With the river now on its way down, raft aficionado and superintendent Valerie invited me along on a float trip down the river. It's still 13 feet high, not shabby for what is usually a muddy creek that can easily be waded across. Valerie had debated running the river when it was at 16 feet high; I said I would do it then, but she said she did not want a headline in the newspaper that read, "Park Superintendent Drowns While Rafting During Flood."
At Sully Creek State Park, where we put in, camptender Roger Clemens came out to greet us. I asked if his nickname was "The Rocket" before I could stop myself. He had the nicest, most extraordinarily well-trained border collie I've ever seen. "Smokey" was its name, if I remember correctly. With shaggy gray and brown hair, and up to its hips in dried mud, it laid down on the ground about 30 feet away, head upright and ears perked, while Roger came over to talk to us. I went over to say hello to the dog, and it, very obediently, stayed in its prone position. Later, Roger gave it a little signal or a whistle and it ran over and acted just like a normal dog, sniffing and greeting all of us. Roger was very helpful helping us get Valerie's raft down the newly-steepened bank. Smokey tried to help, too. We wished they could come along.
It was a relaxing trip from Sully Creek, three miles south of Medora, to the Cottonwood Campground, where we had left the retrieval vehicle. The weather was perfect as come clouds cut down on the glare from the water but temperatures were in the high 70s. The river was fast and the only real effort expended was to keep the raft away from the edge a couple of times and otherwise to keep it pointed downstream. Keeping it pointed downstream isn't that important in a raft, but my Whitewater Canoeing merit badge training makes me feel better when I can see where I'm going.
Throughout the course of the river, it was easy to see where the water had been at the crest during the flooding: an obvious line had cut through the clay, undercut some cliffs slightly, and completely scoured the banks of the river throughout. In at least one place, a barbed-wire fence had been entirely undercut for a significant distance and was simply hanging over the river. Naturally, it didn't take much to get all muddy in the process of putting in and taking out along the steep banks. The bentonite clay that got on everything got a good hosing-down at the end of the night.
We saw several Canada geese, a couple white-tail deer, some ranch horses, a bison, mallards, and about seven small ducks that I'll claim as wood ducks. We saw two unusual things. While we were watching for "killer beavers" (long story) a big chunk of the riverbank broke off right next to us. I was glad we were slightly past it and in the middle of the river as it happened. The mud and debris from the slide washed past us shortly after the collapse. Later, an entire tree did a Loch Ness Monster maneuver, bobbing straight up, then straight down in the water. It was the strangest thing. I wonder whether it was going down the river and actually pole-vaulted when it hit something. I don't know how else that could happen. Maybe a giant, killer beaver was carrying it.
In other news, I heard a Say's phoebe outside today. I expected the insect-eating birds to show up now that it is getting warmer and the blooming plants are attracting insects reliably. The grass is turning greener and the buds on the bushes are opening up. Medora is awakening. More people are evident every day. I think I actually prefer the "iron desolation" of winter to nice weather and abundant phoniness of Medora in the summer.
I was reminded how much I enjoy doing business in North Dakota today as I called to set a date to end my phone and internet services in my apartment here. When I called the phone company, I got a person right away, she asked me about the weather first (legitimate topic of conversation in North Dakota - in fact, the only news worth talking about, usually), then got to the business of my call. Real people.