Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bird-Rock-History Combo

April 14, 2010

The clock in the room was wrong and I was up an hour early. So what! I grabbed the gear and went off for some sunrise photography. Pulled over on the side of the road, near the bluff, the morning sun just did not do what I thought it would do. The pics were okay, I think. I had to use every camera trick I knew to work with a hand-held camera in little or no light. That said, however, I think it was pretty cool that two separate cars pulled over in the wee lit hours to see if I was okay. I had my blinkers on so cars knew I was there. Very friendly people, those Nebraskans.

So there I was at Scott's Bluff. I couldn't help but think of all the happiness the travelers must of felt when they reached the Bluffs. They knew their journey was one-third over when they got there. In fact, that morning of 1846, April 14th, was the very morning the Donner Party left Springfield, Illinois for their date with destiny. The Donner Party, for those of you that don't know, got stuck in the deep snows of eastern California and resorted to eating their own dead to stay alive....

Speaking of eating, I was getting hungry as I had moved on to photography without having breakfast. I can't usually go 15 minutes without eating when I get up. Breakfast was at the Log Cabin (which, by the way, sits on the road that was the original Oregon Trail). Some locals started chatting with me about why I was there and a conversation ensued. One woman even claimed that her grandkids, through her late husband's side of the family, were directly related to Hiram Scott, the namesake of Scott's Bluff. Pretty cool.

With a full belly of eggs, hashbrowns and sausage, I opted to head back to Wildcat for another run. It paid off. In front of the Visitor Center, I observed a swarm of Pine Siskins. Not just any Siskins, by the way. Those Siskins represented my 4000th tick for my North American List. (This completely insignificant number represents the sum of all my state checklists. For example, a person with 50 birds in each of the 50 states would have a list of 2,500 ticks.) Unfortunately, that Pygmy Nuthatch did not show himself for another 30 seconds. He could have been 4000th bird.

Back at Scotts Bluff, a careful scan of the rock face known as Eagle Bluff scored a Great Horned Owl. I was hoping for a Prairie Falcon, but it was not to be. Oh well....

Unfortunately, the road to the top of the bluff was closed for maintenance. With that, I shot off to the east. Various potholes yielded some descent waterfowl and an American Avocet, too.

Chimney Rock was well worth it. It, too, was a landmark on the Oregon Trail, thus its placement on the Nebraska state quarter. It was here that I learned one of the bizarre facts of my entire trip. Chimney Rock has not always been known as Chimney Rock. That is the name given to it by the Americans and Europeans moving west. The Plains Indians? They had a different name for it. "Elk Penis." I swear. Like so many other rocks features in the region, it is getting smaller as a result of weathering. I'm not going anywhere near this subject anymore...

Moving north, the Box Butte Reservoir was a bust. The white caps were straight out of World War II images of the North Atlantic. A Lesser Scaup was all I had to show for it. Chadron State Park ("SHAD-rin") was really nice but not at all birdy. It was very much like the Black hills and nice break from the extensive grasslands and agriculture that were at lower altitudes.

Heading towards Crawford, Nebraska, around dinner time, I started to think about lodging. Is there a better place for a history buff to stay than in the enlisted soldiers quarters of an old Army fort? That was it. The old barracks, constructed in 1909 for the then Fort Robinson, are now the rooms for guests of the now Fort Robinson State Park. Cool place. Awesome history. The Golden Eagle flying 100 feet added a new feel to what was called the Parade Grounds. A parade of one, if you ask me.

Basically, as Fort Laramie was being decommissioned (complete by 1890), Fort Robinson picked up the slack during the various campaigns against the Native Americans. It was here, on September 5th, 1877, that Crazy Horse, the famous Sioux leader, was killed. As the years ticked by, the Fort was involved with World War II K-9 dog training, served as a German POW camp, and housed the USDA Beef Research Department. Walter Reed (who likely stayed in one of the buildings pictured here) ,who went on to figure out that mosquitoes carried yellow fever and had the military hospital in Washington DC named after him, served here, too. It was quite a place in its time and is a very nice place to stay and stroll through history nowadays.

Dinner was at The Ranch House. Originally the 1909 general store for Crawford, it is now a restaurant with all the qualities of a place on the National Historic Register. The beers were quite fine, too. The Boulevard Wheat (from the Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Missouri) was not new for me, but comes highly recommended. Give it a go when you get the chance.

The evening was spent birding Smiley Canyon. This canyon was the used by the Cheyenne during their Outbreak in January of 1879. In an attempt to “break them”, food and water were withheld. The Indians escaped from the fort and were basically hunted down and shot or re-captured. They fled through the canyon that is now the Scenic Drive. While Lewis’ Woodpeckers can be found here, the best I could muster was a Black-billed Magpie.

No comments: