Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bison Plant

On the drive back to Minot from our Winter Trails Day adventure in Harvey, N.D., Rod and I visited the old Bison Plant location SE of Minot.

The Bison Plant was an old coal fired electrical generating plant. Rod remembered it being active in the late 1970s. There is no sign of the building now.

There is a single lane gravel road that winds around the property but a gate prevents access by vehicles to all except a few organizations. Each organization has their own lock on a chain around the gate. The chain is designed so that you only need to remove one of the chain's locks to unlock the gate.

One of the few signs of the former use of the property was a spur railroad track by which coal was delivered to the plant. Trees now grew between the railroad tracks.

The city of Minot owns the property now and has a few wells scattered about the property quietly humming as they pump water.

A group built a sweat lodge for their ceremonies. The lodge is a jerrybuilt structure with many heavy blankets and quilts covering the structure. Even though it looks round, the lodge has seven sides as the main organizer/builder is spiritually fond of 7.

In front of the lodge is a pit for a large fire to heat 28 rocks. Then the people bring seven rocks into the lodge at a time for different stages of their ceremony. This is what Ed, the trivia host, told me the other night.

Around the outside of the lodge here and there were tools to cut and split wood for the fire, ladles to spoon water on the hot rocks inside the lodge, and other miscellaneous items. Odd to find items like these out in a public place available for anyone to take. I guess they don't get many visitors, else those who do visit are honest.

The Souris River ran near, but not close, to the sweat lodge. When I asked Ed, he said they don't jump in the river after exiting the sweat lodge. Well, between the ice and low river levels much of the year, there probably isn't much of the river available to jump in to cool off.

As you can see from Rod's GPS map of our wanderings we walked much of the property's perimeter. The "bump" on the lower right side of our route is our walk over to the sweat lodge.

As we walked back to Rod's pickup a Canadian Pacific freight train roared by on the main track.

It was dusk when we got back to Rod's pickup.

North Country Winter Trails Day

Saturday, January 12, my good friend Rod and I attended a Winter Trail Days celebration. The North County Trail Association put a 9 am to 4 pm event together along with the North Dakota Park and Recreation and the North Dakota Game and Fish departments.

Lake Sakakawea State Park in North Dakota is the western terminus of the 4,600 mile (7,400 km) North Country National Scenic Trail which is a National Millennium Trail that crosses the northern rim of the continental United States to Port Henry, New York.

The Winter Trail Days event was held at Harvey, ND. I planned to drive to the event. However the previous day the clutch in my brother's pickup acted up and it was again very difficult to shift. The clutch fluid was low again.

Later a mechanic told us that the brake fluid used in clutches evaporates so one would not see any sign of fluid that leaked out on the ground. Also, if the clutch has a leaking problem around its seals, cold weather aggravates it. The weather had turned colder a few days before the problem resurfaced.

As a result of my brother's pickup problem, I didn't have the car available to use as my brother needed it to visit my mom at the Manor Care transition unit. Rod was gracious and drove even though his pickup had a few mysterious engine noises. We made the 150 mile round trip with a few odd sounds but no breakdowns.

We arrived right at 9 am on a cloudy chilly morning.  The temperature was in the teens Fahrenheit. Several dozen people were already there with more to arrive to bring the total to around 40. After checking in, Rod and I picked up some literature, donuts, juice, and trail mix to snack on until the presentation started at 9:30 am.

The first half hour was Matt giving the welcoming orientation and a talk on winter safety. The safety talk consisted of mainly talking about the need to wear layers and to avoid cotton. Nothing we in the North haven't heard before. What was nice was that Matt brought examples of the clothes he recommends for the various layers.

I liked many of the items he showed. Too bad no one had any of these clothes for sale as I would have bought a few of them to upgrade my winter clothing collection.

Matt even showed a "toe cover" than only went over a person's toes to the ball of one's feet. It stretches over one's socks and inside the shoes. This is to keep the toes warm. No one else - including experienced outdoors people and the two people from Scheels - had ever heard of this item. We were all in agreement that we would like to buy a pair. I wish I had paid better attention as now when I search online I find either:
  • bicycling toe covers (over the shoes)
  • something for women's shoes,
  • cotton toes covers/socks. (the photo is of a cotton pair of toe socks)
From 10 am to 11:50 am there were three almost 1-hour workshops held on:
  • snowshoes,
  • cross-country skis,
  • ND wildlife.
I attended the snowshoe workshop first while Rod attended the wildlife workshop. We then both attended the cross-country ski workshop.

The snowshoe and cross-country ski workshops were held by the same Scheel's Sporting Goods employees who later ran the demos. They hadn't planned on running workshops so their workshops were mainly extended sale pitches with plenty of time for questions and answers at the end. The wildlife workshop was the only workshop that went the full hour.

Still I learned enough about snowshoes to encourage me to want to buy a pair some day. The cross-country ski workshop didn't help me too much as the skis they discussed and brought for the demo were touring skis and not back country skis. For the type of cross-country skiing I do in Montana I need backcountry skis. My terrain is steeper with less groomed trails.

Over lunch Rod and I talked with Bobby, the North Country Trail co-coordinator for the nearby Lonetree section of the trail. Also at our table was a man from NE North Dakota who has hiked this part of the North Country Trail. He had a few photos from the trail on his cell phone that he showed us. Both men were helpful in educating Rod and I to the trail, its location, and condition.

