Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Happy Birthday, America. Following the Buffalo.

Posted on | July 14, 2016 | No Comments

The next morning I left my family sleeping and ate breakfast at the State Game Lodge, where President Calvin Coolidge and his family spent their summer in 1927.

I warned the waitress that 4 kids would be stumbling in eventually and then started on my first cup of coffee as I tried to get a handle on our first week on the road.  It wasn’t just that I had failed to pack enough water for a 2 hour hike.  I also couldn’t decide what to put in my travel journal—did I want to include the temper tantrums and petty moments?  When I looked back would I want honesty or just smiles and sweetness?  I had brought a series of audiobooks on Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and the Mississippi River to listen to in the car but right now we were working our way through a fiction book on zombie apocalypse and a nonfiction on the secrets of Area 51.  What kind of a parent does that?

I felt bad I had not forced everyone to go on last night’s wildlife loop because now some of us didn’t get to see the buffalo.  But at the same time I knew we needed some space and time away from each other at the end of the day.  Having to do everyone’s laundry every 3 days while on “vacation” was bugging me and our visits to the national parks had an alarming factor that I hadn’t prepared for at all.  While I read up about bears and bugs and hot springs, no one mentioned all the cliff edges and precipices.  Almost all of the impressive views we’d seen and trails and roads we traveled just dropped off into nowhere without any warning.  No fences, no guard rails—just fall or drive off the mountain whenever you feel like it.  It was stressful keeping en eye on 3 kids bouncing around and ahead and behind while also keeping track of Pretty, the family photographer, and her attempt to get as close to death as possible.

Since it is important to take good care of the person taking care of everyone else, I decided it was time for some self-love.  I ordered the cheese and veggie omelet with extra homefries and the sourdough toast.  Because wheat toast is not self-love at all.  And I told the waitress to keep the cream coming because black coffee is for haters.  Eventually Pretty rolled in with her own journal and we sat quietly in the historic lodge as other tourists arrived and the room slowly filled up.  The boys staggered in and we sampled the blueberry pancakes and biscuits and more homefries.  By my fifth cup of creamy, sugary coffee (in my defense they were small, fancy, dainty cups), everyone was up and ready to go and I felt better about things.  After all, we were on a 3 week vacation across the country.  It wasn’t easy being Captainess of my crew but we were on a 3 week vacation.  Enough said.

Everyone knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day so I’m giving the breakfast at the State Game Lodge credit for what we saw as we packed up and left the lodge, headed for Iron Mountain Road.  There they were, an entire herd of buffalo slowly making their way across the road as they munched their own breakfast.

The herd was filled with young calves.

Some of them so close that we could have reached out the window and touched them.

I mean, we could have touched them if we wanted trouble with these guys.  Which we didn’t.  We did not want trouble.  Just looking, sirs, no touching.

The buffalo escorted us out of the park.

Mostly because we could not get around them even if we wanted to.  No passing, people.  No passing.

Once out of the park we made a stop at the Museum @ Black Hills Institute.  Before our trip we watched the documentary Dinosaur 13.  Back in Chicago we saw Sue, the T-Rex, at the Field Museum, but now in South Dakota we were going to see where the controversy started.  The museum is small but is packed full of fossils.

And although the museum lost Sue, they now have Stan, the largest and most complete T Rex.

The staff was helpful, jumping in to answer questions and point out exhibits.  The museum is well worth the stop and is nestled in the little town of Hill City which had other tourist stores and restaurant and activities, too.  From there we headed to Medora, North Dakota.  It was beautiful country….

but flat was back….

Except for, um…. that…thing.

In Medora we entered Theodore Roosevelt National Park and took the Scenic Loop Drive.  We hiked down into the Painted Canyon which was similar to what we had seen in the South Dakota Badlands.

Except there was a lot more brush and greenery among the rock formations.

The usual suspects were there.  Prairie dog towns that stretched to the horizon.

Mule deer.

Buffalo.

But we did see wild horses for the first time.  I think they were wild horse.  If not, someone’s fence is down.

Then we pushed on for Montana and Great Falls where we visited the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail and Interpretive Center.  Just like we spent a lot of time crossing the trails of the wagon trains headed out west, we also crossed many parts of Lewis and Clark’s expedition pathway.  The Center details the expedition’s difficult portage of the 5 waterfalls of the Missouri River as well as the rest of the their 8,000 mile journey.

Before the trip I expected a lot of National Parks propaganda about the early explorers and the white settlers.  But like the other museums we visited, the Center spent a lot of time explaining the Indian cultures that were present before the explorers arrived and how instrumental the Indians were in their successful passage.  Is it enough?  Probably not.  Is it a fair and complete story?  I doubt it.  But the story of the Native Americans, the explorers, the settlers, and, eventually, the National Parks is long and complicated, full of controversy and conflicting interests.  The extensive exhibits on Native American life and culture are, at least, a beginning.

From the Center we took the riverside trail to Giant Springs which was used by the Blackfeet as a source of fresh water during the winter months and documented by Lewis and Clark in 1805.  The water can be seen bubbling up from the rocks underneath its crystal clear waters.

From there it overflows into the Roe River and eventually the Missouri River.

We just beat the rain back to our car but before we arrived at our hotel we were treated to this:

I took it as a good sign for what was ahead.  And I vowed every morning should start with extra cream and sugar coffee.   Why mess with a good thing once it’s going, people?  Why?

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