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to the Rockies - Spring 2006
by Sylvia R. Gallagher
p.m., Sun., June 11, 2006
Sugar Loafin' RV Campground, Leadville, CO
This morning I
finished editing my last installment and read most of the Denver Post
before we set off for the 65-mile drive to Leadville. We didn't want
to get here too early, but I don't think we needed to worry that weekenders
would still be here. The place is almost empty--just the way we like
We drove west
on I-70 to SR 91, then south to Leadville. The stretch of I-70 included
the 2-mile-long Eisenhower Tunnel, which avoids Loveland Pass and
is about 1000 ft lower. (The companion tunnel eastbound is called
the Johnson Tunnel and was constructed about eight years later, but
everyone seems to call both of them the Eisenhower Tunnel.)
SR-91 is an excellent
road that goes over a 12,000+ foot pass, but doesn't have any scary
switchbacks with precipitous drops. It ascends along Ten Mile Creek,
then crosses a saddle and descends along the Arkansas River near its
headwaters. Jim was able to ascend at 30-35 mph in low gear with no
trouble. Gorgeous scenery!
Near the top we
pulled off at an interpretive site which overlooks a restoration site
started in 2005. The Climax molybdenum (chemical symbol Mo) mine is
not far away and the tailings were dumped in this valley--don't know
how deep they go. Finally, many years after the mine was closed, they
got around to trying to restore the area. It looks pretty barren and
awful now, though. An interpretive sign enumerated the things they
are doing to restore the land. [I dictated the text of the sign into
my tape recorder and need to insert it here, but since I'm editing
this using the solar panels and the inverter, I guess I'll wait until
I get home and re-edit the entire diary.]
The mine tailings
ultimately engulfed three small mining towns, whose residents had
to move elsewhere. [Text of that sign needed here, too.]
A mile or two
farther we reached the summit of Fremont Pass, and lo and behold there
was a huge preliminary processing plant for Mo ore (shipped to midwest
for final processing) and behind it a gigantic stairstep up the mountain
where ore had been extracted. Some of the ore was also extracted underground.
There was about a 5-minute radio message, which we tried to listen
to and which I recorded. I say "tried" because the music
tended to drown out the talking, and the tone quality was poor on
top of it. [Need to listen to it and add information.] The radio piece
had obviously been put together by the Climax Mo Company, for it was
pretty self-congratulatory in spots, but still interesting.
I read in a tourist
newspaper I picked up in the campground that the mine is scheduled
to reopen in 2009. I guess Mo prices have increased enough to make
it economically feasible to resume operations.
We ate lunch in the trailer at the overlook of the restoration site--nice
big parking area--and got here around 2:30 or 3:00.
Campground is three miles off the main highway on the road to Turquoise
Lake. (The lake isn't far away, but we haven't seen it yet.) It's
all by itself at the edge of a grove of Lodgepole Pines. The tent
sites are in the pines, but the hookup sites are more in the open,
with small planted Lodgepoles between sites. The sites are fairly
spacious and almost none of them is occupied, so it's a vast improvement
over the last place. Across the road from the campground is a sagebrush
flat, where in a very short walk I heard White-crowned Sparrows and
saw a Mountain Bluebird. The valley where we're located is surrounded
on both sides by high mountains, and Mt. Elbert, the highest in Colorado
is one of them. It's over 14,000 ft, but several others in the vicinity
are almost as high and also over 14,000 ft. The view from the campground
is spectacular. The slogan on their advertising is really appropriate:
"Scenery Piled to the Sky." Our elevation here is 9696 ft.
Leadville is 10,100 ft. We descended and crossed the Arkansas R. then
back up a little bit when we drove the three miles from Leadville.
is absolutely overrun with ground squirrels. I checked my mammal books
and decided they looked most like Wyoming Ground Squirrels. The range
maps in neither book showed them occurring quite this far south in
Colorado, but no other similar animal is in this area or occurs as
close to here as the Wyoming G. S., so that's what they have to be.
Jim will get some photos tomorrow--not enough energy today.
It's been a real
problem to keep Toby from barking at the squirrels, but they're visible
out every window and we can't keep him in his kennel all the time.
I think I finally have him almost convinced that they're just part
of the scene and not something to get upset about. Or maybe he just
wants to play with them.
gotten high enough that we don't need the A/C in the afternoon. (I
hate its droning, but we had to use it at 7900 ft where we were last.
We had no shade and the sun hit us broadside.) High temp. in Leadville
today was forecast to be 75 degrees and that's what it was when we
drove through this afternoon. (Forecast low tonight is 37 degrees,
but we had colder just a week or so ago.) Late in the afternoon clouds
formed over the mountains on both sides of the valley and it looked
as though rain was falling in many locations. I was afraid it might
rain here, and as I was grilling smoked sausages for dinner, I fixed
it early. But, as usual, the clouds disappeared before sunset, and
the sky is totally cloudless now at 8:45 (still fairly light).
The altitude makes
us tire more easily, so think I'll quit now and not take time to listen
to those tapes I made today.
p.m., Mon., June 12, 2006
Sugar Loafin' Campground, Leadville, CO
The scenery really
was "piled to the sky" until just a few minutes ago. Some
of the puffy clouds of the afternoon are still around, and the setting
sun cast a pink glow on every one of them, as well as the mountains
on both sides of the valley. With the Lodgepole Pines of the campground
in the foreground, it was a magnificent sight.
After all the
driving around on mountain roads we've done in the past week, we decided
to stay right here in our campground today. It's such a pleasant place
after the jammed-in campsite we occupied the past week.
