Friday, May 19, 2017

Newbery Award Challenge - 1940's

One more decade of Newbery winners down.  Seven more to go.  I got all long-winded in my assessment of this decade.  Overall I enjoyed them though and I think that is why.  I especially enjoyed the titles from Adam of the Road on through the end of the decade.  I've been lobbying Matt to read Johnny Tremain for the last two months (since he never has before).  I even brought it home for him from the library.  But so far, no luck.  The 21 Balloons was pretty dang fantastic, especially for a book I'd never even heard of before.
1940 - Daniel Boone by James Daughtery
This book is, as one would quite rightly expect, the biography of the American frontiersman Daniel Boone.  Daniel Boone was certainly brave and strong in all the standard sense of those words, but all in all I found the book problematic in its one-sidedness.  I tried to keep in mind the period of time the book was about.  I tried to keep in mind the period of time in which the book was written.  Still.  The language used about the Indians was just terrible. Things like, "infestation," "red dogs," and "prowling Indian varmints."  There was no acknowledgement in the text that the natives were having their land and way of life taken from them.   It is all presented as though they were just being unreasonable and "interfering" with the settling of the land in a civilized manner.  I guess, in an act of karma, after helping settle the frontier Daniel Boone doesn't end up owning any land himself until towards the very end of his life.  The book, of course, portrays this as a great injustice to a man who worked so hard to tame the land.  I found it to be rather fitting, myself.  To be clear, I like historical accounts of our founding fathers and explorers.  They did amazing things and helped shape the way we live today.  Our history is important.  I like it to be honest though, too, not just glowing praise.  I didn't find that to be the case here.
1941 - Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry
This is the story of a Polynesian boy named Mafatu who, after being traumatized by his mother's death at sea, becomes cripplingly fearful, especially about the ocean.  For a Polynesian male this is an egregious way of living and he is mocked relentlessly--and teased for doing "women's work" of building nets and tools instead of fishing, like a man.  Eventually Mafatu attempts to prove himself and ends up on an essentially deserted island.  No one lives on the island, but it is the sacred offering place of cannibals from another nearby island.  Mafatu proves himself much braver than even he thought through a handful of different encounters on the island--and the skills he acquired at his "women's work" are incredibly valuable to him in his isolation.  In time he goes home to his people--including his proud father--who all treat him much better now that he has proven himself brave like a man should be.  It was a charming little story, albeit steeped in some very rigid gender lines.  It is a tale that emphasizes the all too commonly perpetuated belief that men must prove themselves through act of danger and bravery before truly entering the ranks of manhood.
1942 - The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds
The Matchlock Gun is a story about settlers in early America--before America was a country, actually.  It is based on a true story.  Believing attacks by the French and Indians are eminent Edward's dad and his militia friends head to cut them off, leaving Edward to help his mother care for the house and his younger sister, Trudy.  Somehow the attackers get past the guard and Edward and his mother hatch a scheme to defend themselves with a family heirloom--the matchlock gun twice as tall as Edward.  By obeying his elders and showing bravery in the face of fear Edward kills attacking Indians and saves his family.  It was a super quick read, if not all that spectacular.  It did have some very quaint metaphors and events, which appealed to me.  Things like, how Mama's hands had a "clean buttery smell," or how when young Trudy needs distracted so Edward and Mama can save the day she is put on her parent's bed with "a doll made out of a handkerchief...a large lump of maple sugar and some silver spoons."  I like the simple and folksy like that.
1943 - Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
I thoroughly enjoyed this story.  It had just enough drama to keep me engaged and wanting to flip through the pages and was chock full of new-to-me words. I'd definitely rank it as one of my favorites thus far.  The tale follows Adam, son of Roger the Minstrel, from one adventure (or misadventure) to another across medieval England.  Adam loses his dog and gets separated from his father and spends much of the book trying to reconnect with them.  I must confess it was a mind-boggling prospect for me--imagine just wandering the country from village to village asking passersby if they've seen your lost family?!  To someone used to email, phones, GPS, photographs, news broadcasts, the internet, police stations, and all the other modern trappings of keeping tabs on people I cannot hardly imagine.   Of course, Adam is a much more self-reliant and assured youth than I would have been at the same age.  He also "played the oyster" by turning his misfortune into a wonderful, epic story he could preform for people in his profession as a minstrel.  I quite adored that expression--playing the oyster.  Adam is smart, savvy boy on the border of manhood.  He meets people from all ranks of life and had a broad range of life experiences which serve him well on his journey--though which also give him pause to wonder about how the world works.  While serving a private court he is confused when a girl beloved by his friend, Simon, must marry someone else--someone she doesn't love and whom doesn't love her.  It is explained to Adam that, "It doesn't matter what she'd rather do...She's only a girl.  