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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Badlands and Birds

Following our 56th Wedding Anniversary family reunion in Colorado, we took a road trip with our daughter's family back to Illinois. Our route took us through South Dakota, where we spent one night at Custer State Park in the Black Hills

We then traveled a hundred miles eastward to Badlands National Park, where we spent two nights at Circle View guest ranch. I had expected South Dakota to be mostly flat cattle-land planted in field crops. This is not the case in the southwestern corner of the state. After leaving the high forested ridges of the Black Hills the land did turn flat, but within an hour the rugged and forbidding peaks of the Badlands loomed up in the distance.

Badlands HDR 01-20160618

Before checking in at the ranch we took a detour through Badlands National Park and drove 23 miles to Wall, the nearest town. Smokey Bear greeted us:

Graci and Cari with Smokey 20160618

The Wall Drug Store is a hodge-podge of vendors selling anything a tourist might wish to have as a remembrance of this unique part of the USA. It is famous for free chilled water and 5 cent coffee:

Wall Drug Store 20160617

After stocking up at the only supermarket in town we checked into our lodging. We grilled some steaks, made pasta and salad and enjoyed the repast. On the working ranch our accommodations were indeed spartan. As advertised, both of our cabins had nice propane-fired barbecue grills. 

Our primitive "Treetop Cabin" had electricity, running water, air conditioning, a tiny refrigerator, two beds and clean linens. At our only tap, in the bathroom, the water smelled of rotten eggs-- very likely (we hoped) just naturally occurring sulfur from the well. We brought lots of water bottles so this was not a problem: 

Schneider Tree House Cabin 20160617

In our daughter's adjacent "Cowboy Cabin," her family enjoyed four beds, a kitchen sink, a hot plate, coffee maker and toaster, as well as assorted dinnerware and a couple of pots and pans. 

Orama Cowboy Cabin at Circle View 20160617

Since Mary Lou must have her early morning coffee, we borrowed the Cowboy Cabin coffeemaker, forgetting that our cupboard was otherwise bare. Up well before sunrise, she had the coffee brewing before I woke up, just as she was asking "Where are the coffee cups?" 

We had forgotten to bring some disposable cups from next door! I crept out to the Cowboy Cabin in semi-darkness and quietly tried to open both doors but they were locked. Leaving the occupants in peaceful sleep, my recourse was to retrieve two discarded plastic water bottles from the refuse container. I cut off their upper half and washed them. They did not melt and served us well! "Necessity is the mother of invention:"

Cowboy coffee cup 20160618

I sat on the little front porch, drinking coffee and listening to mostly unfamiliar bird songs. A Black-tailed Jackrabbit did not see me as it moved out from behind the cabin and hopped a couple of feet past me. I took one poor iPhone photo before my movements scared it away:

Jackrabbit Blue Bell SD 20160617

The sun's early rays coursed the dark sky. 

Sunrise Badlands SD HDR 20160617

One persistent song sounded vaguely familiar, somewhat like that of an Indigo Bunting. As darkness abated, I located the songster and discovered it was a Blue Grosbeak:

Blue Grosbeak 04-20160619

Another song was really new to me, but I suspected it came from a member of the sparrow family. Indeed, as the light improved I recognized several Lark Sparrows:

Lark Sparrow 06-20160618

Lark Sparrow 04-20160618

A Western Meadowlark, which looks almost the same as its Eastern counterpart, sang its distinctive song from a fence post (Westerns warble "look-a-diddle-deedle do" while Easterns whistle "swee-till-see-dee" (I translate their songs respectively as "Look at me I'm a Meadowlark," and "Spring of the Year.)"

Western Meadowlark 01-20160618

A Dickcissel chanted his name from a dooryard treetop:

Dickcissel 01-20160618

In the meantime I watched a drama unfold as a large female White-tailed Deer emerged from the far side of the meadow to the east. She seemed to be paying much attention to a wooded area adjacent to the meadow. She huffed and snorted as three smaller does joined her. 

White-tailed large doe 20160619

Suddenly all took flight. A bit later I heard more deer sounds and the largest doe bounded out of the wooded area with a Coyote on her heels. The predator would have no hope of taking down an adult deer and risked being injured or killed by her sharp hooves if it tried. Either it was playing a game or, more likely, the doe was leading it away from her fawn. I got only one poor shot of the Coyote through the tall grass:

Coyote 2-20160619

The doe soon returned, and this time I could see she was carrying enough milk for two fawns:

White-tailed large doe 3-20160619

These were just a few of my observations on the first morning of our stay. I will save more for a subsequent post, including my photo of a new "Life List" bird species.