I took a walk
right after breakfast. Our campground is located where a road forks
into three, all going more-or-less westward. The left one goes to
the golf course, the right one goes to the lake, and the middle one
is unpaved and there was no sign telling where it went. I figured
it would have the least traffic and so walked it. I met a runner and
asked him where it went. He said it ended in about a mile. I walked
1.1 miles (measured on odometer when Jim came and picked me up) and
it showed no signs of ending. The setting is mostly Lodgepole Pine
forest with openings here and there covered with Big Sagebrush and
edged with Aspens. Not many birds nest in this habitat. I took my
tape recorder, but recorded nothing of significance. Heard distant
Cassin's Finch, Hermit Thrush, Flicker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and
a few others. Saw a Red-naped Sapsucker briefly. The road was entirely
up-hill, but not especially steep. When I was tired walking, I called
Jim on the radio to come and pick me up, because I'd have been directly
facing the sun on the way back. I wished I'd taken Toby, because about
all I did was photograph Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive with various beautiful
foregrounds--and enjoy a beautiful morning out in the wild by myself.
A few pick-up trucks drove by, but otherwise it was deserted. A lot
of airplanes were overhead and would have made recording difficult.
Just as I was
setting out I spotted the male Mountain Bluebird again. He lit on
a post near the entrance to the campground, and I could see he had
food in his beak. As a well-trained bird atlaser, I immediately knew
there was a nest hole nearby. It didn't take long before he showed
me where it was--in a mail box! The trailer right next to the campground
entrance seems to be placed where it is permanently, or at least for
the season. They've erected a rural mailbox behind it and cut a bluebird-sized
round hole in the door. I radioed Jim about it, and he immediately
went over there. The trailer owner told him bluebirds have used that
box for years. Jim got some nice photos in morning light, but decided
afternoon light would be even better. So whenever the sun came out
from behind the clouds in the afternoon, he trotted--or maybe trudged
at this elevation-- over there and shot a few more frames of the male
and female. He got so many with film that he even shot some with his
sessions, Jim also photographed the Wyoming Ground Squirrels and tried
to get the brownish undersides of their tails--not an easy task. I
discovered I'd also brought my "Squirrels of the West" book
and looked the animal up in that. It did show them this far south.
The map plotted the major rivers, so I could see that their range
comes a little ways south of the source of the Arkansas River, which
is exactly where we are--right on the edge of their range.
No birds have
come to Jim's feeding and watering stations--just squirrels. There
are a few Pine Siskins in the trees, but I have yet to see one well.
Tomorrow we'll have to drive around and see if we can discover more
p.m., Tues., June 13, 2006
Sugar Loafin' Campground, Leadville, CO
The clouds that
gave us that beautiful sunset last night persisted all night long,
so the temperature only got down to 48 degrees. The morning was not
only cloudy, but hazy. The haze and the clouds had all disappeared
by mid-morning, then around noon the usual afternoon puffies started.
Now they're almost all gone, so no beautiful sunset tonight. High
temperature was forecast to be 77 degrees in Leadville today, and
I think that's about what it was. (Denver is having a heat wave.)
We took a drive
around Turquoise Lake, which is very close to where we're camped.
It's a 15-mile loop, all paved, but has its ups and downs and curves.
Most of the time the lake was far below us and hidden by the trees,
so the drive was something of a disappointment.
It's not actually
a lake, but a reservoir. We crossed on the dam at the start and drove
clockwise around it. At the far end, we discovered where all the water
came from this high up--the other (west) side of the continental divide
through a tunnel. I looked at my DeLorme Atlas and discovered this
part of Colorado is riddled with similar tunnels. We learned of one
on the upper Colorado River in Rocky Mountain NP. Thus much of the
water that would normally enter the Colorado River drainage is siphoned
off for the megalopolis on the other side of the Rockies. We saw only
one sizeable creek entering the reservoir--not nearly enough water
for a reservoir of that size.
We checked out
several of the National Forest Campgrounds around the lake and decided
we're better off where we are. The only one we might like is the one
at the far end of the lake. There are some willows and a bit of grassy
meadow there, not just a monoculture of Lodgepole Pines with no understory.
That habitat is usually totally silent. On the upper slopes where
the road went high, there were also Engelmann Spruce and Douglas-Fir
trees, but not very many birds there either.
Two new flowers:
Flower (Eriogonum umbellatum) -
in bloom all over our campground. I thought it looked familiar and
just checked my database and discovered I'd photographed it at Church
Creek Meadow in the northern Sierra Nevada and at Lava Beds NM in
extreme northeastern CA. Lena Hayashi photographed it in the Ansel
Adams Wilderness. In each instance I found it listed under a different
common name. Flower names are not standardized, as this species
clearly demonstrates. That's why I always write down the scientific
name, too. Of course they change those, too, as taxonomic thought
Wyoming Paintbrush (Castilleja linariaefolia)
- at far end of Turqouise Lake yesterday; the only paintbrush we've
seen so far in CO, and there was only one plant.
p.m., Wed., June 14, 2006
Monarch Spur RV Park, 8 miles west of Poncha Springs,
This morning we
drove through the old mining areas on the east side of Leadville.
When we were there in 1990, we had been appalled at the runoff of
contaminated water, etc. There has been a lot of improvement in this
Superfund site since then. [I read in the paper recently that the
Superfund has run out of funds because the Bush administration refers
to continue the tax on industry for the clean-up.] Carbonate Hill,
where much lead/silver carbonate was extracted has been covered over
with topsoil and seeded to grasses. There was one trickle of orangish
runoff flowing down the gutter, but not what we saw last time. However,
last time there were still lots of snow patches to provide water.
Today all the snow was gone. We saw one small pond with a fine-mesh
fence all around it. It's apparently contaminated and the fence is
there to keep small animals out. I guess the birds don't go there--or
returned to town and visited the National Mining Hall of Fame and
Museum. This large establishment is an incredible hodge-podge of all
sorts of things pertaining to minerals, their extraction and uses.
