The Achenbach Trail fits your physical endurance any time of the year – but it’s easiest in the spring

 

One of the well-treed plateaus on the Achenbach trail gives hikers a chance to rest before the next altitude change.

One of the well-treed plateaus on the Achenbach trail gives hikers a chance to rest before the next altitude change.

No matter how many times I hike the trail and back country of the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there is one trail I keep coming back to, the Achenbach Trail.  You’d like it because no matter your level of fitness, you’ll find an accessible section that matches your skill.  The entire loop is nearly 20 miles (some measure it at 16, others at 18, and still more people add the Buckhorn Trail to make it a nearly 30-mile hike).

One of the moderate rises gives hikers access to a ridge the trail crosses

One of the moderate rises gives hikers access to a ridge the trail crosses

It is more than a day’s worth of hiking – but of course hikers who are more committed than I can set up overnight camp off the trail if they want to hike it in two days.

For those two-day hikers, steep climbs and descents provide a workout; two river crossings can be a challenge, but the rewards are unmatched vistas for sunsets and sunrises.

It's thought that once upon a time the Little Missouri River flowed in to the Hudson Bay. Glaciers changed that, and now the river cuts through one of the most narrow passageways in the region.

It’s thought that once upon a time, the Little Missouri River flowed in to the Hudson Bay. Glaciers changed that, and now the river cuts through one of the most narrow passageways in the region on it’s way to the Missouri River about 50 miles from here.

This spring on the birthday of the National Park System, entrance to the park was free. We took advantage of it and drove the entire length of the park evaluating where we wanted to park and how much time we had to hike.

A blue bird rests in a tree top below the trail.  The most common wildlife here are hawks or sometimes eagles.  Bison are far more numerous than people.  Rattlesnakes are plentiful when it's hot.

A blue bird rests in a tree top below the trail. The most common wildlife are hawks or sometimes eagles. Bison are far more numerous than people. Rattlesnakes are plentiful when it’s hot.

Daylight gets incredibly long mid-summer so there is plenty of daylight even at 9 or 10 o’clock in the evening.  On this day, we had until 8:30, so we picked a section that would get us out in to the overlooks above the Little Missouri, and then cut cross-country back to the Jeep.TRNP_MAP_R-300x221

This part of the trail, the “North Achenbach Trail” is only about 4 miles long.  One section of it is easily accessible near the famous landmark Oxbow Overlook; here families with young children can get a taste of Badlands hiking.

Take your camera and be set up for lanscape shots.

Take your camera and be set up for landscape shots.

Further out, the view is spectacular as the trail follows a ridge above the Little Missouri River. Mary climbs hill sgntre Most of the trail is single-track. Some of the more challenging hillsides have ancient log steps laid out, but they’ve been moved by nature’s erosive forces; often, we found we were better off just making our own trail up the side of a bluff.

Several rocky narrow passages give hikers a chance to pick their way through the pass -- provided they have hiking boots with good traction.

Several rocky narrow passages give hikers a chance to pick their way through the pass — provided they have hiking boots with good traction.

An April or May hike on the Achenbach is perfect for temperatures. Mid-summer temps easily edge near 100 degrees, or more.  The reflective surfaces make it even brighter and more uncomfortable. That’s why a spring hike is good, but it’s also less green. We recommend late May or early June.  That’s when wildflowers and prairie roses are abundant and the sparse patches of grass are most green.

What time of year do you prefer to hike?  Have you tried hiking on those 100 degree days? Have you tried a winter hike?

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The “new” Maah Daah Hey Deuce opens new explorations

Get out of your vehicle to explore the Badlands, the Bakken Oil region of North Dakota.

Get out of your vehicle to explore the Badlands, the Bakken Oil region of North Dakota.

