Saturday, August 31, 2019

Critters of South Dakota

It's been awhile - time for a critter post!

For my early June trip to South Dakota I brought along my big zoom lens in the hopes of capturing some wildlife. 

Curious deer

If you want to see wildlife, western South Dakota has plenty of opportunities.  Some were right in my parent's back yard.  Deer and wild turkey were daily visitors.

Scrawny turkey

The wild turkeys cracked me up.  Their walk was so ungainly.  And they have such a dumb looks on their faces.

Big tom!  (aka "Mr Thanksgiving")

Even their gobbling made me laugh.  It was fun to watch the big toms boss the ladies around.

Little bunny

My folks had a family of tiny cottontail rabbits in their backyard.  So cute!  Thank goodness for my big zoom lens, because they weren't about to stick around for photos.

Baby buffalo

One day my parents and I drove through Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park in the Black Hills.  One advantage to visiting South Dakota in the late spring - animal babies!

Little horns starting to grow

The young buffaloes were so stinking cute!  Reddish colored and fuzzy with baby fur the little guys were downright adorable.  Their little horns, only nubs, were just starting to grow.


I spotted a few antelope off in the distance.  But those graceful animals are fast, and weren't about to stick around for photos.  Thanks goodness for a 600 mm zoom or I would've never gotten any decent images.

Contented buffalo

A huge herd of buffalo were dozing in a field near Wind Cave National Park's northern entrance.  They didn't appear fazed by the hot day.

"Mom knows I'm cute!"

 My favorite image of the day was this capture of a baby buffalo tilting his head in contentment. 


However, this young-un having lunch was a close second.

Bighorn sheep in the Badlands

The following morning I got up super early and traveled to the Badlands.  Although I just missed sunrise, the animals were out and about.  Not far from the entrance, I came upon a herd of bighorn sheep, and they were right next to the road!

Cute baby bighorns

Not only adult sheep, there were four fuzzy baby bighorns romping around.

More bighorn babies

 Talk about cuteness overload!

The little guys were adorable!

I got out of my car and began shooting away.  Not paying much attention to my surroundings, after a few minutes I looked behind me to see the mother sheep eyeing my warily.  She didn't look happy in the least!  Not wanting to get gored by her horns, I slowly backed into my car.

Telling secrets

It didn't take long for the entire herd of sheep to move towards me until they were surrounding my car.  There was no way I was getting out now.  Instead I stared out the window and enjoyed my front-row view of these magnificent creatures.  The best way to safely observe wild animals, I considered myself extremely lucky.

Mama bighorn

The sheep finally moved on, and I jumped out for a a few more quick shots.  Seeing these sheep so close up and watching the babies frolic and play was definitely the highlight of my day!

Prairie dog

The Badlands are home to numerous mammals.  One of my favorite little critters are the prairie dogs.  These rodent-like mammals live together in a large network of underground burrows and tunnels dubbed "prairie dog towns."

Looking for danger

When danger approaches, the head prairie dog will make loud squeaking noises, and jump up and down to warn his fellow doggies.  These frantic leaping antics are funny to watch.

Ready to jump down his hole

I drove by several prairie dogs towns, but one near the western side of the park was by far my favorite.  Here the little rodents didn't seem to mind if a woman pointed a gigantic lens their way.


Some of the best wildlife sightings (and photos) came from my parent's back yard.  Like this beautiful butterfly posing on some purple flowers.

Turkey resting place

 Or this turkey duo resting on a downed tree.

Love the red comb

Or this lone turkey with the longest, reddest comb I've ever seen.

Western Tanager

During my time in the Black Hills, my parents were even visited by a male and female western tanager.  These birds are so colorful they make great photo subjects.  The problem was catching them feeding in my parent's backyard.  You had to be vigilant.  But one day everything aligned and I was able to get a few photos of this stunning, colorful bird.

Yes, South Dakota is a wildlife watchers dream.  I'm beginning to realize late spring/early summer is a great time to spot critters, especially the little ones.  I may just have to change the date of my annual trip next year!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Crazy Horse Volksmarch 2019

Every summer I travel to the Black Hills of South Dakota to visit family.  Although these visits usually coincide with Labor Day, this year I made the trip in early June.  The main reason for the change?  The Crazy Horse Volksmarch is always held the first weekend of June and after participating nine years ago, I wanted to walk it again.

My family, ready to walk!

The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain near Custer, South Dakota that is being carved into the likeness of Crazy Horse, a famous Oglala Lakota warrior.  The work started in 1948, and due to the finished sculpture's colossal size, is far from completion.  When it is finished, Crazy Horse Memorial will be the world's second largest sculpture.

