Category Archives: Troy’s Blog

When Plans to Travel Change

Enjoying a summer evening

There are many different levels and commitments of travel from those who travel around the world 365 days a year to those who take a leisurely trip every couple of years just to take a break from work. We are a family with two children, pets, a house, and many of the same priorities as other families. Our priority of travel has been elevated since we made the decision to complete the National Parks Edition of Monopoly before our children graduate from high school. In order to accomplish this, our travel plans have been made through 2018 requiring one to two trips a year depending on the proximity of destinations to each other. The summer of 2011 brought plans to go to Acadia National Park. Upon returning from our winter adventure to Everglades National Park we discovered one of our dogs ailing from an unknown cause which would affect these plans.

Shadow with Kristen and Alyssa

After several visits to the Vet, it was determined that our dog – Shadow had either suffered a stroke or there was a brain tumor causing her medical issues. Only time or an expensive MRI would be able to confirm which of these was most likely. We opted for time since the MRI would only confirm one of these diagnoses and still would not give us an opportunity to correct any problems. I’m sure there are a number of people that are reading this and saying to themselves it’s only a dog. For many others it is understood that some pets become family members and provide similar emotional ties. This dog has been with us a year after Karen and I were married and moved into our house with us the day we bought it. We have known her longer than our children meaning that our children have known her all of their lives. We definitely had an emotional connection to this dog and wanted the best we could provide for her knowing that she will not be around forever.

Troy and Shadow

As summer grew closer we were pretty sure Shadow’s medical problems were a result of a brain tumor as issues from a stroke would not likely worsen and her difficulties became more severe. How long this would persist was an unknown. Do we go ahead and plan our summer adventure? Who would be able to take care of our dog is she was still with us? Originally we began going through some preliminary plans which including going to the Statue of Liberty for the Independence Day celebration and then driving to Acadia National Park to explore another destination on our Monopoly Board. In order for this to work out we wanted to start making arrangements by the middle of May. As this date came we had to shift our priorities and the possibility of a summer trip dwindled because we were not willing to burden someone else with taking care of our sick dog and we were not willing to put her down just for our convenience. I was very frustrated because of the uncertainty surrounding our dog and knew that canceling this trip made the goal of visiting each national park on our board more challenging. Besides, what would the point of this site be if no one was traveling around a Monopoly Board?

Shadow bird watching
Shadow Liked Nursing Homes for Several Reasons

 

Apparently there were other plans for us this 4th of July. We spent it at our house with the kids and dogs and as it turned out, this was the last day we got to spend with Shadow. She has passed now leaving us with only memories of her 13 years as our devoted pet. She is severely missed and we are learning to adapt to a life without her. Our other dog is also adapting to being the only dog now which she has never experienced. However, now we are able to travel again so the preliminary planning for Acadia National Park has begun. We’re looking at going on this adventure near the end of August. I’m really looking forward to experiencing another national park! I expect there will be several other challenges causing us to evaluate how high of a priority completing this Monopoly Board is as many other people need to do when unforeseen events interfere with already made plans to travel. These are the times when we get to find out how important certain things are to us.

Fishing

Kristen and Shadow

Climbing the Rockies (part IV)

The Continental Divide
The Continental Divide

Once reaching the visitor center for a second time it was off in search of moose. We were informed that moose were spotted more frequently on the other side of Rocky Mountain National Park so we continued on Trail Ridge Road towards the Continental Divide and Milner Pass. As we reached Milner Pass there were no signs of Moose. Stopping to take the requisite photo of the Continental Divided (where the water from one side of this divide heads towards the Atlantic Ocean and water from the other side goes to the Pacific Ocean) the question of how much further do we want to explore as the day was growing long and the trip back to our lodge would take some time. We decided to press on and fortunately we did because soon we came upon another area with a lot of cars which usually means there is something in the area to see.

A Couple of Moose
A Couple of Moose
Sure enough, there were two moose lying in the grass allowing us to take photos and just watch for awhile. Satisfied we turned back for the journey to Alpine Visitor Center and on to Estes Park. Along the way a cow moose was spotted. We turned the vehicle around quickly for another look and then turned our vehicle around again for another chance to observe this moose. We quickly came upon a parking area and quietly exited the vehicle in hopes of getting a closer look. This moose wasn’t willing to stand still as we crept closer to it but it didn’t move very far or fast away from us either. We got a few photos and it was gone. Retreating back to the vehicle satisfied with yet another moose spotting I realized we were standing in the middle of another colony of wild orchids. What a great, unexpected discovery as there were hundreds of orchids around us, many not yet in bloom but others that were allowing us the opportunity for another experience. Daylight would be waning soon so time to keep going.
Another Wild Orchid
Another Wild Orchid
There still was the matter of spotting a big horn sheep. This continued to be an elusive animal however the last ranger we spoke with mentioned the best location was near the entrance close to Estes Park. Perfect! As we neared this entrance there still were no big horn sheep to be seen. At the entrance station they post the last sighting of big horn sheep. It turned out that the sheep had not been sighted for a couple of days so we ended up not being able to see them. We were all tired from another long day of exploring so getting back to the lodge was acceptable and welcomed.
The Tundra Comes to Life
The Tundra Comes to Life
This adventure was an amazing experience of which I could do again. Another time I would like to be more prepared for long hikes into the mountains as there are numerous trails to explore. For those who are really adventurous, camping in the back country is an option allowing for hiking even further into the mountains and witnessing sights very few get to see. For two days we traveled and hiked a lot of miles and enjoyed many of the sites of RMNP. There is so much more to do and experience in this vast park that a couple of weeks would be quickly used up and provide a lifetime of memories. Rocky Mountain National Park has 3 webcams that update approximately every 10 minutes. I often will check out these webcams for a reminder of our visit and to see the changes throughout a day and throughout a month. There have been some great sunrises, sunsets, snowstorms, and rain as the weather at each of these camera locations can be different all at the same time. I have yet to see an animal caught on camera though. As much as I would like to go back to RMNP, I look forward to seeing some other great National Parks that we will enjoy just as much.
Some of the Incredible Landscape
Some of the Incredible Landscape
P.S. We did eventually find some big horn sheep near Mount Rushmore.
Big Horn Sheep
Big Horn Sheep

Climbing the Rockies (part III)

Wild Orchids
Wild Orchids

 

For the second day in Rocky Mountain National Park there were two ranger programs of interest and a few animals that had eluded us of which we wanted to find if possible – moose and big horn sheep. The first ranger program was at Lily Lake and highlighted wildflowers that were in bloom around the park. It was great to find out what some of these beautiful flowers where that we had been seeing while exploring different areas. Towards the end of the program our ranger mentioned where a few orchids could be found in bloom sending us off on a minor expedition to see if we could find one. After a short time walking there they were! These orchids were only visible to those that were looking and had an idea of where they were otherwise they are well adapted to the environment and somewhat difficult to spot. This stop at Lily Lake provided a great view of Longs Peak, the tallest peak in RMNP. Our next program of interest was again a 30 mile drive to another area in the park so off we went with enough time to stop for lunch.

A Hidden Waterfall
A Hidden Waterfall

 

This program highlighted elk and the habit necessary for them to survive. More great information about elk and their seasonal migrations along with what is being done at RMNP to keep the herd sizes at manageable sizes. Some of the controls included adding fencing to certain areas to allow plants re-grow and establish while keeping elk out reducing some of the food available. A short hike going through areas that elk like to feed and drink where a part of this program. This hike meandered into the fenced off area allowing us to see plants re-growing and how much grazing by the elk has diminished available food. After the program we inquired about the best places to see moose and big horn sheep allowing us to focus on certain places to provide the best chances at achieving this goal. With that information in hand we were off. Along the way there were a few waterfalls that we wanted to see which were somewhat larger than those we had already viewed.

