Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Black Hills, Part II

When we got to Custer State Park the weather turned really cool. We all ended up wearing long sleeves and hoodies and jackets. Also, it rained buckets while we were in the park. Not constant rain, but long periods of very heavy rainfall broken by overcast skies that merely threatened to cut loose.

The area is quite lush and I can understand why it supports such a large array of big animals. I really do want to go back and hike into the back country to see if I can spot a mountain lion.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the infrastructure of the park is excellent. The roads are well maintained. All of the campgrounds are very well equipped with flat parking areas, widely spaced, and possessing great bath facilities. The campground we used even had a music hall with a bluegrass band performing while we were there.

For one entire day we spent the hours exploring the park mainly by road, but taking time for short walking excursions and a couple of hikes. Our focus for the day was mainly to relax and then to hit the Mount Rushmore National Monument which Carole has always wanted to see.

Once again, I need to express that there are megafauna in the Black Hills. Here we passed some Bighorn sheep along the road.

We got a big kick out of watching the Prairie dogs in South Dakota!

I took this one at a parking area for a high lookout tower.

This range is named The Needles for obvious reason.

Rock and forest at high elevation.

Although called The Black "Hills", these mountains are higher than anything in the East by roughly 600 feet.

Sylvan Lake. This was a particularly beautiful spot where took a decent hike. There's a campground adjacent to the lake where I would love to stay.

I cautiously walk beneath huge chockstones along the trail.

Andy standing on the dam that creates Sylvan Lake.

Then we arrived at Mount Rushmore...to discover it completely hidden by thick, low rain clouds.
To be continued...

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Black Hills of SD.

We had decided during the planning stages of the trip to stay two nights at Custer State Park in South Dakota. This would give us a chance to rest during the long drive, and for Carole to see Mount Rushmore. I wasn't that high on seeing Rushmore, but Carole has always wanted to see it, so it was on the list of stops. Now that I have seen it, I am very glad that we did take the time to go. This is the way it usually is with places Carole wants to see--initially I am either reluctant to see them, or only mildly interested. But like other National Monuments, this one was spectacular, educational, and inspirational.

The biggest reason I am glad that we stopped at Custer is because it's the only place we got a chance to see big animals. Bighorn sheep, bison, mule deer, elk, mountain goats. Custer doesn't have bears, though. The big predator in the park is the mountain lion which a ranger told us is fairly common; but we didn't spot one.

Custer State Park straddles the highest of the Black Hills, which is a pretty darned impressive mountain range. The highest summit in the Black Hills (Harney Peak) is in the park (it's also the highest peak in South Dakota). So the terrain was a lot more rugged and imposing than I had figured it would be. The weather was unseasonably cool while we were there. It rained heavily during our entire journey through the state, so we figured we'd see a lot of rain in Glacier National Park, also. Alas, it was not to be. The rain we experienced in South Dakota would have completely extinguished the fires in Montana. Alas!

We would all like to return to Custer for an extended stay--maybe a week or so. That way I could see more wildlife and could have the time to hike some of the many miles of trails in the park.

More Black Hills photos and details tomorrow...


As soon as we entered the park, there was a bison jam. Traffic stopped for the big critters. Most of these seemed to be licking the mud along the roadside. I will assume that there is salt residue there from spreading of road salt during winter storms.
Our campsite at Custer. Power hookups, but not for water. They had bathhouses with hot showers. Andy forgot to completely zip up the door to his tent and during the night when a rainstorm struck he had to come inside and sleep in the trailer.
The bison herd in Custer State Park is at about 1300 animals.

We spotted pronghorn, also.

Andy in a cave from which a big spring emerges.

The aptly named Needles. This is where it was first proposed that the carvings that eventually became Mount Rushomore should be built. I'm glad this area was spared.

There are two tunnels like this in the park. This is why you have to be careful which roads you use if pulling a travel trailer or driving a big motorhome.

"What you lookin' at, human?"
A baby Mountain goat with its mother.

Continued tomorrow....

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

No Griz!

Well, we have returned home. Very long trip. Longest ever vacation. So much of it spent driving!

I now no longer have to imagine what it's like to witness a cloud of smoke that covers a huge portion of the North American continent. Between the historically enormous fires in Washington state (over 400 square miles) and the ones in Idaho, and the local fires in Montana we saw smoke clouds that spread over thousands and thousands of miles. Upon leaving, we actually drove for two days over three (enormous) western states trying to escape from the smoke. Only on the very eastern edge of South Dakota did we find ourselves free of most of it.

That said, we did have some days without smoke covering the skies. Three days in South Dakota and Wyoming, and roughly two and a half days in Glacier National Park (Montana). Then the fire smoke rolled in and obliterated the views. Most of the wildlife, also, seemed to fade from the landscape. Hiding? It sure seemed so.

We ended up never seeing a single grizzly bear, not one moose, and only two black bears (one of them a cub).

Details as I download the files and collect my thoughts.

Wyoming's Devil's Tower.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Off to Glacier!

Well, Andy and I are all but ready to pull out. Carole will fly out to meet us in a few days and we'll pick her up at the airport halfway across the continent. Then we'll all head up to Glacier National Park. A trip one year in the making.

