Semper Fidelis - Semper Discentes

Archive for the ‘Expeditions’ Category

It’s Been a LONG Spring and Summer

In Expeditions on July 29, 2014 at 9:44 am

On the last day of February, I received word that my as-yet-unsold house in the Missouri Ozarks had been the victim of a burst water pipe during an extreme cold snap.  The entire downstairs of the 2,800-square-foot place flooded, ruining all the flooring, several walls and ceilings, and creating a generally devastating $20,000 mess.  Fortunately, the insurance company came through, as did the Best Real Estate Agent in the World, who got a contractor to come in and demolish the demolishable, and haul all the wet debris away before the whole place became Mold City.

On April 1, I packed up one bedroom’s worth of furniture, all my books and camping stuff, a primitive set of kitchen appliances, and headed south.  Within a couple of months, all the repairs had been done.  The insurance money lasted EXACTLY as long as the repairs, and I settled in to my one bedroom, anxiously awaiting a buyer.

Lookers came and went, but only one made an offer, at about half what the place was worth.  I kept dropping the price–once, twice, thrice–until I finally got to the point where the proceeds would pay off the mortgage and the realtor.  PERIOD.  The twenty acres, for which I had paid cash, was just thrown in as lagniappe.

About ten days ago, a family–man, wife, six kids–looked at the place and immediately called, saying they wanted it.  He’s out-of-state, so things progress slowly–from him to his realtor, to my realtor, to me.  Everything seems to be falling into place, and a contract was signed yesterday.  We’re supposed to close on the deal within two weeks.

It’s NOT a done deal yet.  He COULD change his mind.  I hope not.  I’m ready to get back to Wyoming–to my family, to school, to snow and wind and sagebrush.  To Oktoberfest and the coolest Halloween you’ve ever seen.  To an occasional happy hour at the Forge and a hike through Sinks Canyon and up to Worthen Lake before they close the road for the winter.

Did almost NO insect collecting this year (or last, either, since we were moving UP to Wyoming), although I’ve had a couple of papers accepted for publication.

In the process of boxing everything up, so that I can be out IMMEDIATELY upon closing.  If the deal falls apart, I guess I can just unpack again.

Keep your fingers crossed and keep us in your prayers.  I’m ready to go HOME!

This is what I was doing the first day of spring in Wyoming.

This is what I was doing the first day of spring in Wyoming.

Missouri Ozarks - last week.

Missouri Ozarks – last week.

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The view out my window.

The view out my Wyoming window.

My first deer.  Ever.  2013.

My first deer. Ever. 2013.

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Susan, Getting High in the Mountains

In Expeditions on August 13, 2013 at 9:44 am

As I get older, I find there are fewer and fewer things that I’m really afraid of (Note to purists: “things of which I am really afraid”).

That being said, I’m STILL terrified of heights.  I have dreams about being in high, exposed places, with no way to get down.  I can handle elevators, airplanes, and tall buildings, but can’t climb a tree much over about ten feet before I get REALLY squirrelly.

On our first full weekend in Wyoming, I took Amanda and Susan on a 15-mile drive out into the Wind River Range of the Rockies, just outside our new hometown of Lander.  Drove through the Sinks Canyon State Park, then up a winding switchback to Worthen Meadow Lake, at about 8800′.  Beautiful.

Susan at Worthen Meadow Reservoir.

Susan at Worthen Meadow Reservoir.

Let her wade around in the water a bit, which wasn’t nearly as cold as you might expect, then headed farther uphill to Fiddler Lake, where I’d hoped (to no avail) to find some dragonflies at the 9500′ altitude.

As we returned from Fiddler, we passed some neat, somewhat rounded rock formations, which I believe are the remnants of old magma cores which have been eroded over the eons.  (Thanks, Dr. Glawe, my introductory geology professor at Northeast Louisiana!).  Susan, clad only in “flipflops” decided she wanted to try to climb them.  My motto, insofar as kids are concerned, is, “Do whatever you think you’re big enough to do,” so up she went.  After a few false starts, she found the logical path upward, and posed before a really cool rock that was shaped somewhat like a mushroom, or perhaps a nuclear detonation cloud.

At the mushroom rock.

At the mushroom rock.

She wasn’t finished yet.  She soon disappeared around the back of the rock.  After five minutes (I sure wasn’t gonna climb up there and find her), she reappeared, standing proudly at the highest point of the formation, which I’d estimate was about 100′ above our vantage point down on the road.  Bear in mind, the climb was NOT particularly difficult, basically a strenuous walk uphill, with a few places where she had to scramble upward, over obstructions.

The view from below.

The view from below.  Susan is the speck at the top.

A closer view of the "summit".

A closer, albeit blurry, view of the “summit”.

After she returned to the Jeep, I figured that, if she was gonna be racing up and down rocks in the Rockies, she should at least learn how to do it properly.  Looked around the town, which is FULL of outdoor outfitters, training facilities, and equipment purveyors (In addition to being the international headquarters of “NOLS”, the National Outdoor Leadership School).  Found a fitness center with a pretty extensive “climbing wall”.

