Sunday, September 16, 2012

Oregon to Michigan highlights (lots of pictures!)

On August 25, 2012, I started my approximately 2,500mile (4,000km) trip out to Michigan, where I expect to stay for the next couple of months.  Here are a few of the highlights of that trip, which lasted a week.

In earlier trips out through this part of Washington (US 97 crossing from Oregon into Washington), I think that I was blithely unaware that this replica of size and form of the English Stonehenge existed.  It makes me want to get a clue as to how it could be used to measure time and mark seasons.  It was the first monument in the US for those who gave their lives in World War I.  It looks pretty crappy in the picture – there was lovely scenery all around it  (except on this side), except that I couldn’t get a picture of the whole thing from any of the other more flattering sides.  I see that others managed to get a better picture at website for Stonehenge. (Click on the pictures to see a higher quality version of them.)

Dotting this whole area of Washington near the US97 crossing of the Columbia River, are windmills.  I have to admit, I thought that they made for a pretty picture:

I didn’t tarry too long in Washington, except for Stonehenge, taking a few pictures of windmills, and waiting for our chance on the single lane in a construction zone.  By the time I got to Coeur D’Alene, I knew I needed to bed down for the night, so I started looking at possibilities as soon as I got within National Forest boundaries.  I found a place that was unfortunately above Interstate 90, so I heard the gentle roar all night, there, but as it was after dark by the time I started looking for a place, I decided to settle for it.  So here is a picture of where I slept that night:
In the dark, it seemed to be out of the way.  So, it was amusing to be awakened by a guy and his dog hiking by me in the morning.  Since someone was using this as a hiking path, I decided that that likely meant that I could get a good run in, here, so I went for a run.  It was quite nice, indeed – with lots of views of treed low mountains.  I never saw the guy and his dog while running, and by the time that I returned to my car, his car was gone.  The whole time I was there, no one else came.  I was struck by how nice it must be for the residents of Coeur d’Alene to have such a big recreational area.

On the highway in Montana, I was going up a hill and around a curve, when I saw a guy flagging down traffic.  I slowed down, and saw someone walking in the middle of the road, as well – I asked him what the issue was, and he said that there was a semi down, but that small cars might be able to get around it.  I had my iphone on the dash of my car, so I used it to snap this photo as I lined up to get by the truck, passing other semis and RVs who would not be able to get around it:
As I went around the end, I worried about the woman who was standing next to the tail end of it, should it have fallen.  The west bound traffic was completely stopped.  I hope and expect that all occupants of the semi were ok, but it must have been one scary ride for them.

After visiting my friends in Helena, Montana, I saw farm after farm after farm with bales of hay.  Here’s an artsie shot of one such farm field:
The western part of North Dakota was different in one very significant way – here, the hay fields were interspersed with oil wells.  (See the oil pump in the background of this photo?)
The configuration in the picture, below, was duplicated many times over, all over this northwestern section of North Dakota:
There were bigger operations, like this one, that also had a lot of rectangular containers, and the flame, burning off the gas: 
When I drove into North Dakota, I thought that I was going to drive into the western entrance of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  However, the roads didn’t seem to match either my Microsoft Streets’ mapping program, nor the Map program on my iphone.  It was starting to get dark, and I was seeing just one oil operation after another, all lit up, and dead end streets.  I decided that I wasn’t going to get to the park that night, so needed to find a place to bed down for the night.  I saw something that looked like a tractor road, and turned into that, which went up a tiny little hill and then down, again, which was enough to hide my car from immediate visibility from the road.  I parked the car, got out, and noticed some deer standing there, wondering what to do.  They decided to take off.  I spent the night, sleeping behind my car.  During the night, some coyotes were checking out an area not far enough away from me (for my liking).  I was happy when a flash from my flashlight sent them running, since I wasn’t eager for a pack of coyotes to think that I might be a tasty morsel.  In the morning, I took a picture of my surroundings: 
The coyotes had been just to the right of the silos in the above picture. 

After bedding down for the night, I was able to get a cell phone signal, and so I sent my little “I’m safe” email to my Mom, since I knew she was worrying about me, and told her that I couldn’t find the western entrance to the park.  She thought that was weird, and checked out the park’s website, and discovered that the road didn’t go through (the website said that it was closed at some point – I don’t think that it actually said that there was no western entrance), and emailed me that info, so in the morning, I just looked for a way to go east to get to that entrance, so that I didn’t have to drive 20 miles north to get to the main highway before heading east, and then south, again to get to the park.  The roads had changed from all of the mapping software, and looked as though they were dictated by where there was oil.  I finally decided, when yet another road I was on dead-ended into an oil operation, to just follow a truck carrying oil out of the operation.  That truck, did, indeed, lead me out to a road that led to a main highway. 

The roads reminded me of the maze of roads that sprang up behind my house in Tillamook State forest when they started logging operations, there, recently.  In North Dakota, it was obvious that the high quality dirt roads were put in fairly recently, to allow access to the oil operations springing up, everywhere.  I was also amused when I saw a truck repair “shop” out in the middle of nowhere. 

