Saturday, May 31, 2014

Last of the Badlands; Oreodonts! Nice Folks; Wall Drug; Mount Rushmore; Bison!

We only had two days and nights in Badlands National Park, and we made the most of them. Our second day's hikes were long, but again, very scenic. Here is My Lovely Bride trudging up a very steep, scree-filled chute on the way to Saddle Pass. What a view from the top! It was a very warm, sunny day, up into the low 90s, and we both had mild sunburns.

One of the stops on our hike was the fossil exhibit, and we were fortunate to find Volunteer Ranger Paul giving a fascinating talk on the animals that once lived here which are now fossils. He  noted that only mammals are found in these geologic formations; they came much later than the dinosaurs found elsewhere in the west and southwest.

In fact, the second subtitle of today's blog relates to a fossil, although one might think of a delicious, double stuffed chocolate cookie with with cream filling... and that was indeed my first thought when Paul started talking about a prehistoric mammal called an Oreodont, a sheep-sized grazing critter back millions of years ago that lived here in South Dakota. He held out the jawbone of an Oreodont; I think the black stuff on the rear molars must have been cookie residue...

One of the best parts about traveling is meeting new people. Just in Badlands National Park, we met several folks we'd have loved to have gotten to know better, but alas, time was short, and we were all going in different directions... First, Bruce and Lavette stopped to pet Rudy and Gretchen. Bruce is a retired  nuclear electronics technician and Limited Duty Officer (LDO), a sub-mariner with 30 years aboard several subs. He has a great sense of humor, unusual for a "nuke", but I think Lavette has mellowed him over the years; her job as a Navy wife is one of the hardest in the world (especially when you're married to a character like Bruce). We were amazed to find that we actually had mutual acquaintances, a couple in Tampa with two Dachshunds named Tank and Rambo!

Next, as we were getting ready to leave our campsite in the Badlands, a friendly young man named Abdiel stopped by; he was a very outgoing guy wearing a Tufts tee-shirt. Abdiel is a recent grad in Childhood Development who is moving back to L.A. to work with kids with autism. He and his girlfriend Carla were packing up their tent and heading west; we hope to catch up with them when we visit L.A. next summer.

Then as we were waiting to pump out our coach's holding tanks, we met Justin and Monica, an Army couple on their way from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Justin is a Staff Sergeant, a Ranger-qualified paratrooper, who has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. We continue to be impressed by the young men and women who serve our country, both in uniform and their spouses who have equally difficult challenges back at home.

We hit the road, only stopping briefly in Wall, SD, to look into the famous Wall Drug. I was looking for a barber, but the one barber in town only worked on Wednesday. Even worse, their soda fountain didn't have cookies and cream ice cream; Sheesh! The drug store itself was a bit over the top with tourist goods, so we didn't stay for long...

Our next stop was Mount Rushmore, which neither of us had visited before. This iconic sculpture in granite displays the heads of four presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. It was an amazing experience, and it was notable that most of the tourists there were foreigners.

Our campground was in Custer State Park, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was a relatively short trip, and we had time for a walk before dinner. Here is MLB with beautiful Legion Lake behind her.

I wanted an extra hour's hike, so I took off up the Centennial Trail. I had to turn around a bit early, though, because the trail was getting too crowded... the seven bison I encountered definitely had first dibs on this trail.

What was really surprising was that an hour later, as I was washing up dinner dishes, who should come strolling through our campground but those same seven bison... they did not hang around for dessert, thank goodness.

Finally, I'll leave you with this scene of a young boy fishing at Legion Lake near our campground. He wasn't catching fish, but who could argue that his time was ill-spent? What a beautiful view he has while wondering what adventures life has in store for him...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Another Time Zone; Winners and Stinking Creeks; The Badlands; Moonscapes and Wildflowers; A Bad-Ass in Sheep's Clothing

We are now in the Mountain Time Zone, having crossed the line in central South Dakota, somewhere on I-90 north of Winner. I commented to My Lovely Bride that only happy people must live in Winner; unhappy or unsuccessful folks must be asked to relocate across the tracks... perhaps to Loser, SD? Or maybe they have to live on the South Dakota version of Stinking Creek Road... we actually saw a sign for that byway in Tennessee. I researched the derivation of the creek's pungent name, and found that during the abnormally bitter and snowy winter of 1779-1780, it had been the site of a mass die-off of elk and deer, and when the snow melted, the carcasses rotted, and the carrion stench persisted for months. Today it is a lovely valley, but the name, if not the aroma, has persisted for over 200 years. (I was unable to find any historical info on Winner's name.)

