American Bison Extraordinaire

"Hi, I'm ABE.  It's time to make me your National Mammal. OK?"

“Hi, I’m ABE. It’s time to make me your National Mammal. OK?”

Just this past December, a Bill to make the American Bison the National Mammal unanimously passed the U.S. Senate!  It now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.  We here at Great Plains Trail Alliance say, “Well, it’s about time.” Our mascot, ABE (American Bison Extraordinaire) agrees.

I guess you could call it the “Bison Bill” or the “Buffalo Bill” if you like.  Heh, heh.

Here’s a link to a group trying to promote this idea.  Vote Bison

Let’s support them, and the movement to make the bison our National Mammal!



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Why Not? It’s Free!

Scottsbluff National Monument, Nebraska

Scottsbluff National Monument, Nebraska

If you’ve ever driven I-90 across South Dakota, you’d know that the state is not afraid to advertise its charms.  In addition to the ubiquitous signage for the famous Wall Drug, there is also 1880 Town, and one of my favorites from the eastern part of the state, the Corn Palace in Mitchell.  Of all the signs enticing you to visit, far and away the best one is this:  Why Not?  It’s Free!

Well, in addition to the esteemed Corn Palace, and in honor of MLK Day, all National Parks and Monuments are free tomorrow! (1/18/2016)

Right on the Great Plains Trail route there are six options:

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wind Cave National Park

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Scottsbluff National Monument

Capulin Volcano National Monument

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Not far at all from the GPT there are three more options:

Jewel Cave National Monument

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Also in the Great Plains, but further from the GPT:

Little Bighorn National Monument

Badlands National Park

Devil’s Tower National Monument

That’s a dozen options all told!  If you live anywhere near any of these, I highly recommend taking the day and going to check them out.  Why not, it’s free!


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New Top Ten!

It’s been almost five years since I posted the “Top Ten Places to See on the Great Plains Trail,” and while some things are going to remain the same, a lot has changed as far as routing and highlights are concerned.  When I posted that first list, the Great Plains Trail project was in its infancy, and now we are big kindergarteners!  I don’t want to carry this analogy too far, but let’s just say I don’t think we’re quite ready for the prom.

Anyway, here is the new, improved, revised, refreshed, expanded, updated, and upgraded edition of the Top Ten Places to See on the Great Plains Trail complete with the latest information from the the field.  From North to South, here we go!  Drumroll please . . .

  1. Deep in the American Prairie Reserve

    Deep in the American Prairie Reserve

    American Prairie Reserve – Wow!  What a concept and what a place to see the Great Plains in a mostly unchanged way.  Combine the APR lands with the enormous Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge and you can really start your SOBO trip with a bang.   Honorable Mention: Grasslands National Park, Canada




Part of the Mah Daah Hey Trail

Part of the Maah Daah Hey Trail

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Again.  Wow!  The more I visit North Dakota the more I love it.  With the Maah Daah Hey Trail, the recreation opportunities in the western part of the state continue to improve and expand.  This should be a pretty enjoyable part of the GPT.  Honorable Mention:  White Butte – High Point of North Dakota





ABE (American Bison Extraordinaire) in the Black Hills

ABE (American Bison Extraordinaire) in the Black Hills

The Black Hills of South Dakota – It’s funny.  When people say something like, “Aren’t the Great Plains just kind of flat and boring,”  I say, “What about the Black Hills?”  They say, “But that’s not the Great Plains because the Great Plains are flat and boring.”  The truth is that the Black Hills are right smack in the middle of the Great Plains, so they, as well as a lot of other mountainous features, are definitely part of the Great Plains.  But I have to say, it’s really hard to change someone’s preconceived ideas.  Anyway, the Black Hills are full of adventure, and history.  The Great Plains Trail will follow the Mickelson Trail and/or the Centennial Trail from north to south through this unique and amazing area.  Honorable Mentions:  Wind Cave National Park, Bear Butte State Park, and Harney Peak – High Point of South Dakota


The trail to the campground at Toadstool.

The trail to the campground at Toadstool.

Oglala National Grassland –  No place that I’ve been to on my rambles has captured me more than the open grasslands of northwest Nebraska.  It’s a really special place with a feel all its own.  Toadstool Geologic Park and the open lands to the north represent some of the best Great Plains scenery out there.  Honorable Mention:  Fort Robinson State Park




Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska - One of my favorite Great Plains places

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska – One of my favorite Great Plains places

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument – Just to the south of Fort Rob is another one of my favorite spots.  Even though it’s a small national monument, it more than makes up for with superior scenery and outstanding paleontologic and human history.  Despite its size, this is one of the best national monuments in the country.  Honorable Mention: Scotts Bluff National Monument



The trail to Pawnee Buttes

The trail to Pawnee Buttes

Pawnee National Grassland – In spite of the fracking, this is still a great place, and all the more reason to add it to this list.  Because of unchecked oil and gas development, the landscape is being degraded mostly by people who don’t live there.  Locals have pride in where they live, and have a stake in taking care of the land.  Transient oil patch workers do not.  Go visit this area and speak up for it before it gets any worse.  Honorable Mention:  Panorama Point – High Point of Nebraska


Comanche National Grassland, Colorado

Comanche National Grassland, Colorado

Comanche National Grassland – Where can you see actual dinosaur tracks?  Not too many places, that’s for sure, but at the bottom of the outstanding Purgatoire River Canyon, there are some impressive brontosaurus and allosaurus  tracks.  Crazy.  Honorable Mention:  Black Mesa – High Point of Oklahoma




Capulin Volcano National Monument - the view from the top

Capulin Volcano National Monument – the view from the top

Capulin Volcano National Monument – Here’s another example of mountains on the Great Plains.  Most of northeastern New Mexico is a topographic tangle of buttes, mesas, and dormant volcanoes.  One of the highest (8,182 ft) is Capulin Volcano, which is the centerpiece of its namesake national monument.  The GPT will skirt the base of the mountain, but it’s an easy spur trail to the top for some impressive views.  Honorable Mention:  Kiowa National Grassland


The GPT traverses the top of this ridge.

