2021 ~ Adventures with The LovedOne

Well, 2021 started out bleak, then got happier, then got sad again. This was thanks to the two V’s – variants and vaccinations. Too much of one, not enough of the other. But we survived (yet again), with The LovedOne remaining as elusively photogenic as ever. But, thanks to being vaccinated, we were able to have a few big adventures without expiring.

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Oak Leaf Loop (Sheyenne National Grassland) 28-Sep-2021

The Sheyenne National Grassland sits about 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Fargo, North Dakota. It’s the only national grassland on the tallgrass prairie; The National Park Service manages another remnant of this prairie type in Kansas. Tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres (68 million ha) of North America, but within a generation most of it had been transformed into farmland. Today less than 4% remains intact.

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Four Days in Fargo (September 2021)

It’s the early 1890s. A young man from Wisconsin steps off the train in Bismark, North Dakota to grow wheat on the 160 acres (65 ha) he’d obtained either from the federal government or the Northern Pacific Railway (now part of the BNSF Railway). The railroad, desirous of customers, had painted a pretty rosy picture of how easy it would be to grow crops on the Northern Plains. It wasn’t. It was a hard life. His family grew to seven children, but only four survived past infancy. The weather could be beyond harsh. But he hung on and perhaps even prospered – for a while.

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2019 ~ Adventures with The LovedOne

Another year passes and The LovedOne remains unconvinced as to her photogenicity. Her attempts to out-hike the camera were working…until…I bought a telephoto lens! Ha! Another (probably temporary) victory for technology!

JANUARY: We took advantage of direct flights to go hiking in the Las Vegas area. We got in several good hikes before a foothold broke off beneath me while canyoneering. The resulting back injury (since healed) limited our hiking for awhile. 😦

On the Fire Canyon Loop, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
On the Fire Canyon Loop, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

FEBRUARY: With my back still recovering, we contented ourselves with some short, local hikes. Things got more interesting when the weather brought gobs of snow to the hills near us.

After a snow storm on Roxy Ann Peak, Medford, Oregon
After a snow storm on Roxy Ann Peak

MARCH: Still coddling my back, we stayed with local hikes, seeking out ones that were longer but not overly rugged, like the Blue Grotto and the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail.

On the North Shore Trail to the Blue Grotto, Lost Creek Lake, Oregon
On the North Shore Trail to the Blue Grotto

APRIL: We had waited three years for sufficient runoff to allow us to run the Owyhee River in Eastern Oregon and a bad back wasn’t going to interfere with that. So, equipped with a generous supply of ibuprofen, we went with Momentum River Expeditions for a wonderful float down the Lower Owyhee.

Morning coffee below Pruitt's Castle on the Lower Owyhee River
Morning coffee below Pruitt’s Castle on the Lower Owyhee River

MAY: I had been invited to give a talk about Oregon Wilderness Areas at the Siuslaw Public Library, so we combined that with some hikes at and near the beach. Excellent weather and we were ahead of the summer crowds. 🙂

On the Oregon Coast at Fivemile Point
On the Oregon Coast at Fivemile Point

JUNE: The entire month was given over to a rafting trip (with OARS and our friends Wayne & Diane) celebrating the 150th anniversary of John Wesley Powell’s first descent of the Green and Colorado Rivers. In 28 days, we went from the cold, clear waters near Flaming Gorge Dam to the considerably warmer and murkier waters of Lake Powell. Truly a trip of a lifetime!

On the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam
On the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam

JULY: We had barely returned from our J. W. Powell rafting adventure when it was time to head East for our nephew’s wedding. After those festivities, The LovedOne spent some time at WEBS in Northampton, Massachusetts. Then, reeking with lanolin, we continued north for hikes in Acadia National Park and New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Standing in front of WEBS, Northampton, Massachusetts
There was NO WAY we were going hiking unless we stopped here first.

AUGUST: After two months of travel, we opted to hike locally. Classic Boccard Point in the Soda Mountain Wilderness and the Little & Big Duck Lakes in the Russian Wilderness were good choices. The decision to stay local was made easier by the lack of wildfire smoke this year (unlike the choking miasma that plagued the last two summers).

The brave hiker smile at Boccard Point, with Pilot Rock in the distance - Southern Oregon
The brave hiker smile at Boccard Point, with Pilot Rock in the distance

SEPTEMBER: We have long admired Theodore Roosevelt for his contributions to our National Parks and Monuments. So we did a hiking roadtrip that took us to Mount Rushmore, Wind and Jewel Caves, Devils Tower National Monument, Badlands National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the Black Elk Wilderness.  

Hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

OCTOBER: We spent this month doing a little local hiking and then I addressed a medical issue that had come as a surprise. This put a dent in hiking but opened-up an opportunity to visit some previously overlooked local attractions.

