Monday, September 28, 2015

Aerial Firefighting

After experiencing the wildfires in Northern Idaho this past summer and watching the airplanes used to fight those fires, we were pleased to find The Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting in Greybull, Wyoming.

This museum is located at the edge of the South Big Horn County Airport, which was formerly the base of operations of Hawkins & Powers Aviation. This company pioneered the use of heavy WWII era aircraft as aerial tankers for use in fighting wildfires. The airport was the busy operations center for this company which contracted with the US Forest Service to fight fires across the western US starting in the 1970's.
C-130A Dropping Fire Retardant
In 2002 two aerial tankers broke up in flight, killing the flight crews and destroying the aircraft. This led to USFS grounding the fleet and ultimately discontinuing the use of WWII aircraft as aerial tankers. Hawkins and Powers Aviation closed their doors and most of their aircraft and equipment were auctioned to cover debts.

There were a few planes left behind, and the museum was founded and staffed first by former Hawkins & Perkins employees and later by the Greybull Area Chamber of Commerce.
Flying Boxcar
Two of the planes on display are converted cargo planes designated C-119 but more widely known as the Flying Boxcar. The unusual plane had two tails to allow a large cargo loading door at the rear. One of the Flying Boxcars displayed has a jet engine mounted on top to increase power. Who'd have thought you could just bolt a jet engine on top of an old propeller driven plane and have it fly??
Flying Boxcar with Added Jet Engine
None of the planes on display are airworthy, and most are in an advanced state of deterioration. The Flying Boxcar had aluminum skin over most of the plane, but the control surfaces were fabric covered. Most of the fabric is now rotted away. 
Rotted Fabric on Tail
The two largest planes on display are the PB4Y-2, more commonly called Privateer. This was a modification of the B-24 bomber that saw widespread duty during WWII. 
This plane has four massive radial engines, and I'll bet it was really loud when they were all running. Looking into these engines they are so complicated that I'm amazed they ever all ran at once!
Huge Radial Engines
Beyond the museum fence is an aircraft boneyard where another twenty or so planes are sitting in various states of disrepair and disassembly. I guess this is the sort of place that you come if you need a hard-to-find part for your obsolete airplane. Kind of sad to see, but I suppose old planes have to sit somewhere.
Aircraft Boneyard in the Distance
So if you are an aircraft enthusiast or are interested in the history of aerial firefighting, make your way to Greybull, Wyoming and give this place a visit.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

What is a Dinosaur Tracksite??

It is a place where a whole lotta' dinosaurs walked around on a muddy shoreline that later turned to rock. Millions of years later it is exposed for us to see!!

We've made it a bit farther south to Greybull, Wyoming. One of the local attractions is the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, a creek bed where hundreds of dinosaur tracks are visible.

On our way out to the site we drove through some beautiful "badlands" type terrain. The layers of color and eroded hillsides create an amazing landscape.

We saw several Pronghorn in the open grasslands and were greeted by a little Desert Cottontail in the parking lot of the site. 
Desert Cottontail
As you might imagine, the tracks themselves are a little tough to see. The "ballroom" area where most of the tracks are found contains dozens of individual tracks. How many do you see??

There is a boardwalk that leads you down to the creek bed where you are allowed to walk among the tracks. Some of the larger ones are easy to make out.

There is still study going on at the site to determine what species of dinosaur were here and what they were doing. It appears that they were smallish as Teri's hand fit nicely into the largest of the tracks. 

After viewing the site we sat for a bit and enjoyed the absolute silence of the area. This is truly the vast open West. However as we left we saw two school buses headed for the site. Now that would have been a different experience altogether!


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Richest Hill on Earth

Our first stop after leaving Farragut State Park was Butte, Montana.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's Butte was one of the largest cities in the western US, with the population reaching 100,000 in 1920. It began as a gold and silver mining town, but soon copper mining made Butte "The Richest Hill on Earth".  During the boom times ore was recovered using expensive and dangerous underground mining techniques. In 1955 production was switched to less expensive open pit mining, which required the acquisition and destruction of thousands of homes.

The population of Butte is now around 34,000 and mining is a much smaller portion of the town's economy. They have an outstanding museum that documents the mining history of the area and includes a complete mining era town.

