Mink

American mink (Neovison vison)

I nearly divorced Regis today. While preparing the motorhome for departure, he ran in and grabbed the camera and ran back out. I continued to prepare for departure and sometime later he returned and told me he got some pictures of mink. I have never seen a mink. I nearly killed him on the spot for not telling me, that’s why he grabbed the camera. I think he felt bad and he took me back out to see where they were and they were not there. I was plotting his demise. He is very fortunate that I eventually saw movement in the rocks and saw my first mink. Regis will live to see another day. Minks are carnivores and their fur is coated with oil to repel water. They have webbed feet to make it easier to swim. These little guys made me think of miniature otters. We saw otters in Washington State that were very comfortable in the water and on land. These little minks were as at ease in the water as they were scrambling through the rocks and boulders on the shore.

Mink with some tongue action.

We departed our campsite in Silt, Colorado and we are now camped near Ouray, Colorado. We are in the San Juan Mountains which were created a recent 35 million years ago from volcanic activity. They are the youngest mountains in the Rockies and they are stunning. The mountains are crazy beautiful and we haven’t even begun to explore.

I have been wanting to come to Ouray and Telluride since we purchased our first Jeep Wrangler in 1979. I had read this was the place to be for back country driving in a Jeep and we just never made it here. It took over 40 years to finally get here. We now have our third Jeep which is a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. It is made to go four-wheeling, but perhaps not the same as a Wrangler. Plus, it has leather seats. Regis calls it the leather seat four-wheelers. We have already demonstrated our ability to get stuck on this trip, so we better watch it.

As we were getting near our campground, there were lots of signs about low clearance and other road issues ahead. Our plan is to go south from here to Albuquerque. After arriving and checking out the situation, we need to go through a very hairy pass to go south. It is perhaps the worst mountain situation we have encountered with the motorhome. We have 4 inches of clearance through the tunnel and that’s before we start to go up these high mountains to the pass. We are going to do it in the car tomorrow to see if we can make it work in the motorhome. We are considering not towing the car and driving separately. We’ll see.

I drove into town to try to get some local maps (no go) and some Chardonnay (yes!). OMG the town nestled in the mountains is beautiful. There are numerous Jeep rental places. That’s what they say “Jeep rentals”. One of the places was offloading some Razor Off Road Vehicles and they were thoroughly muddy. We intend to hit some back country trails while we are here. Our Jeep is already dirty from being towed so what the heck. More mud won’t make too much of a difference.

This campground also has more tent campers than any place we have been in our travels since 2015. We see some tents now and then, but this place has lots of tents.

Shortly after arriving in our campground in Ouray, we saw this evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus). This is my first evening grosbeak and I was thrilled to see it.
I saw this little Chipmunk (Neotamias minimus) in our campground in Silt, Colorado. He was in a natural area. I usually see chipmunks in areas where they are begging for food at rest stops or campgrounds. It was thrilling to see this little guy being a normal chipmunk.
Mink

Campground Wildlife

Immature bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) taking off from a tree and startling some European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) on the left.

We spent time exploring wildlife management areas and state parks nearby over the last couple days, but we have seen the most wildlife in our campground. The KOA Glenwood West/Colorado River KOA is located in Silt, Colorado on the Colorado River. There are nature walking trails through some of the undeveloped habitat along the river. We have seen an abundance of wildlife in that habitat. I have seen deer regularly. I found a broad-tailed hummingbird nesting. Another camper told me he saw three mink one morning and there is a beaver nearby. We haven’t seen either yet, but we are on the lookout.

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) doe with a chunk out of her ear.
Carolina grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina). When this grasshopper jumps, it spreads wings that look like a butterfly. I thought I was seeing butterflies, but when the insects landed, it was this grasshopper.
Eurasian collared-dove (Streptopelia decaocto) male on the left courting a female on the right.
Two American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) having a conversation.
Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) sitting on a nest. I found this female on my first walk through the nature trails and we have been trying to photograph her since. She is high up in a tree.
I believe this is a type of meadowhawk dragonly but I am not sure which one.
Northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens). Most northern leopard frogs are green and there is a plains leopard frog that is often brown. Our guy was clearly outside the range of the plains leopard frog, so we are assuming it is a brown version of the northern leopard frog.
Immature bald eagle taking off with a European starling to the left.

Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument. The Colorado River runs through the valley below.

We left Wyoming and we are now camped along the Colorado River in Colorado. There are a couple bald eagles hanging out nearby and I saw a deer when I walked Dart as soon as we set up camp. We have a view of the mountains. It is a nice place to spend several days.

We visited the Colorado National Monument today and saw some spectacular scenery. It reminds me of Canyonlands National Park and the Moab, Utah area. There is lots of red color in the rocks, which is rust. This is a beautiful place to visit for the amazing rock formations and it is easy to get to. We were on paved roads the entire trip.

Balanced rock in Colorado National Monument.
Monument rock in Colorado National Monument.
Coke Ovens in Colorado National Monument.
Colorado National Monument.
Colorado National Monument.
Colorado National Monument.
Colorado National Monument.

Wyoming Scenic Backway

Kiosk at the beginning of the Scenic Backway we drove. Between the bullet holes and the weathering, it was impossible to read.

We have learned that scenic “backways” mean dirt roads. Dirt roads can be anywhere from high quality allowing high speed travel to so bad you can’t drive on it. There is everything in between. Today’s road was in pretty good shape. The road went from Sinclair, Wyoming (probably named after the company with the dinosaur logo since they have a big facility there) to Alcova, Wyoming. We did not drive the whole way. The road goes along the North Platte River part of the way and then goes by the Seminoe Reservoir. I thought Seminoe was a Native American word but it is an incorrect spelling of the fur trapper Cimenaux’s name. It was named after him.

Seminoe reservoir.

We saw several deer along or in the river and we saw many pronghorn today and a couple of mothers with twins. Importantly, after researching pronghorns and learning they don’t jump fences, we watched three pronghorns jump a fence today. In one case, the mother jumped the fence when she saw our car and the babies ran along the fence line until they finally ran between the barbed wire and caught up with mom. They run fast. I could not get my lens focused on them. We saw a variety of birds and our second coyote of the trip.

Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) mother with two fawns.

We stopped for lunch at an area on the river between two reservoirs called the Miracle Mile. According to the Wyoming Fish Network, there were 4,469 fish over six inches per mile in this 5.5 mile stretch of river. By 2002, the number dropped to 2,000 fish per mile. There were less trout in 2002, but individually they weighed more – averaging 1.91 pounds. On the Wyoming Fish Network website they say “By 2018, the number of large rainbow trout (> 20 inches) wass (sic) as high as Game and Fish had ever measured.”

Miracle mile.

American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) floating on the miracle mile.
This little bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) lamb is beginning to grow some horns. We encountered a small herd of these when crossing over one of the mountains. We have seen a lot of bighorn sheep on this trip.
This black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia) visited close by while we were eating lunch. It was hanging around with six other magpies, but none of the other ones came near us.

Wyoming Landscape

View of Wyoming from where we stopped for lunch. There are snow capped mountains on the horizon.

We have crossed Wyoming several times in our travels including: Sheridan to Cheyenne, Cody to Casper, and now Greybull to Rawlins. Wyoming is desolate. We see barbed wire fences and cows. On our Cody to Casper run a couple years ago we saw lots and lots of pronghorns. Today, we didn’t see many pronghorns. I am beginning to have a craving for green. I love Wyoming, so I am not whining. But, it is stark and barren through much of the state and I’m looking forward to moving on to Colorado. We have one more day here in Wyoming.

We drove through the Wind River Canyon on the way down and stopped at some picnic tables for a break. Regis and I took pictures of the barn swallows nesting in the shade coverings for the picnic tables. While doing so, Regis saw that the fisherman in the nearby stream caught a fish. The gentleman was happy to pose for a picture with his catch. I love the smile on his face. It looks like a nice trout and it would be better to have that for dinner than what’s on our menu.

