May 16, 2018 Interior, South Dakota

Badlands Stormy Skies
Badlands Stormy Skies

A Couple Days Exploring Badlands National Park

Badlands Morning Color
Badlands Morning Color

I continue to rack up the miles in the poor old Prius driving the roads through the park.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors

The sun rises very early here on the eastern edge of the Mountain Time Zone, so I am out the door by 6AM and head west through the park with the sun at my back.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors

The colors are constantly changing depending on time of day and weather.

Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Badlands Colors
Sam Exploring the Badlands
Sam Exploring the Badlands

Sam is still active enough to want to accompany me out to spots to take photos, but is left in the dust by her new companion Pearl.

Badlands Stormy Skies
Badlands Stormy Skies

Stormy skies to the west change the feel of the landscape. Daytime temperatures have been in the high 80’s but the evenings cool down fast for comfortable sleeping.

Clouds Over the Badlands
Clouds Over the Badlands

Gorgeous cumulus clouds cast shadows on the landscape

Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep

I encounter a small group of Bighorn Rams each morning …

Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep

… and again as I return back to camp in the afternoon.

Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Bighorn Sheep
Badlands Prairie Dogs
Badlands Prairie Dogs

There are numerous Prairie Dog communities throughout the park and the surrounding  cattle grazing land.

Badlands Prairie Dogs
Badlands Prairie Dogs
Badlands Prairie Dog Lookout
Badlands Prairie Dog Lookout

Some of these communities must contain hundreds if not thousands of individuals.

Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog
Badlands Prairie Dog
Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

If you scan these Prairie Dog “Towns” carefully with some binoculars, often you can spot a Burrowing Owl or two.

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl

Shaky images taken at a very long distance.

Bison
A Formidable Obstacle in the Road

I have encountered a few Bison bulls, but have not seen any cows and calves.

Scratching Post
Scratching Post
Bison Portrait
Bison Portrait

I had hoped to do some boon docking at the site just south of the town of Wall when I leave here Friday, but the weather is calling for some nasty weather ( possibility of large hail with violent thunderstorms ) and the road accessing those sites can get too sloppy for my rig after heavy rains, so I will continue to head west to Yellowstone and hope I can find a place to stay.

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June 3, 2016 Questa, New Mexico

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Columbine Canyon Campground, Carson National Forest

After reluctantly packing up and leaving the Soda Pocket Campground at Sugarite Canyon State Park, I headed south on Route 25 and picked up Route 64 west to Eagle Nest, then Route 38 west, struggling up and over Bobcat Pass, at an elevation of 9820′, and down to Red River, then on towards Questa stopping at the Columbine Canyon National Forest Campground, just a few miles short of Questa.

Chevron's Closed Molybdenum Mine, Questa, NM
Chevron’s Closed Molybdenum Mine, Questa, NM

Arrived at the campground, that is located just past Chevron’s now closed molybdenum mine, between thunderstorms and hesitantly got myself set up in Site #10, that I had reserved online when planning the summer’s stops a couple months ago. I say hesitantly, because the site is severely sloped and has another site all but attached to it, as in, the fire pit for that site would be within 10 feet of my bedroom window, way too close for comfort when the site is occupied, and the reservation ticket on that site’s post says that it is reserved for a couple nights during my stay here.

After unhooking the tow dolly and backing it in by hand, then backing the motorhome in to the site, I blocked the wheels and put down the hydraulic jacks until the rear wheels were just about lifted off the ground, something I feel very uncomfortable doing. But when I checked with a level, I still wasn’t even close to being level. About that time, I noticed the campground host come driving in, so I went down and asked if it would be possible to move from my reserved site. The campground being all but empty, he told me to feel free to move down to Site #5, just down the hill from where I was now set up. So, even with rain falling and thunder in the distance, I decide to make the move and not risk losing my frig or being burned down by my neighbor on Site #11.

Columbine Canyon NF Campground
Columbine Canyon NF Campground

There are 9 sites laid out like the spokes of a wheel on a flat area by the highway right at the beginning of the campground loop road. This is where the campiest is stationed as well as two handicapped sites. All the sites here are level, paved bacon sites , but do not have any hookups. These sites are apparently newer additions to the campground and most will hold an RV of my length with a little room for a toad as well. The sites are fairly open and have decent spacing, though certainly not private. These are also the only spaces in this campground, or in the three other National Forest Campgrounds close by, that would accomodate a larger rig. Though in a woodland setting, surrounded by heavily forested mountainsides, there was enough sun here to allow my solar system to function fairly well, as well as no problem getting my DirecTv satellite dish aligned. Surprisingly, There is enough of a Verizon signal here that I could even do this blog post.

