Entries to Win Afghan

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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Flowers and Friends - Day 243

  Yesterday, someone gave us this bouquet of flowers. Not someone that I choose not to name, just... someone. A guy on the street handed them to Om. Well, we are willing to enjoy the moment. cut flowers

Our hosts for the past several days have been Trana and Gail. The trailer had a nice shady spot and they provided everything we needed. friends

That included an iron! The seam sealing tape needed to be replaced on my tent rain fly. seam sealing a tent

Then, packing to be sure I had everything in the car that I was going to need, and I was off to Ely. For the next two weeks, Monica and Keira are going to be my buddies. friends

We have things to get ready before we can actually hike, but we are now all in the same place, so we can make that happen.

See From Prairie Chicken to So Long

Saturday, July 30, 2022

From Prairie Chicken to So Long - Day 242

  Today was the last day I'll be hiking for 3 days. Big transition ahead. This is a miscellaneous collection of stuff that interested me in the past 24 hours or so.

Tomorrow, I'll head with the car to Ely, Minnesota where I am meeting friends. We are going to backpack the Kekekabic and Border Route sections together. So that means today was the last day Omer has to be my slave! Does he look happy? Just kidding. Being my helper is not necessarily an easy job, but he's done great. Thanks, Om!

This isn't quite on the trail, but yesterday we had to take a side trip of a few blocks to see the world's largest Prairie Chicken at Rothsay. Minnesota loves large fiberglass birds. Stay tuned.
Prairie chicken at Rothsay

Then last night, we had a little green visitor in the trailer. I have never seen this moth before, and the focus isn't great in the picture. It's about an inch across, but it's a White-fringed Emerald Moth. Very cute!
white fringed emerald moth

Found some Wild Cucumber in bloom. Echinocystis lobata. The best things about this vine are the funky seed pods and the very interesting seeds, but it's too early, so you get the flowers and leaves.
wild cucumber

Those who follow my blog in non-hiking mode know that I have sort of a running flamingo joke going. Here's another for the collection.
ornamental flamingo

I've been seeing a lot of American Foursquare houses out here on the plains. This gorgeous home seems to be a combination of the foursquare design and inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright. One of the best things about walking through towns is viewing the houses. You can actually see how the town grew by looking at the ages of the neighborhoods.
prairie craftsman house

I had been following beside the Otter Tail Valley Railroad most of the day. When I got to Fergus Falls, hey! Found a caboose.
Otter Tail Valley Caboose

And then, much to my surprise, I learned that the Otter Tail Valley RR is now owned by the Genessee & Wyoming, the same as Marquette Rail at home. G&W is based in New York, and they have been buying viable short lines for several years. They are a holding company that currently owns or has an interest in 122 railroads in the US and other countries. All their lines get to keep their own names, but they use the orange/yellow/black colors and a variation of the circle with two chevrons.
Otter Tail Valley Logo

It got really hot this afternoon, but I was finished hiking by 1 pm. Then Om and I went out to lunch, to celebrate surviving this section of the hike. I'll be jumping ahead tomorrow. Om will head out to do his own thing. Not that I'll get to do a lot of resting, but I'm looking forward to giving my feet a break. After the backpacking, I'll be back here to finish western Minnesota.

Miles today: 16.7. Total miles so far: 2941.1.

See Silver/Gray Plants

Friday, July 29, 2022

Silver/Gray Plants - Day 241

  Well, all right... the scenery today wasn't too stellar. 15 miles of flat road walk, but I did see a trumpeter swan with babies. Trumpeters are pretty special. In 1933, there were only 70 birds known to exist. Now there are over 50,000 thanks to a serious program of protection and re-introduction. They are native, while the mute swans (the ones with yellow beaks and curved necks) are not. trumpeter swan and babies

But the fact that not much happened today gives me a chance to show you some neat pictures I've been collecting across North Dakota. There are lots and lots of plants here with silvery-gray leaves. Do you wonder why? Quite often the plants are hairy. Other times, the leaves are waxy. Familiar silver garden plants are things like Dusty Miller and Lamb's Ear. The silver coloration is usually an adaptation by the plants to deal with hot, dry conditions including poor soil and sometimes little water. The leaves reflect more sunlight than green leaves, protecting the plant.

