Highway Of Miracles

It doesn’t take much for my equanimity to be disturbed, sad to say. During my return from a birding trip to New Mexico in late April, where I had been caught unawares when the thermometer climbed above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius), I was taken equally by surprise by a gathering bank of clouds that eventually spanned the entire firmament from Albuquerque to the state line, before it released squalls of rain and billowing clouds of fog. Associated gusts of wind and an unpropitious weather forecast for the coming night made me choose a motel in southern Colorado over a cold, wet night in the tent. Big mistake!

After a week of camping, I underestimated the horror of replacing a billowy tent with an enclosed room, a constant flow of fresh air with sealed windows, the nocturnal hooting of owls with the constant drone of trucks on the nearby interstate, my firm sleeping pad with an overly soft mattress. I tossed and turned during each expensive hour and could not wait to hit the road again by 6 AM.

I was still squabbling with myself for having overpaid for my uninviting accommodations, and berating myself for being a fair-weather camper, not quite sure how to get over myself. Leave it to southern Colorado’s Highway Of Legends to put me to shame, and pull me out of my foul, sleep-deprived mood by gently but insistently reminding me of nature’s beauty and grace, in a way that even my curmudgeonly self could not ignore.

Early into the 82 mile (132 kilometer) route between the towns of Trinidad and Walsenburg, one of the West’s most striking woodpeckers, a Lewis’s, which I had not seen in ages, clang to a utility pole right next to the road, but my brain registered its presence only after I had already passed it. A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed no cars. I engaged the brakes, shifted into reverse, then pulled over to take a few photos, unable to prevent a smile.

Not long after my woodpecker surprise, complemented by additional animal appearances, I happened upon a herd of at least 100 elk crossing the highway. Seemingly without effort, they leapt across the fences that lined both sides of the road. Most of them threw me wary glances while they kept trotting, but one bull stopped to show himself in his regal stance. I alone witnessed their move from a wintry meadow to one clad in vernal apparel.

My rainy day in New Mexico had translated into a brief burst of winter in this part of Colorado, as I experienced mile after scenic mile on my way to Cuchara Pass at nearly 10,000 feet (3000 meters). By then, my real or imagined grievances were forgotten and I realized that the timing of the day’s encounters only worked out because of where and when I had started out that morning. I was entirely enchanted and utterly happy to be present right there and then, on my Highway of Miracles.

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I will take a break from blogging for at least three weeks as I will be traveling abroad. My apologies if I won’t get around to reading and liking your posts. Thank you for your understanding and Happy May to all of us!

More Mural Magic-Part 1

I have come across such a profusion of murals this past year, I will dedicate an occasional post to them. Each will be introduced by the featured photo above, which also depicts a mural from a local coffee shop, and offers an interpretation of the Colorado State flag, shown here:

Im vergangenen Jahr bin ich einer solchen Vielzahl an Wandmalereien begegnet, daß ich ihnen von Zeit zu Zeit einen Beitrag widmen werde. Ich werde jeden mit dem obigen Bild einleiten, das übrigens auch ein Gemälde von der Außenwand einer hiesigen Kaffeestube darstellt, und die Flagge Colorados interpretiert, die hier gezeigt wird:

The two horizontal blue bars represent Colorado’s blue sky, the white bar its many snowcapped mountains. The red “C” stands for our state’s ruddy soil, and the central golden globe for our many days of sunshine, averaging more than 300/year.

Die zwei blauen horizontalen Balken repräsentieren Colorados blauen Himmel, der weiße die schneebedeckten Berge. Das rote „C“ steht für die rote Erde unseres Staates, die goldene Kugel in seinem Zentrum für unsere vielen Sonnentage, im Durchschnitt über 300 Tage/Jahr.

Today’s post celebrates Colorado’s fauna, ranging from definitely extinct to nearly extinct. While humankind can’t be blamed for the disappearance of dinosaurs, we do carry the burden of nearly having eradicated the American bison. Fortunately, the species could be saved, but others were not so fortunate. The responsibility to protect and preserve animals and their habitats rests on our shoulders. For their sakes, and ours, may they continue to thrive, so that we can admire them in their natural surroundings, and not simply in zoos, or murals, for that matter.

