Day 240 – Nebraska Heartland (Part 2)

Day 240 – Nebraska Heartland, August 13, 2011

Another enjoyable day in Nebraska…though most of the
interesting sites I’ve seen have been within 100 miles of each other, and I
have driven over 600 miles over a few days to see them!

We started out today at Fort Robinson where I camped last
night.  The campground is the site of one
of the most tragic events at the fort, the Cheyenne Outbreak.  Forcibly sent to Indian Territory in
Oklahoma, a band of Northern Cheyenne, led by Dull Knife, escaped and fled
across the plains of Kansas and Nebraska.
The 149 men, women, and children were finally captured by troops from
the fort in October 1878.  Told they
would have to return to the Indian Territory, they tried escaping again on
January 9, 1879, and the men opened fire on the guards with the few guns they
had hidden away as the women and children fled toward the White River.  Many of the Cheyenne fell in the battle, one
of the last of the Indian War.

Permanent buildings at the fort, originally a camp which was
established due to Indian unrest in March of 1874, went under construction in
June of 1874.  Sioux warrior Crazy Horse
surrendered 889 members of his tribe at Camp Robinson in May of 1877.  He was later killed when he tried to escape
in September of the same year.  The
buildings included barracks, a barn, officer’s quarters and the like.  Many still stand today and line a horse shoe
shaped parade ground with a manicured green lawn.  Petey and I took a stroll around the fort
area before taking a scenic drive in another part of the park to see some
bison.  We also spotted a few mules.

After driving 19 miles on a dirt road littered with muddy dips
and rock chips and yet may have been the smoothest dirt road I’ve ever been on,
VANilla delivered us to Toadstool Park. 
We visited a 1984 sod house replica of one built in the 1930’s by
Kenneth Pelren and Segard Anderson.  The
early settlers used a plow to break the sod into strips 12 inches wide and 4
inches thick.  The strips were cut into
three-foot lengths and stacked on each other like bricks to construct the

While I found the house interesting, my attraction to the
park was its peculiar landscape.  Petey
and I walked the mile loop through hills of sand and clay devoid of vegetation
and severely eroded.  Harder rocks
perched atop softer material that has eroded to create toadstool
formations.  These formations were
created 34 million years ago when ash from Great Basin volcanoes in Utah and
Nevada blanketed the land.  An ancient
river carved the valley as the landscape changed to semi-arid.  The rocks and clays are also home to several
fossils that could be seen from the pathway.

From Toadstool Park we headed back to the east past fields
of sunflowers and into the Central Time Zone, this time losing an hour, to visit
Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge.  We came
to enjoy a lovely waterfall that cascaded over a rock ledge and as an added
bonus spotted some more bison and drove through a prairie dog town.

Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge was our last stop in Nebraska
before crossing the border into South Dakota, a state I have never visited
beyond driving through one corner on my way to North Dakota a few weeks
ago.  We crossed a two lane highway that
led us through endless hay fields.  Bails
of hay dotted the rolling green hills which were occasionally outlined with
rock formations popping from the surface until we eventually reentered the Mountain Time Zone and reached Prairie
Homestead where a house of sod and log built into an embankment in 1909 still
stands.  This is a rare exception as most
sod houses have washed away.

Just next to Prairie Homestead is Badlands National Park, a
sea of moonscape.  Ridges, spires, and
canyons of volcanic ash rich with fossil beds from the Oligocene era dominate
the landscape.  We found a campsite in
the park as the sunset over formations and later enjoyed the full moon.  The moon appeared so bright that the stars
were imperceptible.  ETB

Day 212 – North Dakota Sampler (Part 2)

Day 212 – North Dakota Sampler, July 16, 2011

I failed to mention some interesting sights yesterday, the
first being during long waits due to road construction.  As we were all waiting for the flagger to
wave us on, it was mostly truckers and me, I was debating rolling down
VANilla’s window and turning off the engine.
As I glanced toward the driver side mirror, I noticed a trucker,
probably mid forties, brown hair, sunglasses, periwinkle blue T-shirt and jean
shorts step out of his cab, sidle into the space between his cab and trailer
and assume the position necessary to relieve himself.  As he is looking from side to side, I thought
surely this isn’t the case, but as he turned back toward his cab while zipping
his fly my suspicion was confirmed!  Not
too much further up the road, as I entered the town of Alexander, I was greeted
with a billboard listing the Ten Commandments.
Anyway, it was an interesting day.

I’ve survived another night of hellacious
thunderstorms.  Lightning flashed in the
sky like a strobe light in a dance club.
Some of the tent campers moved into their cars while the storm
passed.  Upon leaving the campground, I
turned east and continued past countless hay fields, rolling hills, and
farmland to Garrison.  It wasn’t a
numbered stop in the book, but New Town, the “major” city (it’s all relative)
on the Indian Reservation seemed uneventful and frankly it was too hot to spend
much time hiking across prairielands on the sunny, somewhat humid day.

