Post Fire

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A view of the Wanapum Recreation Area in the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park and the Columbia River. The green area in the right center of the photo is the campground. The entire surrounding area was burned. The campground is watered regularly.

August 2, 2018

We found out that there were 3 fires in the area within the last two months that have burned an extensive part of this area.  (Here is a link that shows pictures of one of the fires.  Click here.) One fire started at the rest stop that is about 10 miles up the road.  There is almost no vegetation at this time.  It looks very desolate and it is hard to believe that any animals can survive in this environment.  But, some do.

Yesterday, we found several Bighorn ship by the river at the north part of the State Park.  There is some vegetation along the river, so it is not surprising the sheep would be there.  There are a few babies.  Once you get a few feet away from the river, there is no vegetation except for the grassy area around the State Park visitor center and parking lot.  This area is regularly watered and the sheep hang out here because of it.

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Bighorn Sheep in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park by the Columbia River. Mom spotted us and is heading to safety with her baby.
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Bighorn Sheep mom and her baby in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park.
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Bighorn Sheep in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park.
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Bighorn sheep baby in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park.

Regis went hiking for about six miles in this desolate landscape.  He found a couple seeps/springs where there is a bit of greenery among the barren landscape.  He found a few places where the plant life is beginning to come back.

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The little bit of greenery is this burned landscape shows where there is some water in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park. 
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Life trying to return after the fire in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park.

He noticed several animal skeletons.  At least some of them are charred, so the bones were there before the fire.  With the vegetation gone, it is easy to see all the “hard” stuff left behind.

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Animal skeleton in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park.
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Burned fence post in Gingko Petrified Forest State Park.

We learned that in 2016, only one person died in the U.S. from a rattlesnake bite and that person had an underlying health condition.  Twelve thousand people died from stairs that same year.  Even the vet told me that rattlesnakes are not that big of a concern here.  He thinks there is more concern about alligators in Florida.  The snakes aren’t interested in being around you.  But, like anything, be aware of your surroundings.  We also learned that a relocated rattlesnake is a dead rattlesnake.  Rattlesnakes spend the winter communally in a specific place.  They learn where that place is in their first year and if they are relocated will search endlessly for that place.  As a result, they die of starvation and/or exposure because they will not eat while searching for that place.

It is about 10 degrees cooler today, so it is much more bearable.

 

Jeep Issues

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Badlands National Park looking southeast at sunset.

Yesterday morning, we went through our usual routine to get back on the road.  We made sure everything was locked and secure in the motor home and hooked the Jeep up to the motor home for towing.  Once you do that, it’s my job to make sure the transfer case in the Jeep is put into neutral.  Once you do that, you check to make sure it happened correctly.  For the very first time, I checked and it didn’t happen.  Hmmm.  I was sure I did it correctly.  I tried again.  Didn’t work.  I tried a third time.  Didn’t work.

At this point, I gave up and let Regis take over.  He couldn’t get it to work either.  That means, we couldn’t tow the Jeep.  Our next destination was Deadwood, South Dakota which is north of Rapid City.  But, Rapid City was our best opportunity to find a place to fix the Jeep.  I drove the car and Regis drove the motor home and we stopped in Rapid City.  The Jeep is currently at the dealer and we are waiting for the diagnosis.  We have hatched a couple plans depending on the result.  If we don’t have the Jeep for a few days, we will look into renting a car so we can explore while we are here.  I’ve had time to review some brochures on the area and now want to stay to explore.  This little delay modifies our travel plans between here and Portland.  We have some flexibility in our plans, so once we get feedback from the dealer, we’ll make more specific plans.

On our last evening in the Badlands, we went to the Park to view the sunset over the Black Hills.  You can see the Black Hills from the Park.  The weather was a little nippy but not too cold so it was lovely.  The view was amazing.  The Bighorn Sheep were grazing on the hill behind where we set up to view the sunset.  As the sun went down, it sent shafts of light onto the Badlands.  Oh my gosh, I could do this every night.  It was incredible.

In my last post, I mentioned that the Prairie Dogs can carry the plague.  I feel its important to say that Prairie Dogs are necessary to the health of the ecosystem.  They are a keystone species.  Many animals depend on Prairie Dog populations.  As an example, Burrowing Owls burrow in Prairie Dog holes.  I want to make sure that I didn’t leave a bad impression regarding Prairie Dogs.

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Sunset at Badlands National Park.
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Bighorn Sheep after sunset at Badlands National Park.
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Prairie dogs sitting on their front porch catching the golden rays during sunset at Badlands National Park.

Meadowlarks and Other Critters

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Meadowlark in Badlands National Park.

