All posts by exploRVistas

Full time RVers. Our motto is "Don't just see it...BE it"©

Feeling ‘Midwest’ in North Dakota 

When we last posted, we were leaving Jim and Barb’s place in the Black Hills of South Dakota and heading up to Bismarck, North Dakota.  We broke that trip up into two days, with a stopover in Bowman, ND for the night.  The trip from Bowman to Bismarck on Friday, September 15 was pouring rain with a stiff headwind.  Even though we were losing elevation across the plains, the transmission in the truck was constantly downshifting to compensate for the rush of air coming at us.  The upside?  Free car washes!  I barely recognized the truck, as the layer of tan Oregon dirt on it had become part of the North Dakota soil beneath it.

Once in Bismarck, our goal was to see a friend of ours who lives there.  Nina has been working as an engineer for a road construction company in the area after graduating from Michigan Tech a few years ago.  We met up with her and her friend John, who was visiting from Minneapolis for the weekend.

We had breakfast and checked out the street fair that was going on downtown.  Very fun!

Nina is part of the second generation of our WMU friends. It was great to see her and to also meet John! 

That afternoon, Diana and I headed to the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum.  It’s located directly adjacent to the State Capitol.

Diana saw this unique bison statue, which uses reinforcing rod for the fur near its head.  :). While we found the museum interesting, we realized that we really prefer to see artifacts in context; in other words, where the history actually occurred.  They definitely had a lot of things to look at, though!  A little bit of everything that is North Dakota.

A nice surprise for me was that the state tree of North Dakota is the American Elm.

Growing up in Detroit, almost every street was lined with these vase-shaped giants.  It gave the roads a bit of a gothic archway effect.  Dutch Elm Disease wiped most of them out, and I watched as they cut them down, one by one.  To say I was thrilled to see these in North Dakota was a huge understatement!

The next day, we met up with our friends Kat and Bob, who we last saw in Prineville, Oregon.  They are headed to the sugar beet harvest, so we took the opportunity to check out a few Lewis and Clark sites with them.  The first place we visited was the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center near Washburn.

It is a beautiful building with nice collection of some of the items that would have been brought on the expedition.

One particularly interesting piece was this air rifle; the same type that Meriwether Lewis took along on the journey to impress the natives.

  But the best part of this museum was located a few miles up the road:

A re-creation of Fort Mandan, the place where the expedition spent the winter of 1804/1805.  Now this is in context!  While this fort isn’t the original, nor is it even in its initial location (which could possibly be underwater, as the river has changed course), it is built to the specifications described in the journals, using the same materials. Not only that, it is furnished and stocked with similar items that would have been there when the Corps of Discovery occupied it.  If that isn’t enough, tours are led by interpretive rangers, who encourage visitors to actually pick up and examine the different items in the outpost.  They sure know the way to these history buffs hearts!

Our interpretive ranger, Robert, explained each room in the fort to us.  While there were only 6 people in our group, there was also a tour bus that was being led by another ranger.  Robert explained that the combined groups totaled the amount of people who lived at the post, so it was a great visual in that regard.

Here he explains the lead canisters that Meriwether Lewis had designed to store the gunpowder in.  Each one contained 8 pounds of lead and 4 pounds of gunpowder, as it took half the weight in powder to propel a lead musket ball.  Each was sealed with wax to keep the powder dry, which it succeeded in doing the entire journey.

This would have been Lewis and Clark’s quarters.

By golly…Bob makes a pretty darned good Meriwether Lewis!

When Robert found out I was related to George Drouillard, he decided to put me in his clothes to see if there was a resemblance.

I do believe I have the French-Canadian nose down pat!  We want to give a huge thank you to Robert and his colleagues, as they deliver on what is an important piece of American history!

We had one other thing that we needed to do before we left there:

Diana wanted to see the statue of Seaman, Meriwether Lewis’ Newfoundland dog.  😊

From Fort Mandan, we drove up to the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.

While this looks like a lawn with mounds scattered around it, it’s actually where Sacajawea lived with the Mandan Indians.  These mounds are all that remain of the earthen lodges they lived in.

This is an example of the exterior of one of the lodges…

…while this would’ve been what the interior looked like.  Quite large, sturdy and warm.  Even still, the natives only expected them to last around 10 years.  Not your average teepee, but I’m sure the winters up here dictated the use of these!

It was great to see Bob and Kat again, and to experience the transition from the West to the Midwest in beautiful North Dakota!
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Click here for a selection of Fort Mandan articles, along with everything else under the sun on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

A Bunch of Fun Meet Ups in the Black Hills!

A few posts back, during our wrap-up of our time in Oregon, we received an offer from Jim and Barb to stay on their property in South Dakota.  We had been following their blog, Jim and Barb’s RV Adventure, since 2014….yet we hadn’t met in person.  Our original plan was to take our time and visit several Lewis and Clark stops on our way through Idaho and Montana, but the smoke in those states put a damper on that.  We were scheduled to meet a friend on her day off in Bismarck, North Dakota on September 16, so a detour to South Dakota would add 300 miles to the trip. 

