Northeastern Montana is Remote

We entered Montana today.  For most of the drive through northeastern Montana, there was little civilization or trees to be seen.  It was a little scary.  If you didn’t plan ahead well, you could run out of fuel and not be near any.  We went for great stretches of road and saw nothing but cows, fences, and pronghorns.

We are currently staying at an Army Corps of Engineer campground. It is amazing.  It is the best place yet that we have stayed.  We don’t get water and sewer hook-ups, but that’s workable.  You fill up your water tanks when you enter and dump everything at the dumping station when you leave.

That’s the Missouri River in the background.  There is a two mile paved path around the campground.  I especially appreciate that since this is tick season.  Nevertheless, after walking with Dart, he had numerous ticks.  We have to do regular tick checks with him and we always find ticks on him.  It is very discouraging.  If we miss any, I hope the VectraD works and kills the tick.  It is what it is and we have to deal it.

We are going to stay two nights, so I hope to have some nice pictures tomorrow.  I saw some adult geese with babies swimming.  I hope to find them again tomorrow.  Also, there are orioles here.  Following is a terrible picture.  If you look closely, you can see the oriole flying (left of center).

This last picture is from the campsite next to ours.  We are downstream from the dam and those buildings are from the dam operations.  This whole area is surrounded by a Wildlife Refuge, so it is remote and there is almost no man made structures around.  That makes those big, dam towers particularly eye catching.  It really impacts the senses because they seem so out of place.  Because of the strategic location of a tree, we can’t see the towers from our campsite.

Wicked Storm

Last night we had a great view of lightning off in the distance.  It was a spectacular show.  I went to bed before Regis, so I put Dart on the bed (which we usually don’t do) and sat and watched the storm a little longer before retiring.  Dart usually stays at the foot of the bed whenever he is allowed up.  After crawling under the covers, a violent storm started abruptly at our location.  It immediately broke the window in the bedroom so it started flapping around, it scared the heck out of Dart, so he bolted to me.  Regis ran around and closed all the windows, while I held Dart.  Shortly after he managed to get the windows closed, including the bedroom, it started to hail.  Dart was terrified.  I have never seen him so terrified.

I have heard about an item called a thunder shirt and have a friend that says it helps.  I don’t have one, so I wrapped the bedspread around Dart snug and held him tight.  He was calmer, but still terrified.  I have to admit, I was scared a bit too.  The storm was one of the worst I have been in.  It’s nice to enjoy a bad storm when you are in a well built house, but being in a mobile tin can leaves some doubt about being able to weather a bad storm.  Being in the RV may have made it seem worse than it was.  The hail sounded so horrific beating on the RV that I wasn’t sure we’d still have an RV left in the morning.  It turns out the hail wasn’t as big as it sounded, so there was no lasting damage.

The storm took some time to pass through and Dart was glued to me the entire time.  It took awhile for him to relax.  Tekoe has always been afraid of thunderstorms while Dart usually handles them well.  If Tekoe was still with us, it would have been a very, very difficult night for her also.

The place seems to have survived the storm well.  We went through the Park one more time and there were patches of road covered in silt.  We also heard a lot of frogs.  We saw some baby bird casualties from the storm, but it appears that the frogs are benefiting from the deluge of water.

We picked up Tekoe’s ashes today, so she will be with us the rest of the journey.  She left a big hole behind.  Dart is going to miss his best canine friend.

The clouds were incredible today.  Following are some parting pictures from Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

On our walk through Medora today, we found this bear.  He appears to be doing something else in the woods.

Grocery Stores

Today we drove 30 miles west of Medora to pick up Tekoe and take her 35 miles east of Medora to a pet crematory in Dickinson.  That’s a lot of miles to cover, over 130 miles round trip.  Her ashes will be ready for us to pick up tomorrow afternoon, so we will be staying here another night.

Medora has one store that sells groceries along with liquor and gas.  There is only one grocery aisle and it is about 10 feet long.  There is also a small freezer that is about 1/3 full with meat and the rest is ice cream products.  The town with the pet crematory is considerably larger than Medora, so we decided to do some grocery shopping there.  We’ve run out of food and going to restaurants here is pricey.  There are extremely limited options for grocery stores in Dickinson, but at least they have grocery stores.  After going through the grocery store, I realize how incredibly spoiled I am with the grocery options in Maryland.  I miss good produce sections!  Also, I’m used to having very nice organic eggs.  We used to have our own chickens, so when I started buying eggs again, I became very picky.  There is no such thing as a cage-free, organic egg here.  I’m in tears.  I’m really looking forward to getting to Seattle where I know we can visit Pike’s market and get fresh fish and produce.

