Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 52


July 22, 2014 ~ Marquette, MI to Baldwin, MI

I had thought of driving to Copper Harbor at the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula in the northern UP and then exploring the Garden Peninsula off the southern shore but instead just beelined for Baldwin. And since there was a severe weather forecast when I got on the road early in the morning, and it was cloudy and gray, this plan was fine. 

I got to Seney NWR soon after it opened and drove the 7-mile auto route. There are over 75,000 acres of refuge here with a successful Trumpeter Swan re-introduction. I saw several pair.
Trumpeter Swans in Seney NWr - MI

Part of the land is also a designated National Wilderness.

EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG

The National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) of the United States protects federallymanaged wilderness areas designated for preservation in their natural condition. Activity on formally designated wilderness areas is coordinated by the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness areas are managed by four federal land management agencies: the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. The term wilderness is defined as “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain" and "an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions."[1] There are currently 757 designated wilderness areas, totaling 109,511,966 acres (44,317,920 ha), or about 4.5% of the area of the United States.

So these are refuge systems also, apparently just not "managed" in any significant way and sometimes part of the NWRs.

Seney is one more refuge with lakes and woods and marshes, soothing to the eye, no cottages or billboards or commerce or utility poles. I would love to return in the fall. There were ponds covered with white waterlilies near the VC where the staff was visiting and getting their respective daily agendas in order. It was beautiful. 

The sky cleared as I approached Big Mac, there were high wind warnings posted for the bridge but it was pretty calm at this point. 

On down into the Lower peninsula through woods and fields and across rivers to Big Star Lake and Lake Michigan where I spent the next several days. 

Blue Goose ~ Day 51

July 21, 2014 ~ Superior, WI to Marquette, MI
I found the Red Mug, a coffee shop slightly below ground level with a bakery upstairs in a solid older building near the downtown. It was already very warm in the bakery but the downstairs was cool and another good local coffee shop with baked goods, sandwiches, soups and salads. Locals almost always occupy one table, discoursing on politics, weather, the markets, the news…Travelers and tourists come for their morning caffeine fix and either stay (like me) woking on a laptop or continue on their journey.

Heading east I made an unplanned decision to tour the Chaquamegon Peninsula and spent most of the day doing exactly that, lingering at The Apostle Islands National Seashore for a couple of hours.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore - WI
There are 22 islands, and in 1970 all except Madeleine Island were designated a National Seashore. Gaylord Nelson, a former governor and then Senator was instrumental in this grand acquisition. There are still a few in-holdings, which will remain in private hands until the death of the current genration. The land cannot be willed or given away. It becomes federal property, your property and mine, at that time. There are T-shirts stating The Lake is the Boss and it is. Kayaking to the islands is a popular way of getting there, a 2-3 mile trip over open water to the nearest, and everyone is cautioned about the hazards of wind, water and hypothermia. Some of the islands have lighthouses, and in the winter, ice caves form. The peninsula is a broad inelegant jutting of land, which attracted northern Europeans, some of whom tried farming but often turned to fishing instead. There is some logging and now a well-established tourist industry. The town of Bayfield is 
situated on the hills rising from the shores of the Lake and has gorgeous, grand, old homes, the handsome renovated brownstone Apostle Island Visitor Center, a beautiful Carnegie Library and the usual businesses for tourists. I saw a bare-chested Native American with two long black braids, moving slowly down the sidewalk with an ice-cream cone. There is so much more acknowledgment  of the importance and reality of Native Americans nearly everywhere I visit than I remember from previous visits....books, signage, maps, historical markers….