Except this isn’t a trip….it’s a journey.  😊

We had the time, our home has wheels, and we really wanted to meet them!  We found our way towards their place and up to the back of the property, to a site that Jim had just leveled out for us with a skid steer.  Sweet!

How’s that for a view?  To top it off, Jim and Barb made us a delicious dinner of Pasha Lake walleye.  Very tasty!  We then watched the Minnesota Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints…which was OK with me, as my Lions had won earlier in the day.  The Vikings and Lions are in the same division.

Of course, their dog Daisy had to let me know what she thought of the Detroit Lions team colors on my shoes.  😉

The next day, we walked their property and checked out some of the trail cameras they had placed.  They revealed that there is plenty of wildlife that make their way through the land!  We then went for a drive with them and saw the Crazy Horse Memorial.

This is definitely a work in progress.  It’s hard to imagine how huge this carving is, until you zoom in on the top of the warrior’s arm.

Those are two huge backhoes up there!  There is a lot of controversy surrounding this monument and Mount Rushmore, as the Oglala Sioux consider this sacred ground.  Since this mountain is being carved, it would be nice to see it finished.   The Native American museum at the site is very well done.  Tribes from all over the country are represented.

The next day, Diana and I met up with her cousin Nancy and husband David.  You may remember them from our trips to Big Bend and also to Napa Valley.  They were on their way from visiting David’s South Dakota relatives and heading out to see their niece and family in Colorado. Getting to see them was another bonus to being in the area. We toured Mount Rushmore this time!

Walking on the Presidential Trail, you really can see the intricacies of the carvings.  But when you back away…

You can clearly see they’ve been busy adding additional figures…by George!  

On our way out of town the next day, we stopped by the Mt. Rushmore KOA and saw our friend Kathy, who we met at Amazon last fall.  She’s been working at the campground all summer and has really enjoyed it.

We failed to get a picture, so I borrowed her Facebook profile photo.  She’s the one on the left.  😉

So as far as detours go, this was an excellent side trip!

We really appreciated Jim and Barb’s generous offer and we had a marvelous time with them!  It will be great to meet up again down the road, that’s for sure!

Up next, we move up to North Dakota. More time with friends and some great Lewis and Clark discoveries!  Be sure to stay tuned!

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Click here for Black Hills items and everything else under the sun on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Heading East Across Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming

In the weeks that followed the eclipse, the wildfires in Oregon became much worse.  As a result, the smoke from them caused us to change some of our travel plans on our trip back east.  Not only was it difficult to breathe, but the scenery was less than appealing.

As we drove through Boise, the late morning sun could barely get through the smoke.  There was only one thing that would remedy this….

…a meet up with Fluffy Dog!  Tessa and her parents were doing the same thing we were, and so we pondered our options over dinner in Idaho Falls.

It’s always a good day when we get to see Jodee and Bill (and Tessa too!). 😀. 

The next day, they headed southeast and we drove north into Montana, then east. Our first stop was Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.

This is where I discovered my family connection to the Lewis and Clark expedition that I detailed in my previous post.  We also spent time the next morning exploring the town on Three Forks, which is the location of the headwaters of the Missouri River.

In the center of town is this beautiful sculpture of Sacajawea and her baby Jean Baptiste.  

A little east of town, the Madison and Jefferson Rivers merge to create the Missouri.  That’s the Jefferson at the top, and the Madison is coming in from behind the brown weeds at the left.  The Missouri flows off to the right.

The next day found us in Bozeman to see the Museum of the Rockies.

This museum mainly focuses on dinosaurs found in the area.  They have more T Rex skeletons than any other museum in the world…13 of them!  Not all are assembled though.

This progression of Triceretops skulls was really interesting, as it showed the bone structure at the different ages during their lifespans.  These are all real skulls!

Here Diana is thanking our tour guide, Maury.  He was a fascinating gentleman who had accompanied famed paleontologist Jack Horner on several of his digs.  It’s always fun to listen to someone who can bring a subject like this to life. 😊

The next day, we headed east to Pompey’s Pillar.

This is a large sandstone tower along the south shore of the Yellowstone River.   It was given the name by William Clark, after his nickname (Pomp) for Sacajawea’s son. It also has the historical designation of having the only physical evidence from the Lewis and Clark expedition on the trail….

…as it is where Clark became a graffiti artist on July 25, 1806.  There is a protective glass case covering his signature.

From there, we turned south for a bit.  First stop was the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

This is where George Custer and 700 troops charged into a native camp containing upwards of 2000 warriors, based on incorrect information as to the size of the gathering.  It was a huge defeat for the American army, to say the least.  White markers denote where soldiers fell, and red granite headstones were placed where the natives died.  

Here is where George Custer made his last stand.  We found this battlefield to be a complicated, interesting and unsettling place…one that requires more study on my part.

Our last stop in Wyoming was a little place in Newcastle called the Anna Miller Museum.  We have a friend name Anna Miller, so we had to stop and check it out!

The Newcastle, Wyoming Anna was the wife of the Weston County sheriff before he was killed in the last Indian battle in the area.  She went on to become an influential citizen in the community: serving as a teacher, their first librarian, and as their school superintendent.  The community named their historical museum in her honor.