Amanda had to go to work on Monday, while Susan got to enjoy ten more days of summer freedom.  Took her to the climbing center, and paid $8 for an “all-day” climbing pass and $5 to rent climbing shoes.  The lady took her through the safety procedures, then turned her loose on the wall.

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She’s not Sir Edmund Hillary yet, but she’s doing great.  Talked to the pastor’s wife at church (she’s a climber), and she says she’s got a pair of climbing shoes she’s outgrown, her foot’s only SLIGHTLY larger than Susan’s, and she’ll be glad to let Susan have them.

I’m pretty proud of my ten-year-old daughter.

My First Entomological Expeditions in the Rockies

In Expeditions, Odonata on August 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Almost all the hubbub of moving, hauling, and unpacking is over, so I decided to sally forth on Tuesday and Wednesday, to see if I could locate any odonates here in Fremont County, Wyoming.  Almost ALL of the species I’m likely to encounter here are different than the ones I (more-or-less) had learned back in the Missouri Ozarks, so I’m starting all over again, with even WORSE taxonomic skills than before.

I drove south out of Lander, out toward the Sinks Canyon State Park, about six miles out of town.

This is what I get to look at, about five miles from my home.

This is what I get to look at, about five miles from my home.

The ubiquitous Popo Agie River, where I’d hoped to find lots of odonates, was pretty much a bust, as the water is very swift, full of large rocks, and has very little shoreside vegetation.

The  "rise" of the Popo Agie, Sinks Canyon State Park.

The “rise” of the Popo Agie, Sinks Canyon State Park.

After hitting a couple of sites n the river, I happened upon Central Wyoming College’s field station, just off the highway.  The Popo Agie runs through the station, but there is also a sweet little “seep” creek running through tall grasses on the property.  After swinging the net for a few minutes, I managed to capture two species of meadowhawks there, Sympetrum obtrusum (White-faced meadowhawk) and Sympetrum pallipes (Striped meadowhawk), both of which I believe are county records for Fremont County.

S. pallipes

S. pallipes

S. obtrusum

S. obtrusum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I then hit a small creek crossing the highway, about halfway back to town and there found several specimens of the damselfly Ischnura perparva (Western forktail), as well as another meadowhawk Sympetrum semicinctum (Banded meadowhawk) in a nearby hayfield.  All the bugs were found at 5400-5600′ altitude, awfully high for this Louisiana-born geezer.

Ishnura perparva

Ishnura perparva

Sympetrum semicinctum

Sympetrum semicinctum

The following day, I decided to range further afield, passing by the previous day’s collection sites, heading higher into the beautiful Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Climbing higher into the Winds, still only about ten miles from home.

Climbing higher into the Winds, still only about ten miles from home.

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Inside the Shoshone National Forest, I found a lake, Worthen Meadow Reservoir,  In a small arm of the beautiful lake, kinda semi-marshy, with some pondside vegetation, I managed to grab four beautiful male Lake darners (Aeschna eremita), at 8871 feet above sea level, by far the highest altitude I’d EVER attained.

Aeshna eremita (male)

Aeshna eremita (male)

Same bug, dorsal view.

Same bug, dorsal view.

 

 

Isn’t that a FINE looking fellow?

 

 

On the way home, stopped back at the field station and grabbed a couple more of the previous day’s meadowhawks.  Later in the day, I grabbed Amanda and Susan, taking them back out into the field and up into the Winds, where I showed them Worthen Meadow Lake, and we explored another lake, Fiddler Lake, which lies at some 9400′ altitude.  Felt like I needed a couple of Sherpas and some supplemental oxygen.  Our apartment is at about 5500′ and I’ve not noticed any headaches or ailments in my first days as a Wyomingite, although I DO tend to get sleepy about ten o’clock in the morning.  Very dry, too.  I’ve lived my entire life in humid climates, and this is a BIG change.

As always, all my odonate specimens have been posted to Odonata Central (www.odonatacentral.org), and I’m grateful to Jim Johnson, one of the northwest’s premier “bug guys” for confirming the identity of the species.  I got about 75% of them right on the first try, which is GREAT for me.  Bob DuBois’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Rocky Mountains and Dennis Paulson’s indispensible Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West are gonna get a BIG workout here.

Come see us.

We’re HERE!

In Expeditions, Uncategorized on August 4, 2013 at 5:22 pm

It’s been a wild and wooly week for the clan.

After arranging with a LOCAL truck rental place for the availability of their LARGEST truck on Monday morning, (in order to protect the privacy of the company, and avoid litigation, let’s call the outfit “You Haul”), we got a phone call over the weekend telling us we’d have to drive to a small town FIFTY miles away to get the $*#($# thing.  Okay.

Got up at 6:30 Monday morning, drove to the rental place and picked up the truck.  Drove back home and managed to get it down the driveway without wrecking anything or backing into the house.  Wife had hired three PROFESSIONAL packers to put the entire contents of our 3,000 square foot home into the truck.  They did a SUPER job, and didn’t leave many, if any, empty spaces in the 26′ truck.

