Saturday, May 2, 2009

Across The Wide Prairie


As much as I really wanted to get on the road Wednesday morning, I knew that if I left before 9 am I would have to fight rush hour traffic getting to the Interstate. That’s something I do not like doing anytime much less when I’m driving my RV so I restrained myself. Promptly at 9am however, I pulled out towards Granada, CO and my date with the Lesser Prairie Chickens.  It was a gorgeous day and I had that “gut grin” that I get when my mind tells me “You’ve got it good!”. Everything seemed to indicate a great trip was ahead and the light traffic on I-25 seemed to confirm that.

I got off the interstate at Pueblo, CO and headed east into the heartland of the high plains. I wasn’t in any hurry so I kept my speed at 55 mph and drove through the back streets of all the little towns along the way….Fowler, Manzanola, Rocky Ford, La Junta, Las Animas, and finally Granada.rocky1

I have been over this route a number of times and have stopped in the little towns before but it seems like every time I do I discover a little something I hadn’t seen before. This time it was a grand old theater in Rocky Ford. Rocky Ford is the melon capital of the Rocky Mountain West. It is located in the Arkansas River Valley and it sure doesn’t look like prairie here but travel north or south 5 or 10 miles and you’re back in the prairie. It’s a bustling little community and I knew there had to be some interesting signs somewhere around town. Sure enough, this trip I discovered the old but still functional theater, several blocks off the main drag. If you look closely you can see my RV parked around the corner in the lower right corner of the picture to the right. By the way, click on any picture to see a larger copy of it.

Next stop was La Junta. I mentioned in a previous post that one of my goals this trip was to find a petroglyph site in the general area called Hicklin Springs. It so happens that there is a U.S. Forest Service office in La Junta and this office has a Forest Service archaeologist stationed there…..whom I just happen to know from my volunteer work last fall. I was hoping that she might be able to give me directions to the site. Fortunately she was in the office. Unfortunately she couldn’t give me directions. She had heard about the site but didn’t know where it was…Rats!bents1

The next stop was Bent’s Old Fort. This is a great piece of western history. An exact reproduction of the 1830’s trading post built by the Bent brothers and Ceran St. Vrain to trade with the Indians and mountain men. The fort straddles the Santa Fe Trail and was an important stop for anyone travelling to the southwest up until the 1860’s.

I had been to this landmark before but it’s always an interesting stop and I wanted to get a National Park Pin for this site. I have begun collecting these pins and display them in the RV to show the places I’ve been.  I also wanted to try some HDR photography there.Bents Fort

I spent an hour or two wandering around and taking pictures and then went to the little store in the back of the fort to get my pin. While there I decided to ask the attendant if she knew anything about Hicklin Springs. As it turned out she also had heard of the site but had never been there. She did however have a sticky note stuck to her computer with directions to the site! She gave me the directions with the proviso that if I got there I would call her and give her a report….Done deal.Bents Fort Window

Between Bent’s Fort and the site was John Martin Reservoir and State Park and to get to the site I’d have to take a long detour. Besides that it was now about 3pm and I decided to do this on my way back home. I needed to get to Granada.

The rest of the trip was over narrow back roads that every now and again went through a small defunct farming community. The last 6 or 8 miles was over dirt county roads until I came to my guides ranch house.

Fred and Norma Dorenkamp do what a lot of “country” folk throughout the nation do. They do what it takes to make a living and raise a family. They are proud of their local heritage and have never even considered leaving this place they call home. In raising their six sons and one daughter they have farmed, ranched, worked for the wildlife department, managed rodeos….and taken city folk like me, out to see the natural wonders of the prairie. After meeting them, Norma showed me where to park my rig. A flat spot right next to the calf corral would be my spot for the night. owl1

Norma told me that if I wanted to walk to the field back behind the corral I might get a glimpse of some burrowing owls that had taken up residence in old prairie dog dens. That sounded like a perfect way to end the day so I did and was rewarded with the picture to the left.

Norma also said that we would leave at 4:30 am the next morning….and oh, by the way, a tornado watch was just issued by the local weather station! Let’s see, I’m in a tornado magnet, RV out in the middle of the prairie in a tornado watch. This is going to be a trip to write about, if I survive.

Seriously, looking across the plains I could see the storm they were talking about and it looked to me like it was tracking to the south and not coming my way even though the wind started blowing pretty hard. I battened down the hatches and settled in for the night.Tornado Warnings

I’ll stop the story here but stay tuned for the next chapter. Incidentally, the picture to the right is the storm we were watching to the east of my RV.

Thanks for visiting.

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