Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Camp Hancock

I was  asking John just this morning how the city of Bismarck got its name, and at our first stop for the day I received an answer to that question. At this historical site sits a 1909 Northern Pacific Locomotive. The interpretive sign there notes that the town was established in 1872 and at that time was called Edwinton.  It was given that name to honor Edwin L. Johnson,  Chief Engineer of the Northern Pacific Railroad. A year later the town was renamed Bismarck after Chancellor Bismarck of Germany. It was an attempt by the town to attract German investors to the region to spur railroad construction by Northern Pacific. Camp Hancock was the location of a United States infantry post from 1872-1877. The purpose of the post was to protect railroad supplies, equipment and engineering crews of the railroad. At this historical site Bread of Life Episcopal Church is located.  Here the first " non-Roman church service"  for Bismarck was held in 1873.
We returned to the capitol grounds for the afternoon. Near the capitol is located the Heritage Center. It has wonderful exhibits covering the history of North Dakota from the time of the dinosaurs. The museum also has an excellent collection of America Indian artifacts has well as interpretive exhibits featuring North Dakota's military and agricultural history. Outside the building is this statue of Sakakawea who guided the Lewis and Clark expedition. The artist, Leonard Cuellet,used one of Sakakawea's descendants Hannah Levings as a model for the statue. Hannah was from the Hidutsa Indian tribe. This artwork was done in 1909.
While John was finishing up at the museum I strolled to the west side of the capitol mall to take the arboretum trail which is located behind the Governor's Residence. The trail meanders through a forest of trees and shrubs. Posts identify 75 different species planted on the grounds. I found an interesting statue of a horse near the end of the trail. It is made of bits and pieces of rebar welded together.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Capitol Building of North Dakota

Before touring the capitol we stopped at Zion Lutheran Church. It was a hot afternoon and the garden of this church, located behind its fellowship hall, looked very inviting. In the center is a small fountain.
The capitol building surprised me. When we parked near it I kept looking for a domed building, which is what most capitol buildings have. This capitol building looks like any other skyscraper, and has 19 stories.
 Marlan, our tour guide for the capitol, claimed that the domed capitols are only about 40% useful, the North Dakota capitol makes use of at least 80% of its building. The original capitol, a brick domed building, burned in 1830. The present capitol building was built from 1932-34 under severe budget constraints, so it had to be efficient in both space and operation. The inside of this building, however, is quite elegant. The first floor Memorial Hall has chandeliers are 12 feet long and were designed to represent a head of wheat. The seal of North Dakota has a backdrop of rare Belgium black marble.
There are also other rich materials in the building like Indiana limestone and Wisconsin black granite that covers the facade of the building, and Minnesota granite makes up the front staircase. Many woods are represented in the Legislative Hall and in the House of Representatives. There is curly maple, East Indian rosewood, a rare Californian walnut, chestnut and a variety of oaks. It is quite a beautiful building, I am not sure how they can claim that they had limited financial resources when they built it! Our guide passed on to us other interesting information regarding North Dakota. In recent years it has come into oil and, according to him, is now the fourth largest producer of oil. Oil has helped the state keep a balanced budget. Something else which I learned is that the legislators come into the capitol to work for eighty days every other year. And to think that I originally thought that the tour of this capitol building would boring and uninformative! Turned out to be quite the contrary.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bismarck North Dakota

Our home is now parked outside of Bismarck, very much out on the plains. No more mountains for us. Out here there are fields of corn, wheat and sunflowers. We drove into Bismarck today for church services in a driving rain. By the time we were ready for touring the rain had stopped. We drove to the governor's mansion,a Late Victorian-style home built for a local merchant in 1884. The state bought it for $5,000.00.
 Twenty-one executives subsequently lived here from 1894 until 1961. It is a well worn mansion which has been redecorated by the governor's wives many times. It is estimated that the wallpaper has been changed about 60 times, and the walls have had more than that number of changes in coats of paint! I could not get over how simple the kitchen looked, new cabinets had been built into the kitchen in the 1950s.
In the first picture here of the mansion you may notice a yellow building in the background. That is the carriage house which had a big transformation over the years from a stable to a garage. The featured exhibit in that building "From Oats to Quarts of Oil" represents that period of time. I had never before considered what the first vehicle laws were in our country. The exhibit had on display The Ten Commandments of Motoring published in the North Dakota Highway Bulletin,September,1925. The first rule: "Drive to the right side of the road; it's just as good as the left". Number six: "Read and obey the warning signs; they are not put there as ornaments". Number seven is: "If you feel you've got to speed, do it where it will kill nobody but yourself". Later, after John and I had toured the capitol, we happened to drive past the current governor's mansion. It certainly is different in style than the original mansion. Hard to believe that building is now about 50 years old!