She's got to do what she's told."  In all the songs and tales Adam knows the premise is frequently one of devotion and honor towards a fair maiden and bravery in the face of danger to win her attentions, admiration, or love.  And yet, in reality, Adam learns, it doesn't matter if the girl is won over or not since she has no say in the matter.  I loved how this made no sense to Adam.  I quite enjoyed this glimpse at life in medieval England.  It seems a hard life and a beautiful one.  It is a life of hard work, but there were moments of art and music, too.  The rich could pay for a minstrel to sing through the carriage window to relieve the tedium of travel.  The poor could listen to them perform on street corners.  Everyone was working hard to get their daily bread, but they still took time to strap shoulder bones to their feet and go ice skating, too.  I like that.  I certainly think a happy life is one with a balance in work and leisure.  Too much of one or the other and things get askew.   For those with a language obsession like my own here are some of the new or fantastic words I jotted down while reading:  fabliaux (a tale told in meter which is usually a bit humorously lewd), almonry (a place where alms are distributed), neatherd (cow or oxen herd), surcoat (a loose robe worn over armor), cotte (a medieval outer garment), Candlemas (a Christian holiday), lavabo (a ritual washbasin) , comfit (a candy containing a nut or see covered in sweetener), coif (close-fitting cap), haircloth (a stiff cloth made or horsehair woven with either linen or cotton), portmanteau (a large bag or suitcase, usually leather, which opens into two equal parts), palfrey (a type of riding horse highly valued in the middle ages), wyvers (a legendary reptilian creature especially common in heraldry), tiltyard (a place where jousts occur).  And there were so many more.
1944 - Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
I totally dig Johnny Tremain.  It is an excellent book.  I remember reading it for the first time when I was a 5th grader.  We received extra credit if we spent a school day with our hand taped together in a facsimile of Johnny's injured hand.  The experience left quite a vivid impression on me, even all these years later.   I considered skipping past Johnny Tremain in my Newbery challenge since I've read in several times already and, as recently as 2015.  However, since I enjoy it so thoroughly I decided to just revisit it again.  It is a fantastic story about the talented, but proud and arrogant Johnny Tremain who through a series of trials, friendships, scandals, and world events learns to be a more thoughtful, kind, and all together better person.  The development of his character is a really strong component of the story.  Set in Boston just prior to the Revolutionary War the book is scattered with historical figures, such as John Hancock and Paul Revere, and Johnny gets swept up in the fight against British rule.  It is a compelling and relateable (albeit fictionalized) account of this dramatic period in American history.  I highly recommend it.
1945 - Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
I liked Rabbit Hill.  It was a quaint little animal story.  Just the sort I would have loved and read over and over had I discovered it as a girl.  It reminded me of an American version of Watership Down in many ways, but without all the warfare and tyranny.  There is even a little map of the area in both books!  I mean even the setting isn't that far removed--though instead of a "down" the story takes place on a hill.  Both center around rabbits with humanized traits.  For example, Mother Rabbit stirs a pot of soup and Little Georgie wears a knapsack.  The story follows the excitement stirred up when "New Folk" move into the house on Rabbit Hill.  They plant a big garden and refuse to poison, trap, or otherwise harm the animals that live on the hill with them--much to the consternation of the neighbors.  They love animals and admire St. Francis of Assisi.  In the end, the animals and humans realize there is enough to go around for everyone and live in harmony together.  Even the skunk and fox stop raiding the chicken coop because the cook always leaves fried chicken and other yummy garbage scraps for them. It is a bit too-perfect (and unrealistic from a biological point of view) of an ending, but oh, what a sweet one.  There was one point of linguistic interest for me.  The skunk loves "garbidge," which I learned is an antiquated spelling of the word that dates back to the 1600s (according to the Oxford English Dictionary).  Father Rabbit is a more refined, southern gentleman and when he used the word it was always "garbage."  I thought that was an interesting point of class distinction.
1946 - Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
I got a lot of enjoyment out of Strawberry Girl, a sort of Little House on the prairie story, but set in the early 1900s in the untamed landscape of Florida.  The story's main drama comes in the form of a feud between neighbors--The Boyers who are new to the area and the Slaters who've been on the land for a couple generations already.  Through telling the story the reader is exposed to some of the language and customs from the poor-white, rural "Cracker" culture of the time, which I thought was an interesting contrast and parallel to the frontier stories from the west.  Unsurprisingly I was quite taken with the language of the book--the conversational dialect was rather fascinating:  "Hits" instead of "It is," "book-larnin'" instead of "book learning," "shore," instead of "sure," or "purty" instead of "pretty."  [As an aside, I can remember my sister, Sarah, teasing me for saying "shore" while playing Barbies in the basement of our childhood home.  It is so strange sometimes what the brain saves clearly like that.]  The story has a happy ending though there is sure a lot of meanness in it--retaliatory poisoning of livestock, arson, threatening notes, drunks neglecting their children, etc.  There is a Christian element in that the antagonist of the story is redeemed and finds a new way of life through the purchase of a Bible, a traveling minister, and demonstrations of goodwill and charity from his neighbors.  There were loads of fantastically named characters throughout.  Folks like Shoestring and Zephy Slater, Dovey and Bihu Boyer, Kessie Cook, Rofelia Marsh, or Azuloy, the orphan.  As with the Little House books my favorite parts were the glimpses of how people lived during that time and place--the day The Boyer family and their neighbors crush the sugar cane harvest, boil down syrup to use for the year, and have a candy-pull for the kids or the process by which the strawberries are harvest, packed, and shipped to the hungry "Yankees" up north.
