Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Wild Animal Sanctuary - A Haven of Hope

The Wild Animal Sanctuary

Out on Colorado’s eastern plains, lions, tigers, bears and wolves roam majestically across the rolling prairie. Viewing the wonderful setting from high ground is like discovering a peaceable kingdom located in the North American Serengeti.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary is an astonishing preserve that exists to rescue and provide a permanent home for wild animals that have been abused, abandoned, displaced or neglected. Most of the inhabitants were born in captivity and confiscated by law from people who tried to keep a large carnivore as a pet.

Because the refugees were confined to backyards, basements or garages, often in deplorable conditions, they can never be released into the wild again but this animal asylum is the next best thing. While visiting TWAS it becomes obvious that the animals’ welfare is the number one priority.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado is the largest carnivore shelter in the world. The magnificent menagerie houses over 500 creatures in 80 separate enclosures built across 789 acres of open grassland.

This remarkable refuge currently includes 70 African lions, 85 tigers, 156 black bears, 43 grizzly bears, 20 wolves, 12 mountain lions, 5 leopards and 2 jaguars. The complex also cares for coyotes, bobcats, lynx, fox, porcupines, raccoons, ostriches, emus and a camel.

What makes TWAS different from traditional zoological facilities is its unique viewing platforms. An elevated walkway spans over the enclosures and all visitors are confined to the special bridge, leaving the animals undisturbed.

Animals are naturally territorial so when a stranger encroaches on their land, they react instinctively by either attacking the intruder or running away. This instinctive reaction is known as “Fight or Flight”.

Animals at a regular zoo have neither option as they can’t engage aggressively or get away. The captives are stressed from being sandwiched between crowds of onlookers and the backs of their enclosures.

That anxiety causes the animals to behave in agitated and unnatural ways but TWAS was designed to alleviate that pressure. Carnivores don’t consider the sky to be territory therefore people on the elevated walkways are not considered a threat.

The animals certainly seem at ease despite the visitor's presence looming above. They’re so content that it’s fascinating to observe them while they eat, sleep and play.

All of the habitats have manmade, underground dens that provide shelter from inclement weather. Most of the tunnels go back 30 to 50 feet and maintain a stable temperature of 60 degrees year-round so the animals love them.

If you make the trek out to this remote preserve hoping to see multitudes of exotic animals up close, you’ll be disappointed. Many of the enclosures appear vacant because the creatures are so reclusive, preferring to disappear into the tall grass or deep caves.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary wasn’t created to cater to the curious public. The Wild Animal Sanctuary was conceived as a haven of hope for mistreated animals where they can recover and rehabilitate in peace and comfort for the rest of their lives.

Marble fox

Arctic fox

A North American Serengeti

African lion

Grizzly bear

A Peaceable Kingdom

The animals seem at ease

One of the Grizzly bear enclosures


The largest carnivore shelter in the world

Timber wolf

Black bear

A place to recover and rehabilitate

An elevated walkway spans over the enclosures

The Eurasian collared-dove is a symbol of peace and hope

Monday, July 15, 2019

Wilson's Snipe - A Feathered Phantom

The Wilson's Snipe

The reclusive Wilson’s snipe lives in North America but you'd be lucky to ever lay eyes on one. Because of his secretive nature, he’s most active around dusk and dawn while preferring to sleep much of the daytime.

When he's awake this plump, little shorebird uses his long, flexible bill to probe in the mud for larvae and earthworms. His unique mandible can move independently upwards allowing him to swallow small prey without having to pull his bill out of the dirt.

The Wilson’s snipe is mottled brown overall with a white belly and streaked breast. Dark stripes decorate his head and back. He makes his nest in the wetlands where his drab plumage blends perfectly into the dried, cattail willows.

His bill is outrageously long and his eyes are set so far back on his head that he can see not only in front and to the sides but also completely behind. He has short legs and massive flight muscles so when he’s flushed from his safe haven he can explode into the air at 60 miles per hour.

The Wilson’s snipe is a feathered phantom and during the breeding season his ghostly persona is further enhanced by a nighttime, courtship display. He circles high above his marshland territory and then suddenly dives straight towards the ground.

This spectacular, aerial maneuver creates a “winnowing” effect that vibrates in the wind creating an eerie sound. Scientists have discovered that this noise occurs when air streams across the bird’s specially designed outer tail feathers.

You may not be able to see this apparition during spring daylight but if you’re in the foothills after dark, keep your ears open because that’s when you’ll hear this common snipe’s haunting notes emanating through the thin, mountain air.

