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The Peaceful Pathfinder blog has been live for ten months. Thank you for following. To date, posts have focused on travel, hiking, and camping experiences. To not make this another travel blog I offer an addition of thoughts why I immerse myself into the natural world. There are people who have had personal impact directly and indirectly, either through their presence, books, or philosophy contributing to my immersion and writing. They’ll be noted and I’ll continue to include past and present travels since there is much to share.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

I shamelessly borrowed the title of a new book, Environmental Connection*, my “Brother”, Keith Cowley recently released for the name of this post. Coming to the forefront of why I enjoy outdoor excursions and immersions is connection with the environment and wildlife. This connection brings me Peace. Hence Peaceful Pathfinder.  A name Keith is partly responsible for. Discussing Native American ways, travels, outdoor education and similar philosophies for a few years with him I mentioned creating a blog and couldn’t find a fitting word to follow Peaceful. Peaceful Warrior has been taken by Dan Millman and “warrior” is overused outside of its true meaning. Keith took a few minutes and presented Pathfinder. The Peaceful Pathfinder name was born. A name containing many meanings. One I present to you here and more will follow in future posts. For this post I present Peace.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake, Oregon

Being in the natural environment in any of my pursuits from fishing to climbing brings Peace. What does Peace mean in this context? For me, this Peace is a calm sense of being bringing a clear mind. When Peace is present my breathing relaxes, my heart slows, shoulders drop, face eases, and senses of smell, touch, and hearing become heightened. The smell of the ocean, sounds of waves and loons, and beauty from northeastern lakes to the granite mountains of the Tetons and the rugged coast of Big Sur are favorites engrained in my mind. Each bringing Peace.

The Tetons, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The Tetons, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The natural environment brings Peace during times of heartache, stress and anxiety. Mother Earth has her healing ways. Presence of physical pain is the most difficult time to receive Peace. Controlled, aware breathing helps temporarily reduce or eliminate discomfort, even if for a short period. There are many sacred places, a Native American term, I go to get connected to relieve discomfort life can bring or just accept. Sacred places are special areas within a favorite location. You may have one or more you’re not aware of. Do you find yourself going to a certain outdoor place and think? If so, you have a sacred place. Being near water especially brings calmness which helps from my experience.

Osprey and Sunset, Napatree Point, Rhode Island

Osprey and Sunset, Napatree Point, Rhode Island

Special close encounters with wildlife bring a Peaceful connectedness along with contained excitement. A beaver slapping it’s tail a few feet away, hearing a deer tear at grass, sitting with a black phase rattlesnake, a fisher at my feet, watching a dozen turkey vultures ride thermals in front and below me are times I’ve had the experience. Words do little to describe these times. Native Americans have a saying “Mitakuye Oyasin”. ‘All my relations.’, ‘We are related.’, ‘All are connected.’ are a few of the meanings. Much can be learned from observing the web of nature. A web we’re connected to.

Deer at McLeans Game Refuge, Granby, Connecticut

Environmental connection is what inspires me from short nature walks to harsh winter summits of Mt. Washington, always respecting what Mother Nature is capable of.  When I have this connection I’m at Peace and my essence arises. It’s at these times I’m most confident in an non-egoic way.

Summit of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

Summit of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire

The next time you’re on a nature walk or an outdoor excursion intently notice the environment around you. Observe nature, the sound of water, the shape of trees, the smell of the pines and the animal or bird you’ve seen again and again. Look for something you haven’t noticed before. You may sense and find new inner Peace.

As Always, Peace – Greg

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” – Chief Seattle

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  – John Muir

Storm Over Tetons

Storm Over the Tetons

*Note: I highly recommend Environmental Connection. Keith’s thought provoking book includes fascinating stories of his deep immersion into Westerly, RI Land Trust preserves. His words resonate in and outside of the natural environment enriching daily life. Funds from his book benefit the New-Native Foundation bringing outdoor educators together dispersing their knowledge to children and adults. (The New-Native Foundation is a non-profit in development and in pursuit of 501(c)3 status.)

Big Sur calls…

Exhausted after five hours of driving from Lake Tahoe luck was on my side with Spring Lake State Park Campground in Santa Rosa having an overflow site available. I arrived at 7PM and was on the road 12 hours later with a needed extra strong coffee in hand to assist with the day’s long southern travel ahead.

