August 6, 2013 On the Road

Route 2, Turtle River State Park to Williston, North Dakota

Many years ago, on my very first trip west to Glacier National Park, I decided to avoid the Interstates and travel the back roads to better appreciate the local landscapes and small towns on the way. I always remembered Route 2 through North Dakota for its broad expanses of farmland and pastures punctuated by all the many pot hole ponds along the roadside. Grazing cattle, horses and pronghorn antelope, along with many species of ducks, geese, white pelicans, and coots dotting the ponds made the trip memorable, and I have always longed to retrace that route. Today, I did just that.

My advice to all of you out there, do NOT make the same mistake I did today. That Route 2 of distant memory is just that – a distant memory.

Route 2 through a stretch of the Bakken
Route 2 through a stretch of the Bakken

 

 

This image may look to you like a scene from the great HBO western time piece series Deadwood, but, if you look closer you would recognize it as a stretch of Route 2 today through the small town of Ray.

 

 

 

 

 

Learning road etiquette
Learning road etiquette

And this image also is not from Deadwood, but actually is an oil field trucker teaching a poor RV’er some road etiquette ( the Rv’er’s mistake was daring to travel at the speed limit on a 20 mile section of Route 2 limited to two lanes due to construction – I promise I won’t do it again!) .

 

Wow! I actually was quite aware of the oil boomtown area called the Bakken. In fact, I have a fair amount of my retirement funds invested in companies doing business here, thus I had a natural curiosity about just how big a deal this oil field area really was and wanted to actually see it firsthand. Big mistake! I would advise anyone traveling by RV to avoid Route 2 through this region at all costs. The oil field truckers and workers in their pickups do not seem too anxious to share their road with you, believe me. And you really shouldn’t be too anxious to share it with them either.

Traveling N. Dakota Route 2
Traveling N. Dakota Route 2

 

A muddy strip of Route 2
A muddy strip of Route 2

 

A pedestrian struggles across a particularly muddy portion of Rte. 2
A pedestrian struggles across a particularly muddy portion of Rte. 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had the misfortune to travel between Minot and Williston during some fairly nasty, rainy weather and my motorhome and Toad look just a little worse than they did many years ago when I drove the Haul Road in Alaska up to Prudoe Bay, about an inch of rich red clay caked entirely over both. When the oil tankers come out of the oil fields along the red clay (dirt) roads and enter Route 2 (without really worrying much about whether an RV may be coming along at 60 mph), they tend to bring quite a bit of the clay with them, especially so on a nice rainy day like today. So, for about a half mile after each intersection with an oil field road, there is about a 3 inch deep slop of red clay soup on the pavement that you have to slip and slide through as you try to brake to avoid rear ending the afore mentioned oil field tanker truck, who is slowly accelerating in front of you and throwing up a bright red spray of this red clay soup to coat your windshield. Really not a fun experience!

Just one small portion of Rte 2 construction where they are replacing pavement with mud
Just one small portion of Rte 2 construction where they are replacing pavement with mud

Now I realize that oil patch boomtowns are by their very nature chaotic and messy, all the new construction. road building and upgrading are not accomplished without some disruption to the status quo. While approaching Minot, I pulled into a truck stop for gas and figured I had better do a Google map search for where I might be able to spend the night. There are no rest areas or pulloffs along this entire stretch of road, and campgrounds that may have existed prior to the Bakken, now are overrun with oil field workers, so that doesn’t appear to be an option. I Googled for truckstops around Williston, hoping I could safely make it that far in the now heavy downpour.

What I got is shown here below.

Google Earth shot of present day Love's Truckstop
Google Earth shot of present day Love’s Truckstop

Now, I don’t know when Google actually took this satellite shot, obviously some time ago, Maybe a year ago, or two or three. The balloon shows a Love’s Truckstop. The image shows entirely something else, I believe it is an oil pump and storage pad.! I hoped that the truckstop actually was there and the satellite image was just a little outdated.

