Tag Archive | Prairie Dogs

West 2016: Badlands NP Wildlife

Day 4: August 8, 2016

Do you have any idea how long I have been trying to get a decent photo of Bighorn Sheep?  I was thwarted in Colorado at Colorado National Monument, got the faintest glimpse of them at dusk on the drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park, got blurry pics of them at Pikes Peak, and then missed them again at Joshua Tree

But Badlands National Park did not disappoint!  We saw Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep for the first time that day at the Burns Basin Overlook.  There were three of them.  Two were resting on the rocks, and one was walking unhurriedly.  My mom didn’t get out of the car at first, so I had to go back and drag her out to make sure she got to see them too.  Of course, I did make sure to get some photos first.  I was so excited!

Bighorn Sheep at Burns Basin Overlook

I spotted some pretty little songbirds, but couldn’t really tell what kind they were because they were silhouetted against the blue sky.

They might be Mountain Bluebirds, but I couldn’t tell for sure…

We decided to drive down the Sage Creek Rim Road, a gravel road that is supposed to be where the bison and the bighorn sheep often hang out.  There is also a prairie dog town a few miles down the road.  We didn’t see any bison that day, but we were not disappointed because we had already done some fabulous spotting at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and Yellowstone National Park was still coming up later in the trip!  Soon we happened upon a huge herd of animals grazing in the field in the distance.  At first glance, we both thought they were deer, but after watching them for a few minutes, I figured out that they were bighorn sheep!  We took some photos and continued on, because they were pretty far away.

Soon we came upon a bunch of sheep hanging out right by the road, and often, in the road!  There were a lot of babies too!  I had so much fun just watching them and taking photos.  They were stunning and so close!  They weren’t bothered by us at all.

Baby Bighorn Sheep!

Not even this guy, who was too lazy to even stand up all the way to re-position himself for better grass!

This guy… I have no words…

It was tough to pull away from the bighorns, but we headed the rest of the way to the prairie dog town.  These prairie dogs didn’t want to pose as nicely for us though…  I did get a nice shot of a Western Meadowlark though!

Prairie Dog! He was on a mission…

 

Western Meadowlark at Badlands

We did so much wildlife spotting that it was starting to get late, and we wanted to grab some dinner.  We returned the way we came, stopping for some more photos of the bighorn sheep, before heading out of the park.  Just outside, we found a lone pronghorn posing beautifully, so I got some photos of him too!

 

Is this not the cutest trio of butts ever!

 

A stately Pronghorn, just outside of the park

It was a great day for wildlife!

 

West 2016: Theodore Roosevelt NP Wildlife

Day 2: August 6, 2016

In addition to hiking and exploring the scenery at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, my mom and I also got the chance to do lots of wildlife spotting.  TRNP has a lot of critters, big and small!  Soon after entering the park, we came across the first of many prairie dogs towns.  These guys are so cute!  The little sentries watching out for the others!  They scurry around and chew on little blades of grass.  So much cuteness!  I was absolutely enthralled, and we spent a lot of time just watching the little guys from the car.

A Prairie Dog running!

A Prairie Dog running!

These were some of the first prairie dogs we saw on the trip, but I never got tired of them!  Dear Readers, by the time this trip series is over, you might be tired of prairie dog pictures!

Prairie Dogs with their Sentry

Prairie Dogs with their Sentry

When we got our fill of managed to tear ourselves away from the prairie dogs, we moved on to our next order of business – large animal spotting.  It didn’t take long.  Just a few miles into the park we drove right into our first bison jam!  And we were right at the beginning of the line, so we got an amazing view!  Mamas and babies and big male bison too!  They were literally just wandering down the middle of the road, and were entirely unconcerned by the presence of the cars.

A bison baby trying to bully "Daddy"

A bison baby trying to bully “Daddy”

 

A brand new baby!

A brand new baby!

My next order of business was wild horses.  A whole herd of wild horses!  Technically these horses are feral horses; animals that that have returned to an untamed state from domestication.  After the Spanish brought modern horses to the new world, some animals escaped or were left and bred and ran wild throughout the West.  The horses in the park are descended from those.  The Park Service did try to round up and remove horses from the park until 1970, when it was acknowledged that they were a part of the cultural history of the park. Now they manage the herds, but mostly let them be.

Wild horses on the hill

Wild horses on the hill

We drove down the scenic loop in the park, and at one point considered driving down a gravel road where my mom thought she remembered seeing them on a previous trip to the park, but ultimately we decided to stay on the main road and there they were! Many of the horses in the bands are paints and blue and red roans, adding quite a bit of color!  They hung out on a hill together and I was able to get some really awesome photos of them.  I have seen wild horses on my travels before, but it has generally just been a solitary horse far away.  This was a great experience, being so close to such beautiful creatures!

I loved the color variations of the horses at the park

I loved the color variations of the horses at the park

 

Bison wandering

Bison wandering

After finding yet another huge herd of bison, and more wild horses, we made our way back to the exit, and got some photos with the entrance sign.  We headed east to stop at the east entrance of the park, for a special assignment.  During the summer of 1978, when I was two years old, we had been to Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park and had taken pictures of the entrance sign – I really am my mother’s child!  It is a little different now, because it has since become a National Park, but they still had the same sign!  You can see the remaining holes where they removed the metal letters  for the Memorial Park sign…

It looks like I dressed myself - dress shoes with that getup?!

It looks like I dressed myself – dress shoes with that getup?!

So this time we found a nice couple with their kids who helped us pose and create the photos, trying to match them as much as well could to the photos from 1978.  My mom stood in for my brother, so they aren’t perfect, but it was the best we could do as my brother couldn’t go on the trip with us.  I don’t think we did too badly!  Even though I am still really short, I was obviously much shorter when I was two…

Mom got the easier challenge. My dorky pose in 1978 was a hard act to master...