Looking Through the Trees for a Waterfall
Looking Through the Trees for a Waterfall

 

Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls

One of these waterfalls was located on Old Fall River Road which is a one way gravel road that winds narrowly up the mountainside. There were times I was uncertain if this was a good idea as the road winds back and forth with the edge not far away. Drive carefully or you could be going over the side and taking a ride you were not prepared for. Just before this road there is a picnic area with a small trail that heads towards a very tall waterfall hidden deep in the trees. It is difficult to see the entire fall but still very beautiful for the parts that you can see. Continuing on to Old Fall River Road towards Chasm Falls, you begin to feel like you are in a secluded area as the road is gravel and narrow with trees sheltering much of the passageway. The only reminders of civilization are the number of other adventures traveling this road and paved trails at certain overlooks. This waterfall reminds of the power that water has as it moves and carves large boulders to shape the river. It can almost be imagined the millions of years it takes to really change this landscape just by the size and placement of certain boulders as you explore along this waterfall. As you continue this drive you wind up one side of the mountain and then cutback heading towards the other side of the mountain meandering slowly higher while catching a quick view of a snowfield higher up or a larger stream created from melting snow. Eventually this drive brings you above the tree line allowing you to see how far you have climbed on this winding old road and how close you have moved towards the top. Shortly after reaching the tree line, Alpine Visitor Center is back in view. This drive takes awhile but is well worth it if you can overcome the fear of driving so close to the edge of the road where the drop off could be 100’s of feet below and take in all that is around you.

To Read More Click Here ….

Climbing the Rockies (part II)

Dangerous Snowfields
Melting Snowfields

 

While exploring the displays in Alpine Visitro Center, some other explorers entered telling park rangers that a Wolverine was spotted not that far away. I rushed outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of this rarely seen animal in RMNP without success. Not really knowing what a wolverine looks like I perused the displays until I spotted a photo of one. Listening to park rangers tell about wolverines was interesting and hearing their thoughts on why this one was wandering around proved fascinating. Their theory was this wolverine was looking for a mate and that if one was not found soon it would head further north out of Rocky Mountain National Park. While keeping an eye out in the area where the wolverine had recently been spotted we scanned the scenery where deep snow fields blended with areas of brown indicating where the snow had just retreated from a day or two earlier. Areas where the snow had melted several days before where already green as plants had begun there quick summer season with other plants not far away blooming. It was interesting to see this summer progression of the snow receding and giving way as life returned to the hillsides.

Alpine Ridge Trail
The top of Alpine Ridge Trail

 

We decided to grab something to eat at the cafeteria located near the Alpine Visitor Center before proceeding on with our adventure. After a few moments of rest and eating we headed off to climb the Alpine Ridge Trail which would end up being the highest elevation we would reach during our time in RMNP. This was a short trail with a lot of climbing requiring us to move slowly as the elevation provides less oxygen making breathing more difficult. Park recommendations are to reach your summit by early afternoon as lighting becomes more likely later in the day so we were in a little bit of a hurry in order to avoid being at the top of this trail during the mid and late afternoon. Another great view of the mountains which surrounded us! From here you can see where the Colorado River begins its journey towards the Grand Canyon along with so many other mountain peaks. Heading back down towards our vehicle we spotted several dark clouds heading our way but we managed to get to the top and back down without experiencing lightning first hand at the top of a mountain.

Lightning Warning
Lightning Warning

 

On to find the trail that takes a spot on our National Parks Edition Monopoly Board – Flattop Mountain Trail. This required driving over 30 miles to Bear Lake to reach the trailhead leading to our targeted destination. During this drive there was once again incredible scenery from all of the flowers blooming along the roadside to rapidly flowing rivers. I found several types of flowers I would like to add to my yard someday. It is a little more difficult to create all of the snow melting into rivers in my yard so I just need to enjoy the photos and memories for now. Once Bear Lake was reached we headed for the trails and began ascending towards our objective. This was a short 2 mile hike with the intention of staying below the tree line so as to avoid any possible threat of lightning. As we reached Flattop Trail we took a few moments to rest and take in the surrounding of stones, trees, and the occasional critter wandering in the forest. It was starting to get late in the day and we were tired after all of our hiking and exploring so the decision was made to descend back to the car and return to the lodge for food and a good nights sleep.

Flattop Mountain Trail
Flattop Mountain Trail

To Continue reading more click here ….

Climbing the Rockies

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

There are a couple of National Parks on our Monopoly board that stand out to me as the places I am most eager to see. One of them was Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I have enjoyed all of the national parks we have visited to this date but RMNP is so far my favorite national park. There are some great places yet to come so I expect this may not remain my top pick in the end but for now this is the park I think of first when talking about national parks. What makes this my favorite national park? The elk, moose, marmots, the tundra in bloom, picturesque snowcapped mountains, wild orchids, waterfalls, beautiful lakes and rivers, intriguing trails, and on and on and on… Does it appear as though I enjoyed our time here?