Saturday, August 28, 2010

Medora Musical

This show is supposedly one of North Dakota's top tourist attractions. The variety show has western style music, song and dance routines, and a gospel selection in tribute to Teddy Roosevelt. We attended the show Thursday evening and it reminded me a lot of the musical shows which we have seen in Branson Missouri. A special feature of the program when we attended were the NY Goofs, a comedy group out of NY city.  At the end of the show an actor moving slowly down a distant hill on a horse was spotlighted. It was a tribute to the 26th president and quite moving. I have a picture of the stage below.
 The Medora Musical's Burning Hills Amphitheatre is set on a hill in the North Dakota Badlands. From this bluff there is a beautiful view of the Little Missouri's River Valley. While we strolled around this bluff after supper we saw a herd of elk feeding in the valley below. The river can be seen in the background.
We chose to eat at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue outdoor restaurant on the Tjaden Terrace near the amphitheater prior to the show. If one chooses steak for their meal it is cooked on a pitchfork in hot oil.
It had been quite a warm day, but once the sun set and the show started, the evening hours became cooler. It was quite a delightful way to spend a summer evening, complete with a full moon shining above us.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Flora and Fauna in the North Dakota Badlands

Our motor home is currently parked just outside of the Roosevelt National Park. Here we are surrounded by some of the badlands. We did not see elk within the boundaries of the park, but this morning while I was working on the computer, I happened to look up the hill in front of our home and see a herd of elk grazing. That certainly made my day. The national park is home to several prairie dog towns. It was shortly after we started on the scenic loop through the park that we saw one of those towns. I was fortunate to capture a picture of one of those critters, they do move fast when they sense danger! They yip loudly and wag their tails in a warning for the others to run into their homes below ground for safety.
President Roosevelt would have been happy to see the numerous herds of buffalo in the park now. In the early1900s he bemoaned the fact that they were becoming extinct. 
The herd above was quite near the picnic area where we stopped for lunch. I did not realize until after we finished lunch how close they were to us. That was when I started hearing snuffling sounds and a lowing sound. My first reaction was to bolt and run, but I became more enthralled by the sounds they were making and decided to stay where I was because they could not see me anyway. I deduced that the sounds buffalo make are quite similar to those of cattle. After we got into the car and started driving down the road a big bull got in our way. I was surprised when John decided to drive around him, thinking certainly that the bull would charge into our car! But he remained motionless as we drove in front of him.
Of course the park is home to many other animals as well; mountain sheep, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer, as well as wild horses, to name a few. We were there in the heat of the day, it was not surprising that we only saw bison. It is also not the time of the year for good viewing of wildflowers. The weather has been hot and dry.  Consequently hiking in the badlands yesterday was not a good idea what with all those rocks soaking up the sun!  But a grove of juniper trees did afford us some shade.
Roosevelt Nation Park has the second largest collection of petrified wood in the world. But they are found only in certain areas of the park accessible only by hiking certain trails. However we did see in the town of Medora a beautiful floral display set in a planter of petrified wood.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Our 26th president came out to the badlands at the age of 20 years and it changed his life forever, both in his development as a man and as a president. He bought two ranches out here. The first home he built has been moved to the park and the public is able to tour it. I was impressed by the fact that the cabin still had his desk, hutch and rocking chair in it. Below is a picture of the section of kitchen which had his desk.
 Theodore Roosevelt described the badlands as a "land of vast silent spaces and a place of grim beauty". That does about sum it up correctly. As John and I drove through the park yesterday we commented to each other that those same sandstone rock structures were pretty much what we had seen all over Montana. I do want to correct what I had said in my last posting, that the badlands have no vegetation. Whether the badlands have vegetation or not actually depends on the kind of rock located in each particular area, as well as how much erosion has been occurring. And you can not ignore the essential factor of the amount of water in each area either. At the visitor's center in the park I learned more about concretions, which I had written about a couple of postings back. Concretions are of two variety; cannonballs and hoodoos. Below is a picture of a cluster of hoodoos tangled together which we saw in the park. I was in error before when I said they are always a single spire of rock. Over time erosion is constantly changing their shapes.
 Prominent throughout the badlands are layers of brick-red rock, locally called "scoria" but more properly termed clinker. Below is a picture of that rock layer. Its red color results from the baking process of coal.
True scoria forms from volcanic eruptions,which has never occurred in this area. Scoria here has been formed by the burning of the bands of black ignite coal which is sometimes present in the rock of the badlands.  As far back as 9,000 years ago exposed coal periodically caught fire and sometimes burned for decades. The fire that burned in the coal vein trail, which we hiked yesterday while in the park, lasted from 1951-1977. With the assistance of a park brochure we were able to see the whole progression of events along the trail; a coal seam, clinkers which formed from the coal burning, the slump of the earth (burning underground coal seams weaken a hill's structure), and the grassland which appeared once the fire burned out. Native species again reclaimed the area. While in the park we also saw some wildlife. More on that in my next posting.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Badlands of North Dakota

