July 11, 2016 Ridgway, Colorado

Columbine
Columbine

Exploring Back Roads Searching for Wildflowers

The last couple of days I have been driving the dusty, washboarded back roads around Ridgway and off the Million Dollar Highway, searching for mountain meadows carpeted with wildflowers. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any.

Columbine on the Edge of the Woods
Columbine on the Edge of the Woods

Columbine is in bloom along several of these roads and I have found some small patches with several clusters of flowers, but nothing on a grand scale … yet.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove
Columbine
Columbine

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed this single clump growing out of the sheer face of the road cut  along the Million Dollar Highway. It was hanging on about twenty feet up the sheer vertical face of the rock cut and with no shoulder on one side of the road ( just a straight drop down about 200 feet, no room for a guard rail ), and the rock wall just three feet from the fog line on the other side, the only way I could get the shot was setting my tripod up on the road, dodging in and out of traffic.

Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive
Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive

Caught in Yet Another Cattle Drive

Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive
Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive

This is getting to be a regular occurrence for me, I believe this is the fifth cattle drive I have gotten involved with in the past couple months.

Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive
Caught In Yet Another Cattle Drive

I’m getting to be an old hand at staring down these bovines.

A Young Cowboy
A Young Cowboy

And this is definitely the youngest cowboy I have photographed to date !

Approaching Red Mountain
Approaching Red Mountain

More Shots From Route 550 and Roads Outside Silverton

Approaching Red Mountain
Approaching Red Mountain
Along the Million Dollar Highway
Along the Million Dollar Highway
View From the Million Dollar Highway
View From the Million Dollar Highway
From Yankee Basin Road
From Yankee Basin Road
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton
Outside Silverton

Caught Up in My First Sheep Drive

Sheep Drive
Sheep Drive

I ran into three large and empty livestock carriers ( tractor trailers, 18 wheelers ) parked on the side of a narrow dusty road outside of Silverton and assumed I was going to run into yet another cattle drive, but when I rounded the next corner I encountered my initial “sheep drive “.

Sheep Drive Chaos
Sheep Drive Chaos

Several hundred sheep, one sheepdog, one guard dog, three shepherds on foot and another walking with a horse. At times the sheep were bouncing all around the place and the three shepherds were running like crazy trying not to have the herd breakup.

What made it really interesting was the fact that they were driving them down the road and one side of the road was a National Forest designated camping area, full of people and tents … and many of the sheep were running through the campsites and among campers and their tents as the men and the sheepdog attempted to get them back to the flock. I felt kind of sorry for the campers because the road and all the ground in the flocks’ path was now covered with sheep droppings, and several hundred sheep leave a lot of droppings.

Sheep Drive
Sheep Drive

Eventually the flock was driven off the road and up the side of the mountain.

Sheep Drive
Driving Them Up the Mountain

And the side of this mountain was very steep, probably a 30 degree slope or more and they were being pushed straight up by the shepherds. These guys had to be in some kind of great shape for this job since this location is about at 10,000′ elevation and they were driving the flock straight up the mountainside and it was a long way to the top. How they don’t lose individuals is beyond me.

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June 12, 2016 Heron Lake State Park, New Mexico

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

Exploring Southern Colorado

Skunk Cabbage
Skunk Cabbage

At these high elevations, this Skunk Cabbage seems to grow prolifically just about everywhere.

The West End of Colorado FR 103
The West End of Colorado FR 103

I had checked out FR 103 on my New Mexico and Colorado Atlases and wanted to see if I could drive it in the Prius to try and find the catering building of the Cumbres & Toltec RR out in the middle of nowhere in Colorado. The atlases showed  a few miles of drivable gravel road before it appeared to turn into 4-wheel drive road, when you entered FR 103 from the west, so I figured I would see just how bad it got.

As you can see from the image above, the road starts out in pretty good shape as you head down into a beautiful valley, but after about four miles, as it heads back up into the woods, it deteriorated quite rapidly, forcing me to turn around at about the five mile mark.

