Sunday, June 22, 2014

Birds of Prey

While looking for some alternative routes on our way to Washington, Brian noticed an area on the map called the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Sounded interesting. Further investigation showed that it has the largest concentration of nesting birds of prey in North America, and perhaps the world. The steep craggy cliffs and a plateau rich in ground squirrels and rabbits make this area a perfect place for raptors, birds of prey that feed on other animals. Over 800 pairs representing 24 raptor species return to this area to mate and raise their young every year. It encompasses an area of 600,000 acres.

California Condors at Condor Cliff in the World Center for Birds of Prey
The first stop on our day trip was the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey. It was a fascinating place and we learned a lot. They are rightfully very protective of their raptors so all of my photos were shot through wired or barred enclosures.
The Center isn't a zoo and its primary mission isn't the rehabilitation of raptors but rather the propagation of critically endangered species. Their propagation program played a critical role in the successful recovery of the Peregrine Falcon, which was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1999. It currently breeds endangered California Condors and Aplomado Falcons as well as other raptors.

The first raptors we saw were two male California Condors. It's hard to get a sense of their size from my photos but they are massive. They're the largest flying birds in North America. They have an average wing span of 9.5 feet and weight between 17 and 22 pounds. The two below got into a little tiff while we were watching. Scary.

California Condors are also  the most endangered birds in North America.  In 1982 only 22 of them remained. All were placed in captive breeding programs. The World Center breeds more of them than any other facility and each year many of their young are released near the Grand Canyon. It produces enough young birds each year to establish self-sustaining wild populations of this rare species.

In 2008, The Peregrine Fund held the first conference of its kind to explore the potential effects of exposure to lead from spent ammunition on wildlife and humans. The conference grew out of The Peregrine Fund's experience with California Condors, which were becoming sick and dying of lead poisoning after scavenging on animals killed with lead ammunition. Peregrine Fund research showed that hundreds of tiny fragments of lead could disperse widely through a deer, raising concerns about health effects on both humans and wildlife. The effects of lead on the Condors has lowered their lifespan from 60 years to 6 years. Tragic. I was going to comment more on that but I think it speaks for itself.

There were other raptors we were able to view while at the Center. For one reason or another they were being protected and were not out  in the wild. We saw a Bald Eagle, so majestic,

a Peregrine Falcon,  the fastest creature on earth,

an Ornate Hawk Eagle,

and a Bateleur Eagle

as well as many other raptors that I had never heard of. Pretty cool place to visit and they have a really great website detailing more of their good works at   It's worth the time to check it out.

After our visit to the World Center we took the loop drive through the Birds of Prey Conservation Area. While it was a nice drive we didn't see any raptors in the wild, only some nice scenery. The best time to go would have been in the early morning or late afternoon but our timing was off. Nevertheless we had a great day. More information on The Morley Nelson Snake River Conservation Area can be found at

Our route from Vernal to Caldwell, Idaho with a stop in Snowville (?, no snow although we saw some in Park City) Utah was 553 miles

We stopped for lunch at a Historic Monument along the way which was an Utter Disaster, just like the sign said.

Evidently a wagon train led by Elijah Utter was attacked near that spot and there was the greatest loss of life on the Oregon Trail resulting in an Utter Disaster. Who knew.

Our route on the loop from Caldwell to The World Center for Birds of Prey and then through the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area was 115 miles.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dinosaur National Monument

In our continued quest to see as many national parks and monuments as possible we headed for Dinosaur National Monument. Part of it is in Colorado and part of it is in Utah. The best access for us was from Vernal, Utah where just about everything had a dinosaur theme.

I was actually quite surprised by Dinosaur National Monument as there was more to it than I had expected. The Green and Yampa Rivers meet in the monument so those areas around the river canyons are green and lush, while a variety of unusual rock formations are found throughout the rest of the park. There is a huge amount of diversity in the landscape. In fact, Dinosaur National Monument has the most complete geological records of any National Park Service site.

Dinosaur is the only national park area set up to protect a historic dinosaur quarry. We began at the Visitor Center and took a shuttle up to the Quarry Exhibit Hall.

At the Exhibit Hall we were able to view a wall of approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones. In some areas we were allowed to touch real 149 million-year-old dinosaur fossils.

We spent quite a bit of time picking out different fossils as we took in the wall.

Some were obviously vertebrae, some leg bones, some skulls and many that we had no idea what they were but they were still pretty impressive.

To us, these bones looked kind of like a person comforting a seal or dog. Use your imagination.

In addition to the wall there were some very interesting exhibits. Brian is standing next to a dinosaur leg bone (don't ask me to get any more specific than that - beyond my field of expertise).

There were several casts of dinosaur bones that have been excavated here. Many of the original bones now reside in the Carnegie Museum. Paleontologist Earl Douglass began excavating these bones in 1909 and cataloged and shipped them to the museum. It's hard to imagine what a thrill this find was for him and his associates.

I particularly enjoyed the murals that depicted what life must have looked like for these dinosaurs 150 million years ago.

