In the Bayou

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My last gator sighting had been in the wild world of the Everglades.

I was overdue for a look at one of these fascinating critters.

Chock one up for Louisiana – it sure packs a punch when it comes to the local flora and fauna found within the beautiful landscape of the Bayou. I saw 7 alligators, including an adorable baby one I named Jeremiah! There were snakes, bugs, fish, and all sorts of interesting things to look at during my hikes within Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Besides another stamp in my passport, I gained an appreciation for this area of our country, discovering a serene paradise.

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Hooray for another National Park site passport stamp!
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Strolling along the boardwalk in Jean Lafitte NP

The smells were fruity and organic. The sights were varied and unique. The sounds reminded me that I was surrounded by many different animals, some that only live within the delta of this state.

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A gator…

During my Bayou swamp kayak tour the night before, I appreciated the peace-giving atmosphere of being enclosed by the baldcypress trees. I snacked on the Mayhaw fruit – a type of berry that tastes a bit like an apple – as I paddled within the wetlands. Unlike some of my other kayak adventures (Biscayne and Mammoth Caves), this one allowed me to truly get off the beaten path. Our guide was a local who grew up along the river, an expert as navigating his way around the swamp ever since he was just a little kid.

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Our expert guide informed me that this tree is referred to as “The Hand” by the locals.

Louisiana may not have an official National Park, but it has so much to offer when it comes to natural places. I finished my morning hike with a bowl of gumbo from a local establishments, replete with seafood fresh from the wild.

I miss Jeremiah the alligator already. 😦

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My friend Kate and I (she did most of the paddling). You might recognize her from my second trip to the Rockies.

 

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Sea Lions and Sea Slugs

The waves picked up, barreling over my kayak as I struggled to paddle perpendicular to the shore. The salt spray blinded me momentarily until I was through the shore break and out into the relatively calm waters.

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It was a beautiful Thanksgiving day south of the border. An almost record high of 85° convinced me to brave the chilly Pacific waters. The bright sun was intense – a welcome relief from my recent dunk in the ocean. I bobbed on the sea for a spell, thinking about everything and nothing. My last experience in the Pacific involved a surfing lesson after my time spent in the Channel Islands.

It was then that I spotted a brown face and sleek body emerging from the ocean’s surface. A sea lion decided to swim on by, checking out this oddly colored piece of plastic floating in his waters. I watched, I listened, I enjoyed life.

Fast forward 4 hours.

Bike riding along the beach was a fun pass time, but I was on a mission: hunting for sea slugs. These fascinating creatures are squishy mollusks that release reddish ink when disturbed. After a zippy three-mile bike ride, I found one!

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His name is Holden. He wasn’t cooperating for the camera, but he did slug around my hand for a bit.

My Mexico Thanksgiving was full of unique experiences and living “treasures”. I took a moment to appreciate my special outdoor experiences and how blessed I am to continue trekking around the world seeking out natural spaces.

I was also grateful that the sea slug ink came off… eventually.

 

 

My (Literal) Run-In with Bambi

If you recall, I almost hit a bear in North Cascades.

In Wisconsin, I wasn’t as lucky with my wildlife avoidance.

There I was, cruising down the highway, looking forward to crawling into my camper for a good night’s sleep. According to my GPS, I was 5 minutes from my stopping point. I was alert, searching for my upcoming turn.

Quick as can be, a deer ran out in front of my car.

I was going 60 miles per hour.

I have no idea how fast he was running.

Once again, I slammed on the brakes, causing everything in my back seat to come flying forward.

I hit the deer smack dab in the middle of my car. He stumbled, got up, and limped off, giving me a nasty look along the way. I was somewhat shaken, but also relieved. I wasn’t hurt and the airbags didn’t deploy.

Then I noticed my engine was smoking.

Turns out there was quite a bit more damage than I initially thought.

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Poor Honda.

Darn it. I didn’t have cell reception, was in the middle of nowhere, and the closest town was about 35 miles back the way I came. I decided that I needed to get to civilization, cell service, and people who could offer assistance.

My engine had stopped smoking, so I began to drive slowly back the way I came. I made it only 2 miles before the fumes started up again, this time coming through the vents and making my nose wrinkle with the smell.

I pulled over, still in the middle of nowhere. I stood on the side of the road for about 10 minutes, my mind blank. Then I walked. There was a house nearby. I knocked on the door and waited.

A lovely family let me use their phone, their WiFi, and even offered me a beer. I had to call 4 tow trucks before someone would come and pick me up.

“You’re too small, we only tow big rigs.”

“You’re too long, we can’t tow your car and your trailer.”

“You’re too far from town.”

Finally, success!

“Ok. Be there in 30 minutes.”

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The following morning at the shop.

The next day, the damage was assessed and the insurance info worked out. My little Honda Civic is currently sitting in an auto shop, and will be there for one week. This definitely derailed my travel plans, but I’m rolling with the punches.

Luckily Clarence was unscathed.