The parts we visited first were really poorly interpreted. Most of
the time we couldn't figure out the significance of what we were seeing--or
else the displays were not particularly interesting. The mush-mouthed
young girl at the entry desk told us in what order to view things,
but it wasn't until the very end of our visit there that we saw the
most interesting parts of the museum: (1) A series of small dioramas
depicting all aspects of early gold extraction from the earliest prospector
and his pan to the stamp mills of the end of the period. These were
the labor of love of one man and really excellent and put all we've
learned piecemeal over the years into perspective. (2) A large walk-through
replica of an underground Leadville mine, complete with sound effects
and a few moving displays. These two items were well worth visiting
the museum. The rest of the stuff was so-so. They did have a spectacular
mineral display, but gave only the names of the minerals. As a chemist,
I'd have liked to see the chemical formulas.
We then went back
to the trailer, had an early lunch, and drove south through the Arkansas
River Valley. We had remembered a campground in Nathrop where Jim
photographed Evening Grosbeaks in 1990, but couldn't find anything
that looked like it this time. So we kept on going south, then turned
west on US 50 at Poncha Springs. I picked an RV Park part way up the
grade to Monarch Pass. It was 88 degrees at the lowest point in our
route, just before Poncha Springs, but had cooled down to 82 degrees
by the time we got up to 8600 ft, where we're now located. The campground
is in the fairly narrow canyon of the South Arkansas River and is
nothing special. All the sites are pull-throughs, and all face the
same way, with the bedroom facing the late afternoon sun. It was pretty
hot late in the afternoon. The sites are very close together, but
the place is nearly empty, so it doesn't matter. None is shady. The
wind was blowing hard all afternoon, so I didn't try to find any birds.
It's died down now, so will look around in the morning before we leave.
They have syrup and seed feeders. Broad-tailed Hummers are common.
We've seen Steller's Jay, Cassin's Finch, and Black-headed Grosbeak
at the seed.
p.m., Thurs., June 15, 2006
South Rim Campground, Black Canyon of the Gunnison
I took Toby for
a walk before breakfast and was surprised to discover there was more
to the camp than I had realized: a section of long pull-throughs up
the hill and a tent-camping section that ran along the river east
of the RV park. The park roads are sadly in need of mowing. The route
to the tent-camping section had really tall grasses in the middle
of the two-track dirt road. Toby, of course, prefers the tallest grasses
over the nice gravel track. There was some dew this morning, so he
quickly made a mess of himself by alternately scrambling in the wet
grass and running on the dirt road. When we got back to the trailer,
I had Jim hold onto him outside while I went in and got a plastic
dishpan full of warm water and made Toby stand in it while I washed
the mud off his paws. Then I dried them the best I could with a towel.
His paws need trimming badly, so they were still pretty wet, but at
least not muddy, when we let him inside. (He's permitted on the couch
and the bed.)
While we were
walking I discovered that there were a lot of different flower species
here and there on the grounds. So after breakfast I went back without
Toby, but with my camera and flower books to work them out. Several
of them were not in the two Colorado flower books I had bought, which
hadn't failed me up to now. But I did find two in another book I'd
brought with me, Flowers of the Southwest Mountains by Arnberger
and Janish (abbreviated A&J below), published in 1982. Their scientific
names may have changed since then, but at least I found the flowers.
Here's my list:
Penstemon (Penstemon barbatus)
- only in A&J
Wandbloom Penstemon (Penstemon virgatus)
- only in A&J
Colorado Loco - again
Narrowleaf Puccoon (Lithospermum incisum)
Leafy Cinquefoil (Potentilla fissa)
A white Evening Primrose. Oenothera albicaulis
was similar, but it was not thatspecies. Will try to work it out from
photos when I get home.
or Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris). I've seen pictures of this
in many flower books and was thrilled to finally see it--just one
A white composite with both ray and disc flowers.
Not in any of the books. I saw it used in landscaping in Gunnison
when we stopped there for lunch, so wonder if it isn't an escapee.
There was a big patch of it.
Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)
There were a few
others that are common everywhere and have already been mentioned
in this diary.
While I was busy with the flowers, Jim stationed himself at the birdfeeders
by the office. He photographed male and female Black-headed Grosbeaks,
which he doesn't need, and Hairy Woodpeckers, which he does. The Rocky
Mountain race is different from the one in California.
While I was out
looking at flowers, I saw a small flock of Cedar Waxwings, the first
I've seen in Colorado. Maybe they were late migrants.
We didn't get
away from there until 10:30, but we only had 120 miles to drive, all
but the last 7 miles on US 50. It turned out to be a rather slow 120
miles, though. The road started out by ascending to 11,300-foot Monarch
Pass, then descending. For a while it ran through a beautiful valley
where Tomichi Creek meandered through an emerald meadow.
We stopped for
lunch at a BBQ restaurant in Gunnison. Jim had a pork sandwich and
I had brisket. I forget the name of the place, but it was on the south
side of the street more or less in the middle of town. It had lots
of cars in the lot, so we figured it must be good, and it was excellent--except
for the tasteless cole slaw. [We've had the same type of cole slaw
several other places.]
After lunch the
road followed a series of reservoirs on the dammed Gunnison River
for many miles, then diverged from the river because the banks were
too steep. It went up and down and curved a lot and was very slow
for quite a ways.
The final seven
miles was the spur road to Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was a
very steep, curvy road, almost all of which had to be done in low
gear. At one point, we were down to 23 mph, it was so steep, but that
part didn't last long and we were able to go as fast as the curves
permitted. We'd done it before, so we knew the truck would make it.
When we got up
here, we were happy to learn that the campground was not full. We
were told that loop B of the three loops has electricity and we were
able to find a nice back-in spot that had no reservations. We took
it for three days ($12 a night with Golden Age). After our tedious
drive, we decided to save exploring the park for tomorrow.
