Sunday, October 30, 2022

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Those who've read my blog for awhile know I'm a National Parks junkie.  Any opportunity to visit a "new-to-me" U.S. national park and I'm there!  So after all the trips I've made over the years back and forth between Oregon and South Dakota, you would think I'd have visited Theodore Roosevelt NP before now.  After all, it's in the neighboring state of North Dakota, a mere 4-hour drive north of where my parents live.

Welcome to North Dakota!  Buffalo herd in the rest area.

But noooo......I've never taken the detour to check out TRNP.  So this fall, after spending a week in South Dakota visiting family, I decided to remedy that.  Since I no longer have job commitments back home, it's freed me to add days to my trips - and see places that have before eluded me.

Painted Canyon overlook

One sunny Monday in late September had me driving north through South Dakota's sparsely populated Harding County, full of cattle ranches, antelope, and not much else.  (I once had a teacher describe Harding County as a place having "more cows than people."  I now believe it!) 

I was happy to see fall colors in full swing

A short drive through lots of nothing got me to Interstate 94.  TRNP wasn't far now.  Unfortunately nature was calling.  But - yay - there happened to be a rest area just ahead.  As I left the highway and traveled up the exit ramp, I was greeted by a large herd of buffalo - right in the parking lot!  They were also on the side of the road, prompting the car in front of me to make a dead stop.  Out came their camera.  Ugh!  Normally it wouldn't have been a big deal - I'd probably be taking pictures too.  But due to the urgency of my situation, I have to admit I was a bit irritated by the delay.  Luckily, the car's occupants didn't linger too long, allowing me to reach the restroom in time.

Interesting striped hills

Besides the resident buffalo herd, this rest area was unusual in another way.  A portion of Theodore Roosevelt National Park was located right here.  The restroom building had been sited at the top of a tall bluff overlooking an area of colorful striped hills.  Called the Painted Canyon Unit, a separate visitor center building was located to the left of the bathroom.

Painted Canyon scenery

Oh it was beautiful!  To make things even better, I noticed a large grove of deciduous trees in one area, well into their autumn color transition.  Time to dig out my camera and get to work!

They were even behind the restroom building!

A paved walkway hugged the top of the bluff.  I didn't realize until later a nature trail existed that took visitors to the very bottom of this colorful canyon.  But I was itching to see the main park nearby so I probably wouldn't haven hiked it anyway.  Instead I strolled around the blufftop, taking in the lovely sights.  Walking around the backside of the restroom, I noticed a couple buffalo grazing right next to the building.  If someone exited the bathroom from the wrong door, they'd be in for a surprise!  Giving these beasts a wide berth, I continued my explorations.

Stopping traffic

Most of the buffalo were still roaming the parking lot when I returned to my car.  I couldn't leave here without at least a few photos of the "fluffy cows" so I slapped zoom lens on camera for some close-ups.  (No, I'm not dumb enough to get remotely close to these big fellas!)  A couple buffalo positioned themselves right in the middle of the entrance road, blocking two cars and a semi truck for a short while.

Yes, I used my zoom lens for this capture!

This rest area was great, but Medora and Theodore Roosevelt NP South Unit beckoned.  A mere 10 minutes down the road had me exiting once again to the touristy, but cute, town of Medora, North Dakota.  Many of the storefronts were made up to look like a western frontier town.  Situated in a valley surrounded by scenic layered hills, the location was quite beautiful.  Too early to check into my motel, I found a "saloon" that served a terrific hamburger and tasty local brew.

Golden fall colors behind the visitor center

Then it was time to explore the South Unit of TRNP.  The visitor center was conveniently located on the west end of town.  Hoping to score some sunrise and sunset recommendations, I stopped in to chat with a ranger.  The ranger on duty was super helpful, even taking the time to mark his choices on a park map for me.

Teddy Roosevelt's Maltese Cross cabin

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is named after the 26th US president.  Theodore Roosevelt first came to North Dakota (then Dakota Territory) in 1883 to hunt buffalo.  A skinny, asthmatic, bespectacled young man from the east, the rugged landscape and strenuous exercise he received during his stay transformed him to a robust, healthy individual.  TR fell in love with this empty, but beautiful area.  His experiences in Dakota Territory sowed the seeds that later evolved into forward-thinking conservation policies, one of the things he is best known for implementing during his presidency.  These conservation policies helped establish the Forest Service and create many national parks and preserves.

Fantastic views along the park road

When Teddy Roosevelt first came to Dakota Territory, he invested in a local cattle company known as the "Maltese Cross."  The cabin TR lived in during this time, now known as the "Maltese Cross Cabin" has been moved to the rear of the visitor center, and is open for viewing.  After chatting with the helpful park ranger, I stepped outside to have a look.  The day was brilliantly sunny, and the huge cottonwoods nearby were at their peak yellow autumn hues.  A gorgeous setting for this historical building.

