Cimarron to Taos

US64

Aspen Promises - West of Angel Fire - B

Aspen Glow - B Green predominates through Cimarron Canyon. Views from Eagle Nest include splashes of colors on Wheeler Peak. As soon as the road turns west from the Angel Fire intersection the promise of fall color increases. Twisting up Palo Flechado Pass many of the aspen are in transition, some green leaves edged with yellow. The peak is yet to come but scattered groves gleam golden or a lone tree absolutely glistens.

Proceeding down Taos Canyon roadside color enhances with yellow-topped chamisa, silvery white dried seed heads, multi-hued grasses and red and orange shrubs against a background of dark green pines.

Roadside Color with Chamisa - B

 

 

 

Further down the canyon willows and cottonwoods add a palette of yellow and gold. A number of artist studios along the route welcome visitors. Combine autumn and art for a engaging tour.

Bright Aspen - West of Angel Fire - B

Hidden Gem in Garden City

Garden City Zoo - Entrance When we found ourselves spending the night in Garden City, Kansas I nosed through the local information to get a feel for the community. The first fact that jumped out at me was that Garden City, population around 28,500, had a zoo. I was intrigued. How large a zoo? What kinds of animals? How did this city in southwestern Kansas come to have a zoo?

Two weeks later we once again spent the night in Garden City on our return trip from Oklahoma. Before I left town I had to see the Lee Richardson Zoo for myself . After a early morning drive through I was even more impressed and intrigued. The story got more interesting with a bit of research.

Of the seven Kansas zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Lee Richardson is the oldest; founded in 1927 as a joint effort between the city and the local chapter of Izaak Walton League. The original intent was to house species from the local area. Committee members were charged with finding animals to donate. The first to arrive were two skunks brought in by Lee Richardson.

Today the zoo is home to over 300 animals representing over 110 species from North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia. Located in Finnup Park south of downtown, the zoo covers more than 50 acres which one can circle on a drive through or walk the many intertwining paths. Walk through admission is always free as is drive through before 10am. After 10am the fee is $3 for one zoo trip.

Garden City Zoo - Camel Because we wanted to get back to Denver before an impending snowstorm hit we didn’t have time to do the zoo justice. As we made our morning visit the only other people around were employees and construction crews working on new facilities. It would have been great to leisurely stroll the pathways. Instead, from the car we noted the majestic African Lion watching as we passed by. Jaguar, bison, red kangaroos, antelopes from Asia, Africa and North America, one and two hump camels (Dromedaries from North Africa, Bactrian from the Gobi Desert)  – even on a short visit we could see the wide range of the animal world represented.Garden City Zoo - Two-Hump Camel

Habitats looked well cared for, large trees provide summer shade and signage was attractive and informative. For instance, I learned that the Bactrian camels – the two hump variety – can withstand temperatures from –20 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The humps store not water as commonly assumed by are fat reserves. To learn even more visitors can use the cell phone audio tour feature. At each location the blue cell phone emblem appears just dial up the number on the sign. The service is free. Want to try it from home? Dial 620-805-3002 and enter any number between 1-42 when prompted.

Garden City Zoo - Sign Nearly a quarter of a million people visit the Lee Richardson Zoo each year. Obviously I was the one in the dark; now, I know we have a definite reason to return.

When You Go: Visit the Lee Richardson Zoo – labeled the Oasis of the Plains – 7 days a week. The Zoo is open from 8am-6:30pm from April 1-Labor Day and from 8am-4:30pm from the day after Labor day to March 31.

Lee Richardson Zoo - Finnup Park, Garden City, Kansas
Lee Richardson Zoo – Finnup Park, Garden City, Kansas

When in Garden City:

We recommend the Holiday Inn Express for overnight lodging. Nothing extra fancy but everything worked plus the room and public areas were well maintained. Linens, bath amenities and complementary breakfast met or exceeded the company’s standard. Appreciated the warm cookies in the evening and the bowl of shiny crisp apples for road food.

Looking for local dining instead of the nationwide chains we were directed to Samy’s Spirits/Steakhouse in the Clarion Hotel. Since this is BEEF country we decided to go with the Monday night special – prime rib dinner for two. This included the soup and salad bar (Bob says the vegetable beef soup was the best part of the meal), choice of potato, veggie (asparagus that evening), warm bread and 10 ounce cut of prime rub per person. Bob requested an end piece and they were able to accommodate. Plus, for dessert one generous slice of Black Forest Torte was included. We took ours to go; couldn’t manage dessert until the next day.

Wright & Western Wonders

We made a day trip from Tulsa to Bartlesville combining a hardy dose of Frank Lloyd Wright and an afternoon of Western heritage at Woolaroc, the former ranch retreat of oilman Frank Phillips circa 1925.

Price Tower 66 Price Tower in downtown Bartlesville holds the distinction of being the only realized skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Commissioned by Harold C. Price, the 19-story structure opened in 1956. Today the building hosts offices, The Inn at Price Tower, Copper Bar and the Price Tower Art Center.

From Bartlesville we drove westward to the Osage Hills. Although the multitude of trees stand bare the last week of official winter we easily imagine the beauty of the area in leafy green or the colors of autumn. Woolaroc – the name derived from the words: woods, lakes, rocks – encompasses 3,600 acres. Visitors discover a diverse hidden gem featuring wildlife preserve, museum celebrating the American West, Phillip’s historic lodge home, petting barn, mountain man camp, picnic sites and walking trails.

*Additional Bartlesville HighlightsWoolaroc Bison

*Recommended Eateries

Sandhills at Sundown

Whitewater Draw  - Viewing Deck

Arizona attracts a multitude of bird watchers – novices to fanatics. Cochise County in the southeast corner of the state is especially rich in avian habitat: riparian zones, sky islands, canyons and playas.

Some years ago we stopped into the visitor center in Willcox, AZ during a February trip. I overheard a staff member describing the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near McNeal. “Last week when they did a count there were over 11,000 Sandhill Cranes and 2,000 Snow Geese. The hour before sunset is a great time to see them fly in after a day of field feeding.” We added Whitewater Draw to our afternoon agenda – and have returned every year we’re in the area.

Sandhills on the Wing

Standing Sandhills 2

When we arrive at Whitewater draw we spot only a few cranes pecking around corn stubble in a nearby field or standing one-legged in shallow water. Armed with binoculars and cameras we follow the trail around Cattail Pond to one of the viewing platforms. We hear rumbling “swish, swish, swish” several seconds before spotting a dark, airborne wave approaching from the north.

Sandhills and Water

Soon we can distinguish literally hundreds of wings seeming to flap in unison. With wingspans in excess of six-feet a lot of air is displaced with each downbeat. After a couple of slow circles the Sandhill Cranes glide in for a landing, line after line resembling a well choreographed dance. The water seems to fill as the next wave circles. Sandhills stand more than three feet tall, their gray plumage tinged with shades of russet. We admire the long graceful necks and distinctive red forehead patch.

Honking announces a V-formation of Snow Geese high overhead. On land or water they appear all white but their black tipped wings are evident in flight. The geese settle in among the cranes, neither perplexed by the other.

Sandhills and Canada Geese

Last Stragglers As the last stragglers arrive we watch cranes and geese settle in for the night.  Some flit from group to group – must we the teens – while most fold one leg up into their breast feathers and “crane”  necks 180-degrees to bury heads into thick back plumage.

Arizona Sunset It’s time we leave our amazing nature experience. As we drive the rural roads headed to Benson for food and lodging we bask in one more phenomenon – an Arizona sunset.

 

 

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, Cochise County, Arizona

Whitewater Draw, Cochise County, Arizona

Planning a Summer to Remember

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Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful Beat the January blues by planning a summer to remember. “When children see their first bear or geyser eruption, it typically makes an impression that lasts a lifetime, and those kinds of experiences are exactly what families can expect from a trip to Yellowstone,” says Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks & Resorts, operator of the lodges, restaurants and other concessions in the park. “To ensure Yellowstone memories are the best possible for everyone in the family, we recommend a little bit of advance planning coupled with realistic expectations.”

