The tale of a doggone rescue

Ever get to a place that wasn’t what you expected and you can’t get out? You can’t go forward? You can’t go back?

That happened to my dog Gunnar on our last hike of the year.

Blue sky over the autumn landscape of the Badlands

Looking up at a distant hill, we start plotting our course. The public lands of the Badlands provide good hiking territory for dogs and their owners — with a few dangers such as porcupines, skunks rattlesnakes and coyotes

Thanksgiving is generally my last day-hike of the year. This year, the destination was the Little Missouri River Valley near where it empties in to Lake Sakakawea between Killdeer and Mandaree.  The bluffs, buttes and hills are fairly rugged, so we picked our route carefully through the valley.

Badlands riparian ridges provide good viewing of the landscape

Typically, we follow hogbacks, or ridges along the tops of valleys to see the landscape and pick our course. Since hunting season was underway, Gunnar wears a hunter’s blaze orange vest.

We found fascinating rock formations, including a wall of rivulet erosions down the hillside.

rivulets, erosion, rocks, hillside make for difficult hiking

Looking down the steep hillside, we pick a course to follow to the bottom

 

That’s when the dog decided he’d find his own way down.

The dog stops on a ledge looking down

Gunnar picked his own route to the bottom, but discovered it didn’t get him where he wanted to go.

Happily he scampered down…part way. Only part way.  He stopped.

 

With only a dozen feet to go, he came to an “Oops” moment.

 

Now what do I do?

 

He looked left, right, down and above.  He decided to just sit until the photographers did their things. He looked perplexed. He waited for the rescue squad to come in and help.

Dog sits in the rocks.

Recognizing his route to the bottom did not work, and that he could not climb back up, Gunnar stopped to look around

 

So, I did.

 

It really didn’t take much. I grabbed his shoulders, firmly, securely so he knew I had him.

 

The dog sits in his perch waiting for me to climb up and get him.

I climbed up to give him the physical security and guidance he needed to climb down from his perch.

I lowered him a bit down and he was saved!

Once he was coaxed off the rock ledge, he continued to make his own way down

Once he was coaxed off the rock ledge, he continued to make his own way down

 

You know, I think there’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

When Gunnar got to the bottom of the rock wall, he decided he'd had enough exercise and just wanted to rest.

When Gunnar got to the bottom of the rock wall, he decided he’d had enough exercise and just wanted to rest.

How to silence the noise of the day.

I’m tired of the noise. Aren’t you? The noise of the election. The noise of culture clashes. The noise in my own head.

So, when an assignment to shoot landscape out west, came along, I jumped at it immediately.

hay field, grasslands and in the distance, the Badlands

The Badlands in the distance interrupt the hay fields of the National Grasslands

The assignment was to photograph 20,000 acres of land along the ND/MT border that hadn’t changed much since Theodore Roosevelt ranched and hunted there in the late 1800s.  20,000 acres is about 30 square miles of rugged ranch land; the Beaver Creek Ranch. It was a warmer than normal November day, and weather conditions promised good light and good temperatures for exploring.

The further west we went, the more noise I left behind.

On the North Dakota/Montana border we turned north off of Interstate 94 on to a state highway, (we = Mary, Gunnar the foster dog and me).  Instantly, traffic disappeared; as far as we could see, the two-lane highway was ours.  Our mission was to find the rancher who owned the land designated as PLOTS land – Private Land Open To Sportsmen.

Triangle PLOTS signs mark areas where hunters and others can enter even though it is privately owned.

The sign marks land set aside under a cooperative agreement with the rancher. It is Private Land Open To Sportsmen, or PLOTS.

We saw the triangle signs marking PLOTS land, but it wasn’t what we were looking for.

Oh-oh! The noise in my head started coming back as I searched fruitlessly for the region I was assigned to photography.  I was frustrated, and so was the dog.  He wanted to get out to explore, so did Mary and I.  We kept driving. The old saying about finding your destination in North Dakota is true: If you think you’ve gone too far, you’re halfway there.

We checked out one gravel road to the east.  A herd of antelope grazed in a hay field.  That’s not what we were looking for, but it was a promise of things to come. Things were getting quieter.

Antelope or prarie goats were often spotted by Lewis and Clark when they came through here.

Antelope – or prairie goats as some people call them are wary critters who keep a long distance from people.

 

Back on the highway, a bit farther north and we found it. The Beaver Creek Ranch.  And wouldn’t ya know it, there it was, right on Beaver Creek.

Beaver Creek Ranch sign, PLOTS sign and map

The Beaver Creek Ranch PLOTS acreage is well-marked and includes a map that designates three parking areas. The area is for foot traffic only.

Earlier, I had called the rancher a couple of times and left voice mails, but got no reply.  I did get hold of one of the sponsors of the PLOTS program who told me to go on in.  He said I’d find at least three parking areas and recommended the one further in, back by the corrals.

The road starts out like a gravel road, and later it becomes a two-track trail. We rumbled and rocked across the basin where Beaver Creek meandered.

The beginning of the road in to the Beaver Creek Ranch is an easy gravel road until it turns in to a two-track trail that leads to a parking area.

The beginning of the road in to the Beaver Creek Ranch is an easy gravel road until it turns in to a two-track trail that leads to a parking area.

The bottom ground is the bottom of a basin that is sliced by Beaver Creek.  The rancher has one bridge but most of the time, he has to cross the creek by fords.

The bridge over Beaver Creek.

The bridge over Beaver Creek.

 

By the time we got to the corrals, the day was ending, the sun was setting and the moon was rising.  Now that may sound like a bad time to arrive, but it was a good time. It’s called The Golden Hour when shadows show contrast and the landscape is golden. There was no noise, not in my head, not in the surroundings.

While the sun was still illuminating the golden rocks, a nearly-full moon rose.

While the sun was still illuminating the golden rocks, a nearly-full moon rose.

As Mary explored the hills and ridges to the south, I went north.

A two-track trail gives the rancher access to the southern part of his ranch, but it's foot-traffic only at this point. A parking area is at the start of this trail.

