Sunday, August 29, 2010

South Dakota

We enjoyed the trip north from Thedford, especially the many small wetland areas. In a few weeks when the fall migration begins, I imagine most of them will be covered with ducks, geese and maybe sandhill cranes.

We had planned to spend several days in the area around Valentine, Nebraska. That area contains Nebraska's tallest waterfall, Smith Falls; the Niobrara National Scenic River, known for its reliable water levels and good conoeing; and several wildlife refuges. Unfortunately, temperatures in the high 90s, with strong, gusty winds and blowing dust made outdoor activities unappealing. We decided to move on and return to Valentine another time.

Traveling west along Nebraska's Bridges to Buttes Byway, we saw more cattle, corn, and some amazing fields of giant sunflowers.

We stopped just outside Chadron to visit the Museum of the Fur Trade. Located on the site of a trading post operated by the American Fur Company from 1837 to 1876, the museum preserves the history of the fur trade from the Arctic to the American Southwest. Exhibits include not only trade goods and other rare artifacts, but an extensive collection of firearms used by trappers, buffalo hunters, mountain men and Indians. The restored trading post and exhibits are well worth a visit.

Turning north again at Chadron, we continued across the plains of southern South Dakota, through Hot Springs and into the Black Hills around Custer.

We are camped at Broken Arrow RV Park and Horse Camp 6 miles outside Custer. The camp has covered corrals, and backs up to the National Forest, where over 100 miles of trails are available. It is a popular destination not only for RVers, but for people who want to camp and have access to good riding trails. Here a group of riders wash down their horses after a 15-mile ride.

The Bagley Pack is learning that it's not cool to bark at horses, and that we move off the trail when we meet them. Feathers is enjoying herself, and in this cool weather is able to take a couple of good walks each day. Here, the dogs relax in front of the RV in the cool afternoon, and Feathers and Nickie share a bed in the rig.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Nebraska Sandhills

From Grand Island, we traveled into the Nebraska Sandhills to Anselmo, and camped at the Victoria Springs State Recreation Area. We loved the park, because there are no concrete or gravel parking pads. Instead, campers just pull into a site any way that works for them. Here we are, parked on the grass (and hoping that it doesn't rain!) If it does, we might be here for several days!

Victoria Springs is a 60-acre park covered with soft grass and stately cottonwood trees. It is named for the mineral springs located there, which, at the turn of the century drew hundreds of people who visited the springs and the spas that grew up there for the "medicinal properties" of the waters.

Two beautiful log cabins are still located in the park. They were built by Custer County Judge Charles R. Mathews, who settled there in the 1870s when the community was known as New Helena. One was his home, and the other served as the post office.  Judge Mathews was originally from Virginia, and he designed the cabins so the doors face each other because of his southern upbringing.

Anselmo is a small farming community of some 189 people. However, it does have a magnificent Catholic Church, St. Anselm's, built in 1929. The interior features several lovely pieces of statuary.

The area going into the sandhills is primarily agricultural. Corn stands at least 8 feet high, and irrigated beans and alfalfa are plentiful. However, once into the 19,000 square miles that make up this unique habitat, grasses predominate.

We traveled a section of Nebraska Highway 2 (the Sandhills Scenic Byway), and then turned north toward Valentine on Highway 83. We were amazed by the area. The Sandhills make up the largest tract of stabilized sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere. The rolling hills are covered with a sea of waving grass. In the valleys (some only a few acres) and along the rivers, the grasses have been cut and baled for winter feed. In the bottoms of other small valleys are miniature lakes and wetlands fed by the Oglalla Aquifer.

We were amused at the size of the windmills in the Sandhills. The groundwater is so close to the surface here that windmills aren't tall and stately like those in Texas. Instead, they're short and squatty...some only 12 feet or so tall.

Railroad tracks run alongside the road for most of the section between Anselmo and Thedford, where we turned north.  We saw many trains, most going east loaded with coal from Wyoming or returning for another load.  The trains were often 100 or more cars long, and had two engines pulling and one pushing.  They are often no more than 15 minutes apart, so the small town residents are treated to frequent train whistles as they approach the crossings.  (Fortunately we camped far from the tracks in Anselmo rather than in Broken Bow where the RV park is right alongside the rails!)

Grand Island, NE

From Indian Cave, we traveled through Lincoln to Grand Island, where we stayed in George H. Clayton, Hall County Park. Grand Island, a community of about 50,000, gets its name from the French "La Grande Ile," meaning the large or grand island in the Platte River which was formed when a narrow channel branched off the Platte approximately 28 miles upstream from the present city and which returns to the main river about 12 miles downstream. The Long and Fremont expeditions in the 1800s noted that Grand Island ranged from 40 to 70 miles in length and 1.5 to 3 miles wide.

