Thanksgiving far away from Home
Written by Marcus Heerdt
November 25, 2019

I usually find myself far away from home during Thanksgiving, and that is just fine with me. No matter where I am in the world on Thanksgiving Day, I still take the time to remember all of the things I am thankful for in my life and eat a good meal.

My favorite Thanksgiving was spent in Denali National Park in 2017. Two park ranger friends who worked at Denali offered their cabin inside the park over the holiday break for myself and a friend. At that time, I was living in the small Alaskan village of Aniak, so I flew into Anchorage on Wednesday morning and then together we drove the four hours north to the park.


I am thankful for nature, wilderness, and the ability to travel in general. I will never forget the intense blue of the sky that Thanksgiving morning contrasted with the bright snow-capped Alaska Range.


That holiday weekend, the temperatures hovered between -50 and -60 F but that did not stop us from getting out and exploring on snowshoes. We ventured through the park with our heavy winter gear and encountered different kinds of birds (picture below is me looking at a Gray Jay) as well as some moose.


At that time of year, the sun set between 3 and 4 p.m. and we drank tea, played cards, and cooked hearty meals during the long evenings.


I had been to Denali National Park many times previous, but had never seen the mountain up close as it is usually covered in clouds, mist, and rain. On the last day, the sun shone brightly and there were no clouds obscuring the peak. We stopped at a pullout on the road and just gazed at it for a while, and for that I am thankful, as I have not seen the mountain since.



Yikes! A Snake
Written by Marcus Heerdt
November 18, 2019

Yikes! A Snake!

When I see a snake, I jump straight into the air. Thankfully, the majority of the snakes that inhabit the Black Hills and surrounding areas are non-venomous.

This summer, I saw a snake I had never seen before. I was out hiking northeast of Calamity Peak when I saw the greenest snake ever. It was in the middle of an old forest service road and did not move so I was able to get a picture of it. Through some research, I learned that it was a Smooth Greensnake (Opheodrys vernalis) and any sightings of this specific snake are to be reported to the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks. I completed the Rare Animal Report Form and heard back from SDGFP almost immediately. When asked how many sightings occur per year, a Wildlife Biologist responded that “we receive 5-10 sightings a year throughout the state.” Here is a picture I took of the snake:

The Smooth Greensnake can be found in the Black Hills and in the southeastern and northeastern corners of South Dakota. The South Dakota Natural Heritage Program monitors “rare, unique or vulnerable plants, animals and biological communities.”

Snakes that can be found in the Black Hills region include: North American Racer, Plains Hog-nosed Snake, Milksnake, Smooth Greensnake, Gophersnake, Red-bellied Snake, Terrestrial Gartersnake, Plains Gartersnake, Common Gartersnake, and the Prairie Rattlesnake. The only venomous snake on this list is the Prairie Rattlesnake.

This website has descriptions of all of the amphibians and reptiles of South Dakota along with location maps of each species:  https://www.sdherps.org/

Rare Species Report Form: https://gfp.sd.gov/natural-heritage-program/

Thank you to staff members of the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks for helping with this article.



Thanksgiving far away from Home
Written by Marcus Heerdt
November 25, 2019


Yikes! A Snake
Written by Marcus Heerdt
November 18, 2019


Different Types of Public Lands Near Custer
Written by Marcus Heerdt
November 4, 2019



Favorite Photos of Summer 2019
Written by and Photographed by Marcus Heerdt
October 29, 2019


But...they're called hills
Written by Marcus Heerdt
October 21, 2019



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