After lunch most everyone drove the short distance to the nearby lake where the equipment demo was located.

The sky had cleared of clouds and the bright sun made it feel warm - or at least warmer than what it actually was.

Rod brought his cross-country skis along and he used them to ski on the frozen lake. I wanted to try out the snowshoes. I walked with a man and a woman on the lake.

This man and woman were with the North Country Trail Association. They were both from Valley City, ND and were involved with the Sheyenne River section of the trail. He was on the national board for the North Country Trail Association and she was part of the group involved with the Sheyenne River section of the trail.

We had an interesting conversation as I was interested in the trail and their organization and they were interested in how I - being from Montana - had learned of this event. Our conversation went well until I mentioned the trail should be inclusive to horseback riders and mountain bicyclists in an effort to expand the membership. These other types of people also would be a resource in maintaining and protecting the trail.

Unfortunately it appears the two I spoke with were "die hard hikers". That is, walking is superior to horses and bicycling. They claimed horses and bicycles would harm the trail. This is North Dakota with a relatively level terrain. Combined with the apparently small number of people who use the trail, opening the trail to horses and bicycles would not have an impact.

The two claimed Congress is the reason horses and bicycles are banned from the trail. Umm... not quite correct. The North Country Trail is a mixture of public and private land. Whether horses and bicycles are allowed depend more on who owns and controls the land the trail crosses. Apparently bicycles are allowed on the Lonetree section.

I had to walk along the edge of the lake and among the weeds, grass, and cattails in order to get snow deep enough to get the better effect of walking with snowshoes. Even walking in "old" (slightly crusty/harder snow) I was surprised at how much I sank down into the snow. So much for my belief that one walks on top of the snow when wearing snowshoes.

After I finished trying the snowshoes I tried a pair of cross-country skis. I found Rod coming back from the west. I talked him into heading back out with me.

Once we reached our goal of skiing to the Hwy 52 bridge, we decided to continue skiing further west.

The lake was completely snow covered with a light layer over the ice except for under the bridge which was just ice. Rod was leery of the clear ice as he remembered our adventure last Spring when the ice on the Souris River was soft and sagged under our weight letting river water flow on top of the ice.

I went first and found the ice to be thick and solid. The ice was slippery and one had to move in small steps.

West of the bridge were a handful of ice fishing shacks. Two pickups were side by side further on the lake. A snowmobile was going round and round pulling a sled behind it with kids having fun.

I have driven over this bridge numerous times over many years when I lived in Minnesota and traveled back and forth between there and Minot.

My hands were a little chilly as I only wore a light pair of gloves. While I wore a cap, I neglected to bring my ear muffs so my ear on the shady side of my head was cold. It is hard to warm one's ears by covering them with cold hands. I tried anyway and it helped a bit. Then I started to ski faster. I warmed up and no longer had cold hands or ear.

Rod offered to turn back if I was cold but I declined. I wanted to be outside and exploring so a little cold wasn't going to stop me.

When the lake/river started to bend to the SW Rod noticed it was time to return so we would arrive in time for the nature hike at 2 pm.

Rod tracked our movements on his GPS unit. Here is a map he made of our skiing adventure.

We had started near the word "Park". I snowshoed and he skied to the right of the word, and we both skied to the left of it.

The nature hike was abbreviated due to the lack of wildlife and their tracks. The ND Game and Fish expert showed us pheasant tracks. He also showed us tracks from his dog's early romp. The purpose of the dog tracks was to talk about mountain lion tracks. There are more and more mountain lions in North Dakota each year and many people have confused larger dog tracks with mountain lion tracks. With the lack of tracks the expert spent some time drawing tracks in the snow for us to see.

The wildlife walk was to last 90 minutes but we finished in a little over a half an hour. After the walk finished those of us left returned to the presentation center for the event's wrap up and door prizes. There were only 18 audience members left. That worked to our advantage when it came time to receive the door prizes. One had to be present to win so everyone won two prizes each and four people won three prizes each.

This being North Dakota everyone was understated when winning. It was like we all were embarrassed we won. The exception was a early 30-something woman with a two boys. She whooped and yelled when either of them won.

After the door prizes were handed out a man came over to talk with me. He recognized my last name. While it is unusual elsewhere in the U.S., it is not uncommon here. He went through a list of distant (somehow related) relatives from split branches of the family tree before we found someone we knew in common: Rose and her two daughters.

I was pleased with my two prizes. First I won a ND Parks and Recreation knit hat. It is light and compact and perfect to stash in my backpack for Spring, Winter, and Fall hikes where I underestimate the clothes I need. It would have sure come in handy earlier when I was skiing.

I also won a 1 year membership to the North Country Trail Association. Hmmm... the trails ends in North Dakota and I live in Montana so I may not get much use out of it. The other trail association members were pleased they would now have someone from Montana as a member and they encouraged me to work on extending the trail across Montana.

Rod won a can cooler and a small water bottle so he didn't come out well in the prize category.

Rod and I were on our way home by 3:20 pm. The sun was still shining but in less than 15 minutes we passed under a cloud bank and that was the last we saw the sun this day.