Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Montana Dog Park: When it rains, it’s a full-out assault

We decide to visit our favorite Montana dog park, Jacob's Island in Missoula, because our Jacob loves to splash around in a babbling brook we found there.

He's our water dog. We like to let him play in water when we can.

We park in a lot we're told is a mile away from Jacob’s Island and start our hike. Which takes forever.

So it's not a mile. It's maybe two. In the meantime, gray clouds mottle the Big Sky and the wind kicks up and the rain begins. Well, it's not quite rain, it’s more like a mist, so we continue on. Jacob has earned his romp in the brook.

By the time we arrive at the dog park, it's raining harder, well, more like sprinkling this time, but the brook's just around the bend, so we go a bit faster. And so does the rain, which is now an insistent sprinkling.

Finally, around the bend we see NO BROOK! Jacob scrambles out over the stones. Then stops. What, no water? Maybe not out there, but over-head the sprinkling's given way to rain, a steady rain, so we relent. We head back to the motor home. About two miles away.

Those swirling gray clouds darken and light dances on the horizon.  Lightening! One thousand one. One thousand two. One thousand three. And thunder. 

We quicken our pace and so does the rain, which is now coming down as globlets. Fat, plunky globlets. Crackle flash! One thousand one. Thunder. The lightening is getting closer and the thunder ponderous. Then, CRACKLE SNAP SZZST! Thunder. No counting. It’s here. Lightening arcs over the power lines right over our heads and snaps into the hillside. 

And what this?? HAIL??!! You've got to be kidding me.

The dogs zig-zag with their heads down, trying to dodge the icy scattershot. I look up and see the hail pinging off Allen's head. Ping. Ping. I laugh. And am paid back with pain as the B-B sized hail stings my shoulder and neck. 

And it is cold. 

So we're scrambling with a mile to go in a hail/lightening/thunder/rain storm. What, no snow?

We're nearly there now. We can see motor home. Our warm, dry motor home.

Impossibly, we quicken our step then SPLISH SPLASH! We plow into a FLOOD right in the parking lot.

The water's so deep, it covers our ankles. We slog through.

And Jacob? He's having the time of his life. We promised him a brook. So now he plays. And we let him.

Because, well, it's what we came for.

Could This Be More Unreal?

This continues my blog from yesterday.

Today we are to head to St. Mary, MT, where we have reservations for four nights in Glacier National Park.

I wake up and find this on the news:

"Law enforcement officials have gathered near St. Mary and East Glacier as they continue searching for escaped Arizona fugitive John McCluskey and the woman who allegedly helped him escape, Casslyn Welch." 

The Welch woman was spotted in St. Mary.

They are there. Where we are to be.


So we do not go. That way, anyway.

 Instead, we proceed with caution, forfeit some money  and head west instead of north. 

All's Not Right With Our Little World

News of a murdered Oklahoma couple has rocked my world.

They were campers, like us, with their dogs, like us. They travel a lot, like us.

And apparently, they got in the way of some prison escapees and then died. They were burned to death. Inside their camper. Someone found their "well-groomed" dogs nearby. ID tags on the
dogs' collars helped police identify the dead couple.

Police think the suspects, armed and dangerous, live in our little world right now. Police say they are using back roads and are camping, in remote campgrounds and truck stops, in Yellowstone, which is in Wyoming and Montana, and are thought to be headed into Canada.

We're in Montana, at one point just north of Yellowstone. And we took back roads to get here. And while we never camp in remote campgrounds, we often sleepover in truck stops and rest stops. We aimed for a rest stop last night (before finding out about the murders) and --
thankfully -- couldn't find it. So we pushed on, into Helena  To the safety of a Walmart parking lot.

We're here again tonight. In the morning, we're head to St. Mary, MT, for the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park.

Police have caught two of the three escapees. Maybe by the time we we  wake up the third will be gone, too, from our little world.

And we can get on with our fun.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Hunt is On

I see two coyotes and shrug. What's a few coyotes when we have a lot of them back home? And, anyway, we've been surrounded by lots of coyotes before (at night, in Death Valley), so we don't need to waste time on these coyotes.

After all, we're in serious wildlife mode here in southwestern South Dakota, where Route 87 winds through Wind Cave National Park and then, without hesitation, right through Custer State Park. We're scoping for buffalo (saw one, then a herd), mule deer (saw lots), prairie dogs (saw megalots), white tailed deer (saw two) and pronghorn deer (wait for the story).

The first animals we see are these two coyotes, on the side of a little rolling hill. Just over the hill, we see four pronghorn deer, one of which is crossing the road. I take a picture.

So we wait. While he crosses.

That's when we see the third coyote, stretched low in the grass, slinking toward the three other deer. He crawls through the grass, like a snake. Then, he slowly raises himself to full height and
saunters over near the deer. They see him. And move slowly away. Sideways.

