Sunday, August 30, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Part 1

On Friday we drove south, then east into North Dakota to the town of Medora, which is at the entrance of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Since it was only 99 miles, and we had gotten a nice early (for us) start, we still had a half day to start seeing the park.

After touring the visitors center, we went out back to look at Teddy Roosevelt's Maltese Cabin. It had been moved there from six or seven miles away, and had been TR's home in the wilderness for over a year. He came here after the loss of his wife and mother, on the same day in 1884.

It was amazing to me how simple and small it was, considering that he was a very rich man and would go on to become president of the United States.
But it was 130 years ago.

The smoky conditions discouraged us when we started to take a drive up through the park. Most of the distant vistas were not much more than soft shadows, so we turned back after a few miles.

The next day things were still smoky and the weather forecast was for 99° afternoon temperatures. We had read about an interesting three mile loop trail that would take us to some petrified wood, so we got up and out early (for us) to try to beat the heat.

The first third of the hike was up a rough, but not too steep, dry hill. Once at the top, the trail went across a wide grass mesa.

On this section of the trail we encountered some of the largest masses of horse dung we had ever seen. On another similar pile some of it was old and some new.

When we were passed by these four riders, I asked the leader if he knew why there were these large piles.

He said that he had heard that the stallions leave their mark this way, much like boy dogs on a fire hydrant.

There are wild, feral, horses in the park.

After the grassland, we descended down into a valley where the petrified wood was. You can see the air was still pretty thick with smoke, but fortunately neither Craig nor I were bothered by it.

The petrified wood was quite different from that which we saw in the Petrified Forest in Arizona.  

I guess it depends on what kind of trees they were and what minerals replaced the wood. 

The large mesas and domes in the park are examples of erosion where the harder rock caps protect softer rocks below them, from being washed away. This happens on both the large and smaller scale. The picture above is of a formation that is about five feet high. In front of it is a perfectly petrified tree trunk.

This one reminded me of a giant almond. 

We only walked in about a mile, choosing to turn back before it got too hot. I would rather have a shorter hike and end with good memories of the day.

I end with this picture for you to ponder.

Craig sees a man's face that was revealed when the chunk to the right split off. I see a lion head that has nothing to do with the second piece.  What do you see? 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Confluence chasing

[From Craig]  Thursday while camping in Sidney Montana, Merikay and I went off to find the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, which is a mile or so east of the Montana - North Dakota border. This adventure was my idea, which is why Merikay has asked me to describe it.

The thing was, while we travelled Montana from west to east, in just about every leg of the journey, we drove alongside and/or across either the Missouri or the Yellowstone. Both rivers start near the Montana-Idaho border (that's 'cause the border is the Continental Divide). Both travel west to east across virtually the entire state, which is the second-widest state in the contiguous 48.  It seemed to me that it was remarkable for two rivers to travel so far, so close together without converging. So I wanted to see how they looked when they finally got together.

From previous "interactive" visits, we learned that there was an early trading post called Fort Union near the confluence, and that it was later sold to the US Army, which dismantled it and used the pieces to build a real fort named Buford, even closer to the confluence.

So I told our Jeep's GPS unit to guide us to Fort Union. While it was doing so, Merikay in the passenger seat kept objecting that it wasn't taking the best way to get there. Feeling secure in the technological excellence of our equipment, I soothed her by saying that I was sure that it had a good reason for its route.

(From Merikay) I did not feel soothed. We had obviously gone fifty miles out of the way. I had a hard copy map in my lap that I kept telling Craig to look at. Would he? No!

It finally guided us next to a parked freight train, with instructions to turn right through the train.  At that point I had to admit that the poor thing was not having a good day.

So we turned navigation over to our Android smartphone.  Surely with the resources of Google behind it, it would do better!  In fact it guided us directly to Fort Union, which looks like this from the road:

The tepees illustrate housing for the Native Americans doing business with the trading post.

Attentive readers will wonder "how can Fort Union exist, when it was dismantled to get materials to build Fort Buford?". The current version was rebuilt with great attention to historical accuracy in 1966, which is the year Merikay and I were married.  