Instead of taking the shuttle back to the Visitor Center we hiked down the Fossil Trail which wound through some stunning scenery.

This rock formation is part of the same wall that has been excavated at the Quarry Exhibit Hall. There was no indication of when or even if it will be excavated as well.

Dinosaur National Monument's cultural history dates back at least 10,000 years. Indian rock art in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs reveal evidence that many people had come before Spanish explorers and then settlers from Europe and the eastern United States. The Fremont Indians lived in the canyons 800 - 1,200 years ago and were followed by the Ute and Shoshone.
Following our hike we took a drive through the park where we saw many petroglyphs that are at least 1,000 years old. I still think they look like spacemen.

The remains of a cabin and homestead belonging to woman named Josie Bassett Morris are in the park on Cub Creek. After being married 5 times she decided she wanted a place of her own and chose a spot where she could be self-sufficient. The spot she chose had plentiful water and pasture for her to grow vegetables and raise cattle. She lived there for 50 years until she died in 1964 at the age of 90. She was on her own but had frequent visits from her children who lived in Vernal.

It was a lovely spot but so remote - talk about the independent pioneer spirit!

Our route from Longmont to Vernal was a total of  330 miles. Along the way we stopped for the night in Steamboat Springs which was 200 miles from Longmont.

From Vernal to Dinosaur National Monument, 20 miles.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Longmont Walks

As usual when we're someplace that's very familiar to us I don't take enough pictures of people and places. We had a great time visiting with our friends in the area but you'd never know it from my lack of photos. I did, however, take lots of pictures on our morning walks while figuring out how to use my new camera.

We walked by an osprey nest every morning and kept watching for some sign of babies hatching. There's a camera on a pole next to the nest that was recording the goings-on in the nest, but it was hit by lightning after the eggs were laid. Since it was known when the eggs were laid they were able to calculate when they would hatch, roughly during the time period we were there.

Both the male and female ospreys stayed busy guarding the nest and taking turns hunting for food.

The nest was on one of several ponds on our walk. Among other things we saw a white pelican,

several herons, one fishing and one drying its wings,

and lots of geese with lots of babies.

Our drive from Colorado City to Longmont was 175 miles.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Lyons Flood Devastation

This was once a very nice little trailer park we would go by every day on our morning walk. It will never be rebuilt, just demolished.
It's been approximately nine months since we were evacuated from Lyons during what was called a 100 year flood. I blogged about the flood and our experience here . It was scary for us but what we went through was nothing compared to what happened to so many others.
Sadly, many people, mostly those with lower incomes, will never be able to rebuild or move back to Lyons.

We were told that those who are able to rebuild must have their houses raised up off the ground on a tall concrete foundation. This is a very expensive proposition and while we saw a few houses being rebuilt this way we saw many more that will never be rebuilt. I have no idea what will happen to those properties and to the people who once called them home.

Our lovely walking path is gone. I would guess it took a tremendous amount of work just to clear the debris.

Even though much of the land has been cleared of debris there are still piles everywhere, such as under this picnic table. This was once a nice little park.

We drove up Highway 36, the main road to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, for a few miles until we hit construction. Much of the highway was washed out and the process of rebuilding it will probably continue for years. The river has changed the course of the highway and surrounding land and it seems that efforts are being made to get the river back into its banks.

We drove back along the road that runs through Apple Valley on the other side of the river. One really nice house is completely gone and the river is running through where the garage once stood. Much of the area is completely unrecognizable. Brian got a picture of some of the road construction from the bridge where he turned when going to his house on Blue Mountain. Many huge rocks were moved by the flood water.

The RV park where we stayed while in Lyons was at Meadow Park. While much of the park was washed away the RV spaces seemed to be relatively intact, although the landscape around them has changed.
Before in 2011

and now while the rebuilding is going on. The RV park is a money-maker for the town of Lyons and they hope to have it up and running by July 1.

It was difficult to witness the signs of the flood and its effect on the people in and around Lyons. Unfortunately Lyons wasn't the only community to be devastated by the flood, just the one we were most familiar with. At the time it happened last year one of our thoughts was that it would take years and years of work to get things going again. I guess we were right.

Another part of our daily walk was a path along the river which is no longer there, just rocks.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Back to Beulah

More Colorful Colorado, no more snow!

We made our yearly stop to visit our friends Marlene and Dan, who have a great home in the little mountain town of Beulah which is southwest of Pueblo. We stay at an RV park in Colorado City and take a back road to their home. Along the way we see some beautiful scenery and interesting animals.
Brian gave me a Nikon 5300 for my birthday which is more camera than I've ever had. I love it and have been having fun learning how to use it. It has a telephoto lens which I used to take these shots on the way to Beulah.

We had some great times hanging out on their new deck.

Their flowers are starting to bloom

and we had fun watching all the birds. These birds are called Evening Grosbeaks.

We enjoyed our time with Marlene and Dan, who are incredible hosts and obviously I'm also enjoying my new camera!

Colorado City to Beulah, 22 miles (mostly gravel road but well maintained)