Hoeninghausen offers the following suggestions for ensuring a great family trip.

Before you go:

  • Carefully choose the time you travel. If you have very young children Bison or a flexible travel schedule, consider traveling during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. These seasons offer a greater choice of accommodations and campground sites. Plus there is the added bonus of the best wildlife-viewing opportunities. Spring is the time to view bison and elk calves and fall is the mating season for bison and elk.
  • Study the park before you go. Xanterra offers a Yellowstone Adventure Planner through its online gift store. Priced at Adventure Planner$39.95, the planner comes  with a DVD highlighting the park, park map, copy of the Yellowstone National Park Magazine, guide to activities and picnic spots, safety and photography tips and coupons for more than $40 that can be used for gifts and activities. Another source is the National Park Service (NPS) site, Mud Pot which also offers a variety of online vacation planning tools. Learning about the park together also gives  family members a chance to discuss their expectations. After learning a bit about the park, ask each member what they’d like to do and see? Older teens may want to take a challenging hike while younger kids may want to see a mudpot.
  • Decide where to stay in the park. Yellowstone is highlighted by a huge diversity of geological features, including hot springs, geysersLake Yellowstone Hotel, Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Lamar Valley, considered the best wildlife-watching region in the lower 48 states. Yellowstone’s nine lodges are located throughout the park. Xanterra recommends studying a map to help decide which location – or locations – makes the most sense. Some people prefer to change hotels every night as they move around the park; others prefer to establish one lodge as a home base and then return to the same lodge each night. Lodging reservations can be made at online  or by calling (1) 307-344-7311 or toll-free (1) 866-GEYSERLAND (1-866-439-7375) Ask reservations sales agents for their suggestions and guidance when booking lodges and activities.
  • Let every family member pick at least one activity. There are numerous activity choices that are perfect for every age group. For example, little ones might enjoy the Hikerscovered wagon ride to the Roosevelt Cookout. Another family member might want to participate in a ranger-led hike. Concessioner Xanterra offers an online adventure planning tool that allows travelers to choose activities based on the duration of the adventure, intensity level and region of the park.
  • Book your lodge(s) now. Yellowstone National Park features nine lodges in a variety of locations throughout the park. Some of the historic or most popular lodges – the Old Faithful Inn and Old FaithfulOld Faithful Inn Snow Lodge – are beginning to fill for prime summer dates. Still, with some 2,000 guest rooms in the entire park, there are plenty of rooms available for the summer. Lodging reservations can be cancelled with full refunds on deposits if made 48 hours or more before the arrival date. Hat
  • Pack smart. Yellowstone is one of the wildest spots in the country, and the weather is no exception. Pack for rain and widely fluctuating temperatures. Typical summer temperatures range from the high 70s to the low 40s. Sturdy shoes, sunscreen, hats and refillable water bottles should be included on every packing list.

During your trip:

  • Get to know the National Park Service rangers. Free ranger-led programs are offered daily in every area of the park. The pYellowstone Family Programrograms are fun, creative and available for families with children of all ages. For example, the Yellowstone Wildlife Olympics, a four-hour program offered six times during the summer, gives budding wildlife scientists a chance to show off their knowledge of the park’s non-human residents. The Junior Ranger program is a perfect way to engage children. Plus, there are ranger adventure hikes, evening astronomy programs and evening talks.

Yellowstone Falls

 

  • Don’t be too ambitious. An early-morning wildlife-watching tour in Lamar Valley followed by a ranger-led geyser hike followed by a lake cruise followed by the Roosevelt Cookout may sound like a good plan, but it’s not. And it probably would not even be doable. Driving from one part of the park to the other, especially in the middle of summer, takes time. And travelers lucky enough to encounter wildlife or other special park experiences during the drive should savor those experiences instead of worrying about making it to the next activity on time.