This is our first visit to western South Dakota. Our coach is now parked on a not-very-level site in Badlands National Park, but the dramatic view makes us forget the coach's tilt. (Thankfully, it's to the right.) To one side are the sculptured spires and buttes that give this park its name. Small shelters provide windbreaks for picnic tables, and it does get very windy here.

To the other side we see open, mixed grass prairie, containing 60 species of grass: tall varieties like big bluestem and prairie cordgrass, and short-grasses such as blue grama and buffalograss. (Being a Navy guy, I'm not up on grasses, but these prairies once supported millions of bison and elk, so I suppose they must be good chow for hoofed critters.)

We have been out on several hikes here in the Badlands, and it's one of the few places where the rangers say, "You can use the trails, or you can hike cross country wherever you want. You can also climb anywhere you desire."

The reason for this largesse is that there are almost no trees here, and it would be very hard to get lost, since you can see (or be seen) for miles and miles. The terrain provides generally easy to moderate hiking, but the prairie is pretty dry. By definition, it gets more rain than the Southwestern desert but much less than Eastern forests.


Since there are no streams or springs in the Badlands, you have to carry your own water. Our Osprey daypacks are fitted with 2 or 3 liter polyethylene reservoirs fitted with hoses and bite valves. The only down side to these clever pieces of gear is that you can't fill them with Gatorade. Or beer. Bummer!

There also aren't any park benches along the trail, but Suzanne found a nice chair-like formation on which to take a rest, but it was just for a few moments. Then she was off again at a strong pace, trying to wear me out...

Here is Your Tired Correspondent at the end of one hike. "Are we there yet? Is there a wine bar nearby?"  "Ty, are you wine-ing again?"

This was the Summit Pass Trail from the top. We had hiked in from the back side (to the left in the photo), but we would be climbing up the steep, scree-filled chute tomorrow.

Our trail meandered across the prairie, skirting deep ravines that approached canyon proportions. At times the terrain felt moon-like; I was glad that we were hiking in the Spring; August must be brutally hot here.

The Badlands had a snowy winter, and with all the residual water from snowmelt and recent rains, wildflowers are in riotous bloom. The trails are lined with flowers of almost every hue, making for a pleasantly colorful hike.

Near the end of our second hike, we found this small mini-mesa about five feet high and six feet in diameter. It was topped with cactus, and birds had dug a half-dozen small nests in the easily chiseled soil.

And yes, we did see some wildlife on our hike. I wish I had the sure-footedness and stamina of this bighorn sheep, which we found in a group of four walking down a gully. Suzanne was within 30 feet of him when she got this great photo. I commented to Suzanne that he could use some grooming advice... "Hey, what's your problem, Ty? I look just fine; keep your comments to yourself, bud, or you'll find out what these horns are for!" 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lord Fletcher's; Winston; Memorial Day; A Giant! The Corn Palace; A Huge Love Note

Blogger's Note: If you did not receive your email copy of the latest blog, which was published on Sunday, you may find it on the blog website at I'm not sure why the email version didn't get sent out, but it probably had something to do with technical issues not being addressed by Google on the long holiday weekend.

On Sunday, My Lovely Bride was in need of a "recharge", so we just hung out at our campsite in the morning and afternoon, did some "admin" chores, and went for an easy bike ride. By the evening we were ready to link up with the Hammond family again for a farewell to Minnesota dinner at Lord Fletcher's Old Lake Lodge on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. This traditional venue recalled fond memories for the Hammonds and gave us an insight into what lake lodge dining must have been like in the early 20th Century. We all had fish - the walleye, Mahi-Mahi and northern pike were all proclaimed exceptional. Here are Cris, MLB, Bill, Bill's sons Brooks and Churchill, and Your Faithful Correspondent. Special thanks to Cris for this unique experience.

At the end of the meal, I had to freshen up, and on the way through the bar, found this portrait of one of my heroes, Winston Churchill. Apparently The British Bulldog was one of Bill Hammond's heroes as well, having named his son after him... where are leaders like him today when we need them so badly?

Did you know that Winston's mother, Jennie Jerome, was American, born and raised in Brooklyn and was considered one of the most beautiful women of her day? She was also an accomplished pianist, having been tutored by a friend of Chopin, and became Lady Churchill when she married Lord Randolph Churchill. Winston was born the year after their wedding; he worshiped his mother, and she became a political mentor to him due to her contacts in British politics and high society.

Monday morning found us getting underway for the next leg of our journey, into South Dakota. As we drove south on Minnesota Highway 60, we passed several Memorial Day ceremonies being held in small towns like St. Peter. Unfortunately, parking our coach on crowded downtown streets was not possible, so we had to keep driving. We said a silent prayer for Susan, our Marine Corps sergeant daughter whom we lost in 2006, and all of the service men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

One of the towns we passed was Le Sueur, known locally as The Valley of the Jolly Green Giant. Here is the lad himself, standing tall and proud on a hillside.