Río Grande Del Norte National Monument

Drove over to the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument and the Wild Rivers Recreation Area just north and west of Questa to see what was there. A very isolated and quiet spot with several hiking trails that descend to the river valley below the park. To me, not the most interesting place I have seen, but a quiet out of the way spot to get away from it all. Most of the campgrounds were all but empty the day I drove through, and I think I only saw two other vehicles on the roads here while i made my way around the monument. The Montoso and Little Arsenic Campgrounds are the only two that may have a couple sites large enough to handle an Rv like mine, though even they would be a little tight. Each site has a shelter with picnic table and fire ring. The sites were definitely designed for tents and small RV’s.

Drive Around “The Enchanted Circle”

Abandoned Settler's Cabin
Abandoned Settler’s Cabin

Wanting to visit Taos for grocery shopping if nothing else, I backtracked on Route 38 east, again going over Bobcat Pass, a little easier in the Prius than the motorhome, and descend to the village of Eagle Nest where I stopped to check out Eagle Nest State Park. Certainly nothing fancy about the campground there, but it is one that will easily take any size RV on flat gravel sites, half backin and half pull through, with sheltered picnic tables but no hookups. All wide open with no trees and all have a view of the lake.

Prairie Dog Sentinel
Prairie Dog Sentinel

More prairie dogs here at Eagle Nest State Park than I have seen anywhere else on this trip through New Mexico.

Dog
Prairie Dog
Abandoned Settler's Cabin
Abandoned Settler’s Cabin

A neat roadside abandoned building not too much longer for this world, judging from the serious leaning of the log walls.

Abandoned Settler's Cabin

Then on to Taos and probably the worst Walmart I have ever encountered, walked out without buying anything and headed down the road to a nice Smith’s Grocery Store. There also is a large Albertson’s nearby. Taos seemed a little more run down and ragged than the last time I was here and the local newspaper was lamenting it’s fiscal problems and the loss of tourists’ dollars.

A Search for Wild Horses

New Mexico Wild Horses
New Mexico Wild Horses

Headed north out of Questa on Route 522 towards Fort Garland, Colorado, hoping to encounter some of Northern New Mexico’s wild mustang population.

New Mexico Wild Horse
New Mexico Wild Horse

Despite covering many miles in both northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, I was only able to locate one small band of four horses.

New Mexico Wild Horse
New Mexico Wild Horse

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge

Ruddy Duck Drake
Ruddy Duck Drake

I hadn’t planned a visit here, and it really isn’t the best time of year for this sort of place, but since my search for wild horses brought me right by here, I drove into the refuge and took the short drive around the refuge road.

Cinnamon Teal Pair
Cinnamon Teal Pair

There were several duck species present, though not in any kind of numbers. Seen were some Cinnamon Teal, some Blue-wing Teal, Mallards, Redheads, and some Ruddy Ducks with the male’s impossibly blue bill.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird

Numerous unidentified LBJ’s flew by and a single Yellow-headed Blackbird was caught singing for a mate while hanging onto it’s favorite perch, a cattail.

There were many of the Yellow-headed’s cousins, the Red-winged Blackbird, present, but after my winter of fighting these repulsive birds, I certainly was not about to take any shots of them.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Again, since I was in the area, I decide to also drive the 16 miles into Great Sand Dunes National Park, a place I have visited before, though never during the summer season. There was a long double line of cars backed up at the entrance, but it didn’t take long to get through. I absolutely avoid the popular National Parks during the summer since I just can’t stand the crowds, but I thought this might still be considered a little early for peak numbers.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Guess I was wrong, since when I drove down to the main Dunes access parking lot, it was completely full. with folks driving round in the loop desperately hoping to find someone leaving so they could secure a parking space … and this was at 9 AM!