Store in BolinasPreferring to stay near the shore I connected with Route 1, the Coastal Highway, at Point Reyes Station and the Point Reyes National Seashore. Not surprising, fog was settled along the coast providing a thick backdrop to the small eclectic town of Bolinas and Muir Beach Overlook where WWII soldiers commanded bunkers in case of a Japanese attack. A short drive to Mill Valley was the most tightly winding and steep section of Rte. 1 navigated. Swerving downward into town I met new The Mighty Golden Gate Bridgefriends Nell and and friend for tasty fish tacos. We shared a conversation of experiences in the area, then the journey continued crossing the towering Golden Gate Bridge to the highly recommended Big Sur by a good friend. Looking eastward from the Golden Gate was Alcatraz. A landmark to visit on the next San Fran trip.

Had to...One hundred sixty miles and four hours later arriving at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park CAMPGROUND FULL signs weighed heavily. Camping options were ticking in my mind when a park ranger informed me one of the overflow sites was available. Acquiring the site without reservation this time of season was like winning a small lottery. Good thing since all campgrounds further south were over capacity. With headlamp on, camp was set, dinner consumed and sleeping bag zipped for needed rest to tackle the next days coastal drive.

Camping next to a 1,000 year old friendAlthough a road warrior for the previous few days the breathtaking drive along the winding ocean-side Coastal Highway had to be made. Getting a good night’s rest kept me bright-eyed to stay on the sometimes unprotected road falling to the Pacific. Making the drive is also a personal choice of gaining knowledge of the landmarks and where to explore the next few days. Jealousy set in seeing motorcycles cruise the road. Was wishin’ I had my ride!

Sleeping, resting, playing Elephant SealsPiedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery down the coast offered a seaside trail to get the legs moving and escape the 100+ visitors maneuvering for position at the closest seal viewing area. The massive seals were lounging, mostly sleeping throughout the day with pups by their sides. Further down the trail were more rookeries where there was private viewing and a great sight of a U.S. Naval light house.

Small Church in San Simeon with Hearst Castle in the backgroundSan Simeon, originally inhabited by the Chumash Native Americans, was the furthest southern travel 65 miles from the start of the day. On the northern return to camp making a stop at Julia Pfeiffer state Park I found the best campsites that could be had on the coast. They weren’t occupied but reserved later learning no shows are a normal occurrence with people reserving the sites just to hold them. For the next day’s event the trail head for Tan Bark Trail was located for a good hiking effort to reduce the stiffness of a few days of driving.

Tan Bark Trail Head Tan Bark Trail heads east from Route 1 placing you in what feels to be an enchanted forest. Standing tall Redwoods surviving a 2008 fire, a quiet flowing stream and rich green undergrowth made the forest a comfortable place before being exposed to the sun and heat higher along the trail. Near the peak of the ridge sits a rusted evacuated Tin Shed as it’s called at one time providing residence before the land was donated to the state. Preferring not to hike “out and backs” a fire road provided a return option with spectacular coastal views to complete the moderate 8 mile hike. At the car lunch was packed and a Ranger Trail to Partington Coverecommended trail opposite the Tan Bark Trail seemed to be an ideal place to follow, relax and eat. This sub-cove of Partington Cove was the hidden gem of the trip. The size of the small cove, the boulder crashing waves, and a mountain stream flowing into the ocean water made this a special place and perfect spot for lunch. The ocean was too powerful for a swim but the mountain stream would be more ideal. Sitting in a small pool of cool fresh water was as if being in a private “cool” tub looking into the Pacific. Dried, dressed and more than content I Tunnel Connecting Coveswalked a path through a tunnel where another cove provided docking for small ships which loaded tan bark decades ago. The dock is now gone but remnants of the pylons remain. Carrying on beyond the viewing area, scrambling rocks I was able to get a different view of the cove. Not many would venture this far and the solitude of the late afternoon sun and the sound of waves were peaceful.

@ Pfeiffer BeachWith the sun still suspended above the horizon there was a final stop to make at Pfeiffer Beach, one of the windiest beaches in the area due to it’s location on the coast. Approaching the beach the noise of the wind grew and the force of the 40 to 50 mph winds were eventually felt. The windblown sand on my skin felt like being in a snow storm on Mt Washington, home of the world’s worst weather. I could have used goggles the way the sand was hitting my face and eyes but at least the cold sub-zero temperatures weren’t present. A Little ScrambleIncredibly, for some reason, this was the first time in a year and a half I felt none of the back and leg discomforts nagging me daily. Feeling pain free and running the 1/3 mile beach a few times thoughts of Forrest Gump came to mind. “Run Forrest Run!” I enjoyed the wind like Lieutenant Dan did the storm in the crow’s nest of the Bubba Gump shrimp boat. Running into the wind took Spartan movements while running with the wind I felt almost as fast as Usain Bolt. (There’s a short video below the picture gallery to give an idea of the wind.)

