August 7, Montana & Wyoming

On leaving Devil's Tower, we decided not to take the direct route to Glacier NP, but instead to go back into the Dakotas and visit Theodore Roosevelt NP, then go across northern Montana to visit a few birding hot spots. Theodore Roosevelt NP is located in the badlands of North Dakota and is quite beautiful. The Missouri and the Little Missouri Rivers both run through sections of the park, so it is quite unexpectedly green, unlike the badlands in South Dakota. Roosevelt owned a ranch here that is a part of the park. Both North Dakota and Montana take the credit for turning Roosevelt into a conservationist--something we can all be happy about, since he created the National Park system, among other things. I think Teddy came to the area originally to do big game hunting and was quite shocked at how fast the big game were disappearing. At any rate, it is a beautiful park and a great tribute to him.

Theodore Roosevelt NP, North Dakota badlands
Next, we visited a wildlife refuge at Medicine Lake, Montana, (more in birding report) where there were lots of birds, then stopped for a couple of days at Fort Pitt State Park, which is a part of the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge. This was a very interesting place. It is the site of the world's largest earthen-work dam, which was built during the Great Depression by one of FDR's New Deal agencies--very impressive. It is also the area of Montana in which a good deal of the dinosaur fossils are found. In fact, only six largely intact T-Rex skeletons have been found and all were found here in the Hell's Creek area. A museum at the dam site is dedicated to dinosaurs and I think must have been visited by both Michael Crichton before writing "Jurassic Park," and Steven Spielberg before making the movie. Many of the fossil casts displayed there look exactly like models that were in the Visitor Center of the park in the movie. It was strange seeing them and recognizing them from the movie.

During this time the weather was quite hot and we were happy always to have electricity so that we could run the air conditioner. We tried one night to stay at a Corps of Engineers campground on the Missouri River in order to do an "auto-loop" in a refuge the next day. At 8:30 when the temp was still 90 degrees, we gave up and drove to the nearest commercial RV park and electricity! After stops in Great Falls for errands and Freezeout Lake to look for birds, we finally were back on course to Glacier NP. We spent our first four nights there camped at Two Medicine campground. The park personnel say this is the least visited area of the park, but the campground still filled up. It's a great area with lakes, mountains, and water falls--lots of great hikes. We went to a program in the amphitheater called "Conversation with an Old Goat." The talk was given by a long-time seasonal ranger dressed as a mountain goat who discussed the life and times of the goat. He was quite funny and it made for a very interesting talk--one of the best of the many we have attended. We had been at one in Devil's Tower about the mammals of the area, which had been quite dry.

Two Medicine Lake

Logan Pass

We then spent several days at Rising Sun campground on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. We made a couple of trips up this road on the motorcycle, one over the pass to the west side. While at Logan Pass, we decided to start the hike on the Highline Trail (12 miles or more) and turn around and come back when we got tired. Fairly quickly we came to a point where the trail (varying from three to four feet wide) had a vertical cliff on one side and a drop off on the other. There was a cable along the cliff for the faint of heart to hang onto, and I held on the whole way! When the cliff gave way to a sloping mountainside and the cable was no longer present, I began experiencing vertigo and declared it was time to turn around and go back. I was glad to have the cable to hang onto again. There were at least a hundred other people on this trail, many with children, but I could not convince myself it was safe. Going back meant having to find a way to pass the people starting out--not fun for me, but I think Riley enjoyed it. We saw a very cute baby ground squirrel that seemed not to be afraid of people until Riley tried to photograph it, whereupon it quickly ran under a rock.

View from Highline Trail

Highline Trail (on far right)

Ground squirrel

Avalanche Falls

Our last four days we stayed at the Many Glacier campground. As usual, we saw bears on the mountainsides in this area--this time a Grizzly sow with two cubs foraging for huckleberries. They were fairly close to the road so there were lots of cars stopped and people trying to get a great wildlife picture. We hiked around Swiftcurrent Lake, stopping at the Many Glacier Lodge for lunch. We passed through a game room with jigsaw puzzles that had been started on a couple of card tables. One with Mickey Mouse on it caught us and we sat down and worked on it for a while--hadn't done that in a long time, no room in the RV.

