In the Badlands: It Was a Rather Blustery Day

Day two in the Badlands started here…

IMG_8793What a peaceful start to the day.

Once the sun was up, we hustled for a short hike up the hills behind camp. The view from the top looked like this…

IMG_8799You can pretty much see forever. And there were gorgeous rocks, like this…IMG_8797… with whose loose bits I built a small cairn…IMG_9041Of course.

I also found evidence of the ever-present bison…

IMG_8804I’m pretty sure they stopped at this overlook to gaze at our campsite and vibe me. Or to look for fresh sprouts to munch on. One or the other. For those who haven’t been in the presence of the great American Bison, they are big. They are generally 6-12ft long, up to 6ft + tall, and weigh anywhere from 700 to 2,000lbs. I tried to take a photo of all four hoof prints of this set of tracks, but there was no way to do so and also get my foot in the photo for scale. And for such large beasts, they are actually quite nimble which in my opinion is equal parts cool and disconcerting.

We spent a good hour tramping around the surrounding hills, occasionally stopping to call for coyotes…

Our youngest is the most particular about how to properly call coyotes. For such a young kid, she’s pretty darn good at it.

The temps started rising, so it was time to get back to the car for the pup. As I mentioned yesterday, dogs aren’t allowed on trails or in the back country in national parks, so if we all go off hiking our Moose waits in the car. Of course, this can’t happen if temps are warm, so when that’s the case my hubby & I take turns hanging out with him while the other hikes and plays with the kids. Honestly, if he wasn’t such an extremely good car dog (he goes pretty much everywhere with us, weather permitting) and wasn’t so clearly happy just to be with the family, we’d have boarded him for this trip. He is part of the family, though, and with the exception of this first full day in the park it was slated to be cool enough for him to hang in the car with no worries. He’s not a huge fan of camping (he’s kind of indoorsy), but he’s happy & relaxed enough just being with us…

IMG_8836So we took turns babysitting this big lug while the other hiked.

The kids & I spent a fair bit of time running around here…

IMG_8843And I played with the panoramic function on my new phone.

IMG_8842And when my leg tired, my hubby took the kiddos on a slightly longer hike along some game trails…

While the dog & I enjoyed the glory of the sunshade…

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And I cast-on a new project…

IMG_8839Togue Pond by Pam Allen in Quince & Co’s Kestrel. It turned out very appropriate as we probably saw somewhere around 75 kestrels in the park. This bird, however, is a nemesis for us when it comes to photography.IMG_9021This is pretty much what we get when we try to take photos of this beautiful bird. They tend to fly as soon as we get the camera out as evidenced by this photo, so for an actual photo where you can really see there bird, click here.

Now we did know that we had a wind advisory and it was clear that it was very (read: VERY) windy. We headed back to camp somewhat early because we thought there was a fair chance that despite lashing it down very well, the wind might blow the tent away a little. As we drove up, we were relieved to find the tent in place. The relief was short-lived, however, as there was tent flapping where there should be no flapping, so we knew something was wrong. It turns out the high winds had literally snapped one of our metal tent poles and grossly bent 2 others. After brief attempts with the mini-sledge hammer to straighten the bent poles and using our resources to try splint the broken pole, we admitted defeat. The zipper had had issues in the morning, too, so the tent was just beyond repairing. My husband headed into the collapsed tent to recover our things.

IMG_8833Poor sad broken tent!

We had a few options — including making an hour drive to Rapid City to buy a new tent — but at the end of the day, we did some creative reorganization and turned out 4-door hatchback into a mini-camper. This exercise was actually really fun and surprisingly not as uncomfortable as you might think.

The following day had much cooler temps and we enjoyed more hiking & wildlife viewing including…

Bighorn Sheep,

A coyote basking in the sun, numerous birds, mule deer, antelope, and more bison.

IMG_8855Rain loomed, however, and as it started to fall we decided to drive into the town of Wall for some dinner and to hopefully see a badger out and about as darkness started to fall on the drive back to camp. We saw no badgers, but it did rain rather heavily that night and it was chilly. The possibility of snow was not out of the question, but thankfully did not materialize. Making lemonade with our lemons, we agreed that in this second night in our improvised mini-camper that it wasa wonderfully  water-tight shelter.

