Wild Animals and Wilderness

Wow! What a week. If you don’t want to plow through all the yadayadayada, just skip around and take a look at some of the photos…we’ve had some interesting times. One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep a record – for us – of our adventures. In a few years, when we’re in The Home, drooling on ourselves, we’ll be able to re-live these times. These are some of the things I hope we’ll remember.

We decided to leave Valley of Fires a day ahead of our plan, and shorten the lengthy drive to our next scheduled stop. Oasis State Park (NM) seemed like a good choice for an intermediate stop. Well, maybe….we drove through miles of flat territory, studded with cattle feedlots. Oasis SP is an odd spot – a small campground stuck out in a huge flatland. There is absolutely nothing nearby. I’m not sure why anybody would actually plan to camp here. It’s barren. 20180410_171905944341651.jpg20180403_1832351700276330.jpgThe wind was roaring – we sat outside for a few minutes, and congratulated ourselves with having a shorter drive for the next day, then dove inside to seek shelter from the wind and cold. It wasn’t pleasant.

Several years ago, we stayed at Caprock Canyons State Park (TX), and my most best memory of it was the prairie dog village.20180404_171509487528699.jpg With my cellphone camera, it’s impossible to get a decent photo of this experience – prairie dogs and their environment are nearly the same color, and I couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot. But this video gives you a great idea of  what the experience is. Enjoy. It’s crazy. When I walked past the village with Jezzy, the activity and chatter between prairie dog ‘condos’ increases. Jezzy is entranced. Prairie dog is the new squirrel.

But, this trip to Caprock was all about the bison. Their stately presence is something we’ve enjoyed at Custer State Park and Teddy Roosevelt National Park, but this was contact on a whole new level. (This guy is nuts for turning his back as he did.)C9C05651-69C9-45BB-B219-E9CDB2C50C69 They wander everywhere – disrupting traffic and foot-flow whever they pass. Our campground was a prime target. I awoke one night at 4am to a strange noise directly outside the window that I couldn’t identify. When I opened the shade, all I could see was the huge body of a bison, standing three feet from my reach – right at the edge of the trailer hitch! Apparently, the Campsh@ck was perched on some tender shoots he wanted to have. Although he never bumped the camper, it took a long time to get back to sleep that night. In the morning, we discovered a delightful ‘hostess gift’ which he left for us. 20180410_1734141033266775.jpgOur new neighbor the next day had a similar experience. She rolled in with her small camper to the sight of the bison hanging out in her campsite. 20180410_1742562001968800.jpgHe was nearly as big as her camper.IMG_20180407_173257.jpg There was a bit of cat-and-mouse as she tried to wait him out before leaving on her bicycle. Nerve-wracking, to be sure.

It’s impossible to explore the Canyons without a bison encounter. 20180410_173218708221960.jpgWe hiked the 6.5 mile Rim Canyon loop, and met up with a few surly-looking beasts. For sure, we gave them a wide berth, and moved on. But, I believe it was this same group who caught up with us as soon as we entered the enclosed campground for people camping with horses. Although it looks like I’m right next to them, we were (thankfully) separated by a thin strand of barbed wire.

 

Bison may look stupid and docile, but they are quick and agile. From the protection of our truck, we viewed one lone bison racing across the prairie – apparently waking up from a nap to find the herd had left him behind. Believe me, he was hauling ass! It was amazing to see. I was even attacked by a bison statue. Nobody was injured.20180406_1151231800038015.jpgOn one particularly cold morning, we left in the truck to explore nearby Turkey TX. Upon returning, we met our neighbors who told us that we had a big bull bison using our electric post as his scratching post. He inadvertently turned on our water spigot (we had turned it off and disconnected the hose due to 20 degree temps the night before). Water was spraying everywhere! They waited for him to wander off, then turned off the water.

We hiked another day from the far end of the Canyon into a completely different landscape. A3B3AAB4-4125-4BDD-9B94-A65E55098D0F5C7F3612-5944-4650-BDD1-12D26625CF14 20180410_1743511652084639.jpgAlthough we were plagued by fierce winds and plunging temps, I’d go back there in a minute. It’s so beautiful.20180406_1043551261039530.jpg20180406_1043121373068015.jpg20180405_1239331453774573.jpgWe were sad to leave Caprock, but hopeful to find some warmer temps. The dry 30mph winds and below freezing temps at night were wearing us down. We couldn’t have a fire, it was too windy to keep our awning up to sit outside, and we were a bit tired of the close contact of being stuck inside a small space (small campers are even smaller after a few days of inclement weather)

One more curiosity about this area – on the road into the Park, there’s a fence stretching about 3/4 mile on which folks have decorated boots and hung them on the fenceposts. Here are a few of my favorites.