I originally had the misconception that the rim rocks were only unique to the Billing's area. In actuality we have continued to see those sandstone rock structures wherever we have been touring this past week. We thought we were traveling through farm land the other day when all of a sudden, coming around a curve in the road, we saw the rims standing up starkly against the sky off the side of the road. This was as we were entering Pictograph Cave State Park. I have a picture of that scene below. I think the one spire of rock standing by itself in the front of the other rims is what some call a hoodoo. Don't hold me to any of this misinformation!
Yesterday we drove northeast out of  Montana into North Dakota. In that area we found the land dotted with those rock structures. They may be heavily concentrated in one area, and then again we may drive along through miles of grasslands. The rims may look like small bumps on the landscape or they may be massive columns of rock structures standing in rows disappearing off into the horizon. They may be one plateau with many layers of rock. They may be cone shaped, or a pyramid. In another area they looked exactly like camel humps. So how can they be rim anything, I thought a rim was the edge of something. I turned to Wikipedia, well aware that it certainly is not the final authority on any subject. It defined  rim rock as " sheer rock wall at the upper edge of a plateau, canyon, or geological up-shift, maybe the rock formation or the rock itself. That did not help me at all, maybe I should just enjoy the sight of them for whatever they are. And then there is the term "badlands", which I guess refers to those same rocks when they are badly eroded away and lack any vegetation on them. Guess I better quit on this while I am ahead...Before I end this I need to get back to some road names which have intrigued me lately. In Canada one road's name is "Quick Road East". In Montana a road is called "Farewell" and yesterday, heading out of Billings, we saw "Bad Route Road". Wouldn't you love to know where those roads led? Maybe in my next life I will travel down those roads!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pictograph Cave State Park

I was impressed with all the history this park represented. This area and its three caves were once the living quarters of prehistoric hunters and gatherers. The land area of Pictograph Cave was once part of the Crow reservation but the earlier people who camped here may not have been related to the Crow tribe. Plains tribes and their ancestors moved around periodically, within large geographic regions, so the area occupied by one tribe at a time may not be the same tribe occupying it another time. Over 30,000 significant objects,or artifacts have been discovered in the caves and surrounding area. The articles were discovered in a series of horizontal layers of the caves, which meant that the area was occupied during different time periods, beginning about 4,500 years ago. This information I am have obtained from the park's trail guide. There are three caves in the park and it is the Pictograph Cave which we were able to step inside and view the Native Indian drawings. A lot of the painted images on the cave walls have faded over time, but it is still possible to see some of them. Many of the older drawings cannot be associated with modern tribes. But there are also contemporary drawings from more recent Indian tribes as reflective in the drawings of rifles. The red streaks in the lower right corner are rifles, possibly enlarging the picture may help you to see them.
In these caves we saw geological oddities known as concretions.They are large boulders suspended on the cliff wall and inside the caves. Their formation began millions of years ago under a shallow sea which extended into present-day Montana. They were formed as small shellfish and plants died, decomposed and hardened around different chemical compositions. In the ceiling of the second cave a large fossilized clam shell is preserved.
The caves are in the fertile valley of the Yellowstone River, and a springs nearby also provides a supply of clear water.While hiking around this park it was easy for us to understand why many ancient cultures traveled through this area. And the shelter which the caves provided also added to its desirability as a place to reside.