L.A. Photographer MarciaMarcia, a photographer from L.A. was fighting the wind for pictures of the formations just off the beach. After helping each other we ended up with good shots then found a calm area for her to tend to a sandy camera while I watched the force of Mother Nature’s small rogue waves and sand swirling winds. Pfeiffer Beach and Marcia’s company was appreciated until sunset taking in every last minute of the most beautiful rugged beach I’ve encountered. My soul was rejuvenated that day. One of the best in years. I wished Marcia safe return travels for her 5 to 6 hour drive back to L.A. and returned to camp.

The following morning the hesitant return journey to San Francisco began. Stopping in Carmel, home of Clint Eastwood, a good cup of coffee was needed. Mr. Eastwood wasn’t at the local café but this high end town had visitors from around the globe from the languages and accents heard in conversations.

The final stop was Los Gatos meeting a past colleague, Stacey, who introduced me to the posh town and a few good restaurants. The last supper was traditional Italian before following the concrete path to San Fran airport returning the small rental with 2,000 miles added to the odometer.

The almost two week journey was a whirlwind in a good way. A learning experience taking its time settling in….

This post is dedicated to my friend and “brother” of twenty years Bob Steffen. Bob’s recommendation of Big Sur brought the experiences, pictures, and peaceful/soulful times to enjoy and share. Wopila Bob!

Peace – Greg

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.” – John F. Kennedy

The last time I was in California was a long 10 years ago. After hearing about a friend’s recent trip I made a last minute decision to travel to Northern California, Nor Cal as the locals call it, and part of the Central Cal coast. My plan was to explore places I’ve heard of to get a feel for these areas making the trek as economical as possible. A few days later out came the camping gear, cookware, clothing and necessities. Off I went not knowing where I’d be staying the first night.

Campsite in Santa Rosa, Spring Lake State ParkWaking at 3:30AM to for a 7 o’clock Boston flight was difficult, but landing in San Francisco then driving 2½ hours to Santa Rosa thinking good intentions for a campsite was even more challenging. Luck was on my side with Spring Lake Regional Park campground having a site available for the next three nights. By the time I set camp and finished my last Power Bar I was famished. I must have looked it since a neighbor asked if I was interested in joining him and his wife for a grilled wild salmon dinner. I believe I said Meals on Wheels“Sure!” before he finished asking. Carl and Jan were from Alaska and if anyone is going to know good salmon they would be the ones. This is the kind of friendliness you can find at campgrounds. You do get a fair share of commotion too and that’s what noise cancelling headphones and iPods are for…

Looking south in Bodega BayThe following days were spent investigating Santa Rosa and the surrounding towns of Sebastopal, Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and others. Time was taken to see beautiful places including Bodega Bay, Sonoma Coast State Park and Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve. Route 1 passes through Bodega Bay following the coast of Cali to Oregon where the rugged coast is greeted by the dramatic Pacific Ocean. My Northern travel on Route 1 went as far as the mouth of the Russian River to see seals and their pups. Having a kayak would have been ideal, a sport I was introduced to over a year ago.

Sepia of the Mighty RedwoodsArmstrong Redwood Forest was a short drive from Santa Rosa and Bodega Bay. Walking among 1,000 year old, 250 plus foot “standing talls” as the Native Americans call them (and all trees) is inspiring and awesome. Thankfully some are still standing in the preserve after millions were harvested during the early settler timber boom.

Matt the BelayerWith the week coming to an end and 250 miles later I met a fellow climbing enthusiast from Massachusetts near Lake Tahoe, a sacred lake to the Washoe Indian Nation. Matt and his climbing partner were outside of Truckee high above Donner Lake at the most elevated climbing routes I’ve experienced. I slid on a harness and squeezed my feet in climbing shoes to make an easy/moderate 5.8 climb keeping it simple after the tiring drive. Completing a few more climbs the three of us went to Tahoe City for refreshments. Being high season all campgrounds were full and Matt’s belayer recommended an area in the Tahoe National Forest where I could disperse (primitive) camp the next few nights. The area was near the Ellis Peak trailhead which was as remote and quiet as you can get. Mt. Tallac (9,739 ft) was a recommended hike to get a great view of the southern part of the lake.