He lowers himself again, and trots toward the lead deer, forcing the threesome to move uphill a bit.

WOW! I get it. It's a hunt. We're seeing a hunt.

Coyote No. 3 kicks into gear and works the deer by running back and forth in front of them, much like a Border Collie works a herd of sheep. Coyotes No. 1 and 2 (the ones I shrugged off earlier) hide just past the crest of the hill. I can see their ears. They are laying in
wait. Ready for the ambush!

In the picture above, you can easily see the three deer and Coyote No. 1. Now, glance up from the third deer on the right to the top of the first ridge, then just a little to the right and THERE! See him? It's Coyote No. 2. Ready to Pounce. Coyote No. 1 is up there, too. He's just harder to see. But he's to the right of No. 2.

We watch the adventure unfold for 10 minutes; no one else stops. Oh, they hesitate to see what we're looking at, but none seemed interested. Or perhaps they just didn't know it's a hunt. An honest-to-goodness National Geographic hunt! Or, for the older crowd, A Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom moment.

Now wait. The action subsides. No. 3 is giving up. He's slinking off to the right. Nos. 1 and 2  follow. There is no kill (and I'm kinda happy about THAT!).

Here's what we think happened:  No. 3 was the front man, sent out to test the deers' sturdiness, to see if anyone was lame or sick. When all proved strong and well, the trio of hunters gave up, and set off to find breakfast elsewhere.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ranger Overload

Someone's knocking on our door.

It's 7 a.m. and someone's outside Otto, rapping on the side door.

I roll out of bed (literally, because we're tilted), grab my robe (well, toss on a T-shirt) and sneak a peek through the kitchen window.

It's Wilford Brimley, in uniform.

Of course, it's not. But this park ranger sure looks like Wilford.

"Good morning," he nods, sort of Midwestern style, "I'm sorry to  bother you so early, but do you have your receipt?"

The receipt he's looking for proves we paid yesterday for the privilege of staying overnight here at a fairly empty Wind Cave  National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Yes, I tell him, it's in my husband's wallet, which I'm please to discover in the place it out to be. I fish out the receipt and hand it out the door to Wilford.

"There's was no pen," I apologize for the looks of the receipt. "When we signed in yesterday, there was no pen at the station, so I used a rock, a charcoal rock to sign in."

He raises an eyebrow, accepts the receipt and shows me where it needs to be placed. He tips his hand to his hat and leaves.

But, not forever.

He shows up again at noon, and finds me sitting in the grass grooming my dog. And I think he's going quiz me about the dog hair and how I intend to clean it up (which I did, by the way.)

"I didn't see your husband earlier, so I brought an envelope up to you to fill out for tonight," he says, adding nothing about the dog. Whew.
"I'm sure you have a pen this time. We don't supply pens."

Why was he looking for my husband? (I didn't ask.) And does he think I'm trying to steal his campsite, to park here for free? (I didn't ask.) And why the sarcasm? (Ditto).

I fill out the little form, stuff $12 inside the envelope and Allen and I walk the dogs down the hill to the little station to pay in a proper way. I leave a pen behind for the next person and we walk back up the hill to Otto.

About two hours later, a different park ranger stops by to warn us of an impending storm. It comes and goes.

And another few hours later, a third ranger stops by to remind us about the hours we can run the generator.

And just when I'm all tuckered out with park rangers, I see Wilford again.  And I'm sure he's going to yell at me for hanging our laundry outside (where no one can see it). So I scurry around to pull it in before he gets here. Which he never does, because there's now another
camper in the park to occupy his time.

 I am so grateful.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Beware of the Black Hills Billboards

Steadily, Otto makes his way toward Wind Cave (just south of Mt.
Rushmore in South Dakota). And I stare out the window. The Badlands we
just exited present amazing landscapes and I watch for more as we
enter the Black Hills.

And, by golly, what amazing landscapes I see. Designed for kids. To
drive them crazy, to beg and scream "CAN WE GO THERE?!!!" I'm sure the
cacophony I hear includes a gazillions whines, cries and giggley



Mile after mile on I-90, kid-friendly/parent-cruel billboards
advertise tourist traps: Wonder Cave ("Don't Miss it!"), Sitting Bull
Caverns, Cosmos Mystery Area, Mt. Rushmore Shadow Resort (nowhere NEAR
Mt. Rushmore), USA Bear Country, Enchanted Eagle Treasures and the
most prolific of them all, Reptile Gardens.

There must be 10,000 signs for Reptile Gardens, some with cartoony
alligators, some with googley-eyed froggies, some with smiling,
hissing snakes, Look! There's one shaped like a train, with all the
smiling little reptiles sitting inside, waving me, inviting me to come
play with them.

