Earthbound Artist

A Smokin' Good Time

17 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Yellow wildflowers carpet the Bighorn Mountains.

The Wyoming tourist info centre recommended we take our trailer through the southern mountain pass from Buffalo towards Yellowstone National Park. Apparently that highway had fewer switchbacks and steep grades, so we headed through the Bighorn Pass on Hwy 16. As it turns out, the northern pass on Hwy 14 was closed due to a mudslide so we had no choice anyway.

Still snow in the mountains in mid June.

We saw some great scenery and the temperature really dropped as we gained elevation.

The outside thermometer in our truck almost got down to the freezing point as we passed the highest elevation.

As we started the big descent, we caught up with a motor coach that was following a very slow moving tanker truck. We recognized the Jeep and kayak the coach was towing - the rig belonged to the Alaska-bound couple that we met at the Buffalo campground.  Their brakes were smoking and we were concerned for them because John said if they didn't stop and let their brakes cool, they would boil off their brake fluid and lose their braking ability.

That smoke is from their brakes overheating on this long descent through Bighorn Pass.

When the coach pulled off at an overlook, we pulled off behind them and they recognized us. We really hit it off and chatted with them a half hour or so until their brake lines cooled. They happened to be booked at the Ponderosa Campground in Cody for the same 3 days as we were. Their names were Jay and Carol, they were from Maryland and we exchanged cell numbers and email addresses.

View from the overlook. Notice the switchbacks and whitewater below.

So we followed Jay and Carol all the way to Cody (no more hot brakes!)and settled in at the Ponderosa Campground, which was right in town.

Dramatic scenery of Bighorn Pass. That is Jay and Carol's coach in front of us.

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Why Wyoming?

15 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Wyoming is one of the nicest states we have visited this summer. Why you say? It has lovely rolling hills, and with the heavy rains this spring the landscape is still green, not having faded to the usual dull gold of this dry region. While we were there the weather was mostly sunny and mild. And of course, Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, but more on that later.

Beautiful hills of Wyoming.

There is a feeling of prosperity in this state, so it did not surprise us to learn that the energy industry is thriving here. Wyoming has the largest coal deposits in the USA, and oil rigs and giant windmills dot the landscape here and there.

Open pit coal mining operation seen from Hwy. 16. Look how rich the deposit of black coal is! They just have to shovel it out of the ground.

We left Devils Tower in the northeast corner of the state and travelled west through Gillette, where we stopped for groceries at Albertsons and were really impressed. Lots of fresh meats and produce, although a bit pricey. I selected two fresh wild halibut filets for our supper and didn't notice until we left the store that they cost a whopping $26. Oh well...

The Indian Campground in Buffalo was our home for the next two nights and it is a wonderful shady place with huge cottonwood trees and large pull through sites. The campground store had an excellent selection of native southwestern jewellery that I managed to resist. After a walk towards downtown we grilled the fish on the BBQ and finally opened the bottle of champagne that had been in our fridge since we left home. The bubbly was to celebrate our first big voyage in our new Earthbound trailer. Brownies and ice cream finished off the delicious meal that we ate on the picnic table at our site.

That evening we walked around the campground and struck up a conversation with a couple who were camping in a motor coach and towing a Jeep with a kayak strapped to the roof. Turns out they are full time RVers on their way from Florida to Alaska this summer. We always enjoy meeting full-timers as they are well travelled, have interesting stories to tell and are full of helpful tips on RVing. Little did we suspect this couple would become good friends with us later on...

The next day we walked all the way downtown to visit the Sports Lure, which takes up 3 or 4 old storefronts in the historic section. Apparently fly fishing, hunting, kayaking and hiking are popular here in the mountains and this store had all the equipment you could ask for. I finally found hiking pants to fit me (the kind where the legs zip off to make the pants into shorts).

There was a fast creek running through the old downtown and on the bridge we saw a water level marker. It measured each foot up to 8 and instead of the 9 foot mark (which would have been over street level) it said "RUN!". The water was only at the 2 foot mark but we saw sandbags on the sidewalks in front of some stores near the bridge so apparently there was a flood watch of some kind.

We discovered a hiking trail that ran from downtown Buffalo along the river to near our campground. You can see the water is moving fast. No chance of us kayaking here I can assure you!

That evening we drove north a half hour to Sheridan for their monthly street festival. There was the usual array of sidewalk sale merchandise, booths from various businesses and charities, and two live music stages. One had a folk singer and the other had a country/rock band, both of which were quite good. We bought 'chicken fried steak' sandwiches from an outdoor food vendor and they were delicious. They are very close to schnitzel in our terminology. As we left the festival to drive back to Buffalo, it started to rain. Nice planning, JFR Tours!