Taken shortly before we left for a road trip in 2008. Essentially the same rig we still use, save for more mileage.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Crossing Over



Recently there has been a humorous account on the Internet concerning alternate realities with the proof being various memories of TheBerenstain Bears. Funny stuff, and interesting in that it illustrates a curious element of human memory and the theory of the alternate universe.

However, I once had a most confusing experience that goes beyond just an addled memory of the spelling of a cartoon/children’s book character.


The master of the alternate reality was the brilliant science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The man was just amazing in so many ways. When he wasn’t particularly trying to be, he was a phenomenal visionary. (When he was actually trying to predict the future of technology, not so good.) In the world of his imagination, made almost real by way of his fiction, the results were often unsettling and mystifying.


One of his most well-known and positively received novels was THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. It relates an alternate history in which the Axis powers emerged victorious in World War II. The story focuses on life in the USA which has been divided between Germany (east coast) and Japan (west coast). I will not here delve too deeply into specifics of the plot, except to mention a couple of elements:


Within the novel is a second novel written by a man who claims that there is another reality in which the Allies won the Second World War. And he lays out that proposed reality in his novel, THE GRASSHOPPER LIES HEAVY. There is a further element that seems to suggest that if enough people believe it, or if the right conditions gather, one can pass over from one of these realities into the other.


I was fascinated by the book. So much so that I read it very slowly. I did not rush the process, going over each passage and every sentence one careful word at a time. The book is just an amazing work to me. I read it carefully over the course of two days (although it’s a short novel and could easily be read in a sitting). At the end of the second day I read the last bit in bed. I finished the book, considering the story, and put it carefully on the table on my side of the bed and turned out the light.

I went to sleep.


Some few hours later I woke up. It was very dark. I had come completely and utterly awake with none of that confused grogginess that sometimes hits you upon awakening. I was just there, eyes wide, staring into the night. I looked up at the window to my right. There were a few stars visible.  Where was I? Was I at home? Or somewhere else? What book had I been reading just before falling asleep?


Or at least I thought that I was awake. Then I realized that I was dreaming very vividly that I was lying in my bed in my own house. And I dreamed that I had just finished reading a book that I had placed on the bedside table before turning out the light. That book was, I realized, THE GRASSHOPPER LIES HEAVY.


I was so filled with the horror of that thought—that the book I had read and placed on the table before going to sleep was THE GRASSHOPPER LIES HEAVY that I was filled with a sense of panic.

My heart was pounding.


Without pausing I reached over and turned on the light and grabbed up the novel and stared at the cover.


It was with a pure rush of relief that I saw that it was THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.


Yes…some writers are just that good.


Or had I, as one of Dick’s friends once suggested to me, crossed over very briefly into the world where the Allies were on the losing end of that titanic struggle?


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Travis Milloy's SOMNIO

Travis Milloy, who wrote the screenplay for THE FLOCK, has a Kickstarter project up for his independently produced science fiction film, SOMNIO. Give it a look, and give it some support.

SOMNIO KICKSTARTER.

SOMNIO Kickstarter.

Monday, August 10, 2015

B'ars, Part II

Not too long ago I wrote a post about bears and posted some photos of various individual bears I have encountered in my treks. So I thought I'd refresh the subject--briefly--since I am going to be camping and walking about in grizzly bear country in less than a week.

I can't count the total number of bears whose paths I have crossed in my years of wandering about in the forests. Many. Since I've done almost all of my adventuring here in the east coast where only black bears live, that is the species I have most encountered. And even though black bears attack (and sometimes kill) more people than do grizzly bears, it's the griz who get all of the bad publicity.

Yesterday there was a story of a man who was killed and partially devoured by a grizzly bear in  Yellowstone National Park. One part of the story struck me because he was killed in an area that I had very seriously considered hiking when I was in Yellowstone, but ended up not doing because I chose to go elsewhere. It was on a medium-sized mountain called Elephant Back. The trail was relatively easy, I had read, and had the payoff of some good views and some solitude.

There are many more dangerous things that can happen to you in the wilds than running into a Grizzly bear. Lightning strikes are a much more likely threat than meeting up with an irate griz. A bison or a moose will gore or trample you before a grizzly bear would consider doing the same thing to you. Basically, being hurt by any kind of animal while hiking or backpacking is pretty darned rare. I'm far more frightened of being hit by a car or being shot by a nut with a gun than I am of being attacked by a bruin.

Still, I will be hiking in what is likely the densest grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states. So I will carry my bear-strength canister of pepper spray. And I'll be sure to make a lot of noise while I'm in the bush so that I have less of a chance of surprising the big ol' beasties. However, I do not want to get mauled and eaten by a grizzly bear, so I will take all due precautions.

Griz the way I like 'em. Far away from me and not interested in anything but where I'm not. I encountered this one just as I was getting ready to start my hike to the summit of Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone. He saw me and immediately went in the opposite direction. I took this photo from a very great distance.

This confused fellow I surprised while hiking alone in Douthat State Park in the mountains of Virginia. He saw me and bolted. I got this shot (from a good distance) with my telephoto lens because he stopped to take a look back at me to make sure I wasn't going to chase him or shoot at him. He, also, didn't want anything to do with me.