On the Road – The Dakotas

Alice and Tango at Painted Canyon

If you enter North Dakota from the west, traveling from Montana along Interstate 94, one of the first things you will see is a billboard which simply says, “Be Polite.” I knew I was going to love ND.

The state has been on my radar for years but, let’s be honest, it is not exactly on the way to anything, with the possible exception of Canada. According to Wikipedia, “North Dakota is the 19th most extensive but the 4th least populous and the 4th least densely populated of the 50 United States.”  That translates into “big and empty.” I can confirm this to be true.

I wanted to visit North Dakota in order to see the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP), which is located in the western part of ND.  Even the TRNP is huge, with two sections, north and south, that are separated by nearly eighty miles.  The parks began to intrigue me three years ago, after I visited the Badlands N.P. in South Dakota. To a certain extent, the TRNP is an extension of those fabulous lands in SD. I knew I had to go there.

Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th president, actually lived in ND for several years following the deaths of  his wife and mother on the same day (just twelve hours apart).  He credits the land with revitalizing his spirit and I have no doubt that is true.  I found nature to wonderfully healing after the death of my husband in 2001 and during my work as a grief counselor I would often advise my clients to “get out doors.”

In Teddy’s case, not surprisingly, he had a “bully” outdoors to get into. The parklands where he once lived and raised cattle are as bold and dramatic as the man for which they are named. The rock formations, left by complex and dramatic geologic events many thousands of years ago, have created a colorful and magical land filled with canyons, hoodoos, concretions, and vistas. The Little Missouri River, a central character in the creation of this park, meanders peacefully through both parks.  Bison are plentiful in both units, as are wild horses and prairie dogs. The northern unit has, IMHO, the best vistas.  The scene from Riverbend Overlook (the most photographed spot in all of ND I was assured)  is breathtaking.

Riverbend Overlook in the north unit of TRNP.

I had hoped to spend two full days at the park but the weather turned hot overnight, changing the days from delightful temperatures in the high 70s to readings in the low 90s.  This posed a problem: dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails and it was too hot to leave Tango in the van.  Even the shortest of hikes was out of the question.  So we visited every overlook and sat enjoying the views.  Tango, being an absolute people magnet, brought some delightful people our way and we enjoyed short conversations with folks from all over the U.S. and some Asians.  All of us agreed that TRNP is spectacular, well worth the journey.

My epic journey is winding down. We settled for a day and a half at TRNP and this morning we turned the van east and headed for Fawn Hill in North Carolina. It was a long driving day and we are still in the Dakotas. It’s big out here, folks, but worth the effort.❧

 

On the Road – What a Difference A Day Makes

Dashboard thermometer from 5/22/2017

Ah dear readers, what a difference a day makes.  Yesterday Tango and I navigated California’s hot and crowded Interstate 5.  Today we traveled secondary roads in Oregon and life was much better.

We started early and headed for Crater Lake National Park, an hour up the road from Klamath Falls. The day was perfect. Bright blue sky and mild temperatures.  There was just one problem.  Snow ….and lots of it.

Crater Lake, it seems, naturally has one of the highest snowfalls in the U.S. According to the park brochure:

The average annual snowfall at Park Headquarters is 43 feet! The greatest cumulative snowfall for one season was 879 inches (73 feet) the winter of 1932-33. The greatest depth on the ground at one time was 258 inches (21½ feet) the winter of 1983. Most of the snow usually melts by the beginning of August, although after particularly heavy seasons, there are drifts that fail to melt before the snows return again in the fall. (emphasis mine)

This year, according to a quick Google search, was a banner year. In January a massive snowstorm hit the area which already had received 134% of its normal snowfall. So here is what we found at Crater Lake.

 

 

For a while I wondered if we would even see the Lake! All around us were mountains and walls of snow.  The roads were beautifully cleared but how to see the Lake?

Well, the U.S. Park Service is among the unheralded of our government agencies. From the pleasant young man who was at the gate before 8 a.m., to the men working to clear the roads, and the fresh young faces at the visitor center there was nothing but pride and an obvious desire to help and answer questions. We found a bit of beautifully cleared road and one magnificent vista. Oh how I love this country. ❧

On the Road – Time for Fun

A very warm Tango (it was 96 degrees) with Mt. Shasta peaking over his head.

Today Tango and I set off from Berkeley after spending four days at the Doubletree Hotel at the Berkeley Marina.  It was a wonderful place to stay, with a gorgeous park just across the street where Tango could run free in some tall grass and sniff every varmint hole on the acreage.  He was a happy boy.

