Happy Halloween!

Hay bales are a common sight around here, but someone with a creative streak came up with this uncommon way to decorate their farm yard. In that spirit, have a safe and fun Halloween!

The Mysteries of Pyramid Hill

Pyramid Hill sets along the Sheyenne River in southeast North Dakota.  At first glance, there is not much to see and I nearly rode by without stopping. But, the placard and paved pull-off from the highway caught my attention and I rolled off the throttle. Quirky roadside attractions draw me like a moth to the flame, so I pulled over to see what excitement I could find here and to talk with some local folks working nearby.

Turned out, there was no excitement, but I learned a couple things about that hill in the distance. For example, Pyramid Hill is 100 feet high, but is not really a pyramid. The base is a rectangle 650 feet long and 520 feet wide, and unlike a true pyramid, the top is actually level. And while the other hills in this valley are strewn with rocks and huge boulders, the Pyramid is strangely free of rocks, except for two flat stones laid at the northwest and southwest corners.Nobody knows why, it is one of the mysteries of Pyramid Hill.

From watching the Discovery Channel, I believe geologists would say "glacial action and erosion" carved Mount Rushmore. But we know that is not true and I had trouble believing it about Pyramid Hill. So, exactly how this pyramid was formed or built, is another mystery. But, I found the next theory to be more believable and a lot more interesting.

Local resident Snorri Thorfinnson (imagine going to school with that name) must have some unmentioned archaeological credentials as he seems an authority on ancient peoples. But, without a scientific conclusion to this debate, somebody should call Indiana Jones to investigate and find the real story. I liked it that Native Americans still attach significance to the hill. That makes this next picture special in a culturally insensitive sort of way.

What a great idea for an ancient burial mound that is culturally significant to Native Americans - "let's build a big Viking statue up there!" I understand and support people celebrating their heritage, but somebody should have considered the Native Americans' heritage and culture. Maybe those high storm winds that damaged the Viking a few years ago were sending a message.

I mentioned to the local folks that cell phone service was spotty in these parts. They laughed and pointed out a half-built cell phone tower behind Pyramid Hill. They explained that the residents had raised a fuss about the tower going up behind the hill and stopped construction. A new cell tower is going up in another, less distracting,  location and when it's finished, cell phone coverage will improve. Something to look forward to, if I ever pass that way again. 

I rode off that day and wondered how the fiberglass Viking had defeated AT&T for possession of the mound. I finally decided it was just another mystery of Pyramid Hill. 

Ghost Orb at the Stanley Hotel

Halloween is approaching and I wanted to post a ghost story. I have never been a ghost hunter, except for my tour of the haunted Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. While taking another look at those pictures, I discovered something I had missed earlier. You can decide if it qualifies as a ghost story.

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado
The picture below shows Alex the tour guide outside of room 401 and on his foot is what may be a "ghost orb." Ghost orbs are considered by some to be ghosts that appear as glowing balls in photographs. Many others claim ghost orbs are simply dust specks or insects reflecting the camera's flash.

Hey Alex, is that a ghost on your shoe?
Remember that 401 is the hotel's second most "active" room. Jason from TAPS (Ghost Hunters on SyFy) spent the night in 401 and recorded various bumps in the night, breaking glass sounds, and a closet door that opened on its own. The hotel's entire fourth floor is very active, so maybe I did get something here. Look closely and you can see the shoe and carpet through the ball of light. Would dust do that??

Close up of ghostly orb, or a transparent spec of dust.
I closely examined my 50 photos from the Stanley tour and only this one shows an orb. I did not see any flying insects during the tour, and it seems odd to catch one spec of dust in a single picture. It may be a coincidence that the orb appeared outside of room 401, you will have to make up your own mind. But, with Halloween less than a week away, I prefer to think I captured one of the Stanley's ghosts attempting to make its presence known.

Forgotten Places on the Prairie

There are large areas of America that are still very sparsely populated. Wide open spaces, where large cities and urban sprawl have never taken hold.  That is where I live and ride. On these forgotten back roads of the northern plains, I pass many abandoned buildings; farmsteads, schools, and churches. To me, they are weathered, windowless monuments of past times and people.