The park is an excellent facility, with tall shade trees like this one, hiking/biking and nature trails, playgrounds and group facilities. Our only complaint is that, like most other State or County parks in this area, there is power but no water at individual camp sites. There are, however, plenty of wild turkeys, bunnies and squirrels, which keep the dogs entertained. The grounds are also well-maintained, with seasonal plantings everywhere.

We were also surprised to find an abundance of toads and frogs in the park. If you're out after dark, you have to be careful not to step on one. Since amphibians in Texas are on the decline, we were pleased to find so many of them, like this healthy youngster.

We have also been treated to cicada concerts throughout our stay. These amazing insects live the first seven years of their lives underground, then emerge to sing, breed and lay eggs before ending their life cycle in the form shown here.

Another highlight of our trip to Grand Island was a tour of the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. In addition to several new buildings housing various exhibits, there are over sixty 100-year-old restored buildings (most from the immediate area), many furnished with period furnishings, set on the 200-acre campus. The lovely Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church was one of our favorites, as was this restored barn.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On to Nebraska

We left Rock Creek COE Park on Wednesday after a visit to Johnsonville Park, just up the road, where the dogs enjoyed a good run and John and I worked out a few kinks. (It was interesting that the Corps of Engineers and/or Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department cut and baled grass in the park areas not covered by timber.)

From what we can tell so far, Nebraska parks, whether State or County, are well worth a visit. Because of low temperatures in the winter (we assume) water is not available at individual camp sites as it is farther south. However, there are central locations where we can fill our fresh water tank.

Our first stop was Indian Cave State Park in the far southeastern corner of the state, near Shubert. Covering more than 3300 acres, the park's eastern boundary lies alongside the Missouri River on rugged, hilly, heavily-timbered land. This photo of the Missouri was taken from a bluff overlooking the site where, in 1804, the Louis and Clark Expedition weathered a violent thunderstorm. Accounts said they were able to save their boats only when members of the crew jumped overboard and physically held them off the rocks until the storm passed.

The Indian Cave SP includes the reconstructed mid-19th Century settlement of St. Deroin, the first townsite in Nemah County, NE. The town's history is interesting. In 1830, 125,000 acres were set aside in the Treaty of Prairie du Chien for the homeless offspring left by traders and trappers who married Indian women. Joseph Deroin, the son of a French man and an Otoe woman, moved onto the tract, and in 1853 laid out the village that bears his name. (Speculation is that the "Saint" was attached to the town's name after it was founded, probably to attract more settlers.) Joseph Deroin was described as an "overbearing and tyrannical" man, who unfortunately met a violent and untimely end in an altercation with another settler. St. Deroin before the turn of the century was a thriving settlement of some 300 people. However, it was doomed by an outbreak of cholera and the shifting channel of the Missouri River. By 1920 the town was virtually abandoned. Some of the restored buildings from the original settlement are shown here.

Indian Cave SP could use some maintenance on its roads, but nonetheless it is beautiful. The sites are shaded by large trees, well-maintained, and are mowed on a regular basis. The park has 134 RV sites, but when we were there, there were only about 6 RVs in the entire park. As you can see, we had an entire section all to ourselves. Park personnel said that September and October are very busy, so we're glad we visited before the crowds came.
A pleasant three hours later, we were in Nebraska. This part of the world revolves around Agriculture.....with a capital A. Corn is King. They raise huge quantities of not only No. 2 Yellow Corn (brought to our attention by The Omnivore's Dilemma), but also popcorn and sweet corn. Beans are Queen. Many are soybeans, with dark green, glossy leaves, but Nebraska is also known for the quantity of great northern beans and pinto beans it raises. Wherever you look, as in this photo, you see acres and acres of one or both.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rock Creek Park

Well, Rock Creek Park turned out to be so special that we've spent an entire week here. Mornings can look like this, with John and me drinking coffee and watching the sunrise while the Bagley Pack wait impatiently for breakfast.

On Friday night we experienced a real Kansas thunderstorm, shown here rolling in just at sunset. Thank goodness winds here at the park weren't as strong as they were a few miles away. We heard reports of wind speeds up to 90 mph, but fortunately all we had here were showers and this remarkable lightening show!

The Girls were excited when we found a very nice dog park in nearby Topeka. The "Bark Park" is located adjacent to the Topeka Zoo, and has everything a dog could want. There are separate areas for big and small dogs, plenty of grass, shade, and tables & chairs for dog-watchers. Here Nickie participates in a three-dog sniff-a-thon while John and Feathers enjoy the shade.

While we travel, family members are never far from our thoughts.  This trip, though, our grandson is on our minds more often than usual. 

The Bark Park is in Gage Park, which is just off Gage Boulevard.  We don't know who this Gage person is or was, but he was obviously important! 

