28 August 2011

Wonderful, wide, wild WY!!

Devils Tower from the bottom - did not make it to the top!
One of the many overlooks that day!
We had a fabulous day going about 30miles from campground to Devils Tower. Most of the way was on gravel roads thru the mountains. Beautiful, scenic, steep (sometimes) mountains ALWAYS with beautiful scenery. At Warrens Peak @ 6800 ft we could see Devils Tower (about 5100 ft)  below us in the distance. Magnificent scenery, stunning landscape, wonderful weather all come together to make a great visit. Also, BJ just reminded me of the cattle we kept running into (not literally) along these gravel roads in the hills. This is what I guess they call open range.

Our camping spot in the National Forsest

One of the trails we hiked in the Black Hills

Cattle roam around at their will. We had number of them stare us down as we went by them as they stood on the shoulder of the road.
As I said we had a fabulous day and are looking forward to tomorrow. We had planned on staying only a few days, mainly to see Devils Tower, but ended up extending thru Saturday when we have to move on to Gillette to the RV rally we have been planning on since April!

Beautiful Black Hills

VA Clinic in Hot Springs

Downtown Hot Springs

Use to be No 1 hotel, now a senior center

Hiking the grasslands trail

This one was not right on the road like some!
We drove south to Hot Springs along the edge of the Black Hills where the pararie grasslands meet the hills!  Then we rode back thru the Black Hills from Hot Springs to Custer State Park then back to Rapid City.  It was spectacular the whole way.  We hiked some trails along the way and it was even more magnificent on foot!

In Custer State Park we took a short hike thru the grasslands and learned how the trees and grasslands interrelate at the edge of the foothills.  Saw a number of buffalo, some just wondering down the side of the road.

One of the many beautiful cliffs

The naked Grey Ghost (no kayaks on top)!

Beautiful mountain stream
A trail near Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills

It was a full day!  We left the RV about 9AM and returned about 9PM, exhausted but happy.  We took the next day off. 

18 August 2011

Mt Rushmore

We enjoyed a day at Mt Rushmore and the Black Hills.  We started out at Mt Rushmore and enjoyed                             

  a few hours there and then returned to a small tourist town back down the road for lunch.  There was a gunfight in the street while we were there.  Some gunslinger with a grudge against a local guy with a long bull whip that drove the wagons that brought supplies to the gold miners!  We managed to get some good ice
cream and out of town before they stopped the traffic was stopped by the coroner news wagons!! .

We took the scenic highway from there to Sylvan Lake about 10 miles SW of Mt Rushmore.  It was a narrow (BJ says too narrow) winding mountain highway with some beautiful overlooks that took your breath away (in BJ's case literally)!  The Grey Ghost maneuvered around them smoothly and effortlessly, especially since he was traveling naked, i.e. no kayaks on top.

We got some great pics that will do a better job of showing the majesty of the Black Hills better then my mere words.  So enjoy the pics that follow.

One of the many stone peaks in the Black Hills

Harney Peak

Another beautiful rock peak

A one lane tunnel on Needles highway thru Black Hills
 The Black Hills were formed 60 million years ago when some primal rock was thrust up to the surface and what we have today is the weathered results. 
A lot more beautiful in person - try it!

And another!   


We also hiked up the trail to Harney Peak later but did not make it all the way as it was a 6 mile round trip and it was getting late in the day.

At Sylvan Lake there were several trailheads and we had planned on hiking up to Harney Peak but it was getting late and so we decided to just go up part way.  We made it up about half-way and it was well worth the time.  The main route was through a Ponderosa Pine forest. Ponderosa Pine is the dominate tree and what gives the Black Hills there name because the younger trees have a very dark bark and in the distance it gives a dark color to the hills.  However, due to recent drought the Pine Bark Beetle, another native of the area, had made some serious inroads into the forests and we saw numerous patches of dead trees.  They are trying to control them by cutting infested trees and removing them.  Our route was through a shallow valley where the pines had been cut and then removed by helicopter because it was so inaccessible.   They were creating an environment in this valley to encourage the aspen, another native species to grow thereby increasing the diversity of the forests and make the Pine Bark Beetle less of a threat!  Time will tell about the success of this effort.

The Haney Trail beginning

In the cleared valley

Harney Peak still a mile and half away by foot!

