Sunday, June 29, 2008

Close Encounter

Devils Tower
Picture of the events in the Indian legend.
Indian Pray Bundle
Prairie Dog Town
240 Ton Truck
Trucks at Work
Digging a 100 foot seam of coal.
Train loader

We are in Gillette, Wyoming at the Cam-Plex Event Center for eleven days to attend the Escapees RV Club Escapade. On Thursday we went on a HOP (Head Out Program) to Devils Tower National Monument and the Eagle Butte coal mine. The tower, which was the nations first national monument, is in the Black Hills of Wyoming an area that is very sacred to the Indians. The tower was formed when molten magma forced its way up through the sedimentary rock and cooled underground. Over a period of 60 million years the Belle Fourche River eroded the sedimentary rock leaving the tower that rises 867 feet from the base and 1267 feet above the river. The Indian legend says the tower was formed when a boy turned into a bear and went after his seven sisters. The sisters ran to a tree stump, which rose into the air to protect them from the bear, and then turned into the tower. The lines on the tower were caused by the bear's claws as he tried to climb it and the sisters became the stars of the Big Dipper. Several thousand people a year now climb the tower but no one was climbing at the time we were there because the Indians consider June to be the most sacred month. Within the monument is a large black tailed prairie dog "town" where they pop in and out of their holes like a whack the mole game. After the tower visit we went to a very big hole in the ground at the Eagle Butte Mine. The area around Gillette sits atop a huge deposit of low sulfur coal that measures 100 x 120 miles with veins from 70 to 120 feet deep. To get to the coal they must remove about 250 feet of overburden (dirt) creating a hole that is continually moving with dirt removal, followed by digging the coal, to reclaiming the land by filling the hole with the overburden after the coal is mined. This whole operation goes on 24/7 using five electric shovels and twenty 240 ton trucks. Thirteen of the trucks haul dirt and 7 haul coal. Most of the coal is loaded on 1-1/2 mile long trains that move at four miles per hour through a loader then continues on to carry it to 14 states for producing electricity. Fewer trains are being loaded at this time because of the flooded tracks in the Midwest. The size of all the equipment is hard to comprehend until you stand beside one of the trucks. The mine is only a small part of the growing energy industry in surrounding Campbell County where in the last five years they have drilled thousands of methane wells. Gillette is expected to see its population grow from 20,000 to over 50,000 within five years.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Last Stand

Tomb of the Unknown at Garryowen where on the 50th anniversary in 1926 a Sioux Indian and an Army General had a "burying of the hatchet."

Sitting Bull

Indian Memorial
Indian Markers
Memorial marking the mass grave of 220 soldiers.
Last Stand Hill with markers where soldiers died.
Bad Hand
Reno's Tomb Stone

We are at the 7th Ranch RV Camp in Garryowen, Montana overlooking the Little Bighorn Battlefield. The battle took place 132 years ago on June 25 and 26 with the famous "last stand" happening on the 25th. The battle was between the 7th Cavalry led by Lt. Col. G.A. Custer and 1500-2000 Lakota-Cheyenne Indians led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. The name Garryowen comes from an old Irish drinking tune that became the regimental marching song of the 7th Cavalry. You can hear the tune and get information on the town and museum, which was very interesting, here. We visited the battlefield and took an interpretive tour with a Crow Indian. We also visited the Custer National Cemetery where the remains of the enlisted men are buried in a mass grave. All of the bodies of the officers killed that day where moved to Eastern cemeteries and Custer is buried at West Point. The park service has changed the way the information about the battle is presented with a more balanced view of the Indians. There is a new Indian Memorial and red grave stones placed where Indians were killed saying they died defending their way of life. In the battle every man and all but one horse under Custer's command of five companies were killed that day. Additionally, 53 men in six companies under Benteen and Reno were killed over the two days before cavalry reinforcements drove the Indians away. Throughout the battlefield white grave stones mark where more than 260 soldiers and attached personnel were killed. Among the dead for the army were Crow Indian scouts and four relatives of Custer, including two brothers. Red grave stones mark the few places where they know particular Indians were killed, but there are only a few of these since most of the bodies were removed by family members immediately after the battle. At the battlefield visitors center we heard a presentation on the plains Indians by Michael Bad Hand Terry who did an excellent job of explaining how these people lived in the late 1800's. The adjacent cemetery has 5000 plots with soldiers from the Spanish American War to Viet Nam. Major Reno, who many blamed for Custer's defeat, is the only 7th Cavalry officer buried there and that did not happen until his remains were reburied there in 1967.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Prehistoric and Historic Bozeman

MMMMMMade it to the M
Bozeman, MSU Campus & Gallatin Mountains
Big Mike

Cliff at the buffalo jump
Earthquake Lake with the mountain that slid away in the background.
Spillway cut to lower the water level.