The museum includes several vehicles of the period, including an armored payroll car with 1" thick windows and an ingenious "snow machine" built from an old tractor. 
Armored Payroll Car
Tractor Converted to a Snow Machine
The restored town contains dozens of buildings, including an Ice House. Blocks of ice were cut from ponds and rivers and stored in sawdust in the Ice House. Ice was then sold through the warmer months. The curved saw on the side of the house was used to separate blocks that had frozen together during storage.
Ice House
Much of the museum was devoted to the methods and dangers of underground mining.

The basics of underground mining are that a shift of workers drilled holes in the rock face, set charges of black powder (and later dynamite), and then the face was blasted. The shot rock was loaded into buckets or carts and taken out of the mine to be processed on the surface. 
Rock Face Drilled and Loaded with Explosive
The headframe of the mine is the base of operations. Workers enter the mine there, and ore is transported to the surface. 
We were able to climb to near the top of the headframe and enjoy the view. The taller mountains around Butte were showing a dusting of fresh snow. A good sign that we need to continue moving south!!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Special 50th Anniversary

Last year we stayed a bit into September to assist with the annual Veterans Reunion here at the park. This year we were asked if we would stay a few days beyond that to help with a one-time event, The 50th Anniversary of the 1965 Girl Scout Roundup here at Farragut State Park.

Farragut State Park has been the home of some large Girl Scout and Boy Scout International Roundups and Jamborees. The Girl Scout Roundup in 1965 drew nearly 10,000 scouts from across the United States as well as countries throughout the world.

Two years ago a reunion steering committee met with park personnel and arranged for their group to spend a day here at the park. The reunion itself is headquartered at a nearby ski resort, as these ladies decided that they weren't interested in tents and sleeping bags any longer!!

About 250 ladies are attending the reunion. Among their activities was the unveiling of this brand new sign that the group donated.

Three new interpretive panels have been placed at the site to commemorate not only the 1965 Roundup but several other scouting events that have occurred at the park.

The group also dedicated 50 new state flags to the museum at the park, so they certainly gave back to the place that they enjoyed 50 years ago.


Friday, September 18, 2015

Out With A Whimper

Labor Day weekend should have found the park full, the sky clear and our programs very popular.  Instead, it was cold, cloudy and rainy.

With the burn ban (no campfires) still in effect and the cold, rainy weather, the park wasn’t even full.

For our last weekend we had lots of fun programs planned.  Of the 5 programs, we were only able to have 2 of them due to the weather. 
We wanted to go out with a bang!  We were a little disappointed.

Since then we have been busy with other projects.

We have about 15 different bulletin boards and other areas to posts our weekly program flyers so we have taken down the last flyer of the year and removed all the staples from the bulletin boards. 
Our colorful This Week At Farragut flyer and tear-off sheets.

We also spent some time cleaning our office.  It’s amazing how much stuff (all of it good stuff!) we accumulate during the season. 
As you may know, Farragut State Park started out as the Farragut US Navel Training Station during WWII.  Every year in September they have a reunion to remember the veterans that trained here.  Everyone is welcome and there are lots of veterans from all branches.  Last year, of the almost 300,000 veterans that trained here at Farragut, 12 returned.  For some reason this year there wasn’t a count.  Farragut was only in operation for 30 months during WWII.

It is a tradition for the veterans to hold this large flag while Anchors Away plays in the background.

Our job was to be the Brig (jail) hosts.  The brig is the only original building that still remains from 1942-1946 (there are a few pump houses and a couple of water towers).
Mark pointing to the 6 original camps.

Every year the park staff assures the WWII veterans that there will always be a yearly reunion here at Farragut.
They will not be forgotten.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Leaving Something Else Behind

Our last blog showed the insect collection that we created this summer and are leaving behind.

Early this summer we heard from campers that large "butterflies" could be found near the lights of the restrooms early in the morning. So Teri and I got up early the next morning, and sure enough, found a couple of large silk moths perched near the restrooms in the Whitetail Campground.

They looked much like the Cecropia Moths that we had become familiar with in Texas, but a quick check of the field guide indicated that we were not in their range. The Pacific Northwest has two species of this genus of silk moths, and we determined that these were Ceanothus Moths. Like other large silk moths they live only a few days in the adult form, as they have no mouth and cannot feed.

Ceanothus Moth - Male
It turns out that we had collected a male and a female. The male has larger feathery antenna that he uses to locate the female by detecting her pheromones
Ceanothus Moth - Female
The female has smaller antenna and a plumper abdomen.  This was our first ever attempt to mount insects, and we were lucky to have great big specimens to work with. Even taking great care I managed to break off the tip of the very fragile left antenna. Frustrating!!