I watched two separate groups of kayakers prepare to make the trip to Sand Island, both with a young male guide. Off they went in their 5- and 6-kayak flotillas. Some do day trips; some stay and camp a night; some paddle to other islands. There were two Coast Guard boats at the dock and NOAA printouts of the weather and wind conditions for the day. There is always history wherever one goes and here also, and I sometimes will buy book about a specific area but here, even the paperbacks were expensive. The one I really wanted was $35; I didn’t buy it and found a couple less expensive books. It was very warm but pleasant enough, making it easy to just hang out, mostly chatting with the volunteers in the VC and then watching the kayakers prepare and set off.  
Kayakers heading to Sand Island - Apostle Islands National Lakeshore - WI

Just west of Ashland, WI, is the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center situated on property that is contiguous with Whittlesley NWR. It took a while to find out exactly where the boundaries of this little refuge were but eventually, after driving on the roads near the VC, I found the NWR sign, which they all have, at a little road leading to a closed and shuttered Environmental Education Center and a few unfinished trails. It’s a work in progress involving the watersheds of three creeks running into Lake Superior which historically had been dredged and altered. The coaster brook trout, a threatened and endangered species due to habitat degradation (in this case, mostly sedimentation as a result of logging / agriculture) is the “poster species” in these creeks and Whittlesley's mission.

I thought I would sit for an hour here but lasted three minutes and then tried again on a little bridge over one of the creeks but that didn’t work either. Too hot; too many bugs, so I left and continued driving into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where I stopped in Ironwood and settled in a Walmart parking lot at a slight elevation above US2, where breezes kept things tolerable and where I had cheese and crackers and a glass of wine for dinner. I fully intended to stay there for the night but had been texting Deborah and made the decision to get to her lake cottage the next night. Which was why I drove another two hours, staying in Marquette instead. The sun slowly set off my left shoulder, a bright orange-red, discretely defined, perfect circle moving through a light gray haze. 

I used the bathroom in Walmart and noticed a sore on my foot, in addition to intense itching on my knuckles and ankles from deer fly bites…and then the sore area on my foot seemed to be spreading quickly, and I remembered a recent NPR story on a quad amputee who had had group A strep so typically got a little freaked out. I cleaned it, put some antibiotic ointment on and went to sleep but was awakened by wind at 0415 and my foot was worse and I couldn’t sleep and googled group A strep and freaked out some more and wished for daylight and the van was shaking with the wind and grocery carts were rolling around in the parking lot, and....I finally fell back asleep, waking in daylight. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 50

July 20, 2014 ~ Baxter, MN to Superior, WI

Baxter is in Crow Wing County.

I spent the first hour last night swatting mosquitoes in the van. Finally, I completely closed all the windows, put a Skeeter Beater on one and then opened it part way which seemed to fix the problem. I didn't think there would be many in a Walmart parking lot.

I've been doing some research on Walmart but haven't come to firm conclusions / opinions yet. They do not pay their employees well and there is the issue of medical care which now may be moot, given the Affordable Health Care act. How do they compare to stores like Best Buy, Target, Costco, Starbucks, the big chain grocery stores and restaurants, Staples, Office Max, etc. ?

That small local stores and shops and restaurants offering consumer services have been affected is true but by nearly every type of business, not only Walmart.

While traveling, I buy things I need in Walmart because I feel it is a courtesy to do so after sleeping for free on their premises. I have been surprised both at how inexpensive things are and how often their merchandise is not all that different from a Meijer's in Michigan.

Walmart employs a lot of people, and those with limited means buy necessities or just buy into the American dream of non-discretionary stuff at a Walmart and pay less than at most other stores.

There actually are discussions on the Internet about whether Walmart is "good or bad" for America. I personally usually don't choose to shop at Walmart but is that partly elitist?

OK, so that's one of the things I've been thinking about.

I Urban Spooned "coffee" for Baxter and came up with Caribou Coffee, but when I drove there, I saw a Starbucks. I wondered about this and later figured out Caribou was just down the street, alive and well and not usurped by Starbucks. Caribou, BTW, is based in Minneapolis and is the second largest coffee chain.

Starbucks was busy on this Sunday morning with an ethnic homogeneous clientele, many probably coming or going to church.

