Road Trip to SD – Day 7 – Golden Spike & Rockets

My Road Trip blog posts keep getting longer and longer. I can’t decide which photos to leave out (and believe me, I’ve left out plenty) so I think each post has had more photos than the last. I know from feedback that at least some of you like the Road Trip posts so maybe you won’t give up on this one. This trip has got to end some time because I have lots more blog posts in my head (and my camera) from stuff around here. So rather than break this one into two posts it will just keep on going until it’s done.

We left off with Day 6 at dark trying to figure out where to stay. We had the map book spread out in the Subway where we had sandwiches for dinner. It was too far to any of the national forest land we were seeing north of Salt Lake City and it was dark by this time. That makes it more difficult to find a spot that is not a designated campground.  I had seen, while perusing the map, the Golden Spike National Historic Site that we thought we’d check out in the morning but still we needed to sleep somewhere. Dan suggested a place off the frontage road where we’d seen climbers on our trip out.


This is what the place looked like in daylight the next morning. Except for the train track next to us and the highway next to that we weren’t disturbed. Can you read the sign that I saw the next morning? “Death’s Rock.”


We took Highway 84 to get around Salt Lake City and north of Brigham City turned west to go to the Golden Spike site.


Before you enter the area near the Visitor’s Center there are plenty of places to stop and read the interpretive signs. This was at the first site, looking back east.


I knew generally about the building of the railroad in the 1800’s but I never knew or had forgotten the details. By the time of the Civil War there were railroads linking states in the east. It was in 1862 that Congress authorized the Central Pacific Railroad in the west and the Union Pacific Railroad in the east to construct railroads that would meet somewhere in the middle.


The details make a fascinating story, and if you’re driving through Utah, this site is definitely worth your time. Before the meeting place of the railroads was finally chosen both companies continued to build grade ahead of where the track was laid. (The graders worked 5 to 20 miles ahead of the tracklaying gang.) The railroad companies were paid per mile depending on the difficulty of the terrain and they were given sections of land. So there was incentive to keep on going. The railroad grades overlapped by 250 miles before Promontory Summit was chosen as the meeting place. This photo shows the site of what is known as the Big Fill.


Here is an enlargement of part of that. This was a ravine to be crossed and the grade could be no steeper than 116 feet per mile. Let your eye follow the slope of the rocks–that marks the ravine. The line of dirt above that is the Big Fill. The Central Pacific built that grade by blasting rock and building up that area. The Union Pacific’s solution was to build a trestle and you can see what’s left of the rocky abutment on the left and just below the Fill. There are photos of the huge trestle that was built to span the ravine (but used only four times because it wasn’t secure enough).


Here Dan is walking on the Central Pacific Grade and you can see the Union Pacific Grade to the left. When you walk on this trail you can use your cell phone at marked stations and hear the information about the points of interest along the way. I find it fascinating that these two crews would have been working this close to each other. And it is so hard to fathom the work involved. Shovels and picks, mule-drawn wagons. Other than using some dynamite, everything else was done by hand. I read that in the Sierra’s sometimes they only progressed 8″ in a day. DSC_3392

We got to the headquarters just after it opened and went to the Visitor’s Center.


There was a display with watches. This is an example of one of those things that never would have occurred to me to wonder about. When did we start worrying about Time?  This is from a sign in one of the displays: “With the completion of the transcontinental railway, marking and maintaining precision time became more important than ever before. Prior to standard railway time, each city and town had it’s own time, often connected to “sun time” which was based on the sun’s movement across the sky. As rail lines crossed various local standard times, scheduling became increasingly complicated. Timetables and timekeepers, therefore, were essential parts of railroad operations.”


This is a view along the track (a replica now) at Promontory Summit…


…and here is where the Golden Spike was symbolically tapped and the final iron spike was driven to complete the railroad. There can be many facets to every story and this is no exception. The material at the Visitors Center (as well as all the others that I’ve visited) speaks to the ramifications of our (humankind in general, and the White Man in the relatively recent history of the U.S.) relentless desire to control and often exploit our surroundings and each other. The achievement of this feat led to the decimation of the bison herds, destruction of the American Indians’ way of life, and “progress”. The West was opened up.


On that final day two locomotives met at Promontory Summit. The wood-powered Jupiter came from the West…


…and the coal-powered  No. 119 came from the East.


These engines are fully-functional replicas of the originals made in 1979.