Near the Ice Caves along the Maah Daah Hey trail, two bicyclists navigate the easy part of the ride, through the grass before hitting the trail

Near the Ice Caves along the Maah Daah Hey trail, two bicyclists navigate the easy part of the ride, through the grass before hitting the trail

Exploring western North Dakota outside the comfort of your vehicle is possible for nearly everyone. You can pick a comfort level on the Maah Daah Hey Trail and enjoy the region that matches your physicality.  Portions of the trail are wide, easy and flat through the grasslands.

The turtle markers of the Maah Daah Hey trail guide travelers along the prepared route, but you don't have to stick to the trail, you are free to wander on public lands.

The turtle markers of the Maah Daah Hey trail guide travelers along the prepared route, but you don’t have to stick to the trail, you are free to wander on public lands.

Other portions are challenging. The Deuce is a bit of both. It’s not even a year old yet, but it’s getting a fair amount of attention.

Next to the Deuce trail, an outcropping of rocks, a shelf, invite hikers to walk along the side of a butte.

Next to the Deuce trail, an outcropping of rocks, a shelf, invite hikers to walk along the side of a butte.

Custer Trail, the route of the 7th Cavalry passes by the Deuce

Custer Trail, the route of the 7th Cavalry passes by the Deuce

It starts south of Medora near the Custer Trail and is about 40 miles long, and extension to the south of the original 100 miles to the north. Its real name is Maah Daah Hey II, the second reach of the world-famous cross-country trail. It snakes across hills and valleys until it reaches near Amidon and the Burning Coal Vein.  At the south end, the trail, as we explored it last winter is fairly easy. Like the 100 miles to the north, the trail is great for hiking, biking and horseback riding. With a series of camp grounds on the route, a multi-day hike, bike or horseback ride will now take a person 140 miles from near Amidon in the southwest to near Watford City in the northwest. Previously it was about 100 miles from Medora north to near Watford City. Easter Sunday, we looked for an early-season hike to celebrate Resurrection Sunday in God’s creation.

The road to where Custer and the 7th Cavalry crossed the Little Missouri River

The road to where Custer and the 7th Cavalry crossed the Little Missouri River

Out of curiosity we  first took a bit of a detour before heading out on the Deuce.  We drove toward the Little Missouri River, following map markers to check the Custer Trail.  If the Forest Service map is correct we drove a quarter-mile or so on the actual trail, then got out and walked where Custer and the 7th Cavalry crossed  the Little Missouri River.  On the other side, we could identify the pass on the west side of the river where the 7th Cavalry undoubtedly marched to Little Big Horn. Then we doubled back to catch a good start place on The Deuce, parked the truck, packed our day-packs and camera gear and started out on an easy grassy stretch—for a while.   Deuce crocus 1deuce crocus 3   Along the way we saw several signs that spring is here, that there is new life after a long cold winter. Like some people celebrate the first robins, ranchers and prairie folk celebrate the first crocuses of spring.

The Deuce starts out gently as grasslands before getting in to rougher terrain.

The Deuce starts out gently as grasslands before getting in to rougher terrain.

We used the Forest Service map of the National Grasslands, checked the topography of the region and found a place where narrow lines on the map indicated steep terrain. At first it didn’t seem accurate because the start was so easy and flat. Then the valley opened up to some of the greatest hiking in the southern part of the Maah Daah Hey. (Generally speaking the southern sections of the Badlands are smoother, less rugged, and “older” than the northern end.)

The valley along the Deuce to the west.  The red hills are scoria.

The valley along the Deuce to the west. The red hills are scoria.

We didn’t go too far, just a couple miles, but in that space we came to the kind of terrain we were looking for. The narrow, hill-hugging trail wrapped around a butte, along a ridge and over a crest to give us a view of miles of The Badlands, the Bakken region of North Dakota.

The Deuce wraps around a bluff and follows a narrow ridge.

The Deuce wraps around a bluff and follows a narrow ridge.

Our Easter Sunday ham (sandwich) dinner and communion were in a sheltered area high on the ridge and out of the wind.