For the last three days we have been at the Sunrise Campground in Bozeman, Montana. I attended college there for one year 44 years ago so we walked around campus and found my old dorm which is still the ugliest building there. Fortunately for new students it has been turned into offices. As a freshman on M day we climbed up and white washed the huge M on the side of the mountain. Nanc and I made the climb and I think I may be in better shape now than I was then. On campus they now have the Museum of the Rockies which has one of the largest collections of dinosaur bones in the world, many of which were found in Montana. Dinosaur hunter Dr. Jack Horner, a MSU professor of paleontology, who was the inspiration for the lead character in Jurassic Park is responsible for unearthing many of the fossils on display. The museum also has a section on the native Indians of Montana. On another day we drove to Madison Buffalo Jump and Earthquake Lake. The buffalo jump is a spot where before they had horses the Indians drove herds of buffalo over a cliff to kill them. They used just about the entire animal and there are no visible remains because they buried what little they did not use to prepare for the next season's kill. We hiked to the cliff but even from there it is hard to imagine what it would have been like to see this event happening. Earthquake Lake was formed on August 17, 1959 when a quake of 7.5 on the Richter scale triggered a landslide of 80 million tons of rock which dammed the Madison River in one minute. At that time it was one of the largest quakes in North America and killed 28 people, including 19 in the campground that was buried and whose bodies were never found. The Army Corps of Engineers cut a spillway to allow a controlled release of water in the lake which is 120 feet deep today. Bozeman is an absolutely beautiful area with snow capped mountains surrounding the entire valley. The weather was great while we were there but last week they had snow. The one winter I was there it went two weeks with the temperature never getting up to zero. It would be a nice place to come back to and spend more time.

Friday, June 20, 2008


The field at Traveler's Rest where they found artifacts from Lewis and Clark.
The Bitterroot Mountains they had to cross twice.
Boy does this bring back memories.
New animals being readied for the carousel. Notice the carved legs in the background.
Brennan's Wave

We stayed two days at the Square Dance Campground in Lolo, Montana near Missoula. The campground is near Traveler's Rest, a site where in 2002 archaeologists found proof of the exact location of the Lewis and Clark camp. From their journals we know they were here in September 1805 as they prepared to cross the snow covered Bitterroot Mountains. They had not expected mountains because they were west of the Continental Divide and thought they would be looking at the Pacific Ocean which turned out to be two hard months away. In June 1806 they stopped here again as they headed east. On the return to this spot they separated with Lewis going north to the Marias River and Clark going south to the Yellowstone River so they could explore more of the Louisiana Territory. While it has been neat to see other areas where they traveled it was really great to know we were walking the exact ground where this historical expedition had walked just over 200 years ago. We have ties in Missoula with the Bennett Law Office we used to buy our motor home and Destination Financial where we got a loan and insurance. We stopped at both to meet and put faces to the people we have talked to many times. We also stopped at the offices of Adventure Cycling, a bicycle organization we joined in 1976 when we went on one of their trips which celebrated the bicentennial. At that time it was known as Bikecentennial. They continue to promote cycling and because of their efforts Missoula is a very bike friendly town. A couple of other interesting things in Missoula are the hand carved carousel built by community volunteers who offered 100,000 hour of their time and Brennan's Wave, an artificial reef that allows kayakers to "surf" the wave in the Clark Fork River. The wave is named after Brennan Guth, a native Missoulian who was killed in 2001 while kayaking the Rio Palguin River in Chile.