Garrison calls itself the Walleye capital of the North and
displays a 26-foot fish statue named Wally at the town park.  Not far from the town park is another park
that geocaching led me to.  I found a
container hidden under an old city horse trough.

After visiting Garrison, I took a short drive through Audubon
National Wildlife Refuge until the road closure in the park required me to turn
around.  I got a quick glance of a
grouse, but it hopped into the bushes, but I think the animals were like me…not
too active.

We moved on the Knife River Indian Villages.  The earth lodge people of the Knife River
were known as the Hidatsa and are believed to have arrived around the
1300.  The tribe remained in the area for
more than 500 years.  The tribe survived
by farming land, hunting bison, and trading materials.  Lewis and Clark encountered the Indian village
during the winter of 1804 and they eventually hired Charbonneau, a
French-Canadian trader as an interpreter.
Along with Charbonneau came his wife, Sakakawea, a Shoshone who was
invaluable to expedition’s western travels.

Petey and I walked along the 1.5 mile path past the
undulating green field which was basically the remains of the earth lodge
village.  The area looked more like a
perfect golf course fairway.  The heat
index was so high, that at the end of our short walk Petey, panting heavily,
decided he just couldn’t make it to VANilla across the parking lot and plopped
down under the shade of a tree to rest.

Indian Village was a final touring spot before coming to a
rest in Bismarck.  ETB

Day 211 – North Dakota Sampler

Day 211 – North Dakota Sampler, Friday July 15, 2011

I survived a wicked thunderstorm last night.  Thunder roared as lightning flashed and rain
washed VANilla for over two hours.
VANilla is a closer shade of white now that the red Utah clay has been
washed away.  I had planned to complete
several short hikes this morning in the south end of the Theodore Roosevelt
National Park, but after 2 inches of mud caked to my trail shoes over a hundred
yard walk to the bathroom in the campground and knowing the forecast called for
out of the ordinary 97 degree temperatures, I thought better of it.

Instead, we took the 36 mile scenic loop drive through a
prairie dog town, to a handful of pullouts overlooking the North Dakota badlands
and to the Beef Corral Bottom.  Along the
way, we spotted some wild horses that live in the park.

The Beef Corral Bottom used to be a large corral constructed
in 1883.  During the open range cattle
industry, ranchers would work together in the spring and fall to round up their
cattle.  The Beef Corral Bottom was one
of the areas where cattle were held for transportation to the slaughterhouse.  The disturbed land provides an ideal location
for a prairie dog town.

I was unsuccessful in spotting the bison in the southern end
of the park, so I headed for the northern section.  Despite only being home to approximately 100
bison, 1/3 of the population of the southern section, I located just about all
of them.  A portion of the herd with
calves rested on the hillside close to the road while another portion camped out
atop the ridge.

I was also lucky to find nine of the eleven longhorns known
to live in the park!

In addition to the wildlife I enjoyed the vast fields of
wildflowers and a variety of geological structures including slump formation,
Bentonitic Clay, and Cannon Ball Concretions.

Slump formations are tilted mounds that were once part of
higher cliffs.  Over time, the stream
cutting against their base over-stressed the cliffs which slid downhill yet
still maintained their layered pattern.

The blue-black popcorn-like soil that caps some of the
plateaus is known as Bentonitic Clay.
The clay flows when it is wet and can be traced for miles up and down
the river.

Cannon Ball Concretions are large spherical boulders.  They may have any shape, but most are
round.  Concretions are formed within
rocks (shale, clay, sandstone) by the deposition of mineral around a core.

After visiting the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I
continued to the north to the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
where a partial reconstruction of the fort stands today.

Just down the road, I visited Fort Buford State Historical
Site.  The field officer’s quarters,
constructed in 1871, is the location where Hunkpapa leader Sitting Bull
surrendered in 1881 which helped end warfare on the northern plains.  Sitting Bull told his young son Crow Foot to
hand over his Winchester to Major Brotherton and is recorded as saying, “I
surrender this rifle to you through my young son, who I now desire to teach in
this manner, now that he has become a friend of the American people.  I wish to teach him the habits of the whites
and to have him educated as their sons are educated.  I wish it to be remembered that I was the
last man in my tribe to surrender my rifle.”

I finished the day camping in Lewis and Clark State
Park.  It was absolutely packed.  Every campsite was taken.  They let me stay in a parking lot where
walk-in tent campers park.  At first I
just thought it was due to a Friday night at the lake; then I realized several
of the campers were decorated with Christmas lights for a Christmas in July
celebration.  Too bad I missed the
festivities!  ETB