We didn’t have high expectations for our next stop – Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. But, what an interesting spot! More bison, Oklahoma Longhorns, coyotes, turkeys, geese, a primo lakeside campsite for $10, and more.20180410_1803002120749914.jpg20180409_195102713387479.jpgOne big downside.20180410_1747531235530549.jpg This is the third time we have encountered a water-warning in a western State or Federal campground on this trip, and it’s worrisome. Twice, the warning was for high nitrates, but the e-coli warning to avoid all contact and boil water was scary. There were several pit toilets around the campgroud which had been de-commissioned, and I’m pretty sure that was related to the e-coli contamination. Creepy. Once our clean water is gone, what’s next? We had five gallons of drinking water with us (way more than enough), and we used water from our tank for dish washing. But, I did take showers there – yuck!

The Visitor Center in the NWR is amazing – videos and displays about rejuvenation of the prairie, saving the bison, and restoration of the prairie. Between 1830 and 1860, the American bison herd was reduced from 50 million head to a few hundred. For me, those numbers are incomprehensible. Old photos show settlers sitting in stacks of bison hides or amidst piled of bison-head skeletons. President McKinley signed the Wichita Mountains NWR into existence, and thus began the long, slow process of saving the bison from extinction. Hooray for that effort. Longhorn cattle are also prominent in the NWR landscape.20180408_1403421539330140.jpg20180409_12474982827992.jpgIn the middle of this National Wildlife Refuge in western Oklahoma is a curious area called Holy City. 20180410_175538681212606.jpgAlthough I can’t speak to the religious aspect of this site, it certainly was a fantastic photo op.20180410_175659957570438.jpg20180409_140056961592622.jpg20180409_140604206578278.jpg20180409_140644805783642.jpg Since is was just a week after Easter, I can only imagine what it must have been like the previous week. Holy City was built in 1926, and is the site of the longest running annual Passion Play in the US.

One other event affected our visit to the NWR. While we were there, there was a full-scale controlled burn of the prairie inside the NWR being conducted by the Forest Service. We planned to cycle to the Visitor Center, then on down to a trail around Scott Mountain. Once we passed the VC, we noticed an unusual amount of smoke. Soon, signs appeared about the burn.20180410_175436416705792.jpg In this area, the Eastern Red Cedar is an invasive tree, which (left uncontrolled) would totally dominate the landscape. Burning is a method used to eliminate the cedar, since they perish, the native oaks survive, and the prairie grasses re-establish themselves within a matter of days. It’s easy to see the effectiveness of this tactic. Areas which have been burned are easily distinguished from those that have not, based on the scrub, and the trees. The area to the right of the sign in the above had been previously burned.The smoke from the burn was horrible though, and we were prohibited from cycling through the area we planned. 20180410_175354836702364.jpg Here’s what it looks like – I would love to go back in a month or two and take a photo from the same corner to see the difference.20180409_1422391573388771.jpg20180409_142127435293032.jpgThe hazy smoke affected all my photos from the day, although we enjoyed our ride and the sights.

We loved the historic stone buildings there. The photo below shows John near an early gas station. 20180410_1752381222561205.jpgThere are several dams in the area, and we found a terrific spot for lunch. 20180409_143549378829547.jpgThe Wichita Mountains NWR turned out to be a terrific spot to explore, and we were sad to leave. There’s much to see here, and we will definitely be back.

Heading toward an old favorite site – Galveston Island State Park. On the way there, we’re staying at two new (to us) campgrounds. Stay tuned….20180409_1523241213192847.jpg

 

14 thoughts on “Wild Animals and Wilderness

  1. Yep, bison are huge, but harmless unless you rile them up. I saw several people charged by them in Yellowstone, and they’re a lot faster than they look. Me, I sat under a tree and photographed a herd close up as they passed by the tree I was against.

    I’m sure that the wind and cold get to you after a while, especially if you’re stuck inside of a small camper. But, the scenery was spectacular once again, which would make up for the weather in some degree.

    Prairie dogs are so cute, it’s been a while since I’ve see any. I’ll bet Jezzy could have had a grand time trying to dig them up.

    The Holy City looks like one of those quirky tourist traps that sprang up after people began traveling by automobile. There has to be a history behind it. Also, some of those boots look to be in good shape to be decorating fence posts.

    I wouldn’t be in any rush to get back to the icebox formerly known as Michigan soon. There’s yet another winter storm headed this way for the weekend.