East Lake TahoeThe next morning I began a 75 mile drive around the 1,645 foot deep Lake Tahoe stopping at the more beautiful and rugged east side in Nevada. Large boulders, quicker dropping depths and graduated deep blue colors of the water made this side more appealing than the west side. I HAD to jump in for a morning swim in the calm clear water since by afternoon waves from the day’s increasing wind and recreational craft caused rough choppy waters. The southern area of the lake was congested with casinos and restaurants which I painstakingly crawled through. Rounding the Lake Tahoe Dam and Troutlower west side was slow until I passed Camp Richardson which looked like a small city with tents upon tents and camper to camper. I was situated in paradise compared to the congested campgrounds. Continuing to Tahoe City I stopped at the only exit of the lake where large trout were swimming in the liquid glass current.

"Good" Ramen Noodles and TunaBack at camp a few hours later cookware was laid out along with the Peaceful Pathfinder staple of Ramen Noodles and tuna! (At least on this trip they were of the organic type.) After finishing the not too interesting dinner and packing away the food I took in the silence and watched the stars before journaling and falling into a deep sleep only to be awoken by some critter outside of the tent. Was it an elk? Deer? Bear? I wasn’t sure and laid quiet. In the morning I looked for signs but with the soft forest floor it was difficult to make distinctive tracks.

On Mt. Talac Trail Time was calling to put my legs to use and I was off to the Mt. Tallac trailhead in Desolation Wilderness in the Eldorado National Forest. The 10+ mile, difficult rated hike has soul touching views of Fallen Leaf Lake, Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake, Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Mountains which are currently under siege of forest fires as I write this. The mountain and hiking time were a litmus of how I was going to hold up being a support runner for 30 miles in the Wasatch mountains in Utah early September. I finished in good condition, just depleted. The lake was calling and it was time to rejuvenate with a meal and a swim. This time on the west side. While kicking back relaxing, semi newlyweds married last October asked if I would take a few pictures while they floated on inner tubes. Simple enough. The reward was a gracious gift of a beer. I gladly accepted since a good Belgian style ale after an exhausting hike is like offering candy to a child. A few Morgan and Sergiohours later they drifted back and asked to join them at their campsite for dinner. We pooled our food of grilled naan bread pizza, corn tortillas and fresh avocados. Morgan and Sergio, from San Diego, work for Saucony and run competitively placing or winning varied distance races up to ½ marathon distance. Sergio has won ½ marathons in San Diego so no more needs to be said of his ability. Morgan has an impressive resume herself. After the long day and storytelling around a campfire it was time to return to the peacefulness of my secluded camp.

Time in and around Lake Tahoe was fulfilling and the next day was taken to relax before returning to Santa Rosa continuing on to the central Cal coast for some of the best views and places of the trip.

Up next…The rugged coast of Big Sur and a true place of paradise…

Peace – Greg

“In the depths of stillness all words melt away, clouds disperse and it vividly appears before you.” – John Daido Loori

Peaceful Path of the U.S. TourA gracious “Thank You” to all you Pathfinders who followed the 10,000 Miles posts. I’ve enjoyed being your guide and hope the ride was interesting and entertaining. From pictures to journal I relived many incredible moments from the two month journey.

There is much written about life’s journeys and I can not compare to the many articulate writers and philosophers, but I leave you with this:

When your soul  needs fulfillment, pack your backpack, pack your tent, pack your car and connect with nature. Even if only for a night, a weekend, or a week, get remote as possible. Include children since many are connecting with the unnatural social environment. Let them be social with you and connect with the directions of the east, south, west, and north, the trees, the water, and the sky. Mountains and stones last forever, iProducts do not. Build a fire together, tell stories, watch the stars and sleep well.

Peace – Greg

More adventures to come…

Top Ten, Poll, Quotes and Favorite Pics

My Top Ten

  1. Most diverse park – Yellowstone
  2. Wildlife at distance – Wolves & Grizzly, Yellowstone
  3. Wildlife close up – Elk, Rocky Mountain N.P.; Bison, Yellowstone
  4. Most thought provoking park – Badlands
  5. Best campsite(s) – Camp 2 in Badlands & Gallatin National Forest
  6. Most nerve wracking – Scrambling at 2k ft. Sacajawea Ridge, Lost in Badlands, Off trail at Tetons
  7. Most humbling experience – Mexican home builders, Taos
  8. Most amazing sunsets – Bozeman
  9. Longest treks – Bike, Boulder – Brainard Lake & Climbing Middle Teton
  10. Hottest drive (No A/C!) – Houston to Wyoming – 108°


Your time to vote!