The GPT traverses the top of this impressive ridge.

Lincoln National Forest – Near the end of the trail (if headed south), you come to the edge of the impressive Chihauhauan Desert.  This southernmost stretch is not technically part of the Great Plains, but who cares?  Is every step of the CDT really on the Continental Divide?  I think not.  Anyway, it’s an under- appreciated area with stunning topography and scenery.   Honorable Mention:  Brantley Lake State Park, New Mexico




Guadalupe Mountains National Park – This place is exactly why I want to include something that is not strictly in the Great Plains – what a dramatic start or finish to a GPT thru hike!  It’s the High Point of Texas (The GPT’s 5th such distinction), a national park, and gorgeous everywhere you turn.  Honorable Mention: Carlsbad Caverns National Park


Whew!  There you have it – The Top Ten Places (which turned out to be a lot more than just ten) to See on the Great Plains Trail!



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Plains Conservation Center

Great Plains Trail Alliance had a nice meeting yesterday with the Plains Conservation Center in Aurora, Colorado.  Their mission is holistic grassland conservation as well as providing educational opportunities in the grasslands of eastern Colorado.  I’m particularly fond of their tagline: “Find Your Roots in the Grasslands.”  Brilliant.  They own about 1,100 acres in Aurora which serves as their main educational facility for school groups to visit, as well as about 10,000 acres an hour east on Denver where they maintain 250 head of bison, and host special events.  It’s an exciting organization filled with potential and promise.  Great Plains Trail Alliance is looking forward to working with them on future projects and events.

If you have a chance, check them out and go visit their site if you can!

Sod house construction at PCC

Sod house construction at PCC


An old covered wagon skeleton


A muddy day, but a great view

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If Grass Falls . . .

Pawnee National Grassland

Pawnee National Grassland

There’s a nice article out this week from the Boulder Weekly about Pawnee National Grassland and the current plight against oil interests.  The article is titled, “If Grass Falls in a National Forest, and No One is around to Hear it . . .”  and it’s written by Joel Dyer.  Here is link to the article in online form:

Grassland Article

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Here Comes Old Uncle Joe . . .

One of the cool things (among a list of many cool things) about long distance trails is the tradition of having a “trail name.”  It probably started somewhere along the Appalachian Trail.  I don’t really know.  If anyone out there has some solid history on this, please post it in the comments.  Anyway, I think trail names, like any nickname, are awesome.  There is something about a nickname that makes you feel like you’re a part of something, like you belong.  Trail names, like nicknames, cannot be chosen, of course; they have to be given.  I should know.  I’ve been given quite a few of them in my time.  Here is a partial chronological list of nicknames I’ve had (and continue to own proudly – they’re not really something you can ever get rid of).

The author as Dook.

The author as Dook.

Dook  – It rhymes with “book” and “look” as opposed to “spook.”  It’s a childhood nickname given to me by my father, who himself has carried the lifetime nickname of “Buzz,” despite his real name being Raymond.  This is how he knows instantly when a telemarketer is on the other end of the line.  Anyone who knows him, calls him Buzz.






Ernie Grunfeld playing for the Knicks.

Ernie – A name given to me in high school by some of my friends on the basketball team.  My mediocre play inspired them to compare me to an NBA player from the 1980s named Ernie Grunfeld.  Never heard of him?  Let’s just say he wasn’t exactly Michael Jordan, or “Air Jordan,” if you prefer his nickname.



Teewinot, the mountain.


Teewinot – Given to me by my friends while working in Grand Teton National Park.  This one is harder to explain, but I believe it is because I was seen as a little brother figure to another friend of ours nicknamed “Teton.”  Teewinot is a smaller mountain than the Grand Teton, and thus like a little brother.


Old Uncle Joe

Old Uncle Joe

Which brings me to my Great Plains Trail trail name, which is “Old Uncle Joe.”  After staggering into camp after a long day.  My friend, and fellow GPTA Board member, Kevin started to sing a snippet of the theme song from the old TV show, Petticoat Junction, which goes, “There’s Old Uncle Joe, he’s moving pretty slow . . .”

Like all of my names, I wear it with extreme pride.

What’s your trail name?  Tell us the story . . .

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More Great Plains Poetry

Vachel Lindsay

Vachel Lindsay

The American poet, Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) was something of a mystic, and he once walked from his home in Illinois all the way to New Mexico preaching “the gospel of beauty.”  Why is it not surprising then that he spent most of that walk in the Great Plains?

Here is his poem, “The Flower-fed Buffaloes:”

In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prairie flowers lie low:—
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by the wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us, long ago.
They gore no more, they bellow no more,
They trundle around the hills no more:—
With the Blackfeet, lying low,
With the Pawnees, lying low,
Lying low.

And a bonus poem from Mr. Lindsay:  An Indian Summer Day on the Prairie


The sun is a huntress young,
The sun is a red, red joy,
The sun is an Indian girl,
Of the tribe of the Illinois.


The sun is a smouldering fire,
That creeps through the high gray plain,
And leaves not a bush of cloud
To blossom with flowers of rain.


The sun is a wounded deer,
That treads pale grass in the skies,
Shaking his golden horns,
Flashing his baleful eyes.


The sun is an eagle old,
There in the windless west.
Atop of the spirit-cliffs
He builds him a crimson nest.

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