Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sweet New Ride

After driving 3200 miles from Big Pine Key, Florida, we have arrived at Farragut State Park in Idaho.  We are in the same RV spot and will have the same volunteer jobs.

We immediately started one of our jobs - monitoring 50 bluebird houses.  So far, out of 50 houses, we have 28 nests, 10 of the nests have eggs for a total of 41 eggs.  2 houses had a bluebird sitting on a nests and we were not able to count the number of eggs.  2 of the houses had squirrels.  It looks like we are in for a very busy summer!
Mark opening a bluebird house
Since the houses are spread over several miles of roads and trails, we take a Park vehicle.  Last year we had a old, persnickety, Kawasaki Mule that stranded us a few times.

As an incentive to get us to come back this year, we were told we would have a brand new UTV to drive this year. 

Take a look at our sweet new ride: 
We’re looking forward to the following 4 months and hope to get out and see some new areas this summer.

Stay tuned.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

National Bison Range

Our last stop before arriving at Farragut State Park is Missoula, Montana. We found that the National Bison Range is nearby, and decided to give it a look.

This 19,000 acre range consists of rolling grasslands surrounded by mountains. The views were amazing.
An interesting exhibit near the entry station was this large pile of elk antlers. We didn't see any elk on our visit, but they must have plenty to accumulate all of these antlers.
Whole Lotta' Elk Antlers
We drove the auto tour road. They don't allow hiking, bike riding, or even getting out of your vehicle while on the range, due to the free-ranging Bison.

The most common sound we heard was Western Meadowlarks singing. They were everywhere!
Western Meadowlark
We also saw Mountain Bluebirds and Tree Swallows claiming various houses along the fenceline.
Tree Swallow
Mountain Bluebird
The Bison themselves were pretty spread out. We saw a few small groups here and there. All of them looked shaggy, as they were losing their thick winter coats.
American Bison
I saw more Pronghorns than Bison. This one was busy scratching a spot on the ground and then "marking" it.
We saw a pair of Coyote way up on a hillside.
And this bachelor group of Mule Deer were crossing the creek. Each of them had the start on the new season's antlers.

Mule Deer
We also saw a grassland bird that we'd never seen before. 
Gray Partridge
We'll arrive at our summer home tomorrow. After 3200 miles we are looking forward to getting off of the road for a while.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bozeman, Montana

We are getting mighty close to our summer home. Today we are in Bozeman, Montana, about 400 miles from our destination.  We decided to take a drive up Hyalite Canyon to visit Palisade Falls, but found the road closed at the mouth of the canyon.
Hyalite Canyon Road
It turns out that the road is closed to vehicles from April 1st thru May 15th to protect it during the spring thaw. The roadbed gets soft during this time and is easily damaged, so the Forest Service closes it for six weeks. This meant that we had a very peaceful hike beyond the closed gate!

It is still cool here and the trees are just beginning to bud out, so there were not a lot of birds to be seen.

We saw a few Townsend's Solitaires, a sure sign that we are in the western mountains.
Townsend's Solitaire
Hyalite Creek was swollen with snow melt and flowing fast. It is wonderful to see and hear these mountain streams once again.
Hyalite Creek
We were surprised to see a pair of Mallards swimming around in the creek. They didn't seem at all bothered by the fast-moving water.
Mallard Female
Mallard Male
As a reminder that we are still early in the Spring season here, many of the shaded areas in the canyon still have snow. Brrrrr.
Snow beside Hyalite Creek

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Four Presidents

Teri and I have made our way to Rapid City, South Dakota. The journey across the southern part of the state on IH-90 was notable because of what you pass through. Farmland. Lots and lots of farmland, and very little else. 

The South Dakota Vacation Guide tells us that the entire population of this state is just over 800,000 so it is no surprise that vast areas of the state are sparsely populated. 

We arrived in Rapid City on a gloomy, drizzly day but decided to head over to the main tourist attraction in the region, Mount Rushmore. We've seen images all of our lives, but wanted to see the real deal. As we approached from Rapid City, Teri suddenly said "Oh look, there it is". So we pulled over in a small pullout and took this picture. From this angle Lincoln's nose covers up quite a bit of Roosevelt's face, but it is a good viewpoint. 
Mt. Rushmore - First Look
We drove up to the designated parking area, only to learn that while the memorial itself charges no fee, parking is $11.00!!  Neat trick. Since the weather was crappy and we could see the monument just fine, we passed on paid parking. 
Mt. Rushmore
The view from the front shows all of the faces. We were surprised to see that Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln are set back into the rock a bit, with only the front of their faces carved. Washington is the only face that really projects from the rock. Driving a bit farther gives you that "profile view".
Washington Profile
A real treat as we drove back was a small group of Mountain Goats grazing alongside the road. They are looking pretty shaggy. I suppose that they are still wearing their winter coats, as the weather hasn't really warmed up yet.
Mountain Goat
We are finding that most of the tourist attractions are still "Closed for the Season" around here. I suppose there is no reason to open up if the tourists haven't yet arrived. In fact, the KOA that we are camped at opened only a couple of days ago. 



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

We continue to make our way north and west, and have spent the past couple of nights near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We are staying at the Big Sioux Recreation Area, which is part of their state park system. The sites are nice and large, but we have yet to see a staff member or ranger since we've been here.

You make your reservations on line, pay on line, and then just pull on in. The little office has been locked ever since we arrived and no one answers the phone. Strange...