Estes Park
Estes Park

We entered Colorado from the plains of the Mid-west. The mountains continued to grow larger in the background until we were at the base of the Rocky Mountains beginning our ascension towards the top. Our climb towards the top started slowly at first and then quickly became steeper and steeper as we drove higher towards RMNP. Watching the trees and rocks all around us was mesmerizing complimented by the raging rapids from the snow melting higher in the mountains. After a short time we entered Estes Park where one of the entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park resides. We settled in at our lodging for the next couple of days and prepared to go exploring in the mountains for the next couple of days.

RMNP Entrance
RMNP Entrance

The next morning we grabbed some breakfast and headed out to continue our adventure. Upon entrance to RMNP we browsed over the activities available for the day and began our drive towards the Alpine Visitor Center. As we meandered along we came upon a traffic jam. Further inquiries declared there were a few elk rested in the area. Driving along a little further we spotted an elk. This one happened to be a bull with horns towering above his head completely covered in velvet indicating they were still developing. For us this was exciting as we have never seen a bull elk before. While visiting Wind Cave National Park we watched a heard of elk in the distance but there were no bulls visible in that heard. Spending a few moments we snapped a few pictures of the elk and enjoyed the surrounding landscape and then off towards the visitor center once again.

Two Bull Elk
Two Bull Elk (one is hidden in the background)

Our road trip to Alpine Visitor Center would have been much faster had there not been so many places to pull over and gaze in amazement and the snow covered peaks where the snow was melting. Streams of melted snow turned into rivers with beautiful waterfalls and violent rapids allowing us to get lost in these scenic moments and lose track of time. There were at least 4 stops off of Trail Ridge Road on the way to the visitor center each one capturing our interest and providing a unique look at these mountains. Along the way we encounter snow drifts that had covered this road weeks before. Some of them were at least 10 feet tall reminding us of the harsher times of year and the amazing feat required of animals and plants in order to survive this environment. At our last stop before reaching our destination a marmot appeared in and out of rocks while crawling around on the tundra which was full of plants displaying their beautiful flowers showing the attraction of this alpine terrain. Eventually we arrived at the visitor center where Lysa and Kristy began their journey towards another Junior Ranger Badge.

Alpine Visitor Center
Alpine Visitor Center

To Continue to Part II Click Here…

Going Underground in Wind Cave (part III)

The Natural Entrance to Wind Cave
The Natural Entrance to Wind Cave

Getting back to the visitor’s center it was time to determine how we would spend the rest of this day. It was early afternoon and time for something to eat. We traveled to a nearby town and enjoyed a small town restaurant before continuing our explorations of Wind Cave National Park. Returning to the visitor’s center once again it was decided to spend the rest of our time as surface dwellers since there are thousands of acres to explore. A trip to this cave would not be complete without experiencing the natural entrance which was amazingly small with a lot of air movement which is how it was first discovered. Apparently two brothers were passing by and heard a loud whistling. Upon further investigation they found the vast network of caves below that caused this sound due to the attempt at equalizing atmospheric pressure. Since then over a hundred miles of this cave have been discovered. It is estimated that this accounts for only 5% of the entire cave. Try to imagine over 2,500 miles of caves and passageways beneath the surface. That’s the equivalent of driving from Buffalo, NY to Los Angeles, CA!

A Deer Playing Tag as we Drove Along Side
A Deer Playing Tag as we Drove Along Side

Once the natural entrance was found we decided to get in the car and drive some of the unpaved roads in an effort to explore some of the prairie protected by this national park. Early on we encountered a pronghorn deer that wanted to play for a short time. We would stop the car and this deer would run ahead of us for a distance staying next to the road and then stop and watch to see what we were doing. We continued forward as this deer decided to wait until we were again next to it. Once we pulled alongside it ran ahead again, stopped, and waited anxiously. Again we drove ahead to meet it only to have this deer run further along the road. This went on a few times before the pronghorn grew tired of the game and left. Our next encounter was single buffalo standing near the road allowing birds to perch on its back. We found this entertaining for a few moments and then continued on. The top of a hill was reached and below waited a breathtaking sight of this never ending prairie. Looking over the grass as it waved in the breeze along with the occasional stand of trees appeared as though out of a painting from a century ago. Over on the hillside rested some animals. They turned out to be a herd of elk resting in the mid-afternoon sun while darker clouds began to roll in indicating a potential storm. There were a couple of hundred elk comprising this herd allowing us to watch from a distance as they lazily meandered about. There were no horns on any of these elk causing us to wonder where the bulls could be. Our day was growing long and we had to return to our hotel in time to catch a wink or two before getting up early to participate in the Independence Day celebration at Mt. Rushmore.