Today was very
cool--didn't get out of the 60s--a pleasant change. It was also mostly
cloudy. Our elevation here is 8300 ft. We're surrounded by various
large shrubs. Haven't worked much on the birds, but have singing Green-tailed
Towhees all around our site. Elsewhere I've heard Yellow Warblers
and Warbling Vireos. Virginia's Warblers are supposed to nest in this
habitat, and I just listened to their song. Maybe I'll find one tomorrow
for Jim to photograph. I read that they're pretty secretive when nesting,
p.m., Fri., June 16, 2006
Black Canyon of Gunnison NP, CO
this morning I decided to walk the half-mile nature trail from the
campground to the visitors center. I thought I had done it last time,
so told Jim to meet me there when it opened at 8:00. I set out with
Toby (dogs permitted on this trail only) and my walking stick. There
definitely were steps--high ones. After a while the trail seemed to
cling closer and closer to the brink of the canyon and my acrophobia
started to kick in. Toby jerking at the leash and darting this way
and that didn't help either. Finally, when I could see the trail ahead
was even worse, I decided I'd had it and turned back. I reached a
place where it looked as though I could cut cross-lots to the road.
I did succeed, but it was farther than I expected and I had a hard
time weaving around the shrubs near the end and began to think I might
have to retrace my steps. Finally I did come out on the road. I had
been in radio contact with Jim the entire time, so I told him where
to come and pick me up.
We took Toby back
to the trailer and stuck him in his kennel. (He can't be trusted loose
in the trailer, for he gets into everything.) Then we set out for
some tamer explorations and trails with railings.
First we went
to the visitors center, which is new since we were last here in 1990.
It was opened in 1997. I recuperated from my "ordeal" by
watching the interpretive video about the people in the early days
exploring the canyon. What intrepid folks!
After that we
walked out to the nearby viewpoint and then drove to several others.
The canyon is really an amazing place and is in many ways more impressive
than the Grand Canyon, for when you stand at the brink, you can look
straight down to the Gunnison River, not obliquely as at the Grand
Canyon. Yes, I can look straight down, so long as there is a railing
to cling to.
place is also amazing, for it's a deep canyon cut lengthwise through
a high ridge of land. The river initially cut through soft sediments,
then hit the bedrock. Meanwhile volcanic action was creating highlands
on both sides and scrunching up the land in between where the river
flowed. The course had already been established, so the river continued
to cut through the hard bedrock. Because its incline is so steep,
very large boulders were carried along by the current and did a good
job of eroding the canyon. Because the canyon is down the middle of
a ridge, very little water runs off into the canyon in the vicinity
of the gorge. Thus there is almost no side erosion.
on a portion of the Colorado Plateau. I taught people about the plants
of this region in my Deserts Workshop, but hadn't visited the area
since then. It was fun to renew my acquaintance with some of the indicator
shrubs. I especially enjoyed seeing the Mountain Mahogany (here it's
Alderleaf, Cercocarpus montanus), which was going to seed. The seed
pods are long (3-4 in.), curved, and wire-like. When they burst open,
they look like miniature white feathers. Only a few had reached that
stage, but I suppose they blow away in the wind and germinate to create
more Mountain Mahogany plants. Other shrubs that are present are:
Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis)
- the most common plant in our campsite
Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii)
- a shrubby oak, a few in our site
Narrowleaf Yucca (Yucca angustissima)
- only about 2-3 ft tall
I was exhausted
by the end of the morning, both from the trail I failed to complete
and from all the short walks down to the various viewpoints (it's
8600 ft here). I took a long nap this afternoon and did nothing the
rest of the day. The wind got up in the late afternoon, which kept
the birds concealed in the shrubs, so there was little incentive to
go out. It was a very cool day with a high in the mid-60s. A few of
yesterday's clouds were still around in the early morning, then they
went away and the usual puffies developed. All is still and clear
p.m., Sat., June 17, 2006
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, CO
We did little
gaping at the chasm today and instead concentrated on the birds and
flowers. We drove to the end of the rim road at "High Point,"
which isn't any higher than the campground. The habitat is different
though. It's quite wooded with many large Two-Needle Pinyon Pines
(Pinus edulis) and a few equally large Utah Junipers (Juniperus osteosperma,
perhaps in the new genus Sabina). Jim photographed a nice female Blue
Grouse the last time we were there, but we saw no sign of one today.
(A park employee cleaning the rest rooms said he'd seen one on the
road as he drove up after we did.)
There's a long
nature/hiking trail that sets off downhill from the end of the road,
but I didn't think I wanted to attempt that after reading a description
of it at the top of the hill. Instead I just wandered around in the
woodland and recorded birds. A Mountain Chickadee was singing a one-pitch
song. It would sing either two or three notes all on the same pitch.
I've never heard a song like that in California.
Then my ears pricked
up when I heard a song that I thought could be the Virginia's Warbler.
It wasn't quite like the tape, but seemed sort of close--closer to
that than to anything else I could think of that might be there. Of
course, I recorded it and played it back. I had to do a little walking
around before the bird would respond. Apparently I wasn't in his territory
to begin with. But when I found the right spot, he flew right in.
It was a Virginia's--the first one I've ever recorded. He sang from
right over my head and I recorded him some more.
Then I tried to
summon Jim on the radio, but evidently he'd inadvertently turned it
off or down or something, so I had to go fetch him. When I played
the tape again with Jim there, the bird flew in and occasionally perched
in the open for photos. I don't think Jim ever got the ultimate side
view, but he did get a lot of shots. I got more recordings too. For
some reason, the breeze died down, allowing for a quieter recording.
Some of the earlier ones had had an airplane in the background, too.