We also saw the Gage Carousel in the Park, with its lovely, restored horses, camel, pigs and other creatures. The carousel was built in 1908, and has been restored three times. It is unique because it features hand-carved wooden figures in several carousel "styles," which are described on the poster below, and an example of one of the horses that was waiting for a young rider.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Retreat from the Heat!

We're finally on the road again, and not a minute too soon! Texas has been simmering (or maybe baking) for a couple of weeks, and we can't wait to find someplace cooler.

We spent a couple of nights last week at Boone RV Park in Lampasas getting new tires put on the Royals and doing some business for my mother in Hamilton. Then, last Saturday, August 7, we hooked up Tracker (our "toad") for the first time and headed north.

That was exciting, and a little scary, because we've never "double-towed" before. With all three vehicles connected, we're pushing 80 feet in length, and have 16 tires on the ground. My job is to monitor the Pressure Pro system that keeps track of the pressure in all the tires, and to make sure that the monitor for the parking brake system in the Tracker doesn't come on unexpectedly. John's is to drive, of course, and to keep track of the various systems in the Volvo. He also keeps an eye on the Tracker and vehicles behind us with the rear-view camera.

Saturday night found us at Ray Roberts Lake State Park. (You may remember that we spent some time there last fall, and it's one of our favorite parks.) However, with the temperatures well over 100 degrees and the lake the temperature of a warm bath, this time we didn't tarry!

We spent the next two nights at another of our favorite parks, Coon Creek Cove Corps of Engineers Park (try saying that several times in rapid succession!) on Kaw Lake in Northern Oklahoma. We had the place almost to ourselves this trip, and the dogs enjoyed some off-leash time. Here's a picture of the little slough where we camped last year. Unfortunately the lake is lower this year, and there were fewer birds near the shore, and no catfish jug-liners.

Tuesday we traveled diagonally across Kansas on their beautiful turnpike. It was a great trip, and it should have been; the toll for our 7 combined axles was $48!

Much of our trip was through the rolling grasslands of the Kansas Flint Hills, and we were surprised that much of the time all we saw was grass. However, from time to time we did see some of that famous Kansas beef on the hoof!

We've spent the last two nights in a lovely park, Rock Creek Corps of Engineers Park on Perry Lake a few miles northeast of Topeka. Campsites are spacious, and there's plenty of grassy areas for dogs to enjoy, along with a rocky shoreline and cool water! We plan to pull out tomorrow or the next day for Nebraska.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Eat Dessert First

"Life is uncertain; eat dessert first." All of us have heard that statement, but it doesn't really have meaning until something happens to emphasize just how uncertain life can be. We began to understand several weeks ago, and it's very sobering.

In late May, we noticed that Feathers, our Australian Shepherd, Guardian of Hearth and Home, and always before in charge of Security, was visibly squinting. Her beautiful golden eyes, so evident in a photo taken earlier this year, were no longer visible. The pupils of her eyes had dilated so much that no iris color showed...just deep black pools, and the pupils did not respond to light. Although light-sensitive, she was fortunately still able to see.

We took her to our regular vet, who could find no reason for the problem and referred her to a veterinary opthalmologist. He said her eyes were fine, and suspected that she might have been exposed to a plant or chemical that caused the pupils to be non-responsive. He suggested that we wait a week or so to see if they returned to normal. They did not and we went back to our regular vet for more tests.

At about the same time, Feathers began to be unsteady on her feet, and her regular gait changed, causing her to stumble frequently. Talking to the vets and doing research on-line made us realize just how many conditions, diseases, and circumstances might cause or contribute to her symptoms. Among them were Myesthenia Gravis, Meningitis, brain tumor, various parasites, and several others, all of them serious, but fortunately treatable in some cases. When our regular vet wasn't able to pinpoint the cause, we were referred to Dr. Locke at Central Texas Veterinary Specialty Hospital.

Dr. Locke ordered more tests, including a spinal tap, which pointed to Meningitis as the culprit. Feathers is now undergoing treatment, and we hope that she will be able to recover at least partially. So far, her pupils are still dilated, and she suffers from some loss of mobility. She still wants to go on walks with us, though; we just have to make them short. She wears her sunglasses, and, if we're walking on pavement she wears her trendy boots to protect her toes when she stumbles.

The most serious aspect of the disease at this point is a condition called Megaesophagus. This is a condition where the muscles of the esophagus fail and it cannot propel food or water into the stomach. Feathers has this condition to some degree, so we're making sure she eats and drinks from an elevated bowl, and that we keep her head and chest vertical after eating. If we don't do this, she can regurgitate her food and water, and may aspirate it as well, leading to aspiration pneumonia. She seems to be having less problems with this in the last week or so, and we're hopeful the condition is improving.

So, in accordance with our "Eat Dessert First" philosophy, we're off on another adventure. We have just left Texas and are headed north to find some cooler temperatures. (Of course, the Bagley Pack members are with us, including our Feathers!) We'll keep you posted as we travel.