It was a nice collection of Americana…definitely worth a stop!

With that, we headed east towards South Dakota and a really fun couple of days.  Stay tuned, as we will detail that in our next post!

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Click here for a selection of books on the Little Bighorn, plus other great items on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

A Surprise Along the Lewis and Clark Trail

When Lewis and Clark first formed the Corps of Discovery, it consisted of 59 people and one dog.  Most were military men, but some were civilians.  Of those, Sacajawea, her husband Charbonneau, and their baby Jean Baptiste are probably the best known. Another who has often been written about was an interpreter and fur trapper named George Drouillard.

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Drouillard was considered to be one of the most valuable members of the expedition, as he excelled at trading with the natives, was able to recover stolen horses, was a skilled hunter and knew his way around in the wild.  He was extremely hard working and loyal. Having been born to a Shawnee mother, he knew the ways of the natives as the Corps travelled through the west. At the end of the journey, Meriweter Lewis reported to Thomas Jefferson that, “If it was not for George Drouillard, the Expedition would have never survived.”

While I was reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage this past spring, the line “Born north of present day Detroit, Michigan…” caught my eye.  A number of years ago, I researched my father’s side of our family.  I had heard some history from my dad about how Peche Island, a small piece of land on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, was “swindled” away from our family by Hiram Walker, and that his great grandma had put a curse on the island.  Dad vehemently refused to have any Hiram Walker bottles in his liquor cabinet, so I was fairly sure there was some teeth to the story.  In searching “Peche Island” on Google, there was a very interesting article in the Walkerville Times called The Curse of Peche Island, in which my great-great grandmother, Rosalie Drouillard LaForest, had cursed to Walker’s men who forced her off that nothing would ever come of the island….and to her word, nothing ever did. There have been several attempts to develop the island, and they have all have failed.

So there was that name; Rosalie Drouillard LaForest, born north of present day Detroit, Michigan.  I pondered the connection while reading Ambrose’s account and wondered, is it possible that I’m related to George Drouillard?  Well, one thing the French-Canadiens and the Catholic Church do well; they keep great birth, death and marriage records.  Couple that with the excellent genealogy sites available on the web, I was pretty sure I’d be able to follow it back and find out.  I tabled the search, as we were concentrating on traveling across the country.

When we were staying at Lewis and Clark Caverns this past week, I read how Lewis, Clark, Charbonneau, Drouillard, and Sargeant Gass had hiked over the very land we were camped on. The tabled search came back to my mind, so I dug into it.  I knew George was born in 1773; this was going to go back a ways.  As follows:

James Belisle (me)

Rene Belisle (my dad)

Mamie LaForest Belisle (my grandma)

Alfred LaForest (my great grandpa)

Rosalie Drouillard LaForest (my great-great grandma)

Francois Drouillard (my third great grandpa)

Alexis Drouillard (my fourth great grandpa)

Francois Drouillard (my fifth great grandpa)

Jean Baptiste Drouillard (my sixth great grandpa)

Well, Jean Baptiste had another son named Pierre, who had a son named George Pierre Drouillard.  In his genealogy listing, it states that he was an interpreter on the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Well, dang….from what I can gather on the web, George is my first cousin, six times removed! 

I was actually able to trace back to a seventh great grandfather, Simon Drouillard, a French soldier who had served under Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit.  Simon was attacked and killed by the Iroquois in 1733 near Detroit.  His son and my sixth great grandfather, Jean Baptiste, was killed in the French and Indian War at Pittsburgh in 1755. He was the first family member on my grandma’s side to actually settle in Detroit, back in 1749.

Before we pulled out from Lewis and Clark Caverns, we headed into the hamlet of Three Forks.  Our destination, just west of town, was a fishing access on the Jefferson River called Drouillard.  It was here that my cousin met his early demise at the hands of the Blackfeet Indians in 1810.

George and two other companions were ambushed while they were checking their traps along this stretch of the Jefferson.  He was working for the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company at the time.  He had been warned about going out without a larger group of men, but he felt he was too much an Indian himself to be caught. According to one account, the two men with him were lanced… but Drouillard met a much more gruesome fate.  When a search party found them later, George had been hacked to pieces.  Perhaps this was in response to a killing of two Blackfeet by him and Meriwether Lewis four years earlier, after the Indians had stolen their horses.  No one knows for sure, but his death sent a message that the Blackfeet didn’t want white men trapping fur in their territory.  George Drouillard was buried in an unmarked grave on the river bank.

A small memorial marks the approximate location where he met his fate.  

We paid our respects and headed to the other side of Three Forks to find the headwaters of the Missouri River, which we will touch on in another post. 

It was really interesting for a history buff like myself to find this bit of information.  I’m definitely going to journey back along the other branches of my family tree to see what I can find.  What connections are in your past?  We would love to hear about them.  Who knows…maybe we are cousins!

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A biography of George Drouillard and other interesting searches on our exploRVistas Amazon link can be found HERE.
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Happy Trails! Until We Meet Again, Oregon!

