Apr 30, 2015

Palisades State Park

After leaving the Badands, (and hitting up Wall Drug on our way out) we headed east for a short stay in Palisades State Park. It was our first taste of home, right on the edge of the Midwest. We camped amid deciduous trees and enjoyed cool evenings and warm campfires. Palisades State Park is situated along Split Rock Creek in South Eastern South Dakota.

These exposed rock cliffs are made up of pink Sioux Quartzite. This stone has deposits of soft catlinite used by Native tribes for carving sacred pipes. There are some great trails amid the beautiful sheer pink cliffs lining the water, some 50 feet high (of which we only have sub par phone pics). Really fun to explore and climb around.

We gave Hodor a little hand-lettered flair. Upon leaving an RV park in Washington, the furthest we had been from home, this was the parting word from the park owner, a good mantra we've adopted.

Scavenged some firewood leftover from weekend campers

And hung out with Bowie (this is the view looking up from the couch, Bowie sitting on our bed over the cab).

It was really nice camping, we enjoyed the trees, campfires, bike rides, and just took it real slow in preparation for the last stretch towards home. We already felt so close, no more deserts or mountains on the horizon.

Feb 20, 2015

Badlands National Park

"I've been about the world a lot, and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands. What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere - a distant architecture, ethereal, an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it." -Frank Lloyd Wright

Most National Parks will naturally have State Parks close by, (the awesome is usually wide-spreading throughout the region) and we had always stayed in those State Parks due to site availability (we almost never make reservations) and internet access (for work). But we were able to camp in Badlands National Park thanks to the elevation/lack of trees making internet no problem. Along with the somewhat 'spartan' campground and hot weather, plenty of sites were available. We stayed in a loop with no utilities, and put our solar panels to good use for the week. 

Our view to the north east

Of course the sky and weather affect any landscape, but the Badlands will change drastically depending on the sky. It's a different park from one minute to the next.

The Badlands have a mystic quiet about them. Every evening we were treated to a breathtaking sunset. I made it a ritual to climb up onto the roof each morning to catch that Badlands horizon and sunrise alpenglow. The moon was brand new so the stars were at their brightest. We were finally in the right time and place to spy the teapot, an asterism inside of the the Sagittarius constellation. The Milky Way looks like it's steaming from the spout :) We want to return another time to see the park under a full moon.

In our hiking and exploration we saw some big horned sheep and our favorite - prairie dogs!

Prairie dog town. Could sit here all day watching these guys.

The park is full of fossils, and striking bands of color in each layer of sediment and soil. We see that this landscape began as a shallow sea. Continental plates shoving together (which formed the Rockies) caused this area to rise and drain. A subtropical forest developed and eventually gave way to a savannah and grassland similar to the prairies we have here today.

The visitor's center is really great, full of paleontology exhibits and regional history (spoiler: the Natives got completely screwed). There is a lab in the park and you can observe paleontologists and work, cleaning, revealing, and studying newly discovered fossils. There is evidence of all kinds of strange animals, like the Mesohippus for example - a small three toed ancestor of our modern horse. Now we both want to be Park Rangers and paleontologists...and geologists and botanists and...

Thanks for reading if you're reading,

A photo posted by Cori (@trailandcompass) on

Jan 12, 2015

Bear Tipi

After we had (reluctantly) left the mystical landscapes of Yellowstone and the Tetons, it was time to push on through the wild and weird landscapes of Wyoming.

Devils Tower was to be our next stop, but since it was such a long distance, we found a stopping point in the North-Central portion of Wyoming. A ‘resort,’ or so it was called.

Undrinkable water due to fracking and drilling in the region, non-working showers and facilities, and awkward layouts nearly drove us away, in spite of the fact that we had already paid for a couple of nights. Lucky for us, a friendly (albeit eccentric) neighbor offered us fresh drinking water. We ended up sticking it out, although it certainly wasn’t our preferred course of action.

The sunsets were always pretty though.