Follow the sign

Due to extensive construction work involving blasting rock, the mountain is off-limits.  The sculpture-in-progress can be viewed from the visitor center, a safe distance away.  But twice a year the Crazy Horse Memorial suspends work and holds a weekend volksmarch, allowing the public access to the mountain's very top.

The walk began in lovely pine woods

Hoping for some company, I recruited two of my brothers and young nephew.  My parents normally participate in the volksmarch every year, but this time my mom was recovering from an illness.  Although also under the weather, but not wanting to miss out, at the last minute my dad decided to join in the fun.

My nephew found the checkpoint sign

It was a gorgeous blue-sky South Dakota morning as my youngest brother pulled his pickup into the parking area designated for volksmarchers.  After everyone had applied sunscreen and visited the port-o-potty, we paid our 3 bucks each and picked up our checkpoint cards.  The walk had four checkpoints along it's route, and walkers were required to have their card stamped at each one.

Helpful Cub Scouts stamped our cards

Our walk began in the shade of some lovely pine woods.  Following a rough trail my family and I wound up and down a few short hills.  No real views of the mountain yet, but the scenery was pleasant and the temperature perfect.

Following a haul road

Before we knew it we came upon the first checkpoint, manned by a troop of enthusiastic Cub Scouts.  The boys happily stamped our cards, and we continued on.

Our first glimpse of Crazy Horse Mountain

After crossing a boggy area, walkers were directed onto a gravel haul road.  My family and I traversed another steep hill, and then came out into an open area.  Up ahead I caught glimpses of the famous mountain.  Another bend in the road and it was front and center.

A model of the finished sculpture

After nine years, I expected to see dramatic changes to the mountain, but it looked about the same.  The face was complete (it was finished in 1998), a large hole blasted under where the arm will be, and an outline of the horse's head painted on the granite.  But the sculpture is so big that even though large amounts of rock are removed from the mountain's face every year, progress is hard to measure visually.

Passing by the final checkpoint

The volksmarch route passed by an area where some of the construction vehicles were parked, which gained my nephew's full attention (he loves big trucks).

Climbing a long hill

Taking a short break in the shade of a bank of stadium lights (the memorial offers laser light shows in the summer months) I made sure my dad drank water and had a snack.  Although he was holding up much better than expected, I was still worried about him hiking while recovering from an illness.  (He's over 80 - but is in such great shape you wouldn't know it!)

The face comes into view

Passing by checkpoints 2 and 3, participants received more enthusiastic Cub Scout greetings.  One checkpoint offered port-o-potties, and another had set up a snack booth raising funds for a different local Cub Scout troop.

Family photo op

By the time we reached checkpoint 4, Crazy Horse's face dominated the skyline.  It didn't look far now.  But this final stretch was a steep, gravel road that was mostly in the sun.  Now nearly midday, it was getting hot.  I worried that this hot climb would be too much for my dad.

Amazing detail in the eyes

But dad was determined to make it all the way.  We walked slowly, and I encouraged him to stop and rest whenever he needed to.  There were a few small patches of shade, and our group paused at each one to give dad a breather.  My dad did wonderfully, never complained, and was enthusiastic the entire time.  Also a trooper, my young nephew, who had just completed 1st grade, made the entire climb without so much as a peep. 

View from the top

Finally, the side of the face came into view.  Rounding the corner, I stepped out onto the top of Crazy Horses's arm.  What a view!  The enormous carved face rose before me, 87 feet 6 inches in height.  On either side, the forested slopes of the Black Hills stretched away for miles.

Passing by the armpit

I was surprised to see the mountaintop wasn't packed with people as it was on my previous volksmarch nine years ago.  There was ample room to wander around and take in the sights without fighting for space.  My family even got a group photo unobstructed by other people.  Maybe because we hiked on Sunday of the two-day event?  Whatever the reason, I was happy for the smaller crowds.

Father and son heading down

My family spent a good twenty minutes on the summit, gazing in awe at the intricately detailed face (the eyes were amazing!), taking in the expansive views, and listening to a few of the workers stationed on top chat with volksmarchers.  Then, seeing thunderheads billowing in the distance, we decided it was time to get off the mountain.

One final close-up

After descending on the gravel haul road, our route diverged from the folks still climbing and followed a different path to the parking lot.  We passed by a shallow ditch full of croaking frogs (which my nephew tried in vain to locate).  Looking behind gave another perspective of the mountain, rising above huge piles of crushed rock blasted from it's slopes.

Lots of rock and equipment below

Although the volksmarch was billed as a 10 kilometer distance (6.2 miles) when we reached the parking lot my brother's gps watch only recorded 4.5 miles.  Having completed lots of hikes recently, it didn't seem like 6 miles to me either.  No matter, it was more than enough for my dad who weathered the walk in good spirits, and was now ready for some lunch in nearby Hill City.