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Wildlife at Devils Tower

13 June, 2011 4 comments Leave a comment

On our second and third days at Devils Tower we hiked a total of 8 km on the longer trails, which gave us some new views of the mountain.

John on the Joynes Ridge Trail, Devils Tower.

All we could hear was the wind in the pines and bird song - such a peaceful place.

There were dozens of trees knocked down in yesterday's thunderstorm and several blocked the trail so we had to climb over or go around lots of massive tree trunks.

Large Ponderosa Pines felled by the storm.

We found a shallow cave near the trail, carved by rainwater over the centuries.

John checking out a cave below Devils Tower.

We were lucky to catch a glimpse of the native inhabitants here and there, as these photos show.

Below Devils Tower is a large field called Prairie Dog Town.

Dozens of Prairie Dogs chirped to each other constantly, so the field was very noisy.

Our twin nephews Colin and Cameron tell me this is a mountain bluebird.

Deer in the woods.

This is the view of our campground from the mountain trail.

The river beside the campground obviously was high and running fast.

Belle Fourche River.

We very much enjoyed our few days at Devils Tower and recommend it highly to everyone passing that way. The next day we packed up and headed west a few hours towards the town of Buffalo, Wyoming.

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Devil of a Thunderstorm

13 June, 2011 2 comments Leave a comment

After our hike around Devils Tower we drove back to the campground for supper. While our potatoes were baking in the BBQ and our pork tenderloin was marinating, I took some photos of the dramatic cloud formations behind the mountain. Thunder and lightning filled the sky.

Thunderstorm over Devils Tower.

The clouds moved very fast in our direction and a few seconds after I took this photo, we ran for the shelter of our trailer because the hail started coming down and fierce winds and rain ripped through the campground. For about five minutes, horizontal rain plastered our trailer and truck with 1 cm hail and cottonwood leaves.

View out of our back window during the storm.

Remember I said we camped under a big shade tree? Not such a good thing during a severe thunderstorm! We heard a couple of big bangs on the trailer roof and could see branches on the ground. When the storm passed we went outside to assess the damage.

Our truck was so plastered with leaves that John said he had enough cammoflage to go hunting now!

I took this photo standing at the front of our trailer looking out onto the campground street. Note all the water and branches on the road. You can see the hood of our truck bottom right, plastered with leaves.

This big branch was lying behind our trailer and there is another one the same size lying on our roof. John climbed up on the roof, threw the branch to the ground and found no roof damage. Whew!

The storm quickly passed, the sun came out and we cleared all the branches from around our trailer into a big pile. Then we finished cooking supper and enjoyed a delicious dinner, but we did have to eat inside as the picnic table was very soggy...

After supper we took a walk around the campground and saw a half dozen large trees had fallen during the storm. Fortunately no trailers were hit and no-one was hurt.

Each evening the KOA campground shows the movie 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' in their outdoor theatre. This is the space alien movie that was filmed at Devils Tower back in the 1970's. We dressed warmly, took our lawn chairs and snacks to the outdoor deck and really enjoyed seeing the movie again on a big flatscreen TV, especially after touring the mountain earlier in the day. A very memorable day!

Devils Tower

12 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

From Deadwood we drove a few hours northwest, heading for Devils Tower, Wyoming. Along the way we chanced upon a 120 year old general store in the hamlet of Aladdin and stopped to have a look. It was full of antiques, new western style clothing and lots of touristy junk.

Second storey room in Aladdin General Store.

We had booked three nights at the KOA at Devils Tower and when we arrived, discovered to our delight that the mountain overlooked our campground. The KOA is really pretty, with lots of huge cottonwood and oak trees, and a small river runs along one side.

Our truck and trailer are on the right in the campground under a big tree and Devils Tower is on the left. Talk about a front row seat!

After setting up the trailer and having a quick lunch, we drove into the Devils Tower National Monument to hike around the mountain. We bought an $80 annual family pass that gives unlimited access to all US National Parks, Historic Sites and Monuments for the next twelve months.

Looking up at Devils Tower (back side).

There were four different trails so we started with the easiest one, which is also closest to the mountain, is paved and only takes 45 minutes. The weather was lovely and the views were spectacular!

View looking out from Devils Tower.

We went through the visitors' centre which told about the Indian legend of how the mountain was formed. As the story goes, seven Indian girls were pursued by a bear and jumped onto a big rock. The children begged the rock spirit to save their lives, so the rock grew so tall the bear could not reach the girls. The bear scratched the vertical grooves on the side of the mountain trying to climb. Trapped at the top, the girls became seven stars in the sky.

Painting of the Indian Legend of the origins of Devils Tower.

