Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

SignI told Larry, when we were in Iowa City, that I wanted to go the Tallgrass Prairie. I don’t know why. It just called to my imagination. Boy oh boy, did we like this place! Tallgrass Prairie is a gem in our book. This preserve was established in 1996 as a result of much collaboration and compromise between local ranchers and the Forest Service, according to our Ranger and Wikipedia.

“Legislation introduced in 1991 called for the creation of the Preserve, but local interests objected to the condition that the National Park Service would own it all. From 1991-1994, U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker convened a group of stakeholders, many with opposing views, to seek agreement on the formula for a tallgrass prairie park. The group began work in January 1992, and a different model for a national park emerged; it would be a public/private partnership, managed by the National Park Service, but the land privately owned.” – Wikipedia

It was wonderful to think that people with such opposing views and interests could come together and create such a gift.

Tall grassSo, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is what remains of the original tallgrass prairie, of which less than 4% remains today. The other 96% got tilled into farm lands and now feeds our country. This little parcel of land is intact today thanks to our friend, limestone! This area was saved from the plow due to the large deposits of limestone and flint which made it too difficult to plow. The prairie is in a section of Kansas called Flint Country.

The preserve has miles of walking trails and we enjoyed hiking on terrain that was very different from our home in New England. We had a lot of fun spying the magnificent Bison. We made sure to stay the recommended 100 yards away from them. They are the largest land mammal in North America. I did not know that!

WarningBuffalo musclesField of BuffaloWe highly recommend that you add this Preserve to your bucket list. We greatly enjoyed our stay in Cottonwood Falls, but that, my friends, is another post!

Till next time, stay curious!

Blackhawk Memorial County Park

We’d never been to Wisconsin and the weather was nice so we decided to go north after Iowa City.

Our first stop was a campground called Blackhawk Memorial County Park . It was no doubt one of the more beautiful camping areas we’ve come across.

We’re calling it a Gem despite all the “official” campsites being flooded out and my getting Shiny stuck in a wet area.

Thanks to Coach-Net, a 2 year road side assistance insurance policy which came complimentary with the purchase of Shiny, we were winched out an hour after we called thanks to Al of Al’s Towing and his two trusty helpers.

Tow truck

We spent the first night stuck in the field. After getting winched out we moved to firmer ground right beside the lake.

The place was quiet and peaceful. Fish jumped completely out of the water in search of a bite to eat. There were herons and egrets. Canadian Geese were landing, playing, and taking off in front of us. Ducks casually swam along and turtles lumbered across the pathways.

The park itself is on the site of an 1830’s battle between local militia and Native Americans led by Black Hawk, a Sauk leader. Part of the Blackhawk Wars.

It is hard to believe a battle had been fought here. A small memorial monument and a sign saying ‘Bloody Lake’ reminded us that the European settlement of this area came at such a price.

We stayed 4 days alone here in this quiet, tranquil little corner of Wisconsin.

Finding the Peace Rock might be a little tricky this time. It also might be the last time we hide it since we can’t find it. We’re looking!

Sabao Lake

We had been on the road for an hour already on winding back roads when we finally made it to Route 95 North. The highway sign read, Bangor -130 miles. At that point I was wondering whether this trip to Sabao Lake Campground was going to be worth the drive. Once we hit Bangor, we would have another 45 minutes of travel and then we’d finish the trip with 11 miles on a dirt road to get to the campground.

map revised

I know you can’t stand the suspense, so I’ll answer the question now, “Yes! It was worth it.” As a matter of fact, we are calling it a gem! The campground is managed by a friend of ours, Arthur Tenan, and we are grateful for his warm hospitality. The campground is on land owned by a paper company and is leased by the Tenan family. We were told that the water in front of the camper was deep because they used to run the logs through there in the winter. The logs floating through formed a deep channel.