A two-track trail gives the rancher access to the southern part of his ranch, but it’s foot-traffic only at this point. A parking area is at the start of this trail.

It wasn’t exactly silent, there is always a bit of a breeze rustling the grass and sweeping around the rocks.  But that’s not noise.  That’s a lullaby.  It’s soothing enough to make a fella breathe easy.   When I got to the top of the ridge and looked below me, the entire basin of Beaver Creek Ranch wandered northward from my perch.  The longer I gazed, the more I could see.  And none of it was noisy.

To the north, the rancher's access road snakes through the hills.

To the north, the rancher’s access road snakes through the hills.

I sat down and traced the distant trails where deer and cattle crossed the basin.  I scouted the hills to the north to trace where water flowed down to the creek, and where the rancher could access further pastures and hills to the north.

The sun was setting, the colors were turning gold and the contrast of shadows on the bluffs slowly covered the landscape.  And there was no noise.corral-rising-moon-sig-small

Once the sun disappeared, wildlife appeared.  Mule deer abound in the region.  mule-deer-pauses-inlight-sig-small young-mule-deer-on-ridge-toward-sun-sig-small mule-deer-doe-with-burrs-sig-smallThe area also includes turkeys, coyotes and elk.  There is evidence that an occasional mountain lion crosses the region.

It’s the absolute contrast to the noise of civilization, a part of North Dakota that many people don’t know about. Does that sound like something you could use in your world? Glad to give you directions if you want.

 

 

Wanna ride a grasshopper?

Yes, you can saddle up on an enormous green thing.

You can feel very very small at the enchanting stops along a highway in Western North Dakota. Gargantuan sculptures give travelers and tourists a reason to pull off I-94 at Exit 72 and head south on a gentle rolling blacktop highway called the Enchanted Highway.geese-in-flight-sig-small

I have. More than once. Over several years.

For me, the first enticement came from that eye-catching structure on the north, Geese in Fight.

It’s considered Sculpture #1. Structurally as well artistically, artist Gary Greff’s design is impressive and deceptive.  It’s larger than you think, over 100 feet tall.  Geese that are 5 or 6 feet big pass in front of sun rays, hillsides and a great “eye.”

Like most people, I buzz by it more than I stop.  It’s a good place to stop on my way to or from Dickinson.  There’s a parking lot and room to get out and stretch your legs, so I do — sometimes when the dog is with me to let him get out of the pickup for a while. Or on a summer motorcycle cruise we’ll stop with fellow riders.

Sidehack Mary's rig is dwarfed by the giant sculpture

Sidehack Mary’s rig is dwarfed by the giant sculpture

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This is how most drivers cross North Dakota see deer, running across the highway, jumping the fence. TomMN’s blog includes this pic. You can see his blog at http://www.tommn.com/

And those grasshoppers…the scourge of the prairie.  Bikers from the old days will tell you how they rode across North Dakota in August and at the end of the day, their shins were bruised from the biggest devils…but they weren’t this big.

mike-mary-grasshoppers-2Still, the rascals look to me like they need a little wrangling and riding.  So, on occasion, that’s what I will do, just to keep them in line, you understand.  I don’t win any buckles or anything.  I make sure they don’t get away and I use my best bronco riding techniques to stay on.

They look fearsome, but a calm head and a steady hand is all it takes to bring one under control and ride it to the sunset.

Ride. Ride the tiger...er um, grasshopper

Ride. Ride the tiger…er um, grasshopper

Down the road a ways, things get a little fishy.  I couldn’t begin to design something so realistic, but I can sure admire it. I’d hate to be the fisherman in the boat above all these monsters, but he’s up there.  I’m glad it’s him and not me.enchanted-highway-fish

After you've slid out of the boat wreck watch out you'r not swallowed by a walleye -- bikers need not worry.

After you’ve slid out of the boat wreck watch out you’re not swallowed by a walleye — bikers need not worry.

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Don’t stand under the back end…the “plop” may be more than you expect

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 32 mile stretch has a stop near the north end at the quaint, protected, sheltered little village of Gladstone, or you can keep going all the way to Regent, at the end of the line. It’s where Gary Greff makes his sculptures and is working on his next one, a knight in not-so-shiny armor.

The last time I visited the Enchanted Highway, fall of 2016, I got to the south end in time for one of North Dakota’s legendary sunsets.  In my mind, I removed the highways, the ranches, the signs of civilization and could imagine how rough it must have been to cross this region in a real stagecoach, not a plywood replica.  In fact, the Mandan to Deadwood stage did pass near here. What a ride!enchanted-highway-stagecoach-sunset-sig-small

At the end of my late-day drive down the highway, Teddy was there to welcome me, the moon at his hand, his gregarious outgoing nature larger-than-life.  And wouldn’t ya know it — as a president, you could say he was “transparent!”tr-on-enchanted-highway-with-moon-sig

The North Dakota Tourism Department does a great job of promoting this loop off of the beaten path. Read about the Enchanted Highway here .  Do you have photos of your enchanted visit?  I bet you have photos of Paul Bunyan, or New Salem Sue, or some other monster replica, right?

 

There’s a reason Wheelock feels haunted

wheelock-sign-sig-smallA spooky little town as many people know it, and there’s a reason.  At one time, a thriving growing community, at least four murders in its short life mar the history of Wheelock.  It was a town destined for distinction and death.

Wheelock first showed up in Williams County, North Dakota about 1901 and became a formal community a year later.  Compared to the vacant prairie, Wheelock  was so large and affluent, less fortunate people moved down the road a couple of miles and established the town of Epping.  It was said at the time that property was too expensive in Wheelock.  It’s population hovered around 115 in the mid 1930’s and by the 1950’s it reported as many as 400 people in town.

mailboxes-sig-smallWhile there is more than a handful of residents here, it looks as though their property value has declined. The town seems haunted by its past. The solid structures of town dissolved in the last 10 or 15 years, a few old farm shacks and barns remain, but no commercial buildings.