Got finished about 4:30, hooked up the “tow dolly” to the truck, loaded the Jeep onto it, and ready to go.  We’d planned to spend the night in a local motel before embarking on the 1,200-mile Missouri-to-Wyoming trip on Tuesday morning.  I, however, was antsy to get started, so I cleared out a small spot on the seat of the truck for Dobby, The Best Dog in the World, and we started north, figuring to stop whenever we got tired.  Amanda and Susan set out in the Ford Escape.  Those sissies only made it about 250 miles, and stopped at a posh hotel in Kansas City.  Dobby and I, with our training as Marine Corps killer/typists, however, pressed on.

As I’d picked up the truck with only about a half-tank of gas, the fuel gauge was getting into the red, just north of Springfield.  Really hurt my feelings to find that it costs about $200 for each fillup.  Fortunately, my wealthy wife had given me a bunch of money for expenses.  Up into Iowa, then over the Missouri River (again) into Nebraska.  I was feeling good, but the air conditioning was a bit cool on the Dobster, so I pulled out a blanket for her to snuggle into.

Through Lincoln, and headed west on I-80.  Still feeling good, but it was getting late into the night.  Drove on a bit further, and decided to pull into an interstate rest area and spend the night in the truck.  First one was FULL of big trucks, with absolutely nowhere to park.  Forty miles later, ditto for the second one.  At 1:30 AM, still feeling okay, found a slot in the third one, just east of Kearney, Nebraska.  Pulled out the old WWII surplus sleeping bag for a pad, went into the rest stop to brush teeth and take care of essentials, then pulled the blanket over dog and geezer, and hit the sack.

Woke at 6:30 and hit the road.  Six hundred miles down, six hundred to go.  By about 4:00, we pulled in to Lander, Wyoming.  Pulled into what I THOUGHT was the rental agency, hoping to leave the locked truck there, take the Jeep off the dolly, and return the dolly.  Waited around for forty-five minutes, and nobody showed up at the place, which was unlocked and wide open.  Drove the huge truck and attached Jeep back to the motel, only managing to sorta nudge ONE tree and a signpost, VERY slightly.

Since the motel hadn’t expected us until the FOLLOWING day (Amanda and Susan didn’t make it any farther than Ogalalla, Nebraska, on Day Two), I had to take the only room they had, which smelled very much as if it had hosted a Marlboro convention.  Went to sleep.  Dob woke me at 6:30 the next morning, needing to “do her business”.  Dressed in my “sleeping shorts” and a t-shirt, I took her outside.  Business completed, returned to the room, where I inserted my “key card”, which immediately caused a red light on the door lock to illuminate, and STAY illuminated.  Could not get in.  Desk clerk could not get in.  Desk clerk could not contact any maintenance personnel.  Had to sit in the small lobby, holding Dobby in my lap, because she wanted to leap into the arms of every stranger who entered for breakfast.  Over an hour later, a maintenance guy was located, and managed to get me into the room, but would not be able to fix the lock until later in the morning.  If I left, I couldn’t get back in.

Went back to the rental place, which was actually about a half-mile farther down the road from the place where I’d previously waited.  The attendant most probably was actually a zombie.  He looked at me rather vacantly, did not respond to verbal questions, but managed to fill out the paperwork for me to return the “tow dolly”.  At that point, with the Jeep still FIRMLY lashed to the apparatus, I asked him if he could reattach the driveshaft, which the rental guys in Missouri had quickly removed prior to towing the vehicle.  “Uh, I might could figure it out.”  Never mind.  I, mechanical doofus that I am, crawled under there and could quickly see how the thing was supposed to re-attach, but was unable to QUITE get it right.  Crawled back out.

“Now we just need to get the Jeep off the dolly, and I’ll be gone.”  Since the thing has 4-wheel drive, I figured I’d just drop it down into 4WD, so that the FRONT wheels would pull it, and drive down the street to a mechanic.  The zombie did not respond.  At that point, another customer arrived, and the zombie immediately abandoned me, going inside to fill out a VERY complicated rental agreement with the new guy, taking well over an hour.  I approached him several times, asking for just TWO minutes of his time to help loosen a tie-chain that had tightened during the trip.  He, however, had been struck both mute and dumb.  After an additional half-hour of prying and banging, I got the Jeep off, disconnected the dolly, and drove away.

Amanda and Susan arrived that night, we moved into a smokeless room, ate a nice meal, and prepared to meet with the landlady she’d been speaking with for about a month.  The rental property (our house-and-twenty-acres in Missouri is unsold, and I’m continuing to make mortgage, insurance and tax payments on it) was a duplex, and the neighborhood was sedate.  The owner agreed to meet us there, aware that we had Dobby, a seven-year-old Boston terrier, and Little Cat, a VERY mellow, declawed cat.  She gave us the keys and the garage door opener, and told us to drop by in the morning to complete the paperwork.  Back to the motel.