And so, when the weekend was upon us, we moved forward toward Devils Tower. Approaching the tower is almost dream-like. Such an amazing and rare example of columnar jointing (similar to that of Devil’s Postpile in CA) leaves little room for trite description.
...approaching from the south, about 5 miles away

The view from our campsite

The Circle of Sacred Smoke. The tower was the location where White Buffalo Calf Woman delivered the first sacred pipe to the Lakota people. To get this nicely framed view, you must bow down slightly. I imagine the placement was entirely deliberate, prompting a bit of reverence for the tower which is considered sacred by over 20 tribes.

"May peace prevail on earth"

For an idea of scale, there is a tiny climber standing on the top of this column

The natives of the area (the Lakota, Arapaho, and several other tribes) referred to this structure, not as the ‘conventional’ name that we decided to give it, but rather as Bear Lodge, Bear Tipi, Bear Butte, or Tree Rock.

Native legend tells that there were once 8 siblings playing in the forest – a brother and seven sisters. The brother had been dabbling in the ways of magic, and accidentally turned himself into a huge bear. Terrified, the sisters ran away from the bear that was once their brother.
The sisters came to a tree stump, and prayed that the tree would save them from the evil bear. The tree spoke to the sisters and offered to save them. And so the tree stump grew and grew, taking the sisters to safety, while the bear jumped and scratched all around the tree stump to get to the sisters – to no avail.
The sisters finally jumped from the tree stump into the heavens and became the Pleiades constellation. And the bear was eventually able to jump after them, and became the Ursa Major (big bear) constellation. But the sisters are eternally out of the bear’s reach.

The first evening we were there, we did a short night-hike and got to see the Ursa Major constellation directly above the tower’s silhouette, and the Pleiades off in the distance. Truly a wonder to behold!
We hiked nearly all of the trails in the park, including two concentric circles around the tower itself – allowing us to survey its majesty from every angle.

View along the Red Beds Trail

The prairie dog villages around the tower made gave the experience a touch of adorable splendor. The trail from the campground to the tower took us straight through a village, these cuties were all over, barking their cute squeak-barks at us.

Silent reverence, with a touch of cuteness, made our experience at Devils Tower (or Bear Butte) one that we will not soon forget.
Next up: the Badlands of South Dakota.


Dec 11, 2014

Grand Teton National Park

After leaving Yellowstone, we squeezed in an entirely-too-short visit to Grand Teton National Park. The fall colors were beginning to show, it was a bright and beautiful day. 

"Since they are among the youngest mountains in North America and still actively growing, they have not had time to become heavily eroded; their jagged outline was sculpted by moving ice during the last glacial period."

We love Stephen

Fabulous visitor center - new in 2007

We received  a tip in Yellowstone - Jenny Lake is a must see. We are on the east side of the mountain range, where the peaks abruptly rise up from the earth, just west of Jackson Hole.

Sun sinking

Goodbye, mountains. We had to get back on the road to cover some ground on our way toward the Badlands. Our drive in the remaining sunlight was beautiful. Later that night, we rolled into a strange campground among the Wyoming oil fields.

Dec 8, 2014

Yellowstone part 3

Here is a quick summary of our last days in Yellowstone.
It is impossible to recount it all, a revisitation may be in order once I cover the rest of these travels.

Mammoth springs, travertine terraces

A video posted by Cori (@trailandcompass) on

"bobby sock" trees

A short hike to Harlequin lake - bear spray in hand

We met up with a friendly park ranger on the trail - we bonded over
our travels, and got to bird watch with her. Dream date! haha

Got this whole picnic area to ourselves for dinner one evening.
We were sitting on the edge of the Yellowstone caldera.

This was our view of the edge - LAVA - we are sitting inside of a super volcano.
 We like to spend time in, on, and around trees and geek out over geology.


We made a mad dash to see as much as possible in our last few hours at the park.
It was an unforgettable geyser-sunset-tour.

I'd like take a moment to plug the Ken Burns documentary NATIONAL PARKS: America's Best Idea.
It is on Netflix (originally aired on PBS). 

PLEASE at least have a listen to ranger Shelton Johnson speak about a single moment in Yellowstone - the first 2 minutes of this video. These moments are the reason we left home, these are the moments
John Muir calls "true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality."