Prairie Dogs

There is an old Navajo warning that if you kill off the prairie dogs there will be no one left to cry for rain …

Prairie dogs, of the Kingdom of Animalia, the Order of Rodentia, and the Tribe of Marmotini are undoubtedly one of the most amusing natural circus acts on our planet.  We watched several large colonies in action during our recent trip, including at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. According to Wikipedia, their genus – Cynomys – derives from the Greek “dog mouse”.

They are very gregarious, social, frisky little things; they cavort; they tumble; they scatter at the drop of a dime. But prairie dogs become quite noisy when startled or threatened, chattering and barking to spread the alarm to their colony. They run to their respective burrows and quickly dive down out of sight while other prairie dogs rise to the surface of their respective burrows to survey the scene.

Some miscellaneous prairie dog facts for you:

In the twentieth century, 98% of prairie dogs were exterminated, mostly by grassland farmers and ranchers. The prairie dogs have now repopulated about 5% of their historic habitat.

Many species of wildlife depend on the prairie dog, and over 20 species use their burrows as a mutual home space or as a refuge from predators.

Prairie dogs have a very advanced communication system with different sounds “or words” to warn their colonies against the danger of coyotes, raptors, hawks, humans, badgers, ferrets, or snakes.

Prairie dogs can run more than 35 miles an hour.

At the risk of being politically incorrect, observing prairie dogs reminded me of the Whac-A-Mole game that first appeared in video arcades in the 1970s. The game featured a soft rubber mallet for players to force a “mole” back in his hole with a solid whack on the head, thereby scoring points. Speed and accuracy improved the individual player’s score. Whac-A-Mole was one of the first of the violent game genre and, not surprising, it was extremely popular when introduced. It still has a place in today’s game arcades and I may need to give it a spin next time I stroll the boardwalk at Hampton Beach.

Taking photographs of the little critters was a challenge until we arrived at a gas station in Philip, South Dakota to gas up the car and stretch our legs. There, like a beacon in the desert, stood a 6-ton concrete prairie dog statue soaring 12 feet above a large and well populated prairie dog town (exit 131 off Interstate 90 onto Highway 240, you western travelers). Prairie dog chow (peanuts) was available for a modest fee inside the Ranch Store.

I would rank prairie dog viewing as among the best entertainment in the whole of the South Dakota grasslands. Oh, and don’t take their “barking” seriously. I suspect it really is just a way to get free peanuts out of our pockets.

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The Fairy Steps

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NOTE: Although we are no longer “Scampering Across America” and are safely home in Massachusetts, we have many more stories to share throughout the next few months about our amazing journey.

 

The Fairy Steps

The sign at the entrance to Charles Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell, MT proclaims it: The Best Last Place. Charles Conrad (1850-1902) was an early Montana pioneer and co-founder of the town of Kalispell.

Incorporated in 1892, the town of Kalispell was quickly indebted to the public service of Charles and Alicia Conrad for deciding around 1900 to build a cemetery for the growing town. The Conrads were enamored of the views of Flathead Valley from a very dramatic plateau above the Stillwater River and were known to go horseback riding there on many a pleasant summer evening. Charles told his wife Alicia that he should very much like to be buried on that lovely spot upon his death. He got his wish, albeit sooner than planned, with his untimely death from tuberculosis in 1902. Alicia Conrad carried on her husband’s vision and was able to complete the cemetery project, which was eventually deeded to the community as a memorial gift.

On the easternmost slope of the cemetery there is located the Conrad family mausoleum; it sits near the edge of the plateau, surrounded by heavily forested terrain that slopes steeply to the river at the base of the cliff. Historically there was a road that ran from the town alongside the river and provided access to the embankment and the plateau.

But what of the Fairy Steps?

The cemetery has a hidden and enchanting staircase which leads from the valley floor at the slow moving Stillwater River, winding its way to the top of the grassy promontory just behind Charles Conrad’s final resting place. The staircase is known locally as the Fairy Steps, built to ease Alicia’s visits to the Conrad crypt. Mrs. Conrad would take her carriage to the back side of the cemetery and use the Fairy Steps to access her husband’s grave, climbing the pathway on a series of 100 stone steps (give or take). The carriage road no longer exists but the winding stone staircase is still enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

Legend has it that if you count the steps going down to the river, and then count them on the way back to the top, the number is different. The steps have been the subject of myth and fantasy for as long as they have existed. It is indeed a magical stone pathway and it begs a visitor to take the time to hike to the bottom and back, ruminating along the way on a mourning Alicia Conrad who often climbed the embankment to visit her husband’s final resting place until her own death in 1923.

The Farm Forum

It has been a long three weeks without a Boston Sunday Globe in hand. We finally succumbed last weekend and picked up a couple of newspapers in the local grocery store. To be honest, there wasn’t much choice. Or rather, there wasn’t any choice. So Deb walked out with the USA Today Weekend edition and I picked up the weekly Farm Forum: The Green Sheet. Here is a sampling of this week’s news, taken from the 51st Year No. 7, Friday May 20, 2016 edition:

Last Week’s question in the Farm Forum Poll – What protein do you buy more often?

  1. Beef -77%
  2. Pork -9%
  3. Poultry -10%
  4. Fish – 2%
  5. Plant-based protein – 2%

Results of Tues. May 17th Butcher Cow and Bull Sale:

Cows Steady to Weak. Mainly $77.00 to $83.00.

Some to $86.00. Middle Cut $72.00 to $77.00.

Hfrettes $95.00 to $118.00. Bulls to $109.00.