Easter Sunday's ham dinner resting spot next to a petrified log.

Easter Sunday’s ham dinner resting spot next to a petrified log.

From there we could look back to the pass where we had been earlier that afternoon, where the Custer and the 7th Cavalry crossed the Little Missouri and headed west through a pass.

In the distance, the low cut of the hills is likely where Custer and the 7th Cavalry marched 140 years ago.

In the distance, the low cut of the hills is likely where Custer and the 7th Cavalry marched nearly 140 years ago.

We could look the other direction and saw a reminder that it is not 1876; a Burlington Northern train pulled its way from Fryburg to Medora before heading west to Montana.

A Burlington Northern train heads north from Fryburg to Medora and west to Montana

A Burlington Northern train heads north from Fryburg to Medora and west to Montana

It’s our intention to go back to The Deuce to follow it closer to the Burning Coal Veins.  It’s a worthy addition to the Maah Daah Hey trail.  What would it take for you to explore The Deuce? Get more tips to visiting the North Dakota Badlands. Follow me here on Facebook at Beautiful Bakken https://www.facebook.com/beautifulbakken Or check out the website featuring western North Dakota and Badlands http://www.beautifulbakken.com

North Dakota is made for bicycles in the spring

An old Burlington-Northern rail bed opens up in the spring for a ride

An old Burlington-Northern rail bed opens up in the spring for a ride

Spring in North Dakota opens new horizons: the next landmark, the next vantage point, the next hill (everywhere except the Red River Valley). An advantage to being a sparsely-settled state is the open roads for bicycling.

Bicycles freely cross the DeMers bridge at Grand Forks.

Bicycles freely cross the DeMers bridge at Grand Forks.

In the eastern part of the state, with the flat-as-glass terrain, bicyclists cruise along and over the Red River on gentle paved paths.

Communities such as Grand Forks, Mayville and Fargo offer well-used paved recreation trails.

On the western end is the grueling challenge of the Maah Daah Hey trail. It’s more than 130 miles long through the Badlands and Grasslands of North Dakota.  Every year, mountain bikers attempt the Maah Daah Hey 100 — and last year, the winning time for the 100 mile ride was just under 10 hours.

Near the Ice Caves along the Maah Daah Hey trail, two bicyclists navigate the easy part of the ride, through the grass before hitting the trail

Near the Ice Caves along the Maah Daah Hey trail, two bicyclists navigate the easy part of the ride, through the grass before hitting the trail

A few places are easy challenges, but the greatest share of the Maah Daah Hey trail is a world-class mountain bike route. It is a tougher pedal than I’ll ever do.  For those families who want to enjoy the scenic Badlands, they can take an easy ride through Medora and the recreation trail, or can venture on to other nearby easy routes.

In the middle of the state, here in the Missouri Slope region, open gravel roads allow a mix of level and sloped rides.

Late in the day,  a power plant on the horizon burns coal to make electricity to power homes in Midwest states.

Late in the day, a power plant on the horizon burns coal to make electricity to power homes in Midwest states.

Take northern Burleigh County, for example.

On the nights I ride the gravel roads, I find an evening pedal out to the hills gives a chance for a good strong exercise in not only physical, but a visual exercise. On high-traffic evenings, I may see as many as three vehicles sharing the gravel roads in one or two hours.  Most evenings, there are none.couple walk their dogs at bottom of hill

Sometimes a farm family may stroll the gravel roads with their dogs.

A farm couple walk the gravel road with their dogs.

A farm couple walk the gravel road with their dogs.

 

Farm kids put their ATVs to work riding around the country.

Farm kids put their ATVs to work riding around the country.

Other times, kids will use the family’s ATV to spread dust.  Most of the time, it’s just the lone bicyclist (me) out to capture evening atmosphere.

 

Overhead, geese follow the Central Flyway across the North American Continent.  They’re always talking to themselves so you will hear the flocks before you see them.  Some evenings there will be as many as four or five large flocks with hundreds of geese talking among themselves and heading north.