1947 - Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
Miss Hickory is a funny, quaint, rather adorable story in which the protagonist is a doll made of a twig with a hickory nut for a head.  It is a story of self-discovery and embracing change and growth.  Miss Hickory's world is turned upside down when her human neighbors move to town for the winter leaving her to fend for herself with the squirrels and pheasants and such.  She is a bit stubborn and judgmental, that Miss Hickory, but she is good deep down and ultimately sees the error in that.  It is a very homey, earthy, old-fashioned sort of story.  Of course, that all appeals to me quite a bit.  I just about cackled with glee when Robin reclaims his nest and insults Miss Hickory with a derisive, "Cow-Bird!"  (For a brief overview of cowbirds see this post.)  I couldn't wait to share that one with Matt.  I also happened to read it at just the right time in that Matt and I were invited to walk through a local apple orchard as it was in peak bloom.  The very next day I was pleased to read the orchard descriptions in Miss Hickory and it all tied together in a seamless, delightful bow of synchronicity.  I had another meaningful coincidence with the term "redd-up/out," which my blog friend, Margo, used in a post about clutter and tidying up and which I then read less than 20 minutes later in Miss Hickory.  I'd never heard this term before--it is quite regional--so to run across it twice in such rapid succession delighted me.  And because I am, well, me and must know more this sent me running for the Oxford English Dictionary.  Redd-up" is considered a regional American expression, chiefly northern. It is Scotch in origin, but also used by the Northern Irish. The earliest recorded use of "redd-up" is from 1880.  "Red" or "redd" without the "up" is even older (earliest citations being from the late 1400s) and again, chiefly Scottish. It still meant "An act or the action of clearing away, removing, or tidying up," but could also be the "act of clearing the throat." The OED says use of this word is quite rare while "redd-up" is still common--at least regionally--in the northeastern parts of the country.
1948 - The 21 Balloons by William Pene du Bois
This was one another of my favorite Newbery reads so far.  The 21 Balloons is a fanciful adventure story that brought to mind Gulliver's Travels in its amusing absurdity.  Professor Sherman leaves San Francisco in a lightwight house suspended from a large hydrogen-filled balloon.  His trip doesn't go according to plan and he soon finds himself on the island of Krakatoa--which isn't uninhabited as is commonly thought.  On the island are 20 families and a diamond mine.  It seems clear to me that William Pene du Bois was mechanically minded--and a fan of balloons.  The people of Krakatoa have invented all sorts of convenience gadgets and the author helpfully included sketches of many of them.  This includes things like a bed with a continuous sheet which--when cranked around--end up in the basement running through the wash before being cranked back around to the topside of the bed again.  Bingo, bango--clean sheets every day.  They've set up an elaborate and yet functional "restaurant form of government" in which each family only has to work on day a month.  Of course, they're the richest people in the world on account of their diamond mine.  That helps.  As with everything though the mine comes with its own set of problems, too.  It was a fun, fast, enjoyable read which, like I said, I'd never even heard of before starting my Newbery reading.
1949 - King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
I've enjoyed horse stories since I was a little girl.  I don't even know how many times I must have read Black Beauty.  Apparently this Marguerite Henry must really, really love horses--animals in general, but horses specifically.  She's written something like 15 or more books on them.  King of the Wind is her only Newbery Award winner.  This book is about a strong Arabian horse, Sham, and the small, mute boy, Agba, who loves and cares for him.  Sham is given as from the Sultan's stables.  Agba, the horseboy, goes with wherever Sham goes--for better or worse.  Sham is continually undervalued by the Europeans because he is small, fiery, and has an usually high crest.  He is sold and bartered from one place to another as a beast of burden.  Only Agba knows he is the best horse around, but since he is mute he has limited abilities to express this fact.  Eventually--after many a trial (and one whipping scene that was so upsetting that I had to take a little break from reading) Sham's merit is realized and he gets to start living the good life.  With that the bloodline of the Goldolphin Arabian is born.  I don't know basically anything about horse racing, but apparently the Goldolphin Arabian's heirs would win race after race and Sham became one of the fathers of a new breed of modern thoroughbred racehorse.  It was a nice story, a mixture of misfortune and triumph, history and fiction.
Follow the links for my reviews of the 1920's and 1930's Newbery winners.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Joy and Affirmation of Another Birthday

