Wednesday, September 21, 2016

GTT Days 50-52

September 19 - Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota.
It was a long long drive diagonally across Minnesota mostly on a small two-lane highway. It was even longer because there were two closed sections of the road that we had to take big detours around. We got to see even more of the nearly endless Minnesota farmlands than we planned! However we also went to Pipestone National Monument, only a half-hour or so before our planned campground. It was really interesting. This is an area with a layer of a beautiful red stone that was discovered by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. It's relatively easy to work and was traditionally used for making ceremonial pipes. On top of the stone are a number of layers of very hard Sioux quartzite which is also very pretty and has been used in more recent years for building. To get to the pipestone, the quartzite has to be removed laboriously by hand. We went on a walking tour of the site to see some of the quarries:
It's a sacred place and only the tribes can dig for the stone. The walk also included a lovely little waterfall:
And cliffs of Sioux quartzite with really decorative lichens growing on them:
I particularly loved this stone stairway to the top of the waterfall:
The display centre had an area where artisans worked on pipestone pieces and I bought a turtle button which I'll have to show you later since it's all wrapped up and put away. They show a really informative film on the pipestone and it's significance to the aboriginal people too. Well done.
Not so well done was our experience at Blue Mounds. It was quite late by the time we got there and there was nobody there. Signs said they want you to reserve 3 days ahead by phone or Internet. What? We just stuffed the requisite fee in the envelope and took a spot! Any spot. They had shut off the water except for the toilets because of E. coli, we never saw the bison at all and we were nearly eaten alive by tiny little biting gnats that insisted on working their way around our bug screens. Bleh. Not nearly as nice as we remembered from our last visit 3 years ago. 
We also had a couple of mechanical issues for Thom to solve. The other headlight went (the first one died in Nova Scotia) and the water pump on the sink refused to work. We had found a NAPA store in St. Cloud for the replacement light so after fixing that quickly Thom was left to fiddle with the water system. Luckily his Magic Touch worked and we have water access again.
Wildlife viewed:  deer (we nearly hit one!)
September 20 - Badlands National Park, South Dakota.
Another long drive but this time on an Interstate freeway. Boring! But quicker. We are now in our 8th state and crossed another time zone into Mountain Time. It finally feels like the West! Badlands is incredibly beautiful in an otherworldly sort of way:
It was also very hot and windy so we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the shade. Too hot for hiking trails for us! I nearly burned my hand just opening the door of the Ladies washroom. Ouch.
September 21 - Badlands, Day 2.
We had a second day to explore Badlands and were surprised to wake up to clouds and much cooler weather. That meant that we could take our time and not have to rush to hike before it got too hot. We drove along the scenic road down the length of the park and then turned around at the west gate and stopped at many of the overlooks on the way back:
Photos just can't convey the incredible beauty of the worn layers. My favourite part is Yellow Mounds:
The layers shade from bright yellow at the bottom to red and then to the more subtle greys toward the top. We also got stopped several times along the road by these guys:
Excuse the imperfect through-the-window shots. Why do I always end up with sheep butts instead of faces? Don't answer that...
We also saw pronghorns and deer and possibly bison in the distance. Could have just been cows though. We have yet to see bison up close this trip. The mourning doves, meadowlarks and bluebirds are keeping us entertained in the campsite too.
As for our hike, besides the short Fossil Trail we only did part of the Castle Trail this time:
It's a game of Follow-The-Red-Trail-Markers since it's not always easy to see where people have walked before you. Even just the little ways we went was very cool:
Instead of viewing the pinnacles from afar you get to walk among them:
It was perfect to go with the cooler cloud cover. Good thing it didn't decide to rain though! 
Tomorrow it's off to the Black Hills.  

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