We set up camp at the KOA in Mitchell, South Dakota, and after My Lovely Bride prepared a gourmet meal of seared scallops, pasta and sauteed peppers, we dashed off to town to see ... The Corn Palace, one of the truly unique edifices in America. Built in a Moorish Revival style, it is used for public and private events, sports and concerts. What makes it unique is that it is decorated (inside and out) with art made from corn and other grains. All of the corn comes from one farm in Mitchell, and it costs $130,000 per year to replace the murals. Unfortunately we arrived during a thunderstorm late in the day, and couldn't spend much time there before closing; nevertheless, the Corn Palace will be one of the highlights of our trip!

Finally, in thinking about Lady Churchill's marriage, I recalled this banner being towed by a plane over Lake Michigan last week... the banner read, "Julia, I love you. Will you marry me? Love, Tony". I don't know who Tony is or what he does for a living, but I suspect he is destined for greatness. At the very least, he's made a good start on his marriage.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Frozen North; Golden Valley; Minneapolis; A Naval Author; A Periodic Table of What? People on Sticks; Great Tee Shirts!

We have returned to one of our favorite destinations, The Frozen North. Oh, yes, it is also called Minnesnowta. We are temporarily residing in Baker Preserve Campground in Maple Plain, MN, about 20 miles west of the Twin Cities. When we first arrived, I was disappointed in finding that the snow and ice had all been removed a few days ago. This was our campground on the day we arrived, a few days prior to the Memorial Day weekend. Let me identify a couple of parts of this photo: a. the grey area in the foreground, which looks like permafrost, is actually... permafrost; b. the non-evergreen trees that you see without leaves are actually trees without leaves; a few have tiny buds on them, and may actually get leaves by July when winter returns; c. the green on the ground was purported to be grass, but I suspect it was actually painted to look like grass; d. the water risers for campers to hook up to for showers, cooking and coffee are invisible (not because they are stealthy, but because the permafrost eliminates the possibility of having unfrozen fresh water at any of the campsites); e. the other campers are also invisible because they are too smart to be out here in tents or trailers on frozen tundra with no fresh water and in groves of trees without leaves. But we Floridians are tough... we are used to brutally cold weather; I actually had to wear a sweater twice this past winter!

Shortly after we arrived, we met with noted naval history novelist William Hammond and his family for lunch at an Irish pub. Here are Bill's sister Cris and two of his sons, Harrison and Churchill. Suzanne also gave readings to Cris and Bill during our visit, and the Hammond family attended her event that evening as well. See Bill's web site at for more information on his outstanding novels.

After lunch, we hit an upscale frozen yoghurt shop possibly designed by a chemist, as indicated by their Periodic Table of Flavors and a huge formula covering the wall...

And yes, the frozen yoghurt was exceptional... Suzanne was even able to keep her bowl of goodies under $5...

Suzanne gave her Making the Connection presentation on Friday evening, and what a warm reception we had from Rev. Pat, Rev. Patty and Connie at Christ Church Unity in Golden Valley, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis. About half of the large, enthusiastic crowd was from their community, and half from other parts of Minnesota. Our good friend Pat Suchan even drove down from Duluth, a 360 mile round trip; thank you Pat, it was great to see you again! Thanks also to Echo Bodine, a famous Minneapolis psychic medium who was so gracious to encourage her many friends and followers to attend Suzanne's event.

Back at the campground, it actually started to fill up in preparation for the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional beginning of Spring Thaw here in Minnesota. Contrast this photo with the one taken on our arrival... it was tough for Rudy and Gretchen to find any privacy for... well, you know...

As I walked the puppies, I spoke to several locals who claimed that it wasn't that brutal a winter... as if 30 below zero for a week at a time is a normal occurrence. They even commented that "Oh, it doesn't get cold down here in southern Minnesota... but it can get downright chilly up north in Ely." (These guys must be living in a parallel universe...) But you also hear stories that hundreds of native Minnesotans are putting their houses on the market in disgust at the weather and plan to relocate to... FLORIDA. (Yep, Global Warming is a terrible thing.)

On Saturday, we met up with the infamous Terri of the Frozen North for lunch at Wylde Roast and a Segway Magical History Tour of Minneapolis. After a safety video and a safety briefing, and fitting out with helmets, it took only a few minutes to learn to ride the stick with wheels, but those first few minutes were a bit exciting. Here is My Lovely Bride (think Corvette Chick at reduced speed) at our training area, looking a bit nonchalant and ready to get moving.She may have been thinking, "I can do 150 in my Vette... this will be too slow and boring for me..."