Two hours later.  Knock on the door of the motel, and there’s the landlady, who’d tracked us down.  “I changed my mind.  You seem like nice folks, but I don’t want to rent to people who have a cat.”  Returned the keys and door opener.

Next morning, hit the streets, looking for a place to live.  After a few hours (not a lot of rental choices here), we settled on a 1,000 square foot apartment ON THE THIRD FLOOR.  Since we had 3,000 square feet of possessions to put into a 1,000 square foot space, we rented a storage building.  I managed to get about 1/3 of the truck unloaded until I hit a wall of BIG, HEAVY stuff (fold-out sleeper sofa, buffet, tall chests, etc.)  Retired to the balcony of the apartment to drink MANY adult beverages.  I’d assumed that all Wyomingites (I had to ask the lady at the bank–I thought they were called Wyomagonians, or some such!) would be Coors drinkers, and, wanting to blend in with the locals, bought a twelve-pack of the beverage.  Must be an acquired taste.  Finished half of one, poured the rest down the drain, went back to the store for Anheuser-Busch products.  Resumed drinking.

View from our bedroom balcony.

View from our bedroom balcony.

Same balcony, different view.  The Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Same balcony, different view. The Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains.

The next morning, we couldn’t do much until the three college guys we’d hired showed up at 4:30.  I drove around town.  Opened a bank account.  Joined an exercise club.  Got a library card and my Wyoming Jeep plates.  Registered to vote.  Guys showed up on time, and took about two hours to get ALL the heavy stuff upstairs.  I didn’t help very much, as my nearly-62-year-old back was SCREAMING.  Amanda paid each of them a hundred bucks for the two hours’ work, and they were worth THRICE that much!  Took the truck back, and let AMANDA deal with the zombie.  She’d thought I was exaggerating, but knows better now.

Went out this morning and sat through TWO church services, and am pretty sure I know which one we want to attend.  Boxes everywhere, but we’ve finally gotten MOST of the stuff sorted and put away.  I went through four full boxes of bug-and-science books, managed to get rid of a very few, and was able to put some into storage, only keeping out about 50 or 100 that I REALLY need.  Redesigned my home-made “business cards”.

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Soon, I’ll be able to get out with the dragonfly net, and see what Wyoming has to offer.  There’s a lot of “virgin bug territory” around our Popo Agie River (I asked the lady at the Game & Fish office how to pronounce it.  She said, “Puh-PO-juh, like I tol’ja.”) and in the Wind River Range of the Rockies, just west of town.  Something tells me the “bugging season” is gonna be a LOT shorter here than it was in the Ozarks.  Got some maps from BLM (Bureau of Land Management), and will go out tomorrow.

Just down the road.  The Popo Agie River at the "rise".  Sinks Canyon State Park.

Just down the road. The Popo Agie River at the “rise”. Sinks Canyon State Park.

This looks like a great town.  Lots of nice shops and cafes, and a lot of really FIT-looking folks on bikes and just walking about.  I’ve picked up a bunch of books on local history, using my new library card.  Still gotta get my Wyoming drivers license, but the office is only open on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I’ll keep you posted.

Y’all come see us.

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The Great Adventure Begins!!

In Expeditions, Uncategorized on July 27, 2013 at 9:35 am

The house looks even messier than usual.  I’ve got all my books packed away and lugged downstairs.  Pulled out all the drawers in the rolltop desk and burned about half of the junk I found inside.  Got 95% of the camping/hiking/kayaking/fishing/water quality monitoring equipment boxed up from my “Man Closet”.  Cleaned  out all the tools and junk from the pumphouse/toolshed.  Sold all the big and bulky stuff I won’t be able to use in a Wyoming rental house  (beehives, tiller, chainsaw, cinderblocks, etc.).  Threw away lots of mismatched socks, ancient underwear, and quite a few pair of shorts that seem to have shrunken somewhat over the past six years.

It’s Saturday morning, and I’ll probably put in a little bit of time lugging furniture downstairs, taking beds apart, and such.

On Monday morning, bright and early, I drive down to the U-Haul dealer, and drive away in the biggest truck he’s got, with one of those “tow dollies” attached behind, bearing my banana-yellow Jeep Wrangler.  SUPPOSEDLY, a couple of burly guys are gonna show up at 9 AM, contracted to lift and tote for four hours.

The Wind River Range, just west of Lander.

The Wind River Range, just west of Lander, Wyoming.

Guess we’ll probably have to sleep on the floor Monday night.  Then, as soon as I get up and fortify myself with coffee, we’re On The Road, with 1200+ miles ahead of us, and Douglas (Booger) County, Missouri, in our rearview mirror.  I’m not looking forward to a pair of back-to-back 600-mile days, with a couple of days unloading and arranging to follow (once we find a place to rent!!!).

The Popo Agie

The Popo Agie

The Great Adventure begins!  Can’t wait to get settled in and learn what cool, new bugs I can find at 6,000-12,000 feet above sea level in the area around Lander, Wyoming, the Popo Agie River, Fremont County, and the Wind River Range.  I’ll keep you posted.

