Season Opener

April 21, 2019

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The One on the Left

After a visit to the top of the butte featured in last week’s post, I continued to roam the dusty roads of Grand River National Grassland. About nine miles to the northwest, I found these scenic buttes in a quieter, more natural section of the grassland where there are no fences, no visible signs of farming or ranching. The butte on the left looked to be the tallest of the bunch, so I decided to visit that summit. Starting out from the Pontiac, I walked past the remains of a cottonwood tree that struggled for many years to survive in this arid land…

Gaining elevation quickly, climbing through the shade of the steep eastern slope…

Just about out of the butte’s shadow as I near the top…

View from the rocky summit. Some nice flat stone there, though I didn’t stand on it as it seemed rather unstable; note that you can look through that hollow area beneath the slab and see the grass down the slope…

You can follow this link to Vimeo and enjoy the scenery from two locations—the first part of the video was taken at road level and the second part shows the view from the top of the butte. (Video duration is 62 seconds.)

I imagine the darkness here is incredible. I definitely want to return to this desolate area and stay through the night, listening to the coyotes and enjoying the blazing stars.

Next week…a butte in North Dakota.

Road

I was delighted when my friend Olya invited me to participate in a project which features photographs taken by drivers and passengers as they explore the open road. She has completed work on the project and made it available for public viewing. I hope you will enjoy the images that were contributed by Cam, Victor, Anna, Ivan, Olya and me.

You can find Road online via this link. Be sure to view the PDF in full-screen mode for maximum enjoyment.

My thanks go out to Olya for all of her hard work, and to all of the other photographers. It’s nice to see road photos from other parts of the globe…places where my Pontiac will never take me.

Time to Climb

Perhaps having lived in flat farm country for so many decades is the reason I’m driven to climb every hill that I see. During October’s tour of nine National Grasslands, I’m happy to report that I ascended more buttes than on any previous fall excursion.

Despite numerous journeys through South Dakota over the years, there is one grassland that somehow escaped my notice until 2018—Grand River National Grassland in the northwestern corner of the state. Rolling northward through this grassland on a sunny autumn day, I came upon a nice hill very close to the road. I’m always happy to add another summit to my list, even if it’s an unnamed peak and an easy climb. So I turned left, parked on the shoulder and began my march to the top of this butte…

Butte? That’s what I call the many hills of this size and shape that are scattered across the Great Plains. True, they don’t resemble the classic vision of a butte—those towering red-rock formations with vertical sides and a flat top. Perhaps these buttes of the prairie are made of softer material and have eroded more quickly. Call them hills, call them peaks…I’m not looking for a debate on the topic. I’ll just say that many of these hills are labeled as buttes on maps, such as the Dog Ear Buttes, which I climbed in 2017, and White Butte, seen in the photo below, which lies just to the southwest of this summit. I’ll pay a visit to the top of White Butte on my next trip to the area…

As a special bonus to this ascent, I enjoyed a little western flavor while I hiked, watching a small cattle drive as it approached from the east. In this photo, the lead cowboy is well out front, just approaching my parked car. Behind him are twenty or so head of cattle, with the other two cowboys bringing up the rear. It was fun to watch them glide slowly and rather silently down the dusty road. No one stopped to sniff the Pontiac…

Near the butte’s summit, I was intrigued by this collection of large boulders; oddly round, rather brittle in nature and spotted with bright orange lichen. Have to wonder how these rocks got here…

You can follow this link to Vimeo and watch a slow 360° rotation atop the summit. (Video duration is 55 seconds.) This was only the first climb of the day; I’ll have more butte stories for you in the weeks ahead.

Ride

The windows open and the little girl dreams
The sky’s her playground as she mounts her steed
Across the heavens to the other side
On wings of magic does the little girl ride

Neil Young
“War of Man”

Lily

By now, you’re well aware that I love to explore the out-of-the-way places in the middle part of this continent. The great thing is that, in spite of doing this for more than 25 years, there are so many thousands of miles of roads out here that no two trips are identical; each journey is filled with discovery and its own brand of satisfaction.

Even so, I have a long list of favorite places—highways, dirt roads, scenic vistas, natural formations—that I’ll happily visit again and again whenever I happen to be in the vicinity. The list includes several tiny prairie towns that, for one reason or another, always bring a smile to my heart.

Lily, South Dakota has been on that list for many years.