More autumn finery

Business taken care of at the visitor center, it was time for a drive.  A 48-mile loop wound around the South Unit.  However, at the time of my visit, the southwest corner of the road was closed for construction, forcing visitors to retrace their steps once reaching the closure.  No mind, it was a lovely early fall day, perfect to explore the park.  I was surprised by the amount of leaf color I found.  A good portion of the park's deciduous trees were already displaying their best autumn hues.

Cottonwood tree colors

This portion of North Dakota is often referred to as the "badlands."  (Not to be confused with Badlands National Park in South Dakota)  However, having been to both places, I found the North Dakota badlands to be less stark.  There were lots more trees and shrubs, and with most of them displaying fall finery, it was absolutely beautiful.  I felt lucky to have visited during the fall.  I really thought the park was at it's most scenic best in late September.

Buffalo and fall colors

During my trip around the park, I saw plenty of buffalo and prairie dogs.  Known for it's large wild horse herd, I'd hoped to see some of these, but no luck today.  

Beautiful striped rock strata

After reaching the road's temporary end, I turned around and headed back through the park.  I'd enjoyed my drive through such a surprisingly stunning place.  But now it was time to check into my motel and get ready for sunset.

Wind Canyon Overlook

The park ranger had recommended Wind Canyon overlook for a good spot to watch the sunset.  About halfway down the park road, I planned my entrance with enough time to get to my spot well before dusk.  A short climb up a bluff brought me to the edge of a steep cliff above the Little Missouri River.

Evening light along the Little Missouri River

What views!  The Little Missouri artfully curved through the bottomlands.  Scenic eroded rock layers rose from one side.  Golden cottonwood trees lined the riverbanks.  The vistas stretched for miles.  This was gonna be good.

A beautiful sunset

A place so scenic as this of course attracted people, and I wasn't alone when night began to fall.  But busy trying to capture the sun's last gasp, I didn't notice much.  Although the sky was void of clouds, it still turned a nice brilliant orange as the sun dramatically exited the landscape.

Post-sunset light

I stuck around until the light was totally gone.  Then packing up to head back to my car, I looked in the opposite direction and noticed some wispy pink clouds hovering right above the horizon.  So concentrated on the western skyline, I'd almost missed the sky show to the east.  Luckily, this lovely scene hadn't quite dissipated, and I was able to catch a couple of images before it did.

It always pays to look behind you!

Back to my motel for a much-needed night of sleep.  Another full day in the park planned for tomorrow, I was hoping for more great scenery, and hopefully a glimpse of those wild horses.  Check back for my next post recapping day two!

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Spearfish Canyon

These past two months have been full of travels.  I've been to South Dakota, North Dakota, Central Oregon, the Oregon Coast, and now I'm back in Central Oregon for a doggy-sitting gig.  Due to my wanderings, this blog has been sorely neglected.  I'll attempt to write about some of the highlights, beginning with this trip through iconic Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

South end, leaf color just getting started

In late September, I traveled to visit my parents in South Dakota.  With my recent visits occurring in the summer, it was nice to see the Black Hills in a different season.  I was especially hoping to catch a bit of early fall leaf color.

The sun peeps through golden leaves

One of the most popular things to do here in autumn is drive through Spearfish Canyon.  Located in the northern Black Hills, this 19-mile long scenic byway wanders through a canyon where thousand-foot high limestone palisades tower above the highway.  Lined with cottonwood, aspen, birch, and other deciduous varieties, it's especially beautiful in late September when these trees undergo their seasonal leaf change.

The colors got brighter as we headed north

My dad was willing to drive me through the canyon, so I chose a sunny day for our adventure.  When that morning dawned my parents and I got an early start, hopefully to catch some nice morning light (for me) and also to grab breakfast at one of the restaurants along the canyon (for my folks).

Spearfish creek, behind Latchstring Inn

We started our journey on the canyon's south end.  Due to the lower elevation here, the leaf transformation was just getting started.  But as my dad drove north, golden colors began to get more prevalent.

This chipper struck a nice pose

All this leaf-peeping makes one hungry!  About halfway through the canyon my parents and I took a break for breakfast at the historic Latchstring Inn.  Their breakfast buffet was delicious and filling,  (If you walked away hungry, it was your own fault!)

