Cottonwood With Spring Leaves, Red Rocks Park, Colorado
Colors of renewal from spring, 2011.
Students in the Zapata Ranch Sandhill Crane Photo Workshop line up with big glass at Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.
I’ve had a week to catch my breath after teaching three photo workshops in the San Luis Valley in March. The first was a half-day as part of the Monte Vista Crane Festival followed by a sandhill crane workshop at Zapata Ranch with Michael Forsberg, then a student workshop with Second Baptist High School, from Houston,Texas. It’s an honor to work with Mike Forsberg, one of the top conservation photographers anywhere and an ILCP fellow; and working with the Phillips family at Zapata is about as good as it gets. Tess, David, Duke, Janet, Asta, Carla, Chef Mike, and the whole staff blend a remarkable visitor experience with conservation ranching at a world-class venue. I also made a few images along the way, so here goes: (more…)
The imperiled and rarely seen Red Desert Sheep. Southern Red desert, Wyoming. Oves rubrum deserti
Wyoming’s Red Desert, in the south-central part of the state is largely an empty place on most maps; high sagebrush desert that’s demarcated by I80, dividing the northern and southern halves. Anyone who’s traveled the interstate across Wyoming knows that you cross the Continental Divide twice, an oddity because the Great Divide Basin is rimmed by the great Divide; water doesn’t flow out of the self-contained basin. While photographing the southern Red Desert in the spring of 2009, I encountered a herd of the seldom seen, rare Red Desert sheep (RDS), a species that was released to the desert by Spanish conquistadors around 1400 A.D. The black sheep in this image is the most rare – of the roughly 2,000 sheep known to exist, biologists estimate that 20 are the black phase. The white sheep actually seem to surround the lone black sheep, using safety in numbers to protect the special member of the herd. RDS have evolved to graze almost entirely on Wyoming big sagebrush, the dominant plant in the ecosystem. Their primary threat is the mutton poacher, lonely cowboys joyriding on horseback and in Dodge pickups, taking potshots at a herd of these helpless creatures. It is said that Wyoming is where “men are men and sheep are nervous” a phrase that began because of the despicable poachers. One of the least charismatic of the Red Desert species, RDS don’t benefit from the support of advocacy groups or government agencies. They are the rogue sagebrush grazers, noble symbols of the old West, back when John Wayne and Henry Fonda ruled the silver cinema. In closing, Happy April Fool’s Day!
I’ll be teaching a new half-day photo workshop at the Gunnison Sage-grouse Festival from 6:30-10:30 on April 14. The cost is only $25 and proceeds go to the fesival for Gunnison Sage-grouse conservation. The workshop will be at Hartman Rocks Park, just a few miles from Gunnison.
View to James Peak (upper left) from the top of the Second Creek drainage on March 25, 2012. Vasquez Peak Wilderness, Colorado
We barely squeezed in our annual pilgrimage to the top of the Second Creek drainage and over to the 12,000 foot high point of Mary Jane Ski Area. Second Creek is popular with backcountry skiers and snowshoers, with great accessibility from a wide spot on I40 just below Berthoud Pass. Marla, Kim, Marc, his daughter Hannah, and I hiked up past the site of a new backcountry cabin, then straight up the bowl to the top with 180 degree views of the Indian Peaks and Vasquez Peaks. Byers Peak caught the first sun to break through cloud cover and the air quickly warmed to temps more like May than the end of winter. We made a slight detour and hopscotched from one snow island to the next to avoid treading on fragile tundra, not normally a concern in March. Panoramic Lift, at just over 12,000 feet, is an amusing lunch spot, with skiers off-loading and pointing at us, a few asking where we hiked from. We soaked in the sun while dining on lukewarm burritos, fruit, nuts, and brownies that emerged from our packs and compared notes about the stunning lack of snow and the few skiers on a spring break Sunday. Kim, who grew up in nearby Granby, and Marc, who has a condo in Fraser, have never seen such a light snowpack in March. It’s officially 65% of average statewide and above average temps are predicted for the next week. If we don’t get a big dump soon, it’s going to be a parched summer across the West. (more…)
Kevin leaps from High Dune on a blustery afternoon in Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO
I’m in between trips after spending eight days teaching at the Monte Vista Crane Festival and the Zapata Ranch Sandhill Crane Photo Workshop. After the Monte Vista class, I stretched my legs at Great Sand Dunes National Park, with towering dunes sandwiched between granite 14,000 foot peaks and high desert. It’s a rare ecosysytem in the world and a special place to hike. I met Kevin and Tamara on top of High Dune – they stopped en-route to Tucson for a week’s vacation, adding Great Sand Dunes to their quest to visit all of America’s National Park. Now in their 20′s, Kevin and Tamara met while competing for the University of Wyoming swim team; so of course Kevin wanted to demonstrate his diving skills from the big pile of sand. We hiked out together, talking about adventure with no complaints about the miserable conditions.