Canadian geese head north following the Missouri River.

Canadian geese head north following the Missouri River.

As long as I’m out in the country in the evening, I try to time my rides to capture sunset. The golden hour and the long contrasting shadow give much greater evidence to the uneven terrain when shadows roll over the hills and valleys. golden hour hill top with bicycle The environment picks up that warm golden glow. Across the river the sun drops behind Oliver and Mercer Counties.

The sun sets behind a tree row on a late afternoon North Dakota spring day

The sun sets behind a tree row on a late afternoon North Dakota spring day

An endless variety of weather conditions create an infinite variety of sunsets – the reward of an evening pedal on the back roads of North Dakota.OIL_2809

That’s my recommendation. Where do you recommend bicycling in your country?

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The Short Cut is the Long Cut Part 1 — Long X Trail westward

The Long X hiking trail follows the Little Missouri River Valley

The Long X hiking trail follows the Little Missouri River Valley

Hiking the Long X trail, you will wander over more than a mile of trail but only gets you one mile further in to the Badlands.  It’s the most primitive part of what is elsewhere a full access gravel road.  The gravel road may seem to be a short cut, but it’s actually the long cut through the Badlands wilderness between civilized areas.

It starts as a wandering path as though some critter aimlessly wandered about.  It’s old folk lore — the calf’s trail. I found the calf’s trail, or the Long X trail along the Little Missouri River, and sure enough, it wanders on a path so crooked it’d break a snake’s back.  Folk lore says that’s how highways start. Sam Foss wrote the words:

One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.

The calf’s trail I follow every year is a primitive extension of the Long X road. It zigzags through wilderness following the Little Missouri River which flows north from Wyoming and Montana in to North Dakota to the Missouri River. The Long X hiking trail never quite evolved to highway status, but it’s well-marked.

Each day a hundred thousand rout Followed the zigzag calf about.
And o’er his crooked journey went The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led, By one calf near three centuries dead.

 

Charlois and Long X Bridge wtrmrkThe name, “Long X,” is branded on a bridge, a trail and a road. It is from a famous cattle ranch on the Little Missouri River that pre-dates North Dakota’s statehood.  It was the north end of a cattle trail that dangled southward to Texas.  It’s gone now, but the name remains.

For decades, I’ve explored the valley where the Long X Hiking Trail threads. I always took with me my Austrailian Shepherd. Often other companions joined the dog and me — my daughter or son, or a friend. We relied on our sense of direction to get where we wanted to go — and get back again.  We’d keep one eye on the easy-to-follow Long X Trail, but we struck out on our own, running a parallel course between the Long X Hiking Trail and the Little Missouri River.

To get to the trail head, start at the Long X Bridge, south of Watford City. It’s south across the river from where the Long X Ranch once stood, 150 years ago. Drive a short one mile road to the CCC Campground named for the Civilian Conservation Corps, built in the 1930’s.

To get the Long X trail head, you'll drive through grazing or resting Charolais bulls.

To get the Long X trail head, you’ll drive through grazing or resting Charolais bulls.

Leave your vehicle; that’s as far as it will go. Now travel like the wandering calf on the Long X Hiking Trail, a well-marked adventure for those on foot, on bike or on horse.   (I’ve actually cross-country skied it in younger days.)   It’s marked by sign posts and directional markers such as these three that tell you where you stand and where you can go, if you want to follow the trail.

Long X trail head markers point the way down the trail, or to the Maah Dah Hey trail.

Long X trail head markers point the way down the trail, or to the Maah Dah Hey trail.

If you’re comfortable and can read nature’s signs, you can strike out on your own.  First-timers can safely follow the trail.

The Australian Shepherd is gone and so I don’t hike as much as I did when he was around. Still, I strike out a few times a year.  This spring, my hiking partner and I followed the general direction of the Long X Hiking Trail.  It was still early in the hiking season and the hills had not yet turned green, but at least they weren’t white with snow.