They weren’t in operation when we were there because the track was being repaired, but    usually they are taken out during the summer…therefore they need wood and coal to operate them.




We spent some time in the No. 119 talking to the man who operates the engines.




We drove part of the Union Pacific grade, now a road,  when leaving the site.


We made a couple of stops along the way. I didn’t take many flower photos on this trip. When you’re practicing 70 mph drive-by photography flowers usually aren’t the subjects of choice. I did love seeing the wild sunflowers that were everywhere.


Time to head home. The map app showed 10-1/4 hours. Go!


Wait! There was one more stop. From where we first got out to look at the railroad grades you could see what looked like industrial complexes covering the hills to the east. When we got back to the main road and turned north we saw that all the property to the east was part of the Orbital ATK complex. Their website says: “As a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, Orbital ATK designs, builds and delivers space, defense and aviation-related systems … Our main products include launch vehicles and related propulsion systems, satellites and associated components…”


There was a Rocket Display outside the headquarters. Each piece was labeled with specs and details of use.



This is the reusable solid rocket motor from the Space Shuttle.


A sign that amused me is the one in red lettering that says “Please do not climb into the nozzle.” I guess that wouldn’t have occurred to me. The blue sign is shown below.


This one pointed out the railroad grades that we just visited (red for Union Pacific and blue for Central Pacific), site of the Big Fill, Promontory Summit, and the route of the pioneers, all of which were visible from here.


Now it was really time to start for home. These are alfalfa fields in Utah…


…and huge barns to store all that hay.


We had noticed these structures under construction when coming the other direction. I looked this up later and and found that they are overpasses for deer to try and reduce the high number of deer/auto collisions in  this area. They’ll be filled in with dirt and vegetation and fences will be put along the freeway to funnel the deer to that area.


Usually when we drive on these trips I don’t do much reading or other activity even though I’m not the driver.


I enjoy watching the scenery. That is what a road trip is about. But driving home from Utah on I-80 isn’t new anymore. And it’s not as fun when you are driving straight through without stops.


I still appreciate this landscape, but I ended this trip reading through much of the travel on this day and I read parts of the book to Dan. I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. From the cover: “Overdressed does for T-shirts and leggings what Fast Food Nation did for burgers and fries.”—Katha Pollit. I’ve been immersed in these ideas for a long time with my Fibershed involvement but it was relatively new to Dan. Now he sees the ads in the paper in a whole new light. I could go on about that topic but I won’t. I recommend that you read this book.


Heading west into the sunset. It was getting dark. No more reading.



A blurry photo as we entered California.


Here is a map of the trips we have taken over the last five years when we started our Road Trips. This year’s trip is in yellow. Now that Dan is retired maybe we’ll be able to do more than one a year. One of us isn’t retired though and has a lot of animals to take care of.


Road Trip to SD – Day 6 – Following the Pioneer Trail

At the end of  Day 5 we had stopped at the Horsethief Lake Campground in the Black Hills National Forest, still in South Dakota.

Black Hills NF, SD

We had looked at the map and planned the direction to start for home, wanting to roads that we hadn’t traveled before as much as possible.


We headed toward Wyoming…


…and saw this along the road.


I had been collecting postcards to send to my 3-year-old granddaughter but hadn’t mailed many yet so today I was going to search out post offices in the small towns along the way.

Newcastle, WY

A gorgeous building across the street from the post office in Newcastle. From there we took Highway 450  west through the Thunder Basin National Grassland toward Wright.

Thunder Basin N Grassland

We were driving through the country where huge herds of cattle had been driven as far north as Canada, grazing along the way, and then shipped by railroad to eastern markets. Belle Fourche, where we had been a couple of days before was one of the important shipping points. (Lonesome Dove fans, note the sign on the post.)

Thunder Basin N Grassland

According to the sign 2500 head of cattle strung were strung out for a mile, traveling 10 to 15 miles per day. They could gain weight over the 300 to 500 mile trip.

Thunder Basin N Grassland

Alternatively picture the thousands of bison that once roamed here while the Native American’s called this home. Same place. Different eras.

Thunder Basin N Grassland

Thunder Basin N Grassland

Black Thunder Mine,WY

Before we got to Wright near the western edge of the Thunder Basin National Grassland we saw the first glimpse of a major industry in Wyoming…and the sky was more gray.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

According to Wikipedia, the Black Thunder Coal Mine is the world’s largest coal producer.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

This is an immense operation.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

I couldn’t get photos to show the scale of what we were seeing. You can see a tip of the excavator down in the pit. Wikipedia says “Black Thunder’s dragline excavator is the biggest in the world and produces enough coal to load up to 20-25 trains per day.”

