Monsoon season in Colorado is back this year - and with far more heat and rain every day over a more extended period than in several years. So we gave up on trying to find anyplace dry within Colorado for camping last week. The weather reports for virtually every place we want to camp in-state this summer continue to have rain and thunderstorms in the forecasts for the next 10 days, no matter which day we're looking at them!
After much research, my husband found a place to check out. Encampment, Wyoming, in the Medicine Bow National Forest, is located in a wide valley at the base of the Sierra Madre Range (not the same mountains as featured in the 1948 movie, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which are in Mexico), and a short drive from the Medicine Bow/Snowy Range. The history of the region fascinated me. This wide valley was used by French-Canadian fur traders as a rendezvous location in the early 1800s; it's within the traditional territories/hunting lands of the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Crow, Shoshone and Ute tribes. Later, discovery of copper near Encampment led to the building of a smelter just east of the town, and an amazing 16-mile tramway for carrying ore from the Ferris-Haggarty Mine to the smelter. At the time, this was the longest tramway in the world. One description reads, "The 16-mile tram consisted of 370 towers, 3 cable stations and 840 buckets that could hold as much as 700 pounds of ore each. The system transported ore, and miners, at 4-miles per hour by wood-fired steam power." (www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/ghost3.html)
We'd never been to this part of Wyoming before, and found it to be really amazing. The scenery is spectacular (more on that in a follow-up post), but the wildlife was absolutely great, too! Besides the cows and calves we'd expect to see in ranch country, we saw at least 6 foals (more than I've seen in one area in awhile); but the remarkable thing was that we saw more baby wild animals than we've ever seen in a single trip! I wasn't able to get pictures of the bison calves, the juvenile bald eagles or the baby robins, but I did get pictures of the other babies we got to watch.
A quick count of the wildlife we observed during the trip comprised at least 7 bald eagles, including the 2 juveniles; a small herd (half-dozen or so) of pronghorn does with their fawns, as well as a couple single males; a herd of bison with multiple calves; a cow moose and her calf; a mule deer doe with twin fawns; at least a dozen American white pelicans; a pair of California gulls; 2 or 3 great blue herons; an osprey with her chicks; a kestrel; a peregrine falcon; a mountain bluebird feeding her chicks; and a robin's nest (we saw the parents but couldn't see the chicks).
The pronghorn herd was unusually calm while I took several pictures from inside our vehicle; pronghorn often won't stay close to a stationary vehicle, and especially not when they have youngsters. The osprey nesting platform was just outside one of the small towns near where we camped. One chick kept hiding behind its
mother while the other was more visible; however, when the mother shrilled to let me know I'd taken one step too close, both chicks ducked down out of sight. These chicks were very close to fledging, and most likely left the nest within a few days after we saw them.
My husband and I have for years had a friendly competition of who can see wildlife first. He's often the more observant one, so I was thrilled when I saw the moose cow and calf first! These two were known to visit the campground where we stayed although they didn't come through while we were there.
The mule deer we saw did come into our camp. These twin fawns seemed to be small for the time of year, but may be well within the norm for the area where we were camped because roads are closed from November through May due to heavy snowfalls, so late births may be normal as well. (I'm more used to fawns having already lost their spots by late July in our hometown.)
Their mother certainly had no trouble with visiting our campsite. Unfortunately, she's habituated to humans, and definitely addicted to "people food." She was quite thin, which could partly be due to the demands of the twins, but she showed many signs that we can associate with addiction - assertiveness instead of caution (she even tried to lick my camera lens), begging behavior, and sneakiness. While my husband and I were
watching her fawns, who showed considerably more caution and sense than their mother and mostly avoided us, the doe came back into our camp and nosed through things. She found the open package of sunflower seeds my husband had left beside his chair and finished it off in a matter of a minute or so (a full third of a large package!). Obviously to us, she was looking for salty, oily foods; "people food" has a much worse effect on the health of wild animals, even leading to early death due to wasting caused by poor nutrition and the disruption of their digestive bacteria, heart disease, and theoretically, even diabetes. To me, this doe's behavior totally removed the majesty of a wild creature and made her a sad shadow of herself, as well as teaching her fawns really bad habits. And it wasn't as if she didn't have plenty to eat. We were able to watch her devour a large mushroom that was growing nearby (I think it was a wild porcini mushroom, which would have been good for us too), and there were leaves of a nearby shrub that she certainly found tasty because she climbed up onto a fallen log to reach them. We may love to have these wild animals visit us 'up close and personal,' but we should never be tempted to feed them.
There was so much more we saw on this trip that I'll have to put into a post I'll probably write within the next week or two. Meanwhile, check out my website, www.denisedethlefsen.com, and see what else I've photographed. Two of my images were recently accepted into two separate shows in Minneapolis, and I'll be posting invitations and details soon.