Happy fisherman.
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) on its nest.

At one point driving through some high country, we stopped at the top for lunch. The transition from pavement to the dirt road to the overlook was not smooth and it rocked the motorhome more than usual. Every drawer popped open. The microwave popped open. Everything on the counters wound up on the floor except the cappuccino maker which fortunately landed on the sink. Hopefully, that means it still works. All removable pieces of the cappuccino maker wound up spread throughout the motorhome. Any water that was still in the cappuccino maker wound up all over the floor. There was more water than expected on the floor, so we are not quite sure why.

When we stopped for lunch, I turned on the generator so I could use the microwave to heat up lunch. That worked okay, but shortly after the generator stopped. Regis spent time trying to figure out what was wrong based on the error code. He got it working again, but thinks we might need a filter. It may be possible to pick that up in Rawlins.

I am desperate for better maps and should have been smart enough to order them ahead of time. I drove to the BLM office in Rawlins to see if I could get some good maps of Wyoming and Colorado. They were closed to public access. I wound up at Walmart and got some pretty decent maps, but not as detailed as I would like. Lesson learned. It’s possible to order great maps ahead of time and I failed to do that. I hope to do better for future trips.

Barn swallow on its nest.

Petroglyphs and Pictographs

Rock face at Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site.

We went to the Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site near Hyattville, Wyoming. It is a protected location with ready access to water that has more than 10,000 years of human history. There is a campground located on the site, so people are still camping there. There is a rock face with petroglyphs and pictographs. They were difficult to see, so it was helpful that there was a guide and interpretive signs pointing them out.

Rock face at Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site.
Rock face at Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site.

There were cliff swallows with active nests in the rock face, so Regis and I spent some time photographing and watching the swallows feed their young.

Cliff swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) nestling being fed by a parent.
The top cliff swallow nestling is hogging the entrance hole so the other nestling tried poking its head through another hole.
Cliff swallow nestlings and parents.

It was an incredibly beautiful day and we were a short distance from arriving at the site, when we were stopped by a cattle drive. There were cattle all over the road and folks on horses, off-road vehicles, and dogs were rounding up some of the strays and trying to get the group moving down the road. There were always a few cows that wanted to go in the wrong direction. After they got most of them out of the pasture and moving down the road to the next location, we spotted about 5 calves hoofing it down the road the wrong way. We had to stop and wait a while before we could proceed. It was very entertaining, never having seen something like it before. The following brief video not only shows the group of cows but you can hear the sounds they were making.

We are staying in Greybull and there is a train yard in town. When Regis was checking it out, he saw a sign that read “ATTENTION Remote Control Locomotives Operate In This Area. Cabs May Be Unoccupied.” He left his name and number incase of an opening.

Sign in Greybull, Wyoming.
Cliff swallow nestlings and parents.

Yellowtail WMA

Muskrat in Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Management Area.

Today we went to the Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Management Area to look for birds. We had a map and neither of us could figure out where we were on the map. Unbelievable. We went to a couple ponds and found very few birds. At one point, we saw some vegetation moving across the pond and eventually realized it was being pushed by a muskrat. Very cute. We saw a whole bunch of turkeys and lots and lots of insects.

The area was established to create waterfowl habitat. It has one of the largest old growth cottonwood forests in the west. We may have been there at the wrong time of year since we didn’t see much. It’s also possible we were not in the right locations to view the birds for this time of year. We clearly need a better map.

Early evening, we drove back up into the Bighorn Mountains to look for wildlife. We didn’t see much. It may not have been late enough in the day. We saw lots of cattle and sheep. We got the following picture from one of the overlooks. It looks out over the Bighorn Basin. It was very, very hazy.

Bighorn basin where you can see the fold in the earth’s crust.