You'll notice a lot of trees with white leaves in North Dakota. Most of these are Russian Olive (not as invasive as the horrid Autumn Olive, but in the same genus). They were widely planted here for windbreaks, but they are alien, so they aren't being used as much any more. The leaves are white on both sides.
Russian Olive

A shrub from the same genus, Elaeagnus, that is native is Silverberry. Scott from the Corp of Engineers told me they are planting a lot more of this now. Its fruit is edible by humans, and is also an important food source for sharp-tailed grouse. Elaeagnus leaves get their silver color from small scales.

Here's a plant that was brand new to me. In fact, it was so brand new, I'd never even heard of it. This is Woolly Plantain, Plantago patagonica. The flower stalks do look a lot like Common Plantain, but the leaves are so different I did not recognize it as a plantain! It's very attractive. As you might guess from the name, this plant is covered with small hairs.
woolly plantain

Here's a praire favorite because it is so white. This is Silverleaf Scurf Pea, Pediomelum argophyllum. The blossoms are small, but they are deep purple. You can hardly believe it, but these leaves are also hairy. But the hairs are very short. The "pea" part of the name is accurate; they are members of the legume family. Several plants in this genus are called Indian breadroot because they grow edible tubers.

silverleaf scurfpea

And now we come to the Artemesia. These are often collectively called Wormwoods. A popular garden variety is "Silvermound." Dusty Miller is also an Artemesia. In the wild, they can be frustratingly complex, with up to 400 species. Sagebrush is an artemesia. So is Mugwort, a common weed (not white). Many of them are highly aromatic. I am lucky in that I already knew two of the ones I saw here.

The first is Artemisia ludoviciana, Pasture Sage or White Sage. I have this all over my yard, and I kept trying to get it to grow in my garden, but it likes to ramble rather than collect into a patch that would be attractive.
white sage

I also have the next one in my garden at home, and I wish I'd never bought it. It loves Michigan sandy soil and spreads everywhere. This is Artemesia absinthium, here called Wormwood, and Absinthe in other regions. It's alien, and yes, it is the ingredient in teas, liquors, and medicines with that name. There are some cultivars that have won horticultural awards, but this one is a total pain in a garden.

Now for one that was new to me. I like this one. It does get a bit leggier as it matures, but the younger plants of Artemesia frigida, Prairie Sagewort or Fringed Sage, are soft and feathery. It was very attractive and fragrant.
fringed sage

I think I saw another kind of artemesia too, but I haven't been able to ID it.
artemesia sp.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about silver plants! If you don't care about the botany, you can always hum, "There's silver on the sage tonight, sprinkled by the moon above..."

Miles today: 15.1. Total miles so far: 2924.4

See Fort Abercrombie

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Fort Abercrombie and... - Day 240

  The highlight of today was Fort Abercrombie. Although I've been here several times before, there was a nice surprise. They have a lovely new Visitor Center and Museum.
Fort Abercrombie Museum

The fort was built in 1858, and it was the Ellis Island of the Dakota territory. You really needed to pass through here if you were headed for the prairie. It was the first fort in what became North Dakota. From this point, a network of military roads and forts expanded across the area. I've already mentioned Fort Ransom, and the military/stagecoach route that went by the log cabin.

This is a reconstructed blockhouse that would have been at one of the corners of the fort.
Fort Abercrombie

When the fort was decommisioned in 1877, the buildings were sold. This is good recycle/reuse practice, but hard on history! However, the original guardhouse was found and restored on the site.
Fort Abercrombie guardhouse

The no-nonsense interior has a barred cell along one half, and a bed, table, and small cupboards in the other half.
Fort Abercrombie guardhouse

One of the main reasons the fort was built in this location is that it was the farthest upstream that steamboats could navigate on the Red River (the Red River of the North that flows to Hudson Bay). This was already a fairly active location for traders and trappers. There was a ford across the river. Oxcart (I talk about these in North Country Quest) routes converged here.
Red River

But, do you know what happens on the other side of the river? You are in Minnesota!!! I finished my 5th NCT state today. And, I broke 2900 miles.

