Saturday, July 21, 2012

Medora Redux

I was all set to write a blog post about our return visit to Medora, North Dakota and its Pitchfork Fondue and Musical when I decided to check my journal from the year 2001.  Sure enough, I found our previous visit logged there on August 30, 2001.  So what follows is the narrative from 2001, but the photographs are from this year's visit since I didn't get a photograph of the steaks from the Pitchfork Fondue the last time around.  I've already blogged and posted photographs of our visit to the south unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park but this post has a little bit of additional information.
 Thursday. August 30- Denny started the morning off by changing the oil in the truck, then we dropped off the old oil. I had packed a picnic lunch and grabbed the cameras, so after that we headed for Medora and the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was about 33 miles away, and we stopped first at the Painted Canyon visitors’ center where we purchased a great bird book, then lunched while overlooking the Badlands. We then pushed on to Medora, the town on the edge of the park and decided we’d have to check out the town after doing the park, as it was all rustic buildings. We stopped at the Harold Schaefer center for our tickets to the Medora Musical that I had ordered, and Denny got to talking with an elderly volunteer who explained who Harold Schaefer was; he grew up in Bismarck, and was enamored of Teddy Roosevelt, and started marketing a product called Glass Wax, which became a huge hit, and then later he marketed Mr. Bubble, which was an even bigger hit. He wasn’t into the manufacturing end of the business, he’d just find a good product he believed in and then marketed the hell out of it, making the product successful. It worked, and he began pouring money into Medora to rebuild it. They have a nice little museum about his life and his company and it was really interesting. Anyway the old guy talked us into trying the “pitchfork fondue” dinner before the show, so we bought tickets to that also.
We headed into the park, and right away found the prairie dog cities. These were right next to the road, so the little guys just ignored the cars since they were so used to their presence, unlike the ones at the north unit where you had to hike back a mile to see them, so they were unused to people and no cars were around. We saw several elderly male lone bison, which the volunteer had explained were males no longer to fulfill their duties as stud and herd leader, so they were chased out by the herd to live out their remaining days alone. We also saw a herd of wild mustangs in the distance, but were unable to get close enough to take pictures. It is an awesome area and well worth the trip. After exploring the park, we wandered around town a little, then sat on a park bench and read the newspaper until it was time to head up to the dinner and show. The dinner consisted of crudities and dip, coleslaw, cubed melon, baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, rolls, baked beans and brownies and a big rib eye steak which they threaded on a real pitchfork and dropped into huge vats of boiling oil, deep frying them. It seared the outsides and kept the juices inside. Boy were they good, and it was easy to cut them with the plastic utensils we were given. All this while sitting on top of the canyon overlooking the Badlands while the sunset and the almost full moon rose. Not bad. We chatted with one of the ticket takers for a while since we had an hour to kill, then went down to our seats for a really good show. When they introduced the members of the band we were very surprised to hear that the guitar player was from Beavercreek, Ohio!   We certainly didn’t expect that! There was lots of singing and dancing, a stand up comedian, a family of trampoline artists and horses and Teddy Roosevelt and good fiddle playing by a young lady from St. Louis, and fireworks and it was fun! It was a longish ride home on a very dark highway as we were tired, but it was a great day!
2012 version; this year immediately after dinner at the Pitchfork Fondue there was a "trick golfer" who supplied entertainment while we waited to be able to be seated for the Musical.  He did everything from standing on a ball on a table while hitting a golf ball to jumping rope on that same ball to hitting the ball left handed with the right handed driver being held backwards/upside down.  Denny and I spoke with him privately while waiting for our meal and Joey said that he practice 14 hours a day for years to develop his act.
 Before we could be seated for the show, a thunderstorm rolled in and the show was cancelled.  We exchanged our tickets for the next evening.  This is the view of the stage from our seats.
 The show starts off with "The Star Spangled Banner" after the cowboys ride onto the stage.
 It was children's night so there was a "bit" where all kids were invited on stage to receive a gift and be told a brief story.
 There are songs and dancing and a live band provides the music.
 Since Teddy Roosevelt built a cattle ranching business and a home here, there's always a section about Teddy.
And some audience participation during a segment involving long distance spitting and a spitoon (all pretend of course.)
It's all good clean fun.  And just to see who is paying attention--because the show was rained out when we exchanged our tickets we were given a second set of tickets to be used any time this year or any time next season until September of 2013.  If someone would like to see the show while traveling in North Dakota this year or next, let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Thanks, Teddy

"I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota."  That's a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, who came to North Dakota one summer to hunt and who ended up creating the Maltese Cross ranch with a couple of partners and then later building anther residence, Elkhorn Ranch, on his own.  After watching the decline of the bison due to non-stop hunting and disease and seeing the grasslands disappear because of overgrazing by cattle, Teddy Roosevelt became concerned about what was happening in the Dakotas and areas of the west.  Once he was elected president he created several national parks, created the US Forest Service and signed the US Antiquities Act, leading the way in preserving a great part of our heritage; our own beautiful country.