I ordered fish for lunch today.  That probably wasn’t a good idea to do when you are no where near the coasts.  The fish of the day was halibut.  I am absolutely certain that I was not served halibut.  The fish wasn’t too bad.  It was a little fishy tasting and overcooked, but it was okay.  The waiter said the chef insists it is halibut and maybe it was farm raised and tasted different to me.  When I got the receipt, it said I purchased Walleye.  We’ll probably never know what I really ate for lunch.  I’m not familiar with Walleye but I know you can fish for it in Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota.  Anyway, perhaps I should wait until I get to Washington before I eat any more fish unless I can get some local freshwater fish we can cook ourselves.  I love seafood, so perhaps I’m not destined to relocate permanently to the interior of the country.

It has become quite toasty here.  We were freezing last week-end and now we have the air conditioner running.  Those kind of weather swings take place in Maryland also  It’s a good thing we brought a wardrobe that covers all the possibilities.

Ticks Galore

We took Dart hiking on a trail late this afternoon.  We went to the beginning of the trail at a State Park and paid our entrance fee so we could park there.  It was pretty much empty.  The park allows you to camp with your horses.  A portion of the campground has horse enclosures at every campsite.  It was really amazing.  There was an enclosure to dump your horse manure with wheel barrels and rakes.  Each campsite was large.  The trail is great for horseback riding and mountain biking.

Within 250 yards of the beginning of the trail, you have to cross the Little Missouri river.  Obviously, horses can cross here.  I took off my shoes and started across and stopped when it got almost to my knees.  We weren’t prepared for a swim prior to the hike.  Instead of trying to come up with a way to get both of us and the dog across, we chose to drive to where the trail enters the National Park and then hike back toward the beginning of the trail (because dogs aren’t allowed on the trails in the park).  We had to cross a stream about 4 times.  Regis and I had to figure out how to gingerly get across.  Dart is a showoff and leaped over the stream like a gazelle.  Clearly, all that agility training came in handy for him today.

Once we got to the base of a large hill/small mountain, we elected to stop and enjoy the scenery.  We had dressed to warmly for this hike and weren’t really interested in scaling the hill/mountain.  It took about 2 minutes for us to realize that Dart was covered in ticks.  I have never seen so many ticks.  I was also covered in ticks.  For some reason I do not understand, Regis had very few ticks on him.  I continue to be puzzled about this.  We decided to head back to the truck.  Once we got there we spent quite some time removing all the ticks from Dart and me.  When we got back to the campground, we double checked to see if we missed any.  It was horrible.  How do the wild animals manage?  With that many ticks, there would be no blood left in any wild creature.  I love to hike and expect to find some ticks now and again.  But, this was traumatizing.

Dart had a really good time on the hikes.  Even though we didn’t make much progress on the beginning part of the trail, Dart had an opportunity to romp and be exuberant.  I love watching him when he is so happy.

One last mention about the vet visit yesterday.  When we brought Tekoe into the vet, there was a kitten in a cage in the waiting area with a sign that he was looking for a home.  This kitten made a tremendous amount of noise.  All while Tekoe was being examined, we heard this kitten in the waiting room.  The vet told us that the kitten likes to be loved and craves attention.

When the vet took Tekoe back for Xrays, she told us to wait in the waiting room.  I couldn’t resist pulling the kitten out of the cage and holding him.  He was desperate for attention and I was desperate for a distraction.  I became smitten with this kitten.  We are no position to have a kitten but if anyone out there wants a crazy little kitten that wants to be loved, he’s your guy.

We took one more drive through the park this morning and got this picture of the feral horses.