Labor Day officially ends our time in Oregon, as our work volunteering for the state parks is complete.  This summer has exceeded our wildest dreams!  Coming in, we weren’t totally sure what to expect…we just knew it would be new and challenging.  When we finished up as interpretive hosts at Heceta Head Lighthouse at the end of June, we headed east to Prineville Reservoir State Park and our two month stint as interpretive hosts here.  We knew that they had an amplitheater, a big telescope, a lake, and that they were in a high desert climate.  Looking at Google Maps failed to reveal the topography, but it did show a whole lot of brown. We had heard from others that the town of Prineville didn’t have much to offer, and that was going to be our anchor for food, gas, and the like.  Redmond and Bend were farther away, but still close enough to get to on our days off…and they have every service imaginable.  At the park, the manager who hired us was promoted and moved to a new location, so we weren’t clear as to what our position entailed.  As you can see, there was a fair amount of uncertainty for us as to what we would find here in Central Oregon.

Once we crossed the Cascades and dropped into Sisters, the air dried out and the landscape changed.  The area around Redmond was somewhat flat, and there were a fair amount of sagebrush and juniper trees.  Heading into Prineville, we decided to stop at the Ochoco Wayside to use the facilities in our rig.

Wow!  The town of Prineville spread out before us in a giant basin.  We would later find out that the lowland is actually a giant 25 mile wide caldera from an long-extinct volcano.  The town is home to Les Schwab Tire Centers, Facebook’s first data center, and a large Apple data center.  Still, the town is a laid back western community, with the school mascot being the Cowboys.  Beyond the city, the Ochoco Mountains stretched as far as the eye could see.  Google Maps didn’t show that!

Driving 17 miles southeast of town, we came to Prineville Reservoir State Park.  What we thought was going to be a dusty campground was actually quite green.

What a delightful campsite!  Before too long, the park’s interpretive ranger, Mariah, came springing down the hill from her office and introduced herself.  She was very enthusiastic and fun, and we were pretty sure by her greeting that this was going to be a good experience. 

Well, the experience has been outstanding.  😊 Mariah is an absolute hoot…and not just because she thinks owls are “super cool”.  We have learned a lot of new things from her about birds, trees, fish, mammals, snakes, rocks….the list goes on and on.  That snake we were helping cross the road is a bull snake; non-venomous.  

She’s brought in several guest speakers, representatives from Search & Rescue, Wildland Firefighters, Crooked River Watershed Council, and an astronomer from Oregon Observatory.  As you can see, she’s always available to be example. 🙂

She even had the Redmond Smoke Jumpers visit a couple of times.  Here she is in her gear, ready to jump! Take note of the fact that it was over 100 degrees when this photo was taken! 

We had the pleasure of running the stargazing program, and using the park’s 16″ telescope.  The campers really enjoyed seeing Saturn, Jupiter, the Moon, Andromeda Galaxy, and Ring Nebula…and we enjoyed hearing their reactions.

The new park manager, Mike, has been extremely supportive and helpful. The park staff, including our supervising ranger Nate, has been fantastic to work with.  We are definitely going to miss them.

And what about Prineville itself?  Well it tuned out to be just super.  We used the library many times ($15 got us a three month membership!), we shopped at Ray’s Supermarket almost exclusively, fueled up at Union 76, ate at the Sandwich Factory and Crooked River Brewery several times, and visited the Bowman Museum…one of the coolest little community museums we’ve ever seen.

We found the brand new Express Eco Laundromat, which was amazing.  Turns out they have them all over Oregon.  Clean laundromats are hard to find; be sure to take note, fellow full time RVers.

We were also able to represent the state parks at the Crook County Fair, which allowed us to interact with the community even more.  There are a lot of good, hard working people in Central Oregon, and it was fun to be a part of their neighborhood for a few months. 😊

We also had visits from Rick, Bob & Kathrun, and…

…we finally were able to meet up with John and Pam from Oh the Places They Go when our paths converged in Bend!  😊

Where does exploRVistas head next?  Well, we are hooking up and heading east across the northern states towards Michigan to see family, friends, and our doctors.  From there, we mosey south to winter in Florida.   We plan on taking our time along the entire route, so be sure to follow us to see what we find along the way! 
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Smokejumper: A Memoir by One of America’s Most Select Airborne Firefighters and other cool stuff on our exploRVistas Amazon link by clicking HERE.

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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

The past couple of months could be labeled as ‘the summer of really old stuff’ for us.  Whether it’s looking at galaxies or nebulae through Prineville Reservoir’s telescope that are thousands of light years away or hiking among rocks that are even older, we’ve seen things that are downright ancient!  Even being the history and science buffs we are, some of what we’ve seen has been hard to wrap our minds around.  One place in central Oregon that examines this prehistoric strata is John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  Spread out over a wide portion of the area in three locations, this park is home to fossils that date back 40 million years!  It also is fortunate to have some of the most stunning scenery in the state.

During our time in Prineville, we made three separate visits to John Day Fossil Beds.  Our first two were to the Sheep Rock and the Painted Hills units.  One of those visits was with our friends Bob and Kathrun, on our way home from our day trip to Kam Wah Chung.  Our last visit to the park this past week was to the Clarno Unit, so we could get out to see some actual fossils embedded in the exposed rocks.