Eleven years ago Denny and I explored some of North Dakota, stopping at both the north and south units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This time around we stayed in a campground in the town of Medora which is the gateway to the south unit of the park.  Our stay here has seen temperatures reaching 100+ degrees on several days so when the day started out overcast Denny and I jumped in the truck hoping the slightly cooler temperatures would allow the animals of the park to show themselves.  According to the brochures handed out at the ranger station we had the potential to see bison, wild mustangs, deer, elk, prairie dogs, pronghorn antelopes, big horned sheep, badgers and coyotes that live here, but we only managed to see the deer, bison, wild mustangs and prairie dogs. 

The south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a visitor center near the entrance with a small museum, gift shop and the original Maltese Cross Ranch house which has been moved to its current location.

Once you've checked out the museum, toured the cabin and watched the brief video in the visitor center and checked out the ruins of the meat packing plant on the grounds it's time to jump in your vehicle and start driving the 36 mile loop in the park.  There are a lot of short hiking trails near the overlooks as well as longer hikes throughout the park.  There are also riding trails and a stable that has guided horseback tours available if that's your inclination.  Just bring along a lot of water.  There are also primitive campgrounds available within the park; there are no hook ups there but there are restrooms.

But the main attraction here is miles and miles of scenery and rugged, rocky terrain softened by areas of cottonwoods along the Little Missouri River that winds throughout the park. 

What you won't find here are crowds--this is sort of off the beaten path although its entrance is just a couple of miles from an interstate exit.  So you can wander at your leisure, being enveloped in the scent of sagebrush and immersed in the sounds of silence.  Which we did until the thunderstorms rolled in and we rolled out.
Of course, I have to close with an "awwww" moment; this wild mustang foal who was all tuckered out from being so darned cute.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Getting Partially Around Custer State Park

One of our favorite state parks is Custer State Park in South Dakota.  The last time we were here was the week of September 11 in the year of 2001 so that was a very weird and somewhat somber time to be visiting Mt. Rushmore and Custer SP so we thought we'd visit the park at a different time period.  I was surprised that the park wasn't more crowded with tourists, but then again, we were still suffering through 100+ degree heat here in South Dakota.

The visitor fee of $15 per vehicle might seem a bit steep until you realize that it allows you access to the park for a period of seven days; not bad.  This time around we entered from the eastern side of the park and headed south on the Wildlife Loop.  It wasn't long before we discovered one of several large herds of bison blocking traffic, so we settled in to take some photographs and a couple video clips.

This one makes you think of the buffalo nickel, doesn't it?  These guys are huge, weighing about a ton.  If you see a lone male buffalo, they are normally the older males who have fought for their herd of females and lost.  The older, losing male will then spend the rest of his days alone.
The bison have no fear of vehicles and simply amble across the roadway at will, assuming traffic will stop for them.  The truck pulled off near the center left of the photo below is a park ranger with a whip (I asked if it was to force the tourists to move along and got a grin from him).  I assume the whip was to assist in getting the bison to move if they blocked traffic for too long or created too much of a back up.
The wild donkeys are descended from animals that were once available for trail rides in the park.  When that business was closed, the donkeys were simply let go to live free in the park.  They are the park's beggars and will pretty much eat anything that's offered to them.
This little guy was not only adorable, but his coat was unbelievably soft.  He accepted pats and ear rubs but still preferred mom's milk to any treats being offered.  That's mom poking her head into the picture on the lower right.

Circling west and then north you arrive at Needles Highway.  There are three tunnels on this route, the smallest being 8'4" wide and 12' tall and the next smallest being 10' wide and only 10' tall.  It was at the 10' tall tunnel that we saw a Class C RV trying to figure out what they were going to do because they were too tall to enter and the roadway behind them (2 lane) was a long series of hairpin switchbacks.  I will say that when you enter the park you are given a booklet that has a map that lists all the interior roadway, all the tunnels and all the height and width limitations on said tunnels.  So no excuses for folks who get stuck.