On the trail to Sugar Lake in California's Russian Wilderness
On the trail to Sugar Lake in California’s Russian Wilderness

NOVEMBER: We took a chance and went ahead with a long-planned trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas. Our timing was excellent as the weather was perfect for hiking and sightseeing. 😎 We did several short canyon hikes and then a longer one into the Chisos Mountains to see its unique forests and some of its wildlife – including two bears! 🐻 🐻

At the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas
At the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park

DECEMBER: Winter weather finally arrived, so we shelved plans for sneaking in some hikes at the coast (as we’d been able to do in December 2017). But the snow that dropped at higher elevations wasn’t quite ready for snowshoes. 😦 So we contented ourselves with reprising some of the classic lower altitude hikes near home. 🙂

Strolling into winter at Prescott Park, Medford, Oregon
Strolling into winter at Prescott Park

We didn’t hike as much in 2019 as in prior years – only 102 unique (based on either location or season) hikes, covering 576 trail miles, with 94,800 feet of elevation gain. But six weeks of raft trips, plus other adventures and a wedding, more than compensated for this ambulatory shortfall. For 2020 all we’ll promise are more adventures, some of which are sure to involve hiking. 😀

A heart drawn in the snow, Medford, Oregon

Black Elk Peak (South Dakota) 17-Sep-2019

Black Elk Peak (its name was changed from Harney Peak in 2016) is the highest natural point in South Dakota. It sits in the Black Elk Wilderness west of Rapid City, South Dakota. Although not directly part of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy, we included it in our roadtrip because it offered a good hike, one we’d done before in 2003 (during our highpointer days). This time we opted to do a loop to the stone lookout on the summit up the Little Devils Tower #4 Trail and down the Black Elk Peak Trail #9. We started from the #4’s trailhead at Sylvan Lake which was an amazingly popular (and crowded) place even on a weekday. But once we were on the trail we were pretty much alone until we got near the summit – at which point a whole lot of hikers materialized on the trail. After swarming us at the lookout, this mass of hikers mysteriously evaporated as soon as we were descending on the #9. Of the two trails, we enjoyed the #4 the most because it was less rocky and traversed more varied terrain (especially the needle-like rock formations). High, milky clouds played havoc with photos for much of the day – but relented for a few shots in the morning and from the summit. Overall a fun hike and a great way to end our journey to the western Great Plains and TR’s conservation legacy. 😀

Starting out on the #4 Trail
Rock formations along the #4
More rock formations along the #4
Through a grove of aspens
Mushrooms beside the trail
Clouds over rock formations
The trail traverses a meadow
Rock spires along the trail
Reaching the classic stone lookout tower on the summit
Roof detail
The view to the east
Heading back on the #9
More mushrooms (their subtle shading is beguiling)
The summit lookout tower (arrow) from the #9 Trail
Almost back to Sylvan Lake (with another thunderstorm brewing)
Our route to (red) and from (blue) Black Elk Peak

Jones Creek Trail (Theodore Roosevelt National Park) 15-Sep-2019

Our homage roadtrip to explore some of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy finally brought us to where it all seems to have started – Medora, North Dakota and today’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Again we were graced with good weather for hiking, with some artistic clouds, mild breezes, and a cool (at least in the morning) air temperature. To call this area the “badlands” completely obscures the alluring beauty of its rolling terrain with its scattered trees already changing color as Fall nears, multi-colored grasses and shrubs, incised watercourses, and sweeping horizons. I felt a subliminal affinity for this land (but then we weren’t visiting in mid-winter either o_O ).

With a good number of trails in the park to chose from, we went with a Jones Creek Trail / Roundup Trail combination mainly because it didn’t involve too much driving or too many creek crossings. It had rained heavily in the days prior to our visit and the creeks, while no longer too deep to cross, were nonetheless pretty muddy in spots. Along Jones Creek we had only two easy mud-free crossings followed by a short climb up the Roundup Trail to some big views. Our plan to continue along that trail to where it intersects the park road was thwarted when a herd of buffalo – with one especially large bull in front – decided to scatter themselves along the trail. These large animals look seductively placid until suddenly they’re not and you’re pulped into the trail and splattered with buffalo poop. 😥 So we decided to retreat gracefully to the trailhead and go watch the prairie dogs gambol about (hikers are almost never trampled by prairie dogs…).