Thunderheads gathering

A great way to spend time with my family, hike No. 23 of my #52hikechallenge was especially memorable.

The blog post about my 2010 Crazy Horse Volksmarch can be found here.

To learn more about the Crazy Horse Memorial visit their excellent website:, or click on this link.

Monday, August 19, 2019

In Search of the White Iris

With so many fantastic hiking trails within a 2-hour drive of Portland, people may wonder how I choose my weekend destinations.  Throughout the week, I monitor several hiking websites and Facebook pages.  When these sites point out flowers that are blooming or other unique happenings, that's where I go.

Such was the case on the final weekend of May.  Memorial Day weekend meant three days of hiking.  After getting skunked on Dog Mountain (heavy clouds, rain and wind drove me from the summit) on Friday, and scaling Nick Eaton Ridge on the other side of the Gorge Saturday, I was ready for a short, mellow trek on Sunday.

Glowing green forest

Someone on the Oregon wildflowers Facebook page posted photos of white irises, growing wild along the Clackamas River.  Having come across lots of purple irises over the years, I'd never before encountered one that was white.  Totally intrigued, I had to check it out.  So I recruited my friends Debbie and Barry to join me for a Sunday romp along the Riverside Trail.

First iris found - within five minutes!

Although skies threatened rain that morning, by the time my friends and I located our trailhead parking area, things had dried out.  Donning boots and backpacks, we tromped around looking for the actual trail beginning.  Finding it on the far side of the lot, we quickly descended into a fairy-tale, glowing green forest.

Gigantic old-growth tree

A short quarter mile brought us to the trail sign proper.  As I was snapping some pics of  Debbie and Barry posing by the sign, I spotted a few white shapes in the green vegetation below.  Irises!  Well, that didn't take long.

Trying to keep up with my friends

Debbie joked now that I'd located my coveted flower, it was time to go home.  But a stunning, mossy old growth forest awaited, full of huge trees, ferns and more wildflowers.  There was no way we were turning around!

More tall trees

Down through the forest our hiking party traveled.  We passed a grove of gigantic fir and cedar trees. 

Lovely moss covered everything

We then wound through an extremely mossy forest, covered head to toe (or treetop to forest floor) with bright green, fuzzy moss and wispy lichen.

Sturdy bridge

Crossing a sturdy wooden bridge that spanned a side creek, I got so busy taking photos I had to hurry to keep up with my friends.

First rhodie blooms

Further up the trail, I spotted the first rhododendron bloom of the season.

Passing by another large grove

We passed by another area of enormous fir trees, these even larger than the ones near our trailhead.

Even the trail sign had greenery!

Even the trail sign had lichen growing on it!

Fern-lined trail

Near the trail's midpoint, my friends discovered another large patch of white irises.  Much photography ensued (mostly by me).

More white iris!

Then it was onward, through more amazing forest scenery.  Although I'd hiked this very trail several years ago, I had forgotten how beautiful these old growth forests could be.

Nearing a river view

Although the Clackamas River was never far away, thick vegetation and tall trees prevented any glimpses of the water.  That is until we neared the Rainbow Campground, the day's turn around point. 

Clackamas River sighting

Several gaps in the forest provided our first peek-a-boo river views.

An unused campsite makes a perfect lunch spot

Finding the perfect spot to sit and have lunch is always challenging on a hike.  Lucky for my friends and I once we made it to the Rainbow Campground, not only were there fantastic river views, we also scored a picnic table at an unused campsite.  Excellent!

Waters of the Clackamas were crystal clear

The mighty Clackamas River was flowing swiftly, right next to our picnic table.  I couldn't resist capturing its crystal-clear waters and colorful rocky bottom.

Huge, mossy nurse log

Tummies full, it was time to retrace our steps back through this wild, green wonderland.

Huge, mossy live tree!

The trail was so gorgeous, none of us minded seeing it twice.

Wooden boardwalk through a swampy area

Passing through a swampy area, the trail builders had constructed a nice wooden boardwalk to keep hikers from getting muddy feet.  I loved the prolific ferns lining the walkway.

My friends pose on the bridge

A pic of my friends posing on the bridge.  And nearing the end of our day's journey, I snapped a few more photos of the same white iris as we passed back by the trail sign.  Knowing how rare these flowers were, I wanted to get as many images as possible.

Final white iris of the day

Whatever the reason, whether it's to see unusual flowers, take in the grandeur of huge old-growth trees, or lose yourself in a green, mossy wonderland, there's nothing better than a spring day spent in the forest.  My friends and I managed to escape the rain (just in time!) and headed back to Portland for dinner and brews at a local pub.

Thanks Debbie and Barry for a fantastic day!

(Hike 22 done!  #52hikechallenge)