We love our technology, but in some ways we are taking the old road.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Our last tourist stop was Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

We started at the Painted Canyon overlook.

Then we drove into the park loop a bit. These badlands are much greener than the South Dakota badlands.

We hiked Wind Canyon trail; it's short but pretty.

Honestly, by this time we'd seen so much of the badlands; the day before on the paleontology trip we'd spent the whole day wandering around North Dakota badlands. So we were less enthralled than we would have been if we'd started at this park. It was nice. But we stayed just a short time. We were also short on time because of adding the dinosaur day to our plans at the last minute. Wandering way back to the petrified forest was not really possible on our schedule, although I'd like to see that someday.

We saw a few buffalo at this park. We also saw people ignore the signs, pull off the road, get out of their cars, and approach buffalo bulls to take pictures. Honestly, people, that's a bull you're approaching from two different sides and cornering. (sigh) I know they're amazing to see.

We saw one of the wild horses that live in the park; it ran in front of us across the road like a deer. That was interesting.

My husband and I would love to see all of the national parks, and now we can add this to our list of the ones we've seen.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Digging for Dinosaurs (and Other Prehistoric Life)

After Devil's Tower, we headed to Bowman, North Dakota. This was the pièce de résistance of our trip.

We got to dig for dinosaurs.

The Pioneer Trails Regional Museum has a paleontology department that offers one-day field tours. We got to spend a day out on private land in the badlands of North Dakota with the paleontology staff and one other family group, being taught how to find fossils that are 73 to 28 million years old. This site has the K-T boundary exposed, meaning that the fossils above the line are from after the dinosaurs became extinct, and the ones below are from the time of the dinosaurs.

This was huge for my 11-year-old son who has loved dinosaurs since he was 4. I know a lot of little kids love dinosaurs for a while, but he has been persistently fascinated by them all these years. He's read every book on them he can find. His kindergarten teacher pulled him out of class one day when he was in first grade so that he could pronounce the dinosaur names in a book she was reading to her class.

I thought he'd probably enjoy himself on the dig, although I was concerned that it was an all-day event and might get boring or difficult. And I wasn't sure what the girls would think.

I should not have worried. The staff really steered all of us, especially the kids, to spots where they were likely to find little fossils. We got to keep the plant fossils and imprints for ourselves (while all the animal ones went back to the museum).

And we were looking at and sorting rocks on the ground all day. That is my youngest child's idea of good entertainment. She can do that for ages all on her own.

It was completely worth it for us. It was one of the most unique things we've ever done. We learned interesting things. The people were really nice. And we wanted to go hiking around the badlands, anyway.

The cactus were in bloom. Yes, this was North Dakota!

Be advised of a few things if you're thinking about such an expedition. Some people would get really bored, especially most young kids. This was just a good fit for mine. We did some challenging hiking. We went up and down some steep slopes - with picks and screwdrivers in hand (we took our kids' away while they were climbing). There was no bathroom of any sort whatsoever all day. But we did go back to our cars for lunch. We were outside all day, and it was hot. We went through a lot of water. And it's very remote. We did think about that a bit with my daughter's peanut allergy. She only ate familiar things, and we had multiple EpiPens and a cell phone that actually had service (mine did not). We were out in the middle of nowhere. Oh, there are also rattlesnakes to watch out for, but we didn't see any.

But was it awesome? Oh, yeah. I can't publicize what fossils we found, but we found 65 million year old fossils! I'm so glad I happened across a website about this program and that we went for it. It will be a lifelong memory for all of us. My son now says he knows that he will be a paleontologist when he grows up, because now he knows he can at least be an amateur one like our guides, whatever his regular job might be.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Devil's Tower

Next stop, Devil's Tower in Wyoming.

The site is run by the National Park Service. I love the NPS; everything they run is a good place to visit, as far as I've seen.

We hiked around Devil's Tower. That was another hot and tiring walk, although it was cooler than the day we were in the badlands. It was a mile and a quarter on the shorter trail, if I'm remembering correctly. So we said, "We can handle that." We noticed the sign said to bring water, so we grabbed a bottle from the car. That was a good idea! It took us a long time to walk around, even though the trail is paved.

There are giant chunks of rock all around that have fallen off of the volcanic tower.

People were climbing it while we were there. Wow, that climb is straight up - serious mountain climbing.

Walking the trail gives you plenty of time to look at the formation from all different viewpoints.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Spearfish Canyon

Our next stop was Spearfish Canyon, still in the Black Hills in South Dakota.

I loved Spearfish Canyon. One of the things I liked best was that, although we still had rugged stone formations to look at, I couldn't fall off; I was already at the bottom!

We started from the north at the town of Spearfish and drove south through the canyon. The walls get higher as you go. We stayed at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge.

It was a nice place in a lovely, remote location in the canyon. We don't usually stay in places like that (the whole place is called Spearfish Canyon Resort), but I found it highly rated on TripAdvisor, the photos on their website were beautiful, and it was competitively priced with the chain hotels in Spearfish.

There were hiking trails right next to the lodge and restaurant, so we explored one that evening when we arrived and another the next morning.

There are three waterfalls nearby. There's also the site for the winter camp in Dances with Wolves.

This is Spearfish Falls:

The woods are full of the scent of pine trees. The trails cross Spearfish Creek, which is very pretty with all its little rapids. Despite the huge numbers of tourists around South Dakota that week, it was quiet there.

This is Roughlock Falls:

There were paved trails and various viewing decks around those.