I sorta wish that every day was my birthday.

(Not really.  I know it wouldn't be as special if it was an everyday thing.)
Still.  Every year I wish it was my birthday just a little bit longer than that magical 24 hour window.

(Ask Matt.  He'll tell you I am the master at birthday extension.)
I love how gall dang nice everyone is when it is your birthday.  There was so much love flung at me from every direction yesterday.  Beaming through cellphone towers.  Bounced into my inbox.  Enveloping my body in hugs and smiles.
"Happy birthday, Beth! I know it will be a wonder and a delight, because that's your default position, but I hope it's an extra helping!"
"Happy birthday to my favorite little sister! You may be my only little sister, but even if I had two, you'd probably still be my favorite!! I love you!"
 "Happy birthday Beth, i sure adore you!"
"Happy birthday to one of the neatest women I know! You light up a room."
"Happy birthday to my dear laughing partner-book worm-self sufficient-red headed-nature loving-easy smiling-critter cuddling- hot water dolphin HIPPIE BETH. My life is so much better with you in it!! Love ya."
"Wishing you a wonderful sunny day filled with laughter, love, and great mug of beer."
"I hope your day is as fabulous as you are!"
"Happy Birthday dear friend!! Hope your day is amazing! you deserve the best! Here's to many more fun adventures together. Love you!!  p.s. your birthday letter is going to be late :( i forgot to get stamps."
"happy birthday, I hope that your next trip around the sun is twice as lovely, and requires no pants!"
"Happppy Birthday beautiful! Best wish to you today and always!"
I re-read through the messages on my Facebook wall this morning.  My heart (and likely my ego) swelled.  It makes me want to capture this level of love, support, encouragement, affirmation, appreciation for every other day of the year.  It struck me that it is just like how Earth Day shouldn't be just one day--it should be part of every day.  I want to make certain that I'm loving on people every single day.  To let them know how awesome I think they are.  How they make my life--my world--a better place to be just by virtue of their existence.  To let them know how deeply I know them and support and care for them.  There is no reason to keep that to myself until their birthday.  That is something I can do more of right now.  Every single day.
So thanks, friends, for that revelation.  And double thanks for all the love yesterday--and always.  It really means the world to me.
All photos from our recent birthday kick-off at Diamond Butte Lookout in SE Montana.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