Tekoe RIP

After my posting yesterday, it became obvious to us that Tekoe was in serious distress.  Regis talked to the owners of the campground and they gave him the number for a good vet.  I called and was able to reach her (on a Saturday afternoon).  She is located 30 miles from our campsite.  She agreed to meet us at her office in 30 minutes.  Tekoe cried and barked the whole way.  She never cries.  The vet took Xrays and was able to determine that Tekoe’s stomach had flipped and she was very, very sick.  Considering her age and condition, the only reasonable thing to do was let her go.  It was very difficult to do so.  We are going to miss her.  She was an exceptionally sweet dog.  We are going to remain at this campground until we can arrange to have her cremated.  I posted a couple favorite pictures below.  The second collie in the picture is Copper and he died almost 2 years ago.  He adored Tekoe.

Tekoe

Today we went to the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  We saw many bison and beautiful scenery.  We went to the campground to check it out and there were more bison in the campground than people.  The campground was lovely and I would be interested in staying there sometime, but I prefer not to camp next to a bison.  They are huge and have horns sticking out of their head.  They are apparently temperamental and easily agitated.  Following are some pictures from the park. Note the eyelashes on the bison.  Very long!  The third picture is the campground with bison in it. They were using the posts in the campground to scratch themselves.

On the way up and back to the north unit, we were able to get some first hand experience with the boon going on in this area.  There is a huge energy boon because oil companies are able to use hydraulic fracturing to get to the oil in the area.  There are LOTS of trucks traveling the roads and several of them are carrying modular buildings.  They may be homes or something else.  They take up almost the whole road on a two-lane highway.  It is best to pay close attention while driving (which you should always do) because the vehicles may be so wide they are taking up most of your lane also.  Apparently, it has brought tens of thousands of new jobs to the area.  If any of you are looking for work, this appears to be the place to be.

This afternoon, Tekoe started to behave differently.  She’s already been vomiting a lot and she’s had diarrhea for a couple days, but this afternoon she is very agitated.  I’m more concerned than usual about her.  She’s been comfortable on this trip except for her bouts of vomiting, so it doesn’t appear the problem is the adventure.  We are almost two weeks into this trip and she is just now exhibiting strange behavior.  She keeps pacing and digging at the rug.  She can’t seem to relax.  I have some medication to calm her in stressful situations, so I gave her some.  It has helped, but she is still awake (which is unusual) and panting.  She’s usually comatose because she sleeps so soundly.  I plan to call her vet on Monday and discuss the situation and see what she recommends.  She is aware we were making this trip and said she would be available to us.

I feel sorry for Dart today.  When we drove to the park, we did not put the dog beds in the back of the truck.  When we travel with the trailer, we put their dog beds in the truck and each dog sleeps in their own bed (usually).  Tekoe clearly has a much larger bed than Dart.  Without the dog beds, there is not a clear demarcation in the back of the truck cab.  Tekoe takes up as much space as possible.  She camps out in the middle of the cab and leaves little room for Dart.  Dart will not challenge her and stick up for his fair share of space.  I tried moving her once, but it isn’t easy to do.  Dart has to deal with what space is left to him.  In the future, we’ll try taking Dart’s bed and see if that helps.

We continue to have a heating problem.  It dropped to 38 degrees last night.  Although it was warm under the covers, it was hard to get up in the cold.  The fireplace definitely helped but did not totally heat the place.  The dogs have great fur coats and didn’t appear to mind the cold.  Regis will contact our dealer Monday and see if there is a place we can take the RV where it can be fixed through the warranty.  This problem should be covered.  The weather is unpredictable enough out here that it would come in handy to have the heater working.  We paid enough for the RV that the heater should darn well work.

We currently plan to head to Montana after we leave her (which is a change from the original plan), but they could be impacted by Regis’ call to the dealer and my call to Tekoe’s vet.   The good news is that we have no place we have to be at a certain time, so a change in plans won’t be a big problem.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We went from Bismark, ND to Medora, ND today.  On the way, we went by the Enchanted Highway.  I had never heard of the Enchanted Highway, which is a shame.  I would have altered our trip to drive on it.  Apparently, there are numerous metal sculptures along the road put there by an artist named Gary Greff.  One of the sculptures is on the 94 interchange.  

The picture we have doesn’t do it justice.  It is amazing (when driving by at 65 mph).  By the time I realized how lovely it was, it was too late to get on the other road and drive by the other sculptures.  In North Dakota, there are many, many miles between exits.  Once you pass one, you blew it.