We were pretty happy: my first recordings and Jim's first decent photographs,
also the first time I've ever seen the bird in its breeding habitat.
All the others I've seen have been vagrants in coastal California--and
none for many years.
The bird seldom,
if ever, called. (That may be typical, for the Stokes tape only has
the song on it.) I did get some soft "tsik" calls, but there
was another pair of birds in the area at the time chasing each other
around and giving aggressive calls and might have also been giving
these. They sounded a little like Warbling Vireos sometimes, but other
times they sounded like nothing I'd ever heard before. After I went
back to dump my tape recorder and get my camera and flower books,
I also heard a Black-throated Gray Warbler singing; the calls could
have been from it. (I was sorry not to have the tape recorder. I could
use more sound from that bird.) Anyway, I recorded the "tsik"
calls and may find I have a recording I can compare with them when
I get home and find out if they could have been Virginia's. I rather
think they were.
the habitat and also a couple of flowers, neither of which I could
find in any of my books. One was a low cholla-type cactus with beautiful
yellow flowers. The other was a fuchsia-colored umbel on a six-inch
stem with no leaves. I looked a little like an onion, but wasn't what
was in any of my books.
We stopped at one overlook on the way back, "Cross Fissures."
Jim thought it sounded like it might be different from some of the
others we saw yesterday, and it was. There were tall columns in the
canyon that were just as tall as the actual walls. Apparently the
river had changed course or something. (No interpretive sign was at
the stop.) Again I screwed up my courage and leaned over the railing
to look at the white-water river 2000 ft below.
was warm enough to sit outside (72 degrees high) and I set up my chair
in the shade of a tall but shrubby Gambel Oak with a shrub-like juniper
mingled in. We'd been seeing an Empidonax flycatcher from the trailer
window and I had thought it was a Gray, but this time the bird (actually
a pair) was flitting all around where I was sitting and I could see
that it was a Dusky. Then it flew into the juniper right next to me
and disappeared. The only explanation could be that its nest was there.
I peered at where I had last seen the bird with my wonderful close-focusing
Brunton binoculars and there was the bird on the nest about five feet
away. There's no way Jim can photograph it, for it's deep inside the
shrub. (He does have a nice Dusky on a nest from Yuba Pass.) For the
rest of the afternoon, the birds came and went from the nest, sometimes
leaving it unattended, sometimes exchanging incubation duties. (No
food was ever brought, so I know they were sitting on eggs.) Jim said
one of the birds came to his water drip for a drink and he photographed
He also said he
photographed five different male Yellow Warblers. He counted them
because each new one was dry and the ones that had left couldn't have
dried out by then. I wonder about that, for the air is pretty dry.
We were going
to drive to Grand Junction tomorrow afternoon, but the forecast is
for a temperature of 98 degrees there, so we've decided to stay here
one more night and drive the 75 miles first thing Monday morning.
We've got to go there on a weekday for a couple of reasons: (1) Jim's
been having trouble with the trailer torsion bar staying attached
and needs to see about getting it fixed. (2) We've decided that we've
really done all we want to do in Colorado and don't have to go home
yet. Clair and Sue De Beauvoir have been sending us tantalizing emails
from Yellowstone, so Jim said, "Let's go there." We didn't
bring any books and maps with us for Wyoming or other northwestern
states, so have to go to AAA. Grand Junction's is the only office
between here and Yellowstone. (We don't want to go to Denver or Cheyenne.)
We plan to meet Clair and Sue enroute, for they're heading for the
Denver area to visit Clair's daughter. They're also going to Rocky
Mountain NP. So we'll exchange advice--again. (You may recall we were
together at South Llano River SP in Texas some time ago.)
June 18, 2006
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, CO
p.m., Mon., June 19, 2006
KOA, Craig, CO
We did so little
yesterday that I didn't bother to write it up. In the morning I walked
the Upland Trail, which I figured wouldn't get close to the precipice,
and I was right. I got on it from the main park road, although it
actually starts from the cliffside nature trail that turned me off
the first day. It winds through a variety of habitats, including some
grassy areas with scattered Big Sagebrush. This habitat I had not
seen from the park road, and it contained one more bird for my list,
Brewer's Sparrow. I never saw one, but they were singing. It was interesting
to have them and Chipping Sparrows both singing on territory in the
same area. The Chippies seemed to be using the fairly large Gambel
Oaks that were nearby.
Before I even
got to the start of the trail, I saw a Blue Grouse cross the road.
I called Jim, but it was gone by the time he got there with his camera.
I didn't hear
any Virginia's Warblers, and the vicinity of the campground was where
I was told by the man in the visitors center to look. He did admit
that he wasn't much of a birder.
The trail came
out at the road just beyond the visitors center and crossed it. Since
that portion of it looked like it was pretty close to the gorge, I
decided to walk to the visitors center on the road. There I called
Jim on the radio to come and get me. I didn't want to walk all the
way back to the campground on the road. Besides, it was mostly up-hill.
I suppose I had walked only about a mile, but it was getting warm.
The temperature topped out at 82 degrees, the warmest day we'd had.
We were glad to be on the mountaintop and not down in Grand Junction,
where it was predicted to reach 98 degrees.
I've come to the
conclusion that the folks who compiled the park bird list made a few
mistakes. They listed Blue-headed, not Plumbeous Vireo. They also
listed Black-capped Chickadee as common and Mountain as less so. I
only found Mountain, and I doubt that Black-capped are seen very often
there, if ever. I really have no way of judging some of the other
records. I do agree with their Empid assessment, for they listed Dusky
as common and the others as less so. Dusky was what was breeding in
We were surprised that there were more people in the campground Sunday
night than any of the previous three nights. Two possible reasons
come to mind: (1) People expected it to be full on the weekend, so
waited til Sunday to arrive. (2) It had been cool in the lowlands,
but heated up on Sunday, so they sought the cool high country.