No Spray Dandelion Management

The spring rains come and so do the dandelions.  Matt and I have been weeding dandelions from the yard over the past week.  Each spring since we bought the place we've done so--and I do believe our efforts are making a difference.  There are fewer and fewer each year.  I don't think they're terribly ugly or anything, at least in bloom, but I dislike how they take over if left unchecked.  We also use our yard trimmings in compost and don't want to risk introducing their seeds, on the off chance the compost pile doesn't make it up to seed-killing temperatures.

We don't spray poison so we take a manual approach.  We make a sweep through the yard looking for the tell-tale yellow.  With a flathead screwdriver we loosen the soil all around the base of the dandelion which makes it possible to pull out quite a bit of the root along with the leaves and blossoms.  We spend only about 15 minutes or less a day, but consistently over the course of a week or two.  In this way it isn't an arduous task and we catch the early and late waves of dandelions.  We still compost the weeds--but we let the city landfill folks do that part for us.
We do have a back-up plan though for when we overlook a bloom or if we're lax for a few days in checking the yard for new ones to remove.  If a bloom gets by us and goes to seed we simply burn off the mature seedheads with a lighter.   They singe quite readily.  Poof.  Problem solved.  Then we dig up the roots without spreading those feathery floating umbrellas all over the place in the process.

Slow and steady wins the race.  And we are winning.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Spaghetti Pizza Bake

This casserole goes back to my childhood--magnificent pizza goodness on a "crust" of spaghetti noodles.
I'm not sure either of my parents actually like to cook. They both can cook, of course, but I wouldn't describe it as a hobby or interest, really, for either of them.  Eating is one thing.  Cooking is another.  Until I met Matt that was how I felt about things, too.

My parents got divorced when I was in 5th grade.  Since that put my dad in the position of cooking dinner a few nights a week he had to build up his culinary repertoire.  It is from that time period that I have my first memories of the heavenly concoction that is Spaghetti Pizza Bake.  I remember eating it at my dad's first (post-divorce) apartment.  I also remember lots of greenbean casserole topped with tatertots from that kitchen, too.  Those became his specialties--at least in my mind.
Last year these yummy youthful memories inspired me to ask him for the recipe.  We've successfully enjoyed it loads of times since.  It is just as good as I remember.  Like pizza and spaghetti had a beautiful and super tasty baby.  Of course, I am an admitted pizza freak so take that bias into account.

My dad got the recipe from one of those church and/or community cookbooks and it is as vague as all get-out.  Here, I'll show it to you.
I love all the splatters on this page of my dad's cookbook.  Testament to how tried-and-true this recipe is, I think!
The first time I attempted the recipe I pulled a box of spaghetti from the cupboard--16oz.  "Hmmm, do you think that'd be a big box then?  So, maybe half for a 'small' box?  I'll try that."  It makes me laugh a little, the vagueness.  Honestly though, it is pretty much perfect.  It is a totally flexible recipe.  Put however many pepperonis on it as strikes your fancy!  Use as much or little cheese as you like!  I mean, it is pizza for heavens sake!  Go nuts!
With all that for preamble, I present the veganized and slightly more detailed recipe.