The Sheep Rock unit is where the Thomas Condon Visitor Center is located.  This was our first stop.

Mr. Condon was a minister/scientist in the 1800’s who believed that the church had nothing to fear from the concept of evolution, as it was simply God’s way of working.  During his time at The Dalles, Oregon, he was intrigued by the fossils that gold miners would bring him.  That led him to Oregon’s interior and the area surrounding John Day.

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The visitor center named after him is outstanding!   The first thing we did upon arrival was to get our Junior Ranger books.  Looking through them, we knew this was going to be a difficult subject to grasp, as it spans so many millions of years.  We started through the gallery, which goes from the oldest fossils to the newest.  The floor is painted different colors to show what era or age you are in, which we found helpful.

To fully understand what happened to make this area such a treasure trove of fossils, you have to first know that this land was once the coastal area of Oregon.  The Cascade Mountains had yet to rise to the west, and the area around John Day was itself a volcanic region.  In fact, it was tropical, featuring versions of many of the creatures found in our current southern climates such as: giraffes, crocodiles, and hippopotamus.  Each volcanic eruption would bury more and more plants and animals, building layer upon layer in giant time capsules.  Over time, the volcanoes became extinct and the volcanic activity moved west.  As the current Cascades rose, the moisture from the ocean was somewhat cut off from the John Day region and the area became the high desert it is today.  Wind, rivers and rain eventually eroded the land, creating the massive valleys in the area and exposing millions of years worth of fossils, all stacked up like a giant birthday cake.  The lower the paleontologists looked on the hills, the older the fossils were!

As we worked through the Junior Ranger book, we began to understand how large of an area the fossil beds covered.  One of the ages actually extended all the way down to Prineville over 100 miles away, which we know is part of an extinct volcano.  The other thing we found extremely interesting was the timeline of the modern day horse.  They began as very small animals, evolving over time to nearly the size of today’s equines.  They were prevalent in both North America and Eurasia, but became extinct here around 11,000 years ago.  When the Spanish explorers came here in the late 1400’s, they unknowingly reintroduced them to the continent.

We completed the books and were sworn in as… Senior Rangers!  Wait a minute….what’s up with that???  Must be because my head was too big for the hat!

Once we left the visitor center, we explored the surrounding Sheep Rock area a bit.

The Cant Ranch is just up the road, and is an interpretive site run by the National Park Service.  It was closed the day we were there, so we walked around the grounds.

How’s that for a view from your back porch?

Just south of the visitor center is Picture Gorge.  Named after petroglyphs high on the gorge walls, this cut through the hills was created by the John Day River.  We drove through this with Bob and Kat, and it’s a great example of the layering in the area.

On our visit to the Clarno Unit, we took the 1/4 mile Fossil Trail and examined the plant fossils embedded in the rock.

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The hills across the road are all that’s left of the ancient volcano that created the palisades at Clarno.  Imagine that someday giants like Mt. Hood will be whittled down to this size.  Also note the evidence of the recent wildfires on the hills.  We saw miles and miles of charred land.

We saw fossilized leaves and sticks….

…a very-much-alive Western Fence Lizard…

…and a rabbit.  Good thing the volcano isn’t active, Mr. Bunny, or you could end up a fossil!

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With us examining every book and cranny of the rocks on the trail, that quarter mile took a long time!  The palesaides faced south, so the sun reflected off of them and the temperatures soared quickly.  We decided to save the other trails for another time.

The other place we visited, both with Bob and Kat and by ourselves, was the Painted Hills.

These hills were actually part of an ancient riverbed, with the alternating colors coming from different climactic periods.  As forces beneath the surface uplifted the soil, erosion exposed the layers we see today.

We really enjoyed exploring John Day Fossil Beds over the time we were in Central Oregon!  We just scratched the surface, that’s for sure. 😉

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A Closer Look at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and other cool stuff by shopping our exploRVistas Amazon link HERE.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

The Great American Eclipse

Whether we were ready or not, the Great American Eclipse sped across the United States on Monday like a rocket. Astronomers knew for years that it was coming, and information was widely available as to when and where the moon’s shadow would be, right down to the second.  Our location at Prineville Reservoir State Park was 8 miles south of the edge of the path of totality, so we knew we were going to need to get north.  The further towards the centerline of the path we were, the longer our experience would be.  Diana and I used Xavier Jubier’s interactive Google Maps overlay from eclipse2017.org to scout out numerous locations to view it, which turned out to be an invaluable tool.  Predictions of massive crowds had us wondering where we be able to get to, along with the unknown of the smoke from wildfires possibly blocking our view.  It would all need to be decided at the last minute.  We would have to accept and live with our choice, as the eclipse waited for no one.

The first indication of concern for us came last Wednesday morning.  We drove north from the state park into Prineville to do laundry and to grab a few last minute items from the grocery store.  The parking lots were packed with out-of-state cars and RVs, and US-26 was jammed heading towards the festival east of town.