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Despite the crowds, this is a unique spot and I get a kick out of the folks on the dunes looking like swarms of ants when viewed from the park road.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

Also drove through the two loops of the completely booked campground, what a mob scene! I could never imagine camping in a place this cramped and crowded, but won’t have to worry about it anyhow since there are no spaces that could handle a rig of my size, let alone a seriously large RV, yet another National Park campground designed exclusively for tenters and very small RV’s. There is a private campground that can accomodate any size rig just a few miles outside the park.

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May 14, 2016 Clayton Lake State Park, New Mexico

Abandoned Building
Abandoned Building

On to Clayton Lake State Park

Clayton Lake State Park Campsite
Clayton Lake State Park Campsite

After a ten day stay at Ute Lake State Park where I was able to get caught up on a lot on internet based work, thanks to the park’s great WiFi, I headed out Monday for Clayton Lake State park, just a couple hours northeast of Logan but a couple thousand feet higher in elevation.
I arrived at Clayton mid-afternoon and got settled in on my reserved Site E3, a level site just large enough to accomodate my rig and tow dolly. This is a site with water and 30 amp electric, no sewer, and, be aware, the park does not have a dump station. There is a nice sheltered picnic table on a concrete pad, along with a metal grill. Decent separation between sites, but there really is no privacy. A couple dings, to me anyhow, are the way too bright presence of a tall street light at the bottom of the hill that casts a strong beam up the hill and makes enjoying the clear starlit skies impossible. The other is the absolute lack of any Verizon signal. You can drive about six miles back towards Clayton and pick up a useable signal.

Clayton Lake State Park Primitive Campsite
Clayton Lake State Park Primitive Campsite

If I were to stay here again, I would take one of two or three primitive sites that are large enough to handle my rig and get away from the bright light in the electric section of the campground.

Clayton Lake State Park Primitive Campsite
Clayton Lake State Park Primitive Campsite

Exploring the Wide Open Spaces

New Mexico Grasslands
New Mexico Grasslands

I have been driving the back roads in the area looking for abandoned ranches and wildlife and have had a little success in that regard.

Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House

For the most part, this is a flat, wide open, mostly featureless grasslands landscape, yet on a blue sky day, especially one with puffy cumulous clouds, it still holds a lot of appeal to me.
Have to cover a lot of ground out here in this sparsely populated region to find these abandoned buildings.

Abandoned Building
Abandoned Building
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch House
Abandoned Ranch
Abandoned Ranch
Grasslands Pronghorn
Grasslands Pronghorn

I have been delighted to find small groups of pronghorns everywhere out here, even saw one doe with a new fawn, but didn’t have time to get a shot of them. Many of the does look quite close to delivering, so I hope I am able to see a few newborns before I leave, something I have not come across with pronghorns before.

New Mexico Grasslands Pronghorn
New Mexico Grasslands Pronghorn
Pronghorn on the Plains
Pronghorn on the Plains
Pronghorn
Pronghorn
Pronghorn
Pronghorn
Prairie Dog Community
Prairie Dog Community

Along the gravel back roads, I also am seeing a lot of prarie dog towns, but they always scurry down their burrows whenever I stop to get a shot. They seem pretty scared of any vehicle stopping which leads me to believe that perhaps they are used as target practice by the area ranchers?

Lots of Birds

Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird

And of course, I am finding new birds to shoot. It really is pretty amazing the number of birds inhabiting this featureless landscape. Literally hundreds of them all along the dusty back roads, perched on the barbed wire fences that line both sides of the many miles of back roads here.
Although new to me, most of these guys are very common birds on the open plains. The one thing I have not seen, not a single one, is any form of raptor, no hawks at all, wonder if I am just missing them, or if there is a reason for their absence.

Horned Lark
Horned Lark
Lark Bunting
Lark Bunting
Red-shafted Flicker
Red-shafted Flicker
Lark Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Cliff Swallows
Cliff Swallows
Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Red-shafted Flicker
Red-shafted Flicker

I am not going to be doing many posts over the next several weeks, as the lack of a Verizon signal in the areas I am staying, and will be traveling in, makes uploading posts a bit of a challenge. Really enjoying the moderate temperatures and the dry air, cool nights, and unlimited visibility in these higher elevations, just a perfect spring climate for my tastes. I am at an elevation of about 6000′ here and will continue climbing upwards for the next few months. And unfortunately, Verizon signals will be hard to find.

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