Spaghetti Pizza Bake
8 ounces dried spaghetti
12 ounces pizza sauce/marinara
2 T Ener-G egg replacement powder
1 C water
Pizza toppings, as desired
    -sliced mushrooms
    -black olives
    -bell peppers
    -veg pepperoni
    -TVP sausage

  • Cook spaghetti noodles according to the package instructions.  Drain and set aside.
  • Make "egg" foam by combining the Ener-G powder and the water in a small saucepan over medium-high.  Whisk until it starts to thicken, about two minutes.  It should fluff up to 1 1/2 times the original size.
  • Place the cooked noodles into a lightly greased casserole dish.  We use an oval shaped pan that is roughly 9 inches by 13 inches.  Keep in mind that the size of the pan with dictate the depth of the pizza.  Deep dish is fine.  Thin crust is also fine.
  • Pour the "egg" mixture over the noodles.  This will hold them together as the crust.  Try to spread it out evenly, which may take using a spatuala, ideally covering all the way around the edges of the pan.
  • Spread sauce over top of the noodles.
  • Add the various pizza toppings, including cheese.
  • Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30-35 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
  • Let set for five minutes to firm up before serving. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cutting into Cans

If you forget to bring a can opener and are forced to hack into the can with a knife I recently learned a little trick from Matt.  Cut a "T" shape.  By cutting a T we were then able to peel back the edges (carefully, since they are quite sharp) with the pliers on our mulit-tool gaining almost instantly have access to the contents.  It was sure faster and easier than cutting a circle or a square into the lid.  Two cuts was all it took.  Matt knows all sorts of useful stuff like this....
It certainly is a handy little trick to remember.  It is also worth remembering that while most soup cans are pull tops these days most cans of beans are not.  And to pack accordingly.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Exploratory Hiking in Teddy Roosevelt National Park

Matt and I decided to diversify.  For the last several years we've had an almost single-minded focus on outdoor adventures in Yellowstone.  But we know that there are innumerable glorious places to explore.  Yellowstone is friggin' awesome.  No question.  But it isn't the only place that's awesome by a long shot.  So, we're planning some hiking and camping trips this year that take place in a wider range of locations.
It was with this in mind that we recently took an exploratory weekender in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Matt had read good things about backpacking options, relatively low visitation rates, and beautiful badlands landscapes in TRNP, a lovely jewel hidden in plain sight in western North Dakota.  Going backpacking is one of our 2017 outdoor resolutions and we thought this might be a keen early season location--with relatively lower elevation and a more exposed arid climate both of which contribute to clearing the snow earlier in the season.
Feral horses, remnants of free ranging ranch stock, roam about in TRNP.  
We ended up driving the entire 36 mile scenic loop in the South Unit while taking several exploratory short hikes along the way (and a couple overlooks, too).
The only one I'd advise skipping was the first one--Skyline Vista.  The sign said it was a nice overlook of the Little Missouri River, but it was mostly an overlook of the interstate.  (Sidebar:  I-94 runs along the southern edge of the park and even through it for a minute.  That was strange to me, however once we drove just a few miles in we couldn't hear the traffic noise.  This is part of what makes me say the park is "hidden in plain sight."  So many people just drive right by...)

After Skyline the park just kept getting better and better.