Rice Lake NWR is 50 miles east, a wonderful and pristine refuge, beginning at the main offices right off the highway, with a Purple Martin house and small gardens of blooming summer flowers. Being a Sunday, it was closed of course, but there was also a sign on the door apologizing that the offices might be closed at other times due to "staff shortages." I picked up a map and first went to  a fishing access on the Rice River where I saw someone hauling in a large fish. As I drove closer, I saw the someone was a middle-aged woman who said she usually catches Northern pike but this was a bass. I hung around here for awhile as the wind was strong, eliminating the insect factor.  Another middle-aged woman drove in with a camera and wandered around, taking photos; a father with three young boys came and started fishing, and then two more fishermen.

Rice Lake NWR - MN
The garbage can had been removed because of "hungry bears, so please take your garbage with you."

Everything about this refuge was done well with marked routes, interpretative signs and several picnic places. At one of these, which was on the shore between two tiny lakes (Twin Lakes), there was a group of Native Americans, their cars blocking the loop through the picnic area. I suppose they checked me out as I slowly turned around and continued through woods and fields to a point which bordered Rice Lake.

Rice Lake on the Rice Lake NWR - MN
The leaves were making a swishy / shushing sound in the wind. Wildflowers were in bloom, including the striking Michigan Lily.


EN.WIKIPEDIA.ORG

The Refuge's history centers around the 4,500-acre (18 km2) Rice Lake which, for thousands of years, has supplied an abundant wild rice crop. Each fall, the bountiful rice attracts hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, as well as American Indians who harvest it using traditional methods. Rice Lake is known for its tremendous number of ring-necked ducks. Because of the high concentrations of migratory birds, Rice Lake Refuge has been designated as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Birding Association.
Today, there were few birds, although I flushed a Northern Harrier and would occasionally see smaller birds, but the deer flies and other insects were incredibly abundant. Billions, so no hiking here; instead a pleasant drive through the property, always closing the windows at any stop or even while driving slowly. It must be stunning in the fall and winter. The trails in these northern refuges are 10-12 feet wide mowed paths, easy to follow and almost certainly used for X-C skiing and snowshoeing.

Leaving Rice Lake, I continued east in the late afternoon on a nice road, past lakes, through forests and fields and small towns. I saw three Sandhill Cranes.
Sandhill Cranes - northern MN
The latitude is that of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, definitely at a remove from busy cities. There is a huge tourist industry based on fishing and North Woods cabins. I entered the "Lake Superior Basin," and in Duluth went over the "Richard I. Bong" bridge which name made me laugh. The temperature dropped here from 83 to 66 in minutes. Such is the effect of the lake.

I stopped for dinner at Grizzly's on the south side of Superior, WI, and had salmon, glazed with a bourbon sauce, and (amazingly) a delicious hash brown / cheesy side dish. And a good salad. Tomorrow I will not eat dinner in a restaurant!





Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 49

July 19, 2014 ~ St. Cloud, MN to Baxter, MN

After working three hours, I headed east 20 miles to Sherburne NWR, one of the more popular MN refuges as it is large and fairly close to the Twin Cities. There is a Prairie's Edge Wildlife Drive on which I dawdled a couple of hours, all the while being followed by a car with four birders moving at the same pace. Sherburne is in the transition zone between coniferous forests and prairie which is reflected on this refuge. A kiosk at the beginning of the route had current bird and blooming flower information (as of yesterday; often, the posted sightings are several weeks old). I saw Lark and Vesper Sparrows, a pair of Baltimore Orioles, Cedar Waxwings, several Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans, Wood Ducks, Black Terns, a Brown Thrasher, American Robins, Green Herons, Barn Swallows, a Pileated Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbirds and heard Common Yellowthroats and Marsh Wrens. The sky over the marshes was overcast but it was warm.

Before I drove, I had walked 2-1/2 miles on the Blue Hill Trail and nearly got driven insane by flying things. It was horrible! Since the wind was blowing and it wasn't sunny nor too warm, I thought I'd be fine, but I soon began using my hands as wipers moving back and forth in front of my face, always hitting away bugs.
Butterfly Weed on Blue Hill Trail in Sherburne NWR - MN

Saving graces were few mosquitoes and that my new walking shoes were comfortable. Also, I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt which was too warm but protected my head and neck. Needless to say, the birds I did see merited fewer than 10-second glimpses before the flies gathered on my outstretched hands and bare ankles. Part of the trail went past Buck Lake. Lakes up here, I am learning, are often watery places filled with reeds this time of year. On the auto route, the open water areas were called "pools" as in "Stickney Pool" or "Little Bluestem Pool."