If you happen to be in the market for a new, four-bedroom, three bath house on twenty acres, deep in an Ozark “holler”, I’ll make you a good deal.

At home in the Ozarks.

At home in the Ozarks.

Looks Like We’re Getting Close!!

In Expeditions, Uncategorized on July 12, 2013 at 11:54 am

After over a year of planning and preparation, it looks like we’re getting VERY close to our relocation to Lander, Wyoming, and the “Popo Agie River area”.

Amanda’s job will require her to be there by August 1, and we’ve been madly packing, selling unneeded (or un-MOVEABLE) stuff, and waiting for her “moving check” to arrive.  As soon as it does, we’ll be heading north.

Guess I need to go out and dig up all my carrion beetle traps, pack them securely away, and HIDE them amongst the packing boxes, as I’m sure she’ll decide that they are dispensable and should be left behind.  For her sake, I WILL dispose of all the carrion I’ve been collecting for bait.

‘Twill be hard to leave our (unsold) house-and-twenty-acres here in the Missouri Ozarks; however, I’ve located a friend to “house-sit” for us while we wait, pray and hope for a buyer.  In the meantime, we expect to be living in rented digs in Wyoming, learning about all sorts of neat and new stuff, and trying to look cowboyish and stay warm.

I’ll admit that the prospect of leaving has given me quite a roller-coaster ride; however, faith and a steadfast reliance upon legal pharmaceuticals has got me looking forward to our Great Adventure.

Once we get settled in, hope to be providing you with a closer look at the “Bugs of Popo Agie”.  As we’d say in Louisiana, “Y’all come see us!”

It’s What I Do

In Entomology-General, Expeditions on April 2, 2013 at 2:33 pm

For the past ten days or so, my wife has been involved with a teachers’ workshop in Montana.  Being a generous and convivial sort, she asked me to go along on the long drive from the Missouri Ozarks, knowing that I’d never seen that beautiful part of the country.

I was, obviously, not involved with the scheduled activities, so I had essentially ALL the daylight hours of EVERY day to do exactly as I pleased–through Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, and I’m now sitting in a hotel room in Sheridan, Wyoming, on the way home.

When we’d get together in the evenings, she usually socialized with some of her new colleagues, and she sometimes even introduced me.  “Well, George,” they’d usually say, “I suppose you’ve been out seeing the sights of Montana while we’ve been taking the workshop tours.”

“I suppose you might say so.  I’ve really been spending most of my time on my hobby, while you folks have been working.”  “Really?  What’s that?”

“I study dragonflies.”

(Insert a long verbal pause here)

“Uh…WHY?”

“It’s fun.  It’s what I do.”

I have heard it said that, for an activity to REALLY qualify as a “hobby”, it must possess a rather large measure of uselessness.  My wife often criticizes my hobby, although I find it to be harmless entertainment, and certainly more acceptable (and cheaper) than heavy drinking, gambling, or chasing women.  I’ve only been involved in the pursuit for a couple of years, but I’m building up a good little odonate library, got myself a net, some chemicals, and a microscope, and I’ve met, and correspond with, dozens of fascinating folks who share my weird avocation.  Some of these guys even study dragonflies PROFESSIONALLY!  I especially like the daintier little damselflies, close cousins to the larger, stouter dragonflies, since they’re much slower, stupider, and FAR easier to catch.  I believe that I’m not being overly immodest when I say that I probably know more about dragonflies and damselflies than ANY other person living in Douglas County (Booger County), Missouri!

I’ve spent these past days wading in lakes and streams throughout the Great Plains.  Just today, while lolling indolently in the passenger seat of our minivan …er…SUV on our way south, I yelled at Amanda to stop the car and pull over to the side of the road.  We were racing down I-90 in Montana, very close to the Little Bighorn Battlefield that we’d visited on our inbound trip a week ago.  “I’ve just GOT to see if I can catch some cool damselflies in the Little Bighorn River.” 

She did.

I did.

It’s what I do.

Bugging Montana

In Expeditions on April 2, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Until last week, I don’t think I’d ever been any farther west than Fort Worth, or Omaha, with the exception of several flights to California in the 60s and 70s, courtesy of Uncle Sam.  That is to say, I’d never seen any of the landscape of the (whaddya call ’em)Great Plains, I guess.

Well, my lovely and youthful wife Amanda is (unlike me) still MANY years from retirement, and is gainfully and busily employed as a schoolteacher.  During the summer, she’s required to earn some “continuing education credits”, which means she could be sitting in a boring classroom, at her own expense, in order to further her professional development.  Enterprising sort that she is, however, she has discovered the Wide World of Education Grants.  Last summer, she was accepted into a program at nearby Wilson Creek National Battlefield, where she spent a week traipsing about the grounds, sitting in on lectures, and having a simply splendid time, while the National Endowment for the Arts supplied a generous stipend.

