Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument - Nebraska

About an hour north of Scottsbluff, NE is the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. This monument protects the sight of a rare deposit of fossils. This deposit consists of mammals that date to about 19-20 million years ago. It is believed that the large number of animals died of malnutrition at the site of a water hole during an extended drought. The exhibits at the visitor center are minimal as all of the bones taken are held at various museums around the world. There are a few exhibits made from casts.

There is a one mile trail that we walked to see fossilized burrows, call Daemonelix (pronounced dee-mon-ee-licks), of prehistoric animals that are believed to have been much like today's Prairie Dogs. The Daemonelix are spiral, or cork screw, shaped. Settlers called them "Devil's corkscrews".

The visitor center also has a room with a collection of American Indian artifacts that were donated by James Cook. James Cook owned the land that is now the monument. He was friends with the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes of the area and they gave him gifts which he kept and now make up this display.

Daemonelix sign

Daemonelix protected
by case

Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, NE

We pulled out of the Black Hills and pointed ourselves toward Denver. Two years ago, when spending time in Scottsbluff, NE, I had noticed two sites north of there that looked interesting but we just didn't have time to drive up to them. They went on the list for future things to see. This trip they were on our route from the Black Hills to Denver.

The Museum of the Fur Trade is near Chadron, NE at the sight of the Bordeaux trading post which was built in 1837. There is a very authentic, reconstructed trading post outside the museum but that isn't the main reason to stop. The museum opened in 1949 and is operated as a non-profit. It is outstanding! The price of admission is low and worth much more.

Great Lakes exhibit
There is an amazing collection of artifacts that I'm sure the renowned Smithsonian would love to have. The experience begins with a short film about the history of the "world wide" fur trade to get you into the right frame of mind. The exhibit cases are jam packed with amazing artifacts dating as far back as the early 1700s. Each exhibit has an excellent overview narrative as background for the pieces within it and then each piece has a description. Many of the item descriptions are very specific as to exactly who owned it and when, and sometimes have little stories. There was obviously a lot of research and verification done on every piece displayed. This museum may be the best we've ever visited. Yes, it is that good.

Canoe Cups that a voyageur
would clip to his belt. He
could dip into the stream for
a drink during long stints
of paddling.
I took a few pictures but without being able to read the the narratives and item tags they have minimal value but they at least give a little feel for the museum exhibits.

The broken rifle was found in the
Black Hills along with the skeletons
of a man and a bear 

39 ft Birch Bark Canoe like
those used by fur traders

Far left: one of 90 guns
surrendered in 1877 by Sioux
and Cheyenne warriors. Next
one to the right was captured
from the Cheyennes in January
1879. Standing on far right is a
Sharps captured at Wounded
Knee in 1890. The pistol is a
Colt Peacemaker captured at
Wounded Knee by a newspaper
correspondent that was there.

Reconstructed Bordeaux
Trading Post
Trading Post interpretive

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Black Hills SD

We hung out in the Black Hills for a couple weeks to sight see and hike. We didn't do Mt Rushmore, or other high profile things, this time. We opted purely for scenic drives and hikes. Therefore I don't have a lot of exciting things to write about so I'll just include a few pictures. The Flume Trail has historic significance. In the mining boom of the 1880s the Flume carried water 20 miles from Spring Creek to the placer diggings near Rockerville. The trail mostly follows the Flume bed so it is a pretty easy hike. We hiked a few miles from each end and found the Sheridan Lake end is prettier and two miles in has a tunnel which you can either go through or over.
Horsethief Trail

George (Mt Rushmore)
from the side

Sheridan Lake from Flume

Flume Trail - old retaining
wall for Flume bed

Flume Trail

First tunnel on Flume Trail

Friday, August 14, 2015

Jewel Cave National Monument

From Medora we moved to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We visited Jewel Cave National Monument. The monument contains Jewel Cave which is currently the third longest cave in the world based on mapped passageways (currently at about 175 miles). The cave is still being explored and, based on measured air volume that is breathed through the natural opening, it is estimated that only 3 percent of the cave is currently mapped. Based on that estimate there are thousands of miles of passageways yet to be discovered.

We've toured caves with a lot more formations and more colorful formations than this one but we still enjoyed this tour. The highlight was the "cave bacon". A ribbon formation that looks exactly like a huge piece of bacon. We've seen cave bacon in other caves but never even close to the size of this one.

Bottle brush stalactite

Cave Bacon

Monday, August 10, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

South Unit view
Another place of interest from our base in Medora, ND was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park (wiki link) was named after the man who first came to the area to hunt but fell in love with it so much that he built a ranch and used the area as his retreat. He first had a log cabin (he called it the Maltese Cabin) which still exists and has been moved so it's right next to the Medora Visitor Center. He later built Elkhorn Ranch which no longer exists other than building foundations. The park is home to the North Dakota Badlands which we think are more interesting than the South Dakota Badlands. The park has multiple units rather than being one large park. The South Unit is just off of I-94 in Medora.
South Unit - Little Missouri River
flows through the park

South Unit view from Buck Hill

Maltese Cabin

The North Unit is about 50 miles (70 miles driving) north of Medora on US 85. The North Unit of the park has some very interesting and unique rock formations called Concretions. Most of them are round so they call them Cannonball Concretions. Much of the park is similar to the South Unit but there are more narrow canyons and a lot more majestic, long distance views of the Little Missouri River which flows through both parks.