Unfortunately this cold, wet morning was when our camp stove died.

To be continued…

In the Badlands: The Arrival

I long for the ocean and my husband would prefer the mountains, so somehow when it comes to planning vacations our go-to landscape is the Plains. I can’t explain how, but it works for us. This past week was our annual trip to Badlands National Park — parts of the park were formed under an inland sea 75million years ago and the formations kind of look like mountains, so maybe that’s it.  In any case, normally we split a week between camping in the Badlands and the Black Hills, but this year since we were planning to take time in April we opted to spend the whole trip in the Badlands. The Hills sometimes still get snow this time of year and although prepared for it, we did want to try to avoid that possibility. Correction, I wanted to try to avoid that. My husband loves winter camping and would most likely be delighted to roll out of the tent to find freshly fallen snow outside. I am without a doubt a much more of a fair-weather camper and waking up to snow would most likely just make me cranky and send me running from my sleeping bag to the heated car as quickly as possible.

At any rate, we left home shortly before 3am Monday morning. By about 3:15am we were pulled over, cleaning & sanitizing the car for our son had unfortunately gotten sick. As these things go we got off very easy, but still not really what you want to be doing at 3:15am especially on the very front-end of a week-long camping vacation. Once the unpleasantness arises, it feels like a roll of the cosmic dice as to whether this was just a random one-off event or it’s going to be a week caring for and then eventually contracting the flu while living in a tent 35miles from running water. I’m very thankful to report that aside from a bad cold which our boy valiantly ignored for the most part, this was the only illness with which we dealt all week. All cleaned up, we got back on the road for a wonderfully uneventful drive.

It’s a little over a 10hour drive time from our house to the park, so leaving when we did got us to there with plenty of time to set up camp and fetch water. When camping, we usually stay at the Sage Creek Campground which — aside from two well-maintained outhouses and a handful of picnic tables with sunshades — has no amenities. The nearest potable water is located at the Visitor Center about 35miles away via roads that take about an hour and a half to traverse thanks to only about half of them being paved and generally lower speed limits within the park. Because of the space limitations of driving a four-door hatchback containing 4 humans, a 75lb Moose, and all our camping gear, we needed to set up camp and then run to get our 5-gallon water container filled for the night. Preferably this all happens with enough daylight to then get back and cook up a delicious spaghetti dinner at camp. Even with the early start my husband usually drives the bulk of the way — he knows I like to knit and he gets a little stir-crazy in the car without a job to do, so I clicked away on socks for my daughter while we drove toward our destination.

I started them at home after my son showing off his new socks elicited a ‘But where are mine, mom?’ from my girl…

And just as we pulled into the park, I wove in the last end…

IMG_8791My girl was delighted and wore them happily until they had to go in the dirty handknits bag (that’s a normal thing for camping, right?).

As planned, we made it to the park by early afternoon and before we even made it to the campground, we spotted this guy in a tree about 300yards off the road…

Photo by Mr Knitting Sarah

My very first ever wild porcupine. Up a tree and munching away, he was exceptionally cooperative for viewing and photography.

We set up our home base…

IMG_9046and had a pretty uneventful evening aside from the ever present bison in camp…

IMG_9047…which are clearly conspiring against me. They are incredibly huge and have free rein of the park and, most notably, the campground where I was supposed to sleep. As much as I enjoy the outdoors, I have to admit that really don’t care for sharing space with enormous wild animals and my distrust of their intentions in general tends to border on the irrational and/or paranoid. But I digress. Spaghetti dinner was consumed just as the sun set over the hills and the bison moved around a bend to bed down for the night (and no doubt discuss how to torment me). The kids spotted Orion and some other constellations before we zipped them into their sleeping bags and we passed a peaceful night in our tent.

