Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Transcontinental Trek 2011- Day 2: Minnesota to South Dakota

May 9, 2011: Albert Lea, Mn to Rapid City, SD

7:21am 57F and so dark outside that I thought the hotel windows were treated with dark sunscreen. We had breakfast and got all our gear packed into the truck just before it began to rain. We heard our first Black-capped chickadee in the parking lot along with a Warbling Vireo. 80% chance of rain all day and night.

On I-90 W through Minnesota - pouring down rain. Wind so strong it is blowing the truck out of the lane. Water is pooling on the interstate, causing cars to slide. Wicked, strong rain with hail and visibility is only about 2 car lengths. Thank goodness the worst of it lasted only about 1 hr.

We stopped at the Blue Earth Rest Area once the rain had stopped.

It felt good to get out of the car and relax. That last stretch was hellacious. As we walked back to the car, Bob spotted two Northern Flickers at the edge of the woods. Suddenly, the air was full of the songs of warblers! The storm must have driven them down. We ran to the truck, grabbed our binocs, and within 30 minutes saw 48 species from warblers to grosbeaks to gray-cheeked thrushes. Wow! What a stop!

The more we move west the more the skies clear. The grass is greener here. By the time we reached Mitchell, South Dakota it was 77F and sunny. We stopped at Culver’s for a Butter Burger and a custard. We’re seeing Franklin’s Gulls in the pot holes, lots of Shovellers and a white pelican few over. I swear, if Dave hollers “look at that” and jerks the wheel one more time, we’re going to end up in the ditch!

At Chamberlain, there is an impressive Visitors Center overlooking the Missouri River. We stopped to go potty and walk a bit. There is a memorial to the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804. The party stopped here to rest and cross the river. Do you see the “Beware of Snakes” sign? Obviously, we just HAD to go down that trail! LOL

The Juniper Trees are in bloom, and look so beautiful.

I jumped in the driver’s seat. Dave and Bob’s bird list doubled within minutes! Swainson’s Hawk, Franklin’s Gulls. For miles and miles, we saw acres of prairie with Ring-necked Pheasants. All along the side of the interstate are signs advertising “Wall Drug” “As seen on Good Morning America, etc. So, we just had to stop in the town of Wall and check out this store that seemed to see everything!

Hmmm, he looks like he is really enjoying himself! We found a coffee shop and as I waited for my mocha latte, Dave found the love of his life!

This is Samiko, a 6 week old Bernese Mountain Dog.  I think he made me go back into that store 3 times to take more photos of this puppy.  Someday, he may get one for Christmas.

The Badlands are just 20 miles from here, so we decided to go back and drive through the Park and check it out. My family had come through here in the 1970’s when we took a 3 week trip across the country. I remember that the Badlands were my favorite spot of the northern leg of the trip.

Badlands National Park. We used Bob’s National Park pass and got into the park for free. We hadn’t made it into the park more than 1 mile, when we rounded a bend and saw a group of about 8 wild turkeys walking along the edge.

We pulled off at the Pinnacles Overlook and got our first glimpse of why this is called the Badlands.

This park is a geological landscape of buttes, spires, and rolling grasslands. Located on the edge of the Great Plains, this is part of the largest undisturbed mixed-prairie rangeland remaining in the U.S.

Established as a National Monument in 1939, the area was redesignated as Badlands National Park in 1978. The park encompasses about 64,000 acres and is considered one of the world’s richest mammal fossil beds. Last year, and seven year old girl participating in the junior ranger program noticed something eroding out of the side of a butte. After reporting it to a ranger and three days of excavation, the fossil was removed. Several weeks later the fossil was identified as the skull of a saber-tooth cat, Hoplophoneus that lived here over 30 million years ago. We stopped and walked along the boardwalk at the fossil exhibit area.

About 75 million years ago the Great Plains were covered by a shallow sea. Today, the bottom of the sea is known as the Badland’s Pierre (peer) shale. Over time, the Continental plates moved and pushed the land up. The climate was humid and warm with abundant rainfall and a dense subtropical forest developed on the land. This lasted for millions of years until eventually; climate change cooled and dried the area. The forest gave way to savannah and then to grassland. Wind and rain erosion have created this moonscape of deep gorges and jagged sawtooth ridges with rock layers in subtle hues of sand, rose, gold and green.

Today, the prairie contains nearly 60 species of grass and several species of wildlife. We saw:

 Bighorn Sheep,

a Black-tailed Prairie Dog colony, Mountain Bluebird,

Loggerhead Shrike,

Western Meadowlark,

Lark Sparrow,


Cottontail Rabbit, and Upland sandpiper, to name a few. As we left the Badlands and got back on I-90 W toward Rapid City, the rain began, but didn’t last long.

We got in to Rapid City around 9:30pm and had dinner at the Olive Garden. We’re staying at another Super 8 (go figure!) tonight, and I think I was asleep before Dave finished brushing his teeth!


Reb-diz said...

I want a Bernese Mountain Dog! So adorable. Hope you guys have a great time!

Cynthia said...

I see Dave is driving much like our old mentor Barry Wakeman.And we never ended up in the ditch once....not so as we couldn't back out anyway.
If you guys go next year I'm going to follow you out there as far as the Cascades and visit Laura. Too bad you don't have time to stop to see her.

Jenny Wohlfarth said...

I was so sure this story was going to end up with a line like this: "So, we decided to keep the puppy and bring it with us to Alaska....." :)

mrsbirder said...

LOL! Cynthia! That sounds just like him! Yeah, I'm really bummed that we didn't get to see Laura and go into the Cascades. I was really looking forward to that.

Jenny, it was all I could do to get him away from that puppy! Sheesh! Like we need ANOTHER dog! :-) But, I must admit, that I thought he was pretty cute, too.

Jenny Wohlfarth said...

Who, the dog, or Dave? hee hee

Bill Heck said...

Mary and I visited the Badlands on a trip west many years ago -- one of our all-time favorite places. So beautiful in a spare, minimalist way.

A few questions:

- Love the photos, what kind of camera are you using?

- What's that bird sitting on top of the Badlands sign? Shaped sort of like a Western Meadowlark, although I can't make out the markings. Geez, you have to include this critical information...:^)

dguzman said...

Thanks so much for this detailed report! We're driving across Minnesota from South Dakota, along I-90, and we're hitting the Badlands and all the other spots you hit. I'm a birder, so this is incredibly helpful!

mrsbirder said...

Hi dguzman! So glad you having a great birding trip across the Badlands! It is such a beautiful place! Hope you get lots of great birds!