A Herd of Elk Lazily Grazing in the Afternoon Sun
A Herd of Elk Lazily Grazing in the Afternoon Sun

 

On our way back through Custer State Park we encountered another herd of buffalo. After a few moments of gazing at these grazing animals we moved on. Another few miles down the road we saw the next spectacle – a herd of donkeys. This was a complete surprise as I hadn’t imaged donkeys in the wild. Here they were and demanded another stop to take it all in. They were very friendly and seemed to enjoy our company as much as we enjoyed watching them. Finally, we needed to depart for our journey back to Custer to grab a bite to eat and plan the next day’s activities before falling asleep. This was another in a string of very memorable adventures and once again proves that confronting that which you may fear will help you learn more about that fear.

A Storm Approaching Out on the Prairie
A Storm Approaching Out on the Prairie

To View More Photos of Wind Cave click here….

Going Underground in Wind Cave (part II)

Entering Wind Cave
Entering Wind Cave

The elevator doors opened and there was a small, cool room waiting which had been created out of concrete. There was a door leading into the cave with a small flag attached near one of the crevice. That small flag would show which direction the wind was blowing caused by the change in pressure from the surface to the cave. This cave is always attempting to equalize the atmospheric pressure from within to that on the surface creating a wind either entering or exiting. At the time of our entrance into this cave the flag was standing away from the door indicating the pressure was higher inside and was trying to escape to the outside. As we waited for everyone in the tour group to arrive inside these close quarters, my mind began racing and a trapped feeling crept in knowing that the only way out was through that elevator which was at the top of the shaft for the moment. The walls appeared to close in and panic was felt climbing into my head. Quickly I started work on calming down with the exercises I had rehearsed many times before this moment. I was in a parking garage under a building I was familiar with. Immediately my mind relaxed a little and in no time the ranger opened the door leading us into the cave. Shortly after getting into the passageways amazement took over and the claustrophobia was gone never to return in Wind Cave.

Amazing Colors and Textures inside the Cave
Amazing Colors and Textures inside the Cave

The cave was cool as it stays at 53 0F year around requiring the use of light jackets but not as dark as I was anticipating. These main passageways that we would be using were very well lit in most areas so we could see where we were going and cave formations. It is unbelievable how large some of the rooms are inside and the passageways didn’t feel tight at all. I was in complete adventure mode as I had never experienced anything like this before. Sure growing up there would be caves to explore but those were merely a place to hide without much more. The colors and formations of these rocks where unlike anything I had imagined. It was now understood how people could spend days exploring different areas inside of caves to uncover mysteries that no one else had discovered. To see something never seen before in the world would be incredible. I don’t think caving would be for me but to see inside some of the easier passageways was incredible. Some of the rock formations such as boxwork, popcorn, and crystals encountered along with the huge boulders hanging overhead provided an amazing experience. There was more than once that the thought of one of these rocks falling entered my mind. Just a quickly a reminder that these stones have been in place for a very long time and the likelihood that they would fall at just this moment was probably less than being injured in a car accident or even being struck by lightning.

Cave Popcorn
Beautiful Cave Popcorn

 

There were hundreds of stairs built into the passageways of Wind Cave allowing us to descend into some passageways and ascend into others. Over the course of our tour we changed altitude by 150 feet giving many different perspectives of these rocks and the forces that created them. Some of the rooms were so large that houses could fit inside with room to spare. These rooms made it easy to forget about being hundreds of feet below the surface. It was difficult to keep hands off of these rocks as much as possible because there were crystals or boxwork within touching distance. However, the importance of not touching was presented before entering the cave due to the potential for degradation from either the rocks breaking or oils from our skin deteriorating the minerals that make up these formations. Our tour wound in and out, up and down, and through these cavernous passageways with only a small number being small enough to sneak through. The end of the tour arrived and left us wanting to see more another time. As we exited the cave, that flag that was blowing out of the cave and changed directions and was now blowing into the cave indicating a change in pressure so that the atmospheric pressure outside the cave was now greater than inside. Back into the small chamber to await our elevator ride back to the surface with nothing but memories to last a lifetime to occupy our thoughts.