We stuck to deer trails because the marked hiking trail went up a valley where didn’t want to go. We spent most of an afternoon exploring the challenges of hills and bluffs that bank the valley carved by the Little Missouri River. After a few miles of flatland hiking on the valley floor, we picked a butte to climb to the top of the world. The view is restricted from the bottom of the valley, and we wanted to discover how far we could see from the top.

Long X Trail head with butte in background

About a mile away, the hill we ultimately chose to climb.

It took two-and-a-half hours to climb the butte. Little switch-backs made the hike longer, but less steep.  Our spring legs, out of shape from a confining winter were not strong enough to tackle the butte straight up. Back and forth we threaded our way up the butte on a path like Singer Sewing Machine zigzag stitch. We stopped every 20 minutes to rest our legs and scope out the encouraging view of how far we had come.  It was more encouraging to look at what we’d accomplished, rather than to estimate the climb ahead. The labor was worth it.Long X view of T Rsvlt Park and Little Mo wtrmrk

From on top we could see where the wandering calf trail called the Long X accompanied the Little Missouri River. “Magnificient” is the best word I can use to describe the view. “Endless” is another good word.  The bluffs and buttes extend a greater distance than I could estimate.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park corral across the river from us.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park corral across the river from us.

Not far off, we could see horses grazing peacefully.  Ranches and tourist points marked the view upstream along the river. . We scanned the distance with our cameras’ telephoto lenses, looking for herds of elk, big horn sheep or even a coyote.  In previous years, I’ve spotted all of them. What is spooky, though, is to know that this is also mountain lion country. The state estimates some 300 roam this region.  I wonder how many have lay hidden watching me in the same way that I sat on top of this butte watching the world below.

Long X view of buffalo wtrmrk

What caught our attention and entertained us for much of our rest break, was a sober reminder this ain’t the days of the wild west. A mere splinter of what was once lumbering herds of millions of buffalo grazed below us. A dozen head is all that are left in this valley to graze where 200 years ago, the land was literally covered with buffalo. Lewis and Clark, then a few years later, George Catlin painted and wrote of buffalo herds that could not be numbered — probably in the millions.  The Bismarck Tribune in 1880 reported that 2 hunters shot nearly 100 deer and antelope and 15 elk. Elk were so plentiful, the Tribune wrote that the two men shot 11 of the elk in about 15 minutes.  From our perch on the top of the butte, on the grassy mesa, we could watch across the river where a few head of buffalo grazed at the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but no elk.

With a bit of imagination, we could picture what it must have been like to ride across the grasslands to this great gorge and then to spy big black beasts — too many to number. Only a few head of the massive herd would be needed to feed, clothe and house the tribe or clan of Mandan or Hidatsa that lived in this area hundreds of years ago.  The tribes considered the buffalo to be their spiritual kin.  They thanked their gods for the provisions that the buffalo supplied, hides, meat, tallow, bones — all of which they used to live hundreds of years ago.  Today, buffalo are just a tourist spectacle.

The view from the mesa above the valley stretches for miles

The view from the mesa above the valley stretches for miles

We rested for nearly an hour at the top of the world. We talked and gazed across the region. The high-energy food from our backpack refueled our exhausted legs.  We drank the cold water we brought. We snapped several photos from our perch above the wandering calf trail.

When we left, we let gravity do it’s work. Two and a half hours up, but 45 minutes to get down.  We slid, fell, jumped until we were back at the bottom of the valley ready to parallel the river to get back to our truck. In all, we’d gone only about five miles west.  The round trip took five hours. The marked trail is about 12 miles long; a savvy outdoorsman could follow it all the way across the state in to Montana and Wyoming.Mary down the hill

Our day hike gave us enough of a taste of what life used to be like. Intent on following all we could of the Long X trail and road, we looked forward to following the longest part of the trail. It reached eastward — and that part we could handle by pickup truck another day. Our next leg of the journey would take us from the 1880 Long X Trail to the 1935 Long X Road.