View From Colorado Route 17
View From Colorado Route 17

So, back out to Route 17, and north across the state line into Colorado to try FR 103 from the east side. The image above is from the side of the road as you descend into Colorado. If you look closely, the gravel road on the right that heads uo into the mountains is one I will take a little later in this post.

At the summit of Cumbres Pass there is a gravel road to the west that takes you about two miles up to the Trujillo Meadows NF Campground, so I had to check that out. There is a very nice campground up there at over 10,000 feet of elevation with several sites that would easily handle my rig, but, unfortunately, the campground looks like a bomb hit it. It used to be a well wooded campground but the bark beetles have killed a very large portion of all the surrounding woods up here and the forest service obviously felt the need to take down all the dead trees in the campground, leaving it completely bare, nothing but stumps. Still a nice place to truly get away from it all.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

I continued east on Route 17 to Road D-5, just past Fox Creek, and that connected me to FR 103’s east access. FR 103 is a fairly decently maintained gravel road with a fair share of washboarded stretches for about 14 miles in, where it becomes a little narrower, slicker, and less well maintained.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

I passed several aspen groves along the first several miles and finally had to stop and get some shots.

Approaching Storm
Approaching Storm

At about 6 or 7 miles in, the sky began to darken and I could see lightning flashing to the north.

Afternoon Storm
Afternoon Storm

In this area, there were a couple of meadows where one could possibly pull off the road and find a decent boon docking site, something I may well do in the future. I think I would dare take the motorhome out to at least this point, though I don’t think I would dare go beyond these meadows as the road does get narrower and there are no obvious places where a large rig could get turned around.

Afternoon Storm
Afternoon Storm

The rain was soon upon me as I made the final push to get to the catering building, about 15 miles in from the east end of FR 103.

Switching Track
Switching Track

kLunchStop

All these shots were taken in the rain so they are a little dull and spotty, but I found it kind of interesting to see all these people and all this activity out here in the middle of nowhere.

lLunchStop2

The Cumbres & Toltec RR serves a complete dinner, included in the price of your ticket, out here in this building. The road at this point became so bad that I could not get down to the building to check it out, plus the rain was really starting to come down heavy and I had a narrow, winding uphill to do in what was now a very muddy road, so it was time to turn around and head out.

Approaching the Water Tank
Approaching the Water Tank
Cumbres & Toltec Railroad Engineers
Cumbres & Toltec Railroad Engineers

As I slid and sloshed back up the road, the heavy rain turned to marble sized hail and within seconds the road was now white with hail. This was my first experience with the summer season’s afternoon storms, and it was a little terrifying for a few minutes. At 10,000 feet of elevation, I guess you must be right inside the storm as I could quite literally “feel’ the thunder as it seemed to explode around me and the hail was so heavy, I could not see the narrow road in front of me. But it was all over in a few minutes and I was able to make the return back out to Route 17, no worse for wear.

Cumbres & Toltec Open Gondola car
Nice Ride !

A shot of the open gondola car as the train passed in a little nicer weather.

My Second Cattle Drive
My Second Cattle Drive

Exploring Colorado Route 250 to Platoro

Only a few miles up Route 250, a wide, well maintained gravel road ( though quite dusty and washboarded in sections ), I encountered my second cattle drive of the season. This lone cowboy and his dog were single handedly driving about a hundred cattle up the road to greener summer pastures.

Mom Looking Out for Junior
Mom Looking Out for Junior

Just as with the first cattle drive I encountered back outside Raton a couple weeks ago, the cowboy came up to me and told me to just slowly head into them,” they’ll move “. And they did, but it took about five minutes of looking at the messy butts of a lot of cows and calves to nudge through the herd and get back on my way. I could easily have reached out my window and touched many of these cows as I made my way through.

rBlocked

These next few shots are actually are from my return back down Rte 250 later in the afternoon, this and the next few taken through my windshield, when I met up with the same cowboy and cattle drive about 3 hours later. Turns out to be a slightly different feel when you run head first into them and they have to make their way around you, than when you work your way through them from the rear.