The camp is situated on a beautiful lake. The sites are big and, for the most part, we were the only people there. In our terminology, it is primitive camping, which means no electric hook up, no septic, no laundry, no water and very little cell service. There are several well maintained outhouses. We watched eagles and kingfishers dive for food, listened to bull frogs croak and loons cry for 4 days.

 

There was one log on the lake that was a favorite hang out for turtles. The woods and beaches had a great variety of wild flowers including a wild orchid, Rose Pogonia, some Shin leaf, water lilies and Pippsissewa.

We took nice hikes on nearby ATV trails and found an old bus that we learned had housed loggers who were working nearby back in the 40’s and 50’s. Given the sign on the bus, I am sure there were some more recent inhabitants as well.

Magic Bus

We had a pretty exciting moment when, after watching storm clouds for 30 minutes or so, I ran to Shiny as the wind picked up suddenly. I turned to see a funnel of water rising off of the lake. We made it into Shiny just in time to get the windows closed as the micro burst blew by, which was no small feat. Alas, Shiny did sustain some cosmetic damage and a tree fell down right near us. Luckily we weren’t hurt.

And, if you think that was terrifying, why, the next morning, we were drinking our coffee and the side table gave way and ALL of our fresh coffee spilled on the ground. We are still recovering from that. Luckily, the guardian angels of Shiny were with with us and we proceeded without harm.

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As usual, we meet very nice people on our travels and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Greg, our campsite host, who made us feel at home and looked after us even though he was on crutches. Thank you for your service to our country, Greg! On our last evening at the camp site, our peace and tranquility were broken by the arrival of some party-ready folks. Imagine our surprise and delight when one of them arrived at our campsite with a few pounds of fresh steamers complete with a can of beer in which to cook them! They were delicious and such a selfless gift from a stranger.

Susie and Larry 2

 

We returned home feeling refreshed and glad for the reminder of life on the road. Now for a few more doctor’s appointments and jury duty and then, if the stars align, we hit the road again.

Sign

For reservations call 207-546-3828. Downeast Wilderness Experiences does have a Facebook page as well. Tell them Shiny sent you!

 

Kickapoo Cavern State Park

No cell service, anemic WiFi, and no trash removal, that’s all the downside (if you can call it that) we can think of for Kickapoo. Sue and I loved this park. It’s a Gem!

Fence

The bathrooms and showers were kept in pristine condition. There are five full hookup sites. There is a guided cave tour on Saturday mornings. The rangers were friendly and helpful. The camp host went out of her way to make sure we were happy.

Group 6

Deer, javelinas, birds galore, few people, and eighteen miles of trails.

 

 

The most amazing thing of all, though, was the bat cave. It is home to over three million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats. These bats are considered to be one of the most abundant mammals in North America. That’s something to think about! We drove to the cavern at dusk and on the way we saw clouds of what we thought were flocks of birds. But, no, they were bats!! When we arrived at the cave opening we were greeted by wave after wave of bats leaving the cave for the night. This went on for over an hour. When the bats were finished leaving for their night of hunting, cave swallows flew in for their rest. The smell of the guano was pretty overwhelming.

To borrow a phrase from Arnold Schwarzenegger “we’ll be back“.

Here is a meditation drumming in case you need to calm down after seeing all of those bats! Click here!

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site sure was one of the high points of the trip for me so far. Phew! This site is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and contains more than 21,000 petroglyphs. One of the amazing things is that they are not roped off. You can hike up a trail and find hundreds of them. There is some graffiti going back to the days of the Spanish explorers but that is really minimal. No one can really agree what the petroglyphs were for or who made them. I do know that they moved me greatly and that the energy of the place was quite cleansing and liberating. I like to think the the wise ones of the old days had left messages for us to live life to its fullest and to stay in the game.

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We were able to camp right at the Site and there weren’t many people there. We got to chat with a couple from Illinois. They had just driven to the site from the midwest in four days, having stayed mostly in Wal-Mart parking lots. There were on their way to a convention in Albuquerque for square dance callers. She taught square dance calling for a living. They were fun folks.