Cannonball Concretions at
North Unit
Mother Nature's handy work. Made
us think of a Cave turned inside out
(North Unit)

Bentonitic Clay Overlook at
North Unit

A view of the Little Missouri River
 Valley in the North Unit

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Fort Union Trading Post
View inside Fort Union Trading Post
Next stop - Medora, ND. The town itself is nice, and actually kind of cute, but the objective of this stop was to have a base to park the RV while sightseeing. One of our plans was a day trip to Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. This was a 2.5 hour drive north from Medora. It is right on the Montana/North Dakota border. Fort Union Trading Post was a major fur trading post (non-military) of the American Fur Company handling business for the upper Missouri River region. It was built on the Missouri River near the confluence of the Yellowstone River giving the best access of the entire northern waterways. The fort dominated the fur trade for 39 years from 1828-1867 and was an important part of American history. The current partial reconstruction was built on the foundation of the original fort and is very well done. The fort was built right on the edge of the river for easy loading of furs. However, the river has changed course so the fort is no longer right on the river.
Picture of the Fort when it was
in its prime. Note how close the Fort
is to the Missouri River.
Just a few miles away is the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. We enjoyed seeing the confluence and contemplate the importance that this point meant to the Corp of Discovery. The journals of the men made it very clear that they camped at this point and celebrated the milestone.
Picture of the Missouri River from
the Fort.

Panoramic pic of confluence. Missouri comes downstream
from right, Yellowstone coming downstream from the top
and the Missouri continues downstream to the left.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fort Mandan and Knife River Indian Villages

Fort Mandan (replica)
We left Detroit Lakes and headed west into North Dakota. We made a one night stop in Bismarck so that we could visit the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Fort Mandan replica,  and the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. All of these were between 30 and 60 miles north of Bismarck. The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan replica are managed by one foundation, both are included in one price and both are very well done. They are about 2 miles apart.

Fort Mandan through gate
The interpretive center is a small, but very well done, museum that briefly goes through the Lewis & Clark expedition. Fort Mandan was built by the Lewis & Clark expedition for a place to spend the winter of 1804-1805. The original fort, built right on the Missouri River, lasted less than one year as part of it was washed away by the river and more burned before the expedition passed by on their return trip late the summer of 1806. The replica was built based on descriptions in journals of the various expedition members. The site of the replica isn't on the site of the original fort because the river has changed course and it is believed the river now flows over the original site. Follow the link above for more details. BTW - if you haven't read the book "Undaunted Courage" about the Lewis & Clark expedition, it is a great read.

The Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (link to wiki) is at the confluence of the Knife

Inside the earthlodge
River and the Missouri River. This was the site of a large community of Earthlodge people for centuries (at least back to 1300). At the time Lewis & Clark went through it was the home of the Mandan and Hidatsa who helped the expedition survive the winter at Fort Mandan (they may not have survived without them). It is in one of these villages that they met Sacagawea. Today you can still see dirt mounds and depressions where the earthlodges were built. At NPS visitor center there is a replica earthlodge which is very impressive.

We thoroughly enjoyed visiting all of the locations.

Knife River Villages interpretive sign

Knife River Villages interpretive sign

Site of earthlodges

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Detroit Lakes, MN

Our next move was a long one (by our standards) to west-central Minnesota. We stayed near Detroit Lakes at a nice resort in the center of hundreds of lakes. We don't do water stuff so we didn't take advantage of the water aspect. We did go to Itasca State Park to see the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. The river's humble beginning flows out of Lake Itasca as a small stream about 12 feet wide. It flows north for about 30 miles before slowly turning on its southward journey. Fun fact - in the visitor center it says a drop of rain in Lake Itasca takes 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to checking out the headwaters we hiked about 3 miles on a woodsy trail partially along the lake.

We also visited the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and took a short 2.6 mile hike. We saw some Trumpeter Swans on a lake but nothing else out of the ordinary. Unfortunately the thing we'll probably remember the most is how the deer flies were so annoying they made the hike seem like 10 miles.

Other than that we took time to do normal "home" type stuff like deep cleaning, waxing the truck, reorganizing stuff, reading and just chilling. There were several days where the wind was so bad (steady 25-30 mph) it was miserable to be outside so we didn't do much those days.

We are moving on to North Dakota next and have some neat stuff planned there so come back to see how it turns out.
Headwaters of the Mighty
Mississippi River

First 50 yards of the river

The river crosses the road just outside
the park