Friday, September 7, 2007

Day 5 – A day for critters

[Updated: Photos added]
There won’t be any apes on this trip at least until I get to Michigan. There I plan to visit the Detroit Zoo to see Bahati, the young male who once lived at the Oregon Zoo. A visit to the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, fell through. Oh, well.

I have been seeing some wildlife, however. Unfortunately, a lot of it has been roadkill. Three deer, countless skunks, and many more bodies that were unidentifiable all along the route from Idaho, through Montana and into North Dakota. Happily, today I got to see a lot more living, breathing critters.

I headed out from the motel in Glendive before 8AM and before long I had crossed into North Dakota. (My first time in the state.) The weather was looking pretty good, so I stopped second guessing myself and pointed the car to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park is near where the young Roosevelt established a ranch, but it does not encompass his original ranch. Rather, it was created to honor his dedication to conservation and the national parks system.

With the radio turned off and the car window open, I followed the 36-mile loop through the park, up and down the winding road. Fabulous scenery. Badlands. Like the landscape at Makoshika but geologically younger.

The park features several expansive prairie dog towns. You can hear the little prairie dogs before you see them. They chirp like birds to warn the others when a car enters the turn off. They’re far enough away and so well camouflaged that it’s hard to photograph them. As I continued driving through the park I realized that there were hundreds … maybe thousands of the little guys. Where there was no turn off some hung out very close to the road.

As I drove through the park I scanned the valley and slopes looking for the larger animals that live there: buffalo, deer, elk, big-horned sheep. Nothing. It was late morning, when most would be sitting in a shady spot and avoiding exertion. I saw plenty of scat in the road, but not one hoofed critter. Then as I started up a steep slope, I saw what I thought was the silhouette of someone tall wearing a large backpack and rain poncho walking in front of me. First person I’d seen walking. Seemed strange. But it got stranger as I got closer and realized that it was a buffalo and that it was walking toward me – in the middle of my lane. I cautiously moved into the other lane, hoping that another car wouldn’t suddenly come over the crest of the hill. The buffalo walked by, looking in the passenger side window. No, I didn’t get a picture. I was too worried about being between a buffalo and an oncoming car to pull out the camera. That was it: thousands of prairie dogs and one buffalo.

After leaving the park I got onto highway 85 and aimed the car toward South Dakota. Lots of range. Lots of cows. Then I spotted something that looked like an antelope in one of the fields. Then I saw some more in other fields. At one of the few places I found to stop and rest, I chatted with a woman and learned that these were indeed antelope and that they were wild, not livestock. As I continued south I saw many, many more, including some that were sharing fields with the resident cows.

Ended the day in Spearfish, SD. I’ve pretty much made up for the time I’d lost, and the next two days I don’t need to cover many miles to stay on track. The weather is supposed to cool down tomorrow and it may rain the day after when I have more outdoor touring planned.


Anonymous said...

That buffalo would have made a great photo. What are critters?
It seems there is a lot of wild life between Montana and the Dakotas. Do you keep much food in your car at all? Is gas more expensive in those parts? Bon Voyage.

Gerry L said...

Thanks for all the quesions - who ever you are.
Critters are animals, from prairie dogs to buffalo, and I suppose even dinosaurs. Lots of wildlife in these parts.
I do have snacks in my car. Mostly cereal bars and fruit. I'm not going to starve. Stopping for a bite to eat is a good way to break up the long drives.
Gas? Gas!?! I thought the prices would go down as I headed east. No way. It keeps going up. It went over $3/gal when I crossed into South Dakota.