I’ll tell you about that next — it’s a route you may want to sample — by vehicle if you’re not up to extreme hiking.  Start at the Long X Bridge and  head east. Next time I’ll show you what that looks like.

Click through a slide show to see more images of the beauty of the Badlands at http://www.mykuhls.com/Beautiful-Bakken

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A Sunday stroll up Chimney Butte

It doesn't look like a chimney, but that's what it is called, "Chimney Butte."

It doesn’t look like a chimney, but that’s what it is called: “Chimney Butte.”

It’s been called “Chimney Butte” for more than 200 years, but I’m not sure why; it doesn’t look like a smokestack.  Lewis and Clark used it as one of their markers when they trekked the Missouri River a few miles north.  You can find it between Mandaree and Keane between Highways 22 and 23 in McKenzie County.

The McKenzie County road past Chimney Butte is well-maintained and an easy drive.

The McKenzie County road past Chimney Butte is well-maintained and an easy drive.

It was our target for the Sunday hike because for one reason, it’s public-access land.  We didn’t have much time because the sunshine we’d enjoyed all day disappeared; rain clouds moved in at the same time we parked along the road on the south side of the butte — a well-maintained road.

We’ve been adding to our Beautiful Bakken Facebook page and thought this Sunday photo hike would help add to the collection of images displaying the beauty of the Badlands, the Bakken oil field.

 

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and our gallery of Beautiful Bakken photos on our website at this address —

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Rain approaching from the southwest gave us a sense of urgency.

Rain approaching from the southwest gave us a sense of urgency.

We packed only our cameras and something to drink, then crossed the prairie and up the slope toward the base of the rocks. There, we stopped long enough to survey the incoming rain behind us to the south.

Chimney butte wildflowersOur mission was to photograph a seasonal transition,  capturing the change from early spring’s dormant brown to the more lively green.  A few hints of spring met us along the slope such as the wildflowers sprouting ahead of the green grass.

Once at the base of the rocks, we followed the grass line around to the opposite side where we could more easily follow a switchback to the top.

At our destination, the top, we could survey the entire region of the heart of the Bakken Oil Field, eastern McKenzie County and western Mountrail County.  To the east Chimney Butte’s partner, Table Butte invited us to hike and climb to the top, but we declined. It’s private property and we thought we’d first get the rancher’s permission to climb Table Butte.

Table Butte looks more like a table than Chimney Butte looks like a chimney.

Table Butte to the east looks more like a table than Chimney Butte looks like a chimney.

While at the top, we could see where we’d started and there, a mile or so away, was whatMike shoots from Chimney Butte copy Chimney butte mare and coltlooked like dogs running across the region.  I used my telephoto (as low-power as it is) to try to get a better glimpse. It wasn’t dogs, it was a pair of colts.  I zoomed in on one when it ran back to its mother at water’s edge.

After resting a bit, we hiked back down the easy side.  It would have been faster to go down the rock side, but that would mean a jump of 70 or 80 feet.

At the bottom, we hiked back across the grassland base.  Over the hill, a different sign of spring watched us — a mare and her colt. This was not the same ones we had watched when we were up on top.white mare black colt appear over the hill

white mare black colt walk by in the trees sigWe stopped to see if the white mare and black cold would get closer. We were between them and the water — their apparent goal.  Mom chimney butte white mare black coltprotected her babe, so they skirted around us. We stopped, watched and photographed their patient easy stroll past us.   They disappeared over the hill.

 

 

 

Oh, and those first two colts we spotted?  They had moved on, but not far. We looked around for them, but they were safely out of sight. We got back in to our pickup and drove around Chimney Butte to the east side.  There they were! The mares and their colts didn’t mind us driving by. We stopped long enough to grab a shot or two of spring’s new life.two colts and a mare on a hillside

two colts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

two mares two coltsWe’d met our goal. We’d captured signs of spring in the beautiful Bakken region of North Dakota where nature underground is yielding a harvest of plenty and where nature above the ground displays the beauty we’ve come to see.