This year, she applied to several more similar programs, and was accepted to a weeklong seminar/tour of historic sites in MONTANA.  Since her lodging costs were included in the grant, she graciously asked me to come along, to share the driving, and to amuse myself during the daylight hours while she absorbed Montanania with her colleagues.

Having driven myself to the brink of penury by recent construction, home appliance and miscellaneous expenses, I jumped at the change for a change of scene.  As we drove north, so as to drop off our eight-year-old daughter at her older sister’s home in Council Bluffs, Amanda even let me stop at three or four Missouri streams, so that I could add three new counties to my quest to discover Ebony Jewelwing damselflies in all 115 of Missouri’s counties (plus the independent city of Saint Louis).  Fifty-three down, sixty-two to go.

After spending the night in Council Bluffs, we began working our way northward.  The year’s flooding had closed I-29, so we were forced to cross the Missouri River into Omaha, then snake our way up the west bank, before popping back into Iowa at Sioux City.  Every since reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, I’ve been fascinated by the Lewis and Clark expedition, and had wanted to visit the gravesite of Sergeant Floyd in Sioux City.  Sergeant Floyd was the only member of the Corps of Discovery to die on the journey (probably of appendicitis), and Corporal Sims wanted to pay his respects.  I envisioned a small, lonely marker, perched on a bluff high above the Missouri.

Amanda at the Sergeant Floyd Monument, Sioux City, Iowa

The Sergeant Floyd Memorial looks like the bloody Washington Monument!  It’s huge, and marks the second resting place of the sergeant.  When the river began to change course, and threatened to wash away the original gravesite, his remains were removed about 200 yards landward, and reburied under this magnificent obelisk.  Well worth the detour.

Well, we cut across a small corner of Wyoming, and Amanda let me play in ONE little stream, just so I could say I’d captured an odonate in Wyoming.  Then, on into South Dakota.  Throughout the long drive through that state, I often expressed my appreciation to the South Dakota farmers who obviously provide a good portion of the corn and wheat that I enjoy.  But WHAT do these folks do in the wintertime??  Usually the towns were fifty or sixty miles apart, and then offered little more than a post office and a convenience store.  Must get MIGHTY lonely out there, on those treeless plains, with the snow drifting up to your rooftop.  I have to admit that the scenery in the Great State of South Dakota soon became a trifle monotonous.

We spent the night at a cool little 1950s-style “motor lodge” just outside Badlands National Park.  Amanda gave me the option of taking a detour, so that I could see another fifty or sixty miles of “badlands”.  I demurred.  A little badlands is quite enough for me.  We raced on to the Little Bighorn National Battlefield, listened to a great talk by one of the Park Service rangers, then took the very short walk up the hillside which marked Custer’s “Last Stand”.  This is the area where Custer and his surviving men shot their horses, to provide cover, before they were ovverrun and killed.  The “last stand” area is FAR smaller than you thought it was, and white cenotaphs mark the place where each man fell.  I’d say it’s about the size of an average suburban front yard, and the area is fenced off.  (Recently, the NPS has placed red granite markers at the place where each of the Indian warriors is known to have fallen, as well.  There are no red markers on the last stand hill.)

The bodies of Lt. Col Custer, some of the other officers, and a couple of the civilian casualties were removed from the battlefield, and reburied elsewhere–Custer at West Point.  The remaining casualties from the Seventh Cavalry were buried together atop the hill, under a modest memorial stone.

On through Montana.  Montana is undescribably (or should that be “indescribably”?) beautiful.  Although the daytime temperatures were in the mid-90s, we could see snow on the tops of the nearby peaks.  Amanda’s first night was spent in Bozeman, where her workshop commenced.  Bozeman’s a great-looking place, and we drove through the deserted Montana State Universitycampus, which I’d recommend to ANYONE.  The following night, her group stayed in Virginia City.  Virginia City, a small hamlet, has a dearth of hotel accomodations, so I was unable to join her there.  Instead, Dobby (The Best Dog In The World) and I drove around on Monday, hoping that we’d be able to drive to the top of one of the +10,000-foot mountains, to see if we could survive the altitude.  Few of those crags are provided with roads, however, so we contented ourselves with a trip to a lake south of Bozeman, where we managed to snag a few damselflies at 6700 feet. 

Camping, Montana style

We then made our way to the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, where we spent $23 to sleep on the ground in our tiny backpacker’s tent.  As I approach the beginning of my seventh decade, the ground seems to have become noticeably harder.

On then, to Butte.  Amanda was required to take the tour bus from town to town, so Dobby and I filled our days with bug-hunting and such, then met up with her at each night’s motel stop.  We got to Butte a couple of hours before the scholars arrived, and noticed that the streets were being blocked off for some sort of festival.  Turned out that the next day was the beginning of the Tenth Annual Evel Knievel Days, to celebrate the life of one of Butte’s most noted citizens.  Knievel, who died three or four years ago, is remembered for his daredevil feats which involved jumping his motorcycle over cars, obstacles, and MOST of the Snake River Canyon.  Many of the folks who were arriving to set up exhibits seemed to know each other, and I walked over to introduce myself to the Cannon Lady, who turned out to live in the town of Bolivar, Missouri, only about an hour from my home.  She was busy setting up her apparatus so that she could be shot from a cannon repeatedly during the festivities.  I poured a frosty adult beverage into a plastic cup, and perched on a concrete barricade to watch the activity.