Chief Plenty Coups

After we visited the home and grounds of this Crow Indian Chief I expressed my frustration to John again about how poorly our United States history books are written. Why had I not heard about Chief Plenty Coups before? Well, I guess that is why we are traveling; to get the rest of the story of our country's history. Chief Plenty Coups (in the Crow language his name means "man of many accomplishments") was born in 1848. He quickly rose through the ranks of his tribe and became chief. The late 1880s were a very turbulent time for Native Americans. Already much of their land had been taken from them by the white man. Chief Plenty Coups advocated for change, among his people he was a figure of controversy. He felt it was better to work with the white man rather than constantly to be at odds with him. An interpretive sign at the museum commented that " he represented transition from the primitive as did no other figure red or white in our history, to his race he was in every respect what George Washington was to colonial America". He became a rancher, farmer and proprietor of a small store. He traveled to Mount Vernon to view George Washington's home, orchard and gardens. He took what he learned there and copied it back on his ranch. He was proud of the home he built here in Montana, because it was the only one that had two stories in Pryor County at the time. I must say that his home was one of the most unusual historic homes we have toured so far. Interestingly enough, it has many features of an Indian tepee. He at first built it with one opening, a door which faced to the east. Later he remodeled the house to include windows.
 Chief Plenty Coups was a deeply spiritual man. In  his earlier years he had a vision which directed him to build a house by some sacred springs. He did find those springs, and built his home near them. They bubble up from underneath a tall cottonwood tree. At the museum there is a picture of him and his family bathing in these springs. Below is a picture of those springs. Many small trinkets are hung on the branches of a tree nearby. It is the custom of  Native Americans to hang pretty shiny objects near springs.
It was not until the early 1900s when the chief converted to Catholicism. Here I would like to quote him regarding his take on the white man's religion, and I am not sure when he made this comment : "when we tried to understand it (religion) we found that there were too many kinds of religion among white men for us to understand, and that scarcely any two white men agreed which was the right one..this bothered us..until we saw that the white man did not take his religion any more seriously than he did his laws."  And finally I would like to add another quote here from the Billings Gazette, written at the time of the chief's death in 1932: " his courage, character and genius were such that, set down in any race and in any era, he would have made an everlasting mark".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chief Joseph Scenic Highway

This is the highway we took on our return home to Billings. There were a couple of beautiful canyons on this route. The first one we were able to hike around. The picture below is of that gorge, it was taken by John while he stood on a ledge over-hanging the canyon ( he did give me a scare while he was doing that because he was standing beyond the fenced-off area).
Sunlight Creek, a tributary of the Yellowstone River, could be seen running through the bottom of this canyon. The other canyon we saw only from a distance at Dead Indian Summit.The gorge can be seen in the middle of the picture below.Chief Joseph Highway is almost as scenic as the Beartooth Highway which we had been on earlier in the day. The summit is of historical importance because of a Nez Pierce battle there with the United States Army in 1877.
On the last few miles of our return home we drove through the town of Belfry. We passed their high school which had a sign in front of it announcing that it was "home of the bats".  I sure wondered how the students of that school feel about having the bat as their mascot. Maybe someone put that up as a joke! One last picture here. I took that picture at a drive-in where we stopped for supper. It is the creation of artist David Masters.
 We certainly had spent a long day touring around but it had been very enjoyable. And on our way home, just outside of Billings, we saw a coyote capturing his prey out in a harvested wheat field. That certainly added to the pleasures of the day!

Beartooth Scenic Highway

Before I write about our drive yesterday I want to give you an update on the forest fire we saw Saturday. According to the Billings Gazette, the fire had started a couple of hours before we came into the area. By Sunday morning it had burned 7,800 acres and about 8 families in the Columbus town area had to be evacuated. Fortunately Sunday night this area had a nice steady rain, maybe that was able to quench the fire. Monday we drove a total of about 280 miles round trip to see the one of the most scenic highways in the country. We drove it in our little Fit and it was well worth every mile we drove. I will show here the first view of the mountains which we saw as we started out on that road trip. The mountains are a bit washed out because of the sun being so bright. That is all right, rather have that than a heavy cloud cover over them!
Beartooth highway begins at 5,600 feet and the road climbs steadily via numerous switchbacks until it reaches a plateau of 11,00 feet. On our drive up we were able to view various vistas of the mountain valley seen in the picture below. It is quite a breath-taking scene!
 The sights from the plateau, on the tundra, were equally impressive. When we arrived there the wind was quite fierce and it was sleeting. During the brief time we took to hike around the plateau we got quite cold, probably it was around 20 degrees fahrenheit. We were now closer to the ice fields which we had been seeing on our way up.
From the plateau we could look down below the timber line and see pine forests, also several lakes spread out below from where we were standing. According to the tour books from this summit we can see for 75 miles. What a view!
 We drove as far as Cook city Wyoming, and close to the entrance of Yellowstone Park, before turning around and heading back to Billings. We took a different route on our return home, so I will save that for my next posting.