We mounted both of the specimens in a nice case with a label. They were very popular during several evening programs and junior ranger activities. Hopefully the park will get many more years of use out of this handsome pair.
Mounted Specimens

Friday, September 11, 2015

Leaving Something Behind

One of the Junior Ranger programs that has been a big hit is our "Bring a Bug" program where we ask the kids to catch an insect (or several) and bring them to be identified.

The park has a small "Butterflies of the World" display that has a few mounted butterflies, but nothing from the local area. So Teri and I set out this summer to collect and mount some insects from here in the park so that we'd have a "proper" insect collection to show folks.
Insect Collection
We started a little too late to get some of the bigger butterflies, but ended up with a nice selection of different insects.
We found a dragonfly nymph casing floating in the lake, and are pleased to be able to show folks what they look like for the first part of their life!

Beetles are common here and we collected several representatives.

About the time that I thought we wouldn't be able to collect a good butterfly, Teri found this one on the grill of the truck. It was still (slightly) alive, so it hadn't been there for long!!

The park is planning a Discovery Room for folks to be able to use during the weekdays when there are no interpretive programs, and we hope that our insect collection will be displayed there.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

A New Assignment

We have been asked to find every geocache in the park!

Mark looked on the geocaching website he uses and found that there are about 50!  That’s a lot for a state park.  Hummm.... maybe we should have started this quest a little earlier.

One of our special projects is to work on the new Educational Backpack Loaner Program.  There will be 6-7 different themes such as birding, geocaching, hiking, etc. 

The way the loaner program works is a family will check out a themed backpack while they are staying in the park, do the activities that are in the backpack, then the kids will receive a Jr. Ranger badge.  The backpacks will be geared toward 8-12 year olds.

We haven’t had a lot of time to work on this project but after our interpretation programs wrap up next weekend we’ll get going on it full time. 
A medium size cache in an easy to find location.

We’ll work with the volunteer coordinator (Errin) to decide what items to purchase for each theme.  The park received a small grant for this program so we’ll have to put a lot of thought into each purchase.

For the geocaching backpack, Errin was hoping we could use geocache’s already in place here in the park.  After finding several geocaches, we’ve decided it would be better to place about 4 geocaches, and pre-load the GPS with the coordinates.  
A micro cache hidden next to a high voltage box.

When we go geocaching, we typically don’t bother with the “micro” caches.  They are usually very hard to find and we just don’t enjoy searching and searching for something that is only about an inch in length.  Unfortunately, a lot of the geocaches here in the park are micro and would be very discouraging for children to find.  
A micro. That tiny little gold dot next to Mark's right leg is the container!

So, we’ll get 4 large waterproof containers, fill them with fun trinkets and hide them in interesting spots in the park. 
A typical cache, easy to find right off a trail.
With the decision to place our own geocaches, we no long have to go looking for all the other caches.  Although, I’m sure we’ll find a few more before we leave.
Another micro.  Attached to the underside of a plastic snake!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Another Project Completed

Our little birds have been out of the nests boxes for a while and we’ve cleaned out all the boxes.

We have several boxes that need to be replaced or repaired.  We enjoy working on this project in the evening after the staff has left for the day.  We have a very nice maintenance shop that’s equipped with everything we need.  

After repairing several boxes, we started building brand new ones. 

These bird boxes have been here for over 20 years.  Last year we repaired and replaced several boxes until we ran out of wood.  This year we have had to repair and replace several more. 

Some of the boxes we replaced are too small or have a hard-to-clean top opening.  A lot of the boxes are just old with too much rotted wood to repair.
I hope the birds enjoy their brand new homes next year!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Beginning of the End

Even though we won’t be leaving here for a few weeks, our interpretation programs will end on September 6th.

Every week we print out very colorful flyers and tear-off quarter sheets to post on all the bulletin boards around the park (about 15 total).

 This morning we put out the last flyers for the year!

We’ve had a wonderful time with the interp programs. 

We’ve created some new programs this year that were very popular and brought back all the programs from last year that were the most popular.  We’ve had a lot of positive feedback too. 

Even without a final count, our participation numbers are way up from last year.  This year in addition to folks camping in the park, we’ve also had a lot of local residents that have come in, just for our programs.

We’re wrapping up the summer - the end is near.