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By the 1970’s fewer than 24 people lived in Wheelock. In 1994, the town died and was formally dissolved. (Meanwhile, that poor little town down the road, Epping continues and even has its own webpage.) http://www.epping.govoffice.com/

wheelockHere’s why it seems haunted — murders: As happens with popular bustling towns, it attracted quite a bit of good and bad attention.  Business was so robust that by the time it celebrated its 25th birthday, it was home to a hotel, general merchandise store, lumber yard, pool hall, drug store and a bank — and that’s where the first murder happened, at the bank.  It’s that brick building in the center of the three buildings in the photo above.

The bank was profitable, and was isolated, miles from any law enforcement. That could be why three armed men took over the bank in 1926. Before they ran off with all the money, they murdered the banker.  They avoided capture, until one man was caught in Kenmare, North Dakota.  He died in prison.

Of course today, Main Street doesn’t look like it would attract a bank robbery.

wheelock-main-street-from-far-sig-small

It does not yet appear what it will be — a hotel? A saloon?  Someone’s brave attempt to bring life to Wheelock?

About 30 years later Guy Hall  jumped off the train on the south edge of town. He wandered around the decaying town. It obviously had seen better days, but he might find a bite to eat here.

He picked a house that he seemed drawn to.  There was no rational reason why this was the house to choose, it was the voices that told him “This one.”

Hall had a rough time in his life ending up in a Washington State Prison. When he was released, he jumped a freight and headed east.  Now in Wheelock, his inner chaos was screaming.

At the house he picked, he banged on the door and the woman told him to go away. She had her own two sons to feed.  Hall got mad, left and returned.

She still would not let him in.  He’d picked up a crowbar at a construction site on main street and swung it to get in to the house.  He killed her.  Her sons tried to protect her, and he bloodied them up mercilessly, hitting them repeatedly. He killed them. No one knows for sure why he attacked her, except for what he later said in his own words..

A few days later, he was found dead. He’d shot himself and left behind a note that said, “Please excuse me for I am insane.”

 

a-wheelock-home-sig-small

One of few residences we could find in town.

Wheelock has been on a downhill slide ever since the 1950’s.  A few attempts at cleaning up and building up the town never seem to get very far.

wheelock-hom-construction-with-stone-chimney-and-dish-sig-small

dish-on-wheelock-shack-sig-smallInterestingly, a drive through town, and you’ll see an essential item on the shacks: a satellite dish.

The Bakken boom created a bit of interest in the town, but then when the boom was over, the town became ghostly once again.  It sits in the shade of its much larger neighbor to the west, Williston. Epping, the little town built from those who could not afford Wheelock, is still functioning. To the east, the towns of Ray and Tioga thrive in the new economy of oil.

wheelock-for-sale-sig-small

If you want to invest in a ghost town, property is for sale.

Death has centered on Wheelock. Each time we return, it’s less and less of a residential collection of homes, and more of a ghost town.  People who visit say they feel “creeped out” by the town. Some write of their experiences as being very quick — they have written they felt an evil presence in town.

What is your experience when you visit Wheelock?

Not been there yet?  Drop a comment here after you have visited Wheelock to tell me what you think.

7 wild reasons to see North Dakota in the fall — A photo safari (Part 2)

You’ve been busy all summer, and now winter is closing in. We’ve been blessed with a mild October..only a few snowflakes when some Octobers we’ve already had two blizzards.  So, here’s motivation to get out and see North Dakota wild before it get’s unbearable — check the wild open spaces of North Dakota.

Later in the day, especially along the river, you can see some of the state’s largest wildlife — mule deer and white tail deer. They’re not easy to see because they blend in so well. Deer in the brush, down in a slough will only pause a moment before they take off.

two-deer-crop-vig-sig

Deer in the brush, down in a slough will only pause a moment before they take off.

Pheasants are more easily spotted if you’re in central or southwestern North Dakota. They like the cover provided by wetland grasses, tall pastures and stubble fields. Often they’re along the side of the road and can get up just as you pass by, which can mean a broken grill.geese-pheasant-doesnt-fit-in-sig-smallIf you have a dog with you,  he can help you see them because they’ll huddle down in the tall grass until the last moment.bird-gets-up-2-sig-desat

Hungry hawks will be lingering on perches such as fence posts, telephone poles and trees. Click here to get the ND Game and Fish guide to identifying ND Hawks.

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A group of blackbirds is most correctly called either a cloud, a cluster, murmeration or a merle of blackbirds.  blackbirds-cu-vigDid you know a similar group of larger birds, such as crows is called “a murder?”

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Central North Dakota, through the prairie pothole region east of the Missouri River, is under the Central or Midway flyway where waterfowl migrate across the region. That’s why through much of October, depending on weather, Great Canadian Geese are in fields and waterholes.   A stroll along an unused road with my dog kicks up geese from their hiding places.

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As long as you’re in the wetlands region of North America, stick around until about 6:00 p.m. — sunset.  The hour before, the golden hour with long shadows and a golden filter on the sun is great photo time.  Immediately after sunset, sunsets in the sky are repeated in waterholes where geese and ducks are floating.

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Finally, the most rewarding and hardest to spot wildlife is south of Watford City along the Little Missouri River. Big Horn Sheep populate the area.  I’ve never worked too hard at trying to spot them, which may be why I’ve only seen them once or twice.  If you’re careful not to spook them, they’ll pose for you.

two-big-horn-sheep-on-a-hill-nearby-sig-small

Other rare-to-spot animals in the state that run free are moose and mountain lions.  Moose sometimes wander in to towns or farmsteads.  Have you seen one in town?  Or mountain lions — have you spotted one?  What is the predominant wildlife you spot in the fall where you live?

Free! An amazing history tour #3 is memorable!

Badlands mary 11 sgntre

Labor Day weekend is a great weekend to get away from your neighborhood without spending a lot of money.

Ready for some freedom? This is the weekend! It’s a 3-day weekend for you to rest from your labors, and here are opportunities for you to get out and get away!

Free –  The added bonus for the weekend is for families who’ve spent a ton on school supplies.  It’s free educational support for geography, geology, history, math, engineering, physics and geometry.