We wrapped-up the day with a visit to the banks of the Little Missouri River and Roosevelt’s Maltese Ranch cabin (which is preserved at the visitor center). In all, a very good day for a hike, for family memories, and for enjoyment of TR’s legacy. 😀

Along the Jones Creek Trail
Along the Jones Creek Trail
Grasslands and clouds along the Jones Creek Trail
Clouds and sage along the Jones Creek Trail
Jones Creek
Coming to the junction with the Roundup Trail
Consulting our map at the junction of the Jones Creek and Roundup Trails
Along the Roundup Trail
View from the Roundup Trail
Along the Roundup Trail
The LovedOne contemplates the view
Colors in the soil
Painted Hills
A line of hoodoos
A large buffalo claims the trail
Heading back after being buffaloed
Fall colors
Crossing Jones Creek
Approaching the trailhead
Clouds over the Little Missouri River
Roosevelt’s Maltese Ranch cabin (preserved at the visitor center)

A Bully Visit to TR’s Legacy (September 2019)

The establishment of the National Park Service is justified by considerations of good administration, of the value of natural beauty as a National asset, and the effectiveness of outdoor life and recreation in the production of good citizenship.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

We have long admired Theodore Roosevelt.  Not simply because he was the 26th President of the United States.  No, it has more to do with his physical and intellectual vigor, his forceful pursuit of progressive reforms in early 20th Century America, and, of greatest importance to us, his championing of conservation.  Neither reform nor conservation were particularly popular causes during America’s otherwise mean-spirited and rapacious Gilded Age and it took courage to carry them forward.  Which is not to say that everything he said or wrote or did during his action-filled life sits well with modern sensibilities.  But all human heroes can (being human) be seen as flawed, either in the moment or in retrospect.  The question is whether that hero did society, despite their imperfections, more good than harm.  With respect to TR’s role in conservation, that to us is an unequivocal “yes.”

President Theodore Roosevelt & John Muir at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, California, 1903. [National Park Service photo]

Today there are more National Park Service units, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, dedicated to Roosevelt’s life and memory than to any other American.  As president, Roosevelt created five national parks and, after signing the landmark 1906 Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities, used its special provisions to unilaterally create 18 national monuments.  He also created the United States Forest Service and established 150 national forests (100 million acres worth), 51 federal bird reserves, and 4 national game preserves.  In all, during his presidency he protected approximately 230 million acres of public land.

Although he’d had naturalist inclinations in his youth (he would eventually donate 622 carefully preserved bird skins to the Smithsonian), TR’s journey to ardent conservationist probably began when he first stepped off the train at Medora, Dakota Territory on September 8, 1883.  To celebrate the 136th anniversary of this seminal event, we did a hiking / roadtrip to visit some of TR’s legacy within the National Park system.

Day 1 – We flew into Denver and then drove to Rapid City, South Dakota across seemingly endless expanses of grassland.  This is too often derided as “fly over” country.  But it’s worth visiting on the ground if for no other reason than to experience the immensity of the sky above and the distant horizon all around.  That evening we were treated to a full-on, fully electrified and illuminated Great Plains thunderstorm.

Heading north to Rapid City

On Day 2 – which was rainy and overcast – we visited Mount Rushmore only to find TR’s stone visage shrouded in clouds.  Below is what we would have seen on a clear day. We then swung by two of TR’s creations – Wind Cave National Park (1903) and Jewel Cave National Monument (1908) – before retreating to our hotel in Rapid City to wait out yet another exceedingly energetic thunderstorm.

Mount Rushmore on a clear day

Day 3 was a long drive out to Devils Tower National Monument (TR’s first, in 1906) – again in rain and clouds – for a brisk, windy, damp hike around this monolith on the Tower Trail.  Thrusting up out of the rolling, forested hills, it’s an awe inspiring piece of geology. We had no trouble seeing why it qualified as our first national monument.

The LovedOne contemplates a cloudy & wet Devils Tower

On Day 4 the weather cleared and the sun shone and we drove south to Badlands National Park for a full day of hiking on the Castle and Medicine Root Trails.  The sharp contrasts between the overarching blue sky, the luxuriantly green grasslands, and the stark whiteness of the badland’s baked soil was enthralling.  We finished up with a quick visit to the Minuteman Missile National Monument – one of the 450 ballistic missile sites deactivated by treaty in the mid-1990s.  But not to worry, there are still 450 fully loaded and active silos out there. 😦

Days 5 through 7 found us driving north to Medora, North Dakota for a visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and a hike (under sparkling blue skies) on the Jones Creek and Roundup Trails.  Our hike was cut a little short when a herd of buffalo decided to graze on the Roundup Trail.  But the colorful scenery under the artfully clouded blue sky was magnificent! 🙂

The train station in Medora, North Dakota
Roosevelt’s Maltese Ranch cabin

By Day 8 we were back in Rapid City for a loop hike in the Black Hills Wilderness to the summit of Black Elk Peak, South Dakota’s high point.  There was some cloudiness but no rain and the clouds cooperated (somewhat) by parting artistically at opportune moments.  That evening, back in Rapid City, we were treated to another brief, but exceedingly intense, thunderstorm.

By Day 9 our salute to TR had run its course and we made our way back to Denver for the direct, but still strangely long, flight home.  Despite the weather’s vagaries, this was an excellent trip to see some amazing scenery and revel in the legacy of one of America’s greatest personalities (and presidents). 😀

Bully! TR in 1910 [Library of Congress photo]