 Needles Highway was named for the tall spires of rock jutting out of the ground in this section of the park.  It's quite a change from the rolling hills of the Wildlife Loop.

Can you see the resemblance to a bear in the yellowish rock below?
This time around we only saw bison and pronghorn antelope.  Our last time through we also saw big horn sheep, although there are also mountain goats, elk, and a couple of varieties of deer that live in the park.

Originally there were 50,000 forested acres in the park.  Wildfires have burned 23,000 of those acres, some of that thanks to the pine beetles that are killing the trees, turning them to tinder.  Trees that have been damaged by the pine beetles turn red/brown like those below and whole mountain sides are covered with these dying trees.

If you enlarge the photo above, you'll notice the kayakers.  This is Sylvan Lake, where there are boat rentals and a beach for swimming as well as hiking trails and picnic tables.  Another nice area for a picnic is by Legion Lake.  There are several campgrounds within the park, most of which have at least a few electric sites and fishing is permitted after you purchase a license.  Rock climbing is also permitted within the park and there are ranger talks and children's programs as well.
This bridge is actually located on Hwy 16 north of Custer State Park but is attractive because it's made of wood.  Somehow the huge beams were bent (I assume by soaking in water) and formed into these huge arches.  It's a lovely piece of work.
There is so much to see and do in the Rapid City area but I have to admit, I think I prefer the area after Labor Day when the crowds are a bit smaller.  I'm sure we'll be back to this area again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Week With A Geek

While there have been numerous problems and complaints about Facebook, I have to admit that Facebook enabled me to locate my best friend from high school, Shelley.  Shelley and I spent the summer of 1971 working at a factory whose assembly line was staffed with women only and the two of us middle class white bread innocents got an education there that we could never have gotten in school.  Working the 4 PM to midnight shift meant meant we had a lot of energy to work off at the end of shift so we would go to the dance clubs after work (while Shelley continued her college education) and we partied hard for a while.  When we each got married we stood up for each other at our respective weddings but then drifted apart after Shelley's divorce.

Notices began to appear on FB about our 40th high school reunion and that's when Shelley and I saw each other's name and got in touch.  In 2010 Denny and I were due to pass through the area in Colorado where Shelley now lived, but when we arrived in town Shelley had to fly back to Ohio as her mother had suddenly passed away.  We managed a brief meeting the night she flew back into town and a breakfast the next morning as we were leaving but had no time to catch up. 

This year our visit was complicated by the fact that the High Park wildfire was burning out of control in Fort Collins, Colorado and my buddy had taken on the responsibility of providing a temporary home for half of the wolves and wolf mixtures of the Wolf Sanctuary that was located in the area of the wildfire.   Temporary dog kennels were installed on her property and her large outbuilding was converted into an air conditioned pen for some of the wilder wolves.  So when Shelley wasn't working she had a lot going on at home helping in the care and feeding of these stressed out, beautiful animals.

Denny and I also got to meet Shelley's newest furkids that she adopted last year; this is Beauty.  You have to love that face (the dog's, not Denny--hee!)
The geeky part comes from what Shelley does; she has a whole bunch of letters after her name and is co-owner and CTO of a company that is involved in technology and research.  Part of her job involves checking the company's product under an electron microscope.  Shelley allowed me to accompany her to see what an electron microscope can do.  Running on 100 kilovolts (that's 100,000 volts mind you) I watched as Shelley magnified some of the particles she was studying to the 105,000 power.  As she explained it "think of it as looking at a house that sits a mile away.  Now visualize being able to see that same house from 105,000 miles away--that's the magnification of the microscope."  Totally geeky.  What was fascinating to see was the shapes that nature created when gold was added to seed particles in solution; rods, spheres and in a new experiment that didn't work out the way she wanted the shapes ended up as triangles, diamonds and pentagons (second photo below).  Remember, these photographs are of invisible to the naked eye; the particles are magnified 6600 times in the second photo.  Mind boggling.

Shelley, who is a vegan, also introduced me to the vegan lifestyle in the form of several meals out where I tried a variety of dishes that were incredibly tasty.  I can see that with an effort you could eat quite well without having to resort to smoothies for eating your vegetables and fruit.  I don't think at this stage of the game I could ever convert Denny to the lifestyle but I can see perhaps adding a few more meatless meals to my repertoire.

Our week flew by, Shelley and I still didn't get caught up with each other but we made a dent in the last 35+ years that have passed since we hung out together.  It was a great week despite the constant threat of wildfires around us and the occasional pall of smoke hanging over us.

And the wolves are finally back home in their sanctuary.
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