Thursday, June 27, 2013

Great Falls waiting

It was interesting to drive from the wet east towards the dryer west. We came out of the dense woods at the west side of Minnesota. The woods became thinner before transitioning to just occasional stands of woodland in North Dakota. Awhile after crossing the Missouri we came into true prairie grassland. 

Prariee Grassland.

Now we are into the hills of Montana. We had our first sagebrush and yucca yesterday.

Highway 200 passes through lots of pretty scenery. This is east Montana hill country.

The road we have been on since entering Minnesota is Highway 200. It is two mostly lanes and goes through some remote lands. It has been a pleasure to drive because most of it is not heavily traveled. When we got into oil boom country we picked up heavy truck traffic for couple of hundred miles.

Some of the oil worker temporary housing we passed in North Dakota.

When we drove from Lake Sakakawea we thought it would be about a 200-mile drive. Highway 200 is not heavily traveled so it lacks amenities you can find along the interstate. Things like RV parks aren’t common. We passed one early in the afternoon. That was a mistake. Two hundred miles later we came to one in Circle, Montana, and Ray’s Campground and Laundry. This is the poorest excuse for an RV park we have see.

Ray looks like Paul Newman doing “Hud”. He charged $35 and made comments about pocketing it so he didn’t have to pay any taxes. This is Tea Party country and Ray is the posture child. Government, you know, is evil.

The next night was spent in Lewistown at a very nice RV Park for $25. 

Lewistown is quite historic. It has been caught in a financial downturn since 1920. Somehow they have managed to keep up much of the original downtown area. Main street Lewistown still has active businesses, mostly restaurants and bars. 

Downtown Lewistown, Montana.

I am writing this at the Ford Agency. It is difficult to write something in a waiting room when the other occupant is giving you her life history. Wow, her brother died of cancer after contracting MS which he got in the Army after Fighting in Vietnam. Her Mom, living in Winslow, Arizona, is 76 years young, works 3 days a week. This lady is 5’ 10’, has back problems, broke her hip, and is having her Escape serviced. Her son has a size 13 shoe. 

How is it I seem to attract these types? At least she hasn’t tried to save me. Yet!

Another person came into the waiting room. Whew!The lady whom has been talking at me is now telling the newcomer her history.  Gosh, now we are into her labor, her crazy in-laws, her ex, how she should be in a mental institution. I think I’ve never run into one quite like this lady.

Today we are in Great Falls. The truck is getting its 150,000-mile service and two new tires. Tomorrow we are heading to Missoula.

I just want to get out of this waiting room.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The oil boom

June 24, 2013

North Dakota has been a surprise.

Years ago I drove through a corner of it and was totally unimpressed. I remember the gas tank nearing empty as I found each little town-spot on the map to be abandoned on the ground. It was early fall and “dismal” described the drive.

Today North Dakota seems pretty prosperous. The towns we have passed through have all seen happier days but you drive through miles and miles of agricultural land that looks prime. The roads are in great shape. There is good cell phone coverage everywhere. The people we meet seem normal. All is good in North Dakota.

We passed a large area where the land is being turned over to extract coal. At a glance it didn’t look too bad. They must remove soil covering the coal, remove the coal, then put the soil back.

I remember from grade school that this was called the breadbasket of the country. Wheat was king. Now, in the eastern part of the state, corn is king. We have seen many piles of trees where windrows have been cut to make room for more corn. I can’t remember seeing any wheat, just corn. But the eastern farmers are happy now. My bet is the corn rush will end someday and unhappiness will settle back in.

One of the many little bars and taverns we saw.

We heard about the oil-building boom in North Dakota and thought it was just hype until we passed the Missouri River. 

Western North Dakota is unbelievable. We passed hundreds of oil drilling pads, some completed others being built. 

Some little towns have just been swallowed up by construction companies and housing for the workers. RV’s by the hundreds are parked in fields. Where there aren’t RV’s there are trucks and staging area for the oil field construction.

The lightly traveled back roads we have become used to are now back roads crammed with trucks of all sorts. 

This activity extends into Eastern Montana.

Probably one quarter of the oil drilling pads we passed were in operation. In the future cheap oil may be back.

