Elk

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Elk nursing in Rocky Mountain National Park

August 23, 2018

The night after we saw the wild mustangs near Cody, it rained hard.  We were hoping that would get rid of some of the smoke.  Instead, it was far, far worse.  Apparently, a cool front brought a lot of the British Columbia smoke to the area.  We could barely see any scenery, so we went to downtown Cody to walk Main Street.  I wanted to go to the art galleries.  It was Sunday, they were all closed except for a photography gallery.  We went in there and I was greatly inspired.

After we left Cody, we went to Casper and saw lots and lots of Pronghorn on the way.  Regis saw a roadside sign that said the 2/3 of the world’s Pronghorns are in Wyoming.  It was very smoky in Casper.  We could barely see Casper mountain.  We had a wonderful visit with a friend and walked along the Platte River the next day.  I went to the Werner Wildlife Museum.  It was free!

I prefer to see live animals but enjoyed seeing the animals close up.  They had a black bear and grizzly bear next to each other with an explanation of the differences.  It was very helpful to be up close and see the details.  Most of the animals were from Wyoming, but they had some from around the world.  My favorite was the Least Weasel.  The weasel is so tiny.  It looks like someone stretched a mouse to three times it’s length.

We arrived in Estes Park yesterday.  The campground host warned us that a mother bear and two cubs frequent the campground.  We saw the the dumpster has a padlock.  We’ve been to places that say there are bears around, but you can really believe it if the trash containers are bear proof.  We woke up to blue skies.  We haven’t see a blue sky in weeks.  It was particularly beautiful.  I was mesmerized by the color.

We headed into Rocky Mountain National Park this morning to drive along the amazing Trail Ridge Road.  We took a side trip along the Old Fall River Road, which is a dirt road.  The scenery was spectacular and it was darn cold at the top of the mountain.  The wind was blowing very hard.

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Fall Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our first blue skies in weeks.
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Near the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a herd of elk around the center of the photo on the mountainside.
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Regis got a picture of another hawk on the wing. It’s cool when you are slightly above them!

On the way down the other side of the Continental Divide, we saw lots of elk.  We saw the males relaxing at a higher elevation and found the females and calves near the Colorado River.  There was one young male in the group.  I was standing on the road taking pictures when one of the females moved close by.  We heard a bleating sound and realized it was coming from one of the calves.  The only female to turn her head was the one closest to me.  The little calf ran up to her and started nursing.  They were so close to me that I had a very hard time taking a picture with my long lens with the extender.  I don’t usually have a problem with wildlife coming so close that I can’t take the picture!!

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Male elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
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Calf and young male elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
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Close up of female elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
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Elk calf nursing in Rocky Mountain National Park

After our exciting encounter with the elk, we headed back along the road and stopped near the east entrance at Beaver Meadows to have lunch.  It was nice to sit still and enjoy the scenery and smaller wildlife.  We saw a bunch of birds but the most interesting experience was the ground squirrel.  This was a very brave squirrel who came to find some food.  Dart barely caused it any concern.  We would not let Dart chase the squirrel, so he had to be content with watching it.  It came within six inches of his nose.  I was a little concerned it was going to jump on Dart.  Instead, it chose to jump on top of the picnic table and run up my arm while I was eating a protein bar.  I did not expect it to get that close, so didn’t react to chase it away until it made it all the way to my bar.

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Bluebird in Rocky Mountain National Park.
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Linda trying to eat lunch in Rocky Mountain National Park. I didn’t expect the ground squirrel to be so bold as to run up my arm to get a bite of my protein bar.

Wild Mustangs

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Wild Mustangs at the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.

August 19, 2018

The night before yesterday it rained, so we woke up to beautiful weather and the clearest skies we have seen in weeks.  It was the first time in awhile there wasn’t smoke in the air.

We headed to the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.  Adjacent to it is the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.  We saw some wild horses and they are beautiful.  They looked healthy to me.  There is an organization called the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center who is actively involved in helping to ensure the continued success of these horses.  I was fascinated with the stripe going doing each horse’s back and found some interesting information on the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center website.    This website discusses the distinct colors and markings of the horses.

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Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

We spent some time at the Devil’s Canyon overlook.  Wow!  While we were there we saw someone water skiing down the canyon.  There was a great campground at the end of the paved road where there is also a boat ramp.  If we come back this way again, I’d like to camp in the campground and kayak through the canyon.  There is the potential to see a lot of wildlife here.  We saw LOTS of scat.

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Devil’s Canyon in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
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Bighorn Canyon National Recreation area with a water skier going down the canyon.
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Bighorn Canyon National Recreation area with a water skier going down the canyon.

After we left the recreation area we went on Highway 14A into the Bighorn Mountains.  This is another scenic highway.  It does not disappoint.  Unfortunately, it started to get hazy again by the time we got into the mountains, so the views were marred by haze.  Nevertheless, the road is astonishing.  It was an incredible engineering feat to build it.

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Juniper berries. We’ve seen lots of these bushes around the area and love the way they smell.

As we go around the country, we notice that a lot of amazing road construction as well as campgrounds, lodges, and other facilities were built in the 1930’s.  The Civilian Conservation Corps built a lot of buildings, trails, campgrounds, and other facilities that we benefit from today.  It’s interesting to me that so much of the stuff we enjoy the most was all built around the same time frame.  You can’t help but wonder how they manage to build these roads in these difficult terrains.  I, for one, am very thankful that they did!

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FAA air traffic control stuff (that’s a technical term) on Medicine Mountain.

We went close to the Bighorn Medicine Wheel.  We visited it a couple years ago and went back because we saw marmots and pikas while we there.  I didn’t get a look at any Pikas, although Regis saw one briefly.  But, there were lots of marmots.  I also saw a little chipmunk actively feeding on natural food.  Since I mostly see chipmunks begging for food in picnic areas and rest stops, it was amazing to catch sight of one eating a good and proper diet for a chipmunk.

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Chipmunk eating a natural diet in the Bighorn National Forest.
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Chipmunk eating a natural diet in the Bighorn National Forest.
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Marmot in the Bighorn National Forest.

It started to rain on us on the way back and the temperature is now quite chilly.  Hopefully, all this rain will clear up the air and help this dry spell.

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Regis caught this hawk in flight in the Bighorn National Forest. We think it might be an immature Red-Tailed Hawk.

Grand Coulee Dam

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Grand Coulee Dam

July 11, 2018

Yesterday we drove to see the Grand Coulee Dam.  It is such a contrast to see the Columbia River against the dry countryside.  It makes the water look particularly refreshing.

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Reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam.

Sadly, there is no way for fish to pass the dam.  Instead, the dam funds three fish hatcheries in Leavenworth, Winthrop, and Entiat where they produce over 2 million fish.  In 2016, Reclamation took the first steps to developing the science to look into the feasibility of fish passage and reintroduction.  When the study is complete, Reclamation will decide what to do.

We continue to enjoy the wildlife around the little lake at our campground.  I have been kayaking everyday and often we sit in the shade by the lake and watch the bird activity.  There are lots of juveniles being fed by their parents.  I’m including some favorite pictures from yesterday and today.

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Eastern Kingbird
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Northern Flickers
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Juvenile Canadian Goose
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Killdeer
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Downy Woodpecker
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Bullock’s Oriole nest
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Robin with berries.
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Bullock’s Oriole
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Hawk (not sure what kind)
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Hawk (not sure what kind, same as above)