I somehow lost my trail guide along the way but was 95% sure of the route and did find the trailhead without difficulty. Jeez louise.... I would not have done this had I known but didn't regret the much needed exercise, and I am not sure what an effective deterrent would have been. At least I wasn't bit or stung much. I sat in my car drinking water and eating an apple while the sweat dried.

But this is the North Woods in the summer, which is why all the refuge pamphlets hereabouts advise "insect repellant is advised" if visiting this time of year.

Sherburne is a wonderful place with obvious efforts made to attract you and me to visit and explore. It's our property after all.
Sherburne NWR - MN

So, the late afternoon question? Where to sleep?

How about Father Hennepin State Park on the huge Mille Lacs Lake? Unfortunately, it was full. The young guy in office told me it would have cost $27 to $30 if I had been able to stay since I would have had to buy a Minnesota State Forest Annual Pass.

I was hungry so stopped at Muggs in Wahkon, and had a $9 cheeseburger with fries, eating outside and reading Bird Sense which helped. I need to prepare better for inevitable hunger pangs. It's not rocket science that I'll get hungry.

The smallest NWR is Mille Lacs NWR and consists of two tiny islands in Mille Lacs, Hennepin, which is one-third of a football field in size and Spirit, one-quarter of a football field. These are rocky, gravelly islands, protected for nesting Common Terns, a threatened species in Minnesota. I drove into several fishing ramp areas and finally saw Spirit Island.
Mille Lacs NWR - MN (Spirit Island) 

Sleep?

First I pulled into the Mille Lacs Casino and drove around the parking lots for 10 minutes. OK, I could do this, but the longer I sat there with little sign of any humans, even though surrounded by hundreds of vehicles, including many trucks with fishing boats on trailers, the more I felt I didn't want to stay next to this huge casino where people were inside throwing away money in buildings where the sun doesn't shine. Of course I speculated on the emotions attendant to such activity. Like, who knows what craziness could occur for a big loser late at night. There were security vehicles and signs of "24-hour surveillance" but it was too quiet and cheerless. Does it say something when I compare a casino parking lot to a Walmart lot?

I ended up 20 miles west in Baxter, MN, again at an almost park-like Walmart with trees and landscaping, on the southern edge of the city. Well, not exactly park-like, but still pleasant enough.

I need to keep current with this. I spent too long this morning trying to remember where I was just three days ago...what city? what state?


Blue Goose ~ Day 48

July 18, 2014 ~ Brookings, SD to St. Cloud, MN

Woke up at 0830! A huge RV from New Hampshire was next to me. The owners were towing a small car. I got a glimpse of them and was surprised by what they looked like which I will leave to your imagination.

The McCrory Gardens: I had to check this out as a gentleman told me all about them at Perkins the night before, saying they were in the "top ten" of gardens (I think he said world wide, but maybe just the US). They were impressive, if one likes such venues, with no obvious insects and very few birds but thousands of flower beds and trees, all nicely labelled. I so quickly get fatigued in these places. Perhaps one needs to live nearby and visit in small time increments to really appreciate what they offer. I kept thinking the gardens must be heavily sprayed to keep the bugs away which is impressive manipulation when considering flora. Still, the public wouldn't come if they had to contend with constant bugs, but also the birds don't come. The park in Flandreau along the river was also free of insects. It's a dilemma....

I drove an hour to Big Stone NWR just across the border into MN.

"Big Stone County received its name from Big Stone Lake. The name was a translation of a Sioux name for the outcrops of granite and gneiss found in the Minnesota Valley not far away."

The auto route wound through a variety of habitat. The massive rocks seemed like a tiny bit of the Colorado Rockies popped up here and there.
Big Stone NWR - MN
Once more, while there were occasional birds, the middle of July in the middle of a day is perhaps the least opportune time to see much. A brilliant yellow American Goldfinch perched briefly on a roadside branch next to my car as did an Eastern Wood-Pewee. Cormorants sunned themselves; a few gulls flew about. Big Stone has a recently renovated headquarters and gets first prize for bathrooms, rivaling the one at Necedah NWR, all bright blue and white tiles. The woman behind the desk was friendly and helpful, and there was lovely little diorama showing 8-10 fauna of the area. Some of these refuges have an understated appeal that increases as one checks it out, and this was one of those.

Stopped for munchies and coffee to keep me awake, including a big piece of "Chewy Praline" fudge. Working on it...working on it...not giving in to immediate gratification.

I checked into a downtown hotel in St. Cloud, MN, with a room overlooking the Mississippi River and worked a few hours, taking a break to eat downstairs, where I had an overpriced pasta dish but a good salad. People were extending Happy Hour, TGIFing, eating outside on a terrace and relaxing well into this warm summer evening.

I tried to read an Amy Tan book but left it in the room. I usually like her writing but couldn't get into this one which was The Hundred Secret Senses. I skimmed it though so got the general story line.
Prairie at Big Stone NWR



Blue Goose ~ Day 47

July 17, 2014 ~ Mitchell, SD to Brookings, SD

I have been driving too long, too far each day and need to slow down, although getting to Michigan for a family beach vacation is part of the reason. Also, distances between points west of the Mississippi are often 100s of miles.

Anyway....I decided today would be easy. The first thing I did was spend three hours in a downtown coffee shop, which was adequate and midwestern - coffee OK and an small omelet with predictable with tiny ham junks, a few barely discernible veggies and cheese but satisfied my morning protein fix.

A guy was sitting at the table next to me, typing away. When he got up to use the restroom, he asked if I would "please, could you like stab someone, or scream or something if they ..." and he gestured toward his stuff. We talked a bit later. He lives in California but came back to Indiana to buy a new Prius, and we talked about what kind of mileage he gets (not as good in the city because of the electrical system kicking in or something...I know I don't have this quite right, but he gets close to 45 mpg on the open road.) He is a photographer and was stopping by the major magazine markets (New York, Chicago, Portland, Seattle) with his portfolio.

(Re gas mileage, if anyone is interested, I am consistently getting 28+ while driving steadily at 70 mph; I am pleased as the specs say 23 in town and 25 on the highway.)

A chatty group of local women came, ate and left, at which time I knew I had stayed long enough.

Next task was to get the oil changed, which I did at LubeRangers for $50.

Then I went to Cabela's and bought a pair of walking shoes. My old Keens were duct-taped and one had a sharp little projection that had given me a blister on my heel last time I wore them, so it was time. I had forgotten that Cabela's is a mostly a hunting and fishing store. Half the clothing items were camouflage patterns. I also bought a freeze-dried camping breakfast and another can of fuel as I intend to stop spending too much money on gas station food or dinners.

There were no NWRs on my agenda today, so I did something on impulse and went to Flandreau, SD. There had been an Indian boarding school there (I never did check this out but have always been interested in this subject. There is, of course, all kinds of information on the web. This site is worth reading: jaie.asu.edu/v35/V35S3run.htm)

Flandreau also has a city park that was on a SD Birding Trail brochure. So I headed there through corn field and hay bales and the neatest cleanest landscape I've ever seen.
Near Flandreau, SD
The large farm houses had great expanses of mowed grass lawns and every single item was perfectly placed and squared with each other.

Flandreau City Park was on the Big Sioux River, and I felt like I was in Zeeland 50 years ago. A baseball game was in progress: teenagers from Madison vs. Flandreau with parents and grandparents in lawn chairs cheering, clean little blond kids running about, a covered picnic pavilion, hot dogs for sale at a concession stand, an announcer, bleachers, uniforms, a perfect bug-less summer evening, ...about as quintessentially 1950s Midwest America as I've seen in a long time. No ambivalent or outright ethnic variety evident; few tattoos; no pink hair; no dirty clothes; no boobs falling out of T-shirts....no evidence of any Native American blood except one teenager.

