Friday, August 30, 2013

On to Minnesota!

Well, folks, our experience last night and this morning was really something else.  Our concerns about the possible tornado chased us out of Roosevelt National Park a day early and we didn't get to do the hike in the North Unit we had planned for today.  Never have been able to get any reports today on whether any tornadoes actually came through there, but we knew we would not sleep very well worrying about what the camp host had told us had we stayed, so, for us, the decision to leave was the best one.  We first stopped at a motel in Watford City, just about 15 miles or so from the park entrance, thinking that it would be better to stay in a building, rather than the RV.  They were sold out, and the desk clerk said that all the other motels in Watford City were as well.  When Trisha told her what the camp host had said about a possible tornado, she was very helpful and found a weather mapping site on her computer and said it looked like the storm was coming through on a southwesterly trajectory, and that if we headed north to Williston, about an hour away, it looked like we would miss the worst of it.  So that's what we did, and as we were pulling out of the motel parking lot, we noticed an awful lot of pretty new trucks, many of them with oil company logos on them.  When we got to Williston, we saw several No Vacancy signs and then I went into a Hampton Inn, which I have never thought of as a high end motel.  The clerk said they had one room left, and it would be $220!!  I couldn't believe it and just left, without asking him why it was so much.  Eventually we found the Love's Truck Stop location and decided that, since it looked like we were likely going to miss the worst of the storm, asked them if we could just park in their lot.  They were happy to let us do that, and as we settled in, we noticed lots of oil related trucks filling the lot.

As far as the storm went, the wind and rain I posted about last night ended up not lasting very long, and it was calm for the rest of the night.  This morning when we got up, we looked out and saw an interesting sight--just across from the truck stop there were rows and rows of small huts and some long, pretty flimsy looking buildings.  We had commented the day before on how much road construction there seemed to be, which made driving kind of hairy, since in many places the road went down to 2 lanes, and the roads were filled with big trucks, many tankers and heavy equipment, along with all the road construction stuff.  I had never thought of North Dakota as being a particularly rich state, so we were puzzled by the seemingly endless road projects that were in progress everywhere we went.  So, I did a little googling about Williston and learned that in recent years, this has become an incredibly active place for oil drilling and related operations.  One article quoted the mayor quite extensively and turns out that Williston's population has nearly doubled in just a few short years.  While this has brought jobs to the area--indeed Trisha recalled hearing about folks from around Ellijay, GA coming out here for work--the mayor and others expressed real concerns about the huge demands this growth has placed on the infrastructure of the town.  They are way overrun by needs, not just the physical infrastructure like roads, sewer, housing, etc., but also the social infrastructure, like schools and social services, and they were falling further and further behind.  Then there were many concerns expressed about the environmental impact of the fracking and other technologies used to get to the oil here, and the potential for major ecological disasters.  Several of the articles told how there is such a shortage of housing for all these workers, numerous "man camps" as they're called have sprung up all around the area.  That, it turns out, was what we were seeing across from the truck stop--scores upon scores of these tiny little places, most owned by the oil companies, where the workers are crammed in at a really high density.  It reminded us of the old company towns around the mills in the south.  And, from what we read online, this housing is not cheap, and of course, the rent comes out of the paychecks and goes right back to the oil company.  And the articles I read also hinted at the pressure applied on local governments by the oil companies for tax breaks and concessions, which of course is not a new story.  All this presents many thorny issues, as I see it.  While I'm not so far to one side as to say just walk away from this natural resource, it does seem to me that these huge companies, who are making incredible profits, should be called on to foot the bill for the things necessary to let them make these profits.  Saw some billboards like "Vote to end property taxes!"  Not sure who is behind these, but have my thoughts.  So, had we not left the park last night and come to Williston, I might not have discovered all this.  As we continued driving toward Minnesota we saw so many oil operations, drilling derricks, many of which looked to be virtually brand new, and tons and tons of these huge trucks on the road.