The parking lot is in Montana and mountain time, while the rebuilt fort is in North Dakota and central time. Which made no difference to our enjoying it.

Fort Union and its main building was built and operated by John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. Like many places far from civilization, it seemed to have a peaceful history, where people from different backgrounds could trade and even relax together without much difficulty.

The leader of Fort Union was called "the bourgeois", and its main building was accordingly called "the bourgeois house":

Only two rooms on the first floor were open to the public.  Other sites on the grounds were open, including a smithy with a wonderful anvil:

And a primitive boat (a coracle?) stored with the supplies:

After we left we went to see Fort Buford, but Merikay and I looked at the Visitor Center and decided to skip it, despite its 5 chimneys.

Our last major stop of Thursday's quest was the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center. We forgot to take a picture of it, which is a shame because it features a circular main building with a ceiling height more than 20 feet.

I really wanted to find a high point from which I could get a nice overview of the confluence, but we couldn't find such a place.  This image of the confluence was taken from the grounds of the Center.  The Missouri is coming in from the right, the Yellowstone is coming around the corner at the upper left, and the newly merged Missouri is exiting at the lower left:

Actually the Yellowstone typically has more flow than the Missouri, which leads to some nice rippling, swirling, and counter-flows as their waters come together.  

In case you're underwhelmed by that image, I'll throw in an image of a nice old crane left over from some past project at the confluence:

RV life is good!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


We wandered on east 74 miles and stopped in Glendive MT because we heard there was a state park and Dinosaur Museum there. Because we have the time, we scheduled two days for this stop. One to go to the park, and one to see the museum. 

On Monday, we drove and then spent several hours at the Makoshika State park. To quote the park flyer: 
Here at Makoshika, the badlands expose older rocks layers than those in the badlands of the Dakotas.
We stopped at the Visitors Center and learned about some of the fossils that have been found in layers of sedimentary rock.

I always enjoy reading whatever information I can before exploring a park. In this case the VC information gave a context and time line to the many layers we could see in the rock formations carved away by the Yellowstone River and other geological forces over the ages.

We took a short walk along one of the nearest trails, but because it was pretty warm we didn't go very far or climb the rather steep hills.

We have learned a new word this month.  "Coulee" from the French Couleé, meaning to flow.  We have just always called them gullies.

These good looking horses were gathered under a tree in the parking area. As with cattle, many horses are allowed to go wherever they want on the open rangeland in Montana. We could tell they were not wild, because the smallest of them bore a brand on its butt.  I could see only one mark on the adults.

On Tuesday we went to the Dinosaur Museum.  We learned that it was sponsored by the "Foundation Advancing Creation Truth", and that the dinosaurs were presented "in biblical context".  Which means they are presented as if all the dinosaurs lived within the last six thousand years or so. I decided I didn't want to go in. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Links on Facebook, and the Range Riders Museum in Miles, MT

I have started to post links to my blog on Facebook, so that people who use Facebook can access my posts more easily. One thing I do not like about Facebook is it will pick up the first comment from a blog and use it as text below the link. A comment is not part of a post! So until Facebook corrects the way that their software follows links, I have to follow the example of other bloggers and include a dummy first comment containing the first few lines of the post. 

As we made our way east, we decided to stop at Miles City, Montana. It is just off I-94. 

When I checked in at the RV park office, I picked up a brochure for the Range Riders Museum in town.

It looked like a perfect Sunday afternoon activity, and indeed it was. We ended up spending over four hours there.

All of the items on display in the six buildings were carefully displayed and identified. I don't think there is any old stuff left in the Miles City area!  It is all in this museum.

Stuffed Golden Eagle, 42 star flag                Telephone switchboard          Fossil bones found nearby
     Some were displayed in room-size             Some in glass cases,                  Some in separate 
     dioramas without glass fronts.                                                                       buildings like this school

One of the deep halls in the main building was set as the main street of old Miles City. Although you could not go into the shops, there was no glass in most of the windows for a better view of the interiors.

How would you like it if your dentist still had to use this type of equipment?

Notice, the foot pump for the "high speed" drill power.

I guess it was an improvement over the barber with a pliers.