Luckily I could be in much worse places than Superior, WI.

Whew!

Theodore Roosevelt Recap

Countdown:

  • 4 more parks to go!
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The super muddy, Little Missouri River

Length of Stay:

  • 2 days, 1 night
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Tracking the herd

High:

  • More bison
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Found one! (Right on the trail, no less)

Low:

  • Seeing dead prairie dogs on the side of the road #DriveSlow

Favorite Hike:

  • Painted Canyon Nature Trail
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Good morning Grasslands!

Favorite Treat:

  • Plain, old-fashioned doughnut holes

A Tiny Town in a Tiny Town

Prairie dogs are absolutely fascinating.

In the Badlands in South Dakota, I was able to observe these interesting creatures in their burrows. It was such a treat to have the opportunity to actually hike among the prairie dog towns in Theodore Roosevelt national park.

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“Alert. Alert. Female human walking through!”

I found that it’s absolutely impossible to sneak up on them. They barked out in a high pitch to warn the others of my presence.

Some were “fluffy”. Some were slim. But all were part of this amazing community. I slowed my walking pace down so I could watch them scamper about and interact with each other.

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Listening to the grasses sing.

As a drove the loop around the park, I cruised through a multitude of these prairie dog towns. I felt like I was intruding on something so intertwined and complex.

Which I was.

Even when I visited other places in the park, casually observing the gorgeous grass-clad mounds, I stumbled across lone prairie dog scouts sent out to scope out the potential invaders.

I’ll probably hear their little voices in my dreams.

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Cloud watching while lying in the prairie grass.

I Almost Ran Over a Bear

True story.

Not even kidding.

I was driving the speed limit on my way into North Cascades national park. I had just come from the ranger station back in town, armed with maps and ready to hit up some nifty hiking trails in the mountains.

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Getting ready to head out for the day (but taking a moment to appreciate the crazy-looking sky)

The weather wasn’t playing nice; it was drizzling and icky out, meaning the roads were slick. I was looking out for the sign indicating I was officially in the park, when I saw this animal out of the corner of my eye. Its fur was jet black, soaked from the rain and fluttering absentmindedly in the wind.

My brain registered it was a black bear.

I slammed on the brakes and leaned backwards, subconsciously believing that my body weight might be able to slow down the car’s (and MyPod’s) momentum. The stuff in the back seat fell to the floor in a crescendo of motion and sound.

The bear lumbered gracefully across the highway, never once looking at me. I was certain that my car would clip it, but then he sped up at the last moment, putting a little extra effort into his gallop.

At this point my tires were screeching noisily and my heart rate had kicked up a notch. Without ever so much as a backwards glance, the bear disappeared into the brush on the other side of the road. The last I saw was his bum.

And then I laughed.

I had encountered nature in all its wild and primitive glory, and, once again, came out unscathed. I was relieved that I hadn’t caused any harm to my ursus americanus friend. The black bear truly was beautiful – probably just a teenager out for an early morning exploration. He probably told his friends a narrative about the crazy lady and her red camper that almost gunned him down.

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A very full river I explored right after the bear/car incident

Tide Pools and Temperate Rainforests

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I knew within seconds that Olympic National Park was special.

It sounded different, smelled exotic, and looked like a mystical fairy-land that I used to imagine as a child.

My first stop was the coast, particularly Beach 4, where one of the locals promised me I’d be able to explore the tide pools when the tide was low. There were a couple other tourists on the beach, but most of them were clustered around the end of the trail. I ventured further north to a rocky outcropping that was being hammered away by relentless Pacific waves.

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Beach 4

I scampered about, dodging ocean spray and scaring away seagulls with my presence. There were some amazing creatures: sea anemones, sea stars, mussels, sea urchins, and a host of other living things that I couldn’t identify. As I hopped from rock to rock, I grew in appreciation of this unique ecosystem. I was smart enough to keep an eye on the water level; it wouldn’t be fun to get stuck out on a high point unable to get back to land.

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Sea Creatures!

After I had exhausted myself at the beach, I entered the Hoh Rainforest portion of Olympic. Here, I viewed every shade of green conceivable. One type of lichen that clung to the large old-growth trees looked exactly like lettuce.* The mosses dripped down, hanging off of branches and twirled around trunks. There were waterfalls, creeks, and streams all within 2 miles from the Visitor’s Center parking lot.

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Hall of Mosses Trail

I enjoyed the feeling of being in such an exceptional environment. Simply sitting and watching the world was engaging. A couple slugs came out to say hello, and some bugs that looked like mosquitoes hovered about (they didn’t try to chow down on my flesh like I expected, though). There was so much life and I was glad to be apart of it.

When I crawled into my trailer that night, moisture clung to everything. I didn’t mind, though – it wasn’t as annoying as the humidity back east. I fell asleep within the rainforest, feeling snug and cozy, and all wrapped up in green.

* I later found out that this is actually called Lettuce Lichen.