Stone Boxwork
Stone Boxwork Formations

To continue click here….

Going Underground in Wind Cave

Wind Cave National Park Entrance
Wind Cave National Park Entrance

Wind Cave National Park is not one of the parks on our monopoly board but it is close to Mt. Rushmore and one that peaked our interest. As I continued to research this park I became a little nervous and unsure about taking any of the excursions into the cave as I tend to get nervous in dark, tight spaces. Many other people go into this cave and come out unharmed so I should be able to do the same. Several days were spent mentally preparing for this adventure and how I would have to think about things if a bout with claustrophobia presented itself. I’m used to riding in elevators both above ground and several stories below ground so that is how I planned on dealing with being 300 – 400 feet below ground. Just image being in a parking ramp that is under a building. I’ve experienced underground parking areas numerous times so this should be fairly easy to do. Let’s see how well this works.

A Prairie Dog Greeting
A Prairie Dog Greeting

The drive from Custer, SD to Wind Cave is beautiful. This is located in the black hills so there are lots of pine covered hills and valleys to wind around and through continually challenging us to examine the landscape as it quickly passed by. In order to get to Wind Cave we drove through Custer State Park which also has a lot of great scenery and could take many days of exploring but we were focused on our destination so there were no stops before reaching Wind Cave National Park. While stopped at the entrance sigh we were pleasantly greeted by a mule deer off in the distance and the barking of many prairie dogs as there was a town close by. Continuing on we quickly came upon a traffic stop due to a herd of buffaloes crossing the road. They were in no hurry as I’m sure this is a daily occurrence and possibly entertaining to the buffaloes to see how many people they can get to stop and watch. After several minutes an opening arrived for us to drive through without the danger of one of these large animals colliding with us or many of the other people stopped and observing this magnificent sight. On towards the visitor center.

A Buffalo Crossing
An Inconvenient Buffalo Crossing

Despite the main attraction – the cave, this park contains thousands of acres which include pine covered hills and vast prairies. The cave was our primary interest so we wanted to leave enough time to adequately explore it before experiencing some of these other attractions. Once at the visitor’s center a tour into the cave was decided upon and purchased. Our wait was not long so the few moments before going down into the earth were spent looking over the displays and learning about the formation of Wind Cave. There were a number of tours available which would have been interesting but we chose the Fairgrounds tour which is about ½ mile long and explores some of the great formations in this cave. As time approached for this adventure we met at the designated spot where a ranger was waiting to guide us to the elevator that would drop us into the cave. This elevator only holds a small number of people so we had to wait in line until everyone was lowered several hundred feet beneath the surface. I tried to be towards the back of the line to minimize the amount of time spent waiting underground before entering the cave passages. Our opportunity to go down arrived and we entered the elevator. If there was a time for claustrophobia, this was it being packed in this little box slowly descending to a place natural light does not exist.

Part II, click here….

Beginning in the Badlands (part III)

A Break on a Butte
Resting on an Area Butte

The afternoon sun was beginning to wear on us. Fortunately we had placed a gallon of water in the trunk with a few glasses in order to keep hydrated. After our early afternoon ranger program, Lysa and Kristy wanted to climb the hills. I was ready for some rest so we retrieved our camp chairs from the car and watched as both of the children climbed up and down different hills. The air was getting a little stagnant from our seating area. There must be some movement in a different location so off I went in search of a breeze. The beautiful thing about our chairs is they fold up quickly and stow in a bag containing a strap for easy mobility. I began exploring different areas, climbing up and down just like the kids but for a different reason. Finally I found a satisfactory location – on top of a butte. This must have seemed a little weird as other families were stopping and taking pictures of me in my chair resting on that butte. You know you’re doing something right when you’re purposefully added to another family’s photo album. We continue to laugh about this to this day.