Soon, a van rolled up, and a couple got out.  They were immediately surrounded by many of the other folks, with lots of hugging and picture-taking.  One couple was from England, and always fly over each July for the event.  Two guys had driven all the way from Conway, Arkansas, just for the weekend.  Another guy owns the Batmobile, and usually displays it, while he stands around in costume, signing autographs.  He’d left the car at home this year.  Other daredevils were setting up “Barrel of Death” cycle rides and the like.  I wandered over to the newly-arrived couple, who quickly introduced themselves.  Bob Gill was, perhaps, Evel Knievel’s greatest competitor.  He originally was a motorcycle racer, but began daredevil jumping in 1970, and may be remembered for the Super Bowl commercial in the early 70s, when he jumped his motorcycle over the entire fleet of Ryder rental trucks.  His girlfriend, Chantal Boccaccio, had flown in from California to join him at his home in nearby Billings.

George (l.), with Daredevil Legend Bob Gill and Chantal Boccaccio

Well, this was a most sociable lot, and we adjourned to the bar of the historic Finlen Hotel, where Amanda found us shortly afterward.  She soon fell in with the other daredevils, and we adjourned to the M&M Cigar Bar, which Amanda claims has been open continuously, 24 hours a day, for over 100 years.  According to her, Jack Kerouac visited the place during his travels which led to On The Road, a book which spectacularly underwhelms me.

After awhile, we wandered down the street to a recommended steakhouse, arriving just as they were closing for the evening.  Back to the M&M for a meal, and a fine old time.  We talked a bit about Bob’s career, and he said that his records for jumping cars on a motorcycle still stands.  He referred me to his website, www.bobgilldaredevillegend.com, which contains lots of pictures and stories from his four year career, which began in 1970, and ended in a spectacular crash in 1974, which left him paralyzed and without use of his legs.

Amanda headed out to Helena, the state capital, on Thursday morning.  Dobby and I slept in until nine, then headed north, catching bugs in two lakes and a stream, before driving into town.  At this very moment, 3:20 PM, Mountain Daylight Time, Amanda’s off on a walking tour of Historic Helena with her colleagues, while I sit in the Holiday Inn parking lot, Dobby asleep at my side, awaiting her return.

Probably chase a few more damselflies tomorrow, while Amanda finishes up her education.  Then, on Saturday, southward, maybe through a bit of Idaho, then east through Wyoming and Nebraska, catching bugs at a VERY few sites before picking up Susan and heading home.  I sure miss her.

I don’t expect that I’ll ever get back to Montana.  I’m sure glad I came.

(Note from George:  Since I wrote this post in 2011, we returned to Montana and Wyoming, looked around again, and will be moving to Wyoming in summer 2013.)

Eccentricity, a Sense of Wonder, and a Few Old Nerds

In Expeditions on April 2, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I’m sixty-one years old, and have probably been considered odd for most of my life.  Now that I’m a senior citizen, I hope I’ve finally graduated to eccentricity.

Topics and activities, entertainments and hobbies, and modern cultural phenomena that are so important to the majority of Americans do not interest me in the slightest.  I’ve never seen an episode of American Idol.  I am totally unconcerned with the activities of celebrities, and often find myself asking my wife, “Who is that woman?” when some obviously important personage shows up on the television as I walk by.  I really do NOT recognize many actors or actresses who’ve arrived on the scene since about 1985. 

I am totally unconcerned with Oprah Winfrey’s, or Dr. Phil’s, opinions on anything.  I recently seem to be seeing magazine covers and television shows dedicated to a family of rather flashy women named Kardashian, whom I took to be prostitutes, and have yet to find anyone who can tell me why they are considered celebrities.

That being said, I think I have a highly developed sense of wonder, both in the physical and spiritual sense.  From time to time, I find myself just looking around at these Ozark mountains, or these pristine Ozark streams, and thinking, “Wow!”. 

The nightstand beside my bed is covered with books, and I’m usually reading three or four simultaneously.  Right now, there’s a Bible (NASB version), Oswald Chambers‘s My Utmost for His Highest, a Tom Clancy novel, a 1920s Introduction to the Study of Entomology, a copy of Damselflies of North America, a Missouri Department of Conservation publication on beavers, plus a couple of scientific papers about beetles (about 50% of which I can understand).

I’ve been all over Missouri, hunting for dragonflies and damselflies.  On trips to Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana, I’ve stopped the car at likely streams and ponds, just to spend a few minutes swinging my bug net.  I bring their little corpses home, identify them, and record the data.