Anyway, we spent the day mostly just driving on toward Minnesota, where we hope to make it to Camp Mishawaka near Grand Rapids tomorrow, so we can meet the director, Steve.  This is a camp where our dear, late friend, Nancy Kirwan, had been such a driving force for many years.  She was on their foundation board, the arm responsible for raising the money to bring economically disadvantaged kids from some of the cities to the camp.  As a psychologist, she also went up at the first of every summer camp season, to spend time giving orientation and training to the camp counselors, preparing them for the challenges they would face with the campers and how to best handle some often tough situations.  Our youngest son, Jeremy, spent two summers during college as a counselor here, and it turned out to be a really significant and impactful experience for him.  So Trisha called Steve to see if we could come by the camp to meet him and see the place we'd heard so much about--as soon as Trisha said her name on the phone, Steve said "Are you Jeremy's mom?" Pretty remarkable, as this was 10 years ago that Jeremy was a counselor there.  So, we still have several hours of driving ahead of us tomorrow, but looks like this may work, and we're really looking forward to that.  Then we plan to visit the two national parks in the northern part of the state, all near the Boundary Waters section of Minnesota.

We got into East Grand Forks, MN around 5:00 pm or so--we're now back to Central Time; East Grand Forks is just across the bridge from Grand Forks, which is in North Dakota, but we were glad we made it into MN tonight.  This makes the 19th state we've been in since we started!  Found a lovely State Park right on the river as we came into town and, fortunately, since we're just here tonight, they had lots of spaces, before being sold out tomorrow for the start of Labor Day Weekend.  But there is a wonderful greenway along the river, with a super paved bike trail, so after supper we were able to get in a good brisk ride along this trail.  Hope to do a longer ride in the morning before getting back on the road.

Today, when we stopped in a store for some supplies, I found a scale and stepped on, since it's been a while since I've checked my weight.  Much to my delight, I have now lost right at 80 pounds since we began following a vegan diet in February.  I also heard today from my doctor back home after she had reviewed my latest blood pressure log, and she's now taking me completely off one of the two remaining bp meds I've been taking for many, many years!  Man, am I excited about that!!  That means now down to just one, and that brings me one step closer to my goal of getting off meds totally! So I'll try not to be too messianic about this vegan thing (I know Jim, back in Utah you're making a face thinking about all those yummy green smoothies!!), but for both of us this has really been the ticket to a far healthier lifestyle than we've known for many, many years.

The huge collection of housing huts across from the truck stop

Various oil operations along the highway

Here you can begin to see some of the air pollution in the area.

The highway is loaded with big trucks!

Quite a contrast between the fields of sunflowers and the cloudy air

All over the place, these oil derricks are right in the middle of the fields of grain and sunflowers

Neat old house
More "man camps."

cool looking little church
The closer we got to the border with Minnesota, the more lakes we began to see

Devils Lake, SD

The big sky is just unbelievable out here!

Rich, rich soil

Here we are in our 19th state!!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

First thing this morning we took a ride along the bike path in Medora, the one I had done the night before.  As we were getting on our bikes, we noticed that the folks who had pulled into the space next to us overnight were from Tennessee, so we visited with them for a while--from Cleveland, and it's always fun to connect with folks from as far away as we are! We rode up and down the trail a couple of times, since we didn't want to get out on the road, and then did some laps in the park before wheeling around the town.  We had seen a yarn shop the day before with a big SALE sign in the window, so Trisha really needed to stop there!  But she found some great deals on yarn and some lovely patterns for other upcoming projects--of course it's absolutely necessary for the multiple storage containers for yarn never get very much empty space in them!!

Then we spent some time driving through the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The entrance to this unit is right in Medora.  There are two more units of this park, the North Unit and Elkhorn Ranch, where Roosevelt had maintained a cattle operation for a period of time.  The visitor center had a wonderful video and display about the time Roosevelt spent in the Badlands of North Dakota (heretofore, I had always thought the Badlands were just in South Dakota, but not so!), and how his time here had such a profound influence on his decision to make conservation the hallmark of his presidency.  He did so much to establish so many national parks, national forests and national monuments, craftily utilizing all of his political skills to navigate various laws to be able to do this.  His legacy to the country, among other things, is the foundation of the national park system, and reading all the details of this leads to a better understanding of just why Borglum wanted to include him among the presidents on Mt. Rushmore.  Also learned that "badlands" was the name originally given by the Sioux--Mako Shika--literally "land of no good."  This was  apparently because these people had been used to being on flat prairie land and when they saw these black hills and rugged terrain, their first impression was not exactly positive!