A Badlands Prairie
A Badlands Prairie

Off to our final ranger program of the day as we continued to explore more of this great park. At this point the Lysa and Kristy were beginning to grow tired of walking and the thought of another mile stroll through the prairie was not an exciting idea. Being the troopers that they are, they accepted this final program although there seemed to be more resistance than I was happy with. There celebrating began as this program came to an end and it was time to return to the hotel. Of course, the return trip required us to drive back through much of the Badlands prompting a number of stops that were of interest on the way to the visitor center. The sun was beginning its nightly journey towards the horizon leaving us before we were ready. As a result our stops became fewer and quicker while we traveled back to Wall. A brief stop for another meal and then back to the hotel for some much needed rest before continuing our journey.

The Sun Setting over the Badlands
The Sun Setting over the Badlands

Absolutely a great start to our adventure around the monopoly board!

For more photos click here ….

Beginning in the Badlands (part II)

Badlands Entrance
Badlands Entrance

We rose early, quickly took in a continental breakfast courtesy of the hotel we stayed at, and headed south on 240. We traveled through Buffalo Gap National Grassland and came upon our first entrance where we decided to stop and take the requisite photo next to the Badlands National Park sign. Back in the car heading further into the park we stared at the unique landscape unfolding in front of us. Sage Creek Rim Road was the first turn off we encountered requiring a quick decision: do we continue on or take this turn. Sage Creek Rim Road it was hoping to find a spot nearby in order to stop and study the list of events and map that where handed to us at the entrance in order to get a bearing on where we want to go. Our first stop was at the Hay Butte Overlook where the map and events list were quickly forgotten as we got out of the car and focused our attention at the amazing hills sitting before our eyes. This is a moment forever engrained in my memory as I was struck by the beauty of colors, textures, and shapes creating this incredible landscape. I could no longer feel myself standing as this moment became very spiritual for me while I became a part of this place that has existed for thousands of years and will continue to be here long after I am gone. After accepting this, my attention turned to other family members taking in all there was to see. Down in the valley roamed one loan buffalo. Our first wild buffalo experience. The day had just begun and I had experienced all that I expected. What more could there be?

First Sights of the Badlands
One of our First Views of Badlands National Park

We could have spent the entire day just exploring this one area in the Northern portion of the Badlands but there was much more to see. Grudgingly I returned to the car as we looked over the list of events. Ohh, there’s a ranger program starting in 15 minutes that sounds interesting. Unfortunately we were 30 minutes away from the meeting place so this wouldn’t work. The next ranger program of interest didn’t start for over an hour at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center so maybe that would be a good place to start. Everybody returned to the car allowing us to head back towards 240 which would wind through the Badlands and end at the visitor center. There were many places that begged for us to stop as the scenery continued to be amazing and show us different views. We resisted in order to get to the visitor center to learn more about this park. Once at the visitor center we began looking over the models on display showing the evolution of the Badlands.

Junior Ranger Program
Becoming a Junior Ranger

During the course of this examination we stumbled upon the junior ranger program. Wow! A program directed completely at children. The kids received a booklet and needed to complete a certain amount during their adventure and then explain what they had learned to a ranger. Once the ranger is satisfied with all the kids learned, the potential junior ranger pledges to help keep the park as it is so other can learn and enjoy this special place. Upon completion of the pledge they receive a junior ranger badge. Both of our children decided to accept the journey to become a junior ranger. Fortunately, the ranger program we had made this trip for was a junior ranger program which would help them earn their badge. As the program wound down it was time for the board signature. I quickly headed towards the car to get our National Parks edition of Monopoly board and rushed back where the rest of the family was sitting. We asked the ranger for an odd favor – to sign our board on the Badlands property. He did so with an excited demeanor. Lysa and Kristy completed their necessary requirements and received their first junior ranger badge. Our first park complete! Time was passing as if with a purpose and we were starting to get hungry. What is available for food nearby? There was only the restaurant in the visitor’s center providing a meal without having to travel some distance. In we went for a bit of food, something to drink, and some refreshing cool air. After some rejuvenation we headed back out to explore a trail or two before the next ranger program of interest. There were two ranger programs on our agenda for the remainder of the afternoon and many stops throughout the Badlands just to enjoy the landscape.

Beginning in the Badlands part III….