Fairview Bridge late summer horz long shot sig

Fairview Lift Bridge is so impressive that by the time you get across the bridge and through the tunnel, you will say “Wow” at least once.

1 Fairview Lift Bridge and Tunnel

While the day is cool and everyone has enough energy for the walk you will want to take, head out on Highway 200 west of Watford City to the state line at Cartwright and Fairview.

Cartwright well bb

Main Street Cartwright offers clean, cool well water for thirsty people — and their horses.

Once you get to Cartwright, stop on main street for a memorable cool drink of water, from the town pump that’s been there since the last century.  You can’t miss it, but you better because those are pretty strong guard rails around it.  It sits right in the middle of what would be “Main Street.”

Gunnar explores the bridge sigAs soon as you cross the Highway 200 bridge turn south in to the Sundheim public park on the west bank of the Yellowstone. Drive up the ramp to the parking area and take a hike.  It’s safe, secure, handicap accessible and above all, you don’t have to worry about meeting a train like travelers worried about 30 years ago. Both the bridge and tunnel are closed to all traffic except pedestrians.

 

There was almost no steamboat traffic on the Yellowstone when the bridge was built, but it was still considered a navigable waterway. So, the U.S. Government required one span over the channel to be lifted for steamboats.  The machinery was installed to raise the 1.14 million pound lift section of the bridge.

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Overhead, the 300-ton counterweight still sits ready to be used.

It operated only once, as a test, and was never used for commercial river traffic.

When it was built, with the required, but unnecessary lift section, there was not enough money to also build a highway bridge, so this bridge was modified to include vehicles as well as trains by adding planks across the bridge. Traffic was controlled by a watchman who make sure there were no trains coming when a car or truck wanted to cross.  The bridge owner, Great Northern Railroad charged a toll.  Late in the 30’s the North Dakota Highway Commission took over the bridge and the toll was dropped.

While you’re at the Fairview Lift Bridge go ahead and walk on in to the Cartwright Tunnel. It’s bout 1500 feet long with a slight bend in the middle so that you cannot see one end from the other.

It’s a wooden-planked tunnel large enough for trains to pass through, and most importantly, it was built by hand.  Sure, they used dynamite to blast the rock, and horse-drawn carts to carry out the rubble, but the labor was provided by local farmers and ranchers who needed a job in 1913.

Cartwright Tunnel

Built by hand, trains passed trough this tunnel until about 1986.

 

During the years of shared use with cars, trains took the tunnel while cars drove overhead and down to the bridge.


historic lift bridge and tunnel. Bill Shemmory Collection

State Historical Society of North Dakota,  William E. (Bill) Shemorry Collection                  (1-44-12-29)

There are no lights in the tunnel, so be prepared for dark. Most cell phones have a flashlight feature to use. Or take that one from your glove compartment.  You do carry a flashlight, don’t you?

Tunnel without flashlights sgntre

Your next stop is just 20 minutes down the road and is another free educational moment – agriculture.  As you travel along the Yellowstone River, you’ll see irrigation farming that uses more than one techniques such as traditional overhead irrigation sprayers, or ditches and tubes.

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1 (alternate B) if you want to expand your lift bridge experience,  head north up highway 58 and then highway 147 to the twin of the Fairview Lift Bridge to the Snowden Bridge in Montana. It’s about 20 minutes up the road, and is still in use.  It too once carried automobile traffic until the mid-1980s.

Snowden Bridge with Flowers in tight slight vignette edit 3-1

 

In addition to, or instead of the Snowden Bridge, stay on highway 58 and head to Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center and the Fort Buford historic site. You can picnic here, if you skipped Sundheim Park.

2. Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Center 13958191_1733049450290235_6939199483645982407_o 

When you stand here, you stand in a place of significance that goes way back before the wild west of cowboys, even back before there was a United States of America.
Your educational opportunities here include geography and history as you trace the flow of the water from south and west to this location.  The museum also includes the rich history of trappers and traders who passed through here in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s as well as the Corps of Discovery’s mission through here.The Confluence Center has a gift shop and a museum.13923703_1733049440290236_8796213656820432287_o

Take a moment to check out the large images of the Fairview and Snowden bridges, bison  from the region, views of the Badlands, and of Fort Union Trading Post, all from the Beautiful Bakken Collection of Mary Tastad’s photos and mine.

Mary walks pathWalk the 6-block long blacktop trail from the Confluence center down toward historic Fort Buford where an actual cemetery withDSC_0409 less-than-actual headstones inform you about how tough it was living here 150 years ago.

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Fort Buford had a military mission, but it is probably best remembered as the place where the famous Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, surrendered in 1881. When the fort was first under construction, the first or second day, Sitting Bull attacked the Fort, killing one soldier.  Not one to give up easily Sitting Bull and his warriors kept up their attacks on soldiers and wood cutters who were passing through the region.  Civilians, soldiers and Sioux warriors were killed.

You can walk past the Fort Buford site for free. To go inside, you’ll have to pay a $5.00 fee for adults, less for children.DSC_0431

3. Fort Union Trading Post

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Finally, plan your day trip to end at the Fort Union Trading Post. It about 10 minutes away. An interesting factoid is that to get in to the Trading Post, you actually drive in to Montana for a few feet on Highway 1804, then back in to North Dakota.

Entering ND bb

Plan to arrive bout 5:30, but make sure you stay until just before sundown, about 8:00. (Sundown is about 8:45).  That’s the last Bell Tour.  This is the pinnacle of your day’s free educational events.  This Labor Day weekend, is also the Living History Weekend where you’ll see how things were done 150 years ago, including a shooting demonstration. Costumed re-enactors will help you visualized how life was lived before statehood.

Buckskinners at Fort Union bb

Labor Day weekend is “Living History” weekend at the Fort Union Trading Post.

 

The Fort Union Trading Post was not a military or government institution. It was a privately owned facility to provide a shipping point of furs and pelts out of the region to points east, including Europe. As many as 200 people were employed here.  As a business enterprise, it is estimated that each year, more than $100,000 worth of business was done here. (Imagine how much money that would be in 2016 terms!)