Tall rock palisades accented by golden foliage

The scenery around Latchstring Inn was gorgeous.  Leaves appeared to be close to peak color here.  A tall rocky promontory towered behind the restaurant, accented by a huge cluster of yellow trees.  Spearfish creek trickled below the building, and I couldn't resist taking the steep downhill path to water level for more lens candy.  If one didn't want to tackle this knee-crushing trail, there were also a few overlooks behind the inn where one could view the creek effort-free.  That's where I met my parents after this quick detour and that's also where I captured a friendly chipmunk posing on a fence post.

Roughlock Falls parking area was especially colorful

Bellies now full, it was time for more autumn finery!  From the Latchstring Inn, Dad steered the car down a side road towards the crown jewel of Spearfish Canyon, scenic Roughlock Falls.

Bridge to Roughlock Falls

The leaf colors were absolutely gorgeous here.  Even the parking area was decked out with lots of golden trees.

Lovely aspen leaves

This cascade was located in a narrow, deep canyon.  The path down to Roughlock Falls was super-steep, so my parents opted to stay put at the upper viewpoint.  After navigating the winding paved path to the bottom, I followed a boardwalk through the canyon to an overlook.  I was disappointed.  Visitors used to be able to walk to the base of Roughlock Falls for a good view.  However, this boardwalk now restricted access, keeping onlookers quite far away.  I now had a crummy view of the waterfall.  It was far enough that one needed a zoom lens to get a decent photo.  And the midday light was horrible, with most of the canyon in deep shadow, including the falls. 

More tall cliffs and color

Oh well, I was here with my camera so of course I took photos anyway.  The best shots I got were not of the falls but of a nearby tiny waterfall, which happened to have more consistent light.  The photo below, with Roughlock Falls waayyy in the background, was the only image I deemed acceptable (and this was after a LOT of editing.)

Best image I could get of Roughlock Falls

Despite the huge contrast in light, the forest here at the waterfall's base was quite lovely.  A large grove of aspen trees provided nice yellow leaves.  There was also quite a bit of orange foliage, accented in places with a dash of red.

This nearby cascade was more photogenic

I climbed back out of the canyon and reunited with my folks.  As we walked back to the car, I was struck by the beauty of Little Spearfish Creek above the falls.  It glistened in the sunlight, and I just couldn't resist snapping a few more images.

Creek above the falls

Heading back towards the main highway, the scenery on this side road was so stunning, I made my dad pull over a couple of times so I could jump out and capture all the beauty.

Glittering waters

Once onto the main scenic byway, we noticed traffic had picked up considerably.  Latchstring Inn's parking lot was packed, and there appeared to be a line at the door.  I was thankful for our early start!

Close to peak color

The rest of our drive was stunning.  Spearfish Canyon was close to peak color and it was as awesome as I'd remembered.  My dad took advantage of a few pullouts and I hopped out and captured as much of the fall finery as I could.

The most beautiful part of the drive

The last stop of the day was at an old brick building that housed a hydroelectric power plant for the Homestake gold mine.  The mine has been closed for years, and I don't think this facility is still in use.  But the building is still in good shape and it makes a great backdrop for fall color photos.

Homestake Mining Co. hydro plant

It was great to revisit Spearfish Canyon in it's most lovely season.  Growing up, I had many nice memories of fall drives through here.  It's good to see some things don't change much.  Thanks to my dad for chauffeuring me through here once again!  

Sunday, October 9, 2022

The Beauty of Mt. Rainier NP

I've been off on another trip, so blogging has taken a back seat for a couple weeks.  September and October have proven to be busy months thus far, with lots of things going on in my life.  Before running off again, I decided to quick throw together this photo-dump post lest my readers think I've totally abandoned my blog.

Mt. Rainier not long after sunrise

Last year I totally missed out on the high Cascades wildflower season.  Determined not to skip two years in a row, in late August I planned a last-minute trip to one of my favorite summer destinations, Mt. Rainier National Park.  Since the peak bloom here usually happens in early August, I hoped I wasn't too late.

A little pika storing food for winter

This National Park is wildly popular in late summer.  I'd heard that the parking lots at the Paradise Lodge area fill up by mid-morning.  For that reason I awoke way before the birds and drove the 3 1/2 hours to make sure I arrived by sunrise.  Not only did I desire good morning light and a better chance of seeing animals, I also wanted a parking space.

Magenta paintbrush

Although rising so early and driving in the dark wasn't much fun, all was forgiven as I started up the park road to Paradise and caught the morning sun illuminating Mt. Rainier beautifully.  Finally arriving at the lodge, I was delighted to have my choice of parking spots!

Lovely lupine field

Donning hiking boots, backpack and camera gear, it was time to get to work.  I started out as I always do when visiting here, taking the Skyline trail counter-clockwise.

Mountain close-up

I could tell that the showy summer blooms were on their way out.  But I still found enough floral goodness in the first half mile to get some decent shots.  And the mountain was putting on a nice show as well.