Over 30,000 people were expected at that gathering, and that prediction appeared to be coming true.  Later that afternoon, the road had to be closed at the east edge of the city, and traffic was rerouted nearly 100 miles out of the way to get the festival site.  With that being said, Google Maps was still showing Madras…ground zero for the best possible weather, according to NASA…to be traffic free.  As the weekend approached and the folks at the festival settled in, traffic in Prineville subsided.  We decided to stop back into town on Friday, and the supermarket was eerily quiet.  Shelves were full and the extra employees were being sent home.  No one knew what to expect, and it was interesting to see how everything was playing out.  

Back at the state park, things became really strange. Tuesday night we went to bed in a nearly empty campground, only to awaken Wednesday morning to it being completely full.  By noon, it was empty again, only to refill again that night.  Thursday morning, almost our entire loop packed up and headed out at 5 AM to move to locations in the path of totality. Over the rest of the weekend, the fully reserved park slowly began to see guests come in, although it never completely filled.  Many people who had made camping reservations months ago stayed home, perhaps fearful of the expected hoards of visitors. The people who did show were here for the eclipse….

…and were dressed to prove it!  On Saturday night, we had around 100 guests show up at the stargazing program at the observatory, and we treated them to views of Jupiter, Saturn, Ring Nebula, and the Andromeda Galaxy.  Nothing more fun than hearing “Whoooaaah” when a person looks through the eyepiece to actually see something they’ve only heard about in the past. 

Finally, the big day arrived.  Diana set the alarm for 4 AM, and we were on the road at 5.  From our campsite, Diana spotted Orion’s Belt, something we had not seen since last winter.  The skies looked clear, so we were hopeful.  Google Maps was showing  clear roads across Oregon, so we headed north.  As we crested the ridge between the state park and town, the breaking dawn revealed smoke plumes from wildfires in the Cascades, so we stopped to consider our options.  Smoke appeared to be in the direction of both Madras and Mitchell, so we continued into Prineville to re-evaluate the situation.  Once in town, we made the decision to go to a new subdivision perched above the city, a spot that would give us an unobstructed view and 70 seconds of totality.  We parked along a curb and watched as Prineville woke up.  We were plenty early, but that was just fine.

Slowly, cars pulled in and local residents walked from their homes and gathered near the school.   The higher the sun rose, the more confident we were that the smoke would not be an issue at our location.

While there were several groups of people scattered around the area, it never became crowded.

I set our camera on a tripod pointed west, in hopes of catching a video of the incoming shadow.  With our eclipse glasses, we noticed First Contact at 9:06 AM.  Over the next hour, we watched as the moon slowly nibbled away at more and more of the sun.  We set an alarm for 10:17 on my iPad, giving us a three minute warning before the beginning of totality.  It was shortly after that point I started the video.  A few notes/apologies prior to viewing:  I inadvertently had the camera set to autofocus, so the image comes in and out of focus ever so slightly.  You will hear me mention “the waves”, a reference to the wavy shadow bands on the sidewalk.  I tried to record them with my iPhone…unfortunately, they didn’t show up in the video. Just prior to totality, notice the bird fly away from the incoming shadow, along with the street light coming on.  Also, you will hear our reactions, along with the others around us.  Despite all of the predictions of what we were going to see, nothing could possibly prepare us for the emotions we felt.  After months of planning, for us to be able to witness our moon and our closest star align was, quite simply, mind blowing.  So without further adieu, we present our video:  Click HERE.

It happened fast and was over before we knew it. To hear the others in the distance just added to the joy of the event.  😎   One other thing we noticed afterwards was the birds were chattering like crazy all afternoon.  It’s as if they were all talking to each other about what they had just seen.  Just amazing!

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 is something that will be long remembered.  If anyone missed being in the path of totality, don’t fret.  We all get another chance in 2024.  Do whatever you have to do to get in the path of that one, as it will be worth any amount of effort required to do so.  Here’s hoping our lives align with the moon and sun so we can all see it next time!

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Check out Tracy and Lee’s post showing a video of the shadow bands, along with some great photos!

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Free Prime video “Totality: The American Eclipse” and other great items available on our exploRVistas’ Amazon link by clicking HERE.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Kam Wah Chung

If there is anywhere that Diana and I gravitate towards in our travels, it’s places with historical significance.  We recently found such a place a couple hours east of Prineville.  On August 7, our friends Bob and Kathrun accompanied us to the town of John Day, Oregon and a little building in a city park called Kam Wah Chung.

Back in the 1880’s, the town of John Day had a bustling community of Chinese laborers who worked in the local mines.  Kam Wah Chung & Co. was the gathering place in that area of town, serving as both a general store and medical clinic.  

The owners, Lung On (the outgoing entrepreneur) and Ing Hay (the more reserved doctor) survived racism and the loss of their Chinese clientele, as the mines closed and the workers moved elsewhere. They were eventually accepted as a part of the surrounding Anglo-Saxon community.  Towards the end of their lives, their customers and patients were mostly white.  Doc Hay was the last to go.  He locked the door in 1948 after breaking his hip, fully intending to return.  He ended up in a nursing home in Portland and passed away 4 years later from pneumonia.  Along the way, he had deeded the building to the city to be preserved as a museum, but the town somehow lost track of those details.  They planned on expanding a city park that surrounds it in 1967 and were considering having the building torn down when they discovered the deed and Doc Hay’s wishes.  When they opened the door, they were transported back to the 1940’s, as everything from the day the doctor left had remained as it was.  The city realized that preserving it was too much of an undertaking for them, so they transferred ownership to the state.  Today it is an Oregon State Park Heritage Site.

The day we visited, the volunteer host opened the door for us and said “Welcome to the 1940’s!”  We stepped inside to a dimly lit, magical time capsule of a place that held pieces of the past that we could relate to.  Many of the items were things we had seen in either our grandparent’s homes, antique stores, or museums.  

The unique thing here was that all of the items were as Doc Hay had left them, right down to the oranges on one of  the little altars he had scattered around the store.  Yes, those are real oranges.

Lung On ran the general store portion of the operation.   Most of the items found here were U.S. made goods.

I found it interesting that Del Monte is still using the same basic label 70 years after this can was placed on this shelf.

While Doc Hay used mostly Chinese herbs for his medicines, he also incorporated local items.  Here is Kathrun’s photo of a bear paw in his apothecary, exactly as he left it.  Behind it are over 500 herbs from China, many of which are still being identified today.  The week we visited, a delegation from China was coming to help with that process.  Also note the mid-sized milk bottle on the shelf with the black contents.  That’s a dried up rattlesnake.

Note how his prescriptions used beer bottles for measurement.  Remember, his clientele in the 40’s were mostly local working men.  Most of them didn’t have measuring cups, but they all had beer bottles!

And check out this 1942 calendar from an importer in San Francisco.  It’s interesting to see the Chinese version of a pin-up!

Speaking of calendars, you just have to love this one Diana noticed from a local bank.  They are very straightforward as to their thoughts about money!

She also saw this thermometer.  Note the telephone number….no area code back then, and only three digits long.  The scene in the background almost looks like a work of Thomas Kinkade, except he wasn’t born yet when this was produced.

Check out the label on this 3 in 1 Oil.  The current bottle proclaims that it cleans, lubricates and prevents rust, just as it did back then. The unique thing about this label is the listing of all of the things it can be used on.  Also note how the solids in the oil have settled to the bottom of the container.  Oh, and the price…fifteen cents.  😊

Kam Wah Chung is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Oregon State Park website for the location boldly proclaims “If you haven’t seen this place, you need to go”…and we couldn’t agree more.  If you are in eastern or central Oregon, this gem is a must to put on your list of places to visit.

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Free Kindle edition of Anecdotes and Antidotes: 25 years at Kam Wah Chung and many other items available on our exploRVistas Amazon link by clicking HERE.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

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Mount St. Helens

“Vancouver, Vancouver…this is it!”

Those were USGS volcanologist David Johnston’s last words from a ridge overlooking Mount St. Helens when it erupted on May 18, 1980.  He was a mere 6 miles from the crater.  The pyroclastic flow….hot gases and rock…took less than a minute to overtake his position and sweep him away.  He was never found, although pieces of his trailer and backpack were.

Besides him, 56 other people died…but thousands others were saved by Johnston’s warnings of an impending eruption.  

Harry R. Truman was another of the volcanos’ victims.  He had owned the Spirit Lake Lodge since 1928, which was located just 1 mile from the base of the mountain. He refused to heed the evacuation warnings, choosing to believe that the increasing earthquakes would settle down. The building, lake and him are buried beneath 150 feet of rock from the blast, and a new Spirit Lake formed at a higher elevation above the location.

Diana and I had visited Mount St. Helens back in 1996, just 16 years after the 1980 eruption.  At that time, thousands of acres of surrounding landscape laid barren.  The closest approach we could make by road was the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center, a good two miles back from Johnston’s campsite.  We had heard that they had built a new visitor center since then, so we definitely wanted to get back and see it while we were here in Oregon.  We also wanted to see our friends Lee and Tracy, who are work camping a few hours away from there.  The four of us made plans to head to Mount St. Helens on Tuesday, August 2nd.

Coming in from the west, there are several viewpoints along the way.  With the top 2000 feet of the mountain removed by the eruption, it looks less than spectacular from this angle.  The land outside the park boundaries is owned by Weyerhaeuser Corporation, and was replanted three years before we were last here.  Those trees have grown a lot in the time since.

Upon arriving at the new visitor center, the view of the crater and the surrounding landscape opens up dramatically.  At this point, we are a full mile closer to the mountain than David Johnston was when it erupted.  The lava dome in the crater has grown dramatically since we visited in 1996.  It won’t be too many more years before it is higher than the edge of the crater rim.

Mount St. Helens has a major eruption every 125 years, so we were in the presence of a very active volcano.  While the steam rising out of the mountain was slightly unnerving, it also made being there very exciting!  

Here is Tracy taking in the view.  Her standing there really puts it into perspective how close we were to the crater.

We took a trail that heads out above the Johnston Visitor Center and towards a straight-on view of the volcano.  Looking back down, you can see how the building is built into the hillside.