Active around dusk and dawn

A feathered phantom

A ghostly persona

You'd be lucky to see one

Eyes are set back on his head

A plump shorebird

An apparition

An outrageously long bill

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mount Rushmore - A Massive Memorial

Mount Rushmore

Exhibited near Rapid City, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is a magnificent monument sculpted from a granite mountain. The massive memorial is a group portrait featuring presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

It took artist Gutzon Borglum 14 years to complete the government commission. Concealed in a sacred wilderness of rock and pine called the Black Hills, the creation looks unfinished but rough hewn edges give it a certain sketchiness that blends into the natural environment.

Upon entering the busy complex, a grand boulevard leads to an amphitheater where the sculpture can be closely contemplated. Mount Rushmore definitely exudes patriotism and as an attraction luring tourists to the remote Northern Plains, the astonishing work of art is certainly a success.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Utah - A Celebration of Diverse Scenery

Lower Bells Canyon Waterfall

Blessed with untamed rivers, deep canyons and green mountains, the state of Utah is celebrated for its diverse scenery. Established on a painted desert, the topography transitions dramatically up to the lofty Wasatch Mountain Range.

The winding waterways rush towards the southwest while carving surreal chasms out of an uplifted plateau. Heavily eroded by wind and water, the unique landscape is littered with an interesting array of arches, pinnacles and hoodoos.

I enjoy wandering around our local foothills and I could spend a lifetime exploring the vast Rocky Mountains. I must admit, though, that the territory to our west has definitely cast a spell. Our home is Colorado but my second favorite state is magical Utah.

San Rafael Swell

Wasatch Mountains

San Rafael Desert

An untamed creek

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Square Top Lakes - A Wealth of Beauty

Lower Square Top Lake

Out of Georgetown up at the top of Guanella Pass there’s a faint trail heading west into the wilderness. Bushwhacking through muddy bogs and thickets of prickly willows, the alpine trek to Square Top Lakes is an uphill battle all the way.

Stair-stepped into the ochre grassland, the cobalt reservoirs are a striking study in color contrast. Twilight softens the landscape and radiates onto the jagged peaks in the distance as passing clouds cast peculiar shadows across Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth Ridge.

Spending an afternoon above tree line on a secluded thirteener is a precious experience. While tramping back across the tundra on a warm autumn evening, it’s obvious that the wealth of beauty amassed by these mountains can’t be measured in anything but gold.

Sawtooth Ridge

Peculiar shadows

An ochre grassland

A wealth of beauty

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Bay Window House - An Impressive Residence

The Bay Window House

Animas Forks is a rickety ghost town teetering high in the San Juan Mountains just east of Silverton, Colorado. It used to be a bustling community during the silver boom of the late 1800s but today only the miner’s spirit permeates the cool, mountain air.

Pictured above is the best preserved building, an impressive residence known as The Bay Window House. Broken down and beaten after enduring years of nasty weather, the resilient structure rises defiantly out of a dense thicket of green willows.

I can’t imagine how people lived up here all year long, extracting precious minerals from the generous earth. There’s no debate that they enjoyed breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks but struggling to survive the harsh winters must have been absolutely brutal.

Cool mountain air

The best preserved building

An impressive residence

Rising out of the willows

High in the San Juan Mountains

A miner's spirit

A rickety ghost town

Breathtaking views of surrounding peaks

A resilient structure

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Alderfer Park - Where Spring has Barely Begun

Alderfer Park

A obscure trail in Alderfer Park descends into a quiet drainage called Coneflower Creek. It’s a fascinating experience wandering deep inside this lost valley where springtime has barely begun.

Its banks crowded by stands of barren aspen, the shallow stream is slow moving because the big peaks that fill it are still locked in a fierce battle with snow and ice.

Blending beautifully into the rocky mountainside, an abandoned homestead and its historical outbuildings are a tangible record of our region’s earliest settlers.

It’s interesting to observe how the wildlife reacts to our sudden appearance. Mule deer are activated into a state of heightened alert and a cottontail becomes frozen solid while a downy woodpecker ignores our very existence.

The gray clouds don’t mean snow but they do suggest the possibility of a dramatic weather effect. Almost every afternoon during the monsoon the sky unleashes a torrent of heavy rain, thunder and lightning.

At the end of the excursion as the evening light shines through a veil of transparent clouds, the ambiance creates a solemn atmosphere that complements the peaceful solitude of an isolated wilderness.

Mule deer on full alert

The big peaks are locked in battle

Ice and snow

A frozen cottontail

A historical record of early settlement

Spring has barely begun

Coneflower Creek

The wildlife is interesting

A solemn atmosphere

The woodpecker ignored us

Peaceful solitude