But there was a tightly shuttered large "Japanese Gardens" building.

And a memorial marker for a Mrs. Joseph Thatcher who died in the aftermath of the Spirit Lake Massacre (in Iowa) while trying to swim across the river just "300 yards east" of this point.

WWW.PANORAMIO. COM

Memorial for Mrs. Joseph Thatcher - One of four settler women taken captive in the Spirit Lake Massacre in March of 1857 by by a Wahpetuke band of Santee Sioux led by Inkpaduta. The uprising was the result of many failures of promised supplies from the government and subsequent treatment of the indians when they went begging for relief in the harsh winter. The marker says she drowned while crossing the Big Sioux River about 300 yards east of the marker. Some accounts say she suffered phlebitis during her captivity and became lame, and although recovering, while crossing the river was pushed into the icy water by braves, clubbed when she tried to climb out, and then shot and left to drown.

And a developing wetlands project with paths and informative trail signs.

And a tiny RV park.

And some homes / cottages along the river. Several of them looked generically cottagey but two or three were obviously very old though perfectly cared for.  One had three light lavender clematis vines on one side, growing high on trellises, partially covering windows, but all flower beds were trimmed and weeded. For some reason, I thought of DHC while looking at them and how she would appreciate this scene. Again, I had a profound sense of remembering some of my childhood places and times.

I walked around the park and by the river for 30 minutes and then decided to sit on a picnic table and watch the game for an hour. I made it through 30 minutes, thinking half the time of brother Bill and the thousands of sports events he watched.

I stayed in Brookings right across the street from South Dakota State University and the 40-acre McCrory Gardens, next to a little pond under trees in a Walmart parking lot which often is more pleasant than not. Surprisingly....

I ate at a Perkins...and won't again, but it was an easy walk



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Blue Goose ~ Day 46


July 16, 2104 ~ Valentine, NE to Mitchell, SD

I had intended to check out Valentine NWR yesterday but it was getting late, and this is a large (over 70,000 acre) refuge, so I had to drive back south 16 miles and then west 13 miles to get to the headquarters. Which were depressing. No one was visible (and this is fine as I don't expect someone to be alert to the very occasional visitor on these remote refuges), but the general impression around the buildings and grounds was slightly derelict and tired, unusual in my experience thus far for a refuge. I read later that much of the work here had been done by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), which is also true for many places out west, and it seemed not much had been done since for upkeep. But Valentine is a huge refuge with major projects, and esthetics for the occasional interested traveler obviously isn't a priority. Like I read that Hackberry Lake, one of the larger lakes, had been mostly pumped dry in 2004 to eradicate invasive carp. The little bit of water that remained was "treated" and the carp killed with a successful outcome as ducks and geese retuned in numbers. But what a prodigious project, pumping a whole lake dry! No question that there is a lot of manipulation / management of refuges. Nearly every one so far has mentioned the practices and rationale for "prescribed burning" and grazing, the problems of controlling invasive flora and the major ways water is managed.
Ranches near Valentine NWR - NE

Before I even got to the headquarters, I sat an hour by Watts Lake and watched things. Surprisingly, I kept seeing Orchard Orioles in White Cedars with juniper berries (birds generally love these), and Lark Sparrows, the ubiquitous Yellow Warbler, Eastern and Western Kingbirds and swallows. The air was fragrant and several species of wildflowers were blooming. One truck drove by in the hour.

The 9.6-mile auto route was pleasant as it wound around the lakes through the sand hills, but for me, there was such a lonely feel out here. I wasn't uncomfortable but am realizing I would never choose to live so far from human contact, no matter how compelling the natural setting. To see these lakes with no habitation, while certainly great refuges for fauna, was just unexpectedly unsettling, realizing all the while that this was my unique perspective and totally a failing on my part to embrace it without carrying on the inner dialogue. Does this make any sense to anyone? I wondered about the families who accompany the refuge managers and who live on them....or the ranching families who live 50 miles from the nearest, even small, town.