Hereford Bull
This Guy Has Me Worried

This lone bull, about the size of my Prius, had me more than a little worried when he seemed to look down at me from in front of the car, as though he was trying to decide if he should push through me, or go around. Thankfully, some cows to the left moved around me, giving him room to move that way also.

Hereford Bull
That’s a Lot of Animal
Colorado Cowboy
Colorado Cowboy

Quite a job to tackle by himself, I would think. When the herd was moving through this area of cabins with no woods or fences along the roadway, the cattle were scattering all over the place and he was bouncing from one side of the road to the other trying to gather them all in and keep them heading in one direction. I wish i could have gotten some shots of his dog, looked like a sheltie/sheepdog type, as he raced all over chasing strays back to the road, seemingly without any commands that I could see or hear, from his master.

Elevation 9,000 Feet and Still Climbing
Elevation 9,000 Feet and Still Climbing

Views From 10,000 Feet

Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet

I ended up going about 18 miles into the mountains on Route 250, mainly to check out the two National Forest Campgrounds, Spectacle Lake CG at about 6 miles in and South Fork CG about 18 miles in. Both campgrounds were secluded and fairly nice with interior roads and several campsites that were able to handle larger rigs. I might well try one or both someday in the future, this is just breathtakingly beautiful country.

Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet

I got a little spooked as I was taking the shots above, when rocks began crashing down into the road behind me from the steep slope on the other side of the road.

Mule Deer
Rock Throwers

I looked up and there was the reason, two mule deer does scrambling up the steep talus slope, probably to get away from me.

Colorado at 10,000 Feet, Impossibly Green
Colorado at 10,000 Feet, Impossibly Green

The hillsides are an unbelievably brilliant green and the sky an incredible blue. The air so clean and dry … WOW !!!   Spring in the Rockies!

Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet

Years ago, I made a trip out here and had a little trouble with the altitude. This time, I suppose because of my slow, months long pace of gradually climbing up in elevation as I made my way north and up, through New Mexico, thankfully, I am not experiencing any of the same symptoms. Just another perk, I suppose, of the leisurely pace of a fulltimer.

Sunbathing Horses
Sunbathers

Had to take a shot of these two, seemingly really enjoying the warmth of the noonday sun at 10,00 feet.

Abandoned House
Abandoned House

And I can never pass by a deserted building.

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May 30, 2016 Sugarite State Park, NM

Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands

Trip to Capulin Volcano National Monument

Yesterday, I took a break from shooting hummers and drove Route 72 over Johnson Mesa from the campground to Folsum, then down to Capulin Volcano National Monument.

Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands

The drive along Route 72 atop the mesa is worth the trip by itself though. Miles of flat, lush grasslands dotted with yellow flowers as well as grazing cattle and the occassional pronghorns. On yet another blue sky day with billowing cumulous clouds, the landscape just kind of takes your breath away, these images not really doing justice to this magical landscape. Have to say, I really do love the wide open spaces here.

Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Abandoned Folsom Building
Abandoned Folsom Building

The tiny village of Folsom is along the way and when I saw this abandoned building down a side road, I had to take a few reference shots for a potential watercolor.

Abandoned Folsom Building
Abandoned Folsom Building
Abandoned Folsom Building
Abandoned Folsom Building
Folsom Hotel
Folsom Hotel

And this would catch anybody’s eye, the Folsom Hotel, build in the 1880’s, and obviously unoccupied these days.

View From the Summit of Capulin Volcano
View From the Summit of Capulin Volcano

A well maintained paved road winds around the volcano and delivers you to a parking lot at the summit where you can peer down into what once was the fiery interior of the volcano, but now is a well vegetated depression with stairs taking you to the bottom. There also is a trail that allows you to climb around the perimeter of the summit.

View From the Summit of Capulin Volcano
View From the Summit of Capulin Volcano

Some great views of the surrounding country from up here, to me more interesting than the extinct volcano itself.