There were other medical equipment including this scary machine on display. I am just old enough to remember the polio epidemics of the early 50's. I have seen pictures of an iron lung, but have never seen one up close.

What a terrible time it must have been for mothers to see their children in such a thing, much less the suffering of the children.

I am a strong believer in the benefits of vaccines.

In a large barn-like building called the wagon depot there were many larger items and items that seemed to be in need of restoration on high overhead shelves.

Most had signs indicating what they were.

This building also contained some great old cars and wagons.

Overall this is a very good museum and we highly recommend it to anyone traveling through this area.

There are two RV parks in Miles. There is a KOA in town, plus the Big Sky RV Park which is just off the easternmost of the three I-94 exits.  It was easy to get to, and although just a simple gravelled park, it was fine for an overnight stop. 

WARNING: The main road through town goes under a bridge that has a 10' 5" clearance. We noticed it when we were going from the Range Riders Museum on the west end of town, to the Albertsons and Walmart in the central part of town. The Big Sky park is east of Miles City. We had no problem because we were driving the Jeep, but I could see trouble for anyone staying at the KOA who wanted to stop for groceries while driving their rig. I noticed no warnings other than the height markings on the bridge.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Wandering through Montana

After leaving Glacier National Park we have wandered a bit. I am a planner and am not as comfortable with "going wherever we feel like" as I would like to be. This summer I planned the big stops, Yelllowstone, Glacier, and Mt. Rushmore. This left several weeks unplanned. But you have to be somewhere every day...

I had lost touch with an old Santa Cruz Mountain friend who moved to Montana six or seven years ago. But when I started posting a link to my blog on Facebook, she saw we were heading in her direction and we managed to reconnect.

Shellie Lee and her husband Dennis are the proud owners of the Sunshine Health Mine in Boulder Mt. It is a very peaceful place, and people come from all over the world for the alternative treatment of their radon mine. 

Merikay, Shellie Lee, and Craig 
We asked Shellie about radon, noting that some of our relatives in Wisconsin had to pay lots of money to get less radon in their basements.  She explained that, like wine drinking, it's a matter of degree.  Many underground (or partially underground) sites have dangerous levels of radon.  She said that several abandoned mines in the Boulder MT area have reliably low levels of radon that have been know to help or cure a surprisingly wide array of medical problems.

On one of the days we were there, Shellie took us to a "ghost town" in the area. Elkhorn is an old mining town, with many old buildings.

These two buildings have been preserved and are open to the public to look through. When I put quotes around "ghost town", it is because the town is still very much occupied, both in some of the old run-down buildings and in a number of newly constructed homes. It is an interesting place. To me the amusing thing was that although Shellie had been there once before, when she was being shown around by the previous owner of their property, she had not come back for another look in the years since.  We all do that, don't we? Not visit our local attractions until we have visitors!

The rainy weather lent a perfect atmosphere to explore the hilltop cemetery. Umbrellas open, we walked among the old graves trying to make out names and dates. Surprisingly,  the most recent burial was in 2015. The town was indeed still inhabited.

All too soon we were on our way again, southeast to Cody Wyoming, where we spent two afternoons at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.  

It is arranged so that each of the five wings is a different subject museum. Buffalo Bill, Natural History of the West, Western Art, Indians, and Firearms. Each was very well done. We were delighted to be able to listen to two excellent guided tours. We try to read all of the information in the displays, but sometimes it is nice to have a guide put things together for you and answer questions as you go. It came close to Trip Advisor's acclaim of Best Museum Ever (in the image above).

We all probably remember learning about the buffalo hunters of the 1800s and how the buffalo almost became extinct. I knew many of the reasons behind the slaughter, but I learned two more at the museum. First the buffalo hides were needed for the many belts used by the machines of the industrial revolution. Buffalo hide is very strong and durable. Second, the bones of the buffalo were used to make fertilizer

We did not go to the rodeo.  We lived in Texas for a few years and have been to several. 

The sky continued to be thick with smoke. My eyes burned a bit, but neither of us had any breathing difficulties. The sunset was interesting however.

Our next stop was Garryowen Montana, near the Battle of Little Bighorn National Monument.

As school children we all knew it as "Custer's Last Stand". 