I’ll post a recap of the (2) Zapata workshops soon.
“Southern Sawatch Range Winter Aerial View, Colorado” Aerial Support Graciously Provided by LightHawk
Greater Sandhill Crane In Flight, San Luis Valley near Monte Vista, Colorado
The spring sandhill crane spectacle will arrive in Colorado soon – 27,000 greater sandhill cranes migrate through the San Luis Valley on their way to nesting and brood rearing grounds in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The Monte Vista NWR and surrounding area is a stop-over point on the journey. These majestic birds spend several weeks from early March re-fueling before flying north by the end of the month (or sooner). I’m teaching two workshops: The Monte Vista Crane Festival happens from March 9-11 with a full schedule of events including my workshop on Saturday, the 10th at 8:30 a.m. You can sign up for this half-day workshop for just $25!
I’m also teaching with Michael Forsberg (one of the top conservation photographers in the world) at Zapata Ranch from March 12-16. This is the second year for the Zapata crane workshop and it’s full; so it’s not too early to get on the list for next year. Click HERE to learn about the Zapata workshop. Zapata is a remarkable ranch and venue for a workshop, right next door to Great Sand Dunes National Park. An on-site chef prepares all of our meals too!
Grizzly bear sign on the edge of the Washakie Wilderness at Jack Creek
The second article from the Absaroka Front Tripods In The Mud project with Greater Yellowstone Coalition and ILCP is on National Geographic Newswatch. Acclaimed author Douglas H. Chadwick (author of The Wolverine Way)masterfully inserts context, common sense, science, texture, and grit into a grizzly bear discourse that’s so often clouded by mythology and ungrounded fear. The article is a must read and it’s right here: “How Many Grizzlies Are Enough?”
This came from a friend in Cody, Wyoming:
1. Being allergic or hostile to creation of any new wilderness area
2. Fear of any open space not delineated by a fence, a road, a pipeline, an ATV track, a cow trail, or power line
2-a. Fear that said tract won’t generate any tangible revenue because it lacks delineation and manmade structures
3. Total rejection of the notion that sometimes the highest and best use of something is to just leave it alone…
Vernacular: A psychological syndrome common in areas where there are still large tracts of federal public land that resemble America before the Eurocentric -White Man claimed it then deeded it part and parcel, initially to the wealthiest aristocrats, the highest bidders; or allowed it to be taken by force from the Natives; or just plain squatted on it and built fence because God told them it was OK to do that (Genesis 1:20-27). Ownership was thereby proclaimed because there were little pieces of paper at the Courthouses that said so. The entirely made-up notion prevailed that land was only worth something if somebody owned it or extracted something from it (see Manifest Destiny). Unfortunately, or fortunately, interior North America was bigger than anyone realized, and the greedy White Man couldn’t get to all the land and claim it and stake it and write new scriptures (metes and bounds) before it occurred to the Wise Men that maybe we ought to set some of this aside so the advancing Robber Barons and avaricious settlers can’t touch it. (Washburn, Hayden et al; Yellowstone, 1871)
Wilderphobia is commonly expressed these days as a neurotic desire to exert control over those remaining lands because they belong to Them , not Us , when really it’s all just Us…