Swiftcurrent Creek

Swiftcurrent Lake

The nights did get cooler in Glacier and all our camping there was without utilities, but we still had some very hot days. We didn't get pleasant weather until we reached Yellowstone NP. We spent a week there, all at Bridge Bay campground. Actually, we felt quite happy that we were able to find camping in the park at all since it's the most popular time of year to visit. We used the motorcycle again to tour the park and we went to all the usual places--lots of fun.

Yellow stone & Yellowstone River

Orange Spring Mound

Castle Geyser, orange bacterial mat

Emerald Pool

Wildlife report: Back in Custer State Park, we saw Big Horn Sheep, Bison, Pronghorn, and Whitetail Deer. At Fort Pitt SP, we saw Elk and Whitetail Deer. At Glacier NP, we saw the Grizzlies and Mountain Goats. At Yellowstone, we saw Bison, Grizzlies, Elk, Mule Deer and Grey Wolves (a first for us). In the Grand Tetons, we finally saw Moose, a bull and a female with a juvenile. We also saw various ground squirrels, chipmunks, and prairie dogs.

Grizzly sow in Glacier NP

One of two grizzly cubs

Bison, after dust bath, standing by road

Elk in Yellowstone meadow

Between Glacier and Yellowstone we stopped in Helena and went to the movies to see the latest Harry Potter episode. We enjoyed it, but "Prisoner of Azkahban" is still the best in my opinion. Too bad they couldn't have used that same director for these last two movies.

The mountains of the Grand Tetons are as awesome as ever, though I can't help but notice how the glaciers have shrunk to mere remnants. Skillet glacier on Mount Moran has only a handle left. The U-shaped valleys and cirques where the glaciers once were are quite obvious, just no ice. This same thing is happening in Glacier NP. I don't think it will be long before none is left.

Grand Tetons

Mount Moran

On another note, I've finished the two baby quilts I was working on and have sent them off to Amy & Lindsey. Now, what'll I do? :-)

We are now in Rexburg, Idaho, to pick up some prescriptions from Walgreen's and to have the RV looked at (the slide is not closing tightly). From here we'll be heading south and west, with San Diego our ultimate goal by August 21.

Love to all,
Margie & Riley

Bird Report

Going north on Highway 85 in South & North Dakota, we saw lots of Lark Buntings (new for us) sitting on fence posts and flying across the hay fields.

In Montana, Medicine Lake NWR (very near Canada) was a wonderful place for birds--the best we've been to lately. As we drove through the park the birds seemed to be in clumps. First, there were Horned Larks all over the road and in the fields. Next was a lake with many water birds, including both Western and Clark's Grebe, which are very easy to tell apart in their summer colors, unlike their winter colors, which are almost identical. The American White Pelican nests here. Then we came across a stretch of prairie grass with Bobolink (new) sitting on the brush. We saw at least 5 males and many females. Next there were a couple of bushes that were full of female Yellow-headed Blackbirds, then an area with Chestnut-collared Longspurs (new). We also saw at least three Sharp-tailed Grouse (new) throughout the refuge. It was a very exciting time. We stopped at another wildlife refuge where we did not see that many birds--would that they were all like Medicine Lake.

At Fort Pitt SP, we saw two new birds: the Common Tern and the Veery. We never made it to the auto-route of the Charles M. Russell NWR because of the heat (see above).

Freezeout Lake is a state wildlife management area supported by sportsmen, i.e., hunting fees. There were even hints on how to aim at flying birds with models for you to practice aiming from different directions and distances. While we didn't see many birds, this is evidently a resting spot for migrating waterfowl. Not only do they allow hunting of ducks, but of Snow Geese and Swans. Does anyone out there know of recipes for Swan? Somehow this just didn't seem right to me. Also, how can it be sport to shoot at birds which have been lured with great habitat to a certain spot and are using it to rest? This is like putting out grain to lure deer within shooting range of blinds. [Riley notes: using timed-release feeders is common practice in Texas, and I must confess to killing (and later eating) several Whitetail deer near such feeders back in the 80s.]

Of the national parks, birding was best at Yellowstone. I think it must have been too hot in Glacier. When we were in Glacier in June last year we saw many more than this time. We looked for the Greater Sage Grouse in Jackson Hole, but had no luck. At Yellowstone, we saw Barrow's Goldeneye mothers with their ducklings, and most exciting, an osprey stooping down and catching a fish out of the Firehole River.

Swainson's Hawk in Yellowstone NP
Happy Birding!

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