Thursday, July 22, 2010
Broke Down in Prairie Town
Well, we've just had our first inevitable breakdown. The van has been balking more than usual for the past few days, and just as we were driving toward the campground in Theodore Roosevelt National Park the van died. George got out his tools while Adalaya and I got on our bikes and scouted ahead for a campsite. We found a great one, and George joined us in the van a few minutes later. It would be a nice scenic spot to do some mechanicin' on the van.
Then we had a surprise visitor - a great big buffalo bull! Several other bulls and buffalo pairs ambled through the campground that evening, enjoying the forage and taking dust baths in their buffalo wallows. One even walked right through our campsite, totally ignoring us who were no more than 20 feet away! The ranger later said he weighed around 2000 pounds. Amazing creatures! I wish they still roamed the prairie the way they used to.
Without the reliable use of our van, we explored the park on our bikes and on foot. The landscape here is like nothing I've ever seen. There are amazing painted canyons similar to those in the southwest, but with prairie above and below the canyon walls. There are also huge cottonwood trees in the bottom-land of the Little Missouri River. The air is full of the sweet scents of yellow and white sweet clover, and the pungent scents of juniper and sagebrush. And of course there's the occasional whiff of fresh buffalo chips. Watch were you step!
We definitely had to watch where we stepped during our hike, not only for the bison pies but also for the rattlesnakes. We had 2 separate encounters with Prairie Rattlesnakes on our 5 mile hike. One rattled a long warning at Adalaya, which made her stop dead in her tracks 'till I yelled "get back!" She says she'll never forget the sight of that coiled-up rattlesnake that was looking straight at her. Another rattler was at the base of the cliff wall and alerted George as he approached. We got some good photos of this one. We also learned that rattlesnakes get a new rattle every time they shed, and they will shed 3-4 times per year. So this one is about 3 years old.
The next morning Adalaya and I took another bike & hike while George worked on the van some more. We visited Adalaya's favorite town so far - Prairie Dog Town. There were several acres of prairie dogs mounds and the cute little critters. Adalaya had fun trying to see how close she could get to one before it would dash into it's hole.
Thinking that George had fixed the van, we headed for the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, 68 miles away. There were three sections of road construction, and at each of them (and a few other times) the van lost power and we had to pull off the road. George did some tinkering, but we had to get towed out of one detour area. It took us 5 hours to reach the campground. During that time we stopped in Belfield, ND, an interstate pit-stop-of-a-town that luckily had an auto parts store and a truck stop with a shower. We used the facilities at the "Superpumper" and ordered a part for the van. The part would take a couple of days to come in, so we entertained ourselves in the National Park for another couple of days.
We took a great ranger-led hike to the Petrified Forest. Our ranger was also a geologist and he explained how "petrifaction" of the area occurred 60 million years ago. Volcanic eruptions during the formation of the Rockies spread several feet of ash over this area, which was cypress swampland at the time. The buttressed bases of the cypress trees as well as other trees became petrified in the ash, while the trunks and branches that were above the ash rotted. This is one example of the vast amounts of petrified stumps we saw. This one was especially neat because it was hollow inside.
We tried to head south to South Dakota today after we picked up the van cable and George installed it. Unfortunately the van conked out again outside of town, so we are now back in Belfield for the 3rd time, parked for the night behind the auto parts store. This is the current view out the van door.
Let's hope he gets it running for good this time!