Seeing the battle field, watching a movie, looking at the museum display, listening to a ranger talk and finally taking a one hour Indian-narrated bus tour gave us a good look into the history and understanding of what really happened that day.

Custer was an arrogant leader, who refused to listen to the Crow Indian scouts in his command.  He was pursuing Sitting Bull and when he learned the Chief was in the Indian camp on the Little Bighorn, he ordered an attack. His information was that the camp contained 500 individuals. His scouts told him three times that it was much larger and estimated up to 5000 people. 

If he had listened, he would have backed off and waited for reinforcements. But as it was, he ordered the attack and his force was wiped out.  One fact that amazed me was that the final battle probably lasted less than fifteen minutes.

Personally I find visiting and learning about historic places to be very interesting. By seeing these historic places, we are seeing the past from more than a textbook vantage point. But our learning does not stop with our visit this time. Craig bought two substantial books, one about Sitting Bull and one about Crazy Horse. I'm sure they will both be good reads.

I'm sorry to report that I find Montana scenery a bit depressing (if not ugly) at this time of year. Everything (except active wheat fields) seems to be dead gray or brown. I have tried to imagine how beautiful the rolling hills must be in spring when the grass is green, or even starkly white when covered with snow, but August is pretty blah! 

But very big! And when not smoky, the big sky feels endless.  Montana, we're not done with you yet!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Extended Warranty - an informative post

There are several different philosophies about extended warranties. Should you buy into one or not? When we bought the Alfa four years ago, we passed on the extended warranty offered by the dealer and purchased one recommended by another blogger. It was more reasonable and seemed to cover more.  As it turned out, we tried making a couple of claims that were denied, or only covered a very small amount, so we just took care of it ourselves. But it did pay out on two claims, not in full, but enough that we got about 1/2 of the original premium back. 

So when it came time to consider getting another extended warranty on our eight year old motorhome, we were willing to do it. I looked around and decided on using Wholesale Warranties in San Diego. It had been recommended on the RV Dreams blog, and I could not find anything but positive reviews for the company. 

A three year, 36,000 mile extended warranty for an eight year old diesel pusher is not inexpensive. But as one person put it, it is legalized gambling. We hope we don't have a major breakdown, but if we do it should pay off. Anyway it should lessen the pain. 

One of the things I appreciate about the policy we are getting is that before issuance, a full inspection of the rig was required. That happened yesterday, and the inspector wrote the most glowing evaluation possible! Yes, we had to pay for it, but we know they won't call "pre-existing condition" on us like the other company did. We are as good as a new rig in the eyes of the insurance company (I hope). 

When I started with "there are several different philosophies about extended warranties", I'm thinking of people who "self insure" by putting money away each month toward repairs. When we started, in theory I set $5000 aside for repairs, but as it turned out all our money is sort of lumped together in savings and investments. My theoretical $5000 was quickly used up for new tires, carpeting, satellite dish, TV, etc. These were all necessary, but not necessary emergencies. We expect to spend $1000 per year on normal maintenance, but that wouldn't go very far toward a major engine breakdown.  So we are willing to pay the $132 per month for the extended warranty. For us it is easier than trying to maintain a special fund for repairs vs. maintenance and improvements we just want. It's all money spent.

Those of you who have fifth wheels or travel trailers would certainly have lower costs, but then you still have to have a big, powerful pickup for pulling some of them. I don't know if that is less expensive to maintain (in total) or not. I guess it's all just apples and oranges, and only the insurance companies are winners in the long run.

I just hope we have no breakdowns before September 6. That is the day the old policy expires and the new one starts.

We have gone over the new policy as carefully as we can and think it has as good coverage as we can get on our "old girl". One thing that is attractive to me (but wasn't why we bought this policy) is that it covers four days at a motel if the rig is in the shop. Yes the coverage is only for $60 per night, but it is better than nothing!

Comments that include your thoughts on extended warranties are welcome...

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Boat Ride on St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park

Tuesday was our last day at Glacier. One of the things we wanted to do was take the ranger-led boat ride on Saint Mary Lake. It was quite interesting in part because the first fire, Reynolds Fire, had started while our ranger was giving a talk on a boat tour in July. She related her first hand experience. 