We were in Berkeley for the Patients Out of Time Conference which was excellent, but very tiring. It was my third conference in four weeks and by the end of the day on Saturday I was nearly ecstatic to know there are no more conferences in the near future.  Tango and I spent Sunday engaged in R&R&R-rest, relaxation and re-organization.  The van was a minor disaster area so things came out and went back in more neatly.  The business clothes have all been moved to the bottom suitcase and the next two weeks should be just fun.

Tonight we are in Klamath Falls, Oregon, on our way to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  We were on the road for close to eight hours, often inching our way up the middle of California on Interstate 5.  There were many delays and the horrible California traffic that I thought was an urban problem seems to pervade the State.

And such a State it is. There has been talk for decades about splitting California in two, always along some median that would run east to west. Some have even gone so far as to declare the north part of California should secede and join with part of southern Oregon into a new state called Jefferson.  There are many reasons but invariably it comes down to people in the north are different from those in the south.  But as I drove today I was struck (once again) with California’s enormous central valley and its vast agriculture bounty. It occurred to me that it might make more sense to split the state length-wise, separating the agricultural eastern section from the coastal west.  The people I saw working the fields, driving the tractors and collecting in neighborly groups in small towns were incredibly different than those I left behind in Berkeley.  Once again I wondered how this country holds together.  We are wonderfully and remarkably tolerant although one wonders how that can last in the current political climate.

But those are problems for another day. Today we started the homeward leg with stops in Idaho and North Dakota. We drove through northern California and for many, many miles  we could see Mount Shasta with a bright, white topping of snow.  It was in stark contrast to the upper 90-degree weather outside our van which was markedly different from the air-conditioned city called Berkeley.  Such an incredible place, the State of California. ❧

 

 

On the Road, Day 5 -Windy West

 

Tango, I have decided, does not really like the constant wind of the Western plains.  My theory is that it simply overwhelms his senses, which, as we know, are so much more acute than our own.  Who knows what multitude of odors are carried by a constant 15-30 mph wind.  Too much to process.  His hearing is excellent but the wind just deafens hims, kind of like a constantly blowing hair dryer.  So, he jumps out of the van, does his job and looks at me woefully when I try to encourage him to walk with me. But he is enjoying the trip and jumps around like a puppy sometimes, mainly in the hotel rooms.  There is a major weather front moving through tomorrow and tomorrow night. Snow is forecast! Perhaps when that is event is over things will quiet down for Tango.

On the Road – Day 2

AOL_1350

Tango by one of the many Union and Confederate cannons.

Today Tango and I crossed the states of Alabama and Mississippi, stopping in Vicksburg on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Vicksburg is notable for being the spot where the first Coca Cola was bottled in 1894. It was also the site of one of the critical battles of the American Civil War.  In 1863, from May 18th until July 4th, the Union forces laid siege on Vicksburg.  The armies totaled 110,000 men–more than twice the current population of Vicksburg.  Causalities were more than 37,000–a number that does not include the civilians of Vicksburg who were trapped along with the Confederate soldiers.

Vicksburg’s strategic place along the Mississippi made it a “must win” for the Union. Abraham Lincoln declared Vicksburg “the Key” to winning the Civil War.

Today the land on which the Yanks and the Rebels squared off against one another is preserved as a National Park.  With close to 150 years of recovery, the landscape no longer resembles the war-ravaged land of 1863.  Monuments grace the 1,800 acres and the Park Service clearly has its hands full keeping the grass trimmed back.  You can hardly believe there was ever the carnage and suffering that is depicted in the exhibits.

Why visit such a place, you might ask?  Why care about a war that is long gone and that many college students can’t even tell you who won (it was the Union)?  It has to do with perspective, I think.  There are many who feel these are the worst of times in the U.S.  But there was a time in this country when we set about to slaughter one another and did a darn good job of it. Estimates are that 620,000 people died in the Civil War, which was only four years long.  Do the math…155,000 a year, 12,917 a month!  Add to that the mammoth destruction of property in the South.  It was a horrific time….

Yet today soft green grasses of spring wave peacefully on the hillsides. The trees have that rich color of new growth and birds are everywhere collecting the makings of their springtime nests.  Butterflies flitter about and dozens of people, like me, stopped by to pay their respects to this hallowed ground.   Things may be a little tough right now but let us hope we never return to the horror that was the American Civil War.  ❖