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

Hooray for Wray‏

April 21st, 2011 · 3 Comments

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Visiting Wray, Colorado, this weekend brought more rewards than the opportunity to see Greater Prairie-Chickens dance, the reason for the trip. Indeed, the lek where we watched the mating display had other inhabitants that I also delighted in seeing. Three families of Burrowing Owls had taken over Prairie Dog colonies in the midst of the Greater Prairie-Chickens. They seemed oblivious to each other, except one time when a Burrowing Owl flew in and half of the Greater Prairie-Chickens flew out. My guess is that the Burrowing Owl spooked one of the Greater Prairie-Chickens into thinking that the owl was bigger and dangerous and that the rest were simply being a bit over-cautious.

Burrowing Owls are raptors — birds of prey. But they are much smaller than Greater Prairie-Chickens and no danger to mature birds of that species. Here is one of those little guys:

A Burrowing Owl Stands Next to its Home on the Lek

A Burrowing Owl Stands Next to its Home on the Lek

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Later on Saturday morning my friend Sharon and I drove 16 miles south of Wray to the Beecher Island Battleground. We went there to find birds, but instead found Western history.

Here 51 U.S. Army scouts and frontiersmen fought one of the hardest battles in the history of the American West for several days in September 1868 against a force of from 750 to perhaps more than 1,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Pursued 125 miles from Fort Wallace, Kansas, on September 16, 1868, the Indians turned on the troops, who entrenched themselves on a small sandy island in the Arikaree River. During the nine-day siege and the repeated Indian charges that followed, volunteers worked their way through enemy lines to obtain reinforcements from Fort Wallace, who eventually drove off the Indians. More than one third of the scouts and frontiersmen suffered wounds, and six scouts died in the battle. Beecher Island takes its name from one of them who died, Lieutenant Fredrick H. Beecher, a nephew of Henry Ward Beecher, the prominent clergyman and abolitionist, and of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, many more Indians died in the battle.

Beecher Island on the Arikaree River interests me for another reason. Where the Arikaree River flows into Kansas, just 10 miles downstream, is the lowest point in Colorado, the highest state in the Union. The elevation of Beecher Island is 3,509 feet. The state’s lowest point is 3,317 feet, and Beecher Island is the closest named place. Colorado, with the highest mean elevation of any state (6,800 feet) as well as the highest low point, is our highest state. Only Wyoming comes close.

Continuing our exploration of the Wray area on Saturday afternoon, we wandered around the prairie north of Wray. There I got my first good pictures of a large raptor called a Swainson’s Hawk.

A Swainson's Hawk

A Swainson's Hawk

Click on the picture above to enlarge
The Swainson's Hawk Flies Off

The Swainson's Hawk Flies Off

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Back to Wray on the outskirts of town we found “heaven.” Actually, we found Hillbilly Heaven, a cafe in a converted church complete with an American flag with “good old country cooking” where “truckers welcome.”

Hillbilly Heaven

Hillbilly Heaven

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The sign also says, “Ya’ll come,” but Sharon and I opted instead to eat at Wray’s best restaurant. Appropriately named the “4th & Main Downtown Grill,” the restaurant is at the corner of two streets, West 4th Street and Main Street. Finding it was rather easy, the food was great, and we probably fitted in better than at the local heaven.


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Posted in: Photography

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 staci mahagan-mcgill // May 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Your entry here has made me very homesick. I was born in Wray and spent every holiday and summer there with my grandparents. Many were the summers that we would pack a chicken lunch and picnic at Beecher. We were there 4 years ago for a family reunion and I found the area to be more beautiful and natural than it was 30 years ago! I can’t say that we saw any birds that trip but then we were so noisy that they all had likely flown. When I was a kid in the 60’s there were frogs galore there and then there was always the box turtles to catch. Pheasants were plentiful back then as well. Oh my….I do love that area. Thanks for the trip…down memory lane.

  • 2 bob guetzlaff // Feb 8, 2013 at 7:19 am

    Neat! I was surprised to hear you’ve been to Beecher Island. It’s pretty isolated and on the way to nowhere, but quite interesting. I’d forgotten most of what you reminded me of about the place, It has a very interesting history. I spent the night there in my previous motorhome. Quiet and isolated – what I like when camping in the RV. You never cease to amaze me about where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Great pix………

  • 3 David Mendosa // Feb 8, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Dear Bob,

    Thanks for checking out my post about Beecher Island. If you ever get that way again, make sure that it’s when you can see the Greater Prairie Chicken displays nearby.