For some reason I was not able to upload all my pictures this morning. I also can't find some of the ones I think I took. One of the two cameras I have been misplacing from time to time is misplaced. My shoes are here somewhere. I think my undies are on backward or my voice is becoming soprano.  I should just call it a day and go back to bed.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

North Dakota, don't ya know?

A note on local advertising:   We have seen some great signs in front of businesses we have passed.  In Massachusetts where lobster is king we saw this one:


In Maine where there are really rugged individuals we saw this one:


In the heart of New York wine country we saw this at a country hot dog stand:


Or this restaurant sign in Upper Peninsula of Michigan:

U P Chuck’s

We are now in North Dakota. We tore through Minnesota. Now that we are heading homeward we seem to be driving further each day. Yesterday we did about 310 miles before stopping near Riverdale, North Dakota. We are now camped at the state park at Lake Sacajawea on the Missouri River.

The drive was through the North Dakota pot hole lands. We must have passed a couple hundred little lakes yesterday. Most of them were filled with ducks and geese. Some were as big as 100 acres or more and some as small as half an acre. In between were rolling hills covered in spring green. It was another absolutely beautiful drive - ho hum!

There have been troubles along the way. We picked up another nail. I noticed the tire was low as we stopped for gas in Fargo. I checked it again after an hour and it was nearly flat. We found a tire shop that fixed the tire and had us on the road again in about 30 minutes.

The big trouble has been finding grocery stores. These are very small towns out here. They were all more populated at one time. Now they are mostly empty of people so the grocery stores must have all closed. 

The bars seem to be doing well. It is possible that folks eat at the bars. 

The bars may do well because of the long winters. You have to do something to cheer yourself up when it is minus 20, the wind is howling, the sky is grey, and the ground is too. Today being Sunday we thought the bars would be empty but we passed several that seemed to be well attended as we drove around today.

This is a Minute Man missile silo. North Dakota has them all over the place.

Rain has also been bothersome. We have had rain everyday for the past four days. This has not been constant. Mostly it has been thunderstorms interspersed with rain and fog. Here and there we have had sunshine. Today has been, since 5 AM, rain free. It is clouding up again.

Rain, rain, rain, rain, and so forth. 

If, per chance, you thought we were BIRDING AGAIN today, you would be correct.  Give yourself a gold star. How did you guess?

Lake Audubon - really a pretty place.

We birded Lake Audubon National Wildlife Refuge today. I have to admit that I enjoyed it. We took a seven mile driving tour which we covered in just two hours! We saw about 1,000 birds of various species. Ducks and waterfowl are what this preserve is all about and we saw bunches of them. 

The badlands tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Scenic Roads and rare birds

When we plan our daily route we get out the maps and look for interesting roads. We look for the roads with the little dots beside them. We’ll take those if they don’t lead to far in the wrong direction.  These are the scenic highways and byways.

Michigan Highway 23 is marked that way on the map. It runs along Lake Huron through a bunch of little towns. We were anticipating a really scenic drive when we started out on it.

After about an hour I began to wonder why they had marked highway 23 as scenic.  It is mile after mile of driveways leading off to summer cottages in the woods. On one side these houses back onto Lake Huron. The houses and trees block the view of the lake.

A view of Lake Huron . . or is it Lake Michigan? 

It occurred to me that it must be the mailboxes and little signs that were scenic. God, there were lots of them.  This is 55 MPH road lined with driveways spaced about 200 feet apart. The owners have to do something in order to see where the driveway is far enough ahead to signal and safely turn. So they buy cute mailboxes and put up cute little signs. “Donna’s Dream”, ”Kate’s Cottage”, “The Bank Owns It”, and so on for about 70 miles.

We finally turned off on a nondescript road since we couldn’t see anything scenic on the scenic road. This one was Michigan 72. Wow, was it a pretty drive!

It makes you wonder how they decide what to call a scenic road. For that matter, I wonder who the “they” are. Also, once a road is designated “scenic” does anyone check years later to see if it remains so? My, my, life's great questions that one ponders driving at 55 MPH on back roads.

The heritage committee here in the UP must be into turkeys.

We stopped for the night in Mio, Michigan. Mio was a must see on Brenda’s list. If you think this was so because of some bird you are right on. This bird being the Kirtland’s Warbler.

This is an endangered species. It is endangered because it is very picky and inflexible. It only nests in new growth Jack Pine. Successful fire fighting reduced the number of new growth Jack Pines so the numbers of these birds declined. At one time there were only about 500 of these birds. Recovery efforts have brought the count up to about 6,000.