Monday, August 23, 2010

ZooMontama

I was going to be lazy today and not do any writing. I certainly do not have any pictures to show because I left my camera  behind when we headed out for church yesterday. And yet it was such an interesting, serendipitous day, that I decided I did have a few things to share with you. First English Lutheran church turned out to be a good place to start our day. The pastor, Mark Donald, in his sermon spoke on how Christ was not afraid to do the unusual in his ministry. He broke with tradition when he healed a woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Pastor Donald said that one of the best things the ELCA church did was break with tradition and ordained women for the ministry.  After the services John chatted with him and discovered that he was thinking of our niece Kathy when he wrote the sermon. She is an ordained pastor, and now professor of theology, who he came to know at Christikon some twenty years ago. After church we did some shopping and, since we were close to the zoo, decided to stop there before heading home. We usually do not do zoos since there are only a few that can even measure up to the St.Louis Zoo. At ZooMontana we found a few unusual things. It is advertised as a 72 acre home to north latitude temperate animals.The zoo also has a beautiful flower garden. White chairs were set up in rows here, apparently a wedding had been held there yesterday. It was an absolutely beautiful setting for a wedding. In the education center, filled with small cages for toads, snakes, marmosets and other small animals, there is a preschool classroom.  I must say it is a bit of a stinky place for a classroom, but most unusual! In that room we stopped to watch a keeper play with a mink. That little guy was busy jumping in and out of the keeper's lap, diving into a bucket of ice water, and also zipping through tunnels. In the barn, located on the zoo grounds, we noticed a pigeon sitting on a zoo keeper's shoulder. The young man said the zoo is trying to get the bird to return to the wild but she will not leave the barn. While he was currying combing a horse the pigeon jumped on the horses' back to watch the process. A large section of the zoo was not open to the public because of construction work being done there.We were still able to see a grizzly, a wolf and some river otters.  Somehow we managed to have an enjoyable time at ZooMontana. What is fun about our travels is that there are just some days when we have no idea what is going to happen that day when we head out the door. The unusual can and does happen!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Billings Montana

We had a short drive here yesterday from Big Timber. Just before coming into Billings we saw large plumes of smoke off in the distance. As we got closer to the smoke we could see trees burning. We assumed that it was another forest fire. We never realized before this summer how common those occurrences are. After seeing that one forest fire yesterday we noticed that many of the hills surrounding Billings have on them charred trees.
A striking natural feature of Billings are the rimrocks which rise 400 feet above the Yellowstone Valley. They run the length of the city and beyond. The picture below shows those rocks towering above the city in the background. Shortly after we parked our rig we drove up to them.
An interpretive sign at the park where we stopped on the rims explained that millions of years ago this area once looked like the coast of Texas. Over the years the Yellowstone River started cutting into the rims as it migrated back and forth across the valley. The process is still continuing today. We did some hiking around the sandstone rocks, but as the afternoon temperatures were nearing 100 degrees we decided it would be wiser to find some cool museum to stroll around in. Below is a picture of some of those rock formations.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Christikon