The buffalo hides, beaver pelts and other furs were carried over long distances to reach the Trading Post.  In what are now the states of Wyoming, Montana South Dakota nad North Dakota, trappers and traders would rendezvous back here to make their exchanges.   In exchange trappers and traders could get necessities such as rifles, cookware, coffee and food stuffs.  At least five indigenous tribes (Assiniboine, Crow, Cree, Ojibway, Blackfoot, Hidatsa, Mandan) traded buffalo robes and other furs for trade goods such as beads, guns, blankets, knives, cookware, and cloth, including the Assiniboine who are said to have requested the American Fur Company establish this “shopping center.”  The Assiniboine tribe also protected the Trading Post from less friendly tribes.

 

The folks at the Fort Union Trading Post shared this about the Last Bell Tour:

During the tour, participants will discover why the summer of 1832 defined Fort Union’s future importance in the western fur trade. They’ll hear from the first artist to visit Fort Union, find out what industrial advancements revolutionized how Fort Union was re-supplied, and observe the effect a new trade partner, one formerly loyal to the British Hudson’s Bay Company, had on the peaceful coexistence between Fort Union’s traders and its visiting tribes.

The family-oriented tours will begin in the parking lot closest to the fort. Departing at 15-minute intervals, each guided tour will include 20–25 people who will be lead through a series of five inter-related scenes portraying events from the summer of 1832. Refreshments for participants will be available at the registration table in the parking lot. During the tours, the only illumination will be provided by candlelight, lanterns, and lit fireplaces.

Click here to learn more about visiting the Fort Union Trading Post

At the end of the day, you are just 30 minutes from fine eating at Sidney, Montana or Williston, North Dakota.  We’ll tell you more about fine dining, family dining and night life in those two communities another time.

Until then, enjoy your free educational tour of Western North Dakota.

Fort Union unites time, traders, trappers and tribal merchants

Fort Union, from across the Missouri River just yards from the ND/MT state line

Fort Union, from across the Missouri River just yards from the ND/MT state line

A cool wet September morning…and a traveling pair head for the trading post.  Word had reached them in their homes near Bismarck and Fargo that this was the weekend of a good gathering at the Fort Union Trading Post. For nearly 40 years, this fur trading post on the upper Missouri provided peaceful trade between traveling frontiersmen, trappers, traders and Native American merchants. Assiniboine, Crow, Blackfeet, Ojibwa, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Sioux merchants all traded at the post.  From the days of Lewis and Clark until the Civil War, this was a cultural and economic nerve center in the middle of the North American Continent.

Earlier in the season, the couple had spied the trading post from across the Missouri River.  The water was up; the distance was great, so they didn’t try to ford the river or cross at another point.  Instead they vowed to return when they were within range.  That day was the first Saturday in September.

The couple navigated the 25 miles of back roads and watched for signs of the trading post.  “Turn north and follow the river,” she counseled him as she consulted a series of maps. He directed the surefooted horsepower in the direction she indicated.  Bluffs and buttes around, they found the trading post and crossed over the state line in to Montana to enter the compound from the west just feet in to Montana, heading east back in to North Dakota.

The southwest basion was designed for defense. George Catlin used it as a studio in 1832

The southwest bastion was designed for defense. George Catlin used it as a studio in 1832

They crossed the low-lying spaces below the trading post.  There, down below the trading post their time was one hour off.  The low-lying area is in mountain time zone. It changed as they walked the rise up in to the  structure where they entered central time zone. The tall tower and wind vane they had spotted from across the river was now above them as they entered in through the garrisoned walls.  At the entrance a couple discussed their evening plans for socializing, food and sleep at the trading post.

At the main gate and entrance of the trading post

At the main gate and entrance of the trading post

Across the entrance, a young woman navigated her way across the muddy grounds. Frog-drowning rain the night before had left a lake in the compound and more rain was expected.

A boardwalk keeps visitors out of the mud from last night's rain

A boardwalk keeps visitors out of the mud from last night’s rain

At the moment, water slowly seeped in to the ground, leaving behind soft mud bridge by planks.

Different cultures, different ages and different families converge on the trading post

Different cultures, different ages and different families converge on the trading post

Despite the mud and rain, families moved about the post freely, playing and enjoying the social event. fort union boy

 

 

As much as the trading post is about commerce and products, it’s also about families and social gatherings.

Hardware is made, then traded and sold in booths and tents along the permiter of the Fort Union Trading Post

Hardware is made, then traded and sold in booths and tents along the perimeter of the Fort Union Trading Post

Since the days of John Jacob Astor and the American Fur Company, this has been the largest trade, shopping and supply post in the western frontier U.S.  Positioned up-stream from the joining point or confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, the trading post merges several cultures in to one moment on the northern plains.fort union two young mothers and daughter

Nearby, buckskinners took shelter in the warmth of the trade house at the entrance of post.

Inside the west Indian Trade House, a fire keeps visitors warm and dry.

Inside the west Indian Trade House, a fire keeps visitors warm and dry.

Here is where ledgers, inventories and business records are kept.  It’s also the room where important meetings with visiting tribal merchants could strike a deal. A fire crackled in its work to ward off the damp chill of the day.  “We meet here as often as we can,” the older trader told a visitor while he nursed his precious hot coffee.  “We’re happy to have visitors like you.  We like to swap stories and share our adventures.”

 

fort union buckskinner sepia vig sigThe old-timer’s words were demonstrated;  a gathering and multiple conversations were housed on the front porch of the Bourgeois House.Fort Union two buckskinners 2 sepia vig sig

This is where the field agent lived in 1851 after a smaller building was enlarged in to this two-story house with a porch.

Fort Union Bourgeois House 2 story sepia vig sig

Just outside the palisades, young marksmen prepared his muzzleloader.

Preparing the flint

Preparing the flint

Fort Union ramrod muzzle loader sepia vig sigHis target, down by the river, was out of sight at the moment.  By the time he got his shot ready, the target would be visible again.  His efforts attracted the attention of friends and strange visitors.  After a couple of misfires, his shot echoed across the valley.