Again, searching for a photo of a reflection, I remembered six years ago, when we celebrated our 50th Anniversary with family, also at YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. Our children, grandchildren and great-grandson presented us with this plate. At the time we did not realize that it was reflecting the snow-capped mountain peaks:

Anniversary Platter 20100615

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Today's Flowers Friday by Denise

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

Thursday, July 14, 2016

South Dakota Black Hills and Wildlife Loop

Following five nights celebrating our family reunion in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, we joined our younger daughter's family on a road trip back to Illinois. We entered South Dakota by way of Wyoming en route to Blue Bell in the Black Hills of Custer State Park. 

We occupied adjacent cabins in a Ponderosa woodland at Blue Bell Lodge, just off the famous Wildlife Loop:

Blue Bell Schneider 24 Cabin rear 20160616

Anxious to tour the Loop before dark, we made 6:00 PM dinner reservations at the restaurant but waited over an hour before being served. The food was wonderful despite the terrible service. There was no time to drive the Loop's entire 18 miles, but the wildlife viewing was spectacular.

Hundreds of American Bison wandered freely along the road. Fences and cattle guards control their rotation between huge grazing grounds:

Bison herd HDR 20160618

Bison 01-20160616

American Bison 20160618

Pronghorn Antelopes abounded:

Pronghorn Antelope on ridge 20160616

Pronghorn Antelope 02-20160616

As dusk approached, White-tailed Deer became more numerous. Many of the does had fawns:

Whitetail Deer fawn nursing 20160616

Whitetail Deer fawn 2-20160616

Whitetail Deer fawn following mother 20160616

Ten-point buck in velvet:

Whitetail Deer 10-point buck 2-20160616

Feral Donkeys, descendants of Wild Asses released by early settlers, approached our auto, apparently looking for treats offered by tourists despite prohibitions against feeding the wildlife:

Wild Ass with suckling foal 20160616

Wild Ass with suckling foal 2-20160616

All too soon, darkness descended and we made our way back to the cabins. This was the scene a little after sunset, under a waxing Strawberry Moon. This is the Algonquin Indian name for the full Moon in June. This year it coincided with the Summer Solstice, a "once-in-a-lifetime" event. (Better make that "twice in my lifetime" as the last time this happened was in 1967 but the next will not occur until 2062):

Strawberry Moon over Wildlife Loop HDR 20160616

Birding was not a main pursuit, but during a brief walk around the cabins I found Red-breasted Nuthatches:

Red-breasted Nuthatch 02-20160616

Red-breasted Nuthatch 03-20160616

Early the nex morning, A Wild Turkey with five poults walked next to a neighboring cabin...

Wild Turkey hen and 5 poults 20160617

Wild Turkey hen and poults 20160617

Wild Turkey poults 20160617

...and a Cottontail Rabbit huddled near the road, perhaps thinking I could not see it:

Cottontail Rabbit 20160617

While I was taking in the beauty of a mountain stream which ran by the Lodge, a deer suddenly crossed the water towards me:

Whitetail Deer young buck 20160616

On the way to our next destination, we drove the length of Needles Highway, a winding road through magnificent rock formations and narrow tunnels:

The Needles HDR 20160617

View from The Needles 02-20160617

Tunnel on Needles Highway 20160617

We visited Crazy Horse Memorial, an ambitious granite statue being carved out of a mountain, billed to become  world's largest sculpture, once it is completed. It honors the legendary war hero of the Lakota tribe, whose most famous victory against US troops was the Battle of the Little Bighorn (General Custer's Last Stand -click for more information. )

The carving was started in 1948 but has made slow progress. Only the warrior's face has been completed so far. His head will be 87 feet (27 m) high:

Crazy Horse Monument HDR 20160617

Crazy Horse Monument 03-20160617

Crazy Horse Monument 04-20160617

The smaller (60 ft/18 m high) faces of four US presidents are carved on Mount Rushmore, only 17 miles away.  It is an awe-inspiring sight:

Mount Rushmore HDR 20160617

Mount Rushmore CROP 03-20160617

On our way to our next stop, Mount Rushmore could be seen in the distance:

Rushmore in distance CROP 20160617

Our last glimpse of Mount Rushmore through a gap in the trees as we headed east towards the Badlands:

Rushmore in distance 20160617

For the "reflection" meme I must hearken back to a photo I took before we flew to Colorado. A few doors from our daughter's home in Illinois, this silo cast its image on a small pond:

Silo HDR 20160606

Pale Coneflowers bloomed on the Illinois prairie:

Pale Coneflowers 20160628

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Today's Flowers Friday by Denise

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display