I love to travel anywhere in the state, attending conservation workshops.  In the four-and-a-half years I’ve lived in the Ozarks, I’ve been to classes on fish identification, water quality monitoring, crayfish identification, mussel identification, mushrooms, invasive species, and no telling what else.  I’ve never cared to be an expert, or even a  highly-qualified layman, on any subject, but I’ve always wanted to know a little bit about everything.  Some of my friends criticize me from jumping from subject to subject.  Maybe I’m a dilletante.

Right now, on the front porch of my house, I have two large five-gallon buckets.  Into one of them, I placed a large, fresh, cowflop.  Into the other, a similar horsepoop.  I then added water, and stirred them with a big stick.  I’m waiting to see if any beetles float to the top.  I spent last Sunday constructing ten dung beetle traps, from old soda bottles.  After I return from the gym today, I’ll bait them with various types of dung, and place them around my 20-acre valley.  If I find any beetles, I’ll spend a couple of hours trying to identify them, using my rapidly-expanding naturalist library.  Why?

Why not?

The greatest gift we can give our children is a sense of wonder at the world in which they live.  That quality, in my opinion, is quickly disappearing from American youth.  Yes, their friends will call them “nerds”.  No, they may not know all the latest and most vital information about Brittney Spears or Miley Cyrus.

But, as they grow, they’ll find their world amusing, interesting, and worthy of study and respect.  They’ll live for the day when they graduate from “oddity” to “eccentricity”.  I know a LOT of “Old Nerds”, and they’re usually a lot of fun to be around. 

 
                            The Old Nerds Club

As a matter of fact, back in 1995, a group of four such guys began what turned out to be an Old Nerds Club.  We named it the Bartholomew Society, after a waterway in northeastern Louisiana.  On the wall of my Man Cave is my Bartholomew Society Founding Member certificate, which proclaims me to be:

“A Colonel in all undertakings Martial, Adventurous, or Exploratory, a Captain in those matters Maritime, Nautical, or Riparian, and a Doctor in all affairs Scientific, Literary, or Educational.”

 The Founding of the Bartholomew Society,
 August 13, 1995.
 Captains Sims, Tugwell & McLean (l. to r.).
 Photo by Dr. Franklin.
 
Life is Good.  Life is Interesting.  And Life is Odd.  Don’t be afraid to enjoy it.  Or to be nerdy.

Welcome to the Popo Agie!!

In Expeditions on March 20, 2013 at 7:54 pm

The Popo Agie Wilderness
Stolen from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
 
Pingora Peak rises above Lonesome Lake in the Cirque of the Towers in the Popo Agie Wilderness
Pingora Peak rises above Lonesome Lake in the Cirque of the Towers in the Popo Agie Wilderness
 
 
Location Fremont / Sublette counties, Wyoming, USA
Nearest city Lander, WY
   
Area 101,870 acres
(412 km2)
Established 1984
Governing body U.S. Forest Service

Popo Agie Wilderness (pron.: /pˈpʒə/)[ is located within Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming, United States. The wilderness consists of 101,870 acres (412 km2) on the east side of the continental divide in the Wind River Range. Originally set aside as a primitive area in 1932, in 1984 the Wyoming Wilderness Act was passed securing a more permanent protection status for the wilderness. The wilderness is a part of the 20 million acre (81,000 km2) Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

U.S. Wilderness Areas do not allow motorized or mechanized vehicles, including bicycles. Although camping and fishing are allowed with proper permit, no roads or buildings are constructed and there is also no logging or mining, in compliance with the 1964 Wilderness Act. Wilderness areas within National Forests and Bureau of Land Management areas also allow hunting in season.

The Popo Agie Wilderness is a primarily sub-alpine and alpine region with the minimum elevation being 8,400 feet (2,600 m). Twenty mountains exceed 12,000 feet (3,660 m) with the highest being Wind River Peak at 13,192 feet (4,021 m). Perhaps the most visited area within the wilderness and the entire Wind River Range is the Cirque of the Towers due to the impressive granitic mountains and sheer cliffs which attract climbers from all over the world. Overuse has led to camping restrictions within the wilderness, especially in the proximity of Lonesone Lake which is located in the Cirque of the Towers. The wilderness spans a 25 mile (40 km) section of the southern Wind River Range.

Over 300 lakes and several tributaries of the Wind River are located in the wilderness. Rare reports of wolves have been documented and are considered to be from the Wolf Recovery efforts commenced in the late 20th century in Yellowstone National Park to the north. Additionally, reports of grizzly bears have been documented but they too are rare. Black bears, moose, elk, and pronghorn are the more commonly sighted megafauna. Trumpeter swans, bald eagles, hawks, and falcons inhabit the wilderness, especially near lakes and streams. Eight species and subspecies of trout, including a few found only in the Yellowstone region exist as well. The forest is dominated by lodgepole pine and Douglas fir, Engelmann Spruce, and subalpine fir at higher elevations up to the timberline.

The closest town is Lander, Wyoming. Access into the wilderness from the north via the Wind River Indian Reservation requires obtaining a permit before entering.