While we were looking for Roughlock Falls, we went the wrong way and ended up at a pretty fishing hole. We'd like to someday go back and fish for trout like the several trout fishermen were doing there.

I think that we found a gem hidden in the Black Hills. Spearfish Canyon is really lovely.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Black Hills

Our next activity was driving the scenic, winding mountain roads in the Black Hills. We took Iron Mountain Road south from Keystone. You can see Mount Rushmore from a distance now and then. You do some hairpin turns at high altitudes.

There are also one-lane tunnels.

You are supposed to stop, honk your horn, and then drive through. This has worked other times I've been on this road. But it was 4th of July week and busy, and for some reason people were disregarding those signs! Some people were just driving straight through without stopping or honking. Sometimes they were coming at us through the tunnel after we honked, but we also saw it at one point when we pulled over near a tunnel to have a snack: car after car just going. The tunnels are short but narrow.

Here's another view from Iron Mountain Road:

Then we drove across the top of Custer State Park. We've seen wildlife there before, but they've never been on the road with us. We hit the jackpot on that this time. First we saw the burros, who were very pushy about being fed. But of course, people were feeding them, despite signs telling them not to.

Then some buffalo started crossing the road.

We pulled over to watch, because it was neat to see them. But then when we drove on, we saw a huge herd, hundreds, all alongside the road - and on it! We were thrilled.

The picture above is a calf nursing alongside the road. There were many babies.

You can see that they own the road. They just cut you off if they want to walk on the road, edging their way until they're walking right in front of your car. They are really used to traffic.

There were some big bulls among them.

This one decided to follow our van. I didn't get any decent pictures, but he walked behind us for a while. We were joking that he looked like a minotaur chasing us! Then another car got right behind us and he followed them. That driver didn't look so thrilled; those big guys with horns could damage your car! There were many motorcyclists on the road, too. We talked to one at the visitor center afterwards, and she said that a bull started to charge her and her companion before a car pulled up between them and the bull. She got a chance to thank the driver who walked by as we were talking.

So then it was time for the Needles Highway, going back north from Custer. I drove the first half of it. I am not a good driver or passenger on mountain roads, I have discovered. When I'm driving on narrow, winding, roller-coaster roads with no shoulder and with other traffic and there's a gigantic drop-off right alongside me, it's white-knuckle time. I go slowly, I can't look away from the pavement in front of me, and it's torture. When I'm a passenger, I'm a terrible nag: "It says 10 miles per hour on this turn! Look, the sign says it's curvy up ahead! Don't go so fast! (gasp)" My husband is an excellent driver. It's just that those roads are terrifying and I don't want us to fall off the side of the mountain because I failed to warn him. :-)

The views are beautiful:

The needle-like formations are interesting.

There were more one-way tunnels:

And finally we were done and back on normal highways. (sigh of relief)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mount Rushmore

We went to the evening show at Mount Rushmore.

We'd seen it during the day before, and we weren't sure we wanted to take the time this trip to see it again. But we did have an evening available, and we'd heard that the evening show was neat.

A park ranger gave a speech about explaining what America is like to people in Africa when she was in the Peace Corps. And they showed a movie about Mount Rushmore and the presidents on it. Then they lit the monument. (And, no, our camera doesn't take good pictures in low light!)

Then a visiting Boy Scout troop lowered and folded the flag. And they invited the veterans in the audience to come up and be recognized.

It was neat to be there during the week of the 4th of July with people from all over America.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Attack of the Beetles

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you this breaking news. Colorado potato beetles have invaded Betsy's garden. Here is a picture of the culprits:

Photo: University of MN Dept. of Entomology

They have appeared in large numbers and defoliated the majority of Besty's potato plants. Betsy and her husband decided to cut their losses and dispose of most of the plants. They harvested half a grocery bag of new potatoes. They left 3 or 4 of the best-looking potato plants and picked the beetles and eggs off as best they could.

Besty and her daughters had the following to say: "Eeew!"

A close watch will be kept on the tomato plants, as they are at risk of infestation as well.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Badlands National Park

We've been to the badlands in South Dakota before, and we really like them. It's fun to walk around on the trails.

And we like to hike around off-trail.

Our almost-7-year-old now fits into her sister's old hiking boots. So we'd tell her to slow down, let us help her, stay on the trail. And we'd hear, "Guys! I have hiking boots!" As though that made it all okay, because she had super powers for climbing hills or something. We heard that the whole trip, actually, because we did a fair amount of (mostly easy) hiking.

It was 96 that day. Whew, that was tiring. We went through a whole cooler of drinks.

One fun thing we did was find the same exact off-trail spot where, four years ago, we'd explored and taken a picture that we sent out in our Christmas card and still have framed in our living room. We didn't end up standing in exactly precisely the same spot. But it's close. The kids are so much bigger!

Fabulous Family Vacation

All last week we were gone on a family vacation through both Dakotas (and a bit into Wyoming). It was a really great vacation. The kids traveled so well. Gone are the days of diapers, potty-training, frequent feedings of different foods than we eat ourselves, naps. They are able to entertain themselves in the car and be patient about long drives. They enjoy interesting scenery. Yes, there were times of "Keep your hands to yourselves," and "Please stop making that noise," and "Stop being so silly!" (Hey, I just quoted VeggieTales.)

We did kind of rush around from one location to another. But that kept it interesting, and we saw so much that way.

I'll be posting about our trip in the next several entries.

Oh, and I used TripAdvisor.com, which I learned about from More Things on a Stick, to book our hotels. It was great! I highly recommend it.