I made it to the park fairly early that morning.  As usual, I didn’t want to pay for camping, and it turned out that camping was free if one backpacked and got a permit to do that.  I just had to be ¼ mile off of a trail, and out of sight of both trails and roads, so that my accommodations wouldn’t mar the beauty of the scenery for other park visitors.   The seasonal employee who issued me the permit seemed to think that this was all a big deal.  She made me think that it was, too, even convincing me that a topographical map was required for this grand expedition that I was about to go on.  When I started talking about how I was also going to visit the Little Missouri River, it seemed to me that she thought that it was just too much to do in one day.  And I MUST take at least a gallon of water with me, because there is no water available on any of the trails, and someone died, earlier in the summer due to dehydration.  She made me think that I really was doing something that was a big deal.  Because of that, I decided to go super light, and eat dinner before backpacking to find a place to camp for the night.  I found a picnic area (with running water!), took the little interpretive walk, there, where I took this shot of the park, to give a general feeling of what was there:

The following photo was also taken on that little hike, as well, and has some longhorn cattle (brought back to the area for nostalgic reasons, even though, unlike bison, they aren’t native) lounging in a bend of the Little Missouri River:

It was a wickedly hot day (in the 90s F/mid 30s C), so I decided that I wanted to spend some time in that river.  While I cooked my dinner, a ranger came by, and we discussed my plans.  I told him what the seasonal person had said about the death, and he looked surprised and then said, oh yeah, someone had died in the South Unit, and acted as though that were a whole different world.  He made it seem as though what I was doing was perfectly normal, more as I had originally expected.  But it was still really, really hot, so I took off on the trail that was supposed to cross the river.  The woman who’d given me the permit also mentioned that there was a lot of mud near the river.  She was quite right about that!  At first, I thought that I wasn’t going to have any issues – that I could just walk on top of the crusty surface, and then, all of a sudden, the crusty surface broke, and mud soon encapsulated my feet.  You can see, here, that the mud is over my ankles – it felt as though it would suck my feet down, further – reminded me of stories of the tar pits of prehistoric times:

I eventually made it to the water.  The river was rather shallow, but deep enough in some places where I could lie down in it, getting all of my clothes soaking wet, which I assumed would get all dry fairly soon in the baking heat.  I took a short a hike on the other side of the river, my wet clothes cooling me off, went back to the river, and walked upriver quite a ways before coming back, seeking some shade, and taking this picture from my little place in the shade:
The broken crust was from bison, the longhorn cattle, beavers, and me.

I spent a little more time in the river before heading back to the car to finally get ready to go for my hike to find my bed that night.  Just before taking off to go for my hike, I met a ukulele-playing pilot who was using his spare time on his latest assignment for visiting the park.  It turned out that he was doing the same thing I was – just hiking a couple miles in, and camping, so that he wouldn’t have to pay for camping.  As I had originally suspected, it was no big deal, except that he was surprised by an encounter with a rattlesnake his first night out. 

With about an hour’s worth of sun left, I finally took off on my evening hike.  My hike took me through “Prairie Dog Town” which was absolutely full of prairie dogs – like these two guys in two of the most classic poses – stretched over the hole, ready to go down it on a moment’s notice, and standing up, looking: 
I also loved the moon coming up while the alpenglow lit up the eastern hills:
There are also a ton of prairie dogs in the above picture, but this version is just too small to see them.

At last, I found a nice flat place to bed down.  Here’s my bivvy sack, filled with my sleeping bag and an air mattress in tonight’s bedroom:

I turned around, and noticed that we have our own little “dildo valley” (as I like to call it) here in the US – no need to go to Turkey, except, that no one could build a home in this one:

Soon after going to bed, I first heard the coyotes howling and yapping, and, I assumed, having yummy little prairie dog dinners.  A little later, I heard a swoosh right over my head – I looked up through the netting, and realized that several bats were flying about.  They didn’t hang out very long, there, as the swooshing seemed to stop after just a couple of minutes, so I was able to go to sleep fairly easily. 
The next morning, I was packing up my gear, and was nearly done when I thought that I could hear the presence of someone else. Sure enough, not 30 feet (~10 meters) away, was a bison:
I remembered all of the stories about how dangerous these animals are, but, there wasn’t much that I could do, so I snapped the above picture of him (I assume that it was a him, since he was alone), and finished packing, so that I could head out of there.  I thought that I would try a short cut, but the bison had moved on, and the short cut took me toward him, so I backed up and gave him extremely wide berth.

On my way back through Prairie Dog Town, this little guy let me take a picture of him/her:
So cute!!!!

For the rest of my trip, I got to visit a friend in St. Paul, Minnesota, and then I high-tailed it to St. Joseph, Michigan, where I swam in Lake Michigan (ah!  Relief from the heat!), and picked up a high school buddy for our class reunion.  We did stop to check out the historic Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where my friend’s Mom had worked, briefly, years before.  It had a nice little tower that we took pictures of – trying to get the Cure JM poster in a Michigan photo, but a security guard came up to us and told us that we had to have permission to take photos of the facility, and told us to delete the pictures we’d taken.  It seems that they don’t want people casing the place, due to some of the folks who are housed there.

I hope that you’re all doing well!