The above scene should be very familiar to our son Dan, our niece Kathy, and nephew Adam. Maybe it may mean a bit more to Adam, as this is where he met his wife Kjerstin. All of the fore- mentioned people worked at least one summer at this camp during their college years as counselors. Our son Dan maybe worked there at least three summers, so John and I were determined to see the camp. We are now parked outside the town of Big Timber and there is only one other small berg between Big Timber and the camp. After that small town John and I had to take a gravel and deeply rutted road for about 16 miles to get to the camp. That road went through the Beartooth Absaroka Mountain wilderness of the Gallatin National Forest. Just south of this area is Yellowstone Park, to give you a point of reference. The road may have been bad but the scenery was fantastic. We traveled over mountainous terrain and broad forested valleys. We were treated to scenes of monumental rocky walls and towering spires rising to 12,000 feet. We crossed a few rushing mountain streams. No wonder our son Dan wanted to keep returning to Christikon.  When we arrived at the camp there was one lone person there, the head of the camp, Pastor Bob Quam. He was busy with the last of many chores necessary for closing the camp for the summer. He warmly greeted us and gave us a tour of the place. While we were talking to him some animal kept yipping at us. It was a marmot, one of several marmots which like to hang around the camp, according to Bob.
The wildlife which we saw during the course of that day were numerous. Toward evening, while returning home, we saw many herds of deer. Counting the few we saw earlier in the day, some of them pronghorn antelope, we saw a total of about 100. In one wheat field there were sandhill cranes feeding peacefully with the deer, a sight which we found quite unusual. We also saw wild turkey and one osprey who was perched high in a tree. On our trip home we stopped at Natural Bridge Park. At one time there was a natural stone bridge spanning the Boulder River here. Being made of limestone it was not destined to last long and now the river running through that canyon is carving out another bridge. What is fascinating is that after the 100-foot waterfall at the mouth of the river, the Boulder river disappears underground and the rocky canyon is devoid of water.The deep canyon and waterfalls were quite an awesome sight. Unfortunately the camera does not quite capture that feeling!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Rest of the Bison Story

A couple of postings ago I mentioned that the buffalo came close to extinction in the 1890s. There is a Bison Exhibit at the Russell museum which explains what happened to the tens of millions of those animals in the 19th century. It is the usual story of  people discovering a natural resource, thinking the supply is endless, and using it fully for their own gain. In the 19th century some called this industrial progress. Buffalo bone was pulverized and primarily used as bone ash fertilizer; it also was used to make such products as charcoal, bone or ivory black pigment, glue,gelatin and ash for bone china. Michigan Carbon Works purchased thousands of tons of those bones from the North Bone Syndicate in North Dakota. Below is an exhibit at the museum of a pile of bison skulls.Fortunately a few people saved some of the bison and started  their own herds to be placed back out into the wild.
Before the white man  slaughtered the bison for commercial hunting, Native Americans also killed large numbers of them. They used every part of the buffalo to provide food, shelter, clothing, tools and equipment. They also used the skin as a writing tablet to tell stories. Below is an example of that writing which I saw at the Bison Exhibit.
The bison exhibit also has a sense-surround experience which put me in the midst of a bison stampede. I could actually feel the floor shaking as a video depicted them charging by me!  It was quite an impressive exhibit which also included artifacts of the Plains Indians.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

C.M. Russell Museum

This museum is located in Great Falls, however we found this statue of Russell in the downtown area of Great Falls. We have seen the art work of Charlie Russell at various cowboy museums in our travels. So we were pleased to find a whole museum dedicated to his life and work. He lived in Great Falls most of his life but was born in St.Louis Missouri in 1864. In 1876 he won a blue ribbon for a sculpture at the St.Louis Worlds Fair. At the age of 16 he left home to travel west and over the ensuing years took jobs as a wrangler, hunter and trapper. Whenever he could he worked nights so he could paint during the day. The subjects of his art work were mainly wildlife, Native Americans, and cowboys. The museum describes his work as "part entertainment, part history lesson". He was also a writer. On the campus of the museum is also located his studio and the home in which he and his wife lived until his death in 1926. Below is a picture of his studio, the bison head was a logo he put on his paintings, along with his signature.
 
After touring the museum we drove over to Library Park in downtown Great Falls to hear the Montana Old Time Fiddlers. We heard some great fiddle playing as well as some awesome yodeling.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park

We got back from Ohio Sunday evening and started sight seeing again Monday afternoon. I  really had very little energy yesterday, however. Traveling over three time zones in a day is certainly a physical challenge! We picked up KC at Happy Tails first thing in the morning. Once we got him home he paced around us a lot and cried. As you can see from the picture below, he finally settled down.
It did not help, then, when we left him to do some touring. He started up again fussing and following us around when we returned. He has not slept much since that first nap, the stress he is generating may kill him yet! Yesterday afternoon we followed the River Road along the Missouri River and saw several falls. The number of birds on the river were awesome to see. We saw cormorants, cranes, egrets, and pelicans, to name a few. We stopped at Giant Springs State Park. which is a trout fish hatchery. The springs there are quite beautiful, they were seen by Lewis and Clark in 1805 who described them as "clear and of a bluish cast". They can be seen bubbling up in several areas, something very cool to look at on a warm summer day!
 