Miles today: 15.4. Total miles so far: 2909.3

Really tired again. Not sure why exactly, but I'm keeping this post short so I can get to bed.

See What is a National Scenic Trail?

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

What is a National Scenic Trail? - Day 239

  Recently a hiker described a section of the North Country Trail as "900 miles of blah." Seriously?

If a person approaches National Scenic Trails with the preconceived idea that only rocky vistas and waterfalls count, then that person is surely going to be disappointed. Rocks and waterfalls are wonderful, but there are lots of other things that make a trail worthy of being called scenic.
blazing star

A portion of the Vision for the North Country National Scenic Trail reads, "to traverse and interpret the richly diverse environmental, cultural, and historic features of the northern United States."

I'm illustrating this post with photos taken only today, as proof of a random scenic sampling. Above is one of the Blazing Stars, a prairie favorite, often planted in gardens. But here it is growing wild, in the habitat it prefers in beautiful abandon.

In the small town of Walcott, there is a building constructed in 1903. So what? An interpretive sign tells me that this building served as a store, school and community center for many years, and it was built by a Norwegian immigrant woman, Margarethe Wigtil. She served as a frontier doctor, businesswoman, and community leader. How cool is that, to learn of a woman who refused to follow the expected path for the "gentler sex?"
Wigtil building, Walcott, ND

The trail runs near the Red River Valley & Western Railroad. The RRV&W is a short line railroad that is doing quite well, serving a number of small communities. I watched a hopper being filled at the Walcott grain elevator.
Red River Valley & Western rail car

I had to get some help to identify it, but this is a juvenile blue-winged teal. I've expanded my knowledge of birds SO much on this trip to North Dakota. There are so many species here that I don't see at home. I'll admit for sure that I'm only a mediocre birder, and these birds are also found in Michigan, but perhaps they are not so easily seen there by a casual birder.
juvenile blue winged teal

What field crop looks like this? Did you guess sugar beets? But here's what I learned today. If you break a stem, they smell like chard. And, botanist that I claim to be, I did not know that sugar beets, regular beets and chard are all the same plant, just different cultivars. People have been tinkering with vegetables for centuries.
sugar beet field

How could you not ponder the question of why this landscape is so unnaturally flat? It looks like it was graded for miles by some monster GPS-controlled machinery. You already know the answer, because I have mentioned it several times. This is the remains of glacial Lake Agassiz. You need a liquid to be this self-leveling. Reading the geology of the land is like turning the pages of a book as you walk.
level north dakota

I've said for years that the NCT is a trail to be sampled and savored. If hiking fast is most important to a person, then a great deal of the scenic, cutural and historic value is going to be lost. "Hike your own hike" is the big buzzword (HYOH) these days. So be it, but don't call a trail blah that you don't take time to look at.

You know I could throw in pictures from 238 previous days to prove my point, but I've been sharing them with you right along, so you KNOW there is something to see every single day. On a random day, in eastern North Dakota, I found scenery, environmental riches, cultural knowledge and history. Sorry, no rocks or waterfalls, but I still think today counts. No blah.

Miles today: 15.5. Total miles so far: 2893.9

See Off Road, Amazing Progress

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Off Road, Amazing Progress - Day 238

  When I was here before, every bit of the straight-line 11.5 miles that I walked today were on road. Back then there was not a chapter of the NCTA in this area. Now there is an active, responsible Dakota Prairie Chapter, and of the 14.5 miles I walked today to connect the dots (sort of- the trail is now several miles north of where the road walk was), only 1.5 miles were on road. That is quite amazing because almost all of this new trail is across private land which means that agreements must be made with each landowner.

