Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Black Hills National Forest Fire Tower Tour

The morning started out gray and dreary. Noelle and I were prepared for another less-than-spectacular day. Despite the clouds we decided to drive out past Jewel Cave and explore a bit along the South Dakota/Wyoming border. That area has always intrigued me; there are lots of red rock canyons that look interesting. Our excuse for the trip would be to check out some old Forest Service fire towers that we’d never been to before. We packed up a picnic lunch of sandwiches, chips, salsa, and apples and hit the road.

To get to Custer we decided to take Flynn Creek Road which neither of us had driven before. It was scenic and worth the trip, although it appears the Flynn Creek Picnic Ground no longer exists. From Custer we headed west past Jewel Cave and then up Elk Mountain to the Lookout Tower.
noelle elk mountain
The view was quite nice from tower.
elk mountain panoramic
Luckily for us, the weather had started to clear a bit. We ate our sandwiches at a picnic table near the tower then drove down the mountain and into Newcastle, Wyoming. I had heard about a hiking trail in the forest and on BLM lands near a place called Mallo Camp. When I inquired about this at the visitor’s center in town, they had no clue what we were talking about. We decided to give the trail a shot anyway.

The drive to Mallo Camp was pretty. We found the trailhead for the Mallo Trail rather easily. However, following the trail itself was another matter. A few trail signs were down, making route finding a bit tricky. We followed the trail the best we could, then followed what we thought was the trail back down to the road we had parked on.
From there we had a pleasant walk along Beaver Creek and back into Wyoming. (We hadn’t even realized we had crossed into South Dakota.) Back at the car we decided to take a scenic route back to Custer. We drove Boles Canyon Road and took a nice detour to the Summit Ridge Lookout before descending to US-16 and the pavement.
Summit Ridge Lookout Tower
arrow leaved balsam-root

Just before getting back to the highway we noticed an interesting grave marker just off the side of the road. I am quite curious about who it belongs to and why they are buried in this spot.
Ah, the mystery of the Black Hills.

Black Hills National Forest: Craven and Red Canyons

Today Noelle and I took a drive west of Hot Springs to Craven Canyon. I’d been there before during the winter I had worked at Wind Cave and I wanted to show the rock art to Noelle. It sure is a pretty drive out there. The landscape looks more like something one might find in southern Utah than in South Dakota. There are a lot of bright red sandstone cliffs and canyons. We parked just outside of a ranch, then hiked in to the rock art. The site contains both pictographs and petroglyphs.
We spent some time exploring the rock faces looking for them, ate a snack, then hiked back to the car for a drive through Red Canyon.

I had never been to Red Canyon before, but had heard that there’s some rock art to be seen there, alongside the road. After a few miles of driving through the canyon, past interesting little ranches, mines, and other unknown features, we spotted some chalked petroglyphs along the right side of the road.
The art was pecked into odd shapes and it was difficult for us to determine what they represented. After looking at the art for a few minutes, we got back in the car. We quickly spotted a little bit more rock art as we drove past another sandstone outcropping. It was an interesting way to spend the morning. As we headed back into Hot Springs on US-18, we hit rain as we crested the tall ridge just before making the decent into town.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Black Hills National Forest: Sylvan Peak

Today Noelle and I drove north through Custer and into the very edge of Custer State Park to its boundary with the Black Hills National Forest. We parked along the side of Route 87 and, using my memory of some information about the peak that I had gotten off Summit Post a few weeks earlier, started hiking down an old utility/logging road. After about a half a mile of hiking downhill we decided that this probably wasn’t the road that was supposed to lead us near the summit of Sylvan Peak. After backtracking to the highway, we walked a bit farther up 87 to another road. We walked up, and as the road started switch-backing up we felt certain we were on the right track. At the top of the road we followed some faint white blazes painted on some trees to a ridgeline. We then followed the ridge and scrambled up to a false summit with some of the best views we’ve ever seen of the Black Hills.
After a few minutes admiring the view from there we headed higher up the ridge to the true summit.
Again we were treated to some awesome views, though low clouds started to roll in obscuring the views of Harney Peak.