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    • Hi Jerry. Lots of stuff for discussion here. We weren’t really afraid of the bison, but did our dammdest not to make eye contact. Who knows what might look threatening to a bison? And what do we really know about collective memory (maybe that’s not the right term. The memory species might have about prior lives or events). So much easier to just keep my distance.

      Jezzy wanted to be turned loose in the prairie dog village so badly that it was painful to watch. She was practically walking on her hind legs to get a better view. Poor girl….

      We really can’t complain about the weather. I’ll take the rain and cold. But the wind is my benesis. It’s so dry that it’s difficult to tolrtate. At our new camp at Lofers Bend West near Whitney, TX, we arrived to acalm sunny day. Today, winds were 25-30 mph, which made for a rather unpleasant exploratory bike ride. Tomorrow, the forecast is for 40 mph winds. We have battened down the hatches. That is not great weather for people who like to cook and eat outside! Plan B = go get pizza!

      Take care. Spring is coming!

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  2. Oh, this trip brings back memories! First of all, at Oasis State Park in New Mexico you were only about 2 miles from Blackwater Draw, the archaeological site where the Clovis Man was discovered. It is open for tourists some days of the week and has explanatory signs. Fascinating. The Blackwater Museum is located a dozen-and-a-half miles away on a better-traveled highway perhaps 10 miles north of Portales. Interesting museum. Come back some day and take time for sightseeing. Fascinating museums in Lubbock I can direct you to, also. A little later this month I will be tenting at Oasis State Park while visiting my daughter, 7 miles from her house. Her husband is a chain smoker and the smoke makes me ill, so I bring my (cloth) house with me.
    Second, The last time I was at Caprock Canyon State Park in Texas was 1988 or 1989. Much more beautiful than the better known Caprock Canyons State Park to the north. There were no bison in Caprock Canyons at the times I was there, thank goodness. The most dangerous creatures were centipedes; huge, venomous creepy critters. I tent camped several times and one time I took a short overnight backpack.
    Third, In 1964 my husband, 2 y/o daughter, and I were traveling to somewhere and spent a night in Wichita Mountains NRA. The three of us slept in a 2-man Army surplus pup tent. Before sundown a group of bison walked up to our campsite and grazed. I was terrified. More worried about my daughter than about myself. As I thought things over, I decided that if the feds let the bison roam thru the unfenced campground we were safe, and I think I slept well that night. I don’t remember for sure.
    In closing, I also enjoyed your descriptions of places I haven’t been, and I always enjoy your fotos.
    Sylvia

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    • Funny about finding something near Oasis SP. There didn’t seem to be anything nearby at all. We were only trying to find a place to rest our heads for the night and forget about the howling winds. I should know that I always need to check what might be nearby.

      Perhaps the two Caprock State Parks have been combined. I sure couldn’t find a second one on the map. Hanging out with the bison and prairie dogs is amazing. There were a few tent campers in our campground, but not many. It was into the 20s at night, which is pretty cold for your average Trent camper. The women were all hanging out in the bathroom in the morning trying to thaw their fingers and toes.

      You sure seem to have been to every place we visit, and your knowledge is impressive. So happy we bumped into you at Datil Wells. We passed through there a week or so ago, and ( of course) your name came up. Were your ears burning? 😊

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  3. Great pictures and dialog as always!!! I have read that bison can actually outrun a horse for short distances although the horse could overtake them with endurance!

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  4. Being a former Army Artilleryman, I was stationed at Ft Sill, OK twice during my career and loved to head out to The Wichita NWR. Great hiking and fishing and the view from the top of Mt Scott is fantastic.

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    • Hey Dave. Jezzy sure wasn’t happy to be camped so close to Ft Sill. When the artillery pounding started in the morning, we had to give her a doggie downer. Luckily for us, the Army seems to have fairly short practice days,and so it only went on for about five hours. We wanted to go to Mt Scott, but that’s where the Rangers turned us back. It was such a great place to camp – we will be making a return trip for sure.

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  5. OMG!! What an adventure! We had a couple of close encounters with bison at Yellowstone. We were on the boardwalk (stay on the boardwalk!) and a big one decided to go from one side of the boardwalk to the other. Don’t know what we would have done if he had decided to take a stroll on the boardwalk. Your photos are really captivating!!

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    • Thanks, Susan. We met a few coming over a hill toward us on a narrow backcountry trail. We moved away, hoping they would all chose to move forward in one direction, so we could go in the other. My heart was hammering. These guys are huge. Don’t want to find out if they are pissed off at us!

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  6. Your experiences seem like from another world. My starkest memory of bison was in a park in North Dakota. Bison came right up to the car. They towered over the car. So delighted to see the world through your eyes. Thank you.

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