Mom got the easier challenge. My dorky pose in 1978 was a hard act to master…

After our picture taking extravaganza, we had a two hour drive to Belle Fourche, South Dakota; on the way we stopped in Bowman, North Dakota at Windy’s Bar and Grill.  I had a Swiss Mushroom burger and salad, it was very good and very reasonably priced!

Along the drive to Belle Fourche we started seeing the first of many motorcycles that we would encounter on our trip; we were going to be in South Dakota during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally!  We also saw quite a few pronghorn and mule deer.  And one dead porcupine…  It was a gorgeous sunset too!

We passed fields of sunflowers on our evening drive

We passed fields of sunflowers on our evening drive

Gas: $2.35/gal.  – $26.02 for the fill up.
Distance for the Day: 253 miles (4 hours)
Hotel for the night: EconoLodge – Belle Fourche, SD

West 2016: Little Bighorn Battlefield NM

Day 1: August 5, 2016

2:30 am comes early.  I know I have said this before, but I so love that 5 am flight, so I am willing to make some sacrifices.  There is just something about flying into your destination, and making it there before 11 am.  You still have most of the day to sight see!

We got into Billings, Montana before 11 am after a couple of easy flights, with enough layover time to get a quick breakfast in Seattle.  We picked up our car, and there was a bit of drama.  We had made our reservation through Costco – then prices dropped so we canceled it and made a new reservation.  Somehow, the car rental agency still had the first, more expensive reservation. It is important to pay attention to these things!

The clerk was having trouble fixing it too after we showed her our confirmation page with the correct, lower price. Eventually we got our car, a white Subaru with extensive hail damage.  It had golf ball sized dents everywhere, and the side mirror housing was ripped off on the passenger side.  We weren’t going to have to worry about any damage we caused!  Which I learned later, was a good thing (hello foreshadowing)!

We stopped at Walmart to buy a cheap cooler for our travels, since we were planning to do lots of picnic lunches on our trip.  Mom bought a camp chair so she could hang out and sketch or journal while I was out hiking at the various parks.  And we had a quick lunch at Subway.

Our first tourist stop was at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  If you don’t know the story, Sioux leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse resisted government attempts to force them onto reservations.  After gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the United States broke their treaties with the Sioux and allowed unchecked waves of gold seekers to move to the area.  As a result, many more Sioux and Cheyenne left their reservations to join the Native Americans who were already in Montana.  Custer and his troops were sent there to squelch the resistance.

little-bighorn-sign

Me doing my very best Vanna White with the Little Bighorn sign

Custer attacked a village of Sioux and Cheyenne; he misjudged the size of the village and mistakenly assumed that most of the warriors at the village would be sleeping in.  Oops…  The counter attack was swift and decisive.  Custer’s troops ended up retreating to a grassy hill overlooking the prairie and were killed on the hillside.  Of the companies directly commanded by Custer, there was not a single survivor.  Of the approximately 600 U.S. troops involved in the battle, 274 of them were killed.

custers-last-stand-hill

The hill where Custer and his men retreated to make their last stand

It was very hot the day we visited; almost 100 degrees!  The battle occurred on June 25, 1876 – on what was probably another very hot day.  It would have been very difficult to fight in such conditions.  Custer’s soldiers knew there was nowhere to run; so they made the tragic decision to shoot their own horses to form a defensive barrier.  It wasn’t effective.  It is hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of killing my own horse; they must have known at that point there was no opportunity for a victory or for escape.

horses-marker

The gravesite of the horses killed at Little Bighorn. Custer’s men killed their own horses in order to use their bodies as shields.

We checked out the Visitor’s Center, and then ventured out to see the site. There are markers showing where Custer and some of the other soldiers fell.  There are also a few markers showing where Native Americans died, but the Native Americans removed their dead after the battle, so the accuracy of these markers is based on recollections years after the battle. A few years after the battle, the remains of the U.S. Officers were removed from the site and buried with honors at other National Cemeteries – Custer was reburied at West Point.  The enlisted men and scouts were re-interred in 1881 at the base of an obelisk at the top of the hill – 220 men in all.

custers-marker

The black marker shows where George Armstrong Custer originally fell and was buried. His body is now at West Point.

soldiers-marker

This obelisk marks the grave of 220 U.S. troops and Native American Scouts killed during the battle

Also at the monument is a memorial erected by the tribes to honor the Native Americans who served there.  It is beautiful and moving.  In 1991 the name of the monument was changed from Custer Battlefield National Monument, in order to honor the Native American story.  Although Custer and his men were killed there, it was not a bloodbath directed at killing U.S. troops – rather it was the culmination of a long period of persecution and murder of the Native Americans.  It was kill or be killed for the tribes at that point.

native-american-memorial

Me with the Native American Memorial

After we toured the battlefield, we listened to the Ranger Talk of what happened there.  He pointed out where people were at various points during the battle.  He talked about which tribes participated on which side of the battle and why.  It was interesting to hear both perspectives and to visualize the movement of both sides throughout the battle.

After Little Bighorn, we stopped to take the first of many photos of prairie dogs who made their home in a colony just outside of the monument.  Yes, I get all of the reasons why these cute critters are reviled, but they totally get a bad rap!  Prairie dogs are critical for a healthy ecosystem.  They provide food for predators like coyotes, foxes and ferrets, their burrows provide homes for those same ferrets and burrowing owls, and the process of burrowing helps to rejuvenate the prairie grasses that the bison need to survive.  No prairie dogs, no healthy ecosystem.  Take that, you prairie dog haters!

little-bighorn-prairie-dog

A prairie dog at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

We couldn’t watch the prairie dogs too long though, as we still had touristing left to do!  Next up – the Bighorn County Historical Museum.