But, I did come upon Upland Sandpipers who are always reluctant to fly away but seem to think they can outrun my car, like Killdeer. They are graceful, thin-necked, long-legged birds with a bicolored bill. One encounter was a family with half-grown birds who awkwardly moved about as the parents tried to get them off the road. And then I saw what I hoped was a Greater Prairie Chicken but which finally showed itself enough to be a Sharp-tailed Grouse. We watched each other for 15 minutes. It would stare at me and then finally cross the road in front of the van, peck away at the weeds and then watch me again and cross back over the road to the other side to peck at those weeds. The Prairie Chicken would have been a life bird for me and their range is less more restricted the the ST grouse. But, still, it was fun to have a tete-a-tete with the grouse which I seldom see.
Sharp-tailed Grouse on Valentine NWR - NE

As I pulled out on the main highway, a State Policeman was sitting there but who immediately did a U-turn and took off after a speeder going the other way. I have been driving well within the speed limits and only freaked out once when I was talking on the cell and passed a policeman. Some states have hands-free laws and I am never quite certain.

Back through Valentine to Fort Niobrara NWR where the big deal is habitat for buffalo and elk. I was getting tired of gravel roads, and buffalo are no big deal to me. Well, there actually are, but I used to see them within a mile of my house in Montana all the time so wasn't invested in seeing them as most Niobrara visitors are. I bought a couple of delightful kids' books about wetlands and buffalo as the headquarters actually was open and had a gift store. And then I walked to see a waterfall, one more incongruity in Nebraska, as I felt I was in the Upper Peninsula.

And I did see 20 buffalo and prairie dogs but wanted to get out of Nebraska for some unclear reason, so I drove another long time east and north to South Dakota after making sure I could get across the Missouri River since there aren't just bridges everywhere. Again, this was a road with almost no traffic with the sense of how immense the prairies are. I immediately felt better once in SD; I know, it's weird and inexplicable but that's how it was. I figured I could get to Mitchell, SD, by sunset and still have time to go to Lake Andes NWR, which I did.

What a lovely place! The unexpected gorgeous places I find at the end of gravel roads are one of the pleasures of this trip. I hadn't intended to do much more than drive through, but trails beckoned and I walked a mile, through grasses and flowers with dozens of birds perching on the grasses and flowers. Perhaps it was the time of day. All the refuge literature always say to visit early mornings or late afternoons and I happen to do so. Even on the way to Lake Andes, I spotted a grouse / prairie chicken by the roadside and turned around only to discover half a dozen clumsy, tiny grouselets or chicklets scrambling to get into the weeds and out of site. Of the parent, no sign but a lot of clucking, so I don't know whether it was a G or a C.

In the fields just off the trail in the late afternoon sunlight were many Dicsissels and Lark Buntings but also sparrows and phoebes and kingbirds and a White-tailed deer who didn't realize I was on the trail until we were very close when it bounded away.

The trails were either gravel or widely mowed and wheelchair accessible with marsh overlooks. I saw a Common Yellowthroat which I had heard all through Valentine but never saw. It was very soothing and a nice ending to a long and dusty day.
Lake Andes NWR - SD
The trail area was between Lake Andes and prairie / fields so the habitat is varied. I had Birkies on and later I realized I had picked up dozens of very sharp pointed burs which stuck to the bottoms and which clicked on the floor of the Walmart. So I spent 15 minutes pulling them out. And checked for ticks but still woke up in the night with something crawling on my shoulder.

My googling mentioned that the Cabelas down the street from Walmart was also a good place for parking overnight. I checked it out, but the store itself closed at 9 pm, and I had no bathroom options. Which is why some people pay $50 to $500K for an RV.

The day was another nutrition failure (Rice Krispy cookie, half a lemon bar, McDonald's breakfast burrito, cold leftover Chinese, chocolate pomegranate candy and a too sweet coffee drink from a gas station) and I wasn't hungry so had cheese and rice crackers and read a free liberal newspaper I picked up - Prairie Fire - about tracking, tar sands, conscientious land-steward farming, etc.