We decided to visit Falls Park today, which contains the falls that the city was named for. The city was built along the banks of the Big Sioux River, and the falls were the center of a planned industrial area.
Sioux Falls
As waterfalls go these are pretty modest, The total drop is about 50', with the highest individual fall at 25'. The rock that forms the river bed is Sioux Quartite, an extremely hard and durable rock that was used to construct large buildings throughout the area.
Sioux Quartzite
The Queen Bee Mill was constructed at the falls in 1881 and was intended to be the centerpiece of the industrial area. The seven-story mill was capable of producing more than four times the amount of flour of a typical mill. Unfortunately it required large amounts of both high-quality wheat and water, and both of those things were in short supply. The mill went bankrupt in just two years, and burned in 1956. All that remains is the foundation walls.
Remains of the Queen Bee Mill
Onward we go!!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Morton Salt and Arbor Day

We saw two new states in about 10 minutes on our way to Nebraska City, Nebraska where we are spending a couple of nights. From Missouri we passed briefly into Iowa and then almost immediately into Nebraska.

Once we got set up in our campground we learned that the Arbor Lodge State Historical Mansion was nearby, so we headed over for a look. This was the estate of J. Sterling Morton and later Joy Morton. Joy Morton was the eldest of four sons and the founder of the Morton Salt Company whose claim to fame was adding a small amount of magnesium carbonate to keep it from clumping up in humid weather. Hence their saying, "When it rains, it pours".

Morton Salt Logo
Arbor Lodge
The building started out as a modest four-room cabin, but was expanded several times as it evolved into a 52 room mansion. There were numerous libraries, sitting, rooms, etc., and they even had a single-lane bowling alley in the basement. The bowling alley featured the original hand-carved wooden pins and wooded bowling balls. 

Bowling Alley with Hand-carved Wooden Pins
But what about Arbor Day?  I had originally assumed that Arbor Day came out of some sort of environmental movement, but the reality is that the first Arbor Day in America occurred April 10, 1872 when over a million trees were planted in Nebraska. The reason?  Settlers moving west were bypassing Nebraska because of the lack of trees and therefore wood. J. Sterling Morton sat on several land boards in the region, and felt that planting trees was the answer to attracting more settlers to the region. So he is credited with organizing the first American Arbor Day, and Nebraska is now "Home of Arbor Day".


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

West of the Mighty Mississippi

We continue to make our way from the Florida Keys toward Idaho. It has been rainy in the southeastern US, so we've been soggy.

We stayed in Chattanooga, Tennessee for a couple of nights. While we were there we visited the Tennessee State Aquarium, which was very nice. They had an amazing display of various sea horses and something called a Weedy Sea Dragon. We had never heard of these things before and they look like something out of a cartoon. We couldn't get a good picture through the glass, but here is one from the internet.
Weedy Sea Dragon
They have a huge Alligator Snapping Turtle that we enjoyed seeing. These guys are apparently getting pretty scarce due to hunting and habitat issues.
Alligator Snapping Turtle
They also have a variety of rays, including this Cownose Ray. 
Cownose Ray
Overall it is a very nice aquarium.

From Tennessee we moved on to Paducah, Kentucky. We arrived in heavy rain and it rained much of the time we were there. Today we drove into Illinois and then crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri. 
St. Louis Arch through the gloom. 
We are staying in Columbia and it is again raining. It is supposed to clear up tomorrow and we look forward to sunny days. 


Sunday, April 5, 2015


Carolyn was close with her guess. The International Disc Golf Center (IDGC) is the headquarters for the association that oversees the rules, scoring, tournament ratings, etc. for Disc Golf. The center includes a pro shop, the Disc Golf Hall of Fame (yep, there is one...), a museum (many old Frisbees) and best of all, three different 18-hole courses.

The center is located within the beautiful Wildwood county park outside of Augusta, Georgia, and they have RV sites!  So for $20 a night we camped in a lovely forest next to the "largest man-made lake east of the Mississippi" and I got to play disc golf until my arm about fell off.

Since these courses are the showpieces of the PDGA they are very well designed and maintained. Spring is just coming to this area, so we were treated to the trees leafing out, birds singing, dogwoods blooming, and wonderful cool weather.

The three courses are each named after a famous disc golfer. The course that I am standing at above (WR Jackson) is the longest and toughest of the bunch, with 18 holes stretching out nearly 2 miles. Imagine throwing discs a couple of miles!!

Here is the view from the tee of the 18th hole. You are supposed to hit that little open tunnel in the trees ahead. Seemed easier to hit a tree...

I did treat myself to a new disc from the pro shop. Unfortunately that very disc (the red one) now resides at the bottom of Clarks Hill Lake. Did I mention that there are several drives across water on these courses??

We stayed four days in this area. On the last day we headed over to a private disc golf course that is known for "fun" basket placements. It included a basket buried in the ground, a couple hanging from trees, one back in a "grotto", and the largest disc golf basket in the world.
The World's Largest Disc Golf Basket
The Grotto

Buried Basket
Gallows Basket
Basket in a Bull Pen
Enough Disc Golf for a few days. On to Tennessee...


Friday, April 3, 2015

Merritt Island NWR - Part II

Just a few more from Merritt Island NWR.

Have you ever wondered where the Double-crested Cormorant got that name? From the side you can't tell.
Double-crested Cormorant
But head-on you can see the two little breeding tufts. Sorry, crests!!
Double-crested Cormorant
To round out our Heron/Egret sightings, we found these two species perched up in trees.
Green Heron
Great Egret
And we saw this Reddish Egret doing the crazy dance while it was feeding. They do like to run around!!
Reddish Egret
After seeing nothing but White-faced Ibis for years in Texas, we have enjoyed seeing the other dark ibis, the Glossy Ibis. 

From Florida we are on to Augusta, Georgia. For golfers, it is the home of the Masters. For disc golfers, the home of the IDGC. What is that?? Stay tuned...