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This post is dedicated to Hazel Birdsong, the strong mother of my friend Bob. Here’s to you Hazel. All good medicine for your health and happiness! Aho.

I was now driving in a direction untraveled in almost two months, due east. The time in Bozeman was fulfilling seeing the city and experiencing the surrounding areas in the mountains and forests. The land is beautiful and is an outdoors mecca with many natural resources to admire and enjoy for adventure. Horseback riding is on the agenda for the next trip.

Devils Tower / Bear LodgeDriving six hours in the direction of the sun I noticed signage for Devils Tower(5,114 ft), or the Lakota name Bear Lodge, America’s first national monument and place of sacredness to many Native American nations. Approaching from a distance I saw the massive protrusion which the vertical columns became defined as I drew closer. I stopped before the park and wondered how this object came to be with nothing similar or taller in the vast surrounding area. There is no definitive scientific explanation how this structure was formed about 200 million years ago. I entered the park and walked around the igneous intrusion continuing to be in amazed Devil's Tower - Wyomingby its size and formation. There were two climbers making an ascent and although a climber, I thought it to be sacrilegious to climb something so sacred to the Native Americans. Would it be OK for people to climb the Statue of Liberty or the presidential faces of Mt. Rushmore? Almost completing the walk around the monument I noticed small cloths that look like little ghosts tied to tree branches. These were prayer ties and prayer bundles. At the time I visited I only knew them to be an offering and have since learned the small swatches contain Prayer Ties and Prayer Bundlesa pinch of tobacco and before being tied closed a prayer is made or an intention set then are tied to a branch. Tobacco is used for prayer, to show respect, to heal, and give spiritual protection. The cured leaves are unprocessed unlike cigarette tobacco which contains poisonous additives never to be used for ceremonies. Prayer ties are an important part of offerings for vision quest and sun dance ceremonies where many are tied together. Prayer bundles are larger than prayer ties and are offered individually. Colors are important signifying the four directions, east/yellow, south/red, and west/black, north/white. Colors of the directions may vary depending on the tribal nation. Some nations include the directions of above (sky)/blue, below (mother earth)/green and within (our spirit)/purple or gold. With nothing in hand I made a silent offering to “Bear Lodge” giving thanks for this icon and prayed for safe travels. Respect SignI continued for a short stop into the visitor’s center to learn more of the site then carried on to Badlands, or as the Lakota named the area, “Maka Sica,” meaning “land bad”, wanting to arrive before dark.

To nowhere!Using the worlds biggest GPS (my laptop) I followed the red arrow while the orange setting sun was providing spectacular colors against the multi-layered eroded clay buttes on the outskirts of the park. I was further away than I thought as light was fading quickly. Having too much faith in the GPS I followed a right turn down a dirt road literally to the middle of nowhere. I reluctantly followed the GPS arrow and road driving slowly with thoughts of trespassing rolling through my mind. This was the first time on the trip an uncomfortable nervousness set in on what I could stumble upon. My heart was racing, beating faster and harder as I approached the crest of a small hill. I noticed the end point of the destination was just ahead. Being lost in daylight is one thing but in the dark on an abandoned dirt road approaching Pine Ridge Reservation where the Wounded Knee Massacre still scars Native Americans was unnerving. Not living near poverty stricken Native American communities caused from past European and government invasion I didn’t know what could transpire. Making the crest I saw nothing except the final rays of the day’s sun. My heart started to return to a normal rhythm and I went from fear to wondering, wondering where I was and where the park entrance could be. I stopped where the GPS said I arrived and stepped out of the truck. There was nothing except what looked like a stone foundation. I reentered the truck and made way back to the main road continuing in the eastward direction. A half hour later I came upon the interior entrance of the park at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and Cedar Pass Campground. “Home” at last!

Camp 1I was exhausted and hungry and found an open tent site in the massive camp area full of simple tents and over the top forty plus foot “campers”. Setting up the tent was quick since by now I could almost erect it blindfolded. A meal was prepared, quickly ingested and my head laid to rest tired from the driving, site seeing and expended nervous energy.

