September 3, 2016 Estes Park, Colorado

Cow Elk
Cow Elk

Strange Morning, Great Day

Saturday’s forecast had called for clear skies and beautiful weather, so I was a little surprised to see clouds obscuring some of the stars as I packed my gear in the Prius and left the campsite for Trail Ridge around 5 AM.

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
The Start of a Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

As I started the climb up Ridge Road, I stopped for a couple sunrise shots, made more impressive by the threatening skies moving in.

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
Strange Morning on Trail Ridge

There was a weird red/magenta glow in the sky as dark clouds began to dominate the skies the higher up the road I climbed.

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
Trail Ridge Rainbow
Trail Ridge Rainbow

As I neared the top, I stopped and hopped out of the car as a fairly bright rainbow suddenly appeared out of the gloom. I was so close to the rainbow, I couldn’t get the entire thing in a photo even with a 20mm wide angle lens, felt like I could just about reach out and touch it at times.

Trail Ridge Rainbow
Trail Ridge Rainbow

The rainbow increased in intensity as the wind began whipping rain sideways, and, unfortunately, right in my face as I attempted more shots, covering the lens, and me, in rain and forcing me to retreat to the car.

Trail Ridge Rainbow
Trail Ridge Rainbow

I raced farther up the road hoping in vain to escape the windblown rain so I could get more shots of one of the most intense rainbows I have ever seen, but as I drove on, the rainbow faded and eventually all but the tail end disappeared before I could get out of the driving rain.

Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
Strange Morning on Trail Ridge
From Trail Ridge
From Trail Ridge

By 8 AM, the rains stopped, the clouds slowly lifted and the good weather promised for today started moving in.

Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep

On my way back down the mountain, I spotted four Bighorn Rams grazing on the slope above me, but unfortunately, there was no nearby pullout and the Saturday morning stream of traffic coming up the mountain made it impossible for me to get any decent shots.

Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep

Since these guys were the only Bighorn Sheep I had encountered in my two weeks here, I was more than a little disappointed, to say the least.

Bull Elk
Bull Elk

By the time I returned to the valley floor, the wonderful weather predicted for today had fully arrived. And with it my first opportunity to shoot some nice bull elk basking in the early morning sun.

Bull Elk
Bull Elk
Bull Elk
Bull Elk
Two Bull Elk
Uneasy Peace

This actually was my first opportunity to shoot elk with some wonderful golden hour light, all my previous encounters have been in the dim light of dawn or duck, or in complete shade.

Two Bull Elk
Uneasy Peace
Bull Elk Sparring
Bull Elk Sparring

These two younger bulls would alternate grazing and semi serious sparring sessions.

Bull Elk Sparring
Bull Elk Sparring
Bull Elk in Retreat
Bull Elk in Retreat

One of them finally tired of the game and headed across the meadow at a full gallop.

Chapel on the Rock
Chapel on the Rock

Later in the afternoon, I took a short trip back down Route 7 to get some shots of The Chapel on the Rock. I liked the dark clouds setting off the sculpture on the hill above the chapel. When I was here several years ago, I remember this building being surrounded by water, actually appearing to be built on an island, so something has changed here in the last few years.

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August 22, 2016 Twin Lakes, Colorado

St. Elmo Hummingbird Feeder
St. Elmo Hummingbird Feeder

Day Trip to Saint Elmo, Pronghorns and Bighorn Sheep

Love the feeder hangers at the general store in the ghost town of St. Elmo, if I weren’t homeless, I’d have to find some of these to hang around my house.

St. Elmo General Store
St. Elmo General Store

Other than the general store, there really isn’t all that much to see in St. Elmo, though I did get a kick out of the assortment of rodents being fed in the fallen down remnants of a building across the street from the general store.

St. Elmo Feeding Area
St. Elmo Feeding Area

Two kinds of ground squirrel, least chipmunks, pine siskins, and  juncos, all gorging on sunflower seeds.

White Rock Mountains
White Rock Mountains

On the road up to St. Elmo, I passed these white rock mountains, quite stunning set against the Colorado blue sky.

White Rock Mountains
White Rock Mountains
White Rock Mountains
White Rock Mountains
Along the Back Road to Leadville
Along the Back Road to Leadville

Rather than drive the main highway from my campsite at Lakeview, I found a “shortcut” that went up and over the hills and then paralleled the highway as it made it’s way to Leadville. I drove this road several times after seeing pronghorns in the distance one morning.

Pronghorn Antelope
Pronghorn Antelope

Finally, one afternoon I ran into the herd moving at a fast clip along the ridge between the dirt road and the highway.

Pronghorn Antelope
Pronghorn Antelope
Pronghorn Antelope
Pronghorn Antelope

The lone male takes up a guard position in the rear and drives his harem toward a new grazing area.

Pronghorn Antelope
Pronghorn Antelope

So fortunate to catch them as they stopped atop this ridge gazing back at me, before disappearing down the hill.

Bighorn Ewe and Lamb
Bighorn Ewe and Lamb

On my last early morning trip up to Independence Pass, I came across a small band of bighorn ewes with a solitary lamb, kind enough to pose for a couple shots before slowly grazing up the side of the mountain.