Needless to say the primary subject of her talk for us was fire in the park, how it is part of the natural cycle, and how it is managed.

In the picture above you can see there is a mix of burned and unburned trees. This is good because in the future a mixed age forest will be there.

This is a view of the opposite side of the lake. If you look closely you can see many brown-orange trees. They are dead from a beetle infestation, and a future fire will clear the area for new growth. 

You can also see some of the smoke from the second fire creeping up over the mountain. Our boat ride was in the morning, and the ranger explained that the fires damp down over night. By later in the day we did see smoke from the first fire as hot spots came back to life.

Overall the air was quite clear on the lake and we enjoyed more wonderful views of the peaks. Going on a ranger led boat ride, or to any ranger talk is a good bet for learning things and seeing the parks from a new perspective. In this case from a ranger that had seen the fire fist hand.  She also talked about the glaciers and how they had carved out the lakes and rocky slopes. 

As we drove out of Glacier National Park for the last time (on this trip) I felt a little sad to be leaving this beautiful landscape, but on the other hand, quietly excited to know that on the following day we would be driving towards our next adventure.

From the St. Mary RV Park we watched as the smoke clouds grew through the afternoon and evening:

When we got up Wednesday morning the entire area was "smoked in". You could not see the mountains at all. Once we were on our way, there were a few times when the visibility on the road was very limited. The skies finally cleared up by the time we got to our overnight stop.

After leaving St. Mary, (A) we stopped at Great Falls (B) for one night, and then went to Boulder MT (C) to visit an old friend for two nights.  Saturday night we landed in Cody WY (D). The smoke from the Glacier fires, and from several others is in the air everywhere. It will be clear for a while and the skies will be blue, then it will move back in and the gray brown will come back in. Cody was clear on Saturday, but Sunday morning the horizon is very hazy. I get the impression from the locals this is fairly normal for late summer. The smoke from the wildfires can go thousands of miles.

We have reservations in Cody for four nights. On Monday morning we are having an inspection done on the Alfa as part of our application for a new extended warranty policy. Our existing insurance expires on September 6. We dithered about getting it, the price being  $4752 for three years or 36000 miles, but when I divided it out it came to only $132 per month. That I can live with, even though we will pay the full amount up front. It would be more if we made monthly payments.

I will write more about the warranty, the company we picked, and the inspection results in a later post.

Until then, we are off to see the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and other highlights of Cody. 

Am I really caught up?

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Waterton is the Canadian part of the combined Glacier/Waterton park. Because the smoke from the second Glacier fire seemed to be building, we drove up there on Monday. It is about sixty miles from St. Mary.  

On the way I saw a bear!

It was not in the park, it was not early morning or late evening. After six weeks of watching for one, I finally saw a bear. He was in the ditch alongside the highway. We speculate he was looking for huckleberries as they are beginning to ripen here. No picture, we were driving along at 65 mph. You just have to take my word for it. I saw a bear!

The "jewel" of Waterton is the Prince of Wales Hotel. As with the other large lodges, it was originally built by the railroad to provide luxury accommodations for their rich tourist travelers. 

Tables were set and ready for the service of afternoon tea. We were a bit early, and so did not indulge. I wish we had planned our special dinner to have been here. Oh well, another reason to come back someday. 

I don't know why I am so fascinated by these large chandeliers that seem to grace each of the lodges. Each is unique and in harmony with the space they illuminate. They are sculptures in the air above.

Waterton is not very big. There is an RV park, but most of the rigs we saw were smaller.

After eating our home-packed ham sandwiches while sitting in the shade, overlooking the little marina, we took a leisurely stroll along the lake. 

Although the air was reasonably clear in Waterton, there was a lot of smoke coming up from the south. We were told that in previous days they had also had some smoke from the Washington fires.

On our walk, we went along the lake in one direction and through the small village area coming back. Although it seemed like the usual collection of tourist gift shops, it was nice to see some other merchandise than what is offered in the US. Lots of maple flavored candy and tea sets. More mittens and warm sweaters too. 