We saw several
Western Tanagers in the park, the first on the trip. I was surprised
that we hadn't encountered them in the Rockies farther east.
This morning we got up at 5:00. (The robins had been singing for 15
minutes, having started when dawn was barely perceptible.) We were
on the road by around 6:30-6:45. That brought us into Grand Junction
at about the right time.
On the road into
town we spotted a trailer service shop, which advertised used parts--just
what Jim was hoping for. Unfortunately they didn't have any torsion
bars our size--just larger and smaller ones. However, the man pointed
out a couple of simple things that would probably solve the problem
we were having of the bar coming loose. A little cleaning of gunk
out of the attachment and a little banging with some metal object
to squeeze a spring were the fixes. I guess it worked, for Jim said
nothing about it coming loose. (I think he still has the clamp on,
We found Wal_Mart
(the star, _, is what they use on their sign, so just for fun I hunted
up the character) and AAA with no difficulty, bought gasoline, and
were on the freeway out of town at 11:00. We drove northeast on I-70
to Rifle, then north on SR 13 to Craig, where we're situated in an
ordinary commercial campground, a KOA. Most of the sites were sunny,
but we got in around 3:00 and found one that had quite a bit of shade.
The temperature was 93 degrees when we got here and the trailer was
thoroughly heated up, so it took a long time for the A/C to cool it
off. I tried to take a nap, but the bedroom was just too hot. Newspaper
says it's supposed to cool off to 44 degrees here tonight. I hope
it's right. It's still pretty balmy outside now.
p.m., Tues., June 20, 2006
Sleeping Bear Ranch RV Park, 9 miles S of Lander,
Since we only
had 244 miles to drive today, we slept in a bit (it did cool off nicely),
then shopped for propane and gasoline on the stupid one-way streets
in the very small town of Craig. Why that town needs one-way streets
is beyond our ken.
We drove north
on SR 13, which changed to SR 789 at the WY border. I actually think
we were on 789 the rest of the day, but several US highways joined
it. Anyway, when we got to I-80, we drove east to Rawlins, then northwest
on US-287 to one mile short of its junction with SR 28 south of Lander.
The TL Guide lists
two Sleeping Bear RV parks, this one out in the country and another
right in the town of Lander. This one is in a beautiful rural setting.
No shade, but we have a view of round-topped red-rock "hills,"
which glowed enchantingly as we were eating dinner. In the foreground
is a small river, not visible from the trailer, but beyond the river
are brilliant green fields dotted with gray-green Russian Olive trees.
(I know they're pest trees, but they certainly are pretty in this
This idyllic setting
is a nice contrast after a rather austere drive through sagebrush-covered
country with barren hills. Only near the end did we start to see the
snow-capped peaks of the spectacular Wind River Range. I look forward
to seeing them better tomorrow.
The 50 miles between
the WY border and I-80 were the worst of all, for they are dotted
with what we finally decided are natural gas wells. At each station
there is a large metal tank and some smaller equipment on a huge bare
patch of ground. How it all functions is unclear. In a couple of places
there were some long buildings that might be dormitories for workers.
They seemed to be modular in construction--a lot of similar-looking
buildings strung together. Of course each wellhead has to be connected
to the highway by a road, so the whole country is interlaced with
bare dirt roads.
The above is exactly
what an article in the Denver Post a few days ago was referring to
when it told about the decline of the Greater Sage-Grouse due to habitat
Clair and Sue
are not meeting us here as we originally agreed. Here's Sue's excuse,
from the email she sent us: "We tried; we really, really tried....to
leave Yellowstone. We, too, got our act somewhat together and left
our motel in Gardiner [Montana, north of the northwest park entrance]
this am only to find an eye-level Flicker nest in Mammoth Hot Springs.
So we HAD to sit and photograph till noon. Then we drove to the Fishing
Bridge area and right past there we stopped for lunch, having decided
we'd better go to West Yellowstone for the evening. We lost about
an hour in a buffalo traffic jam and then another 15 minutes in an
elk traffic jam (a large male with a huge rack, especially since it's
only June) and it was getting to be mid-afternoon.
were stopped at a turnout at Yellowstone Lake, a car pulls up right
behind us and out comes a scope to check the Bald Eagle nest way up
the hillside. I said a few words to the lady and mentioned that we
were bird photographers, so we enjoyed seeing the Eagle, but it was
too far away for a shot. She then asked us if we had seen the Harlequin
Ducks and told us where they were, about ten miles back. So we thanked
her, turned the car around and proceeded to drive to the spot, hoping
they would still be there. When we pulled into the area, those people
were behind us and then proceeded to ask us if we had seen the Osprey
nest at Tower Falls and the Peregrine nest there also. We hadn't,
got the info. and we again thanked them.
on their way and we went down to the Yellowstone River at LeHardys
Falls and, sure enough, five male Harlequins. We spent probably an
hour or more there and then headed back for the Tower Falls area and
finally back to Gardiner, where we intend to spend two nights."
the above is only a little bit more hectic than their usual days.
Jim and I don't know how they keep up the pace. We usually poop out
around noon and enjoy the afternoon in our campsite. They're staying
in motels, which are not as attractive as campsites, so that may be
part of the reason they're reluctant to quit each day.
stay in Grand Teton NP the next couple of nights. I have to do the
rest of my laundry tomorrow morning (3 loads done, two to go) and
wash Toby before we leave. (They only have three washing machines,
and besides I didn't feel up to changing the bed in the sweltering
late-afternoon--upper 80s--heat. The A/C just doesn't cool the bedroom
well at all.)