  • Lunch at Lake Yellowstone Lodge Think beyond the burger. Xanterra offers 17 restaurant choices in the park, ranging from the quick-serve Geyser Grill at Old Faithful Snow Lodge to the elegant Lake Hotel Dining Room. Every restaurant offers value-priced options to suit every budget, as well as vegetarian and children’s options.

  • Designate a spontaneous day. Over-planned vacations can sometimes  seem like a forced march, with everyone proceeding in lock-step to the next planned activity. Sometimes, planners just can’t help themselves. Hoeninghausen recommends “planning” a  Poolsnothing day. “The park is full of surprises – like an unexpected eruption of a backcountry geyser or a clear safe-distance sighting of a bear and cubs,” said Hoeninghausen. “Many families miss these special and truly memorable experiences because they’re driving to the next place on their agenda. Get up one morning and just let the day happen. Allow time to stop for that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ wildlife sighting that seems to always occur when you Horseback Ridersare in a  rush.” 

 Moose

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  • White Pelican
  • Be safe. Follow all posted National Park Service signs and directions. Every year, tourists stray from a boardwalk in a hot springs area or get too close to wildlife. The National Park Service medical clinics see plenty of injuries each summer that could have been prevented if travelers had simply followed NPS rules.

  • Start your in-park visit with a trip to a National PCanyon Visitor's Centerark Service Visitor Center. NPS rangers have the latest information on wildlife sightings, trail conditions, ranger-led programs and more. This is also where kids can obtain information on becoming a Junior Ranger.

Wildlife Viewing

 

  • Do the dawn. Wildlife are early risers, and the best time to see them in action is just after dawn. Make the effort to get up early to improve your chances of seeing wildlife. Save the geysers for mid-day when animals are less active. The other great time to see wildlife is at dusk.

 

  • Visit Old Old FaithfulFaithful in the late afternoon and evening. When day-  trippers head back to their hotels in gateway communities, the popular spots such as Old Faithful Geyser have fewer visitors. See it in the late afternoon and you are more likely to find a place to sit and watch from the boardwalk benches.

Climbing AboardPools 2

Jewel Geyser

       

 

 

 

 

 

          Start planning your family’s Yellowstone

          memories today.

Pronghorn

 

Looking for Osprey

Plains to Peaks

After mountain road closures due to snow and ice, rain, chill and morning frost  along Colorado’s Front Range the day dawned with crisp blue skies. A halo of clouds hugged the shoulders of Pikes Peak. A day too perfect to stay home and attend to chores.

Castwood Canyon SP - Lucas Homestead We headed southeast of Denver to Castlewood Canyon State Park outside of Franktown. The park straddles five different life zones from short grass prairie and caprock to coniferous forest and riparian. The mixed shrubland has begun its autumnal color transformation. We drove the unpaved road along the west side of the park from CO86 to Lake Gulch Road. The route passes the Lucas Homestead Historic Site, the popular Westside Trailhead and the ruins of Castlewood Dam which burst in 1933 flooding downstream Denver with a 15-foot wall of water.

 

Yak's On our way out to CO87 we passed a yak farm. As Bob snapped a few pictures of the long-haired Asian bovines I noted the farm’s website  – www.greeneggsandyak.com. We didn’t stop to purchase either yak or eggs but I did come home and visit their web pages. Now we’re intrigued and Bob’s ready to try yak.

Avoiding Interstate travel we skirted Colorado Springs on the east and were amazed at the growth and development.

Our next destination was one of Colorado’s newest state parks, Cheyenne Mountain, south of the city west of US115. A stop at the “crown jewel” Visitor Center gave us a bit of history and information on the facilities and trails. Twenty miles of joint use (hiking/biking) trails span terrain from grasslands to mountain slope pine forests. Campgrounds and picnic sites are nicely situated among scrub oak and mountain mahogany.

Hungry tummies directed us to Conway’s Red Top, a Colorado Springs classic famous for their burgers filling a 6-inch bun. Never fear, you can order a half burger. We split a half cheeseburger and a half Senor Red Top with jalapeno and pepper jack cheese. Bob indulged with a cherry milk shake so thick the spoon was much more useful than the straw.