Planting progress slow in some states. We are starting to see some problems emerging in the planting progress report, with some states starting to lag normal planting progress of corn and soy beans. This is not true for Northern Plains producers, as planting progress of HRS wheat, barley, sugarbeets, and sunflowers is all ahead of normal planting progress.

Homes for Sale: 1 bd house for sale in Hecia, SD. Excellent for hunters. 605-885-6338

Situation Wanted: Randy’s Barnyard Services Inc. For all your Manure Hauling needs. Beat the rush! 25 years experience. 4 spreader trucks. Call for a quote. 701-486-3324

Board of Director Election – South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotional Council, District 7. One candidate for election this year is Larry Nielson, who farms in Southwest Spink County near Tulare using irrigation with 5 circles in a corn/ soybean rotation. A second generation of the family farm, his father was one of the very first to plant soybeans in Spink County and to use center pivot irrigation. ……

The Farm Forum has pages and pages of weekly farm news, machinery for sale, livestock auctions, planting schedules, tips and hints, property for sale, lists of fence menders. How did I survive without this publication all these years? This is good stuff, the real McCoy.

Move over Boston Globe. I’m adding this subscription to my weekly reading list just as soon as I get home.

Cattle Trucks and Curves

 

IMG_4620According to Wikipedia, in Newtonian mechanics, the term centrifugal is used to refer to an inertial force … directed away from the axis of rotation that appears to work on all objects when viewed in a rotating reference frame.

In plain speak, a rotating reference frame is explained thus: A fully loaded cattle truck drives around a sharp corner of a narrow mountain roadway, and at the same time a pair of retired travelers with a brand new car and a brand new Scamp camper approaches the same corner from the opposite direction. This is the reference frame.

Now imagine that one of the cows chooses that exact and unfortunate moment to “evacuate”. We now have a sterling example of inertia.

The scorecard? Cow, 1. Scamp, 0.

There was literally no escaping the consequences of the Laws of Newton. Our timing was, to say the least, regrettable. We managed to contribute to the most perfect “moo-ving” cow flap hit in South Dakota highway history.

I’m just glad I managed to roll up my window in time.

The Occidental Hotel and Saloon

I’m not exactly sure what the word “occidental” means or refers to, but in Buffalo Wyoming, the Occidental Hotel and Saloon stands for pure western history, cowboys, card sharks, rustlers, sheep farmers, and (now) tourists. I would highly recommend driving from wherever you live –Florida, Connecticut, Missouri – to have a drink at the bar and a juicy bison burger.

This establishment has been in business for 135 years, serving the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Hole-in-the-Wall gang, Buffalo Bill, Tom Horn, young Teddy Roosevelt, and Calamity Jane. Honest!

The bullet holes in the wall of the saloon are authentic. The original embossed tin ceilings are intact. The back bar was brought in by wagon about 100 years ago. And the table where we tipped back a couple and chowed down on a bison burger was once the town judge’s “desk” where he held court before the town had a proper courthouse. All legal proceedings were held at the Occidental Saloon from1880-1884. I imagine that many of today’s legal proceedings are still settled at the Occidental at the same judge’s desk.

Our hotel room is so close to Clear Creek which flows through the middle of town that hotel residents in the past have been known to cast a line out of their second story accommodation and catch a fish or two for dinner.

What a treat to find a great piece of Wyoming history in such a beautiful setting at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains. This property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is joy to explore. Beside the accommodations furnished with antiques, and the original bar with brass foot rails, we are enjoying the upstairs library and the spacious lobby adorned with moose heads, elk antlers, tube radios, and the like.

This is the true Frontier, the real McCoy. So pull up a barstool and let’s swap yarns. After all, there’s no place to go after sunset and no special time to be there. Let’s see who can weave the biggest tale of the night. Whiskey shots are on me.

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Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear

IMG_4458_editedRV campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park require people to camp in hard-sided units only. No units with canvas are allowed, and certainly no tents, because of active wildlife – primarily bears – in the area. The future of the bears and the future of the visitors depends on everyone following the rules of the campground, including safe disposal of trash, no pet food bowls left outside, cooking grills safely stored in your car, etc. It’s all common sense, really.

We read the regulations before arriving and we were prepared to comply with all the National Park rules. What we didn’t know was that we would be the only 10’ camping trailer in the Fishing Bridge RV Park. Yup, we are the Scamp teeny-weenies, sandwiched between 50’Allegros and 45’ Monaco Diplomats. We are Baby Bear!.

But you know what? Our little rig is as adorable as the baby bison in the park, or the twin bear cubs with their mama bear. We attract a lot of looks, a few grins, and a lot of questions. Nothing like being off-the-cuff, out of the ordinary, or unique.

And the best part? Our gas mileage is envious. So there, you big guys. Eat our dust!

Girls on the Go-Go

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Girls on the Go-Go

We have a favorite acronym in the Brown family: E.B.T.S. Translated, it means Eyes Bigger Than Stomach or, literally, biting off more than you can chew.

Well, I am guilty as charged. I am suffering from E.B.T.S.

My plan for this trip was to keep you all entertained with a daily or bi-daily blog and some fun photos of our trip. Instead, I/we barely have time to fit everything into 24 hours, despite the almost 9:00pm sunset here in Montana. We are driving, touring, cooking, showering, uploading photos, shopping, searching for an internet connection, making campfires, visiting friends, making new friends, setting up the camper, cleaning the camper, readying the camper for travel, reading, doing laundry, eating again, etc. etc. Understandably, the blog has taken a back seat.

I promise you will hear all the stories and see all the pictures, eventually. How about in June? Will that work for you? Because we are girls-a- go-go and there’s no way of slowing us down.