An Environmental Success Story

In early spring, we took a quick trip out to Colorado.  We arrived into Denver in the darkness of the late night, so stayed overnight near the airport.  We decided that we would check out the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, not far from downtown Denver.

Much of the land has transitioned over the years from farmland to being used by the army to produce chemical weapons, and later their dumping grounds for the weaponry developed there.  It was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) and designated a “Superfund” site, being considered an environmental disaster.  After 23 years and $2.1 billion dollars in the clean-up efforts, the remediation and clean-up work was considered complete.

Consisting of currently 15,988 acres of national wildlife refuge, it’s one of the largest urban refuges in the USA.  The complex is home to 330 species, including the endangered black-footed ferrets, which were re-introduced there.  One of the species that was influential to the refuge’s existence is the bald eagle.  DSC_4221I had often seen images of the bison there with either the backdrops of the Rocky Mountains or downtown Denver.  I hoped that we could get some of the same.  Sure enough, before too long, we came across 2 bison grazing in the grasslands.DSC_3655Further along, there were more.  I couldn’t help but wonder if those bison appreciated the wildlife refuge, where they could roam freely, with those amazing scenic landscapes.DSC_3801-EditA few of the areas are fenced off a bit, which made those images a bit annoying, but it sure was a beautiful day and the bison didn’t seem to care.DSC_3856At one point, we encountered a herd of bison, roaming from one side of the road  to another, and often, back again.  It made traveling down the road a bit challenging.  LOL_DSC2119These bison seemed a bit more skittish than others that I’ve encountered before.  At one point, I got out of the opposite door of our vehicle to get a better image … well outside safe distances for photographing bison.  To my surprise, I startled them and them stammered a bit, to which I quickly got back in the car.  The last thing I wanted to do was alter their behavior.DSC_3970DSC_3881-EditTrue to natural bison behavior, they preferred to hang out together in the herd.  There were a few young ones, which we would observe nursing on their moms.IMG_3286Of course, the Arsenal is more than bison.  Though we didn’t see the black-footed ferrets (except the ones in the exhibit viewing area), but we did see LOTS of prairie dogs!DSC_4128A good variety of birds were seen as well.  The northern flickr, which is a favorite of mine, was spotted in a nearby tree.  It didn’t feel like cooperating for the camera lens, so I left it alone and kept driving.DSC_4077The western meadowlarks were out in force as well, though fairly erractic in flight and a bit further out than I’m used to in Florida (our eastern meadowlarks, of course).DSC_4206Always a thrill for me to witness observe, and photograph were the red-tailed hawks.  Several times while we were there, a few circled in the thermals above us.DSC_3723-EditDSC_3711-EditNear the waters within the refuge, we spotted lots of birds, though most were a bit further out as well.  The Barrows goldeneye in flight was a fun subject.DSC_4092The Canada Goose was present in pretty good concentrations and some were seemingly nesting along the roadside as well.  This one let me get low and close for a head shot.DSC_4091-EditYes, we enjoyed our time at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge … where it’s living proof that good things can happen at bad places … for both the benefit of man and nature.  🙂_DSC2140As we were driving away, one of the MANY prairie dogs was spotted checking us out.  It seemed to be saying … “leaving so soon”.  LOL  Ok, maybe not!  if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend to visit this urban gem.DSC_4295Next Up:  Back to the wetlands of Florida

© 2017  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Lemonade Never Tasted So Good

In October, we really don’t as a rule worry too much about tropical storms or hurricanes in Florida.  Sure, it’s still technically hurricane season until the end of November, but our peak is usually July, August, and September … at least according to this “almost native Floridian”‘s recollection.  So, when we realized that a potential Cat.4-5 hurricane by the name of Matthew was lurking around Florida a few days earlier, we became concerned.  We were thankful that south Florida was pretty much spared from the wrath of the storm, so when our flight allowed us to check in, we thought we were in the clear.  WRONG … by the time we checked in online to the time we checked into our hotel, a few short hours from Denver, we received the text message … FLIGHT CANCELLED.  Yep, lemons thrown our way.

I felt especially terrible because my daughter and her husband had just left for backpacking in Europe and we were charged with taking care of our grandchildren … doggy ones.  🙂  Luckily, we were in the midst also of sights like these …dsc_7985dsc_7997So with those lemons, we decided to make the proverbial “lemonade”.  We altered our plans (after all, a friend of theirs was battening down the hatches until we got home and all flights into Florida were cancelled) and chose to not sweat it out and swing by Rocky Mountain NP with our newly gained freedom.  OK, truth be told, it probably did involve some “sweating it out”, but you get the gist, right?

