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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Rocky Mountain Arsenal‏

June 9th, 2010 · No Comments

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Colorado doesn’t appreciate its prairies. I didn’t myself until I heard Dave Showalter speak to us at the Colorado Nature Camera Club in January. Dave wrote Prairie Thunder: The Nature of Colorado’s Great Plains and is the photographer for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

The prairies comprise the eastern third of the state. Most of us hike and play in the central mountain ranges, including the Rocky Mountains. But relatively few animals inhabit the forests of mountain slopes. To use the  technical term that says it best, the biomass is greatest on the state’s eastern grasslands.

This morning I hiked the trails of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge for more than four hours and never encountered another sole. No hikers, no cyclists, no joggers. Just me and the wildlife.

Lots of wildlife, especially birds. But also the usual suspects that walk on four legs — the deer, the rabbits, the prairie dogs. I photographed the birds today.

Birds were what I wanted to photograph so that I could put my new telephoto lens to work. I just bought the ultimate lens for handheld bird photography, a 100-400mm Canon L-series zoom lens with image stabilization. Anything with even greater reach would be difficult to hold steady.

This new lens is a direct result of my recent photo safari to shoot wild horses of the West with Weldon Lee in South Dakota. Weldon uses the Nikon equivalent and his partner Lori uses this Canon lens. Lori let me use her 100-400mm lens one day, and I was convinced.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

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Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

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Juvenile Tree Swallow at Home

Juvenile Tree Swallow at Home

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And, as a bonus, one flower:

Prickly Poppy

Prickly Poppy

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The word “arsenal” in the name of this refuge may be what discourages many lovers of nature to come to this wild land just 10 or 11 miles north of Denver. But it hasn’t functioned as an arsenal for years.

Maybe people stay away since this is a Superfund site, where the U.S. Army produced deadly nerve gas from 1942 to 1945. Then until 1982 Shell Chemical produced pesticides and herbicides there. The 1,700 acre core area, or Central Remediation Area (CRA), is clean. The cleanup is complete, and the current work involves completing the landfill in the middle of the refuge. While that area will never be open to the public, there is no risk to visitors to Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

Congress designated the entire area of the refuge as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in 1992. It’s huge — 27 square miles or 17,000 acres. And except for the wildlife, I had it all to myself today.

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