On the way back, we got this picture of Sheep Mountain. Sheep Mountain is an anticline which is an upward fold in the earth’s crust. It was created during the Laramide mountain building event 70 to 50 million years ago.

Sheep Mountain near Greybull, Wyoming.

Pronghorn Fawn

Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana)

On our way back from our early morning moose adventure, we stopped at the Red Gulch Dinosaur Track Site to see some dinosaur tracks. To get to the site, you travel down the Red Gulch/Alkali Backcountry Byway which is a dirt road for about 5 miles. The road continues on after the site for another 27 miles or so through undeveloped country.

The site had picnic tables and pit toilets and some signs to explain the history and the tracks. We enjoyed a picnic lunch before viewing the site. We were the only ones there until shortly before we left when another car drove up. I had a terrible time figuring which indentations were the dinosaur tracks. Regis had no trouble. It’s a good thing I didn’t try to become a paleontologist.

Dinosaur footprint.
I believe this is a sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus graciosus) we saw hanging around the dinosaur tracks.

Rather than returning home the way we came, we opted to drive the rest of the Red Gulch Road through all that undeveloped land. We did not see a single human made structure along the way except for fencing and a few rock cairns. It was a beautiful drive, but the road was very rutted from someone who had driven it in a heavy vehicle while the roads were wet. Those huge ruts made for a bumpy road, but it wasn’t too bad. The scenery was worth it.

Not too long after we left the dinosaur tracks, we found two adult pronghorns with a baby. I have only seen baby pronghorns from so far away you need binoculars to figure out what you are looking at. This was a special treat to see this little one reasonably close. The pronghorns kept their distance, but did not run away. It gave us a great opportunity to watch them for a while and see the little one nurse.

Pronghorns.
Pronghorn baby nursing.

Pronghorns are the fastest animals in North America and can run 65 miles per hour. They have very large eyes and can see 320 degrees around. They are not good jumpers and will climb under a fence instead of through it. The outer material on their antlers are shed every year and regrown. Both sexes have horns but females have smaller horns that never exceed their ear length. The other adult in the group we saw was a female.

Pronghorn parade.

We saw a rabbit and a variety of birds, but not other wildlife along the way. The scenery was amazing and the pictures I got don’t show how spectacular it looked.

Scenic view from the Red Gulch/Alkali Backcountry Byway. The Bighorn Mountains are in the distance.
Scenic view from the Red Gulch/Alkali Backcountry Byway.
Red Gulch/Alkali Backcountry Byway
Red Gulch/Alkali Backcountry Byway
Pronghorns

Moose

One of two male moose we saw playing together in the Bighorn National Forest.

The owner of the campground told us where to find some moose and elk. The best time to see them is very early in the morning, so we woke up long before dawn and headed up into the Bighorn National Forest toward Burgess Junction from where we are staying in Greybull. The skies began to lighten as we headed up the mountain, so we could begin to see this was an amazing scenic drive.

We encountered our first moose as we neared the top. The moose was hanging around with some mule deer. The sun had still not come up. We drove further and saw four moose off the side of the road in a typical habitat for moose. There was a forested area behind the moose and they were lying next to a stream with lots of vegetation. There could have been more moose because they would have been well hidden by the vegetation but we counted by how many ears we could see sticking up.

Two moose in the Bighorn National Forest.

We waited there as the sun rose to try to get some pictures and watch them. As the sun rose, they began to head into the forest. As one of the moose rose, we saw that it was badly injured. It had a broken leg and the leg dangled from the knee down. (Later I attempted to contact Wyoming Fish and Game and their phone number for reporting injured wildlife was not working so I found another number where I left a message. I will try one of their offices on Monday when they open.)

Injured moose in Bighorn National Forest.

We drove further and I saw two male moose playing together. By the time we stopped and got the cameras ready, they had stopped playing but still hung around each other for a while. We watched them until they moved off and we couldn’t see them anymore.