Black Thunder Mine,WY

The excavator fills this truck with one pass of it’s giant scoop. This is a huge truck–the driver is sitting in that little cab above the wheel.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

Take a look at the photo below to see the true size of this structure.

Black Thunder Mine,WY

east of Edgerton, WY

More of Wyoming prairie. This is between Wright and Edgerton.

near Edgerton, WY

Someone has decorated their oil/gas well.

near Edgerton, WY

I have included this photo because of the two dinosaurs and it reminded me of a photo op that I missed earlier in the trip. The dinosaur seems to be the mascot for Sinclair gas stations. We passed a gas station somewhere along the way  where they had a dinosaur the size of these and it was tied to a fence post with a rope around its neck. I still think it’s one of the funniest things I saw on this trip. It would have looked natural to have a horse tied up right next to it.

south of Casper, WY

We drove through Casper and took Hwy. 220 towards Rawlins.

south of Casper, WY

We watched lightning in the distance. Do you know how hard it is to take lightening photos?

Independence Rock, WY

We were still following the trail of the pioneers…

Independence Rock, WY

…and we stopped as they did when we reached the Independence Rock, which is now a State Historic Site.

Independence Rock, WY

In one of the earlier posts (Day 2) we had stopped at South Pass. Then we were heading east, backwards from the direction the explorers and pioneers travelled. They would have been at Independence Rock first, looking west towards South Pass, 100 miles to the west.

Independence Rock, WY

Independence Rock was the first major landmark after leaving the North Platter River to follow the Sweetwater River to South Pass.

Independence Rock, WY

There is a trail around the rock for modern day visitors. You can see where early travelers left initials and names scratched into the rock.

Independence Rock, WY

This is the remnants of the trail heading on southwest.

Great Divide Basin, WY

We were back on our trail towards Rawlins.

Great Divide Basin, WY

We crossed the Continental Divide.


I used to think that you crossed the Continental Divide once and then were on the other side. I found out that there is an exception in Wyoming (and when I looked at a map of the Continental Divide, also in Mexico). Wikipedia again: The Great Divide Basin is an area of land in Wyoming’s Red Desert where none of the water falling as rain to the ground drains into any ocean, directly or indirectly.” I highlighted this on the map so that I could see it more clearly. South Pass is near that northern route of the Divide.

Rawlins, WY

We found the Post Office in Rawlins (this was across the street)…

Great Divide Basin, WY

…and then crossed the Continental Divide again…

Great Divide Basin, WY

…and again.

East of Green River, WY

Near Green River on I-80. From here on we were backtracking where we’d already driven.

Evanston, WY

It was dark when we got to Evanston, just on the edge of the Wyoming-Utah border. Looking at the map book and trying to find somewhere to spend the night I had found one more point of interest for the next day. We still hadn’t figured out a good place to camp so we stopped here for gas and Subway sandwiches and took the maps inside for closer scrutiny.

To be continued…

Road Trip to SD – Day 5 – Mt. Rushmore

After driving through the Badlands we decided to continue on the scenic roads rather than go to the highway. Some of them were a bit of a guess since all we had was a road map of the state.


Not far out of the National Park we stopped to watch a herd of bison. This is not much of a photo but it give you an idea of the number in the herd.


Then we headed west on a gravel road that went through another part of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Most of the National Grasslands are located in or around the Great Plains and they are managed in the same way as National Forests. Until I looked up this information I didn’t know that there is a National Grassland in California. In fact it is near the Klamath National Forest where I worked when I was in college–but it was designated as such until after that.


As I had seen on a map in one of the Visitors Centers, the public lands are interspersed with private lands. We saw miles of one of my favorite crops.

Leaving the grassland we drove into the forest again. The engineering of the road to Mt. Rushmore is a marvel in itself. From Custer State Park you drive 17 miles on Iron Mountain Road to Mt. Rushmore. There are three pigtail bridges and three tunnels that were engineered to frame Mt. Rushmore.


This very poor photo shows what I mean by framing the mountain. Each of the tunnels is aligned to present the view of the mountain.DSC_3209

I was surprised when we arrived to be directed to the roof of a parking garage built into the mountain. It makes sense–they have to do something with all the cars that come here.


I knew what to expect of the mountain itself because I’ve seen pictures. But I didn’t know about the infrastructure built around this National Memorial.


There is an amphitheater facing the mountain. From there you can walk on the Presidential Trail around the base of the mountain (or the rubble left from carving the sculptures) and then to the Sculptor’s Studio, where there is a plaster model and tools used by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore. DSC_3212

This was an amazing feat in the 1930’s. It took 400 laborers to do this work. DSC_3213

Look at the detail on Lincoln’s face. The noses are about 20 feet long and the eyes are about 11 feet wide. Can you imagine what it would be like to be hanging in a basket here drilling holes for dynamite?


Time for us to move on. It looked as though there were several campsites in the nearby forest and I didn’t want to have a repeat of the night before. We stopped at the first one that we saw and found a good spot. We had time that evening to relax and read.

I finished a book called A Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks.


The author grew up on the family sheep farm in the Lake District of England.  At the beginning of the book he describes how he felt as a boy when it was assumed by “outsiders” that he would (or should) want to do something better with his life, but all he ever wanted to do was to continue with the sheep farm. Also he was resentful with the interest that others (non-residents/city people) showed for the landscape but in a way that he didn’t understand–they didn’t respect the farms and the farming life but looked at the landscape as something with a “higher” purpose. I’m not explaining this very well, but as I was reading this book in the evenings on this trip I found similarities in his description of the visitors to their farm land and the fells above and to us in taking this trip and the others we’ve taken. We are grateful that there are National Parks and other public lands so that we can explore these landscapes that we’d never have a chance to see in depth otherwise. In this landscape we were the visitors, admiring the stunning views, the wildlife, and the agriculture. But we don’t live the life there, don’t have to deal with weather challenges, prairie dog invasions, etc. As an adult Rebanks learned to see the other side and understood the appreciation the “city people” had for the land, albeit without the understanding of the integral part that centuries of farming had played in those landscapes. He found a way in his career (second to shepherding) to promote the importance of farming and shepherding on this land while allowing tourism to benefit the communities as well.

I couldn’t help but find parallels in this book to the experiences that we were having during this week vacation.

Road Trip to SD – Day 5 – Badlands in the Morning

I wasn’t very complete in my description of Jewel Cave from Day 4 of this trip. I usually get out the brochure and re-read the info that is there. Those formations in some of the photos are called Dogtooth Spar, 6-sided calcite crystals formed completely underwater, and Draperies, formed as water trickles down, leaving deposits of calcite crystals. The brochure says that while the cave was forming it was completely submerged in groundwater that was rich in dissolved calcium carbonate. As conditions changed the calcium carbonate precipitated and formed calcite crystals off various depths and shapes on exposed surfaces.


Here is one more photo from Jewel Cave. There is another cave nearby–Wind Cave National Park but we just didn’t have time for everything.


I left off the last post with heading to a Rest Stop in the dark. That was not our best night but at least we slept. However we had chosen this plan after passing up the trailhead parking that said “No Overnight Camping”. We didn’t want to be federal criminals. I will admit here that we are now criminals in the State of South Dakota. The rest stop had a sign posted about a SD rule that you can’t stay more than three hours at a rest stop and there was video surveillance for our safety. I keep expecting to get a summons in the mail.  The photo above is what we woke up to. That weather system was in the west, where we were headed to see the Badlands.


We first had to drive east to find a place to turn around. We commented that South Dakota has big raindrops.


Now heading west.


Eventually we drove through the storm, or it passed us over as it was heading east.  This was the first time that I’ve been “on the ground” in the Midwest and I found this side of South Dakota as beautiful as the Black Hills in western South Dakota, although very different.


Change of pace. A bit of commercialism near the entrance to the National Park.


Now there was someone at the entrance station (it had been closed the night before) but there were no maps. It seems they had run out with all the motorcycle traffic. (We were able to get one at the Visitor Center.)


The first view of the Badlands, although we had a glimpse from the other side just before dark the night before.


The previous night we had driven through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands on that road south of the Badlands NP, through the eastern end of the Park and north to the highway. If we had more time we could have gone to the National Grasslands Visitor Center further west on Highway 90 in the town of Wall and the  Minuteman Missile National Historic Site just north of the Park. (Note to self: take another trip to SD and buy the Map Book first.) We planned to explore the trails here at the west end of the Park and then drive through the Park, starting our drive home.