When we were in
eastern Colorado several weeks ago, I recall complaining about how
awful the roads in the state were. That changed when we got into the
mountains. Nearly all of them were in fine shape--except for their
stinginess with guardrails. That's always been a Colorado failing,
and I hate it. Today as we drove from Craig to the WY border, we were
back to narrow roads with poorly graded roadbeds. Things got better
when we crossed into WY. There were three small farm towns right across
the border and all those gas wells along the road, both of which were
an incentive to keep the road up. In Colorado, there was nothing between
Craig and the border. (We've noticed many times in many states that
the road between the last town and the border to the next state is
p.m., Wed., June 21, 2006
Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton NP, WY
We arose around
5:30 and I stuck the remaining two loads of laundry into the washing
machines. I went back to the trailer and set the timer for 35 minutes--the
time I estimated it would take to run the washers. Then I made the
bed, using the sheets I washed yesterday. Some of you have remarked
to me about the big deal I make about changing the bed. This time
I actually discovered how long it takes, for I had just finished doing
it when the 35 minutes were up. It really is a major project, and
I hate it more than anything else connected with the trailer. I have
to move a whole bunch of stuff from around the foot of the bed so
I can get at it. Then I have to stand in about a foot of space there
and try to bend over and wrestle the sheets onto the mattress. Jim
is so tall he always kicks the top sheet untucked, so I discovered
I could use one of those elastic things they sell for that purpose;
they have a fastener like an old-time garter belt on each end. That
has to be finagled under the lifted up corner of the mattress, all
they while standing in an awkward position. The rest of the task is
not so bad, but just takes time. Then, of course, I have to replace
all the stuff where it was. (Don't anyone say my diary is all about
We ate breakfast
while the clothes were in the drier. This took 40 minutes from start
of preparation to finish. Jim's dish-washing time was in addition.
(I'd never timed that operation either.) Finally I bathed Toby, who
needed it badly. I knew we wouldn't have hookups for some time and
had to use my hair-drier on him. He hates being brushed and fights
it fiercely, so Jim has to hold him while I brush him. He was pretty
tangled in a few places, especially on the outsides of his hind legs,
which surprised me. Fortunately his fur is exceedingly soft and silky,
so the tangles brushed out fairly easily.
After all that
work, it was still only 8:30 when we got on the road. I was ready
to sit back and relax as Jim drove us the 150 miles to Grand Teton
National Park. We debated checking out a private RV park just outside
the park. It was in a nice setting, but the sites were jammed pretty
close together, so we opted to go on to the park, even though we knew
there would be no electricity. (I'm running my computer on the inverter,
which converts DC to AC.)
The drive was
labelled scenic all the way on the AAA map, but it wasn't until we
got to Crowheart that it became at all remarkable. The first part
was through a bedraggled Indian reservation, the landscaped dotted
with shacky houses surrounded by collections of junky cars. Indians
seem to prefer not to congregate in towns and instead have homes that
sprawl all over the place. The map showed that the Wind River range
of mountains, with several 13,000+ ft high, was close on our left,
but only occasionally did a snow-capped peak peek over the top of
Crowheart is also
on the reservation, but it's pretty trim and attractive. About that
time the backdrop was becoming colored cliffs like Utah. The first
cliff we saw was especially colorful, with layers of gold, red, purple,
lavender, and white. The gold and red are due to iron compounds, while
the purple and lavender have manganese. (There's your next chemistry
lesson, folks. Maxine Dougan has been picking up on my lessons and
commenting about them in emails to me, so this is especially for her.)
A bit farther along the reds became extremely brilliant with tall
cliffs beside the road.
All this color
ended just about the time we got out of the Indian reservation and
were approaching the town of Dubois. Now the scenery became that of
the beautiful Wind River meandering through a lush, green valley.
Tree-covered mountainsides were on both sides, but the tallest mountains
were behind us.
Dubois is an attractive town of 900+ people, but far more people live
or have vacation homes all along the highway for miles. We ate lunch
at Chandler's Ranch House Restaurant on the west edge of town (next
to the Super 8 motel). It was excellent. Menu wasn't any different
from lots of others, but it was extremely well prepared.
Audubon Camp in
the West is somewhere in the Wind River Mtns. near Dubois, but I have
no idea where.
After leaving Dubois the road continued upward along the Wind River
and the mountain scenery became ever more beautiful. A chain of 12,000+
peaks began to appear on the right, and they showed much better from
the road than the Wind River Range had. We had extra time to enjoy
the scenery, for there was quite a bit of road construction with flaggers
and unpaved stretches where we had to drive slowly. The grade topped
out at 9658 ft, still below treeline. Then it descended through similar
habitat, but this time we'd occasionally get a teasing glimpse of
the spectacular Grand Teton peaks. Finally the road descended into
Jackson Hole. Flowers were more numerous and spectactular on this
side of the pass.
We had no trouble getting a campsite at the Colter Bay Campground.
In fact it's probably less than one-third occupied this evening. We
were disgusted at the awful campsite we were originally assigned,
so picked out one we liked and went back and asked for it. Although
we prefer back-ins, nearly all the campsites here are little loops
on either side of the campground road and have less privacy. For sites
of this kind, though, it's fine--and no one is across the road from
us in the site we rejected. [It remained vacant the entire time we
When we registered,
they asked if we had a generator. We were pleased to learn that they
have a few camping loops for people without generators, so they don't
have to listen to them from their neighbors. Unfortunately the next
loop over is a generator one, so we did hear the roar of one for a
while this afternoon. It's sort of the same idea as those restaurants
which have smoking and no-smoking sections--and then they seat you
in the non-smoking booth right next to the smokers. (We really appreciate
the law in California when we travel to states which still permit
smoking in public places.)