This drainage area was full of wildflowers

Passing by a talus slope known for its pika population, I sat and waited for some "meeps" from these cute little rock-rabbits.  It didn't take long before I heard one vocalize, and I was lucky enough to capture it peeking out from a rock, it's mouth full of food for the winter.

Pink monkeyflowers brightened the landscape

Taking a short side jaunt down the Lakes Trail, I came upon a meadow full of purple lupine blooms.  With the mountain as a backdrop it made for some stellar images.  After several clicks of the camera, it was back to the Skyline Trail to see what else I could find.

Another view of this amazing bloom

The Skyline Trail climbed higher until I came upon a plateau.  Then, it wound downhill to a glacial stream crossing.  Here's where I found more flowers.  Rows and rows of bright pink monkeyflowers lined the braided channels.  Oh my goodness, it was lovely!  More photos may have been taken.....

Mama marmot and baby

After a prolonged photo session along the stream, I climbed back uphill through heather fields.  In these fields is where I spotted my first marmot.  Marmot sightings as quite common here, as these squeaky, fluffy woodchucks make their home on Mt. Rainier's flanks.  Even better, the marmot I saw had a cute baby beside her.

Marmot eyeing a yummy wildflower

Quickly changing camera lenses, I tried to get a few shots of the mother and child before they trotted away.  But they didn't seem interested in being my subjects, so I only got a few good images.

This chipmunk posed nicely for me

However, a nearby chipmunk had no problems posing on a rock for as long as I wanted.

Pink heather blooms

Beyond the critter sightings, the trail climbed, often steeply.  By now my left foot, still recovering from plantar fasciitis, was beginning to throb.  Realizing that the entire Skyline Trail circuit wouldn't be possible today, I downgraded my goals and decided to bail via the Golden Gate Trail.

A nice patch of magenta paintbrush

Although I knew the Golden Gate Trail wasn't far from my current position, it sure seemed to take awhile to reach the junction.  I suppose the uphill climb, warm weather, and angry foot didn't help any.

The butterflies were enjoying the flowers

But finally I reached the Golden Gate Trail.  Yay, blessed downhill from this point on!  I passed by a huge field of asters past full bloom and enjoyed a fun few minutes trying to photograph some butterflies landing on the wilted petals.

Well, hello there!

And then about halfway down, I came upon another marmot sighting.  This furry fellow was a bit more friendly and didn't seem to mind a camera-toting human following along.

Caught this guy in mid-chew

The marmot waddled over to a nearby wildflower patch and began inhaling all the blooms.  It was fun to watch him eat, but sad to see the marmot chewing up all the pretty flowers.  But better eaten by marmots than trampled by humans I guess.

Western Pasque flower seed heads

Wandering further downhill I came upon another marmot duo perched on a large rock.  Having a landscape lens on my camera at the time, I almost didn't change lenses.  But a man joined me in our marmot watch and convinced me to make the switch.  I'm glad I did!  If not, I wouldn't have caught this tender nose touch between the two.

Marmot kiss

By the time I intersected back with the Skyline Trail, it was nearly noon and the place was buzzing with people.  After enjoying near solitude for much of my trek, it was a rude interruption.  At that point, all I wanted to do was hightail it back to my car.  

Classic view of Myrtle Falls and Mt. Rainier

However, I did make one pit stop to check out the classic view of Myrtle Falls with Mt. Rainier as a backdrop.  And this time I caught the falls in nearly full light, instead of shadows like usual.  Midday light is good for something!

Tipsoo Lake in late afternoon

The lodge area and parking lot were swarming with people.  It was hot, kids were screaming, and I was ready to get the heck out of dodge!  I sat on a nearby bench, eating my sandwich, until a bus of elderly people unloaded right next to me.  As the old folks began circling, eyeing my perch, I decided to finish my lunch elsewhere.

Tipsoo Lake

Stevens Canyon Road, which connects the east and west sides of the park. was closed for construction, so I ended up driving the long way through Packwood to reach Tipsoo Lake.  But I was again rewarded for my persistence, with some lovely flower fields surrounding the lake.

View from Upper Tipsoo Lake

I ended up sleeping in my car at the Sunrise lodge area and awoke the next morning to a glorious sunrise over Mt. Rainier.  But the previous day's hiking had done my foot in, and I could only manage a mere 4 miles before turning around and heading back to my car.  

Sunrise on Mt. Rainier

Still, at least I'd gotten a visit to Mt. Rainier National Park.  Although it was fast and furious, I'm so glad I made the time.  I came away with dozens of great images and enjoyed myself immensely. 

Mt. Rainier, thanks for the memories!  I'll see ya again next August!