Favorite quotes on journeys:

Not all those who wander are lost.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.”  ― Vera Nazarian

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ― Anaïs Nin

“Never stop just because you feel defeated. The journey to the other side is attainable only after great suffering.” ― Santosh Kalwar

“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.”  ― Henry Ward Beecher

“I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new, and that is ultimately good for the artist.” ― Billy Joel

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.” ― Walt Whitman



It’s a difficult task following the previous post of Bear Lodge and Badlands. Their uniqueness and history offer a variety of physical, intellectual and emotional experiences. This post is the return to New England from the two month tour and the end of one personal journey. The adventure in this segment was different than previous posts with great timing meeting my brother on the road.

Heading home…

Farewell to the BisonDriving slowly out of Badlands looking into the horizon I thought of times when Native Americans respectfully lived with this land “taking” only what was needed with honor. This land was so difficult to live with even they called it “land bad” because of the scorching summer heat and brutally cold winters. I imagined millions of years previous when a variety of dinosaurs roamed long before the bison I was now bidding farewell to. There’s much to the imagination of Badlands, one of the most unique places I’ve visited which sits the strongest within me.

Wall Drug StoreContinuing the hesitant press in the direction of the East the first stop was to fuel myself and Mitzy (the Montero) in Wall, South Dakota, home of the famous Wall Drugstore, a place I never heard of. A quick picture was enough since man made big box “landmarks” are of no interest. There was a greasy spoon diner across the street to supplement early oatmeal and coffee. Tasting a few forkfuls I should have found a rest area to make more oatmeal but hunger was setting in. After drinking a half gallon of water to wash breakfast away I hopped on 91 East setting the cruise control for a flat, uneventful 500 mile ride ending the day at Maple Springs Campground in Preston, Minnesota. John, the welcoming owner of the quiet family campground who hasn’t seen many CT plates, signed me in and gave directions to the campsite. I encountered the first camp rain that night since starting theOvernight home in Minnesota tour almost two months previous. If you haven’t experienced being in a tent during rain it is one of the most soothing sounds as the raindrops quickly put you to sleep. Hearing bullfrogs with the rain was a reminder of being in a different climate zone with the dryness of the Midwest behind me.

With Jamie in ChicagoEarly the next morning Chicago was on the radar. My brother Jamie was in the city attending a tradeshow so timing to meet would be perfect. Being on the road throughout my career it’s nice to meet familiar people when away from home, especially family. The dirt roads and bison were now replaced with a web of concrete pathways and four wheeled transporters. I was missing the National Parks already. Jamie and I met in the lobby of a Marriot conference center where I didn’t feel out of place wearing jeans and a safari shirt since I’ve done the dress attire for years. I made myself more presentable with a shower and power nap before Jamie’s day was over. Walking to dinner the vast horizon could no longer be seen with towering skyscrapers filling the landscape. We caught a view of Jesse Jackson having dinner outside one of the restaurants on the way to our restaurant where we had an incredible dinner. The amount of food was the most I’ve eaten in one sitting since leaving Houston and much, much better than Ramen noodles and tuna! (Inside joke if you’ve been following the Tour!). We caught up on our latest life events and made it an early night for his work the next morning and the traveling I had ahead. After a pampering of a comfortable bed and a good night’s rest we had coffee before the city fully awoke and the concrete pathways filled with iron buffalo.

Allegheney SignageTaking longer than expected to get to Minister Creek Campground in Allegheny National Forest five hundred miles later, I was setting the tent with the aid of a headlamp. The overnight stop was short to rest my eyes before driving to Kane, PA recommended by my father who stops in this now quiet town on his way to his favorite hunting area. In early mill and manufacturing days Kane was a bustling town. Now, the antique town is fairly quiet with many empty storefronts. Continuing on I stopped at a More Lost Peacerest area in New York where there stood a sign that told of an unfortunate battle between the Native Americans and American forces where the original land owners were overtaken. Three hundred miles later I was at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I had dreams of playing professional baseball for the Red Sox as a youngster and played until college where studies dictated my time. The museum changed quite a bit from what I remembered many years previous and it was fun to see the old equipment and read of past Hall of Famers including one of the best, Ted Williams. Best Hitter Ever - Ted WilliamsIt also reminded me of the baseball card collection I should have held on to! Having plenty of daylight hours after visiting the museum I drove back roads of upstate New York before heading southeast a few hundred miles further to Connecticut ending an exciting lifetime tour with mixed emotions and many thoughts.

The next and final post on the U.S. Tour are my thoughts and highlights and a chance for you to vote for your favorite Tour stop!!

– Greg

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin


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…


“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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