Der heutige Beitrag feiert Colorados Fauna, inklusive ausgestorbener und einst bedrohter Arten. Obwohl die Menschheit nicht für das Verschwinden der Dinosaurier verantwortlich ist, tragen wir die Bürde, die nordamerikanischen Büffel fast ausgerottet zu haben. Glücklicherweise konnten sie gerettet werden, doch andere hatten weniger Glück. Die Verantwortung, Tiere sowie ihren Lebensraum zu schützen ruht auf unseren Schultern. Hoffen wir, daß sie weiterhin gedeihen, um ihret- und  unsertwillen, so daß wir sie nicht nur in Zoos oder Wandgemälden bewundern können, sondern in freier Wildbahn.

Castle Of The Plains

My recent journey to southeast Colorado revived memories of earlier stopovers at one of the region’s legendary landmarks: Bent’s Old Fort. Also known by the evocative title above, this National Historic Site is unusual, in that the National Park Service reconstructed the original building from scratch, thanks to detailed descriptions, drawings, and diary entries of erstwhile visitors, first and foremost the meticulous sketches of Lieutenant James W. Abert, a topographical engineer, who stayed there twice in the 1840s.

Mein Ausflug in den Südosten Colorados vor kurzem erinnerte mich an vorherige Besuche eines der bekanntesten regionalen Wahrzeichen, Bent’s Old Fort (Bents altes Fort), das auch als Schloß der Prärie bekannt ist. Dieses Denkmal ist ungewöhnlich, weil es von der Verwaltung der amerikanischen Nationalparks auf historischer Grundlage wieder aufgebaut wurde, was durch detaillierte Beschreibungen, Zeichnungen und Tagebuchaufzeichnungen ermöglicht wurde, insbesonde diejenigen von Leutnant James W. Abert, der sich in den 1840er Jahren zweimal dort aufhielt.

Built in 1833 under the direction of brothers William and Charles Bent, and their friend, Ceran St. Vrain, near the present-day town of La Junta, the fortification became the major hub of commerce along the 844 mile Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail, which connected Independence, Missouri, with Santa Fe, New Mexico. A multi-cultural and multi-national nexus, it embodied a model of peaceful, if short-lived, coexistence between American Indians, Hispanics, and Europeans. Beset by disease and declining economic fortunes as a result of diminishing trade in beaver pelts and buffalo hides, the fort was abandoned, before it perished in a conflagration in 1849, likely the work of William Bent himself, after his offer to sell it to the US Army was declined. He subsequently operated a trading post forty miles east, which became known as Bent’s New Fort.

Das Fort wurde 1833 unter der Leitung der Brüder William und Charles Bent sowohl ihres Freundes Ceran St. Vrain nahe der heutigen Stadt La Junta errichtet, und diente als Haupthandelszentrum entlang der etwa 1360 Kilometer langen Bergroute des bekannten Santa Fe Trails, der die Stadt Independence in Missouri mit Sante Fe in Neu Mexiko verband. Es repräsentierte einen multinationalen und –kulturellen Schnittpunkt, und ein Modell friedlicher Koexistenz zwischen Indianern, Mexikanern und Europäern, wenn auch nur auf kurze Zeit. Von Seuchen und sinkenden Umsätzen geplagt, was hauptsächlich auf das zurückgehende Gewerbe mit Biberpelzen und Büffelfellen zurückzuführen war, wurde die Festung  aufgegeben und fiel 1849 einer Feuersbrunst anheim, die wahrscheinlich das Werk von William Bent persönlich war, nachdem sein Angebot, das Fort an die US Armee zu verkaufen, abgelehnt wurde. Danach eröffnete er 65 Kilometer weiter östlich einen weiteren Handelsposten, der als Bents neues Fort bekannt wurde.

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The once bustling center of Bent’s Old Fort was reclaimed by prairie for more than a century, until the structure was resurrected in 1976. Its attractive adobe attire is well-suited for an area that offers limited timber and abundant soil, is furnatially hot in summer, and teeth-chatteringly cold in winter. In exploring this eye-catching edifice and environs, where history comes alive during various annual reenactments, one gains an inkling of what it might have meant for weary travelers to reach this welcoming haven on the mighty Arkansas River. For a short while, it offered water, food, rest, and refuge from the dusty, dangerous wagon tracks, before it was time to resume the perilous, protracted journey.