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Beauty is where you find it — if you’re looking for it.

An abandoned truck from decades ago in the Badlands.

An abandoned truck from decades ago in the Badlands.

Have you ever noticed that negative critical people find negative things to criticize? Conversely, a person who goes looking for good, for beauty will find it – often in the same area where black-hearted people see decay and destruction.

That’s the case here in the Badlands, the Bakken Shale Play region of North America. People who do not live here are sending film crews, photographers and others here to document the destruction of the Badlands caused by the oil boom. With a predetermined point of view, a prejudice, they look for and find what is in their heart.  People with a good heart see good, see beauty.  What is in the heart of the Bakken haters?

magpie creek

One of the many oxbow bends in the Magpie Creek that feeds in to the Little Missouri River

I see the same beauty out here that I’ve always seen in my 33 years of exploring and hiking the North Dakota Badlands and Grasslands.  It’s one of the most popular galleries on my website www.mykuhls.com

Little Mo ice jam

Ice goes out on the Little Missouri River as it winds through the Badlands toward the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea.

On this day, March 11 I drove one of my favorite roads for only about 10 miles. The Long X road extends from south of Watford City to north of Killdeer, about 30 miles of gravel – much of it “unimproved” gravel.   The ice was going out and rain was moving north of the region.  Sure signs of the exciting time called “spring.”

A month later, I found the other end of the road near Killdeer.  The road follows the Little Missouri River that flows through the epicenter of the Bakken Oil Play where there are literally thousands of oil wells extracting oil to build up America’s energy independence.   It’s even more spring-like and even more exciting.  It is beautiful, open country.

Destruction? Pollution? Damage? I don’t see it. Do you?

Muddy water from snow melt up in the hills finds its way to the Little Missouri River

North of Killdeer, muddy water from snow melt up in the hills finds its way to the Little Missouri River

You can see more of not only mine, but my hiking partner’s views at www.mykuhls.com

Street signs and Ranches

North Dakota's ranch country

You don’t have to go far outside of the North Dakota Capitol City to find a different kind of busy intersection.  A local gang hanging out under the street sign, looking for trouble doesn’t have the same meaning in North Dakota as in other places.

Street signs are abundant any where people are moving — they have to know where they’re going.  And that’s true out in Morton County, just west of Bismarck. If you take some of the local roads you’ll find you are directed down the road to households within the same extended family — all building their legacy on the prairie — with the help of mother cow and her calves.  At least I think they were there to help.  I didn’t bother them. That cold icy stare was enough to keep me in my truck.

In this July jaunt through the hills of west river (Missouri River) North Dakota I had no idea where I was going, or where I was and frankly the street signs didn’t help much, so eventually I turned around, but not until I brushed by a bit of isolated civilization in the wide open pasture and grazing of western North Dakota.   It’s a good part of my portfolio, shooting this model I love to photograph — North Dakota. Mykuhls Photography

Dang it’s wet.

Flooded farm

Spring 2011 is historic for its wetness, beyond anything every recorded in North Dakota.  In the prairie pothole region of North Dakota between Steel and Devils Lake, up through Hurdsfield, the saying is, “You can’t get there from here.”  Even if you’re in the farm house, you can’t get to the barn.  I’m standing on the road to the farm house, and I can’t get there either.

Hwy 36 flooded at Wing

It’s true everywhere.  In the morning I drove down this road and the water was lapping at the shoulders.  By evening, it was deep over the road and I couldn’t get the last 23 miles home.