And off to the north…the direction the mountain blew…an entire forest of trees still lays over from 37 years ago.  This area within the boundaries of the national monument is being allowed to regrow naturally, and it is amazing thing to see how quickly that is taking place.  

Still, it’s going to take a long time for a complete forest to return, only to possibly be blown over again by future volcanic activity.  

Diana and I remember the vivid red sunsets in Michigan during the summer of 1980 that were caused by the volcanic particles in the air.  That doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago.  Heck, had David Johnston survived, he’d only be 67 years old today.  To see how much things have changed in such a short period of time definitely make Mount St. Helens a place we want to come back to in the future!

Be sure to CLICK HERE to see Tracy and Lee’s excellent post about our trip!
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A Mount St. Helens day hiking guide, plus anything else imaginable by searching our exploRVistas Amazon link by clicking HERE.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!
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 Are You Ready For the Eclipse?

Ready or not….here it comes!

A lot has been written about the upcoming Great American Eclipse, coming up on August 21.  A seventy mile wide swath centered on a line starting at Depoe Bay, Oregon and exiting at McClellanville, South Carolina will see the sun totally blocked by the moon.  

The entire journey of the shadow across our nation will take a mere 90 minutes.  Day will become night in the path of totality, with stars appearing when they normally wouldn’t.  Here at Prineville Reservoir, we are outside of the path of totality, but the city of Prineville to our north is within the path…as shown by the dots on the map below.

We plan on positioning ourselves in the path of totality and are still weighing our options. We’ll let you know how it all works out. The purpose of this post is to alert those of you who may not be aware of a few tips about the event, so as to prepare if you plan on trying to see it.  Experiencing this from Oregon, we will address it from that perspective. We completely understand that some people may have little interest in dealing with these crowds.

Our first awareness of the eclipse was when I read an online piece about it last year.  In it, I remember the author mentioning that NASA said the best chance in the nation at a cloudless sky was in the high dessert town of Madras, Oregon, about 20 or so miles up the road from Prineville.  The town of 6,000 has a nice airport with a 5000 foot and 2700 foot set of runways, a Safeway and a Thriftway, a KFC, McDonalds, and a Dairy Queen.  

Toss in four or five gas stations and a bevy of small businesses and that about sums it up.  US-97 runs north and south through the town, with a few smaller highways coming in from other directions.  Well, as awareness of the eclipse has grown, Madras began to prepare for the onslaught of visitors…as far back as 2015.  Estimates are for 100,000 people to descend on the town, but that number could be conservative.  The FAA has capped the airport at 400 planes, and those spots are long spoken for.  Many are reported to be famous folks flying up from LA. The normally uncontrolled field is even bringing in a portable control tower.  

Farmers are mowing their fields and have reserved camping spots for well over $100 a night.  Prineville will be home to a festival that officials are capping at 30,000 people….and that’s just the festival.  Many more will be pouring into town from all over the world.  It’s going to be fun, crazy, scary, all rolled up in a few amazing days.  And once the sun comes back out, everyone is going to want to leave at the same time!

If you attempt to show up the day of the eclipse, you stand a good chance of ending up in a traffic jam and missing it. Campsites and lodging sites have been sold out for years.  Also, just pulling off the roads here is easier said than done.  

ODOT has trained workers in push, pull, drag training; meaning if someone is blocking the road, the road crew will move it by any method needed, so emergency vehicles can get through.  The roads around central Oregon have steep shoulders and drop offs, so pulling over isn’t a great option.  Parking in dry grass could start a wildfire, which is a huge concern in these parts.  Not only that, smoke from a wildfire could obscure the eclipse!  And watch where you step, as there are rattlesnakes here. Also, remember that services such as restrooms, groceries, gasoline, drinking water, and cell service will be overloaded, as will the power grid.  Self contained RV’s hold an advantage in this regard, so be sure to stock up your supplies and top off your fuel and water tanks way ahead of time.  Prineville officials are expecting people to start coming in on the 15th, but we’ve talked to one camper who is already here for the event.  The state is gearing up as if this will be a natural disaster, and for all intents and purposes, it could be!

Ok, so enough with the doomsday dialogue.  😎

If the majority of people are patient and respectful of others, the Great American Eclipse promises to be an unforgettable experience.  Many of you will want to be as far away from this as possible…and that is perfectly ok and understandable.  But if this interests you and there is any way for you to get into the path of totality, by all means, do it. Veteran eclipse watchers say that close is not close enough!  If you are wondering what you could possibly see that would be worth all of the trouble, Eclipse2017.org explains it as being much more than the moon covering the sun.  It’s the veil of blackness that hits you at 3000 miles an hour, the 360 degree orange glow on the horizon, the air cooling, the stars and planets appearing, and the adrenaline rush of being a part of it all.  Many people who have seen one in the past say it is the most beautiful thing they have ever experienced.

Above all, have fun and if you’re up for an adventure, give it your best effort to get yourself into the path of totality!  This is going to be an amazing event…one you will remember for the rest of your life.

Where will  you be during the Great American Eclipse?

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ISO certified eclipse glasses and so much more on our exploRVistas Amazon link HERE!
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!