We chose the pastoral, foothill horse country between Palmer Lake and Sedalia for our homebound journey. Peaceful and unhurried we happily left behind the aggression of I-25 traffic, soaking in mountain views bathed in autumn sunshine and color.

So Much to Explore!

Three outstanding facilities stand without walking distance of each other. It couldn’t be easier to explore art, history, science, technology, natural history and astronomy. Time and energy runs out before we can do it all; but, the journey proves fascinating.

 

Albq Museum

 

Albuquerque Museum of Art & History An outstanding permanent collection and excellent temporary exhibits make this a repeat experience when visiting the city. A permanent exhibit, Four Centuries, covers 400 years of history in Albuquerque. The museum’s art collection emphasizes contemporary and historic regional artists. We’ve been fortunate enough to see several quality visiting exhibits over the years. The outdoor sculpture garden presents numerous styles and genres. Guided tours of galleries and garden are available. The education department sponsors informative walking tours of Old Town.

 

Explora! – An incredible, hands-on experience awaits learners of all ages interested in science, technology and art. Robotics lab to interactive fountain, principles of sound, motion, or electricity, this is a learning laboratory that fascinates tiny tots to senior citizens – a perfect multi-generation spot. Explora! is so popular with adults they get periodic adult-only Friday nights scheduled just for them. Visitors get so involved they spend twice as long as planned. This is truly an exception facility – a “have-to-do” while in Albuquerque.

  Explora3   Explora2Explora1

 

Dinosaur enthusiasts find the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science a must stop. We explore an ice cave, stand inside a volcano and ride the “EvolaAlb Natural History Museumtor” for a Journey Through Time, from Origins 200 million years ago to the Ice Age. Collections include the world’s longest dinosaur and oldest mammal fossil.

Within the museum, the Astronomy Center showcases a 55-foot diameter planetarium dome and high-definition imagery to explore our universe – and beyond. Permanent exhibits, Space Frontier and Making Tracks on Mars leads us through space exploration.

Wise visitors include a Dynatheater show during their touring. Sitting back to watch the giant screen presentation offers the perfect way to rest without wasting a minute. Mummies: Secrets of the Past is the current feature.

Albuquerque Biological Park

Rio Grande Botanic Garden - TruckBotanic garden, aquarium and zoo form the Albuquerque Biological Park encompassing two locations. Walks through the Rio Grande Botanic Garden please the eye. The walled Spanish-Moorish Garden with a blue-tiled fountain soothes the senses. Curative herbs and plants used as traditional remedies abound in the Curandera Garden. The only requirement for entering the Children’s Fantasy Garden is to be young-at-heart. Based on an “Alice in Wonderland” theme the make-believe world includes a giant rabbit hole with 6-foot earthworms burrowing into walls, 11-foot watering can and a two-story “walk-in” pumpkin complete with oversize seeds and stringy “stuff.”

Alb AquariumNext to the gardens, the Albuquerque Aquarium follows a journey down the Rio Grande River from Albuquerque to the Gulf of Mexico. From fresh water riverine to deep ocean marine habitats are highlighted along the journey. Moon jellies mesmerize at my favorite exhibit. But, it’s hard to ignore the seemingly sinister residents in the shark tank – brown, sandtiger, blacktip and nurse sharks.

 

The Rio Grande Zoo offers close encounters with over 250 species of native and exotic animals. One of the newest additiBaby Elephant - Rio Grande Zooons is Daizy, a female Asian elephant calf born September 2, 2009, weighing in at 318 pounds. Most days visitors can meet Daizy and mom Rozie in the main elephant yard between 10am-noon and 2-4pm, depending on the weather and baby’s energy. Popular zoo features include Tropical America, Gator Swamp and Africa filling six acres with 17 separate exhibits.                                                                         

 

Photo of Daizy courtesy Rio Grande Zoo.   

 Bugling Rites

After the bumper to bumper lines of summer tourists return home, savvy autumn visitors head to Estes Park, to explore a less crowded Rocky Mountain National Park, photograph snow dusted peaks or golden quaking aspen, and witness the fall rites Elk on the Moveof majestic elk.

