Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer Vacation: Part 1

I know, my life right now kind of seems like one extended summer vacation, but I am referring to an actual vacation -- a road trip Robert I took to eastern Washington to attend my cousin's wedding.

Tam asked me about my trip: So how was it?  Did you see any life birds?

Do you people know me or what.  I am going to answer the second question first.

Robert and I saw four life birds, to wit:

Ring-necked pheasant: I saw about 6-7 of these as we drove across South Dakota, but Robert didn't see any until on our return trip through North Dakota.  (Whew.)

Photo from Allaboutbirds.org

Bobolink:  We both saw these driving through South Dakota.

Photo from Wikipedia.org

Barrow's goldeneye:  We saw these at Yellowstone National Park, on the lake next to the restaurant associated with our hotel.  Life bird before breakfast = awesome.

Photo from Allaboutbirds.org

Northern saw-whet owl:  We actually heard this one, but didn't see it (as is common with owls).  We were sitting outside our room at Glacier National Park on the last evening of our stay when we heard it.  Robert ID'd it with his bird song CD.  Owls are really hard for us to add to our list, so this was a pretty exciting one.  (Also a nice lazy way to get a life bird, just chillin' out lakeside.)

Photo from Allaboutbirds.org

But my favorite animal sighting of the trip happened on our way back, as we passed through Montana on a state highway that meandered through some small towns as "Main Street" for a  while.  In one of these towns, we stopped at a rest area (it seems weird that they decided to put the rest areas on this highway in towns, but whatever), and when I came out of the bathroom, Robert said, "Look over there," pointing to a mostly empty dirt lot across the street with some farm equipment on it.  So I looked, and I saw two jackrabbits!  One of the jackrabbits was standing next to a tractor or something with gigantic tires, but the rabbit (technically: the hare) still looked pretty big even in that context.  I have wanted to see a jackrabbit for a long time and was finally rewarded with seeing two.  So, it's seriously awesome to have gotten a Life Lagomorph on our trip!

Update: Robert identified the particular site on Google maps -- he reports: We were parked in the parking area off “railroad road” north of the park, and the hares were in the tank farm north of the road. 

Photo from TPWD

The first leg of our trip was getting to I-90 in far eastern South Dakota and then driving I-90 the entire width of South Dakota (not a narrow state).  Wow, there really is not much in South Dakota.  I had mistakenly thought, Oh, it's an interstate, surely there will be some restaurants along our route, but my roadside ring-necked pheasant sightings outnumbered the extant McDonalds by a factor of about 3-to-1.  There were stretches where I queried the GPS for the next available restaurant and it would reply something like 185 miles to a truck stop.  But in addition to the two life birds, we also saw a good number of other birds, including American golden-plover, Wilson's phalarope, wild turkey, and 5 Canada goslings (so. cute.), as well as pronghorns and mule deer.  I also finally figured out: Oh, the reason we never see ducks around our place is because ducks hang out up in these northern latitudes during the summer.  I have difficulty letting go of my association of ducks with winter.  We saw gadwall, wigeon, teal, mallard, and pintail on ponds and lakes in SD.

But the major sightings along I-90 are the billboards telling you that you are approximately 45,000 miles from Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, Reptile Gardens, the Corn Palace, or 1800 Town.  (It was very fitting later, when I played Apples to Apples for the first time, at my aunt and uncle's house, that I got the Billboard card stating: "Only 1,254 miles to Wall Drug."  Note: that game is fun and low-stress for a large group.)  We even visited 1800 Town in the hopes that they would have an open restaurant, but it was only open for lunch.  However, outside the restaurant was this giant rock.

We did not see Wall Drug, Reptile Gardens, or the Corn Palace, but I saw so many billboards for them that I almost feel like I did.

Mount Rushmore was just like I expected it to be, only with more Chinese tourists.  Here's the money shot of Big Heads of Dead Presidents Looming Over Us All.

Notable wildlife sighting at Mount Rushmore: mountain goats on the rocks.

In Wyoming, we stopped to look at and photograph bison and longhorns.  I was pleased to get decent photographs even with my little camera.  (I know -- longhorns, what a novelty for people from Texas.)

Our next stop was Devil's Tower, which we had prepared for by watching Close Encounters of the Fourth Third Kind in the week before our trip.  We did not get the UFO light-and-sound show but we were there too early in the day for that; however, we did see and hear a thunderstorm approaching the area as we finished up walking the loop around the tower.

I never got a good photo of a prairie dog at Devil's Tower, but I am amused by how this "action shot" turned out.

On our drive from Devil's Tower to Yellowstone National Park, the state of Wyoming reminded us that we were in a barren wasteland by sending tumbleweeds across the interstate.  We also started seeing magpies, which made me think of Tam every time.  We doubled back at one point (no longer on the interstate) to look at some sandhill cranes in a field, and Alkali Lake offered up a redhead (duck), which I hadn't seen in a long time.

Next: Yellowstone National Park!


mom said...

I almost feel like I was on this trip, but without the boring parts.

Sally said...

LOL, I should have included 2,000 photos of flat empty fields so you can experience the reality more closely...

Tam said...

Sounds awesome :-)

Tam said...

Sounds awesome :-)