The site is in a mostly desert area with few trees. One of the trees was in bud and it was swarmed with bees. You could hear the hum of them from quite a way away. I did make a recording of drumming with the bees, but alas, I lost it, so here is a one minute clip of the bees in the tree. Here’s to life! Click here

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Davis Mountains State Park. West Texas

Larry at Davis

I recommend that you add this park to your bucket list. It is beautiful, quiet and remote with great hikes, wildlife and good basic amenities like a nice clean bathhouse. The nights were very dark and the stars were brilliant. There are javalinas and mountain lions in the area but we did not see any.

Shiny at Davis

We stayed here for four days during which I mostly recovered from a bad head cold. I used so many handkerchiefs that I hand washed some and lay them on the picnic table under rocks to dry. When I used then afterwards, I could smell the faint scent of burnt mesquite. It was almost like incense from church but much earthier. They do a lot of planned burning out here and even thought there were no active fires, the smell of the burnt wood lingered.

It was still in the 40s and 50s so hiking was great. The altitude made the going a little slower (that’s my excuse and I am sticking with it). All day we listened to the mating calls of the Bared Owls. To get cell phone or Internet service, we had to drive up the mountain, which had a beautiful view.

 

We had fun exploring the local area. Got some good tips from Paul and Joan, octogenarians from Connecticut, and went on a great scenic loop on Route 166. The scenery was incredible and looked something like the Australian outback. They also recommend that we come back next year for the Cowboy Poetry Contest, which we may do. The town of Fort Davis had a great Mexican Restaurant and the Davis Mountain Nut Company. We visited the old Fort Davis, which gave us a good glimpse into life on the frontier days. We checked out the McDonald Observatory and the science of that was mind blowing.

 

I call this place a gem because it was so beautiful and quiet and remote.

One morning I went outside to watch the stars and had one of those moments in life when everything seems so clear. The richness of the moment opened up and held me and words cannot express how my heart opened to the beauty of exactly where I was. I feel so grateful for that gift. Here is an audio clip of a mediation drumming to the spirit of Davis Mountain. Enjoy! Click here for drumming

 

Fullerton Lake

Larry and I spent 5 days and 4 nights at Fullerton Lake Campground in central Louisiana. It was a beautiful place and cost only $2.50 per night with our national park senior pass. Larry called it a ‘gem’. Sitting around outside in the evening, with hats and coats on, we talked about what makes a place a ‘gem’. We didn’t come up with anything definitive but here are a few characteristics; quiet, lots of bird song, animals, bright stars or moon, water, restful, clean, tall trees, fresh air, meandering paths, rich history. It’s harder to come up with descriptors than we thought it would be. I suppose that makes sense. I mean, how can you really reduce such a thing to its component parts without losing its essence? It was also funny how the campground stayed a gem for us over the days even as it revealed itself in other ways such as the sound of artillery salvos from nearby Fort Polk or the smoke from a controlled burn.

The camp’s host and her husband told us a story about a 12 to 13 foot alligator that followed her and her tidbit (I mean, small dog) last year when they had their daily walk around the lake. The dog had a small bell on it’s collar that attracted the gator like a dinner bell. Alas, the alligator became such a menace that it had to be put down. The Rangers lured him in by shaking a set of keys on a key ring.

Foot bridge

A nearby camper, Curtis, brought us a load of fire wood and wouldn’t take a penny for it. He told us that the guy we saw fishing every day always said that he never caught any fish.

Fullerton was a mill town that was in existence from 1907 until the wood was gone in 1927. In the woods, you can see the cement remains of the mill. We got to see one of the wild horses in the area.Horse

Fullerton

Duck house

This is a hunting permit from a nearby station. We had to look up what some of the animals were. Do you know them all?

Hunting

Yikes!Bear Warning

Here’s an audio clip of drumming by the lake’s edge in the morning. The bird song is a delight! Click here then click on Fullerton Lake tab.

Fullerton water