Die Prärie verleibte sich das einst geschäftige Zentrum von Bents altem Fort über ein Jahrhundert lang ein, bis das Bauwerk 1976 neu errichtet wurde. Sein attraktives Adobegewand ist für diese Gegend gut geeignet, die sich durch niedrige Baumbestände und reichhaltige Böden sowie durch backofenheiße Sommer und zähneklapperndkalte Winter auszeichnet. Beim Erforschen dieses ins Auge springenden Gebäudes und seiner Umgebung, wo Geschichte mehrmals jährlich duch historische Nachstellungen lebendig wird, bekommt man/frau eine kleine Ahnung dessen, was es für müde Reisende bedeutet haben könnte, diese einladende Oase entlang des mächtigen Arkansas Flusses zu erreichen. Für eine kurze Weile gab es Wasser, Proviant, Erholung und Sicherheit von der staubigen Wegstrecke, bevor es mit der gefährlichen und langwierigen Reise im Planwagen weiterging.

Southeast Colorado

In addition to constant Snow Goose sightings, the High Plains Snow Goose Festival in Lamar last month offered many memorable moments. Colorado is known chiefly for its Rocky Mountains, but over a third of our state occupies the Great Plains. Despite a dearth of peaks and a landscape that appears monotonous and barren at first glance, the plains scenery is variable and punctuated by unexpected rises and falls, as we festival participants experienced during field trips to both public and private properties.

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The plains are windy places, and not a single day passed without a breeze at best, gale-force gusts at worst. During the three-day event, we enjoyed only a few calm hours. On a single-digit morning, we braved a biting wind, before it blew us back into our vehicle. At times, we hid behind the bus or a building in order to steady our binoculars and cameras. Native Americans and homesteaders had to be a hardy lot to survive in this challenging climate, with freezer- and furnace-like conditions alternating in the course of the year. Petroglyphs and smoke-darkened caves bespeak long-term human activity in the region, and ruined homes and artifacts tell of those hopeful settlers who arrived, but could not make a go of things.

Lamar exists because the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail traversed the southeastern portion of Colorado. From 1821 until 1880, the legendary trade route connected the US with Santa Fe, which was part of Mexico until 1848, when it was appropriated by the US. The arrival of the railroad consigned the trail to history books, until the 1987 creation of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail by the National Park Service. A series of historical markers, which we encountered on several occasions, recall its historic significance.

Lamar Mural

Lamar Mural

While Coloradans have reason to celebrate some past events, we still try to come to terms with others. Southeast Colorado has borne witness to, and bears the scars of, several inglorious acts. It saw the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, in which Colorado militia attacked a group of peaceable Arapahoe and Southern Cheyenne, camped under express US government protection. Close to 200 persons perished, among them women and children. The area also witnessed the construction of Camp Amache, one of ten internment camps that imprisoned American citizens of Japanese descent from 1942 until 1945, in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II.

Wherever I am, experiencing the beauty and order of the natural world while being reminded of some of the inhuman acts perpetrated by humans on one another is a source of never-ending sadness and outrage. I continue to struggle with negativity and cynicism about humankind, but I don’t want to give up hope that we can yet find a way to make this earth a welcoming home for all people, as well as for all our fellow creatures.

Lost?

To look for one bird in a flock of thousands is like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. When I arrive at Milavec Reservoir in Frederick, about 100 miles north of Colorado Springs, on this early January day and am greeted by the resounding calls of countless Canada and Cackling Geese, I know that my chances of finding my hoped-for goose are slim. Ever since the report a few weeks ago of the first-ever Colorado appearance of a Pink-footed Goose, which typically breeds in Greenland and Iceland, and overwinters in Northern Europe, a great buzz has energized the regional birding community. Occasional sightings in Canada or the East Coast have occurred, but this species’ presence in our state is sensational.

I am not the only one with binoculars on this frosty morning—two fellow bird enthusiasts are scanning the lake with their optics, and I make their acquaintance. Joe, who has already seen the bird twice, has brought his brother, Steve, to show him this rarity. As on so many previous occasions, I benefit from the heart-warming kindness of strangers, because Joe’s subsequent discovery of the goose allows me a brief glimpse—just long enough to capture two photographs—before I lose it in the ceaseless ebb and flow of myriad geese. I clearly notice its short beak, responsible for its scientific name, Anser brachyrhynchos (Anser is Latin for goose, and brachyrhynchos is Greek for short-billed). Interestingly, the German common name, “Kurzschnabelgans,” reflects the short beak, whereas the English focuses on another prominent feature, the birds’ feet, described by Joe as “bubble-gum pink.”

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Alas, I never see the goose’s legs, but I do not mind terribly, especially when I realize that other seekers, who arrive a little later, do not get to observe any part of the bird. I indulge in the enjoyment of other geese, whose visits to Colorado are limited to wintertime.