The scientific story is that the mountain is the remains of an underground lava flow 1.5 miles beneath an ancient volcano. The lava was plugged and slowly cooled in a vertical crystalline formation. The volcano and surrounding sandstone were slowly eroded away to reveal the plug. Which story do you like best?

Devils Tower (front side).

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Death in Deadwood

10 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

No, nobody died here recently, at least that I know of. But in 1876, Wild Bill Hickock was shot at the Number Ten Saloon in Deadwood and we got to see a couple of re-enactments while we were in town.

The actual Death Chair of Wild Bill Hickock.

We stayed two nights just outside of Deadwood at the KOA, a small but tidy campground constructed in tiers up the side of a mountain. Rather tricky to manoeuvre a big trailer around tight turns and very steep hills I thought, but John had no problem of course. The weather continues to be nice and mild (70's with occasional sunshowers). All of Deadwood is squeezed into little valleys so it looks like a small town but there are lots of casinos, hotels and stores and the western theme is very prevalent in their architecture.

Re-enactment of Wild Bill's Fatal Poker Game in downtown Deadwood.

In the morning I did four loads of laundry and right after lunch we caught the free hourly shuttle bus into downtown Deadwood. There was a hardware store with a owner-retiring-sale so we poked around in there and John picked up a few bits and pieces he needed for the trailer. We had a cold beer in a saloon, saw two re-enactments of the poker game and shooting of Wild Bill and enjoyed a display of famous movie cars in one of the casinos (James Bond car, the Love Bug, a Honda dirt bike owned by John Wayne).

We had overheard someone say the best burgers in town were at Mustang Sally's Cafe so we had a seat at their outdoor patio on the main drag. While we were enjoying our excellent cheeseburgers and draft beers, listening to live bluegrass music, a family sat down at the next table and they had a pet parrot with them. Some kids came over and the owner was very friendly and let them hold the parrot so I went over and had a go too!

Karen holding Crackers the Parrot, who is busy preening his feathers.

We caught the 6 pm shuttle back to the campground, just before it rained. We relaxed for the evening, doing some reading and playing on the computer. What a great day!

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Welcome to Wall Drug

09 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

South Dakota - gently rolling hills.

Continuing our westward jaunt through scenic South Dakota, we saw dozens of billboard signs, such as the one below, inviting us to visit Wall Drug.

John had been there before years ago while on a guys' motorcycle tour, so we pulled in to check out this complex of retail boutiques, cafes and historical displays. And we actually had a great time.

Front Entrance to Wall Drug, which takes up an entire city block.

Wall is a town on the edge of the Badlands and this attraction started out as a drug store in 1931. The business struggled during the Depression but when they started posting road signs on the highway advertising 'Free Ice Water' in 1936, the tourists began to flock there. Today during the summer, an average of 20,000 people visit Wall Drug daily. Omigosh!

We had lunch in the cafe and then walked around the shops, archades and displays. The highlight for me was that Wall Drug has over 300 original oil paintings of Western and Illustration art in their private collection and these pieces are displayed in the dining rooms and hallways between the stores. Unfortunately photography was not allowed, otherwise I would love to share with you some of the fabulous art works we saw grouped on the walls. There was also a display of black and white photo portraits of famous Indian Chiefs that intrigued me. Altogether, a very worthwhile and interesting spot!

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When 'Corny' is a Good Thing

08 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

Heading west along Interstate 90 through South Dakota, still in nice mild weather, we decided to take in a few tourist attractions along the way. John had heard about the Corn Palace in Mitchell so that was our first stop.

The Only Corn Palace in the World.

The folks of Mitchell have been redecorating this building inside and out every year for the last 125 years, believe it or not, and it was most interesting to see.

Side Wall of the Corn Palace.

Redecorating the Corn Palace costs about $100,000 annually, using 600,000 pieces of corn in nine different colours.

Over a ton of nails, staples and wire are used to fasten the corn and grasses to the building.

I was expecting a corny tourist attraction (pun intended) but it was actually a unique folk art sculpture.

Two Murals on the Corn Palace - Baseball and a Racecar.

The interior holds a recreation hall that hosts basketball games (and the obligatory gift shop in the summer months).

The mural designs change every year and include 3,000 bushels of grains and grasses (milo, rye and sour dock).

Just above the lift truck, note the green grass partially covering the black tarpaper pattern.

We continued our westward journey across the mighty Missouri River, shown below. While we were aware the river was in flood, this was not apparent at this bridge crossing (which, now that I think about it, is a very good thing...).

Interstate 90 crosses the Missouri River here.

The next tourist attraction John had heard about was a famous car museum in what turned out to be the struggling hamlet of Murdo. We wanted to camp there but could not find a soul in the campground/motel office so decided to see the museum and drive further west. We wanted to reserve a spot in the KOA down the road but there was no cell signal and no public phone in Murdo. Not even a wifi signal we could pirate. Sheesh!