Fort Union Muzzleloader shoots

Fort Union mothers and daughters watachA few spectators watched as the shooter demonstrated his skills.  Some, chose to stay inside, including a small gathering of men who sat and swapped stories.

The trading post provided a chance to not only swap goods and stories, but to kick back and relax.

Fort Union Three buckskinners sepia vig sig The visitors who had come so far to visit the Fort Union Trading Post were warmly received and learned much from this annual gathering. Fort Union Lief and another sepia vig sig The visit extended until nearly sunset when the gathering broke up and headed to their lodging for the evening, some outside the post, and some farther down the river in more civilized settlements. There, they spread the word of the days’ events on Facebook and in the Beautiful Bakken photo gallery.Ft Union Front Porch gathering sepia vig sig

 

Five tips to get your best photos from the North Dakota Badlands.

Your camera -- never leave home without it. It's easier than you may think to get your stellar images of the North Dakota Badlandds

Your camera — never leave home without it. It’s easier than you may think to get your stellar images of the North Dakota Badlands

Want pretty pictures of the Badlands? Go buy a post card.

Want to capture your own one-of-a-kind keepsake memory of the Badlands?  Go get it. It’s easier than you think – if you are willing to slow down, get out of your car and look for it.

Just about suppertime, from any high point, venus' belt makes a good backdrop for your landscape photo.

Just about suppertime, from any high point, venus’ belt makes a good backdrop for your landscape photo.

There are thousands of square miles of unsullied beauty in the Badlands of North Dakota. In those endless horizons are millions of your own scenes to capture, frame and display back home.  Here’s how in five easy tips: Timing, Temperament, Tools, Tenacity, and Technique.

Timing – it’s all about light.  North Dakota is blessed with clean clear air.  Smog?  Nope.  Hazy humidity? Gone.   You’ve got unfettered access to the sun, almost.  You’re still 95,000,000 miles from it, but that’s close enough to get the shots you will want to display.

Avoid mid-day when the sun is high and bright. As you know, the Badlands are endless contours of bluffs, buttes, slopes, hills, canyons and valleys.  It takes shadows to show them and those shadows are strongest early in the morning or late in the day.

Contrasts and contours are hidden most of the day. Once the sun begins to lower the shadows present a great view of the bluffs and buttes.

Contrasts and contours are hidden most of the day. Once the sun begins to lower the shadows present a great view of the bluffs and buttes.

Shooting at the ends of the day means you also get the advantage of the Golden Hour when the solar Rapunzel lets down her golden locks and the landscape takes on a golden or yellow cast.   Generally, that’s the first hour and the last hour of daylight. Depending on where you are in the Badlands, you could be out at sunrise which is about 5:45 a.m. in June, or out at sunset which is about 9:45 p.m.

And if you like to take sunset photos – turn around.  Put your back to the sun and shoot Venus’ Belt as it appears in the east at sunset.

Tip: Late-day landscapes are better than noon-day landscapes

Temperament – take it easy, but keep moving.  If you want to jump out of your car, run to the edge of an overlook and shoot the scene, you are better off performing that activity at a gas station where you can run in and buy a postcard.    Sadly that’s what many people do, drive through one of the Theodore Roosevelt National Parks, pull over to the side of the road, snap a shot and head home.

Park your car, (you don’t want it to roll away down a bluff or butte) and walk.  If you’re stopped at a ridge or hilltop, you’ll have a relatively easy time finding a vantage point.  If you are down below, be prepared to hike. You don’t have to hike to the tallest point, but the higher up you go, the more you will see.  The trails that have been cut in the parks, or the Maah Daah Hey trail make it easy to walk to the top.  You can make your own trail as long as you are on public land.  Make a zig-zag “Z” pattern of switchbacks up the hill, stopping at each point on the repeated “Z” pattern.  It’s encouraging to see how far you’ve climbed and at each point, you get a new view.

Tip: Don’t get in a hurry. 

Don't get in a hurry. Take time to look -- and feel. You'll feel the shot more than you see the shot.

Don’t get in a hurry. Take time to look — and feel. You’ll feel the shot more than you see the shot.

Absorb – that’s the key activity. Absorb and feel what you see.  It takes a quiet and still temperament to absorb what you are about to see.  It’s in that moment of absorption that you can see the details, the shading, the colors the contrasts that will give you the image you want to capture.

Tools – we’re not talking camera gear here.  An expensive camera doesn’t take any better photos than an expensive computer writes a better document.  The tools we’re talking about here are an accurate weather report and a good map. If you have a GPS system on your phone, that can be handy, but a paper map is preferred. All of western North Dakota is covered by the US Forest Service maps.  The maps are matchless for showing you what you need to know:

  • Public groomed trails such as the Maah Daah Hey or other marked trails.
  • Gravel roads and two-track trails to show you where to get off the highways.
  • Points of Interest – historical, geographical and topographical.
  • Topography – the closer the lines, the more steep the terrain.
  • Water – most of which is not drinkable.

The U.S. Forest Service Maps are updated regularly. You can get the latest map from the visitor centers at the Theodore Roosevelt Parks, or at the US Forest Service Office in Bismarck, Watford City or Dickinson.  They cost about $13. They’re worth it!

The U.S. Forest Service map costs about $13 and is the most valuable tool (other than your camera) that you can take.

The U.S. Forest Service map costs about $13 and is the most valuable tool (other than your camera) that you can buy.

A GPS on your phone will give you the precise location at any moment. With that information, you can coordinate on the Forest Service map to see not only where you are, but where you are going.

A critical element is a weather forecast.  North Dakota’s weather is notorious for frequent and sudden changes.  It lies in the middle of the continent and several different weather systems from different direction influence conditions. So, one thing you can do is monitor trends before you set out on your photo safari.  About three to five days before your photo safari, look up the weather forecast for where you expect to go.

Forecasts are updated several times a day, so check twice a day, such as 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. every day.  Notice the changes or trends in the anticipated temperatures, rain chances or cloud cover.  That practice will give you more of a motion picture sense of what to expect.  Checking just once as you head out the door will give you only a snapshot of what to expect.  It’s better to see the weather pattern than the weather snapshot.

Beyond those specific tools, good shoes and proper clothing will allow you to not only get to the place where you can get a good shot, but will also provide you the comfort you need to be patient.   Warm enough when temps are cool, protective enough when mosquitoes are out.  Discomfort will prompt you to hurry your exploration for a shot, so get comfortable.

Tip: Prepare yourself with comfort and knowledge.

Tenacity – don’t stop, don’t give up.  The shot you’re looking for is over the next hill. Drive, walk or ride over the next hill and you’ll see something new.  If it’s not as spectacular as that scene two hills back, turn around and go back.  Or shoot as you go, it keeps getting better and when you get home you can decide which one is the best shot – but keep moving.

From time to time,  turn around.  It’s easy to get so focused on what is in front of you, that you may miss the beauty behind you. So, from time to time, turn around to see the scene you just came through.

Remember that point about absorbing the scene, the moment?  One of the greatest mindsets you can embrace to get the stellar shot you seek is to keep yourself prodded with this question: “What if?”  “What if I climbed that butte, what would I see?”  “What if I followed this deer trail, where would it lead?”

I wonder where that goes...is where great visual discoveries begin.

I wonder where that goes…is where great visual discoveries begin.

Parallel to that question is this postulate: “I wonder where that goes.” As you see a road heading over the hill don’t be afraid to check it out—with caution.

Take a short hike, or if you’re still driving and haven’t got out of your vehicle yet, take that two-track trail, but remember: it’s  good to be in a reliable vehicle. There are no corner service stations out here.  You need something to get over ruts and ridges and up and down the hills.

The point is this.  Just because where you are standing at the moment doesn’t yield the shot you are looking for, don’t give up.  Investigate the next curve, the next hill, the next trail.  Be tenacious in your search for the shot you want.

Tip: Be curious.

Technique – do what you do best. 

What is it in the scene that you want to shoot?  Is it the buffalo on the trail, the Little Missouri River down below, the abandoned jalopy?  Decide what is it in the scene that caught your eye, and crop out anything else that is distracting. Avoid visual distractions, zoom in on the subject.

Not all the intriguing shots are found on the trail. The next farm, the next small town may have a great shot. Zero in on what catches your eye, remove the background distractions.

Not all the intriguing shots are found on the trail. The next farm, the next small town may have a great shot. Zero in on what catches your eye, remove the background distractions.

It shouldn’t take a viewer of your photo more than an instant to determine what the photo is about.

Once you know what your photo is about, and are cropping out the distractions by zooming in on the subject, align the photo but don’t put it smack dab in the center of the photo. If you are shooting a landscape photo, don’t put the horizon right across the middle of the image.  In fact,  some time when you are out and about anywhere outside, notice how much of your view is sky.  It’s often the majority if your view, it’s one way you can capture what you see — include the sky.

On the vertical line of a tic-tac-toe board, the prairie dog!

On the vertical line of a tic-tac-toe board, the prairie dog!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether it’s landscape you’re shooting, or anything else that catches your eye in the Badlands, remember the rule of thirds, and place your subject at or near one of the crosshairs of a tic-tac-toe board.  Even if it’s a close-up of an image like the face of a horse, put the eyes on the third.

Tip: Don’t abandoned basic photo techniques

 

The abandoned rail car in this shot is on the lower horizontal line of a tic-tac-toe board. (rule of thirds.)

The abandoned rail car in this shot is on the lower horizontal line of a tic-tac-toe board. The horizon is on the top horizontal line.  (rule of thirds.)

Like we said at the start of this article, the best times of the day to shoot the Badlands of Western North Dakota do not include mid-day.  At all times, when shooting outside, adjust the sun in relation to your subject. The sun should be at your shoulder.  Don’t shoot in to it, nor have it directly behind you.  If you put it at your shoulder, you’ll get the contrast you need to show texture and variety in your subject.

In all cases, the best advice is to borrow from Nike’s saying, “just do it, just shoot it.”

Tip: Just shoot it.

There’s more to capturing the image than merely taking the photo. The bragging rights come from the adventure you took to get that shot.  It bears repeating to your friends and family repeating the details of the work it took to get you to where you found that stellar shot. There are millions of vantage points in the North Dakota Badlands, got get on one and get your shot.

 

An amazing find — a little known Indian Scout Cemetery honors fallen U.S. Soldiers

Indian Scout Post #1 on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation between White Shield and Parshall is a nearly forgotten veteran cemetery. The Old Scout Society has kept alive the memory of the tribal members who served in the U.S. Army since the time of General Custer. (photo courtesy of Mary Tastad of Mary's Photos)

Indian Scout Post #1 on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation between White Shield and Parshall is a nearly forgotten veteran cemetery. The Old Scout Society has kept alive the memory of the tribal members who served in the U.S. Army since the time of General Custer. (photo courtesy of Mary Tastad of Mary’s Photos)

There’s no other place on earth like this place.  There is only one Old Scouts Society and this is the graveyard where the Society honors their war dead.  Here lay members of the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara who served in the U.S. military.

Relatives leave memorials at the site of their ancestors who served in the U.S. Military.

Relatives leave memorials at the site of their ancestors who served in the U.S. Military.

The tradition of scouts from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara goes back nearly 200 years.  Today, the Society is a group of relatives of those historic soldiers.  They honor the U.S. Army veterans of the Indian Wars and other tribal members who served in all branches after the Indian Wars.old scouts_0005

old scouts_0009

 

old scouts_0002Go back to the first Hidatsa scout, Sakakawea (Hidatsa pronunciation suh-CAG-a-wee-uh).  She and her husband Charbonneau helped the Corps of Discovery find its way west and back again.sagawea-picture-1

Later when the U.S. Army occupied this region to protect the railroad expansion to the west coast, Army commanders relied on scouts from these tribes to provide intelligence about the tribe’s hostile opponents, the warriors of the Sioux Nation. The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara scouts carried dispatches, found food and water, tracked game and served as interpreters.