I awoke to the sound of coyotes howling in camp. Like just outside our tent. I was mildly concerned that Moose would make a fuss and propel us into some sort of situation (of which the general idea in my imagination is very bad, but the details of which I conveniently choose to not think about), but he just laid there, eyes wide and ears back. Clearly, he likes being in close proximity to wildlife about as much as I do. I dozed for a bit and then cautiously stepped out of the tent (checking for bison, of course) where Mr Knitting Sarah was making coffee. And aside from the glory of the Starbucks Via Ready-To-Brew packs I was greeted by this scene…

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Stunning, right?! Probably worth risking my life with enormous wild beasts nearby.

My hubby and I set up our comfy camp chairs and enjoyed the sunrise…

I was thankful for my comfy camp chair and my lovely Sprig Cloche & Welted Fingerless Mitts in Dyeabolical Id Squishy Sport Single. They were so cozy! If you haven’t signed up for the giveaway, definitely hop over and do so — entering is super easy and today’s the last day to throw your name in to win a skein of your own!

From here, the trip took some rather unexpected turns not the least of which resulted in this situation…

IMG_8833And this one…

IMG_9045And this…

IMG_9009Keep your eyes peeled over the next few days as I share the highlights of this grand adventure!

For the birds… I mean eagles

 About once a week my family & I are lucky enough to enjoy a family day. It’s a day our little band of 4 usually uses to have an adventure. True, we don’t live in a place where the natural world is an in-your-face wow — there is nothing like the Rockies or the Grand Canyon or the Atlantic nearby. There are plenty of nooks & crannies for discovery & lots of really incredible locales though. I tease my husband a bit about all the driving around, but truth be told I wouldn’t rather be doing anything other than making these memories with my family. We only get so many days on this big blue planet and I appreciate being able to make them special.

This week our adventure was visiting Prairie du Sac for Bald Eagle watching. I took some photos to share with you today.

This is the wintery wonderland we drove through to get there. Picturesque curvy roads & red barns.

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Hills that are vaguely reminiscent of Germany’s Schwarzwald. I can see why our German ancestors chose this area to settle so many years ago.

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The cities of Prairie du Sac & Sauk City do a wonderful job & welcoming guests to view their bald eagles.

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The cities are separated by the mighty Wisconsin River and it is a dam just above town that keeps water open and draws in Bald Eagle in great number to fish. In any given field of view you can see anywhere from 1 or 2 eagles to many more. I once captured 14 or 15 in one frame. It is pretty amazing to see! My daughter can never resist showing how ‘big’ she is — my husband & I debated if she qualifies as bald eagle bait or not.

Our day always includes a brunch stop at the Blue Spoon Café. For locals who haven’t been, it is like an upscale Culver’s (run by the same parent company!).

It was cold yesterday, so I started my brunch with some of their delicious coffee & a cup of their clam chowder.

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And then enjoyed a smoked salmon caeser salad. I love seafood & smoked salmon is a favourite of mine.

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With full bellies, we headed out to look for eagles. My son was also checking for black bears and pumas. Because he could.

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This bank across the river was clear of signs of bears. Awfully pretty, too.

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We trekked down to the riverbank to set up the scope so my son could get a good look at an immature eagle. While waiting, he found some tracks.  Bald Eagle, of course, although my son swears he also found signs of baby pumas. He really likes the idea of finding pumas.wpid-IMG_20130106_130921.jpg

Our last stop was across the river at Wollersheim Winery.

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Since a trip to California’s Napa Valley & studying abroad in Italy during college, I have a real fondness for wineries. I can’t say why, but I think I like them in winter almost as much as during the growing season.

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The grounds at Wollersheim are beautiful. The wine tasting, of course, the treat at the end of this little walk up the hill. I am not a connoisseur by any means, I just drink what I like. I am a fan of dry reds and brought home a bottle of their Prairie Sunburst Red. Usually I go with their Beaujolais, but I felt like trying something different this time. It is delish!

And, last but not least, all the driving to & fro included knitting. This was my car project du jour complete with one of my brand new Heidi & Lana stitch markers. They are so awesome!

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What a wonderful day!

PS — I started two new knitting projects & pre-drafted for a spinning one… look for updates on those in the coming days!