The 'Pioneer Auto Show' car museum was a letdown for me after the remarkable Corn Palace, with 42 open sided buildings containing over 250 unrestored cars, tractors and antiques just rusting away. The collection did include an original 'General Lee' muscle car from the Dukes of Hazard TV show, Elvis Presley's Harley motorcycle and a 1954 baby blue Corvette convertible that John admired.

We reached the KOA in Belvidere a few hours later and enjoyed a delicious supper in their cafe. It rained that night but we were warm and dry.

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Falling for Sioux Falls

07 June, 2011 1 comment Leave a comment

Finally we reached South Dakota after a windy, hot (high 90's) day of driving and pulled into the Sioux Falls KOA for two nights. This excellent, shady campground was near the freeway on the edge of the city and we had a grand time exploring from there.

Since it was unbearably hot we drove downtown and saw the new movie THOR at the cinema (ok if you like action movies but definitely not an Oscar contender!) and then stopped at Wal-mart to pick up some groceries. They had a surprisingly good selection of fresh meat and produce. Who knew!

John Viewing Sioux Falls.

The next day temperatures were more comfortable (70's) so we drove down to Falls Park for a bicycle ride on the city bike trail. The Falls were very pretty as these photos show and they are in a large green space that has lots of walkways and benches for people to enjoy.

Sioux Falls Park.

The bedrock under the Falls is called Jasper or Sioux Falls Quartzite and is harder than granite and almost as hard as diamonds. Many office buildings and mansions in the city are built from this rock. We bicycled downtown and saw many well crafted old buildings, such as the one shown below. It is nice to see a city that appreciates its heritage and has been restoring many of its historic buildings for the last 40 years.

Vintage Building in Downtown Sioux Falls.

We returned to the cafe at Falls Park for lunch and the manager there told us the Missouri River is very high this spring (he called it a '500 year flood') and local people are concerned about the dams and levees holding. He said the big dam down in Yankton (south of Sioux Falls) is releasing 150,000 cubic feet of water per second, which is more than double the previous maximum volume, and area residents have been evacuated. We have not crossed the Missouri yet in our westward trek and are keen to see it (from a safe elevation of course!).

After lunch we took a free trolley ride from the park to downtown, explored on foot a while before walking back a mile or so to the park. Lots of exercise today! Sioux Falls is a prosperous city and hosts an annual sculpture competition called Sculpture Walk. Fifty sculptures are displayed outdoors on sidewalks and in parks in the old downtown area for a year starting each spring. The sculptures are created by artists from all over the world and are for sale, with prices ranging from $3,000 to $30,000. Visitors can vote for their favourite one and the most popular sculpture is purchased by the city for permanent display. Below is one of many amazing sculptures we saw.

'The Golfer' Sculpture in Downtown Sioux Falls ($12,400).

In late afternoon we went to Scheels Sporting Goods, which is a regional chain of stores similar to, but much better than, Bass Pro or Cabelo's. John and I got some great clothing bargains and then headed back to the campground for supper. At 9:30 we drove back down to Falls Park with our lawn chairs to view the nightly outdoor sound and light show that told the history of the town. Our camping neighbour Gwyn from Sedona, Arizona and her dog Rocky accompanied us. A great way to end a fabulous stay in a fabulous town! Hope you can make it there some day.

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Turkey Kayaking?

06 June, 2011 0 comments Leave a comment

I found out our iPad does something really cool. We don't have network coverage in the US so we just use the internet while in campgrounds. But it turns out we can load an electronic map of the local area where we will be travelling that day, and the iPad saves the map and tracks our location on the map as we travel along, using its own GPS positioning. The scale of the map can be changed as needed to see anywhere from a whole state to the streets of a village. It's so much easier to use than a paper road map and it's all free! John also found a free app called that shows all the private campgrounds on a map of whatever area you are in, all without an internet connection. We are so lucky to have such great technology to make travelling so much easier.

I searched the internet on said iPad and found an interesting sounding campground called Skip-A-Way Resort in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. When we pulled in we were pleased to discover it was beside a small river and had lots of attractive, shady sites and a restaurant. It was also the cheapest campground so far ($29 with tax for water, hydro, sewer, cable TV and WiFi). We decided to stay two days so we could do some kayaking. Here we are exploring the Turkey River, which is a tributary of the Mississippi.

Kayaking on the Turkey River (campground in background).

The weather was very hot (high 90's and humid) and the current was fairly strong so we only lasted a half hour or so. Then we retired to the bliss of our air conditioned trailer and I worked on my blog!

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