We stopped at an overlook. You can’t tell from this photo but the wind was blowing and it was cold. And what was weird is that this fog was rolling in. That sounds like something I would say standing over the San Francisco Bay. Fog rolling in here in the Badlands? In August?


Maybe its not “rolling in”. But it sure settled fast.


The distance view was gone within ten minutes. In fact these photos were taken ten minutes after the first one right after the National Park sign.


We drove on. The formations were stunning but the surroundings did seem cold and gloomy.


At the next stop we saw bighorn sheep! Yes! This was the clearest photo I had of them as the mist seemed to get thicker. “Sheep in Fog”. The sheep stayed around, in fact bedding down right there while we hiked on a short trail on the other side of the road.

Then we went to the Visitors Center to get warm, pick up a brochure and map, and see the exhibits.


Did you know that my background is in Range and Wildlands Science? That’s what the UCD degree was called after it changed from Range Management before I graduated. I admit that I can’t identify most grasses anymore and certainly not these of the Great Plains, but I am interested. The grass is an extremely important part of an ecosystem, whether its these prairies or our irrigated pasture back home. This is a great exhibit.


Remember the Dust Bowl? Well, most of us don’t remember it, but we know about it. This explains why, when you plow up the prairie you have set up the system for disaster. The Park brochure explains that “the Badlands prairie contains nearly 60 species of grass, the foundation for a complex community of plants and animals. The prairie once sprawled across one-third of North America.” Today there are only patchwork remnants of this prairie that “occurs in areas that are too dry to support trees but too wet to be deserts“.


We drove on to the Fossil Exhibit Trail. This area went from being a under a shallow sea, to a jungle after the land lifted up, and then covered with sediment and volcanic ash that turned to soft rock. Eventually erosion exposed all the colorful layers and the fossils they hold, so the SD Badlands in known world-wide for it’s fossil record.


From information found on this website: “Although by definition badlands contain very little vegetation, some plants, particularly prairie grasses, are found in South Dakota’s badlands regions.  Sod tables, remnants of the prairie that have resisted erosion, provide platforms for vegetation.


You can see the layer of soil that held by the roots of the vegetation but that isn’t enough to prevent the sides of the sod table to continue to erode. In fact, the Badlands are retreating to the north in general as natural erosion occurs. Notice the holes at the top of this sod table. We thought that maybe birds used these holes.


Then we saw that these are rodent tunnels that have opened as the erosion occurs. You can see that in this photo.


Beautiful landscape. What would an early explorer have thought, having just ridden over miles of grassland?





Here is a different landscape.  I might not have known for sure what this was except for having visited Devils Tower NM two days before. (By the way, there is a pronghorn in the photo but I’m talking about the mounds and the lack of grass.)


Here is the culprit. I can see how prairie dogs are considered a nuisance. The road took us past  acres and acres of this devastated landscape. As usual there are two (or more) sides to a story. I have to get on with other things right now and won’t try to research this one. Here is one article that gives various perspectives.

The day wasn’t over. We had another stop before camping for the night. That will be in the next post.


Road Trip to SD – Day 4 – Belle Fourche and Jewel Cave NM

We started Day 4 of our adventure after a restful night in the Black Hills National Forest in Wyoming. (Here is the campsite in Day 3.) I was up before Dan and walked off with my camera. Wildlife!


So what if it’s just chipmunks! They were close enough for me to get decent photos.


And they were fun to watch as they ran in one side of the cattle guard rail and out the other.


This is a view of some of the forest outside the campground.

We got on the road and looked at where to go. Now I’ll tell you why I had originally chosen South Dakota as our destination for this year’s trip. Months ago I was reading a sheep magazine and saw a reference to a Sheep History exhibit in South Dakota. I looked it up and it was in an Ag Heritage Museum in Brooking, SD. There was a lot to see along the way so I suggested that as our turn-around point. However, Brooking is on the far eastern side of SD. After the first two days of driving and looking at all the things we wanted to see where we were now and our limited time I pulled the plug on driving clear across the state to see that one place. It seemed kind of silly to add another two days of driving to the trip just for a few hours in a museum (or to not add two days and be driving for that long a stretch).

So, back to the map. There was plenty to see in western SD: Mt. Rushmore NM, Jewel Cave NM, Wind Cave NP, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Badlands NP. Dan still wanted to avoid Sturgis with all the crazy motorcycle stuff. So we looked for a road around it. I saw on the map “Geographical Center of the United State”. Really? I looked at the U.S. map. That didn’t look right. I googled it.


