect patrol over the river, and identified a Catbird, and Eastern Kingbirds … I had not seen a Catbird since I was a lad in northern Wisconsin. 

Sunrise on the Missouri at Mulberry Bend, Nebraska.

Three miles south I picked up State Hwy 12 going west, and followed it all day to Valentine, winding through the Nebraska hills within 10 miles of the South Dakota border to the north.  The journey began as yesterday, all green and rural, but within 40 or so miles, about the time I was entering the Santee Indian Reservation, the country began to feel like the West, and that feeling continued to strengthen the rest of the day, save for a 10 mile stretch just west of Spencer, where it looked like Iowa, all flat and agrarian.  Listening to the radio I was aware of heavy storms to the south of me, and I had noticed cumulonimbus clouds building to the north while I had been still pottering about on the Missouri River, at Mulberry Bend.  Golf ball sized hail was predicted for the southern storms as they moved through eastern Nebraska and on into Iowa, but although I could see thunderheads off to both north and south, nothing of the kind was threatening my chosen route of travel.  Outside of Lynch, NE, I took a photo or two, of the clouds off to the south.

The Missouri at Mulberry Bend NE

Thunderheads building to the North in South Dakota;
note the Martins hunting insects over the water.

South Dakota to the Right, Nebraska to the Left,
the Mighty Mo in between.

A few miles before Valentine, at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Reserve, I spotted my first Lodgepole and Ponderosa Pines, thus confirming I was in the West.  Incidentally, Hwy 12 is called the Outlaw Trail, for no apparent reason that I could see other than it evokes the frontier days of yore; it is a State of Nebraska scenic byway, so I expect they needed to call it something and this seems apt, and confirmed my feeling of being in the West, as mentioned earlier.  The Outlaw Trail ends at Valentine; I had been on it the entire way from last night’s campsite, save  for the first three miles.

Storms to the South of me.

Storms to the North of me.

Petrol and ice was purchased at Valentine, and I proceeded to look for a couple of free campsites I had noted on my Free Campsites App, but to no avail; I had bars on my phone, but no internet connection; I didn’t know this was possible.  Up until now, whenever I have had a phone connection, I have also had internet connection!  Thus I was unable to refer to the App to fine tune my route and never found the possible campsites.   After travelling 20 extra miles on two sides of a triangle I ended up on State Hwy 97, at Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area, right next door to Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest, which is really rolling hills grassland.  There were a couple of pay to camp sites on the reservoir, but I prefer to disperse camp for free on Federal land, so a few miles into the Forest, I found a spot on a forest road off a forest road just before sundown, and settled in for the night, greeted by several yowling coyotes off to the west, under a fat crescent Moon.

The  view the next Morning from my Campsite.

A few minutes later I look over Merritt Reservoir
 as head out to find a breakfast spot a few miles down the road. 
Rain showers began just after I took this photo.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Our Mom Laid to Rest

Wednesday, June 28, 2017; leaving the Twin Cities, 
through Alcester, South Dakota & on to Nebraska.

Back on October 15, 2015 (here), I wrote a tribute to my Mother who had passed away some five weeks earlier, just five days short of her 91st birthday; the last paragraph from that posting is reproduced here:

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  Her life was full, and busy and full of memories … she was busy in her church activities (she was getting ready to go to one of her church groups, when she had her fainting spell) … and she still drove her own car (I was not nervous as her passenger two years ago) … and we had (and have) our memories at her Memorial.  And sometime in the Spring or early Summer we will go to the little cemetery on the gentle slope in the northwest part of the little prairie town of Alcester, and place her ashes beside her parents, and listen to the breeze rustling through the prairie grasses, and to the songs of the prairie birds as they welcome one who has been long away.

It wasn’t until this last Spring that we four Siblings, myself, Jill, Jan & Doug were able to get together to lay her ashes to rest beside her parents, in the little cemetery in Alcester, South Dakota; a village that hasn’t really changed much in size since she was born there all those years ago.  The gentle slopes upon which she and our Grandparents lie, are bathed in agrarian tranquility, and it took little to imagine her watching us, at age eight or so as she was when she left this tranquil prairie community, and perhaps skipping about when watching us became too uninteresting.  And as I foresaw in that quoted paragraph above, there was a rustling breeze that came and went through the prairie grass, and the songs of prairie birds were carried gently on it then, just as there were when I stopped by at Sundown on the 28th of June, the day I began my westward journey back towards Oregon.

The Casket for Mom’s ashes, carved by my brother Doug.

My sister Jill (closest). brother Doug, and younger sister Jan. 

Our Grandfather’s Mandolin, now in brother Doug’s custody.
Final Resting Place.

Old Homestead, settled by our Great-great Grandfather Olav in 1872;
last owned by an Edson, a cousin of Mon’s, in the 1990s. 

On the last days of March her memorial stone was not yet ready, and by now it had been emplaced, and so on an incomparably blue-sky day, I headed southwest from the Twin Cities, and once on Hwy 169 out in the suburbs, I never touched an Interstate.  I crossed one at Worthington, MN, but headed south into the NW corner of Iowa, passing within a few hundred yards the highest point in Iowa (at about 1670’), and within a short time passed into southeastern South Dakota, on the county roads.  All through southwestern Minnesota, through Iowa, and on to Alcester, I was struck by the fresh greens of early Summer, before they become the heavy greens of a few weeks hence.

Our small grouping, Mom & her Parents.

I arrived about twenty minutes before Sunset, passing the local baseball game being played as I approached the tranquil hallowed ground.  There was a man tending to stray weeds, and upon approaching the Edson plot, he came over and offered to see to those wild weeds that were there.  My time being short, and preferring not to have cut off stems to look at, I demurred and thanked him for his consideration.  He would tend to them after I had left.  Quiet moments were passed with a younger Mom skipping about the gravestones, and a young-woman Mom standing by her Mother’s headstone, and a Mom in her late twenties when I was young and we lived in the forests of northern Wisconsin … the happiest time of her life, she told me more than once … and other ages of Mom all gathering there … as the Sun set and the evening came on with dusky fingers from the east.  A warm evening, and tranquil, as I bid farewell, waving to the weed puller & passing the now floodlit baseball diamond … perhaps the many ages of Mom would go and watch the local team … on through Alcester, heading south a dozen or so miles, and then west towards the town of Vermillion, SD.  As I headed west through the gloaming a flash along the roadside; first one, then another, then many in the fields and meadows and groves … fireflies, as I had not seen them since I was a child!  They were with me all along my route through Vermillion, and on south from there six miles, crossing the Missouri River bridge into Nebraska and my campsite on the river, just a half a mile from the bridge at Mulberry Bend National Wildlife Area, where a deer greeted me upon arrival, and the fireflies flashed away as I prepared for sleep, the only person at this site … a magical end to a lovely day.

Morning Glories to bed for the night.

And so the sets the Sun.