Recently, an old barn that I had planned to photograph, lost its battle against time and the elements. I rode by and saw the barn had collapsed into a splintered pile of weathered lumber. I had never found the time to stop. It was a lost opportunity, as well as a kick in my complacency. I now make time to collect photos of these forgotten places while they are still standing. It's hobby that I enjoy.

So, here is one of those places, a small group of weathered farm buildings on the North Dakota prairie. A few years ago an old, windowless, two story home stood near these buildings. The house collapsed and the mess was cleaned up and hauled away. These buildings and fence are all that remain of that farm.

Some time ago, this place was a home and a way of life to people I will never know. I rode slowly around the abandoned property and wondered who they were and where they went. Can you trespass somewhere that nobody claims? The sun was setting quickly and a gentle breeze rustled the tall grass as I shot these pictures. It was a lonely place and I rode away thinking how one day, the grass will finally reclaim this forgotten place on the prairie. I wonder if anyone will notice when it is gone.

The Buffalo On the Bridge

This picture is from Theodore Roosevelt National Park during this year's 4th of July weekend. I was riding in the park's North Unit enjoying the view when I crossed this bridge over a dry gully full of scrub brush. I pulled over for some pictures and had just got off the bike, still wearing my helmet. My back was toward the bridge and as I pulled off my helmet, I heard a weird moaning sound. What was that noise???

I turned as this huge buffalo came out of the gully on the left of this picture. He stood inside the left guardrail at the opposite end of the bridge and his beady, black eyes stared straight at me. I reacted like any sensible person, and froze. The buffalo continued to stare and took a few steps toward me. He stopped again, and let out a very loud bellow; the same sound I heard earlier. His musty smell was very strong and my heart pounded in my chest as I stared back. I waited for him to charge and thought, I am going to die right here. 

After an eternity, that was probably a few seconds, he turned and slowly walked away. It took a few more seconds for me to realize that he had lost interest and I was not going to be buffalo road kill. Then, I pulled the camera from my pocket, and snapped this picture before he crossed the road and disappeared into another ravine on the right.

I photographed a lot of other buffalo that weekend, but this is my only good photo of the buffalo on the bridge. Looking back, he may not have been threatening me. Perhaps I surprised him as much as he surprised me. I will never know, but this single shot of a blurred buffalo walking away is more memorable than all of my other buffalo pictures. You never feel more alive than after an experience like that.

Here are few of the other buffalo pics...

The Creepiest Baby I Ever Saw

I passed through Fort Ransom State Park in southeast North Dakota and discovered this work of art decorating the park ranger's office. The smiling fellow pictured on the right is North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple. From this angle, it appears the governor is quite happy with the Devil Baby.

Mary, the office attendant was very gracious in allowing me to interrupt her work to get this picture. I  thought "Baby Darth Maul" was pretty creepy and asked how she could work at her desk all day with it staring at her back. She laughed and said that she was not bothered by it.

Mary explained that an artist who spent a summer in the area created the statue and donated it to the park before moving on. The card above gave some meaning to the design, but failed to answer my most pressing question; what inspired you to create this evil looking creature? 

When it comes to art, I know little except what I like, and what I don't like. With that in mind, I am not qualified to judge this troll as art; good or bad. But, this creepy green baby with devil horns and yellow eyes mkaes a perfect Halloween decoration. It just needs to go back into the closet on November 1st.

KLR650 Sheyenne River Valley Ride

After a warm, sunny day of exploring the 75 mile Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway, I stopped overnight at a small campground near the Sheyenne River. I planned to move on early the next morning, but as often happens, my plans worked out differently than expected.

Overnight, the temperature dropped to 28 degrees and I awoke at 5:30am nearly frozen in my sleeping bag. I quickly started some coffee before hypothermia set in and I began paradoxical undressing. The sun was not up, but the eastern sky over the dark woods across the river was growing brighter. The campground and surrounding woods were completely silent as I shivered beside my frost covered KLR and waited for the coffee to brew.

