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.

Back to the Badlands — Magpie Creek (with pictures — you’ll like the last one)

Badlands at sunset 2

General Sully, I disagree; I see this as heaven on earth

One of the things that seemed to pass from father to children is the love of the wild.  I don’t mean wild parties, but the wild, the wilderness, the outback.  In this part of the world that means The Badlands.  General Sully said they looked like what he imagined as “Hell with the fire burned out.”  I disagree with General Sully.

My son Caleb is an accomplished wilderness explorer, primarily the Boundary Waters Canoe Area where he kayaks, canoes, hikes and camps with others who are up to it.  This would be his first foray in to the Badlands of North Dakota and a different style of survival. Here in the Badlands, water is as rare as it is plentiful in the BWCA.

We weren’t sure where we’d find to camp. We thought we might hike in, set up a base camp and hike out from there. So, we packed just a few essentials when we left my home in Wilton.

Shelter, food and water for two men and a dog.

Shelter, food and water for two men and a dog.

We took a back road in to a region south and west of Grassy Butte.  It’s considered wilderness by the fact there are only a few people in miles and miles of range land, and very few roads.  After negotiating a two-track trail through grass and over rough 4-wheel-drive terrain, the road finally opened up so we could relax and get out to inspect the mud collected on the bottom-dragging Ford.

Finally! A good road!

Finally! A good road!

We did not expect to find good camping, so we felt blessed to discover Magpie Campground along the Magpie Creek. We were the only ones in the entire camp!  It meant we coulda brought more supplies, a cooler and food for real meals.  Instead, we brought only the bare survival supplies. We brought no firewood because we didn’t want to have to carry it in to a base camp. So, one of our first tasks was to gather firewood from the dead scraps in the draws near the creek.

Badlands Caleb gets firewood

Gathering Firewood

The first times Caleb and I camped was more than 25 years ago. He was a pre-schooler and we camped along the Missouri River in Mandan.  Now as a grown man, he was more skilled at handling the camp master duties.

Caleb the Camp Master

Caleb the Camp Master

But we weren’t there to sit around the campground and so we headed out for our first hike and no little bump in the ground was gonna do it for us.

A little bump in the ground

A little bump in the ground

We were headed for something much bigger. Our legs were fresh and our spirits high. We decided to tackle Castle Rock. Caleb and his dog Shifty took right to it, heading up the steep slopes with little to grab on to but only an occasional mudslide shelf for footing.

Up the side of Castle Rock

Up the side of Castle Rock

Shifty the dog seemed to find the best route for four legs, but going up on two legs was more of a challenge.  After all, it was several hundred feet.Badlands Caleb and Shifty up side of Castle Rock wtrmrkNot to be outdone, I had to follow suit, but being the seasoned Badlands Traveler, I knew there had to be an easier way. Sure, enough, I found a grass-covered mudslide slope to labor upwards.  Once at the top, I got my first panoramic view of the region.

View from Castle Rock

View from Castle Rock

Of course by the time I got up where I wanted to be, Caleb and Shifty were headed back down.  Yes, people do look like ants from way up high!

There! Down below! Right center, Caleb and Shifty beat me to the bottom

There! Down below! Right center, Caleb and Shifty beat me to the bottom

The view from the top of Castle Rock showed us the weather was about to change. So we hustled back quickly.  Storm clouds were moving in.

Storm clouds move in

Storm clouds move in

With only about 20 yards to go, the first rain drops hit.  We were in camp no more than 5 minutes when the full rain fell.  For me, the sound of rain on a tent is as sleep-inducing as a sleeping pill.  I slept through a storm of loud thunder echoing from hill to hill to hill.  Caleb soaked it all in from the safety of his tent.

Once it was over, we climbed out and headed to a new vantage point to see the back end of the storm move east toward farm country.

And as always, God marked the moment with a reminder of His promise, and I caught it, just for the record, you know.

A rainbow promise

A rainbow promise

Have  you camped in the Badlands? Do you camp at a campground or go primitive?

June 16

Regan Rocks

The day started out gloomy, a kind of June gloom — not by Southern California standards, but certainly by North Dakota standards.  I wasn’t sure what I’d see if I got up around the front side of Regan Rocks because the whole horizon was overcast.  Regan Rocks an unusual outcropping of rocks and caves near Regan gives a good vantage point of the farm ground to the south in Burleigh County.

Later that day, I got a different view of Burleigh County when the overcast skies became more active.  The storm was well south of me and after several attempts at getting shots of  lightning bolts, this was the best I could come up with.

Lightning over Burleigh County