What started as an afterthought turned out to be one of the best hikes we’ve gone on in the Black Hills. I’m looking forward to hiking back up there on a clear day to get some better views!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jeffers Petroglyphs State Historic Site

Today Noelle and I started our journey west from Galesville to Wind Cave National Park, our summer home. We headed across the Mighty Mississippi to Winona where we fueled up for our long journey. We hit Interstate 90 and traveled west to our first destination of the trip, Jeffers Petroglyphs.
The petroglyphs there were very interesting, although the light at the time of our visit, around 1 o’clock in the afternoon, was not the best for viewing them. We did see some circles,
bison, atlatls, and squiggly lines pecked into the rock.
We also went to an interesting short program on identifying arrowheads. It was pretty difficult work. From there we headed farther west. We’ve stopped for the evening on the banks of the Missouri River at Chamberlain, South Dakota. We’re looking forward to getting to those hills.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Trempeleau National Wildlife Refuge

Today Noelle, her sister Kati, and I visited the nearby Trempeleau National WIldlife Refuge to look for some birds. We were not disappointed. We saw two bald eagles, an osprey, yellow warblers, various woodpeckers, two muskrats, countless great blue herons, coots, and many other interesting animals. The prairie area was looking really nice. It was recently burned and it was green and lush.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Leaving Lex Vegas

Today Noelle and Eric hit pack up the rental van and hit the open road. Kentucky, you've been kind, but we're on to bigger things now. Headed to Minnesota via Wisconsin and a summer stop in South Dakota.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Final Day at McConnell Springs

Today was my last day working at McConnell Springs Park. It was a good day. I got out and did some invasive removal, tackling both garlic mustard and bush honeysuckle. I got a little bit sad at the end of the day. I know I've worked so hard there to make the park just a little bit better. I also know that I could have accomplished a whole lot more if we had stayed longer. The park, despite its shortcomings, will always hold a special place in my heart. I hope to return some day and see the park in even better shape than I left it, but I doubt that will happen.The Friends of McConnell Springs bought Noelle an I a paver with our name engraved for a going away present. I guess that in a way we'll always be a part of McConnell Springs.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mammoth Cave National Park: Grand Avenue Tour

Mammoth Cave Natural Entrance
Today Noelle and Eric headed inside Mammoth Cave. We picked a good day for cave exploration too, considering it was a rainy, overcast day outside. We woke up this morning, packed up a wet tent, then headed into Cave City for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. After breakfast we headed back to the park where we picked up our tickets for the Grand Avenue tour. We had some time to kill before our tour so we headed to the Guide's Cemetery and the Natural Entrance for some sightseeing.

The tour itself began with a short bus ride to the Carmichael Entrance. From there we descended down into the dark abyss. The cave passageways were initially large and dry. There were many gypsum flowers covering the walls of many sections of cave.
From these large passageways we headed to the underground lunchroom. It reminded us of our days at Carlsbad. Mammoth Cave's version, however, was much smaller. After a short lunch break we headed deeper into the cave.
The tour led us into some smaller, canyon-like passageways that are called..... The Canyons. From there we walked up, over, down, and under large piles of breakdown before finishing up our tour at Frozen Niagara. It was a good tour and we had a good guide, but Noelle and Eric both agree that a four and a half hour long cave tour is a bit too long.

After our bus returned us to the visitor center, we got into the car and headed out to Floyd Collins' grave.
From there we exited the park, but not before taking our photograph at the entrance sign.
This would most likely be our last visit to Mammoth Cave for a long time.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mammoth Cave National Park: Sloan Crossing Pond & White Oak Trail

After sleeping in a bit, Noelle and Eric packed up the car and headed out onto the open road for their final Kentucky Road Trip. Our destination would be Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky's only National Park and a place that Eric and Noelle have spent surprisingly little time while living in the Bluegrass State. We arrived at the park at around 11, grabbed a site in the campground and then headed out to do some hiking. We started at the short but pleasant Sloan Crossing Pond where we strolled the boardwalk
and looked for birds and other wildlife.
After that we headed across the Green River on the ferry, then drove north and east to the Big Woods area of the park where we started our hike along the White Oak Trail to the Green River at the Old Dennison's Ferry.
It was a largely uninteresting hike, but it beat sitting around doing nothing. After turning around and heading back to the car, we drove back to the campground where we ate dinner, then retired for an early bedtime.