With the weight of Glacier National Park and its surroundings sitting feather-like in our thoughts and on our shoulders, we drove eastward through Montana and on to North Dakota. The immense plateaus of eastern Montana were especially dry, and recent fires had blackened thousands of acres of cattle country populated with mule deer, pronghorn and coyote.
We stopped at North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park and not surprisingly found it much quieter than all the other parks we visited (less tourism). We enjoyed a 36-mile loop road through the modestly beautiful and arid region of “badlands,” or eroded buttes. Bison greeted us at several locations and, anthropomorphically speaking, the busy prairie dog towns seemed friendly and accommodating as long as you were not a ferret or a falcon.
We ended a long drive into South Dakota at a pleasant camp-site in the West Whitlock Recreation Area on the Missouri River. I would add two more life-birds near this comfortable camping ground. One of them was a group of chicken-like birds identified as sharp-tailed grouse (seen on three occasions), and the other was a family of burrowing owls that huddled together in the doorway of their house inside a prairie dog town.
Another first for me was the sighting of a badger. This short-legged omnivore was seen at the roadside scrambling into an open area, perhaps stalking for a ground squirrel or a prairie dog. Even though I once lived in eastern South Dakota and western Wisconsin, I had never once encountered this elusive creature.
Speaking of eastern South Dakota, we drove through the city of Brookings where I lived for a short period of time in the late 1960s and where I spent a year attending South Dakota State University (before I switched to Alfred U. in New York State). The city has almost doubled in size since that less than pleasant occasion, but the house where we lived still looks good, and the university grounds seem more attractive than they did in those turbulent days when this country was at war in Vietnam.
All in all, our journey that began with a stop in Arlington, Virginia and then proceeded to nearly the Mexican border before turning northward through the Rocky Mountains almost to Alberta, Canada was a great success. We visited four national parks plus Dinosaur National Monument. I had the privilege of fly-fishing in six beautiful western states, caught four species of trout, including four sub-species of wild cutthroat. The people we met and the places we encountered form a wonderful bank of memories.
I could not have done it half as well without the managerial skills of my lovely wife with whom I have now shared 35 years of marriage (anniversary, September 4th– hey I remembered!).
I would do it again, of course.
Meanwhile, the fishing has been pretty darned fair at home, considering the time of year. I even got to fish the West Branch Ausable River for a while, along with other fine streams.
More on this, the next time.