Sunday, July 30, 2017

On the Pawnee National Grasslands

Saturday, July 1, 2017; from the Pawnee National Grassland to the Rockies.

As I bedded down for the night overlooking the Pawnee Buttes, I assumed, the industrial nature of the eastern section of the Pawnee National Grasslands, was readily apparent, with all the lights from the various oil facilities, stretching away to the east and the warning red lights atop the wind farm turbines lurking on the far ridges to the north.  In the morning, however, it was difficult to pick out the oil facilities in the morning haze; difficult but not too difficult … they were still there.  The wind turbines were more noticeable, being silhouetted against the sky, but not as large as apparent as they had seemed in the dark.  Breakfast was eaten down the hill at the trailhead for Pawnee Buttes.  A few photos were taken and then I headed for the Western section of the Grasslands, as I wished to get a feel for what these prairies were like in the days of old, just as I had during my journey through the Nebraskan Sand Hills.

Pawnee Buttes from my Campsite …

… and from down near the trailhead .
…and where I breakfasted.

Some sort of flower, lurking in the grass.

And a closeup.

As I topped the ridge above Pawnee Buttes, I ascertained that the low clouds on the western horizons were, in fact, the distant Rockies, almost lost as their colour was only a tad darker than the sky itself, and their snow patches were just a might lighter.  The drive took me through the town of Grover, beyond which was the western section of the Pawnee National Grasslands.  About 35 or 40 miles west of Pawnee Buttes, and a few miles from the western edge of the Grasslands themselves, I paused for lunch and an afternoon of bird identification, and just soaking up the quiet of the prairie.

Wildhorse Tit, in the western section of the Grasslands ...

… and the track where I had lunch.
White Prickly Poppy_Argemone polyanthemos;

these were the same poppies I had not yet identified
at the Dismal River in the Nebraskan Sand Hills.
My first Prickly Pears set up in ambush
for unsuspecting passers-by.

Lark Buntings … I saw many of these on my drive through the Grasslands, startled into flight by approach.

Horned Larks were the other birds flying up as I drove the Grassland roads.  It took me a longtime to make this identification as their little feathered ‘horns’ are not always so obvious as they are in this photo t0 the right.

Chestnut Collared Longspur… not as many as the first two birds.

Meadowlark; they came and went and were the least in number watering here.

I considered remaining here for the night, but the smudge of distant mountains beckoned, and so I headed west.  I resupplied with ice and petrol on the very north edge of Fort Collins, and then proceeded into the mountains west and a little north from there.  I might have been better to have remained on the prairie, as it was the fourth of July weekend, and many seemed to have flocked to the mountains, even on the desperate mountain track I had chosen.  I prepared supper as the night closed in, smelling the wood smoke from the next campers a few hundred yards away.  There was not a congestion of folk near at hand, but all the convenient clearings were occupied, so I took what was available.

And the mountains beckoned.

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