Several unrelated events converged to create the birth of the long-standing tradition of tribal members joining the U.S. military.  In 1873, Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were stationed at Fort Lincoln, south of Mandan, North Dakota.  The Seventh Cavalry was to protect the Northern Pacific Railroad Survey crews who had been attacked by hostile Sioux.

A rebuilt blockhouse above Fort Lincoln marks the uppermost reach of the Fort where General Custer and his scouts once lived.

A rebuilt blockhouse above Fort Lincoln marks the uppermost reach of the Fort where General Custer and his scouts once lived.

Before Custer, hostile Sioux were at war with neighboring tribes, including the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara who had withstood the Sioux attacks, at first.  Then, small pox wiped out nearly all the three tribes so they banded together to defend themselves against the Sioux.  Forming a confederacy between the three tribes, was insufficient, they were not strong enough to battle the Sioux, so they aligned themselves with the new and stronger opposition to the Sioux – the Blue Coats or the Seventh Cavalry – the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

At first, the Arikara or Ree were the principal tribe to supply scouts for Custer.  From 1872 until the late 1800’s Arikara scouts were the backbone of the Army’s scouts.

A few soldiers are buried at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan including some of Custer's scouts from the Hidatsa and Arikara tribes

A few soldiers are buried at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan including some of Custer’s scouts from the Hidatsa and Arikara tribes

One of the earliest scouts was Red Bear who later was joined by his younger brother Boy Chief.  He was one of the first scouts to die in a skirmish with the Sioux while stationed at Fort Lincoln along the Missouri River south of present day Mandan.

Bobtailed Bull, one of Custer's favorite scouts in the Indian Wars against the Sioux is second from the left.

Bobtailed Bull, one of Custer’s favorite scouts in the Indian Wars against the Sioux is second from the left.

Boy Chief tells the story of his enlistment like this: “Bobtail Bull brought me to Fort Abraham Lincoln in 1872.  Bobtail Bull took me to headquarters to ‘touch the pen’ to my enlistment papers.  I thought the medical examination would throw me out, as I was very young.  But I passed.  In another building, an officer gave me a gun, clothing and two gray blankets.”

Bobtail Bull was one of the first Indian scouts to be promoted and receive a commission under Lt. Col Custer who often bragged of this Arikara scout when in Washington.  Custer said of Sergeant Bobtail Bull that he was a man of good heart and good character.  He promised that if anything happened to Bobtail Bull and his fellow scouts that “their reward will not be forgotten by the government.”

It is said that a good scout who was promoted as Bobtailed Bull was promoted, could earn more than the $13/month paid most soldiers and in some cases earned as much as $50/month

Sgt. Bobtail Bull was one of the first under Custer to fall at Little Big Horn. That was despite the fact that Custer would not use his scouts as a fighting force except for skirmishes. Bobtail Bull, however, boasted of his experience in fighting the Sioux and stood ready for whatever battle commands Custer ordered.

Custer used the scouts to find the enemy, report their movement and act as couriers.  On the day of the Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer ordered Bobtail Bull and other scouts to “take the horses away from the Sioux camp. Take away as many horses as possible.”  Custer knew that a warrior on foot was no match for a soldier on horse.

Bobtail Bull's grave site is at Little Big Horn, one of the few Hidatsa Scouts in a marked grave off the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Bobtail Bull’s grave site is at Little Big Horn, one of the few Hidatsa Scouts in a marked grave off the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Bobtail Bull got separated from the rest of the troops. Sioux warriors grouped behind him, separating him from help and from escape.  A dense swarm of Sioux rode against him and he attempted to fall back. He was left as a solitary horseman, surrounded by circling warriors.  He was shot off his horse and so became one of the first to fall at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Like Bobtail Bull, Red Bear, Boy Chief and others the scouts who served in the U.S. Army from 1866 to 1914 at most western forts, these scouts served with fidelity, placing their unique skills at the disposal of the frontier army.  To the shame of the U.S. Government, many of these brave soldiers were harshly treated after they served the U.S. Army.  For some, prison, poor health, disabilities or even death was the future they faced after serving the United States.  Many have been completely forgotten.

(A contemporary of Custer who worked with tribal members of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara left an influence on the people who remains today.  To learn of Harold Case’ missionary work see this link: http://wp.me/pOdPo-HP )

In 1979 the Old Scouts Society of White Shield was established. The group cares for and maintains Post #1 Cemetery at White Shield where several of the scouts of the Seventh Cavalry are buried alongside veterans of WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam.old scouts_0003

In 1983, the Fort McKeen Detachment, Old Scouts Society was officially formed. Organizers included the grandsons of Bears Belly who was one of the original scouts who served under Custer at Fort Lincoln.

The Fort McKeen Detachment of the Old Scouts Society is dedicated to correcting misconceptions about the scouts who served in the U.S. Army.  Members educate the public about the military scouts and work to keep alive the stories of how the historic scouts influenced American and North Dakota history.  They work to preserve and honor the gravesites of the scouts buried at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan.  They also help maintain the Old Scouts Cemetery west of Garrison, North Dakota on Highway 1804.

The Indian Scout Cemetery, also known as the Old Scouts Cemetery is near White Shield, North Dakota. On New Years Eve, 2014, it stood quietly against the setting sun.

The Indian Scout Cemetery, also known as the Old Scouts Cemetery is near White Shield, North Dakota. On New Years Eve, 2014, it stood quietly against the setting sun.

As often as possible, I go past the cemetery, usually on motorcycle. I stop to tend to fallen flags and other markers left to honor this group of war dead who contributed much but received so little recognition for their sacrifice.  old scouts_0001Have you taken the scenic drive past Garrison, up to Parshall on 1804?  Did you see the Old Scouts Cemetery?

(This article is excerpted from a script I wrote for a documentary on the Old Scouts Society — yet unproduced. It is the product of months of research at the Fort Berthold Library, the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum and the North Dakota State Historical Society. For more information see http://www.mhanation.com/main2/history.html)

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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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