24 July 2015

Heading North

Driving across the plains has always been very hit or miss for me; either you have a pleasant drive across the wide expanses of central North America, or you get hit by massive supercells that meander across the plains and endure rain, hail, and hurricane-like winds. Our journey northwards started with a hit; I awoke to the sound of rain falling on the roof, and allowed my self to sleep in order to miss the worst of the storm. I knew we had a long way to travel, but didn't want to do a single mile in the dark pre-dawn rain.

The storm passed as the sun rose, and Caroline and I packed out little Nissan Rogue for the long journey ahead. We were going on vacation, and while that means rest and relaxation for most, it means thousands of miles of driving, hiking, and exploring for us. As soon as our gear loaded, we were off. We were going to try to make it to the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming by nightfall, and had significant portions of Nebraska and Iowa and the entirety of South Dakota between us and our goal.

The rest of the day was (thankfully) misses. By the time we reach Sioux Falls, our luck seemed to be holding. The massive storms were building, but we were still keeping on our "missing streak". The radar and weather reports indicated that the dark horizons were the edges of massive storms, and that we were threading the eye of the needle between systems working their way across the flats.

Hours stretched by as we grew closer to the regions in which I used to work. Soon after crossing the Missouri River, I started recognizing roadside stops from my field work two years prior. We stopped and filled up with gas by the KOA I had camped at for three days years ago, the same place I had sat while ordering my plain tickets for Puerto Rico. We were soon on the road again, and Caroline got to see her first new park of the trip: Badlands. Last time Caroline had visited me in South Dakota, we didn't have nearly enough time to head to this part of the state. Now, we were finally there, but running short on time. Despite not being able to visit every part of the park, we were still able to drive through the entire park and watch Burrowing Owls fly above their burrows.

As evening approached, we realized that the sky was getting darker faster than we expected, and we saw the clouds building to the northwest. Soon, our fears were confirmed:our day of blissful misses was over. A massive storm was building near our anticipated camping spot, and was heading straight for us. We hit the road for the last time, and managed to pull into a hotel in Rapid City as the sky opened and the wind and rain soaked the entire town.

The next morning, we woke up early and headed to Devil's Tower, Wyoming. Upon arriving, we realized that the effects of the storm were lingering, as all but the very top of the tower was shrouded with fog. We decided to continue north, and enjoyed a day full of missing storms as we crossed the grasslands of northeast Wyoming and wound our way to Billing's Montana to spend the weekend with my brother and his family.

After our time catching up and seeing my niece and nephew, we continued our journey north. We passed through the extensive grasslands of Musselshell County, where we failed to find any Mountain Plovers, but did get harassed by Marbled Godwits and found a Ferruginous Hawk nest.

Limosa fedoa (Marbled Godwit)

Buteo regalis (Ferruginous Hawk)

From there, we pressed northward, and finally arrived at our first stop of the trip: Glacier National Park (which I will save for my next post!).