We arrived in Medora early, so we walked through the town and then left the dogs in the trailer while we toured the South unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  All I can say is “WOW”.  Some of the greatest treasures in the United States is its National Parks.  We focused on taking pictures of wildlife the first trip through the park because the sun was shining too brightly to take good scenic pictures.  After one loop through the park, we came back and fed the dogs and ourselves and then went back to focus on taking scenic pictures.  We took the dogs with us the second time.  The problem was the bison.  First, there was a male bison who walked for quite a ways in front of us on the road.  We couldn’t get around him and had to follow him slowly in the car until he finally decided to get off the road.  Okay, so seeing bison that close requires a change in camera lenses and you are no longer focused on scenic pictures.

After the big guy got off the road, we went back to scenic picture taking until we encountered an entire herd of bison, many of them in the road.  And, there were lots of babies with their mamas.  Honestly, it doesn’t get cuter than that.  I loaned one of my two cameras to my brother.  It’s time to get it back so I can keep a “wildlife” lens on one camera and a “scenic” lens on the other.  Between Regis and I swapping lenses, taking turns taking pictures, and using the binoculars, it was a frenzy.  But, it was one of my best national park experiences (if that’s possible since I’ve had so many wonderful national park experiences).

BTW:  We saw so many prairie dogs today that I can’t begin to tell how many.  The prairie dogs we saw today did not look like the one I posted yesterday.  Therefore, I’m unsure what I saw yesterday.  I’ve tried to do a little research and I am not sure.  If there are any experts out there that know, please let me know and I will update my post.

For those following the trials and tribulations of the RV, we continue to have problems with the heater.  It will go down to 38 degrees tonight and the heater stopped working again.  At least the fireplace works, so we should be sufficiently warm through the night.  But, Regis is getting pretty aggravated with trying to keep that thing working.  We continue to have problems with the sensor on the black water tank.  Even when it’s empty, it says that it is 2/3 full.  He flushed it once and it seemed to be working but it’s back to its old bag of tricks.  When we know its empty, it says its 2/3 full.

On the dog side of things, Tekoe has been doing well today.  I found a juicy tick on Dart.  I give the dogs medication to prevent fleas and ticks but it didn’t work for this tick.  We’ll have to keep an eye on them.  I gave them both a rub down to look for ticks and they enjoyed the heck out of it.  We took the dogs with us for the second loop of the park.  They are not allowed off the pavement and on the trails but they can ride in the car.  When we had to work our way through a herd of bison, Tekoe suddenly noticed them and started barking.  Her barking is no longer very loud, so I don’t think it had much of an impact to any of the bison.  They didn’t appear to notice.  We know her eyesight is still reasonable.  Dart was such an angel than I was worried we forgot to bring him along.  I had to check to make sure he was in the truck.

Off the Beaten Path

Today we went on another scenic byway from Bismark to Lake Sakakawea without the trailer. It was beautiful.  Every time we stopped to visit a historic site, the peace and quiet were amazing.  We rarely encountered anyone.  There was no major interstate providing background noise.  We primarily heard birds, lots of birds.  Therefore, I’m reconsidering where we go when we leave North Dakota.  I’d like to find a way to spend more time off the interstates.  I’m working on it.

At the first stop, I saw several prairie dogs.  They are smaller than I thought.  Dart never saw them, although they saw him.  I only got the one picture below.  Look closely and you will see the little guy in the middle of the picture. (Update: It turns out, I’m not sure if this is a prairie dog.  It is probably something else but I have not been able to identify it.  I know the picture is not good, but if you know what it is, please let me know.)

We saw Ring-Necked Pheasants, turkeys, bobolinks, lots of red-winged blackbirds, and birds we never saw before and won’t be able to figure out what they were.  We went to several historic sites for the Lewis and Clark trail and ventured along the Missouri River.  We stopped at the dam that creates Sakakawea Lake and visited the Army Corps of Engineers campground.  It is awesome.  We will spend some time in the future looking at the Army Corps campgrounds.  We may come back to this campground sometime and spend a week or two.

Dart loved the historic sites.  I was able to walk him off lead and he stuck to the trail and didn’t chase any animals.  He had a great time.  I kept his leash handy in case he didn’t listen, but he was great the whole time.  We got a lot of walking in today and it was really lovely.

I took a picture of the following rock for my mom.  She loves rocks.