I had intended to take this short spur off the main trail but it was getting too late, not to mention too tired!

13 August 2011

Black Hills Fun

Today we did the stream; tomorrow we climb the mountain!

Road to cache in SD

Road to the school house
The school house.  Notice the outdoor johns behind the school house.

Ellsworth AFB is on other side of the ridge in front of the Jeep - about 10 miles  I was searching for a geocache in the beautiful countryside of western SD.  The school house was not functional - windows and doors all gone, one of the outdoor latrines (visible at edge of Jeep window) was pushed over.  Other, (visible at back edge of schoolhouse) look functional.
 I enjoyed the afternoon driving the "outback" of Rapid City.  The gravel roads were straight to the horizon.
  Geocaching is the way to explore new territory.  Will write more about this day later.

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10 August 2011

Erosion in the Badlands

As mentioned in previous post, erosion is an important factor in creating the Badlands.  The various soil densities and slopes and the wind along with the water form the land into the magnificent landscape we see.  One of the geocahes we did will there gave some idea of what the forces were.
The cache was the Dillon Pass Erosion or GC1FKPJ.
The ground was level with the top of the benchmark over 50 years ago.
It was based on the erosion around a benchmark placed over 50 years ago on top of a natural mound.  These benchmarks are implanted level with the ground in a hole filled with concrete.  The benchmark is bronze and attached to a medal pipe which is embedded in the concrete.   So for this earthcache I was to measure how far above grade the top of the benchmark was now and then use that figure to determine the average erosion over the time the benchmark has been there.  In this case it was about two-tenths of an inch a year.  That does not sound like much, but in 150,000 years (a drop in the bucket of geological time) that would be over 800 ft.  They claim that in 250,000 years this will be a level plain instead of this gorgeous landscape so in that context two-tenths of an inch in a year as some significance.

An early geologist after visiting the area put it another way.  He said the Badlands are slowly migrating to the Missouri River which is less then a 100 miles away.  So if you don't want to miss some beautiful scenery you better plan on visiting the Badlands soon,

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

The Badlands are Awesome Lands

B-1 Bomber, Ellsworth AFB, SD
We took the day and headed back east from Ellsworth AFB to tour the Badlands which are about 40 miles east.  All the times I came TDY to Ellsworth AFB I never took the time to pay attention to the Badlands.  Drove by them any number of times, but that is sort of like looking at a Strawberry milkshake across the street versus drinking one!

Back in the day - Ellsworth AFB was one of a few double wings on the northern tier.  These bases had a full wing of ICBM Minuteman missiles and a Heavy Bomb Wing.  Now I find that the 44th Strategic Missile Wing is gone.  Past arms negotiation efforts have reduced the numbers of strategic missiles and the ones at Ellsworth AFB are now history.  Missiles removed and destroyed, warheads removed,  and the silos filled .   The B-52s were replaced with the B-1, the new workhorse bomber of the USAF.  It appears that all of the bombers here are deployed as I have not seen or heard one in the week we have been here.  I expect they ares supporting our forces in SW  Asia.  Keep them in your prayers.  And, hope for a safe return for all.

Multi-colored soil layers
Ok, back to the Badlands.  I think it is a misnomer, Spectacularlands, Magnificentlands, or Majesticlands come to mind as more appropriate.  Or, maybe Walland!  This area was formed about 65 million years or so ago as the huge inland sea drained.   After that there were alternating layers of decomposition and deposits from volcanoes and other activities over more millions years or so! This was a sub-tropical paradise part of the time!  Then about 500,000 years ago (seems like yesterday) water and wind started an erosion process that continues today.  They estimate that in another 500,000 years or so this will be a pretty level prairie.
In the meantime the landscape is just awesome.  The various soil runs from very soft to very hard so the erosion process produces spectacular landscapes.  If you have driven I-90 in western SD you are a few miles north of the Badlands and may remember seeing the Wall Drugs advertisements along the way.  Sort of like the Ron-Jon Surfshop ads along I-95.  Wall Drugs is a big tourist joint that is fun to stop at every now and then and I always thought it was named after Jack Wall or Jane Wall or the Wall brothers or somebody else.