You can actually accelerate quickly, turn on a dime, and you simply shift the weight on your feet forward and aft to go ahead or in reverse. Riding the Segways was a blast, and we looked like a flock of ducklings in single file moving at 8-12 mph around the riverfront area. At $7,000 a pop to own, I'm not sure they will replace golf carts in The Villages, but for a day, they were great fun.


Here are the Three Musketeers stooging around on the famous Stone Arch Bridge at St. Anthony Falls. You may note that Terri is not wearing her trademark arctic parka and snow goggles today... it was unseasonably mild on Saturday.

The Stone Arch Bridge is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire Mississippi River, and was built by railroad tycoon James J. Hill and architect Charles C. Smith in 1882-1883.It served as a railroad bridge until 1978, and became a bike/walking path in 1994.

The Segway tour proceeded onto Nicollet Island, where only 144 residents occupy quaint old frame houses, one painted in garish purple and (incorrectly) reputed to be home of the singer previously known as Prince.

The Minneapolis riverfront is lovely, and we had hoped to come back for a bike ride, but we ran out of time, and since winter freeze-up may occur at any time, it will have to wait for another visit.

Saturday evening found us at Terri and Pam's lovely home in Coon Rapids, MN, for snackies and dinner - delicious homemade pasta sauce over spaghetti squash, with a very artistic salad and yummy chocolate dessert. Their cat Gabby was temporarily sequestered in the basement to prevent inadvertent interaction with Rudy and Gretchen, who might have mistaken her for a large squirrel...

I have occasionally poked fun at Terri for the odd name of her current home town. She very thoughtfully designed tee shirts for MLB and myself, with "Someone in Coon Rapids Loves Me" logos, to commemorate our visit!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Devil's Lake; Palfrey's Glen; A Glacial Landscape; Baraboo

We departed the Chicago area on Monday, heading for Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin. We hadn't spent much time in The Badger State, and since our Dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers, we thought it would be appropriate to see more of it. We chose that particular state park because of its hiking trails and spectacular scenery; it is so special that the Nature Conservancy named the Baraboo Hills as one of the Earth's Last Great Places because of their rare plants, animals and rocks.

Our favorite hike here was up the Balanced Rock trail... lest you think that this was an easy hike, since Wisconsin is relatively flat, here is your Humble Correspondent trying to decide which rock to clamber up and over next...

And here is our intrepid Hiker Chick posing next to the eponymous hunk of quartzite itself. "STOP! Don't push that rock!" That's beautiful Devil's Lake in the background, about 500 feet below her.

Another 5-star hike was up Palfrey's Glen, a gorgeous mini-canyon with hundred foot high walls and a clear, very cold mountain stream cutting its way into the bedrock.

The geology here is glacial; the ice sheets and glaciers that covered this area (known as the Wisconsin Glaciation, it lasted until just a few months ago) left enormous piles of rocks scattered across the landscape. The compressed rock and glacial till in this photo is known as conglomerate, or "plum pudding stone", and is a mix of quartzite and sandstone from ancient beaches. 

I thought I'd get a nice picture of these tree roots clinging to the canyon wall, and asked Suzanne to step up for perspective... not knowing that an orb would pop up in the photo, right around her head. (Maybe she really is an angel...)

The flora in Palfrey's Glen is also stunning. I was amazed at the size of these leaves... I could have used some on my recent backpacking trip in Smoky Mountain National Park! 

The blog has been absent for the past few days because we have been "Off the Grid". Our AT&T cell phone service was somewhat less than "limited" in Wisconsin... in fact, it was all but non-existent. The only way Suzanne could get her Sanaya and blog posts out was by sitting on a bench outside Jen's Alpine Cafe in Baraboo and connecting with their Wi-Fi. The town advertised a free Wi-Fi zone, but perhaps it was on the fritz. While Suzanne worked, the puppies and I chased squirrels in the town square (this is now one of their favorite places). I also got to admire this World War I cannon. Its location here seems fitting, because in WW II Baraboo's Badger Ordnance Works was the largest ammunition plant in the world. Baraboo was also the original home of the Ringling Brothers Circus, and was known for decades as Circus City.

Just before getting underway on Wednesday morning, I took a short hike from our campsite down the hill to Devil's Lake. I like early mornings; the lighting is soft, people aren't up yet, it's quiet, and you're more likely to see wildlife than later in the day. I sat for a few minutes, joyfully watching two ducks taking a morning swim and enjoying the moment... then back to The Coach to load up the caravan for our next stop: Minnesnowta!