Bighorn Ewe and Lamb
Bighorn Ewe and Lamb

I broke camp at Lakeview and drove 6 miles south to spend one night at the Clear Creek Reservoir dispensed camping area before heading north to Estes Park for a couple weeks of exploring the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Being more than a little concerned about the motorhome’s ability to climb the 8 mile grade on I-70 up to the Eisenhower Tunnel, I managed to find a shop in Buena Vista that could take me in to have the ignition wires and spark plugs replaced. For the last month or so, I could feel the engine sputtering a bit under heavy load and realized that I definitely was experiencing a loss of power. Anyone familiar with the Workhorse Vortex 8.1L engine would recognize the probable cause of this power loss … this is the fourth set of wires and plugs I have had done in 65,000 miles. A couple years ago, I finally had the Workhorse recommended fix for this installed, a pair of 3 inch fresh air lines that direct cool air up and back to the rear of the engine. I had hoped that would cure the problem, but obviously it did not, though it possibly did extend the time interval between having to replace ignition wires and spark plugs.

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August 13, 2016 Twin Lakes, Colorado

Big Horn Ram
Big Horn Ram

At Long Last, A Little Wildlife

Big Horn Ram
Big Horn Ram

Sunday afternoon, and though I usually don’t stray too far from camp on weekends, choosing not to battle the summer hordes, I got a little bored late in the day and grabbed my gear and drove just a couple miles south to see what might be up the Clear Creek Canyon Road. I had actually debated with myself whether to bother loading all the camera gear in the car, seeing as how I didn’t consider my route one that would yield any wildlife.

Big Horn Ram
Big Horn Ram

Not that far past the reservoir, as I was about to round a little bend, a hundred pound rock came bouncing down the embankment to the right of the road, straight out in front of me, barely missing the front of the car. Now this rock was about a foot tall and my 3 inch clearance Prius was going to have some trouble going over it, so I backed up to go around, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw what caused the rock to come tumbling down the hill.

Big Horn Ram
Big Horn Ram

A small mixed group of Bighorn Sheep was clamoring along the hillside, dislodging rocks as they went.

Young Bighorn Ram
Young Bighorn Ram
Big Horn Ram
Big Horn Ram
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams
Big Horn Rams and Lamb
Big Horn Rams and Lamb

There were two lambs and two females traveling along with six or seven rams. Their destination, a mineral lick.

Gathering at the Mineral Lick
Gathering at the Mineral Lick

And this hillside obviously was some sort of mineral lick.

Mineral Lick
Mineral Lick
Mineral Lick
Mineral Lick

The embankment was pockmarked with holes like the one in the image above, where the sheep have licked and poked their noses into the clay to get at the minerals they crave. The mineral licks are an important source of sodium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, and other micronutrients for the bighorn sheep.

Gathering at the Mineral Lick
Gathering at the Mineral Lick
Gathering at the Mineral Lick
Gathering at the Mineral Lick

Still no elk or mountain goats, but now I at least have one species crossed off my Rocky Mountain Wildlife list.

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May 12, 2015 Jasper, Alberta, Canada

About to Get Loud
About to Get Loud

Bighorn Dual and another First Bird

Barrow's Goldeneye
Barrow’s Goldeneye

Headed north on Route 16 very early and found a Barrow’s Goldeneye next to the road in a clear, but green water shallow pond.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Barrow's Goldeneye
Barrow’s Goldeneye

This is a new bird for me so that rates two images!

Bighorn Dual

Bighorn Dual
Bighorn Dual

A little farther up the highway, there was a sign slowing the speed limit down to 70 kph from 90 because of the presence of Big Horn Sheep, and, sure enough there was a lone ewe getting salt right on the edge of the road. Only a ewe, but for some reason I stopped anyhow and snapped off a couple shots and then got ready to pull out when I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and two almost full curl rams were coming down from the rocks above to join the ewe.

Bighorn Ram
Bighorn Ram
Bighorn Ram
Bighorn Ram

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then the show began!

Walking to the Fight
Walking to the Fight
Bighorn Dual
Bighorn Dual

This is the first time I have ever witnessed anything like this! The rams would stand erect on their legs and walk towards the other, gaining momentum and dropping down to butt horns. The impact is dramatic, the sound is something to hear!

Bighorn Dual Sequence
Bighorn Dual Sequence
Bighorn Dual Sequence
Bighorn Dual Sequence
Bighorn Dual Sequence
Bighorn Dual Sequence
Bighorn Dual Sequence
Bighorn Dual Sequence

I stayed for an hour as they butted heads and challenged each other, over and over, with food breaks every now and then. The ewe was totally unimpressed, wandering off to graze, and never even glancing back at her suitors.

Buddies After the Battle
Buddies After the Battle
Buddies After the Battle
Buddies After the Battle

After butting heads for the better part of an hour, the two rams climbed back up the steep rock slope and laid down to rest far above, apparently still buddies. What a show!

Alaska Trip Road Diary

Starting From the Canadian Border

Route 95 North – Highgate Border Crossing to Radium Hot Springs

Good two lane

Route 93 North – Through Kootenay National Park to Castle Junction intersection with Route 1

Very good two lane with one moderate climb at southern end. Great scenery with possible wildlife sightings, I got a nice black bear and cub shot along this road.

Route 1 Banff to the Icefields Parkway just north of Lake Louise

Very nice 4 lane divided highway with fences and overpasses for wildlife protection, great scenery.

Icefields Parkway, Route 93 North Lake Louise – Jasper

Absolutely incredible scenery with wildlife sightings, I got several black bear shots and some ducks. Roughly 180 miles with the first 20 miles or so a little rough. A couple of long grades, but quite doable for my rig while towing. Two lane all the way with mostly fairly wide shoulders and many, many pullouts. A “ must drive “ highway*

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