I hadn’t been to Estes Park in probably 2 years and this was pretty crowded for me.img_2151After we left the hustle and bustle of town and got into the park itself, it was much better.  Right off the bat, we came across a gang of wild turkey.  I believe that there were mature and juveniles within the group.dsc_8005Of course, everyone knows that October in RMNP is synonymous with the elk rut, so my hopes were high.  Can you imagine how excited I was when I came across this handsome bull down by the lakeside … keeping a keen eye on his harem.dsc_8218It was really cool to get images of him standing almost chest deep in the water.  Of course, when he bugled from there as well, it was well over the top for me.  NOTHING compares to the sound of a bull elk’s bugle!dsc_8342He really was quite the handsome lad and quite cooperative with his poses.  I have a feeling that he’s used to the camera lens.  🙂dsc_8404Of course, during the rut, the bull elk have more on their minds than eating, but that didn’t stop the ladies from getting their fill on the nearby vegetation.dsc_8432A very tender moment to me was when he went nose to nose with one of his gals.  I wondered if she was his favorite … only just kidding.  LOLdsc_8556Instead of eating the vegetation, he would use the bushes to scratch himself.dsc_8593The girls in his harem were about 15, which I thought was a pretty good size.  While most of the rut was over, the mating had yet to begin.dsc_8715Yep, this bull sure knew how to work the camera.  Never have I gotten them in the water during rut like that.  I was thrilled.dsc_8795Sunsets are always a thrill and this place didn’t disappoint.  I just loved how the colors were so mixed, yet oh so beautiful._dsc1775Out at dinner one night, I happened to notice this sign … it warmed my heart to know that some people and places do everything in their ability to protect the bears from being labelled as a “problem bear” secondary to actually “problem people” who don’t exercise common sense.  (I’ll now exit my soapbox)img_2159This time of the year, the mule deer were also out in force and sporting nice racks too.  Such sweet, sweet faces.dsc_9030dsc_9331These guys were out for a little bit of jostling around as well.dsc_9191Now this bull elk, shown from afar so that you can actually see how many gals he had in his harem … 24 in all!!!  Crazy to imagine how busy he was going to be in the near future.  LOL.  We even saw one of them actually try to mate him!  Guess she was getting close to being ready.  😉_dsc1818So in the end, we got home a night later, got to go the Rocky Mountain NP, arrived to Jacksonville to pick up the grand doggies, and safely drove home.  Yep, lemonade never tasted so good!_dsc1813Next Up:  How about some birding?

© 2017  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Winding Down

Beginning to wind down from our trip to the Canadian Rockies and Glacier NP, we stayed overnight in the town of Hungry Horse, MT, not far from the western entrance of Glacier NP.  I just love the little touches that this hotel/RV campground had.  It was the perfect way for us to begin our last day in the park.

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As I said, this place had an RV park, but it also had several other accommodation options … that being soft sided tents (complete with queen bed, table, lamp, chair) or the very appropriate for the area teepee (also very nice on the inside).

photo 3On my first trip to this area, when my daughter was much younger, we opted for one of those teepee units (of course, in another city).  It was so much fun for her, but could have been a problem for my mom, as she began to change into her PJs at night…. let’s just say that you should check them to be sure they’re not “see through” at night with a light on.  LOL.  So much for the reminiscing.

Hungry Horse, MT was named for a moment in history when 2 horses, that had wandered away from their sleigh during the harsh winter of 1900-1901, were found about a month later, severely weak and suffering from starvation.  They were able to be cared for and eventually recovered their health and so a town and other things were named after that occurrence, including a dam.  Of course, as most men do, Tom wanted to explore the dam, so off we went.  The Hungry Horse Dam Project was for the production of hydroelectric power and also flood control.  Its concrete dam stands at 564 feet, which at the time made it the 2nd largest dam in the US, though it now stands as the 10th highest.

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(Sorry for the harsh lighting)

As all dams do, to provide flood control, there’s some sort of relief for the water and this dam uses a bell-mouth spillway.  It’s known as a glory hole and this one is actually the highest one in the world!

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It really was quite impressive to see in person and imagine how it must be to see the water entering the spillway from its perimeter as the needs demand.  A nice Visitor Center was open during our visit which was like pulling teeth to get Tom to leave … he’s so into that kind of stuff.  🙂  Then on top of it, I asked how often they call upon that glory hole and she said that it should be happening in “not too long”.  I would imagine she meant several days, so “NO, Tom, we’re not waiting for it!”  LOL

What we didn’t realize was that the dam was just the beginning of the offerings of the area.  It was part of the Hungry Horse Reservoir Recreation Area – a 31-mile long road, surrounded by over 25 mountain peaks, encompassed 23,800 acres, including 170 miles of shoreline.  Fishing, boating, waterskiing, and swimming were just some of the area activities which it provided for.

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Of course, for me, it offered amazing views of the south fork of the Flathead River, birding, wildlife photography, etc.

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We both wished we had more time to explore all 31 miles, but as I said, vacation time was winding down and I had a plane to catch in the morning.  😦

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Our final destination for the evening was Helena, MT, where I would board an early morning flight.  But not before 2 more important stops along the way.  The first was to explore a now lesser traveled area of Glacier NP, known as Two Medicine.

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Before the Going to the Sun Road opened in 1932, Two Medicine was once most popular for the visitors arriving by train.  The area, one which I had never visited, offers the guest amazing vista, adventurous trails to hike, waterfalls, and of course, lakes.

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The native Blackfeet Indians consider Chief Mountain and Medicine Mountain to be the two most sacred places with Glacier NP boundaries.  Other cool things to note are that the Two Medicine Store there is designated a National Historic Landmark.  For those dinosaur history fans, they’ve also found fossils there of Late Cretaceous Dinosaurs and their eggs.  Pretty cool in my book.

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Eventually, we had to leave the beauty of not just Two Medicine area behind, but also of Glacier NP.

Onward we drove through some pretty beautiful landscapes of rural Montana, on our way towards Great Falls, MT.  Synchronizing our schedules to perfection, we met up with our friends again, Donna & Buck, for some dinner.  To our surprise, they showed up on Buck’s brand new Harley Davidson motorcycle.  Though I kept calling it beautiful, I was quickly notified that you don’t call it “beautiful”, but rather you say it’s “sick!”.  Haha.  Don’t they just look awesome on it?  The question remains as to where in the world he would fit their camera gear!

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After dinner, it was time to say our goodbyes and head on down for some final packing and rest (if that’s what you call 3-4 hrs) before the flight home…. always the worst part of vacation for me.  🙂

We hope that you have enjoyed our journey through the Canadian Rockies and Glacier NP with us.  By the time that you read this, we’ll be already home from our 2014 trip to Alaska, so stay tuned for more about that!

© 2014  Debbie Tubridy / http://www.tnwaphotography.com