It was 3:00 by
the time we arrived and got settled in the campsite. I sat outside
for a while. Then we went to the General Store and Visitors Center
nearby, where I bought books on bird-finding, easy trails, geology,
and plants. I guess it's time I quit nattering on and started looking
over some of my new books. We plan to explore the park tomorrow.
p.m., Thurs., June 22, 2006
Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton NP, WY
Today we "did"
the standard tourist drive. I had purchased a bird-finding guide to
the park, so I tried to spend a little more time at the places the
authors indicated to be good. However, we saw little that was particularly
notable, and our photography was confined to scenery and flowers.
Oh yes, Jim shot one distant frame of a group of Common Mergansers.
The only flower I was able to identify was:
Skyrocket Gilia (Gilia aggregata)
- tall, spectacular, red
other was a yellow composite,
and I'll have to see the photographs and check the book to be sure
which one it is. I think it's probably in the plant book I bought
It was a gorgeous
clear day. Low last night was 36 degrees, rising to a high of around
70 degrees, I'd guess. The only drawback for our scenery is that a
few puffy clouds might have made the mountains even more spectacular.
Everyone has either been to the Tetons or seen pictures of them, so
I won't belabor their beauty.
I checked out
a couple of places where the book suggested American Three-toed Woodpeckers
might be found, but the book was published in 1994 and the fire that
cleared the land for the birds was in 1985. The habitat has pretty
much recovered from the fire, so the birds are obviously off in some
new burned-over patch.
We did see several
large mammals, but all at a considerable distance and with multiple
vehicles stopped to look at them: Elk, Moose, Bison. We were spoiled
on Elk and Moose at Rocky Mountain NP.
We bought tasteless sandwiches at the deli at Moose Junction, ate
them at a roadside viewpoint, then drove back to the trailer, arriving
around 1:30. My main accomplishment for the rest of the day was to
finish the embroidery of my Cardinal (started June 7, took about 2
p.m., Fri., June 23, 2006
Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton NP, WY
We decided to
spend one more day here. Clair and Sue finally tore themselves away
from Yellowstone and met us here this afternoon. In the morning we
drove the Buffalo Valley Rd., which more or less parallels US 26 east
of Moran Junction. The trip was outlined in the bird-finding guide.
It was a beautiful
drive. Much of it followed the course of the Buffalo Fork River (a
fork of the Snake, I guess). We had no sooner turned onto it than
we spotted an Osprey nest almost at eye level and not too far away.
It was atop a utility pole, but the road was above the level of its
base. Jim shot it a few times, but the light wasn't quite right and
he said it was a little far away. An adult was incubating, so was
settled down, not standing up. It gave its guard calls intermittently,
but didn't seem upset otherwise. Certainly it didn't fly off or threaten
Most of the road
was just a little bit above the river, which meandered in a continuous
series of S-curves through the marshy, green valley dotted with willows,
etc. With the snow-capped Tetons in the distance, it was easy to overdo
the scenic photography. On the slopes right next to the road were
willows, alders, and sagebrush in turn. The sagebrush had carpets
of wildflowers intermingled. Most were Sulfurflower, Sticky Geranium,
and Skyrocket Gilia. The latter was mostly past its prime, but the
others were gorgeous. They were so plentiful and we were out of the
National Park, so I picked a small bouquet, which is on my table right
Two other flowers
were only in a few places, but profuse where they occurred. I took
photos and snitched samples to identify later. These two wilted before
I could get back to the trailer, despite the fact that I put them
in water as soon as I picked them. I identified them as:
Chickweed (Cerastium arvense)
Prairiesmoke (Geum triflorum),
a member of the rose family, but like nothing I'd ever seen before.
In color it was a dusty rose, a most unusual flower color. The flowers
were little globes. A few had gone to seed and they had curious, long
"bristles" like a paintbrush with a fat, round base.
After ten miles
the road crossed the Buffalo Fork and ascended steeply for four more
miles. This portion of the road was unpaved and sadly in need of a
date with the grader. The ruts and washboards were all too evident.
This portion went through a coniferous forest with lots of Douglas-Fir
in addition to the usual Lodgepole Pine. By the time we got there
we were running out of time, so didn't stop and bird the forest. In
fact, we got a late start this morning, so didn't really have enough
to time on any of it.
Except for the
last four miles, which were in the National Forest, the road was dotted
with a few homes (some occupied, others for vacations) and a couple
of guest ranches, etc.
The road came
out to US-26, which was a fast way back to Moran Junction--five miles
shorter and much straighter. It descended a 6% grade for much of the
way, and we were surprised to discover how much we had ascended.
We were almost
back to the trailer when we encountered a large number of cars beside
the road. It turned out to be a mother Moose and her very young calf.
The calf was very hard to see in the shade of a pine tree. The mother
was behind willows feeding in a pond close to the road, but gradually
worked her way out into the open. Jim was able to get nice pictures
of the adult in its natural habitat, eating pond plants. The baby
remained in the shade, impossible to photograph.
While Jim was
photographing her, I drove back to the trailer to leave a note for
Clair and Sue about the Moose, then went back for Jim. Then all the
way back to the trailer we worried that we'd meet them on the road,
so looked carefully at every oncoming vehicle--and there were a lot
of them. But it turned out just fine. When we got to the trailer,
they were just getting out of their vehicle to see if there was a
note on the door.
We went to lunch
at the nice restaurant here in the Colter Bay complex. Food was fine.
Then we came back to the trailer and got the scoop on where they had
seen the various animals and birds in Yellowstone. It looks as though
Tower Falls Campground will be the most centrally located for pursuing
them. We'll leave early tomorrow to drive the 80 miles to get there.
It takes no reservations, which is good. (Public campgrounds that
take reservations normally don't do so for last-minute arrivals. You
have to know several days to a week in advance. This is not like private
campgrounds or motels, which you can call on your arrival day. We
never know how long we will want to stay anywhere, so try to avoid
having to make reservations.)
The next installment
will include our experiences in Yellowstone.
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