Monday, June 16, 2008

On the Sunny Side of the Mountain

Mt. Rainer
Towering Wind Turbine
Unwelcome visitor that tried to crawl up onto the engine
Wiley Coyote
Along the bike trail.
Historic Wallace; Notice the interstate that is raised for a mile to go over rather than through the town.

After leaving Ft. Lewis we spent three days at the Wanapum Recreation Area in Vantage, Washington on the Columbia River and have now moved to Big Creek RV Park in Kellogg, Idaho. As we drove over the mountains the weather changed completely to blue sky and warm temperatures which we took advantage of to dry out after two weeks on the cloudy and rainy side. We even got to see Mt. Rainer, which we barely saw on the west side, from about 75 miles away. Even at that distance it is quite impressive towering over the nearby mountains. While at Wanapum we toured the Wild Horse Windmill Facility where 127 wind turbines produce enough electricity to power 55,000 households. At the park we had an unwelcome visitor (see pic) who tried to get into the motor home but with the help of a kind soul working there it was removed from underneath and sent along its way. Not far from the park we also saw a coyote on the hillside. We took a hike in the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park on the Trees of Stone Trail. These petrified trees were not nearly as interesting as the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The Big Creek RV Park is located on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, a paved rails to trails which follows the route of the old railroad across the entire panhandle of Idaho. We took advantage and rode a total of 5o miles in two days which included a visit to the historic mining town of Wallace. This area is called the Silver Valley because more than a billion ounces of silver was mined here as well as large amounts of zinc and lead.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sunless in Seattle

Allan, Stephanie, Kazuko, Dave, Braeden, Lauryn and Nanc
Lauryn making the geoduck pee.
Braeden up a tree.
Look carefully, there is a fish flying into the crowd.
Space Needle
Ferry and Waterfront
A peek at Mt. Rainer.

We have spent a week at the Fort Lewis, Washington army base campground while visiting Nanc's brother Dave, his wife Kazuko, their son Allan and grandchildren Braeden and Lauryn. Dave is a retired Sargent Major and was able to get us in the campground as guests. We had a great time together in spite of the weather which has been cold and rainy. This has been the coldest June in history with a headline in the Seattle paper yesterday reading "Colder than Siberia!" One thing we decided was that anyone you see here who looks like they have a tan is really just rusty. We had a fun time with Dave and Kazuko and enjoyed the food, especially the home cooked Japanese dinner prepared by Kazuko. We toured the local area and visited Seattle a couple of times. There we went to the Public Market Center and the famous Pike Place Fish Market where they throw the fish. They have made a motivational video, Fish, about how to make your job fun which Nanc had seen at Crown. We also went to the Japanese market where Kazuko does a lot of her shopping. We spent some time on the waterfront and saw the Space Needle, but only got a small glimpse of Mt. Rainer because of the cloudy weather. This was a wonderful relaxing week and it was great getting to spend so much time with Dave and Kazuko who we have seen very little over the years.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens before the eruption.
Column of smoke and ash from blast that reached 15 miles high and circled the Earth.
What Nanc saw when she visited in 2006.
What we saw.
Avalanche debris in the Toutle River Valley with new forest growing on the side.
Trees buried in debris and new trees growing.
Elk with calf among new growth.
Beaver dam in blast area.

We spent three days at the Mt. St. Helens RV Park in Castle Rock, Washington with the intention of seeing the mountain which erupted on September 18, 1980. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with the summit being completely socked in with clouds the entire time we were there. We did go to three different visitors centers that each had different information on the volcano. The state's Silver Lake Center had a movie, a walk through model and a lot of historical info about the area. A Forest Learning Center run by Weyerhaeuser, which owns much of the 230 square miles of trees leveled by the blast, showed how the damaged trees were harvested and then replanted. The Johnston Ridge Observatory, located only 5 miles from the crater, has views of the crater and emerging lava dome, an excellent movie and many personal accounts of people who survived the explosion. This center, named for David A. Johnston a vulcanologist who was one of 57 people killed by the eruption, is at the end of the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway. The highway offers views down into the Toutle River Valley where you can still see the mud flat from the huge debris avalanche 28 years ago. You could also see how the land that was replanted is once again supporting a forest and how areas left to nature now have many plants and animals. While we were very disappointed at not getting to see the summit we will put this high on our list for a return visit when we hope to climb to the edge of the crater.