This Pink-footed Goose makes my birding heart beat happily, and even though it is far off-course, reminds me of the amazing miracle of bird migration that spans our one-of-a-kind globe, of the interconnectedness of all living beings, and of the desperate need to get our act together, so that our fellow creatures may continue their age-old movements across continents, which have inspired humans since the dawn of consciousness.

Mural Magic

While I have never stayed as an overnight guest at our local 5-star Broadmoor Hotel, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2018, I occasionally treat myself to coffee and cake in one of its cafés. This pretext enables me to walk the tastefully-landscaped grounds, to enjoy views of nearby Cheyenne Mountain, and to admire a graceful pair of Mute Swans in the property’s central lake. The establishment is known for the artwork that adorns the interior and ambling through its corridors is like walking through a museum. Paintings and statues celebrate the history of the American West and make it easy to while away hours.

Obwohl ich noch nie in unserem hiesigen Fünfsternehotel “Broadmoor”, das 2018 sein 100-jähriges Jubiläum feierte, übernachtet habe, verwöhne ich mich gelegentlich mit Kaffee und Kuchen in einem seiner Cafés. Dieser Vorwand ermöglicht es mir, durch die geschmackvoll gestaltete Gartenanlage zu spazieren, die Sicht auf den nahegelegenen Berg, Cheyenne Mountain, zu genießen, und ein graziles Schwanenpaar auf dem zentral gelegenen See zu bewundern. Das Etablissement ist für seine Kunstsammlung bekannt, und durch seine inneren Hallen zu wandeln, ähnelt einem Besuch in einer Kunstgalerie. Gemälde und Plastiken feiern die Geschichte des amerikanischen Westens, und lassen Stunden wie im Fluge vergehen.

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Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. Um den Titel zu lesen, mit der Maus darüber schweben.

I never visit without directing my steps to a cozy corner whose walls are beautified by a delightful mural. Examples of our regional flora are exquisitely and lovingly rendered, and while I feast on the colorful blossoms, a number of winged creatures do the same in their own way.

Meine Ausflüge dorthin sind ohne das Aufsuchen einer gemütlichen, von einem wunderschönen Wandgemälde verzierten Ecke nicht komplett. Vertreter unserer hiesigen Flora werden in liebevollem Detail dargestellt, und während ich mich an den farbenprächtigen Blüten auf meine Art labe, tut es mir eine Anzahl beschwingter Kreaturen auf ihre Weise gleich.

Dressed For A Wedding

Though all waterfowl are handsome in my eyes, some stand out for their hyper-handsomeness. I have yet to see Mandarin or Harlequin Ducks, among the most elegant, but the no less attractive Wood Ducks make a semi-regular appearance in Colorado. Their distribution map shows them sparingly throughout most of the American Southwest in the summer, but some migrate through, or even winter in our region.

Their common name stems from their habits: nesting in tree cavities, and perching on tree branches, made possible by their clawed feet. To distance their eggs from predators, they prefer to nest high—30 or more feet above the ground. They are unique among North America’s ducks in that they can have two annual broods. Their average clutch of 13 eggs hatches after about 30 days, and the newborns hurl themselves out of the nest and float down to join their mother on the ground when they are only a day or two young, never to return to their protected, down-lined home. They stay with Mama Duck until they are old enough to live on their own, Dad having moved on after performing his procreational duties.

Hunted to near-extinction by the turn of the 20th century, Wood Ducks have recovered, thanks to strict hunting regulations, and the provision of nesting boxes, which are readily adopted by the future parents when they meet certain criteria. Even though the birds conduct their lives in wooded swamps, nests have been found over a mile away from suitable habitat.

Woodies are also known as Carolina ducks (where they were first described), swamp ducks, or water pheasants. Coming across these typically shy creatures that are wary of humans is always a treat. In November of last year I found a cluster at a pond in Pueblo, our neighboring city to the south, where their tolerance to human presence allowed me to take several close-up portraits. It was the first time I noticed some of the finer details of their plumage. Their beautiful bodies are bejeweled with a wide-ranging palette of colors, and highlighted by white stripes, arcs, or, in the female’s case, teardrop-shaped eyeshadow. This astounding array of feathers inspired their scientific name, Aix sponsa, a combination of the Greek word Aix, for waterfowl, and the Latin term, sponsa, for betrothed, or spouse.

In short, a Duck Dressed For A Wedding.

A small group of foraging Wood Ducks (German: Brautenten)

A pair of Wood Ducks, male in the back, female in the front

Female with her stunning eyeshadow

A pair of Wood Ducks, male on the left, female on the right

Male with his multi-hued plumage

Female with never-before seen highlights