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Posts Tagged ‘Niobrara’

We arrived in Niobrara State Park yesterday evening to find a landscape full of light and motion, the tall grasses on the hillsides rippling in the wind like the surface of a pond and the setting sun flooding the entire scene with warmth.  It was every bit as spectacular as the boys and I remembered from our visit two summers ago.  The boys lobbied hard for us to return to the same campsite we had used before, one tucked into a sheltering grove of trees in a little hollow.  In the end, though, we chose a site high on an open, grassy ridge.  Dad was really taken with the panorama of the braided confluences of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers, and the boys exploded with delight to see a bald eagle wheel past at nearly eye level.  About the wind, Dad predicted “I really think it will die down once the sun sets.”

Well, I’ve been teasing him all day about this last one, his finely-tuned sailor’s intuition not serving him well in the center of the continent.  The wind was strong enough as we cooked dinner to blow a full can of beer off of the cooking table, and erecting the tents was something of an adventure (would have been flat-out impossible with cheaper gear).  On the plus side, it was nice and warm, and no mosquitoes pestered us.  I’ve got to give Dad credit, moreover, for cooking a terrific meal in that howling gale—bacon-wrapped filets and fried potatoes and steamed vegetables.  I’m basically putting him in charge of the cooking for the duration!  And in the meantime, the boys and I learned that you can succesfully fly a kite in that kind of wind  provided you attach the right kind of tail.

In fact the wind did not die down overnight but has steadily increased all day.  Cooking breakfast (scrambled eggs and fried potatoes and sausage links) and breaking camp was again a bit of an adventure, and by this afternoon we were fighting a steady 40 mph headwind as we drove west across the plains.  Tonight finds us camped in another comfortable hotel, this time in Casper, WY.  We’ll head to Yellowstone tomorrow.

The boys journaling through our lunch stop at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

A quick note about the boys: the best 15 dollars I have spent on ths trip has them both set up with little journals, and they have been writing and drawing away in the back of the car and at every stop to make this English teacher’s heart proud.

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Following a couple of days of traveling what must be some of the loneliest roads in Nebraska and South Dakota, we’re suddenly in tourist country, and the contrast is rather jarring.  After three nights of camping (the boys won the hotel/camping debate the night before last and we tented in the Badlands–more on that later), we’ve parked our wagon in the Back Hills town of Custer, SD.  The three of us being pretty worn out, we couldn’t resist Comfort Inn.  I am, however, drawing the line against our wandering across the street to the Flintstones theme park.

Let me get some photos in here to give you all an idea of what we’ve been up to.  For what it’s worth, I’ve only just learned how to resize my photos before inserting them, so if you’ve been having trouble with load times, they should get better (at least it got way better for me in terms of upload time).

First, a few shots from Niobrara State Park.  This place caught me totally by surprise . . . it’s quiet, remote, and absolutely spectacular.  Arriving on a perfect golden evening, we decided pretty quickly that we wanted to have a layover day here before moving on.  We decided too quickly, in retrospect, as the weather took a strong turn for the windy the next day and the park’s daily raft float on the Missouri (one of the few stretches of river left that’s not channelized or impounded) had to be cancelled.  Instead, we managed a short hike, discovered that you can absolutely have too much wind for kite flying, and ended up lounging in the tent for a good part of the afternoon.

Above the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers.

“Desolate? Forbidding? There was never a country that in its good moments was more beautiful…Even in drought, or dust storm or blizzard it is the reverse of monotonous, once you have submitted to it with all the senses. You don’t get out of the wind, but learn to lean and squint against it. You don’t escape sky and sun, but wear them in your eyeballs and on your back. You become acutely aware of yourself. The world is very large, the sky even larger, and you are very small.”    –Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow

Leaving Niobrara on Sunday, we headed north and west towards the Badlands.  One of our priorities for the day was to find either a good cell signal or a payphone and let folks back home know we were still breathing, but for some three hundred miles we were totally unsuccessful.  We found only one payphone en route, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and the receiver had been ripped from the cord.  At least we found a McDonalds with WiFi.  (No, Mom, we aren’t eating a lot of fast food; that was just the only thing open in southern South Dakota on a Sunday.)

We timed our arrival in the Badlands perfectly, the sun dropping toward the horizon, all the formations kissed with golden light. And I’ve got to hand it to the boys for convincing me to camp . . . we had an absolutely lovely night.  Passing up the main campground by the visitor center, we drove out to the remote and primitive Sage Creek campground, where we cooked and ate dinner to the sound of howling coyotes and slept under an impossibly starry sky.

No need for a tent fly this night . . . nothing but stars overhead.

He sleeps better in a tent than he does in a hotel room.

In the morning we decided to give kite flying another try.  This time the wind was perfect!

Yes, they really were that cute.

Those little black dots on the other side of the creek are bison.

Yesterday’s big attraction as we came into the Black Hills was a stop at Wind Cave National Park and a cave tour with the excellent and animated Ranger Sam.  Andrew in particular loved the cave and helped Sam entertain the tour with his breathless “Woah, look at that, Dad!” exclamations.

Okay, Dad stop annoying everyone with your flash!

Today we’ll check out Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower before heading west toward the Bighorn Mountains, our probable campsite tonight.  Hope everyone back home is doing well!

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Okay, it’s Sunday the 29th, and we’re still (just barely) east of the 100th Meridian, currently eating lunch in a WiFi-enabled McDonalds in the town of Winner, SD.  On Friday night, we made it as far as Niobrara State Park in Nebraska, and we liked it so much we decided to stay two nights.  Andrew’s first (and second) night in a tent went just fine.  I’ll post more later and include some pics, but for now we’ll continue our covered-wagon pace toward the Badlands.  I’m thinking we’ll hotel it tonight . . . Daddy needs a break.

Side note on Winner, SD: my family stopped for the night here on a cross-country trip back when I was in high school. The motel sits just as I remember it on the west side of town and doesn’t appear to have changed at all in the 20-plus years since we came through.  Anyway, I remember standing in the motel’s parking lot under perfectly clear skies when the town’s tornado warning sirens all started to sound in what was probably a perfectly innocuous test.  My dad’s off-hand comment: “That means the Soviet ICBM’s will be here in thirty minutes.”   Given that this was Minuteman silo country, his comment spooked the bejeezus out of me.  He probably never knew that.

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