Scoria Point is actually not scoria.  That's one thing we learned during our stay.  It is, in geologic terms, clinker--though locally it is called scoria because they look an awful lot a like.  Scoria is an igneous rock, formed by volcanoes.  Clinker is a metamorphic rock formed when a vein of subterranean coal starts on fire.  It burns underground and, essentially, bakes the layer of bentonite clay and other sediments above it into pottery.  Beautiful red stone pottery.  How cool is that?!
Ridgeline Trail
This loop is just a shade over half a mile and was a rather nice introduction to the park ecosystem and landscape.  Using the full-color informational booklet provided at the trailhead we followed the trail imaging ourselves traversing the badlands by wagon train or learning about how native plants have evolved to survive in such an arid place.  It was notable how the plants changed depending on whether we were looking at a north or south facing hill.  We'd not seen any flowers along the first section of the trail, but as soon as we looped around to the opposite side we hit a carpet dotted with pasqueflowers.  We learned there is a kind of juniper we'd never heard of--Creeping Juniper-and it does just that, creeping and sprawling out along the ground, remaining just inches high.  It was cool. Matt and I are both pretty big fans of this sort of self-guided nature education.
It rained off and on all weekend.
Pasqueflowers are some of my favorites--and some of the earliest to arrive each year.
Matt pointed out how deep the root of the various prairie grasses were, especially in contrast to the sod we've been ripping up recently in our garden expansion.  It was quite interesting.
Old East Entrance Station
This was a really neat and easy little hike through a rather enormous prairie dog town to a cool old, stone building that once served as the entrance to TRNP.  With the construction of I-94 the entrance was moved and a portion of the old highway abandoned.  It was beautiful out, albeit a bit nippy when the wind was blowing, as it did intermittently all day.  We had a pit stop at the old entrance station, basking in the beauty and conducting a thorough examination of the building's exterior.  Those early park buildings are so charming and fit so well with the natural landscape.  Then we hiked back out the way we came.  The whole thing is less than a mile round-trip.  While the views were better at Buck Hill and Boicourt this Old Entrance Station hike was my favorite stroll of the weekend.
They really do bark like little dogs.  Run like them, too.
Sometimes I am so full of good cheer I have to do a headstand.
Matt pretended to be a park visitor of yore driving a Model-T through the old park entrance gate.  He's silly and fun. 
I thought the bits of rock pressed into the mud looked like a mosaic work of art.
Coal Vein Trail
This loop--also under a mile round-trip--was scenic enough, but the real draw is the bizarre geologic and topographic changes that have taken place there.  In 1951 a lightning strike ignited a 12 foot thick underground layer of lignite coal.  It then burned and smoldered away down there for the next 26 years.  Isn't that crazy?!  Apparently some park visitors during that time roasted marshmallows over the steaming ground.  This is, of course, the process that results in the previously described clinker rock.  In the aftermath of the fire the ground in the area collapsed in on itself because the 12 feet of coal was no longer down there to support the surface layers.  Another highly informative and interesting full-color booklet at the trailhead walked us through the area, pointing out cool details and features including the naturally occurring "chimney rocks" which are born where a crack in the earth permits fresh oxygen down to feed the underground fire.  The flames then bake the surrounding rocks with incredibly high heat.  The chimneys are some of the strongest clinker around as a result--so strong they doesn't erode as readily.  It wasn't necessarily the prettiest hike of the day, but it sure was fascinating.  And there at least three different purple flowers, so that was pretty.
The dark layer about half way up in the lignite coal layer, albeit not a 12 foot thick layer.  This one was probably only a couple feet thick.  Lignite is considered a low grade coal with minimal heat value.
A chimney monument to the coal vein fire.
Buck Hill
Buck Hill is the second highest point in the park and the highest point that is readily accessible.  It was also probably our favorite scenic point--though the view at Boicourt Trail is a close contender.  At 2,855 feet above sea level Buck Hill is a whole five (or ten, depending on who you ask) feet shorter than the nearby Peck Hill--the highest point.  To call this a "hike" is a bit of a stretch in my opinion.  A very short (like, .1 mile short) and reasonably steep "trail" (more like stairs) leads up from the parking area to a collection of flat rocks at the top of Buck Hill.  This makes a very natural place to sit and stare, soaking it all in.  The badlands go on and on and on all around--360 degrees of breathtaking.  We hiked on past this stone overlook and found a nice, almost sandy place to sit and take in a slightly different view.  Both were very lovely indeed and we had the place to ourselves.