The Wall from "below"

The Wall from on top of it
Wrong!  Several miles South of the city of Wall is the beginning of the Badlands and where the earth has been eroded at the edge of the Badlands there is a wall that is a very visible landscape feature.   It is hundreds of feet high and very rugged and visible for miles to the south.

We hiked several different trails including the one in the picture looking down from the top of the wall.  Getting to the top of the wall was interesting; BJ opted out becasue it was rated too strenuous.  It was about 1.5 miles out and back and it had a warning about climbing a steep ladder.  Well, the ladder was logs about 6 inches in diameter and 4 feet long strung on each end of the log to steel cables.  Sort of like a real heavy duty rope ladder.  It was laid on a very steep slope.  At the beginning you could step from one log to the other, but as you went up the slope and it got steeper you only had to stick your arms out in front of you to steady yourself on the rungs as you stepped from one to the other.  Plus, as you neared the top the soft rock under the middle of the rungs had washed out and the ends of the rungs were barely stabilized on the sides of the "ditch" underneath.    As I started up I noted there was a couple at the top, on the trail; I determined they were not coming down so I started up and did not pay any attention to anything except staying on the "ladder"!

The mountain goat when I first saw him
After I got to the top they pointed out a magnificent mountain goat that was laying on a patch of grass a short distance away watching us.  He seemed more curious then wary.  You could clearly see him from the bottom but I was so focused on the ladder, I had not seen him.   
After watching him for awhile I continued on the trail to the rim at the top where I took the picture above of the Badlands below.  I noticed there was a dry stream bed below the rugged path and on the way back I dropped down into the stream bed.  Since we were so close to the top I was not concerned about a flash flood and if it had started raining I could scramble out of the bed without too much trouble or double back since it was such a short distance.  The stream bed was a lot easier walk then the path which was on very steep sides anywhere from 15-20 feet above the bed.  I am thinking "Why did they make us take the strenous trail with some steep, deep drop offs earlier in the trail.  Gee, I will go get BJ and bring her up the trail, this is so easy."  About that time I found out why the path up was not in the stream bed - I was not quite half way back and reached where there was (would have been) a magnificent 70 ft waterfall except there was no water - only the end of the bed at the vertical drop.   At any rate I backtracked a short distance and got up on the real trail and continued on my way back.
The lip of the wannabe waterfall!
The trail back, not in the dry bed!

 The scenery was spectacular along the whole trail, the erosion over the eons was obvious and the strata was always changing as you went along.  Would have loved to take the hike with a geologist that could have explained what I was seeing and the evolution of the land.  
When I got back to the ladder the mountain goat had gotten up and moved part way down the slope and was grazing on some grass near the ladder - forgot the steep slope, he was proving he was a mountain goat.  There were some folks below concerned about coming up the ladder because he was so close to it.  However, I figured he was not going to bother anybody so I started down.  A little over half way down I stopped to check on him and he had moved a little closer to the ladder.  I think because the grass was greener close to the ladder.  I was able to steady myself and get some more pictures of him.  He watched me as much as I was watching him!  
Who is watching who, here!
By the time I reached the bottom, the folks there decided it was safe to go up and they were on there way as the mountain goat watched.

BJ and I got in the Jeep and headed west back toward the base and thur the rest of the park.  We were near the east edge of the park.  Got some more spectacular scenery and we did several geocaches along the way.  Will do a blog on one that was particularly interesting.  Here are several more pictures of the Badlands!

A sunflower in the sun!

Notice any erosion?

Another beautiful overlook!
And, as I write this we have only spent a short afternoon in the beautiful Black Hills to the west of us and have not been to Mount Rushmore!  But, we are planning on spending two weeks here and some of that is down time.  But, down time in a spectacular place.

Always at home, no matter where we are!!

08 August 2011

Live from the Badlands

Breathtaking, Awesome, Inspiring, Beautiful. We are driving hiking admiring the Badlands of South Dakota.
Believe this as majestic as the Overseas Highway in The Keys.
More to follow.
Bob & BJ
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Hiking Trails in Black Hills National Forest

A preview of things to come!  We are in Rapid City and hiking the beautiful hills around Mt Rushmore.

Also, I am learning to do blogs directly from the smartphone.  They will be shorter, but more frequent, I believe and give a more real time shot of what is going on as we wonder around the country!

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