If you include Alaska and Hawaii, yes, there is a place, not too far over the border of SD, that is the Geographical Center of the U.S.


It turns out that the real center is in a privately owned pasture 20 miles north of the town of Belle Fourche.


The town decided that there should be a more memorable and accessible monument for something as cool as being the Georaphical Center of the U.S. …


…so this was created in 2008. It is at the Belle Fourche Visitor Center and Museum.


The museum turned out to be very interesting (and maybe a smaller scale of the one that we were going to miss in Brooking) and we spent some time there. There were exhibits about the cattle drives from Mexico to Canada, the importance of the railroad station in Belle Fourche (4500 train carloads of cattle per month in 1895), the Old West in  movies and TV, early settlers, rodeo history, wartime, and old-time bad guys. There was also an exhibit about the importance of the sheep industry in South Dakota. DSC_3074

This is a sheepherder wagon that is outside the museum. There were a lot of photos of the sheep history of the area.


South Dakota is currently fifth in the U.S. for sheep production…


…and the sheep industry is an important part of South Dakota’s agricultural economy.


This isn’t a very big museum but there was a lot to see in the small spaces. In the area that showed something about life in “the old days” there was this device used to do something to women’s hair. An early perm?


it’s kind of hard to see this bicycle but I thought it was interesting in that the handlebars, seat, and wheel rims are made of wood.


After a few hours we decided that we’d better get on the road again. This is a view before we left town.


What do you think of this one? It was kind of scary to have this view on the highway   but that truck was going the same direction that were are because it was being towed behind another.

South Dakota was not what I expected.


We had camped in the Black Hills National Forest in Wyoming but it continues in South Dakota.


We were headed now to Jewel Cave National Monument and took a road designated a “scenic drive” and it was. Beautiful country. This is an area known as Spearfish Canyon.


This National Monument as well as many of the others we planned to visit are all within this area of the Black Hills National Forest.



I continued to find the scenery breathtaking. Too bad the drive-by photos can’t really show that.


We signed up for a cave tour but had some time in the Vistor’s Center first. Jewel Cave was discovered by two prospectors in 1900. Only a mile of it had been documented when it was made a National Monument in 1908. Now it is known to be the third longest cave in the world with over 180 miles of passages that have been mapped and more that have not. The cave extends beneath about four square miles of land but there is only one known entrance. The areas in yellow are closest to the surface and the redder the color, the deeper the passage. The deepest point is 749 feet below ground.

Thirty of us gathered with our Ranger and rode an elevator down to a double set of doors that created an airlock when entering the cave. I am not a big fan of dank, underground place, preferring wide open spaces and sun. Nevertheless, this was a cool (no pun intended although it was sweatshirt weather below ground) tour.


It was OK to take photos. I can’t tell you what any of these formations are because (although once, for a very brief period, I thought I might be a geologist) I don’t ever remember rocks and geologic time.IMG_1499

I can admire them however.


There were lights placed strategically along the mile-long tour route and lots of walkways and stairs.


At one point the Ranger turned off all lights and that is very eerie. I think of Tom Sawyer and Becky in the cave and running out of candles. Yes, I prefer wide-open spaces and sunlight. (By the way, no photos of lights-out in the cave.)


This one reminds me of an ocean scene.



Here is an example of the one of the walkways. The tour was about an hour. After that I bought my patch at the gift store and we spent a little more time in the Visitor Center.


We read about the ecosystems we were traveling through. I have lived most of my life in California, have traveled in many of the western states, including the desert southwest (where I lived for a couple of years) but have never been in the prairie. This sign and others explained a bit about the difference between the Short Grass Prairie and the Tallgrass Prairie, where we’d be traveling next. The Black Hills are in between.


Bison grazing.



We planned to visit Badlands National Park the next day. We knew that it might be tough to find a camping spot on a weekend without a reservation in the National Park but we thought that we’d be able to find a place to pull over and sleep somewhere in the National Grassland that surrounds the Park. We had been told by a couple of people that (as we know is true in the National Forest) if it’s public land you can stay there. This sign indicated that we were in Buffalo Gap National Grasslands…


…complete with buffalo.

