Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

Carla’s Photo of the Day – September 26, 2013

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The Sierras From Wild Willy’s
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Taken about 6:30 PM, 9/26/13

Yes, the High Sierras received new snow last night and today. It’s cold here! But the weather should be moderating for our last week on the road. (By the way, Wild Willy’s is a natural hot springs.)

POEM OF THE DAY

Rain, the Snow, and Moon

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain, the snow and moon.
– Ikkyu,

DAY 287 Enchanted Highway, ND

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July 13, 2013

“If you build it, they will come . . .”

From Theodore Roosevelt National Park we headed toward the Black Hills of South Dakota. On our way out of North Dakota, we followed the “The Enchanted Highway”. I had read in tourist brochures and online intrigued me.

Roads across America are punctuated with oversized representations of humble objects, usually in the service of advertising a restaurant or other attractions. They include giant hamburgers, hotdogs, a picnic basket (Newark, OH), a ketchup bottle (Collinsville, IL), seafood (all along the East Coast!) We enjoy discovering these amusing oddities as we travel. Are they uniquely American?

The Enchanted Highway takes this concept a creative step farther, offering a series of enormous (world’s largest) scrap-metal sculptures to be admired for their own sake. They depict iconic symbols of North Dakota life: geese, deer, grasshoppers and wheat, fishing, ring-necked pheasants, Teddy Roosevelt, a farm family.  There appear along a 32 mile stretch of 2-lane road through farmland leading from an exit on Interstate 94 to the small rural town of Regent.

Teacher and artist, Gary Greff, dreamt up this imaginative way to help his economically languishing hometown of Regent. The roadside gallery would hopefully provide tourists with a reason to get off the freeway and drive into the small community. He began building in 1989 and has plans to continue to add to this metallic menagerie. Somehow he garnered the support and funds to manifest his vision. I pondered all the work of planning, fundraising, designing, organizing and building that it must have taken. And the continued maintenance it must require. Building structures that can survive a North Dakota winter is no small accomplishment. I admire this as an out-of-the-box approach to economic recovery and this novel way Gary contributed to your local community.

Traveling east on 94 toward Bismarck, the first sculpture came into view, almost soaring along side the freeway. It depicts geese flying under the sun and over green hills. Just after exiting the freeway, a small driveway lined with more geese on wing guided us to the large display.

Only a few other people were also stopping to view the sculptures. Some got out of their cars to admire and inspect them while others stayed in their vehicles, engaging in drive-by photo shooting. At each stop a small sign would explain how far the next sculpture was. There were also picnic tables and donation boxes (we lunched with the pheasants).

When we reached Regent, the town appeared very quiet, streets deserted. It was hot and the sun bleached out the color and details. The young woman working at the small gift shop, was entertaining herself by filling up water balloons and throwing them out on the empty sidewalk. I asked her if the Enchanted Highway had helped revive Regent, (since the answer wasn’t obvious to me). “Oh, yes,” she said, “that and the oil boom.” When the idea for the Enchanted Highway was first conceived in the 80’s, I doubt that anyone had a clue that an oil boom would arrive to this area, that the Bakken Formation oil reserve underneath the farms would someday be tapped.

 

 

 

This gallery contains 17 photos

Carla’s Photo of the Day – September 25, 2013

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Ancient Bristlecone Pines
Inyo National Forest, CA
Taken about 2 PM, 9/25/13

I’ve wanted to see the bristlecones since I first learned about them and their great age. At about 10,000 feet in the White Mountains we took a short hike in the area where the trees over 4,000 years old were first discovered. 4,000 years old! There are others that are nearly 5,000. The oldest beings on earth. The longest-lived bristlecones are the most stunted, gnarled and appear mostly dead; they also live under the harshest conditions.

I’ve wanted to see the bristlecones since I first learned about them and their great age. At about 10,000 feet in the White Mountains we took a short hike in the area where the trees over 4,000 years old were first discovered. 4,000 years old! There are others that are nearly 5,000. The oldest beings on earth. The longest-lived bristlecones are the most stunted, gnarled and appear mostly dead; they also live under the harshest conditions.

Photo of the Day Runner-Up
Bristlecone Pine Close-Up

Photo of the Day Runner-Up
Bristlecone Pine Close-Up

Advice from a Bristlecone Pine
(On T-Shirt at Visitor’s Center)
• Sink your roots into the earth
• Weather adversity
• Keep growing
• Be content with your natural beauty
• Go out on a limb
• It’s OK to be a little gnarly
• Honor your elders

 

DAYS 280-287 Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit), ND

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July 6-13, 2013

From the North Unit of TRNP we headed to Dickinson, ND. We were ready for showers, emails, phone calls, internet searches, AC, a swimming pool, fewer bugs and maybe even TV or a movie. The fracking boom had caused motels to emerge out of the dirt around town like mushrooms after rain. Expensive mushrooms, that is. Fortunately, the woman at the Visitor’s Center guided us to the cheapest place in town and, while still more than we usually pay, it was manageable within our lean budget.