Arriving at the intersection shown on the map, I can say for certain that the image was a little outdated. After waiting over 4 minutes at the intersection’s traffic light to cycle through so I could make my left turn onto the road to the new Love’s, I drove the 100 yards or so to the auto entrance to Love’s, circled the large parking lot, and, unable to find a place to stop, left, went another 200 yards down the road to the “truck ONLY” parking area, circled this LARGE truck parking area, and exited that also, just too crowded and a little intimidating with absolutely no other RV’ers there and that forbidding “trucks only” sign. Down the hill a little I spied what at first looked like another desperate possibility, a very large truckers’ hotel and parking area where i spied a few motorhomes and travel trailers. Driving down, I could see the pavement end and a sea of soup begin where the aforementioned vehicles were parked in what turned out to be numbered spaces, obviously long term oil field hands spaces.

Bakken temporary workers' housing
Bakken temporary workers’ housing

Just across the road from Love’s there is a large housing complex (for workers probably), maybe a hundred or so small separate metal units, kind of like a cross between a small mobile home and a Quonset hut, The entire complex is surrounded with a six foot security fence and gated. Above that complex is a huge temporary storage arena with rows of low slung metal storage buildings. And on the Google map, all that shows here is a small undeveloped equipment parking lot.

Instead of horses, cattle, and wildlife, the only thing you notice along the route today are the oil field pads, with their storage tanks, gas flareoffs, and pumps, and there are a lot of them. Hey, I guess i’m glad that we are getting that oil here rather than from the Mideast, and this new American oil boom may be about all that just might save our bacon from our greedy, short sighted, money printing selves ( I said “may be”, I can hope, can’t I?).

The final word, forget Route 2, take the Interstate, it actually, definitely, will be more scenic. And faster. And cleaner, too.

 

August 5, 2013 Turtle River State Park, North Dakota

Stay Another Day

Weather turned very grey yesterday afternoon and continues so this morning. Had planned to venture on across N. Dakota today, but since I have good internet coverage here and I really prefer traveling across new country with nice weather, I decided to renew my site here at Turtle River S. P. and work on the blog and give the dogs a much needed bath today and will hit the road tomorrow with better weather in the forecast.

Big Sky over N. Dakota Wheat Field
Big Sky over N. Dakota Wheat Field

Sun came out around 2 but stuck with the plan and got the motorhome housekeeping done and processed all images taken to date, including a couple more Cedar Waxwings I snuck out to the entrance to get today.

Turtle River Turkey
Turtle River Turkey
Turtle River Turkey
Turtle River Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

Also got a couple of quick shots of a visitor to the campsite across from me. In addition to the birds in the park, I also saw several does with fawns along the river early each morning. Really a very pleasant place to stay.

 

 

 

August 4, 2013 Turtle River State Park, North Dakota

Since I don’t have any decent Cedar Waxwing shots in my image gallery, I headed out first thing in the morning to the park entrance road where I had previously noticed them hunting insects over the pond by the side of the road. I naively was hoping to get close enough for some flight shots, but that idea went out the window rather quickly and I soon was trying to figure how to get them to land in resting perches close enough, as well as out of dense foliage, that I could at least get some closeup still shots. Took a little patience but I was rewarded with a few decent shots after spending about two hours plus in the effort.

Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakot
Colorful Trio, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Colorful Trio, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After finding my back road birding venture yesterday rather interesting, I figured I would try another of the routes this morning. Well, this one was a complete washout. As I said before, early August is not the time to be doing this, most of the action is in the spring and fall. On the way back to the campground, I figured I may as well go back to the Kelley Slough area I visited yesterday and check on the White Pelicans. Well, now I see how they survive out here, as clearly they don’t depend on this one body of water to survive. Of the several hundred that were here yesterday afternoon, only 3 or 4 individuals were puttering around the pond today. What were here today in large numbers were ducks, not sure, but probably Pintails, I am not very good at identifying female and immature ducks.

Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Proud Mama, Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Proud Mama, Kelley Slough, N. Dakota

 

Barn Swallow in Flight
Barn Swallow in Flight

While glassing the pond from the observation platform, I found myself in the midst of several barn swallows swooping above and around me, harvesting some of the plague of mosquitos around this body of water. Since I had nothing better to do, I figured I would try another exercise in futility and get some Barn swallow flight shots, since they sometimes were coming within six or eight feet of where I was standing. Trying to focus a large hand held lens on small birds moving as fast and erratically as these swallows do turns out to be nearly impossible, at least for me. They are so close that there just is no way to follow and focus in time to get a shot. Got a few almost acceptable images of them overhead, but just couldn’t get any of the close shots I really was hoping I might get. Still, a fun time trying.