My big mistake was not getting the map book for South Dakota before we left. I realized too late that we didn’t have it and thought that we might be able to find one on our trip. Since neither of us like to spend time driving through cities even if its to a bookstore, we never got one, and instead had to rely on a road map of the state. That was totally inadequate for the way we are used to traveling. We couldn’t tell where there was private land and public land and we had no idea where the little dirt roads went. Later I saw a map that would have been even better than the map book for our purposes. There is a map available of the Grassland that shows land ownership. No wonder we couldn’t figure it out–it’s all a big checkerboard of private and public land. We’ll know for next time.

So we drove through the Grassland as it was becoming dusk. We couldn’t identify anywhere that looked like we could stay. It is after all, grass, and all fenced. We’re used to driving through the forest or even the desert and being able to drive off on a dirt road away from the main road and camp. Eventually it got dark and we continued driving into the Badlands NP. As we thought the campground was full. We continued on, entering  the Grassland again. We pulled off on one possible road that was clearly marked as a trailhead on public land. But law-abiding citizens that we are, we left when we saw the sign that said “No Overnight Camping”. I was feeling less law-abiding than Dan, but I was not the driver. We tried another road that was still part of the Grassland and passed another place, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, that would be interesting to visit in daylight hours. This gravel road was on our map and continued for a few miles. However, every time we turned on what looked like a possible side road, there was a gate, or an obviously cultivated field. We finally went back to the highway and drove east.

You might be wondering, why don’t they just get a motel room? The first answer is that there were none around. However, eventually we got to the highway, and, yes there would be motel rooms. But, this was a camping trip and we had comfy sleeping bags and I had a sheepskin to sleep on and we could sleep in our truck. All we needed was a place to park. We saw a rest area on the map so we went there.

To Be Continued.



Road Trip to SD – Day 3 – Devils Tower

After a morning spent touring Mountain Meadow Wool we headed east toward Devils Tower National Monument.

Coal mine-Gillette, WY

This is part of a coal facility near the town of Gillette, home to 12 coal mines which provide 1/10 of the jobs in the area. Up to 100 trains loaded with coal leave the town every day. We noticed that the sky over much of our trip was not as blue as we expected and that is evident in my photos. I am used to the Sacramento Valley haze in the summer, a result of dust, smoke from wildfires, and probably smog, but I didn’t expect this in Wyoming. I wonder if these hazy skies are from all the coal mines.


Artwork seem when driving through one of the towns.

North of Moorcroft, WY

I wouldn’t call this artwork, but someone has a sense of humor. Am I the only one that sees these logs as weird animals?

North of Moorcroft, WY

As expected there were lots of cattle. This is north of the town of Moorcroft, where we turned off  of I-90 to head north to Devils Tower.


First view of Devils Tower. The Tower rises 867 feet from the base and 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. The diameter at the base is 1000 feet and the area on top is 1-1/2 acre.


There is a trail all the way around the Tower and it looks different on each “side”.


This is looking at its southeast face. Do you see the column that is much shorter and tipped a bit just inside the part that is in shadow and that looks like it is just above the tree in the photo? Then do you see the column that rises up about twice as high as the shorter broken one?


This is a close-up of that taller column. There is a climber! Look above the next column over (about an inch on my screen). That gives you some perspective about the size of this huge rock.


This is a detail of the outer third of the Tower from that first photo (where, due to camera perspective, it looks more tipped than it really is).


Tisis a closer view of the middle of the photo above. Those things that look like sticks? Those are the outer edge of a ladder that was used to get up the first 350 feet in the 1890’s. The ladder is anchored in the crack between the columns. Can you imagine? The lower part has since been removed and some of the upper restored by the Park Service in the 1970s.


This is another view that includes the area of those close-ups just to give some perspective.


The trail around the Tower is paved the whole way to accommodate the thousands of visitors  that come each year. Hot in the sun, it was very pleasant under the canopy of trees.


Speaking of trees, these are pretty substantial trees at the base of the cliffs. Another measure of perspective.


Look at those trees in this view.


There were beautiful colors and patterns in the rock.IMG_1452

We were at the Tower for about two hours or so. Before leaving the National Monument we had to stop at the prairie dog town.


These are certainly well-fed prairie dogs.


But I didn’t realize the damage that they do to the landscape. There are prairie dog mounds throughout this photo. I have some very severe photos to share later on in these blogs.


We drove north and then east from the Monument…IMG_1456

…and found a campground in the Bear Lodge Mountains, part of the Black Hills National Forest. Again, we needn’t have worried about the campground being over-run by motorcycles from Sturgis. Maybe the riders are not big campers. There was only one other person in this campground.