This view is from a hilltop called Rennae's Hill because she scouted out that location as a nice place for the trail.
Rennae's Hill

And, speaking of Rennae, she hiked with me for a portion of today. She is a member of the Dakota Prairie Chapter, and is also one of a small group of people who decided to hike all of the North Dakota miles. She has completed this challenge, and a number of miles in Minnesota and the Mackinac Bridge walk as well.

If you think we look a little too clean, we are. Several of the members of the chapter decided to take Omer and me out to eat tonight. We went to a somewhat local place of renown, the Silver Prairie Saloon in McLeod.
friends eating dinner

Rennae's husband, Ed, built this model of an earthen lodge like the one pictured on the interpretive sign at the Biesterfeldt Site. He hopes to build a small but full size one. I didn't realize from the picture that the earth walls only go part way up the sides, and then the top is covered with hides.
earth lodge model

Back to the trail... there are even a couple of campsites established on these properties. And there was quite a bit of wooded land today, too.
Berg Campsite

One of the neatest parcels includes two log cabins. This one was built in the 1860s, making it one of the oldest buildings in North Dakota. It has been moved from its original location, but if the chapter can find where that was, they hope to move it back there and have it registered as an historic building. They think it was right along the trail, but they have to find some kind of documentation. This property was also on a stagecoach line, and there was a roadhouse (inn) at the corner.
Ekre cabin

I'm going to share a couple of plants, darn it! I always seem to run out of space and energy. This one was completely new to me. It's called Silky Prairie Clover, Dalea villosa. The color washes out in the pictures, but the bushy flower spikes vary from pink to white.
silky prairie clover

It's a cousin to Leadplant, Amorpha canescens. I guess some people confuse the two. I'm not sure how, but I've already heard one person here do just that. This is Leadplant. They are both in the pea (legume) family, but not in the same genus. Anyway, they are both beautiful.

Miles today: 14.5. Total miles so far: 2878.4.

See Sheyenne National Grassland 2

Monday, July 25, 2022

Sheyenne National Grassland 2 - Day 237

  Today, I was in the eastern part of the Sheyenne National Grassland. What do you immediately notice is different?
Sheyenne National Grassland

Hills! You did notice that, right? And here's the next quiz. What else seems different?
Sheyenne National Grassland

Trees! There are a lot more trees in the eastern half. You may ask why. Did you ever think about the Dust Bowl? Where did all that dirt that blew around go? I had been told that the eastern Sheyenne was flat like the western section until the Dust Bowl. All those sand hills were created by blowing dirt. This is called aeolian formation. We met a man in 2002 who said he remembered when they were formed. Amazing! John the soil scientist confirmed this bit of trivia yesterday. So all of this landscape was created since the 1930s. It's hard to get your head around the idea that something that looks so permanent has been in place under 100 years.

The trees are primarily cottonwood, burr oak, quaking aspen, and smooth sumac.

And now for some other fun stuff for the day. Almost the first thing this morning, I was dive bombed by a common nighthawk. I've never had this happen before (and there were a lot of nighthawks where I spent the summer of 1993), but the males do indeed do this. Just as they reach the bottom of the dive the wind in their wingtips creates a loud sound that is described sometimes as buzzing, sometimes as booming. I can tell you it was strange! It was a very mechanical sound. He did it twice. Crummy picture, but enough for the ID.
common nighthawk

In other strange and fantastic sights, here is a blue wasp. I never even knew they existed. But there is a genus with 49 species. They are a type of mud dauber wasp. Very pretty, but I'll keep my distance. They catch spiders and wrap them in coccoon-like cells with their eggs. I suppose I don't have to worry about that fate.
blue wasp

This was nothing new, but I got some nice pictures. Red squirrel with a sumac fruit- so busy eating it let me stand there and take several pictures.
red squirrel

Later in the day, I crossed the only waterway in the Grasslands, Iron Spring Creek. The bridge was welcome. There was not one when I was here before.
Iron Spring Creek bridge

Miles today: 13.3. Total miles so far: 2863.9

See Sheyenne National Grassland 1