Kids sandbagging

Of course what was an inconvenience for me was a disaster for many. That’s why sandbagging became the social event of Spring 2011 in Bismarck.  You can bet when these youngsters are grandparents, they’ll be telling their kids about the flood of 2011 when the Missouri River topped all historic levels.  The town of Bismarck and area residents turned out to shovel sandbags.  I borrowed a neighbor’s trailer and hauled sandbags to folks who were fighting the Muddy Mo.  But if it weren’t for the hundreds of volunteers at the sandbag sites, there’s be no way homeowners could protect their homes from the 500-year level flood.

From the northwest corner of the state at Williston through central North Dakota, down to South Dakota, the story was the same.  Too much water.  The Army Corps of Engineers held back as much water as it wanted at the Corps dams, Sakakawea, Fort Pierre and Chamberlain until the river threatened the dams.  Then came the big releases that flooded downstream cities such as Bismarck and Mandan.

Though the sign was in the perpetually flooded town of  Devils Lake when I drove through there it summed up the feelings of most people — just add a few more zeros to the capacity of the requested ark.

Now as you look back to the spring of 2011 — what word would you use to describe it?  I already used the word “wet.” Your turn.

A wet Grand Forks — May 15

Grand Forks Red River bridges

It sure can be pretty, the full moon, the still water, and the bridges over the Red River, but as spring 2011 winds down and summer is headed to North Dakota, there is still plenty of water — or as some would say, “water under the bridge.”

Water under the Sorlie Bridge

A stroll by the Red River in East Grand Forks

And indeed there is water under every bridge in Grand Forks in May 2011.  The East Grand Forks Recreation Trail goes now where, suitable only for scuba divers.

The Sorlie Bridge is a landmark in Grand Forks and all of North Dakota. There are few if any bridges like it.  In order to accommodate the freeze-thaw cycle that causes steel to expand and contract, as well as to accommodate the traffic on the bridge, it is built on railroad wheels that move with the bridge in it’s seasonal changes.

Sorlie Bridge

Near the Sorlie Bridge, along the Red River on this spring evening people gather at one of the more popular watering holes in East Grand Forks.  They’re anticipating summer. ready to ride through the bridge across the swollen water on their bicycle.

Or next to the bridge, they park their motorcycles while grabbing a beverage along the river, then heading out for a evening’s chilly ride.  They’re excited to see spring, even if they’re a bit concerned about all the water.  On this particular evening, even the dogs are out, well sorta out.  They’re in their master’s truck while he and his family enjoy a night along the river.  These dogs are particular friendly and have a nose for the camera…well almost, until I stepped just out of the wet sniffer.

I had already eaten and now was wandering the parkway looking for a way to capture the swollen river.  The sun set before I got out of there, and headed back to my motel for the night.  But before I left, I had to capture the image you see at the top of this blog, and the one that ends this blog, the traffic across the landmark Sorlie Bridge.

Have you been to Grand Forks and enjoyed the summer evening next to the Red River?  It’s a nasty beast as residents can tell you, and as you can survey the rebuild from the 1997 flood.  But on this night, though flooding it was peaceful.  How’s it when you are there?

July 11

Lillies in a vertical row

One of the most peaceful pleasures of home ownership is my flower garden. It’s not very much, but I keep adding to it year after year.  The day lilies in the back are something I hope I live here long enough to see spread in to an entire area behind my house.

I know I like lilies because back home in the hills and valleys along the Des Moines River in Iowa, lilies were a staple. They not only provide a summer-long green along the foundation of a home, they provide a long span of  flowering.  What I remember most about them is how they attracted humming birds.  I’ve never seen one in North Dakota, but have seen them in Lead, SD.

So, here the attraction isn’t the wildlife that flock to the lilies, but their beauty of themselves.  Their strong but delicate and “pretty” look are attractive to me. The  plants withstand the northern elements and climate.  They are hardy and they are delicate.

As a photographer, I like the fade from color to white that the flowers show.  Their long stamens expanding past the attractive  petals of the flower  make them ripe subjects for me to photograph.