As days shorten, large herds of elk move from their summer range among high slopes and alpine valleys to grassy meadows in the park and around town. Grazing wapitis add unpredictable hazards to the fairways and greens at the Estes Park Golf Course. A bugling bull plays havoc with the perfect back swing.

Fall denotes mating season, the rut, when bulls establish dominance and breeding rights of the herd. Body posture and displaying of antlers attract females. The antlers, shed after the rut, are an itching irritant. Intense rubbing and polishing against tree trunks creates dark scars especially evident on aspen. The scraping shreds the soft velScared Aspenvet summer coating.

During our last visit we decided to drive through the park on our way to dinner. Almost immediately after passing through the Fall River Entrance Station we see cars parked along both sides of the road. Sure enough, there’s a large bull with his harem munching in belly-high grass 800 feet away. We’re thankful for binoculars when observing from this distance, and spot several smaller herd members not initially seen with the naked eye. We hear our first bugle of the season – a combination bellow, whistle, grunt.

Teams of rangers and park volunteers monitor the area near the West Horseshoe Park and Sheep Lakes parking areas. Meandering streams snake through this lush meadow – a habitat sure to attract wildlife before nightfall. Through October 24 rangers offer a 30-minute nightly program, Elk Echoes, at the Sheep Lakes parking lot and a Saturday evening program at the Moraine Park Museum amphitheater.

Elk Herd Just before we exit the park at Beaver Meadows, traffic comes to a halt. We join the curious, parking along the side of the road – but not too far over into the planted restoration area. Armed with cameras and binoculars we walk to the edge of the gathering. There stands a magnificent bull with massive antler expanse watching over his herd. An observer noted that she counted 32 cows and calves.

This grouping feeds so close to the road rangers halt traffic in both directions. Almost on signal, three calves bolt across the highway to taste grasses along the south-facing bank. Dad observes for a minute or two before ambling after them. His mouth opens but we hear not a sound although it appears he’s talking to the wayward trio. Perhaps they are the teenagers of the herd. Circling uphill and behind, he gives one grunt and all three bound back to where they started.

Mr. Bull slowly sniffs his way across the asphalt, seemingly undisturbed. We speculate about three green stripes on his right side. Has he been purposely marked? “No, he’s just been in a tight spot with green paint,” a ranger informs. The green is a perfect match to the Beaver MeadoElk with Signws Visitor Center sign the sultan now poses next to.

Slowly he circles the harem, forcing them closer together, when suddenly he gives chase to a young buck on the hillside. They move through the herd until the buck retreats a safe distance away from the bull’s vigilant stare. Stretching his shaggy neck and lifting the six-point antlers the bull produces a deep, resonant call rising to a high-pitched, tinny whistle followed by a series of grunts. An elk bugle we’ll long remember

Tips for safe and successful wildlife viewing.

Learn about Elk Fest in Estes Park.

Estes Park Celebrates Elk

Elk Fest in Estes Park, Colorado salutes these awesome animals October 3&4, 2009. Educational exhibits and seminars help further our understanding of the mammals and their habitat, and teach us how to observe them in the wild. Modestly priced elk viewing tours is a stress-free way to observe without driving hassles. The guided tours leave from Bond Park in downtown Estes Park each afternoon of the festival.

Elk Head Shot A Mountain Man Rendezvous and Native American storytelling and live music enhance the weekend experience. Vendors offer an array of elk-ivory jewelry, wildlife art, scrimshawed antler knives, antler furniture and antler chandeliers. Food options include elk cuisine.

Anyone with the ability to imitate the haunting call of elk rut may enter the Bugling Contest on Sunday afternoon. Amateurs or professionals, adults, youth and junior youth (6 years old and younger) using vocal chords, horn or diaphragm are welcome to demonstrate their skill and compete to see who sounds most like a bugling elk.

I’ll need a great deal of practice on my bellow, whistle, and grunts to join in the annual bugling rite.

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