So. Many. Layers.
Boicourt Trail/Overlook
The Boicourt Trail is wide and flat with an almost perfectly level grade--since it is handicap accessible--leading to some gorgeous views across the badlands.  Technically speaking the hike is only .3 miles round-trip, but Matt and I continued on at the more primitive footpath that emerged once the maintained, accessible portion ended.  We sat out on a point with a most stunning panoramic views of green southern-facing hills and an almost white, sun-baked gully below.  We laid there until the winds picked up, racing over us since we were rather exposed.  The return hike follows the same route back to the parking area, but as we approached we saw that several horses had moseyed over to graze.  We had to leave the trail to give them a proper distance, not wanting to startle them away, and sure enjoyed their company.  With a backdrop of endless badlands I sure felt like I was part of the wild, open West.  It seemed timeless.
Yellow Violets
Wind Canyon Trail
Wind Canyon is aptly named.  It was indeed windy and the canyon walls are beautifully molded by that energy.  The park newspaper says it has the, "best view of the Little Missouri River the South Unit has to offer."  From what I saw of the South Unit I am inclined to heartily agree.  It kicked the crap out of that Skyline Vista, that is for sure.  The short trail--under half a mile round-trip--follows the edge of the cliff overlooking the river making for some gorgeous sights as we strolled along.  The sunlight bouncing off the smooth, winding river was truly lovely.  The sculptures wind-carved into the rocks were just bafflingly beautiful.  After hiking out to the last overlook we stopped and let the wind blow as we listened and observed the huge landscape before us, knowing it was the end of our day--and what a good day it had been.  
Peaceful Valley Ranch
We stopped, briefly, at Peaceful Valley Ranch basically to observe some more of the feral horses--including an adorable little auburn foal that had caught my eye.  The ranch was used as base of operations for horse trailrides through the park from the early 1900s through 2014.  The ranch house is the only original ranch house still standing in the South Unit and was charming, in that classically worn-looking farmhouse style.
We almost stopped and had dinner at the ranch as there were picnic tables and the horses were so fun to watch, but in the end we weren't quite ready for dinner so kept on--heading into Medora to buy a six-pack before returning to camp for the evening.  We did get distracted by this neat historical city park on our beer run.  It is the remnants of a failed meatpacking plant endeavor which was operating by the fall of 1883, but closed for good by 1886 (Though the building was used for storage until 1907 when it burned down.)  We found a flock of turkey vultures at roost in the trees there, too.
While in TRNP we camped at Cottonwood Campground which was perfectly adequate for our needs.  It was in the off-season still so there were only vault toilets and limited water options, but we knew that coming in and were prepared.  We did foolishly choose a site rather far from the only open outhouse...but, oh well.  We liked the seclusion the site offered, tucked back in the trees and away from our neighbors.  I will say that I do not enjoy raised BBQ grill style fire pits.  They're not as warm or pleasant to sit around since the heat is already elevated a few feet off the ground.  It is also more precarious since the grill was open on the front.  A couple times we had large embers or even a burning chunk of wood fall out of the grate onto the ground below.  Seems safer (not to mention warmer) if they're not elevated or if they're completely surrounded by the fireproof barrier.  They are the perfect height for warming cold buttocks if you're standing though.  All that said I'm sure they're easier for park staff to clean and they certainly prevent people from having raging bonfires in the campground.  So, there is that.
On the drive home we laid some plans for a future trip.  Or maybe a couple future trips.  It seems like an excellent place to bicycle and there were a few different shuttle-style day hikes/backpacking trips we could enjoy if we left our car at one trailhead and cycled to the other.  Things like the Jones Creek Trail or the Lower Tarkington Trail.  We also really want to check out that petrified forest.  Our weekender also proved that TRNP would, indeed, be a keen place to go backpacking.  We'll be back!
Along the way we ID'd 15 bird species and four mammals, as listed below:
Pronghorn Antelope
American Bison
Feral Horses
Black-tailed Prairie Dog
American Crow
Downy Woodpecker
Bald Eagle
Wild Turkey
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Kestrel
Northern Harrier
Canada Goose
Mountain Bluebird
Spotted Towhee
Northern Flicker
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
American Robin
Western Meadowlark
We also spotted the recycling bins, of course!!  Hooray for recycling glass in North Dakota when you can't easily recycle it in even the largest of Montana's cities!