We saw lots of deer on the ride up, but we encountered a small herd on the way down with several males and females. I pointed out to Regis that a few of the deer appeared to have very pink ears. When I started going through the photos, I noticed that several of the deer appeared to have some health issues. When I call Wyoming Fish and Game on Monday, I will let them know about the deer. I saw online that some of the ungulates can get a wasting disease, but the symptoms described don’t address what I saw in the photos.

Mule deer with pink ears and a skin condition on top of its muzzle.
One of several mule deer we saw in a small herd that exhibited skin issues on their faces and ears.
One of the healthy looking males in the small herd of mule deer we saw in the Bighorn National Forest.

We were able to stop several times on the way down to enjoy the scenery. We drove through the Canyon that Shell Creek has been carving out of the earth. The scenery was spectacular.

Scenery on route 14 in Wyoming.
Scenery on route 14 in Wyoming.

On the way back to the campsite, we stopped to see some dinosaur tracks and wound up heading off on another adventure. I’ll put that in the next post.

One of two male moose we saw playing together in the Bighorn National Forest.

Greybull

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

We are staying in a town called Greybull in Wyoming. According to the campground literature, the Greybull River was named after an albino bison bull that roamed the valley. He was sacred to the Native Americans and the white hunters who tried to kill him were unsuccessful. The town of Greybull was established in 1906 by Burlington Railroad and was named after the river which was named after the bison.

We spent our first day here catching up on things since we now had electricity and internet access. It was nice to sit outside in the shade and enjoy the warm dry weather. We explored the area near the campground and Regis explored the small town on his bicycle.

Today, we went to the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in search of feral horses. We saw a male horse as soon as we entered the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range which appears to be part of the Bighorn NRA. The horse had an injured eye, which is always sad to see. The other eye appeared to be fine. I wonder if it was injured in a fight with another male horse. We encountered two more males during our stay. It was hard to get a good picture because they spend most of their time grazing with their head down and when they pick their head up, it is to flick off the insects that are harassing them. I love the dun markings on the horses.

The Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center website describes the coloring as follows:

“The linebacked dun family of colors is very common among the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses, and these are the colors most often associated with the herd. Linebacked duns are horses of a base color that is affected by a genetic trait called the dun allele. The dun allele lightens the coat and adds primitive markings to it. Primitive markings are stripes and bars. These include a stripe running down the back (a dorsal stripe), “zebra” stripes on the legs, wither bars, fish-boning off the dorsal stripe, and spider webbing on the face. These different markings aren’t all always present on each Pryor Mountain Wild Horse, though all of them have a dorsal stripe and and nearly all have distinct leg stripes.”

Wild mustang at the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. You can see the white in the horses eye indicating there is an injury and/or infection.
Wild mustang at the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. These horses have beautiful coloring.
Wild mustang at the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. You can see the dark line down this horses back. This horse has amazing coloring.

While at the Bighorn Canyon NRA, we stopped at one of the overlooks and there were bighorn sheep there. We got lots of pictures and video. We are most fascinated with one particular female that was making a lot of sounds. This is the first time we heard a bighorn sheep make a sound. Sometimes we are probably too far away to know, but this grabbed our attention. Between Regis and I, we got some video of her. When I was going through it this afternoon, including looking at some pictures of her, I got to wondering whether she was in labor. We have video below that includes sound. Notice her sides moving as she calls out. Sometimes, her tail flicks differently than we have seen in the other females.

Female bighorn sheep. Is it possible she is in labor?

We got other video of the females with their lambs. Notice how easily they jump around the rocky ledges.

Bighorn sheep mamas with their lambs deftly moving among the rocky ledges.
Bighorn sheep on the top edge of the canyon wall.

We went back in the evening to see if we could find the female we thought might be in labor and could not find her. We found other members of the group and as we were leaving, we spotted a male bighorn sheep on a hillside. Except for male lambs, we have not seen any males on our trip. This guy is not very old, but you can see his horns starting to curl. Females have straight horns.

Male bighorn sheep.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.