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

Grassland‏

June 9th, 2011 · 2 Comments

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Almost as soon as I returned from my trip to the northwest, I took off again. This time I drove to the southeast.

I drove back home from staying with Tom and Martha Schulte in Redmond, Washington, leaving on Saturday at the start of the Memorial Day weekend. I got home four days later, giving me just two days at home before taking off again.

This trip took me to the Comanche National Grassland in Southeastern Colorado. When I was in Juneau, Alaska, my friend Sharon had written me that Rob Palmer, a photographer who had made an impressive presentation to the Boulder County Audubon Society that evening, was going to have a three-day photography workshop in the grassland starting on Friday, June 3. I had often mentioned to Sharon that I wanted to take a tour to Southeastern Colorado, the only part of the state that I knew nothing about. So I immediately called Rob and signed up.

In the event, I extended my stay in the southeast to four days so that on the way back home I could visit Black Mesa State Park in Oklahoma and Vogel Canyon, in another part of the Comanche Grassland. But it turned out that Rob’s workshop was as close as possible to the grassland’s heart.

I stayed with a dozen other photographers at the Everett Ranch. This is a working ranch with 450 head of cattle owned by the Everett family, who have lived there since 1941. Our host at the ranch, Laneha Everett, is the wife of Casey Everett, the fourth generation of Everetts to live there. The original ranch house, where Laneha and Casey live and the center of our activities on the ranch, is the oldest inhabited residence in the county, dating back to at least 1875, according to the ranch history. I slept a few feet away at the home of Casey’s parents, Terry and Jennifer.

Terry and Jennifer Everett's Home, Where I Stayed

Terry and Jennifer Everett's Home, Where I Stayed

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The three major birding sites in the Comanche National Grasslands — Cottonwoods, Carrizo, and Picture canyons — are just a few miles away on the south, north, and east respectively. The border with Oklahoma and New Mexico is exactly 10 miles south.

Many people in Colorado don’t know that our country’s worst manmade environmental disaster took place here and in nearby areas of southwestern Nebraska, western Kansas, the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and part of New Mexico. When extended drought hit these plains and prairie states combined with farming practices that failed to consider the impact of plowing up millions of acres of grasslands in this semiarid region, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was the result.

That drought continued for eight years and drove thousands of farmers from their homes. The federal government stepped in to buy the failed cropland, and the Comanche National Grassland, now encompassing more than 440,000 acres, was one result. Hundreds of abandoned farmhouses still stand in various states of repair. Looking for birds and other critters, I explored several of these with Rob and his partner Fi Rust and on another day with a different photographer, Chris Dawson.

An Abandoned Farmhouse in the Grassland at Dusk

An Abandoned Farmhouse in the Grassland at Dusk

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Another Abandoned Farmhouse, Half an Hour Earlier

Another Abandoned Farmhouse, Half an Hour Earlier

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We found porcupines in a tree at one abandoned homestead.

One Eye of this Porcupine is Visible

One Eye of this Porcupine is Visible

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We also found a Barn Owl. In fact, this was the first Barn Owl that I ever saw, much less photographed.

A Barn Owl Flies Out the Window

A Barn Owl Flies Out the Window

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But I needed only a short walk to see this Red-headed Woodpecker. I found it along East Carrizo Creek, which runs through Everett Ranch.

A Red-headed Woodpecker

A Red-headed Woodpecker

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Carrizo Canyon in the Early Morning

Carrizo Canyon in the Early Morning

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But my best photo was this shot of a Peregrine Falcon. This was easy, because Rob is a falconer and brought his bird with him. This bird is of the anatum subspecies from Canada. Rob is a co-author of Sky Hunters: The Passion of Falconry.

A Peregrine Falcon

A Peregrine Falcon

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My guess is that one reason why Rob brought his falcon was to make sure that we got at least one really good bird photograph. It worked.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kamia Taylor // Jul 2, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Dear David: Do you sell your photos? Your Carizzo Canyon one would be perfect in my home; but I don’t want to take advantage and just print it. Thanks!

  • 2 David Mendosa // Jul 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Dear Kamia,

    I am a professional writer but an amateur photographer. That means I don’t sell my photographers, but I do freely give them away. Thank you so much for asking. Actually, printing the shot that I have on the Web would not be satisfactory, because the resolution is optimized for the Web and not print. So I made a copy for you suitable for printing. It is such a large file — 15 mb — that it is too large to send by email. So I loaded it on my server at http://www.mendosa.com/carrizo.jpg . It will take you a long time to download because it is so big. But when you have successfully downloaded it, please let me know so I can remove it from my server.

    David

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