Our US Senior park pass was not accepted at the Canadian entrance of the park, so Craig paid with a $20 US bill. We got a little more than $12 Canadian back. This gave us the perfect excuse to indulge in double scoops of lovely ice cream. Not that we ever need an excuse for that! And I wonder why I don't lose weight.

Once again we had a very nice and interesting day.  

AND ... I saw a bear!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A walk at Two Medicine Lake, and Dinner at Glacier Park Lodge

Note: Even though we left Glacier Wednesday, I still have more days there to blog about. This is my travel journal and a record of the wonderful sights we have seen. I want to be able to look back on them all.

We decided that Sunday would be a good day to drive down to East Glacier and have dinner at the 100+ year old lodge built as the entry stop for the rich travelers in the early 1900's.

But first, on the way, we visited the Two Medicine lake area. 

Driving highway 89 in Montana can be an interesting experience because some of it is "Open Range" and you are likely to meet livestock on the roads.

We also saw horses standing about in unfenced places. We wondered if they were wild, or just away from their "home on the range".

In the Two Medicine area, we stopped to take a short walk that led us to this magical falls. Running Eagle Falls comes out of the side of the rock wall. It seems that a creek falls into a hole above the falls.

Wherever there is accessible water, there are fishermen. Much is catch and release, but they can keep all the rainbow trout they catch because they is not a native species that were stocked in the thirties.

Two Medicine is another sparkling glacier lake. The name comes from Two Medicine Creek that was said to have had two medicine lodges on opposite shores. 

Next we drove down to East Glacier, to see the area and to have dinner at Glacier Park Lodge. Built by the railroad just over 100 years ago, it was the starting place for park visitors of the day. They would stay here one night and then travel by horseback to smaller chalets. Each chalet was a one day ride from the previous one. At that time the average visitor was at the park for two weeks. According to the ranger, the average modern tourist visits the park for one-half to two days. 

When this lodge was built, huge logs were brought in as supporting pillars. In the lobby or great room, the logs were Douglas Fir, complete with intact bark. On the outside porches and portico they were Washington Cedar. The Blackfoot Indians called it "Big Tree Lodge."

Dinner: if you have followed our blog for any time, you might remember one of our "hobbies" is to have dinner at one of large lodges in each National Park we visit. (We missed Yellowstone and will have to go back sometime.)

I try to be honest in my comments about things. Our dinner experience was not of the high caliber we have found at other National Park lodges. 

We asked for a window table, and although there were many empty tables set for four that had decent views, we we put at a tiny able for two that looked out over the utility truck parking area and the garbage bins. The window was dirty. May I note we were decently dressed, Craig had even changed into dress pants and a fresh shirt.

We choose to share the poutaine appetizer. It was tasty, but since I had never had it before, I don't know if it was a good one.  Gravy over waffle french fries!

Craig had Alfredo Carbonara  with Wild Game Sausage. He said the Alfredo was one of the best he had ever had, but the wild game sausage was a bit strong and overwhelming.

I choose the wild salmon entree. The salmon had a nice honey flavor, but was a bit overcooked. The wild rice pilaf was ordinary and the broccoli was ice cold in the center. Not uncooked, but cold as if it had been steamed earlier in the day and dipped in hot water to heat it before serving.  I do have to point out that when the server came to check on us and I told him the broccoli was cold he said he would bring me some other vegetable, and later brought out a plate of fresh, hot sautéed zucchini and red bell peppers. Only problem is I was almost finished with the salmon. But I give thumbs up for the server.

All in all it was a so-so meal. Sometimes I think I cook better in the RV than they do in a fine restaurant. [From Craig] I agree!

We were quite surprised by a large cloud of smoke billowing up over the park as we drove back to St. Mary. 

By the time I am writing this, we know a second fire had started in a remote part of the park as we were sitting on the front porch of the Big Log Lodge that afternoon.

The smoke was between us and the sun causing it to be surrounded by a fiery glow.

I will post more about it next time.

Getting back to the dinner. It probably would have been better if we had been able to have a nice glass of wine with it. But there was a four day Indian celebration going on and no alcoholic beverages were allowed on reservation land for those four days. 

So we wrapped up the day by having a glass or two of wine back in our coach. 

Life is good!