Then the morning silence was broken when a distant herd of cattle mooed in unison for just a few seconds. The mooing stopped and a heartbeat later, from a grove of trees across the river, a flock of wild turkeys answered with a chorus of gobbles. The turkeys paused and the cattle mooed again; and the turkeys gobbled a reply. I listened in amazement to this back-and-forth, I had never heard anything like it. I grabbed my camera and wandered to the edge of the wooded campground

I hoped to see the cows or the turkeys, but neither was in sight when I reached the fence that separated the campground from an adjoining field. In the upper picture, the cattle were off to the right and the turkeys were across the river to the left. By this time the sky had grown brighter, but it was a cold morning when I took this picture!

Then as suddenly as it began, the mooing and gobbling stopped. I wanted to hear more and hoped it would continue, but it did not. I was left to suppose that the cows and turkeys had finished their morning conversation. That was a disappointment, but the mist rising from the river in the upper picture was an amazing sight. In the lower picture, the mist is more fog-like.

Hot coffee had warmed me a bit and the warm cup felt good to my fingers, but I was not ready for a highway ride on such a cold morning. Instead of the early start I had planned, I made another pot of coffee and spent the morning photographing the river and surrounding woods. 

After the cattle and turkeys were quiet, the only sound was a faint, rustling as frost covered leaves slowly dropped from the trees. The temperature slowly rose along with the sun, and the melting frost promised another beautiful day. The KLR started right up in spite of the cold night and quietly idled as I wiped it dry from the melting frost. .

About noon, the temperature neared the upper forties and I rolled out of the campground, anxious to see what else waited down the road in the Sheyenne River valley. My departure was later than planned, but I was not on a schedule. And the morning chat between the unseen cows and turkeys, as well as the quiet time in the frosty woods were worth the delay. 

On the road, my plans are often sketchy at best. I have a general idea of where I am going and where I will spend the night. But, it's important to allow time for the unexpected delays that make these trips memorable. 

KLR650 Nuclear Missile Site Tour

The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site is a retired Air Force nuclear missile site converted into a State Historic Site. The facility was closed in 1997 and its 10 nuclear missiles removed following a nuclear arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union. The site is now open for public tours and here is some of what I saw during my visit to Oscar-Zero.

The hour long tour covers the above ground facilities that housed on duty Air Force security forces personnel and the missile alert crews who manned the site. This Launch Control Facility includes a security control center that screened everyone who entered the site, several offices, a recreation room, dining facilities, and sleeping quarters.

The decor is maintained as it was when the site was shut down.

I really wanted to see what was 50 feet underground where missile crews were ready to launch nuclear missiles if ordered by the President of the United States. A large, slow freight elevator takes you down to the Equipment Room and Crew Capsule. These rooms are on "floating" metal platforms attached to the ceiling by several of large green shock absorbers (center of the picture below) designed to dampen the shock from a nearby nuclear explosion.

Equipment Room
The Equipment Room houses air filtration, backup generators, and other critical machinery needed to ensure that Oscar-Zero could survive and operate after a nuclear attack. Most of this vintage equipment no longer works, but the folks who maintain this site are working to bring as much of it as possible back to life.

Other view of Equipment Room
A short passage way connects the Equipment Room to the Crew Capsule. Each of these rooms are sealed by gigantic, steel, blast doors that are several feet thick and designed to survive a nuclear explosion. The ramp in the picture below is for wheel chair access and was not part of the original layout.

View from the Equipment Room to the Crew Capsule

Door to the Crew Capsule with names of the last alert crew and date of closure.

If you have seen the 1983 movie "War Games", you have a good idea of what the Crew Capsule does. In this blast-proof room, two Air Force officers sat at two identical control consoles. If the launch order came, they each would confirm the order was authentic, and then insert a key into their console. Next, they would simultaneously turn their keys to complete the launch sequence. 

One of the crew member positions

The actual launch keys are still at Oscar-Zero, attached to their respective consoles. I was disappointed to learn that tour members are not allowed to sit in the seats. The Crew Capsule also contains a lot of communications equipment to ensure military command authorities could maintain contact with the missile alert crew. The Crew Capsule also has Air Force technical manuals, uniforms and other details that give a sense that the site is still operational. 

The tour was well worth the time and my guide, Nathan, really knew his stuff. He had never been in the Air Force, but had a real passion for military history and told me that he reads a lot on the subject. The site is a bit off of the beaten path, but worth looking into if you find yourself in the area of Cooperstown, ND. Below is a short video slide show of other pictures from my tour of Oscar-Zero.