The next morning was time to move my legs after a day of driving. I perused the visitor’s center and watched a short video detailing the park and its natural creation millions of years ago then set out for some trekking. I hiked the flat Medicine Root, Castle, and Fossil Exhibit trails winding around layered formations giving the feel of being on the red planet Mars. After heavy rains a layer of ground is washed away sometimes Lower jaw Fossilexposing ancient articles. If you’re lucky as I was you could stumble upon dinosaur fossils. The park service asks that these fossils remain where found, the area marked and the service notified for a paleontologist to investigate. Completing loops and out and backs I drove through the park heading to the western Sage Creek Primitive Campground with no electricity or running water for solitude and trekking.

Grazing CloserA herd of buffalo were slowly grazing their way toward my direction while setting camp. Not wanting to be surrounded and trapped I grabbed light hiking gear and water and set out to investigate unmarked trails. I encountered prairie dog colonies which kept popping up from there boroughs “barking” their mouse barks then disappearing back into them. I now understood the silly prairie dog game found at traveling Praire Dogcarnivals. This area had scattered barren patches where buffalo would cool off by rolling in the dirt. In one patch was a prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). Looking and thinking the snake must have been slow to have a 2,000lb. muscular animal roll on it the snake suddenly coiled back not content with my presence. After observing for a few minutes it slithered away and I carried on the path taking me through dry riverbeds, flat lands and high grass until the sound of a rattle made me jump up and over 4 feet in the air. This wasn’t a cute little prairie rattlesnake this one was two Prairie Rattlesnake #1feet long and very agitated that it was almost stepped on. Being struck by a rattler in these wilderness areas would most likely not be a survivable situation. We were both, ahem, rattled by this encounter. I took a few pictures and headed back to camp to enjoy the rest of the evening and see if the buffalo left my tent standing or any surprises.

All was well and only a few sites were occupied as night fell. With no lights an infinite amount of stars could be seen in the planetarium sky. My eyes took in layer after layer of the dark atmosphere as stars and shooting stars appeared exponentially. During very early morning hours the buffalo came in again surrounding the area eating and grunting. In a stampede I would have been flattened, but all was Finding His Pathsafe while grazing. This area was home for a few days hiking the trails, taking in the views and wildlife only encountering one more snake. Knowing this was the last Midwestern national park I would be at before continuing east was slightly unsettling, but I enjoyed each minute of all of them. Bear Lodge and Badlands Packed and ready to go....Again!were two more great stops and there was much appreciation before packing up preparing for continued travel to…

Minnesota, Chicago? (I’ll explain!) and Allegheny National Forest…

Greg

“Sacred sites and areas are protection for all people — the four colors for man — and these sites are in all areas of the earth in the four directions.” – Traditional Circle of Elders, Northern Cheyenne

Note: Being at Badlands and Yellowstone increased my awareness of areas where Native Americans lived with the land and their history which I continue to expand personal knowledge today. Interest has pulled me to experience a few Native ceremonies and ways. The history I’ve read written by Natives and non-Natives has been interesting and disturbing. Much more occurred than was taught during early school years. I ask you to consider watching this 15 minute Ted Talk which details pieces of current times and past history. Also, I highly recommend reading Black Elk Speaks to learn more about Native American ceremonies and ways and Black Elk’s visions. Wopila. – Thanks in Lakota.

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Takoda Leaving Yellowstone was bittersweet since there was much more to see only being there a short four days. Plenty of area was covered and I had entertaining experiences seeing wildlife and intriguing natural resources. The wolves, Selway of the Gallatin Packboth wild and captive, were the highlight of this stop on my journey since they’re my spirit animal. I plan to continue learning the diverse traits these advanced animals have. Impressive also, was the animal of abundance to the Native Americans, the bison with their raw strength and casual demeanor.

Gardiner, MTI had excitement going to Bozeman, a city I’ve heard much about and wanted to spend enough time there to see if this would be a place I would consider living. As I hoped for, a café was just outside of the park in Gardiner, MT. The aroma in High Country Trading and Espresso spiked my craving for a large dark brew. With java in hand and after taking a quick stroll throughView to Bozeman this tiny western town that gets buried with snow in the winter I hopped in the truck for a short scenic drive to Bozeman. Highway speed felt strange after the relaxing pace in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

Welcome to BozemanThe first stop in Bozeman was to the visitor’s center to find a local campground. I chose Bear Canyon Campground on the outskirts of town keeping close to see what the city had to offer. This stop was different than the others staying in a busy environment and reconnecting with the general population. The family style campground offered more than found at the national parks and includedBear Canyon Campground laundry and showers, a bonus since most showers have been from a gallon container with cool water. The hot showers were excellent and it was time to wash well worn clothes!

Sunset Over BozemanBozeman has the western feel you think it would. The wide Main Street had a variety of shops, cafés, museums and restaurants. I toured the small city and found the area to have a pleasant atmosphere. After a few days hearing the light roar of Route 90 from the campground it was time to visit at least one of the six different mountain ranges that surround the area. I found a local climbing shop to query With my shadow overlooking I-90experienced locals to find a rigorous hike. The decision was made to hike Sacagawea Peak(9665 ft), the highest point in the Bridger Range, a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains and visible from Bozeman.

Road to Fairy Lake CampgroundI took an investigative drive to the Gallatin National Forest and Fairy Lake campground. The drive was hilly before the long dirt road to the campground located at the base of Sacagawea Peak. I saw both  wildlife and “domesticlife”, a curious cow, on the slow drive in and captured a section of the Bridger range which is on the Peaceful Pathfinder homepage. The crystal blue water of Fairy Lake and the bare mountain range looked and felt perfect for the next few days. The campground was empty being a weekday now that families were Evening Entertainmenthome with school underway. This was the spot I’d return to the following day. The next afternoon I broke camp at Bear Canyon and made the one hour trek back to the secluded campground. When camp was set I gathered enough firewood for a few nights of entertainment and meditative medicine from a warm fire.

Looking north at Sacagawea PeakWaking to a cool crisp morning with an orange sky I prepared oatmeal and coffee before donning the backpack for the short steep two plus miles to the peak. The moderate to strenuous hike matched the rating of the guide shop and I decided to continue along the ridge encountering a few risky areas that weren’t difficult to maneuver. No mountain goats could be seen roaming the ridge, but a large black and red hairy tarantula was almost under foot. Turning back after encountering a section of the ridge that was too risky to scramble I stopped at the summit to take in the Tarantulaviews and serenity where the absence of sound was peaceful. The quick, steep return to camp left plenty of time to hike around Fairy Lake before sunset. Arriving back at camp a fire was lit and enjoyed for a few hours before ending a rejuvenating day.

Fellow Adventurers Larry and MollyThe next afternoon I checked back in at Bear Canyon Campground meeting fellow adventures and climbers Larry and his wife Molly. We exchanged travel stories and the generous couple offered a place to stay if I was in the area of Glacier National Park. Glacier N.P. was the favorite park of my most preferred college professor Richard Picard who I learned passed Richard Picardfrom a very coincidental encounter with his widow Anne at an Appalachian Mountain Club function in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I had the opportunity to tell Anne a few great stories how Richard prepared us for the real world awaiting us after graduation. I wish I had the chance to join him in the mountains. Aho Mr. Picard!

Gallatin National Forest (South)Saturday of the last weekend in Bozeman I hiked another beautiful area of Gallatin N.F. south of the city, then on the overcast Sunday made a three hour drive northwest to Missoula. The small city was quiet and most stores were closed except for a cavernous café with a beer and wine selection from around the world. I knew which beer was calling after meeting Belgian friend Oliver in Grand Teton National Park. Westmalle! I purchased the beer along with the proper accompanying beer glass.(Different shapes of Belgian beer glasses complement varied styles of beer enhancing aromas and showcasing appearance.) Four months in Belgium taught me plenty about the best beers in the world. The Belgian treat Westmalle!was saved for dinner the last night in Montana NOT to include Ramen noodles and tuna! This time jambalaya and extra sharp cheddar cheese were cuisine of the night. The taste bud trio more than satisfied my pallet and eating outdoors with a beautiful sunset added that special touch to the meal.

Preparing to leave Bozeman a disappointing realization set in that travel would be eastward from here back to New England. There was still more to see and the next stops to Devils Tower National Monument and Badlands National Park were places of intrigue since the formation and landscapes were to be different than anything I’ve experienced. Locating the campsite at Badlands at night eerily sits in my bones today.

Stay tuned for Badlands and powerful Native American lands…

– Greg

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”  – Helen Keller

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