This is a rare scene–not Dan reading a newspaper–but that we actually had time to relax and enjoy the evening in camp. Point #1: we got there early enough that there was still evening left before we needed to eat or get to sleep. Point #2: There were NO mosquitoes, it wan’t cold, and there was no rain. So Dan read his newspaper and I read The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. I found that some of the author’s points resonated with me on this trip. More about that later. IMG_1461

An after-dinner fire. This reminds me of the disembodied head of Oz.


Road Trip to SD – Day 3 – Wool Mill

We camped at the Lost Cabin campground in the Bighorn Mountains. We needn’t have been concerned about being crowded out by hoards of motorcycle riders. There were only one or two other campers. It was hard, living and working outside in the Central Valley, to imagine needing wool gloves, hats, etc. I’m glad that I had brought those and that before we left I had grabbed my heavy chore coat off the hook where it had been since the spring. The night was cold camping at 9400 feet elevation. (I know, that’s all relative, and some of you laugh at what I think is cold. But nevertheless I was cold.) It was almost dusk by the time we finished eating and cleaned up dishes and I was ready to get in a sleeping bag. I was warm enough, but spent a lot of time reading in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep.

Lost Cabin, Bighorn NF

We meant to get an early start, but it was already well into the morning when I woke up. Hey, it’s vacation time! And there is a time zone difference too. Dan made his coffee and we got on the road to Buffalo.


This was our destination.


Mountain Meadow Wool is the company that spun this year’s yarn and I was excited to meet the people there and see the mill.


Here is the entrance.


It opens into a showroom and sales area.


There are well-made videos showing of local sheep ranches where the wool is sourced and the mill in production.


Ben took us into the mill. He showed us this wall where bales and bags are piled waiting to be processed. This wool will be used for Mountain Meadow’s own line of yarn. It was interesting that the wool stacked here is this year’s production for the Mountain Meadow lines of yarn whereas for the “big” companies that might amount to only one days’ production.


The scouring line starts here.


First, is the skirting table, very similar to mine with the PVC cross-pieces. One person checks all the wool as it comes through. He will pull out fiber that looks too short, too full of VM, or contaminated with paint marking.


This was nice fiber, but Ben said that the paint wouldn’t wash out so it is discarded. The fiber pulled out here goes into the baler that is behind the skirting table (photo above this one). I don’t remember where Ben said that this goes, but there is a market for it when they get a large amount.


The wool goes up this belt…


…and through the bale opener before it goes through the scouring line, which Ben and his team have spent years developing to work for a mill of this size.


Nearby there were several large plastic barrels (30-50 gallons?) connected by pipes and tubing that is Ben’s work-in-progress to biologically manage the solids that become waste products of the scouring process. This includes lanolin and a lot of dirt. He is still working to perfect the system that includes lanolin-consuming bacteria (if I remember correctly). This jar is full of some of the waste products.


The carder is right in the middle of this room but I didn’t get any photos of it. After carding the wool goes through the pin drafter–5 times!


This comb in the pin drafter helps remove short pieces and debris to create a smoother product.


Spinning is next.


It takes about 6 hours to spin up the fiber in each box unless they are spinning very fine yarn. Then it can take 2-1/2 days! No wonder it costs more to have fine yarn spun.IMG_1416

Combing is an additional process…


…which creates a product called “top”, that has no short pieces or cross fibers in it.


There can be a lot of waste after combing but Mountain Meadow Wool uses that waste to create dryer balls. My dryer balls are here.


Yarn is then wound on cones and/or skeined.


Mountain Meadow Wool also has a dye kitchen for the yarn that they market.


Ben took us into a room with finished goods, experimental products, R&D. Mountain Meadow Wool offers some pieces for sale and also the option to have some items made with a producers own wool. I admired the blankets being woven.


People have sent fibers to see how the mill can handle them. The fiber above is a coarse plant fiber. I can’t remember what it is–something like agave, or at least it reminded me of that plant family.

Bear hair

This one I remember. Someone sent Ben bear fiber to spin.

I appreciate Ben taking time out of his day, and at the end of a week when they have been short-handed, to show us around. It helped me to discuss with him fiber prep  and fiber quality. Quality control of the yarn begins at the producer’s skirting table. I love the yarn they are producing at this mill and it’s nice to know the family.

Where to next? It was about 1:00. We at lunch at a local sandwich place and looked at our maps. It wasn’t far to Devil’s Tower National Monument–only about two pages away in the map book. Onward!