Unlike other rare birds we have chased after the Kirtland’s Warbler was an easy find. The Forest Service takes daily tours to its breeding grounds so birders can hear it (a very loud and distinctive song just suited for old ears) and possibly get a look at it.

Our bird was very cooperative. The tour guide, Dana, drove us to where she knew a pair were nesting. Our bird began singing his heart out when we came into his territory. He kept approaching us until he popped up on a limb maybe ten feet from where we were standing. Not shy in the least he just stared at us and sang us a song. How sweet!

In Mio, Michigan, the Kirtland's Warbler has lots of respect. they built a statue of it.

If only the Pine Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Woodcock would be so cooperative!

Tonight we are taking a tour of the Seney Wildlife Preserve a few miles from where we are staying. I’m looking forward to testing a new type of mosquito repellant I just bought.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Border crossing

There may be no pictures to go with this blog update - I didn't take any pictures on this leg of the trip.

I had to stick in some pictures. This is a craw-dad hole in Texas.

The past few days we have been in Canada. I was really taken with the area we drove through. This is the very northern tip of the Carolinian Forest Zone that stretches from South Carolina to this area between the great lakes in Canada. It is the primary agricultural area in Canada and the population center of Canada.

Unlike the Central Valley of California it appears that Canada still has lots of small family farms, large-scale agri-business hasn’t taken over here. I found myself just marveling at how neat and well kept were all the farms we passed. And there were lots of farms we passed.  The drive was eye candy.

There were lots of little fresh produce stands along the road. We saw lots of yard sales signs too. We didn’t see any billboards.

This is the only bill board I remember seeing in Canda. This is looking from the falls. 

The day before we brought the trailer into Canada we bought some colorful Canadian money and checked out how difficult it would be to bring the trailer across. The Canadian customs person was a young lady with a very nice smile. She reassured us that we would have no trouble with the crossing as long as we didn’t have firearms, dirt, or firewood. She wished us a pleasant trip and gave us a smiling wave and ‘good by” as we left. The folks at the Canadian information center were just as nice and had us laughing at a few things before we left.

Brenda and a few other tourists at Horseshoe Falls

The actual crossing with the trailer was uneventful.  We pulled up to the RV area at Canadian customs and stopped. There was no one there. We looked for signs explain what to do, there weren’t any. We hoped out of the car and walked around and started to enter a building when the customs fellow came out smiling. He said, “you’re supposed to stay in your car.” Then he asked us a few questions, took our passports inside for a minute, came back out, smiled and said, “pull around the corner and I’ll open the gate for you. Have a good trip.” We were in Canada with the trailer – 5 minutes it took.

The object at the base of Horseshoe Falls is the Maid of the Mist tour boat. 

Our campsite for the night was Long Point Provincial Park about half way between Niagara Falls and Detroit. We pulled into the park during a snowstorm of cottonwood blossoms.  Long Point is a long sand spit which is rare in the great lakes. Canadians pour into this area in the summer to enjoy the beaches and dunes. The park was nearly filled when we were there. It wasn’t the nicest campground we’ve been in, by far, but it was pretty and we got out to look for – birds.

The next day it rained as we drove to the border crossing at Point Huron.

I had been thinking about how the US customs folks have behaved all the times I have crossed the border into the US. This crossing at Point Huron was about the 50th time I’ve driven into the US from Mexico or Canada.  I don’t remember ever having the US border guard smile.

I mentioned this to Brenda as we approached the border. We weren’t disappointed by this guy. He didn’t crack a smile or even act very civil. As we passed our passports he asked what our citizenship was - he was holding our US passports. He asked where we were from. He asked where we were going. He asked how long we had been in Canada. He asked where we were coming from. He asked what we bought in Canada. He asked who owned the trailer and the car. Then he passed back our passports and said, “OK, you can go.” This really bothered me. Why do the US border people act like that.? Are they trained to be offensive?

I’d be curious to hear if any of you have run into a friendly US border agent driving into the US.

We started out in Michigan on interstate highway 69 but after a few miles of bone-jarring miles we took off on back roads. Michigan is much like Canada. There are lots of small farms here although they generally aren’t quite as neatly kept as the ones we saw in Canada.