Rather than take the quick way home via Route 87, I decided to retrace my steps and take Route 72 back along Johnson Mesa.

Johnson Mesa Cattle Drive
Johnson Mesa Cattle Drive

Taking Part in my First Cattle Drive

Johnson Mesa Cattle Drive
Johnson Mesa Cattle Drive

Well, not really. I came up on these three cowboys, actually two cowboys, one cowgirl, driving 50 or so cattle to new pastures. Hemmed in by barbed wire fences on both sides of the road, the cattle were hoofing it down the highway.

Johnson Mesa Cattle Drive
Johnson Mesa Cattle Drive

When one of the cowboys waved me up, I asked how I was to proceed and he said just move into the middle of them and slowly push my way through. ” They’ll move “, he assured me.

As I started to advance, the cowgirl on the white horse darted in front of me to help clear a way through.

There are Still Cowboys Out Here
There are Still Cowboys Out Here
Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands

As on the trip in this morning, I once again had to stop more than once to appreciate this special landscape.

Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Pronghorn Resting in the Johnson Mesa Grasslands
Pronghorn Resting in the Johnson Mesa Grasslands

On three different occassions, I came across pronghorns either crossing the road, or grazing along the fenceline. Unfortunately, as soon as you begin to slow down, they quickly move away.

Camera Shy Pronghorns
Camera Shy Pronghorns

Back at the Campsite

Grey Fox Returns
Grey Fox Returns

The grey fox makes another appearance

Grey Fox Returns
Grey Fox Returns
Grey Fox Returns
Grey Fox Returns

Once again, right around 6 PM, the grey fox showed up to chow down on sunflower seeds.

Grey Fox Returns
Grey Fox Returns

Showing no fear, he ( or she ) stayed around for close to twenty minutes, cleaning up what the birds left behind. An hour or so later, when it was just too dark ( storm clouds moved in ) to take any shots, a second grey fox showed up at the same spot. This one had a distinctive narrow black stripe down the length of it’s spine, another gorgeous animal.

The Next Morning

Grey Fox Siblings ?
Grey Fox Siblings ?

Must be these foxes spread the word!

Grey Fox Siblings ?
Grey Fox Siblings ?

They do all look alike, of course, but these two seem a little smaller so I wonder if they aren’t young from last year’s litter.

Grey Fox Siblings ?
Grey Fox Siblings ?

Just gorgeous animals!

Grey Fox
Grey Fox
Grey Fox
Grey Fox

One of the pair was a little more bold than the other and came right up to the concrete pad just under my dinette window, where I had the camera lens hanging out the open window for these shots. He looked up and obviously saw me, but slurped up most of the spilled seeds on the pad anyway …

Grey Fox
Grey Fox

… before retreating back out to the rock.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey

Not long after, in walk two wild turkeys to take advantage of the free handouts here.

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey
Wild Turkeys
Wild Turkeys
Black-chin Hummingbird
Black-chin Hummingbird

And, of course, I spent another few hours attempting hummingbird shots, someone has to do it.

Black-chin Hummingbird
Black-chin Hummingbird
Black-chin Hummingbird
Black-chin Hummingbird

This has been one of the very best spots I have ever stayed, despite the fact that the campground has, of course, filled up for the Memorial Day Weekend. The crowd however, has not seemed to deter the wildlife from coming in to my slightly isolated campsite. Unfortunately, come Tuesday, the time will have come to move on.

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April 28, 2015, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff

Yet Another Interesting Day at Malheur

Every day, when I leave home in the morning, I never know what I am going to find here at Malheur. Today was no exception.

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

Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive

I had decided to drive the Diamond Loop and check out the Peter French Round Barn and, on the drive there,  found myself face to face with about 100 head of cattle, being driven down the highway, as I was later told, a fairly common practice here.

Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive

No vehicle out in front on them to give oncoming motorists warning, I just came around a fairly sharp corner on a 65 mph road and there they were. A local person soon pulled up behind me and explained that the correct thing to do in this event is not to stop, as I did, but to simply proceed through them …  carefully and at a slow speed. They will make way for you, he assured me. And, of course, they did as he said they would and soon I came to the end of the herd and three real life cowboys that were driving them along ( the third cowboy had just cut off to the right to drive a stray back to the herd ).

Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive

All’s well that ends well !

Bing Mapper
Bing Mapper

Only a half mile down the road behind the cattle drive, I saw this fellow stopped in the road. After zipping by him, my curiosity got the better of me and I turned around and went back to ask a few questions.

Bing Mapper
Bing Mapper

This is Bing’s answer to Google Earth. The driver/operator of this vehicle was kind enough to show me the equipment used, camera, 10 TB hard drive, GPS, etc., and explained the process of collecting all the data. I asked if I went on Bing and highlighted this stretch of road, then hit their ” street view “, would I see images of him stuck in the middle of the cattle drive, and he assured me that, yes, I would. Just need to wait a couple months for all these new images to be upload, he said. Over the next two days, I saw two more of these Bing cars during my travels around Malheur and Burns.

Palomino
Palomino

Caught this beautiful creature gracefully trotting down a hill to a water hole by the side of the road.

Mallard Drake
Mallard Drake

I know, it’s only a mallard.

Mallard Splashdown
Mallard Splashdown

I liked the refection of this Northern Shoveler as he splashed down, something I had never caught before.

Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff

These two images show the takeoff sequence of a male gadwall. Notice how hard his wings drive down in the water to provide his initial lift. The second image of him in flight is about as good a shot of this type as I have been able to get to date, at least. The focusing system of my camera always has a very difficult time isolating the bird from the busy background of reeds and most images like this are always rendered out of focus.

Love Them Lips, Ruddy Duck
Love Them Lips, Ruddy Duck

Gotta love them lips, looks like he is puckering up to give his honey a big old wet one ! During mating season, the Ruddy duck’s bill turns this bright shade of blue to help make him irresistable to the ladies.

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck
Teaching the Kids How to Hide
Teaching the Kids How to Hide

I always get a kick out of Canadian Geese dropping their necks to the water to ” hide ” themselves to me as I pass by.

Teaching the Kids How to Hide
Teaching the Kids How to Hide

These parents were doing a good job of showing their kids how to hide from dangerous photographers, but the little ones don’t seem to have caught on to the neck flattening thing.

Unescorted Ducklings
Unescorted Ducklings

The goslings are the first to hatch and the ducklings follow a week or two later in the spring. These are the first ducklings I have seen this year. These ten ducklings are only about half of this group, that must consist of the offspring of more than one set of parents. They were quickly trying to get themselves concealed from me by heading behind a dense bunch of willows growing on the water’s edge. It seemed odd that I never saw any parent’s anywhere near these cute little guys.

Old Dump Truck
Old Dump Truck
Old Dump Truck Detail
Old Dump Truck Detail

In the afternoon I drove back north towards Burns to check on the fields south of town. I happened upon this old dump truck on the way. Nice watercolr subject, when, and if, I ever get the brushes out again.

Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilt

A Black-necked Stilt searching for morsels among the submerged grasses of a cow pasture.

Meadowlark
Meadowlark

 

Meadowlark
Meadowlark
Meadowlark
Meadowlark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It truly is starting to look like spring as there are now all kinds of songbirds singing their hearts out along the road.

Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow
Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows

Not often I find these guys so easy to capture.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Robin
Robin
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Yellow-headed Blackbirds

The Yellow-headed Blackbirds have arrived in clouds the past few days and sometimes you may see as many as a hundred of them perched on the fences here along Hotchkiss and Greenhouse Lanes.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird

This one was really getting into it, belting out his melody.

So, Spring has definitely sprung, and much as I am enjoying my time her at Malheur, I really do have to think about leaving and getting on my way north to Alaska.

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