I got waylaid in my processing with a few projects around the house, but I’m back in the photo processing groove again and re-living our visit to Montana. 🙂
On our drive from Billings to Missoula we stopped by Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, near the town of Deer Lodge. That’s not as remote as it sounds, as Deer Lodge lies within sight of I-90, not too far from Helena.
Grant-Kohrs Ranch has an interesting history, dating to the 1860s when the open-range cattle industry had its heyday. Many of the herds were built through trade with westward-bound emigrants, who gladly swapped two or more trail-worn cows for a single well-fed one.
From the NPS website:
“By 1885, cattle raising was the biggest industry on the High Plains, and foreign investors and eastern speculators rushed to get in on the bonanza. As ranches multiplied and the northern herds grew, there came a predictable consequence: overgrazing. This and the fierce winter of 1886-87 caused enormous losses, estimated at one-third to one-half of all the cattle on the northern plains. Many cattlemen never recovered.
If the snows of ’86-87 foreshadowed the end of open range ranching, the homesteaders, with their barbed wire and fenced-in 160 acre claims, finished it off.
The open-range cattle industry lasted only three decades. Few of its pioneering men and women made their fortunes or are remembered today. But from their beginnings has evolved the more scientific ranching of today, with its own risks and uncertainties. That is the legacy of the Grants and the Kohrs, whose pioneer ranch, complete with original furnishings, is a reminder of an important chapter in the history of the West.”
Walking around the ranch, I felt like I was experiencing the plains of Montana much like the early settlers saw it. Miles and miles of open range, perforated now by barbed-wire fences but the long range views remain.
This was another one of those places we visited where we were able to steer well clear of crowds. The few people we saw there seemed to have been mostly attracted by the proximity to the interstate and the availability of restrooms. 😉 For us it was another piece of western history to add to our knowledge of this country.
One of the off-the-beaten-path places we visited on our journey westward was in Nebraska. The Homestead National Monument of America is located near Beatrice (pronounced be-AT-riss)Nebraska.
From the NPS website:
The Homestead Act of 1862 was one of the most significant and enduring events in the westward expansion of the United States. By granting 160 acres of free land to claimants, it allowed nearly any man or woman a “fair chance.”
Millions of Americans including immigrants, women, and formerly enslaved men and women would make the dream of westward expansion a reality for this country. For over a century these settlers would test their grit and endurance in the untamed wilderness and remote frontiers. Homestead National Monument of America, located in Southeast Nebraska, commemorates this Act and the far-reaching effects it had upon the landscape and people.
It is the purpose of our government “to elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial burdens from all shoulders and to give everyone an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”
– President Abraham Lincoln, July 4, 1861
Like most of the other places we visited, this park was mostly deserted at the time we were there. A few rangers working in the building and a few fellow tourists walking the grounds outside were about it. But the park contains some excellent information about the Homestead Act and its impact on the settlement of the west.
I had always thought of the Everglades as a swamp, but it’s not. While there are swamp areas in and around the park, the Everglades per-se is actually a 60-mile wide freshwater river, running from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. It is only a few feet deep in most places. Because the water flows across a limestone shelf, there is little or no silt or sediment, so the water is remarkably clear. The flow of water has been greatly impacted over the years by development and diversion of the water to major cities, but recent efforts to stem the loss of wetlands has at least slowed the loss of this ecosystem.
For our visit, we wanted to see as much of the park as possible, so we didn’t really spend a lot of time in any one place. It would be possible to spend weeks in any one area, but to get a good overview we concentrated on three main areas. We stayed in south Miami near Homestead, so we had a good bit of driving to do to get anywhere, especially the second and third areas mentioned below.
The southernmost part of the park starts near Homestead and stretches from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center down SR-9336 to the Flamingo Visitor Center. We spent time on the Anhinga Trail, which is an easy 0.8-mile path and boardwalk through an area that is home of a large number of wildlife.
The section that is probably most familiar to visitors to south Florida is the section that is bisected by US-41, known as the Tamiami Trail. Because the Tamiami Trail only borders the National Park on the south side, and only in a relatively small section, this is the place where all the air boat rides, ‘gator rasslin’ places and trinket shops are located. The Shark Valley visit center is probably the most visited center in the park, and unfortunately has the smallest parking lot. It’s not unusual to have to endure long waits to get into the parking lot, with the alternative of parking on the road and walking about a half mile in to the visitor center. That wouldn’t be bad in February, but I wouldn’t want to do that in August! Then again, I want very little to do with south Florida in August!
We were fortunate to have only a relatively short wait to park, then lucked into a tram tour that left about an hour after we arrived. The “loop road” that goes to an observation tower is a 15-mile round trip. Walking it would be the ideal way to experience the trail and the wildlife, but 15-miles is a long way! It’s also possible to bicycle the trail, and it’s possible to rent bikes there. But the tram tour goes slowly enough and stops whenever wildlife is encountered, so for tourists like us it’s a pretty good way to get around.
The third area, which is probably more a sub-area of the second, is the area around the towns of Everglades City and Chokoloskee. From Chokoloskee we took a boat tour through the Chokoloskee Bay toward the Gulf of Mexico. We opted for a tour in a small motor boat rather than an airboat, since the motor boat is slower and quieter I think we were able to see a lot more wildlife. Airboats are not allowed in the National Park, so any of the airboat companies up along the Tamiami Trail don’t actually take you into the National Park. Not a big deal, but I wanted to experience the park proper, not just the Everglades in general. We lucked out and only had 4 people on our tour plus the guide. Compared to the option of the airboat I think we made the right choice. I’d love to take an airboat ride sometime, but I think of it as more of a thrill ride than a way to see wildlife up close.
I’ve got plans for a few more posts detailing some of the highlights from these various areas. I didn’t want to clutter this post up with too many more words or photos, so those will come later.
Kathy & I paid a visit today to the so-called “Road to Nowhere” in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City, NC. I wrote about this place in a previous post from last October (just a year ago? Wow!). We caught just a little bit of the end of fall color, before the bottom falls out of the thermometer in a few days. We’ll be back home to our toasty house and our gas fireplace by then! 😉
Our original plan was to stop at the visitor center at for a stamp in Kathy’s Passport book, take a few photos and move on. But even though the weather was iffy when we got there, the scenery was so captivating that we decided to stick around until dark. And we’re glad we did!
The visitor center is situated at a rest stop along I-94 and is one of the few interstate rest areas where you can actually see bison. We didn’t see any at the rest stop, but did see a lot of them in the park, both up close and from a distance. The best way to see the park is to drive the loop road, which is what we ended up doing.
A portion of the loop road through the park was closed due to some aerial spraying being done, but the road was open enough to get some good views from within the park. “Prairie Dog Town” was a lot of fun, with hundreds of the cute little critters popping their heads out of their holes to peek at us. We got a little “up close and personal” to some bison that wandered through a parking area right behind our car. I was very glad to be in the car and not out wandering around with my camera!
Our visit could have been longer had we gotten there earlier or if the weather had been better, but it was longer than we intended, and that is a testament to being open to change and flexible in our plans. It was a worthwhile detour, for sure!
I sent a postcard earlier but have now processed a few of my photos from our visit to RMNP. We were only there for a day, it was a Saturday, happened to be a free admission day and the colors were starting to get good. So we were a little “over-peopled” but had a great time regardless. As much as I love our Smoky Mountains, there is something about this vast Colorado landscape that keeps calling me back. That, and a chance to hang with our good buddy Monte! 😉