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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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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August 17

 

Man and his two best friends

 

A summer evening’s walk puts three friends together in different combinations.  Late in the day, about 8 p.m. a man takes his two friends, (best friends ?) for a walk down Louise Avenue, the street on which I live in Wilton.  I see these three walk every evening, a ritual that is good for all three.

Others walk in the evening, too.  I drove out of my home after photographing the man and his dogs, headed to the highway on the outskirts of town to find three more friends on an evening stroll.  It is one of the most pleasant and healthy rituals these people can adopt.  A small town such as Wilton allows them plenty of room and safety for their ritual.  No gangs, no thoroughfares, no traffic congestion, just a pleasant stroll anywhere in town.

God bless Small Town, USA.