Back to the RV and spent several hours processing images and working on blog entries. I am starting to realize that my Verizon Jet Pac monthly 5 GB package is just not going to work with my blogging and website work. I signed up for a 2 year deal of 5 GB at $50 per month last fall when I embarked for my 5 month pre retirement winter trip. While very pleased with the way the Jet pac works, and the coverage of the Verizon system, 5 GB is really only adequate for normal web surfing and email use, no video watching or blog and website uploading, or that 5 GB disappears in the rear view mirror all but instantly.

Early on in my preparations for fulltiming, I discovered the blog of Technomadia, a young couple that fulltime in a bus conversion and work from their mobile office on wheels. It is a very informative source for all your on the road connectivity solutions, as well as other basic info concerning fulltiming. They use an outfit by the name of Millenicom that offers a package of 20 GB per month for $70 and the coverage is still through the Verizon system. Although I will of course have to pay a penalty to Verizon for dropping their package prematurely, I guess the time has come to make the switch.

Yellow Warbler, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Yellow Warbler, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Yellow Warbler, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Yellow Warbler, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota

 

Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
Ducks on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota

 

Barn Swallow in Flight
Barn Swallow in Flight

 

Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

 

Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

 

Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Cedar Waxwing, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 3, 2013 Turtle River State Park, North Dakota

A Birthday Present

I had earlier decided I would stop and rest for 2 days, so had investigated Turtle River State Park in North Dakota online, and figured I would stop and see if I could stay a couple days. I really knew there was almost no chance of getting one of their non-reservable sites on a Saturday morning, but I pulled in to check anyway.

Site #27, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota
Site #27, Turtle River S.P. N. Dakota

I was given the very last site available, and since it was in the non-reservable section, I could have it for my 2 days. But wait, it gets even better. It turns out to be a little roadside pull through, nestled in the woods, and though the sites are a bit close, they aren’t crammed in side by side, and you do have a bit of privacy, and lo and behold, later that evening, just on a whim, I decided to check to see if my rooftop dish would just happen to align with the tiny bit of sky I had above me through the trees, and after doing it’s whirring and grinding thing, it settled in on a strong signal. Amazing!

Weather is once again, drop dead gorgeous. I know this can’t be normal, I was sort of dreading traveling through this area in the heat of summer, but this is incredible. Today is bright blue skies with white cumulus clouds, temps in the low 70’s with a heavenly breeze, it simply could not be any nicer!

Grabbed a few brochures at checkin and decided to go out on one of the prairie grasslands birding routes, since this may be just flat, boring terrain to most, but to me it is something new to explore. Directions in the brochure were very good and I did get to see what there was to see. This is the worst possible time of the year to go looking for birds in most places, including here. All the interesting spring action is done and the fall movement is yet to come.

White Pelicans on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota
White Pelicans on Kelley Slough, N. Dakota

Nevertheless, it was kind of neat to see several hundred white pelicans on a small slough, where the brochure said they would. And it always seems so odd to me to see these huge white birds you would think would be linked to the sea here in the nations midlands, in farm country. How that many large birds make a living in the summer months on a body of water as small as this is beyond me. There also were several family groups of ducks, coots, avocets, and other small waders along the edges of the slough.

Meadowlark on a wire, Galveston, Texas
Meadowlark on a wire, Galveston, Texas

Thought I might get some nice meadowlark images, you know, sitting on the fencepost singing up a storm. Saw the meadowlarks, just there weren’t any fenceposts, or fences for that matter, all open cropland. I guess you only need to fence your land in for grazing animals, since corn, soy and wheat apparently don’t tend to roam that often. So no meadowlark photos ( how about one from Texas last winter? ).

Killdear in a N.Dakota cornfield
Killdear in a N.Dakota cornfield

 

Did see lots of flycatchers, sparrows, swallows, Killdeer, kestrels and one pair of Northern Harriers doing their thing floating over the edges of the field crops and the cattails along the drainage ditches by the side of the gravel roads.

 

 

If you are ever in this area, this is a place worth checking out. This State Park was a pleasant surprise to me. A little tight for big rigs, almost all the sites are in the trees, probably quite welcome with the hot summer weather, and there is quite a lot to see and do in Grand Forks, just 10 miles back route 2 east of the park. The park itself offers some nice trails and roads for bike riding mostly under the trees. A pleasant 2 day stop for me.