Sunday, 19 June 2022, TR NP
By autumn of 1804, Lewis and Clark had led their expedition up the Missouri River to where the Knife River flowed into it. Knowing cold weather would soon arrive, the expedition established a base there for the winter, assisted by the native Americans who lived in the villages there. Sakakawea (Sacagawea) lived there with her husband, the Quebecois trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. When the expedition resumed its journey in the spring, Charbonneau and Sakakawea went with them as translators.
The villagers lived in peace with the Americans. For them, tragedy struck in 1837-38, when a smallpox epidemic ravaged the villages, killing all but 31 of the 1600 villagers. The survivors soon moved upstream, to a village called Like-A-Fishhook. The original village site is now protected as Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.
Next to the Visitor Center sit a reconstruction of a Mandan Earthlodge that formerly filled the area. Inside, we found many decorations,
including a painted buffalo robe. We could see no visible ruins, but interpretive signs at the village sites described what formerly lay there.
Two short hikes are available, so we drove to the longer North Forest Loop Trail through woodlands and bottomlands, ending with views of the Missouri River. The 'loop' portion, through the woods, was closed due to danger from 'damage trees' - trees the NPS was trying to clear out. We stayed on the main path, a wide, moved path through the grass with limited shade. We were ready for another Extreme Heat Advisory, but since we started in the morning, and the hike was under an hour, we didn't fret it.
One thing that impressed us was the purple flowers proliferating in the trees.
Beautiful! Later we asked a ranger what flowers those were. "They're called damsel's rocket. Actually, that's an invasive plant, so we'd like to get rid of them. There is an indigenous variety of that plant with yellow flowers, but we don't have many of them."
After a mile or so, we paused before heading back to the car. Then I looked down at my legs. What is that crawling up - oh, great, ticks! And not just one - I brushed close to a half-dozen off me, and Bill found a few himself.
As we headed back, we took care to stay away from any of the taller grass to the side of the trail. Still, every few minutes I would find another little bugger trying to find a hiding place to sink its hooks into me. By the time we got back to the car, I had evicted a dozen or more of the critters, while Bill had a few less. A few more appeared later in the day, and we both found one the following morning in our motel room.
So much for adding another NPS site to our docket. We didn't need VANA to tell us to speed west (with our insect stowaways) on I-94 to explore the South Unit of TR Park. With my designated adventure scheduled for tomorrow, we checked in for a ranger recommendation to occupy our afternoon. Their suggestion: go see the Petrified Forest! No, not the one in Arizona - this park has the third-largest concentration of petrified wood in the US. (I had to ask a few rangers before anyone could tell me that Yellowstone was #2 - of course, Arizona leads the list.)
Gravel roads again took us to the trailhead (though different from the Elkhorn roads). On the drive out, we passed pronghorn antelopes, but they kept clear of the road. The crowd at the trailhead surprised us - how many of the people here, like Steve and Tiffany yesterday, had changed their plans due to Yellowstone's flood closure?
The stone logs lay in a basin between hills, concentrated in both a north and a south site.
To reach the basin, a trail took us through a meadow, over a rim, and down to the bowl. Stretching the legs felt good after the drive from Knife River. Clouds danced in the sky above. The afternoon stayed hot, though it had fallen a few degrees from the extreme heat advisories of the previous days. Descending into the basin guaranteed us of a workout on the way back. We saw a bison on a far slope, far enough away to pose no problem.
Even so, we veered left to the north site, seeing piles of stone logs strewn about.
I could see no defined trail through the logs - people wandered randomly through the pockets of fossils, keeping a lookout for bison. (I believe a well-cut trail picked up again at the edge of the site.) Bill and I milled about, looking at the fossilized wood perched among the eroding slopes, chatting with other visitors.
As we returned, Bill held back momentarily when he noticed a bison. I used the thumb test to judge him as 'far enough'; in any event, it soon moved away. The heat gave us a reason to take it easy climbing out of the bowl.
As we topped the ridge and headed toward the north/south junction, I stopped abruptly. "No way that one passes the rule of thumb!" I told Bill.
"Let's cool our heels until he ambles off."
It only took a minute, but the bison moved on, posing for a perfect badlands photo. (Don't worry, this was telephoto - no way I'm getting close here!)
Our Dakota safari had now photo-bagged our biggest quarry - and I had no desire to see anything bigger.
For our final stop of the day, we drove to the Painted Canyon Visitor Center and took a short hike down from the rim. This entrance - immediately off the interstate - provided easy access to an isolated area of the South Unit.
The hike was steep and short, a nice bookend to another scenic day.
Tomorrow we'll return to the main entrance for this park's designated adventure...