  The water for the springs flow out of the Belt Mountains. It takes fifty years for them to flow that distance into the springs and then on to the Roe River. Roe River is all of 200 feet long, and is the shortest river in our country. At this park it flows into the Missouri River, which is the longest river in the country. We got to First Peoples Buffalo Jump Park just in time to hear the story of the jump given by a park ranger at the visitor's center there. It is quite a fascinating story which has been pieced together using information from oral history of the Native Americans, as well as from artifacts found at the archeological digs in this area. Prehistoric inhabitants of the Great Plains, using their children as decoys, hunted bison by stampeding them over cliffs. I have a picture below of the cliffs where this jump occurred. Wild bison were totally extinct in our country by the 1890s.  However, some buffalo were caught and kept in private herds, which is why they are still around today.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Great Falls Montana

Yesterday we drove from the Canadian Rockies in Alberta to the plains of that province. What a change in scenery!  It was was a bit hard at first to accept the difference. One good thing was that we no longer climbing mountains at a snail's pace. At one rest area on that trip a man walked up to me- he was an elderly man wearing shorts held up by suspenders. He squinted at me and said: " going north, deary?"  I replied that we already had been north to Alaska. I knew where he came from by his manner of speech, but asked where he was from. He was from Calgary and going to visit Yellowstone in his small camping trailer. His next comment, so typical Canadian was,: " well, have a good trip now, aye? One nice thing about the traveling we are doing is the opportunity of talking to people and becoming familiar with the traits of their particular ethnicity. This afternoon we dropped our cat off at a kennel called "Happy Tails". They will care for him while we fly east for our niece Rebcca's wedding in Ohio, for which we are leaving tomorrow. I am so afraid that the separation from us will send him into a major depression! He is staying in a cat condo but I am sure that will not be the same as home for him.  Anyway, after dropping him off we drove out of Great Falls to see the falls for which the town is named.
Lewis and Clark saw this area in 1805 and described the falls with these words: " a sublimely grand spectacle". In 1915 a dam and  power plant was built here. That pretty much eliminated a series of other falls which were located near Great Falls. We saw the falls from Ryan Island park, along which the Missouri River flows. The canyon walls rising up from the river's bank are also quite awesome to see.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jasper and Banff National Parks

We entered these parks yesterday morning,Sunday, from British Columbia. We drove the Icefields Parkway for the entire length of the parks. In Jasper and Banff there is a lot to see and do, but we had only one day scheduled for this visit. Well, at least I know now what people are taking about when they mention this area of Canada. It is everything and more what people have told me about it. Jasper is the largest park representing the Rocky Mountain natural region. The parkway took us through remote high elevated terrain with mountain vistas which are spectacular. Many of those mountains are covered with icefields. The Columbia ice fields alone cover 241 square miles. From those ice fields lie the fingers of many glaciers which can be seen from the parkway. The Icefield Centre is one area where it is possible to hike fairly close to one of glaciers.
 Another stop of ours yesterday was at the Athabasca Falls. The falls are awesome to view, and so also are the canyon walls which the Athabasca River carved out many years ago. The falls are supposedly the most powerful flow of water in the mountain parks.
The color of the glacial lakes and rivers was also a highlight for me yesterday. The melt water of the glaciers carries the silt and rock flour that gives the area's waters an opaque turquoise color. Icy blue-green Lake Louise springs from Victoria Glacier, and is the most famous of all the lakes in the parks. It lies in a beautiful alpine setting, which you can see in the picture below.
 That was pretty much our day yesterday. The park was full with many people like us out sight-seeing. We thought we would see lots of wildlife, but I do not blame them for hiding  from everyone. One bear was seen foraging on a hillside, he was causing such a traffic jam that we drove away as quickly as we could. And we did see a herd of mountain goats grazing by the side of the road as we left the area today. The only campground we could find last night was in Banff National Park, with no hook-ups. But it still turned out to be a pleasant experience with our home tucked in between pine trees and the mountains towering above us. After parking we took the small car and drove into the town of Banff. We spent our evening there strolling the streets and listening to the buskers playing their various instruments on the street corners.