As we drove the 36 mile loop around the South Unit we saw so many varied aspects of these badlands, and saw many more colors than most of the badlands in South Dakota.  We also saw lots of horses, just running free throughout the park, as well as lots of buffalo.  We encountered several herds of bison along the road, and, like so many free range animals, they had a complete nonchalant attitude toward the vehicular traffic.  At one point, we had to wait for a number of them to cross the road--these guys are huge, and it took no convincing for us to heed the many warning signs about enjoying them from a distance!  We also saw lots of new calves--interestingly lots of these little ones resembled cows more than buffalo as they're very young--not yet developing the distinctive large head and bigger upper body.  Also notice that many of them start out much lighter in color than mature bison, and they obviously darken in color as they get older.  At one point we took a hike along an interpretive trail and along the trail the guidebook had you stop at a juniper tree, to describe how buffalo often find juniper trees and scrape mud and brush from their thick coats.  Then the guidebook says "Look around and see if you see any other evidence that buffalo have been here."  Sure enough, right in the middle of the path there was such evidence--that you had to be careful not to step in!!  We also saw more prairie dog towns and got some good shots of these cute little animals.  Amazing how easily these tiny creatures can coexist side by side with the huge bison!

After we left the South Unit we headed north some 70 miles to the entrance to the North Unit.  The Elkhorn Ranch is only accessible by gravel road which the folks at the visitor center advised against trying to navigate in our RV, so we really wanted to see the North Unit, as the tour guide book said many people find this section the most beautiful of all three.  We we got to the campground there around 4:30, at least it said 4:30 on our watches.  When we tried to go into the visitor center there, though, we discovered that we were in the Central Time Zone!  The way the state is carved up between Central and Mountain Time Zones is quite unique, and I can't figure out how/why the decisions were made to do it this way.  Anyway, the campground was quite nice and we found a secluded site, tucked under some trees, as were most all of the sites.  After supper we went for a bike ride and saw a bit of the fabulous scenery here.  After we got back the camp host came around and told us they were letting everyone know that there were forecasts of severe thunderstorms coming in around midnight, so we thanked him for letting us know.  Then, about an hour later he came back around to say that they were now including a tornado watch along with the severe thunderstorm watch, and told us that the strongest building in the campground was the bathroom/shower building, that if it looked like the tornadoes were coming, he'd sound his tornado warning horn and we were all to beat feet to the shower building!  Well, given what we've seen with tornadoes back home, we knew we didn't want to be parked under a bunch of trees in a tornado, so we decided to hit the road and head for a better place.  So we drove about an hour to Williston, a good sized place, and first thought about finding a motel to stay in for the night, but seems like all their lodging places were sold out, with the possible exception of a couple of no tell motels, rent by the hour places which we decided to pass on!  So here we are, at a truck stop where they said we could spend the night, thankfully.  When we pulled in it was just beginning to rain, but now the thunderstorms have started up pretty strong.  The weather forecast calls for severe thunderstorms--which we can easily handle--but no mention of tornadoes.  Seems we may have gotten far enough north of the path of the tornadoes, so here's hoping that holds true!  The wind may be rocking us here, but the trusty carhouse just stays strong!!

Driving through Medora, noticed this little store and had to take a picture, in honor of our son, Todd!

In the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, looking down from one of the overlooks onto the valley and I-94 below

 Love the contrast between the golden grasses and the black hills

Met a nice couple from Louisiana, who took this picture

 Walked out to this little promontory over the valley

It's as if someone just took a marker and made this line across the rock

 Beautiful flowers along the way!

 Hiking along a trail we found on the loop road
 Wow!  A wonderful sight to see such beauty among the badlands!!
 Looking out from the high vantage point on this trail

 This is Sentinel Butte, 18 miles away from where we were standing!
 A solitary bison off in the distance
Berries from the skunk plant
 Tons of juniper tree berries

 These smooth, sometimes almost like cannonball formations are concretions, where some of the softer rock has eroded away from rounded sections of harder sandstone
 Just let your mind wander for a minute as you look at this formation and see how many different images come to mind!!
 Really interesting rock patterns

Lots of free range horses

 Looks sorta like mushrooms!

 Coming up on a herd of buffalo

 Baby getting a little mother's milk!
 Cute little baby!

 Prairie dogs, right in amongst the buffalo!

 Coupla kids, just hanging!
 Gladly gave this fellow the right of way!

 Two more kids, getting a little frisky as they ran around playing
 See how much this little one looks like a cow?
 This grasshopper hitched a ride on Trisha's window for quite a ways before the wind blew it away!
Out of the South Unit, heading for the North Unit, more sunflowers!
 Coming into the North Unit

 Lovely grove of tress as we entered the campground