We enjoyed our time at Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma very much. We stayed in the state park which is located on the Refuge next to a dam. This is a very popular place for birds and we saw quite a few. Most interesting was the flock of American White Pelicans hanging out in the river next to our campsite. I think they must have been resting up after their flight in from Galveston--nothing seemed to bother them and they hung out in the same place all day. Again, we used the motorcycle to tour the refuge and nearby towns. Very small towns--this is not a highly populated area, mostly hay and alfalfa farming and cattle. We had almost no signal for our phones and no Internet connection. After about a week, temperatures began rising into the low 90s, unusual for this time of year, so we decided to move on to cooler climes with hopefully better cell phone coverage (always an issue for us).
We traveled straight west across Oklahoma and into northeastern New Mexico. Here we stayed a couple of nights in Sugarite Canyon State Park near the Colorado border; in fact, the park crosses the border. There's a beautiful lake that straddles the border. Looked like it must have been good fishing--lots of fisherman. It was fairly high so we got our cooler temperatures. We took a long hike here around a small lake next to the campground and ended up scrambling up a hillside that was steeper than it looked with very loose dirt which did not provide stable footing. Riley had to practically haul me up the last few feet; we got dirty, needless to say. The day we were leaving we drove up the road to the bigger lake on the border and discovered the road turned to dirt. Such a nice park, extending into Colorado, but no paved access from the Colorado side. We had to turn around and retrace our steps to Raton before we could drive north into Colorado.
In Colorado, we chose to stay at a commercial RV operation, Mountaindale RV Park, about 15 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. It had free WiFi which gave us an Internet connection--yea--but still no phone service. Well, Riley had a weak roaming signal, but fairly useless. We were glad to be connected again; I think we were in withdrawal. It's amazing how much we use it for personal communications, banking & bill paying, weather forecasts, and news in general. The park was beautiful and so was the weather. We stayed there 8 days and toured on the cycle. We did the usual things in Colorado Springs--Garden of the Gods and Pike's Peak-- as well as a lot of shopping. It seems like we went into town just about every day. We even rented a couple of movies: "Mrs. Henderson Presents" with Judi Dench which we liked very much, quite interesting, and "King Kong," which was a disappointment. We expected more from Peter Jackson in his follow-up to the "Lord of the Rings" cycle.
Garden of the Gods is as beautiful as always. There were some rock climbers there the day we visited, always fun to watch. Here in the park, the Rock Pigeons actually nested in the rocks rather than in the city--amazing! The park was given to the city and has had quite a bit of land added to the original gift. For some reason I had not noticed this before. At any rate, the additional land provides lots of hiking trails which we had not allowed enough time for; we just did the usual walk through the central area. Ah well, maybe next time.
Sentinel Rocks, Garden of the Gods
White Rock Cliffs, Garden of the Gods
While we were sitting watching the White-throated Swifts fly about the rocks, we met a man who worked for the park. When we mentioned we were planning a trip to Pike's Peak the next day, he advised us to take the cog railway. He said it went up the opposite side of the mountain from the road, and that we would see a lot of wildlife, big horn sheep, marmots, etc., as well as a lot of snow. Anyway, it sounded like a good idea, so that's what we did. Well, it was too early for the wildlife, we saw none and most of the snow was gone too. However, it was very cold and windy at the top. We were happy to not be on the motorcycle. The scenery was beautiful, but we both agreed the train ride from Durango to Silverton had the more dramatic scenery. The cog railway is actually quite interesting--no locomotive--just one long articulated self-powered car with big windows and no restroom. It travels slowly, no more than 10 miles an hour, and at a fairly steep grade (sometimes as much as 25%), so it takes over an hour to get to the top. If you are interested, the Web site for the Pike's Peak cog railway has a fairly comprehensive article explaining how it all works. The best thing about arriving at the top, besides the view, is the donuts and hot chocolate served in the gift shop there. We managed not to buy t-shirts again--the "got oxygen" ones in our size were all out. boo hoo
Pike's Peak from Garden of the Gods
Cog Railway Train passing
We are now at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the wind is blowing for the second night straight. It got down to 26 last night and probably will again tonight. Today got up to about 60, so we are definitely in cooler climes than OK. This is a great place that we had never heard of before. It is in the San Luis Valley at an elevation of about 8300 feet between the San Juan range and the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rockies. The dunes cover about 35 square miles of a 330 square mile area of sand at the foot of the Sangre de Cristos, and are the highest dunes in North America. They are very impressive, and while you can walk or ride horses on them, no dune buggies are allowed (yea!).
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Sand dunes at base of Sangre de Cristo Range
We did a lot of exploring today but in the RV--too cold for the cycle. We went down into the Zapata Recreation Area and hiked up to a falls that is back in a cave (open top) at an elevation of 9400 feet. The hike back to the falls was short, just 1/2 mile, but at that elevation it was not easy for me. When we arrived at the falls area, the creek it falls into was frozen from the mouth of the cave back to the falls, so no wading for us. We were happy about that though the ice was a bit slippery, and of course, I had to worry if it was going to hold our weight. It was fairly thick so no problem. Inside the cave was a frozen fall coming down one side, and the main falls had been frozen too, but had broken through. There was still lots of hanging ice. It was a most impressive sight and well worth the effort of getting there. I have to say for a claustrophobic wuss like me it was a bit of a stretch, but I sure am glad I did it. Without a 4-wheel-drive vehicle we could not do any exploring up in the Alpine regions.
Riley in front of frozen fall
There are no utilities or dump station here at the park, so we are going to move over to the State Park, which is in the wetlands, tomorrow. We should get to see lots of birds there. We haven't seen great numbers here, but we have seen the Mountain Chickadees and the Mountain Bluebirds, both new birds for us. We're still hoping to see a Pinyon Jay before we leave.
Love to all,
Margie & Riley
April 8-13, 2006 Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
All birds are in breeding plumage at present.
American White Pelicans
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Northern Cardinals: m
Blue-winged Teal: m & f
Redheads: m & f
Wood Ducks: m & f
White-faced Ibis (in flight)
Dark-eyed "slate" Junco
Gadwalls: m & f
Swainson's Hawk (at least 3 flying over lake)
April 14, 2006 New Mexico Hwy. 54
April 15, 2006 Sugarite Canyon S.P., New Mexico
Ring-necked Duck: m & f
Northern "red-shafted" Flickers
April 16-20, 2006 Mountaindale RV Park, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Northern "red-shafted" Flickers
House Finch: m
Common "purple" Grackles
Dark-eyed "pink-sided" Junco
Western Scrub Jays
Western Scrub Jays
Downey Woodpecker: m
Garden of the Gods
Western Scrub Jays
Mallards: m & f
4-25-06 Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Dark-eyed Juncos, pink-sided