We're strong willed. We didn't stop. But a million others did. As we
pass by, the parking lot vibrates with activity from cars, motor
homes, little kids, big kids. SUVs, Vans. EVERYWHERE!

The place we aim to see, Wind Cave National Park, is absent from the
screaming advertising menagerie.

Yet when we arrive, it, too, crawls with kids. And now us.

And I wonder how many of these families survived the gantlet of
advertising without giving in. And how many succumbed, at least once.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The View from Roam Free Park

Because a friend has asked, here's a picture from Roam Free Park
(without the grasshoppers) in Chamberlain, SD.

Well done, Grasshopper(s)

I'm so easily amused.

We're traveling the Native American Loop just north of Chamberlain, SD, when we see SOMETHING high on top the plateau. Sculpture? Fencing? Targets?

We drive a little closer and STILL can't quite make out what we see. Curiosity wins, so when we see a road leading up to the plateau we take it.


At the top is Roam Free Park and the little SOMETHINGS are informational markers at the edge of the ridge over which a magnificent view unfolds: the wide Missouri, trestles, bridges and
roads. Breathtaking.

We're alone in this little park, so we pull right to the top, to the corner of a loop and get out. Into wind. Magnificent wind. So strong, we can't open both doors at the same time or we create a wind tunnel through the motor home. So, Allen spills out first, with his camera. I go next, with mine. It's 97 degrees. And windy.

Here's where I am easily amused. With the breath-taking scenery swirling around and the river and the sky far and wide, I focus on bugs.

In my immediate space, there are hundreds of grasshoppers fleeing my steps.

I step. They leap. I step. They leap. They leap away from me like a spray of water, arching in a semi-circle. Look at them all! I've never seen so many grasshoppers in one place in my life!

Allen steps closer to me and I notice the grasshoppers leap away from him, too, in a spray of activity, but the spray aims toward me. HA! Now the bugs (big guys, too, about three inches long) leap in a kaleidoscope of directions, away from Allen toward me, away from me
toward Allen and back and forth. Some land on my feet. Ew.

I try taking pictures, but I know it's useless. I snap the one above, then I just keep walking. And on cue, they respond by leaping.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

We Don't Like Everyone We Meet

Look at those teeth. Whew.

Josh, my dominant Standard Poodle, walks just a little too close and Delila threatens menacingly. She rises up from the dust to make herself taller than Josh, who's already a tall dog, and curls her lips to expose impressive, meat-tearing fangs

A swath of hair from her neck down to her tail stands rigid.

She's not kidding. She postures, slowly. Stay away, Josh. Stay far, far away. Josh usually retaliates in kind. Not this time. Instead, he shrinks in submission.

Wow. I've never seen such a thing. He shrinks and slinks, slowly, lest he upset her. Wow. Josh, my dominant dog, subordinate.

We are at the Kiwanis Dog Park in Mankato, MN, as are a trio of beautiful, powerful dogs, (front to rear in the photo) Delila, Shep and Rorschach (when he was a puppy, he looked like an ink blot). Shep and Delila, both about 3 years old, are German Shepherd/Malamute siblings rescued from the streets of Kansas City. The Husky Rorschach (Rorsch for short) is 8 and never saw such poverty. He's always been a family dog.

They visit the dog park with Jim, their grandpa of sorts, who sits at a picnic table while the Josh/Delila chapter unfolds. The dogs belong to his daughter. However, they obey Jim, completely.

"Lila," he warns -- in a regular voice; no yelling -- during the Josh/Delila showdown. Delila backs off from Josh, who continues a slow exit from her space. She's made her point (that she's in charge). No need to continue the conversation.

"Oh, she can be a bitch," Jim explains, then storytells about a black ab Delila hates and dog owners who freak when dogs act like dogs and do things like mount each other.

He's so matter-of-fact I like him. I tell him it's the dog owners who cause most of the problems, not the dogs.

He agrees.

Then I tell him I used to be one of those owners, always trying to stop my dogs from being forward, from getting into trouble.

He laughs.

Then I see a young fellow heading toward the park with a little puppy.
Warning signals go off in my head. If Delila does her fang act again, will Josh let it go? Will he spar with her? Will the new dog owner understand?

I can't bear it, so I collect Josh and my other poodle, Jacob (who's been off hunting in the weeds), and we leave the park before any confrontation. But I return, without my dogs, because I want a picture of Jim's three beauties.

What I find floors me: that little puppy gleefully engaged in full play with the three big dogs AND two other dogs hopping around having a grand ol' time.

Delila, the bitch, is a sweetheart. The other dogs love her, play with
her and hop all over her.  There's no growling, no gnashing. She's such a happy, friendly dog.

She just doesn't like Josh.