We think the bird in the campground is a Kingbird.  I found my Peterson Guide which works better for me than my other bird guide.  I got the following bad shot of a Kingbird.

As usual, I always seem to have the wrong lens on the camera for my pictures.   One lens is good for scenery and the other for wildlife.  I have to switch between the two and had the wrong lens for the bird and the prairie dog.

The following picture is from a spillway at the dam that is undergoing some maintenance.  It is very big.  This dam would take 2 million freight cars to carry the material to build the dam and the lake is almost 200 miles long (according to The Most Scenic Drives in America).

We also saw a power plant next to a coal mine.  How convenient!

North Dakota is Flat

We left Fargo this morning.  Following is a picture of the mist on the river first thing this morning.  Let me say that Fargo is amazingly clean.  It is one of the cleanest cities I have ever seen.  The grass is green everywhere and no obvious weeds.  Regis said it’s so nice looking that it’s spooky.

We got off the interstate and went on a scenic byway in the Sheyenne River Valley.  It was beautiful.  I had no idea that North Dakota was so beautiful.  At least half of the trip was on gravel roads with a posted speed limit of 50 mph (more on the results of that later).  When we stopped to take pictures, we noticed how quiet it was.  We’ve camped next to interstates most of the way, so it was particularly appealing to hear only the sounds of the birds singing.  We saw some interesting historic buildings like this hand hewn log cabin.

We saw lots of “prairie potholes”.  Almost every one had a least one duck floating in it.  I don’t know how they plow around them.  We saw one pond with a cow standing in the middle with the water up to his shoulders.  Perhaps he was trying to cool off.  I hope he wasn’t stuck.

Regis took lots of pictures of tractors.  He said there is no such thing as something small in North Dakota.  His tractor, which I think is big enough, is like a dinghy to the tractors out here.

Except in the river valley, North Dakota is flat.  At one point, the GPS said we were 9 miles to the interstate and I saw a water tower ahead.  I told Regis I thought the water tower was in the town next to the interstate and he wasn’t so sure.  That would mean the tower was 9 miles from where we were.  It turned out to be correct.  The tower was next to the interstate.  This state makes you lose your sense of bearing.  Since the scenery doesn’t change much when you are driving, you don’t realize you are making any progress.  You think you are getting nowhere and you realize you drove 5 miles.  It’s like being in the twilight zone.  We started looking for our campground 20 miles ahead of reaching it thinking we might actually be able to see it.

At one of the rest stops, we saw “cotton” all over the ground under the trees.  I think they may have been Cottonwood trees.  If anyone knows for sure, please let me know.

Our campground is beautiful.  I’m ready to stay put for awhile.  I think we’ll stay at least 3 days.  We may stay longer.  The only thing that keeps us from staying a week or more is that we are anxious to see Jason.

Tekoe got sick twice today.  She didn’t eat much breakfast, but neither did Dart.  She ate dinner, so I think she’s okay now.  Since I had to do the wash anyway, I was able to get her bed cleaned.  On the way to the laundromat, I had to stop and wait for a male pheasant to saunter across the road.

We are seeing some strange birds in the campground that we can’t find in the field guide.  There is one set of birds nesting in a nearby tree and we still can’t identify it.  We will work at it over the next couple days when the lighting is better.  The nest isn’t located for a good picture, but I will try anyway.

When we arrived in the campground, we were unable to open one of the slides.  A set screw that holds the motor onto the mechanism came out.  It was probably due to the jostling on the gravel roads.  In addition, there is a fine layer of dirt on everything INSIDE and outside the camper.  You can write messages in the dust on all our level surfaces.  Lesson learned!

Dog Wash

We took care of some maintenance items today.  We got the oil changed, picked up some essentials at the store, and got the dogs bathed.  They look great!  Dart was really wound up when we picked him up.  OMG. It was as if he’d been drinking caffeine for two hours straight.  There was no living with him until I threw his flying disc to him non-stop for awhile.

First thing this morning, I walked Dart by the river.  The park was empty except for the campers and none of them were out.  The sun was coming up and there was a mist on the water.  It was very peaceful (except for the route 94 traffic in the background).  We also took a long walk late in the morning and walked all the way to Minnesota and back (which is just across the river).  Below is a picture from that walk of a man and two children in a field.

We are off to Bismark tomorrow and plan to do at least one scenic side trip along the way.