When we registered, the manager, noticing that we drove a pick-up, asked the make and proceeded to suggest American brand trucks: Ford, Dodge, Chevy, etc. We said it was a Toyota and added that we had noticed there were few Japanese vehicles in the state. “Yeah” he said, “people don’t drive ‘rice cookers’ in North Dakota.” We got everything we wanted at the motel except the pool; it was there but sat empty and in disrepair. This was disappointing because the highs had been hovering around 100 for the previous week.

There wasn’t much going on in town. Across the street from the motel, the Pacific Northern Railway, sounding its loud evocative whistle, rolled by the grain elevators and warehouses several times a day. (To hear a recording go to Soundscapes.) The only natural food vegetarian restaurant was closed for the long holiday weekend. However, nearby was a very good coffee shop in a small old stone church that had once been Teddy Roosevelt’s place of worship. “Going to church” became our phrase meaning “going to get coffee”.

The South Unit
After two days of getting cleaned up and refreshed in civilization we drove west to the South Unit of TRNP. Teddy Roosevelt had a ranch there for a several years and North Dakotans seem very proud of their part-time local boy who became president. The South Unit is similar to the North, with bison and badlands, but it also has wild horses, prairie dog towns, and a petrified forest. We found a beautiful campsite along the Little Missouri River with views of the rugged hills.

When we arrived at the campground, while Chris filled our water tank, I wandered the edge of the meadow, photographing wildflowers. Suddenly something near my feet, aggressively recoiled into the grassy cover. It’s common for small rodents, lizards or birds to take refuge when approached but they usually flee with quiet and stealth, this movement was almost violent. I leaned over and looked into the shadows to see what was there. Gradually, the animal came into focus with its large triangular head, its penetrating eyes and probing tongue. A prairie rattlesnake! Yikes!

I backed away and called for the campground host, who confirmed the identification. We all, including his son and Chris, watched it until it slithered away, revealing its rattles last before disappearing, giving lethal meaning to “a snake in the grass”. Later I would discover that it was time of year that rattlers shed their skin. During the process, they often do not rattle in warning (the one I saw did not) and because their eyesight is clouded they may be more aggressive and strike randomly. Was the snake’s violent movement actually a strike that missed rather than a recoil? Scary to think about.

A Fox in the Hen House
Within the park are several large black-tailed prairie dog towns. For our second dinner there, we packed a picnic, chairs, our cameras and a tripod to observe the rodents as the sun set. We pulled into a parking area and began setting up. Suddenly the barks, chirps, yelps, yipping of the dogs escalated to a frenzy. We looked up to see a red fox slinking across the town! All the prairie dogs stood on hind legs by their holes, mostly in groups, broadcasting raucous warnings to every resident. They feel safest that way since the fox can’t sneak up on them.The fox looked unsure, displeased with all the noise and with us being there too. It eventually slipped back into the trees.

Since prairie dogs are active and social, they can be fun to watch. They take amusing poses and engage in playful antics. They are small and won’t tolerate people getting too close, so without a good telephoto lens (and lots of patience), they are hard to photograph. Even so, I got a few decent shots. I went to another town a few days later in the morning.

When Trees Turn to Stone
In a remote section of the park are the fossilized remains of an old forest. Huge cypress trees were partially buried in a flood or by volcanic ash. The upper exposed trunks rotted away but the lower parts, encased in sediment, turned to stone. The surface of the petrified wood was ribbed, multicolored and had patches of druzy – tiny sparkly quartz crystals.

The tree segments were randomly littered over the sandy surface, making it look like an intentional dump for old stumps. Many of the petrified trees are still in the process of being unearthed after thousands of years underground. Some were about to tumble out of the hillsides as if an ancient magic spell had been broken and they were released into sunshine once again. I tried to imagine this arid prairie as the dense watery swampland it once was, with alligators, turtles and lush flora . . . and then realized it probably looked a lot like what we saw a few months earlier in Louisiana and Florida!

This gallery contains 73 photos

Carla’s Photo of the Day – September 18, 2013

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Petrified Dunes
Snow Canyon State Park,Utah
Taken about 12 PM, 9/18/13

These hills were ancient sands dunes turned to stone. The swirl and flow of the dunes is still visible.

These hills were ancient sand dunes turned to stone. The swirl and flow of the sand is still visible.

Quote of the Day
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
– John Muir

Photo of the Day Runner-up
Leopard Lizard

The leopard lizard is an endangered species because of habitat destruction. This fellow generously posed for me.

The leopard lizard is an endangered species because of habitat destruction. This fellow generously posed for me, unlike the other lizards who quickly ran for cover.