Birder's Eye View

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SD Saga: Rocky Mountain High

I am back from my 19 day excursion in the mountains and Great Plains -- exploring Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Despite several mishaps (injury, illness, and losing my camera on the very last day!), the trip was amazing and a total eye-opener. Fortunately, I still have my travelogue and my mom's photos, so with these I shall enlighten you to the journey I've been on for these past two and a half weeks.

From the travelogue:

7/30 - Birds seen today: Dusky grouse, stellar jay, barn swallow, tree swallo, black-billed magpie, Western tanager, common raven, redhead, dark-eyed junco, and Northern shrike. At around 7:45am we headed into the Rocky Mountains. Dad wanted to take us to some place he'd been before, but the cold front caused intense fog (and 40 degree temperatures!) to fall over the mountains, obscuring all but the closest peaks. It was nonetheless impossibly spectacular -- impossible to fully comprehend the power of nature that had created such a breathtaking and literally unbelievable environment. We got all the way up into the mountains (10,000 feet or so) until the fog was so dense you couldn't see anything. It was terrifying to be driving along cliffs with nothing but whiteness below.

Temperatures were numbing (especially after coming from 98 degree FL weather!) , and it hard to see anything through the fog. Nonetheless, the Rockies were absolutely stunning and I came to understand the meaning of "Rocky Mountain High."

The wildlife was as exciting as the scenery -- stellar jays (life bird!), magpies and ravens could be seen from the roads, even through the fog. Chipmunks scurried about, and at one stop, I even saw my lifer broad-tailed hummingbird! I got some fantastic photos of it, but of course my camera gone now. :(

There were tons of Redhead ducks at one pond as well, all huddled against the freezing wind.

Later in the day, the fog cleared a bit, opening up to a grey sky. We stopped at Alluvial Falls, the result of a giant flood in 1982. It's hard to tell the scale of the waterfall, but you can see tiny people in the picture above. We climbed about halfway up for a bit, which was great fun.

At Alluvial Falls, I got my lifer Western tanager and Dusky Grouse! I have never seen any type of grouse before, so it was quite a surprise to find this one and a juvenile sitting right next to the trail, clucking and preening contentedly.

Eventually we had to leave CO and drive to our hotel in Wyoming. The drive out of Rocky Mountain National Park was inconceivably beautiful, despite the weather. I was amazed when we got out of the mountains to find the landscape immediately transform to a dry prairie environment. It was as if I had blinked and all the stunning glory of the mountains was suddenly gone.

For the next 170 miles or so, we drove through a fascinating monotony of dry, grassy hills and farmland. The ribbon highway stretched all the way to the horizon, sometimes with no cars to be seen in front of us or behind us.

Everything was so huge. The sky was like a giant swirly blue bowl over us, and the land was a hilly brown prairie sprinkled with cow herds and pronghorn. Our stopover was in Torrington, a tiny little town that we made sure to avoid on the return trip.

Thus ended our first full day in the Great Plains. A lot of driving, amazing sights, and a fantastic experience.

Day 2 will be posted tomorrow.

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  • Sounds like a beautiful trip. That really stinks about the camera. I would cry my fool head off. I hope no one was injured too bad.

    By Blogger Jessica, At August 19, 2009 at 4:15 PM  

  • Yes, there was much distress when I opened up my backpack and discovered my camera was gone! Truly the saddest thing that's ever happened to me on vacation. And no worries, no one was injured too bad. It wasn't exactly the most favorable trip, but nothing serious happened. ;-)

    By Blogger Andrea, At August 20, 2009 at 8:47 AM  

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