I love Meadowlarks.  I love how they sing and how so much volume can come out of a small bird.  They are everywhere out here.  Regis got a video to share so you can hear the song.

I’ve been stalking the wildlife and playing the paparazzi with them.  The Red-Winged Blackbirds fill our campground with their voices.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird.
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Male Red-Winged Blackbird
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Male Red-Winged Blackbird.

One of our goals today was to see if we could locate any baby sheep.  We found them.  There were 5 baby sheep with one female high up on top of the ridge.  That was probably the safest place for them.  The female appeared to be in charge of the nursery this morning.

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Female Bighorn Sheep and 5 young in Badlands National Park.

They are probably trying to keep those little ones safe from the coyotes, like these below.

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Coyotes in Badlands National Park.

We saw lots of bison and they are very scraggly.  They are shedding their winter coats and they are covered with lots of dried mud.

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Bison in Badlands National Park. It looks a little rough with the shedding and the mud from the recent rains.

We read that we should keep an eye out for Burrowing Owls in the Prairie Dog colonies.  We found some!

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Burrowing Owls in Badlands National Park. Notice the head of the second owl popping up out of the burrow beneath the standing owl.
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Prairie Dog gathering grasses in Badlands National Park.

We noticed that a lot of prairie dogs we have seen look like they have some kind of disease.  I was doing some research online and can’t find any recent articles, but there was an article from 2009 documenting Silvatic plague in the prairie dogs in the Badlands in the Sage Creek Wilderness area.  Park personnel told us to be sure to keep the dog away from the prairie dog colonies because the prairie dogs carry Bubonic plague. The same bacterium in Silvatic plague is responsible for Bubonic plague in humans.  If you follow Park Service guidance, you are not in danger of getting infected.  Keeping pets away from the colonies is important.   The closest Dart got to the colonies was sitting in the car while we drove by or stopped to take pictures from the car.

 

Badland Landscapes

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Badlands National Park

It was foggy and rainy again today.  We set out very early on a ride through the park and could barely see anything in front of us.  We were joking that any animals we would see would have to be on the road in front of us.  As the day wore on, the cloud cover lifted a bit so we got some views.  After the cloud cover lifted and we rode back through the park loop, we were astonished.  The day before the fog obscured everything.  Today, we got to see the scenery and couldn’t believe we drove past is the day before and didn’t see it!  It was a whole new experience even though we were on the same road.

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Badlands National Park
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Badlands National Park
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Badlands National Park
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Badlands National Park
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Badlands National Park

I have a National Geographic Guide to the less traveled places in the National Parks.  We took the road to Sheep Mountain Table.  They don’t recommend the last two miles of the trip if it has rained recently (check) and you have a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle (high clearance?).  The road is 7 miles with the first 5 miles on a relatively decent, if wet, dirt road.  I planned to turn around when we got to the last 2 rugged miles.  What was I thinking?  With Regis at the wheel, that would never happen.  Argh!  I agree we got some astonishing views, but I was petrified that we would be stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere.  Of course we made it through.  Regis got his fix and Dart wound up in my lap on the return trip because he hated be thrown around in the back of the jeep.

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Look at the mud on the jeep. What a mess!
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Look closely at this female bighorn sheep. Not only is she wearing a radio collar but she appears to be ready to have a baby.
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Two female Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park

 

Badlands

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Mule Deer in Badlands National Park.

Dart was in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  The Badlands National Park has the largest expanse of protected prairie in the National Park System.  It is partially surrounded by the Buffalo Gap National Grassland that also preserves the prairie.

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Dart is in Badlands National Park (2018-1).

It was a very foggy and sometimes rainy day as we traveled through the park.  There were few visitors.  The higher the elevation, the worse the visibility.  It was eerie.  The badlands formations are very different anyway and when you add the fog to it, it was otherworldly.

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Mule Deer in Badlands National Park.

We saw lots of wildlife.  I was fine with missing out on the scenic views because we saw so much wildlife.  We saw bighorn sheep, mule deer, prairie dogs, meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, white pelicans, a coyote, a Canada Goose, and lots of other birds.

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Male Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park.
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Female Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park with dense fog in the background.
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Mule Deer bounding through the grasses in Badlands National Park.
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Mule Deer in Badlands National Park.
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White Pelicans in Badlands National Park. I think I just saw these guys not to long ago in Florida!

In addition, before the entrance to the park, we saw a cattle round-up.  I’m not kidding.  There were lots of people on horses and they already had all the cattle gathered in a circular enclosure.  There were a bunch of calves in with adults.  Regis thinks they might be preparing to tag the calves.