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  • Writer's pictureKaren Hogan

Colorado NWR Trip July 2016

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

A trip to Estes Park, Colorado for a wedding in July 2016, I would stay extra days, to visit a few National Wildlife Refuges in the state of Colorado. Teresa's friend moved to Wyoming April 2016, it was decided Teresa and I would meet in Colorado, visit 3 National Wildlife Refuges in Colorado and 2 National Wildlife Refuges in Wyoming. A bucket list for both of us, we decided to spent a few days visiting and birding at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Karen and Teresa at Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge July 17, 2016

Wedding in Colorado-Karen's thoughts

When I received the save the date card in 2015 for Robbie and Kelli's wedding July 7, 2016, I marked it on my calendar, I was going! Robbie, one of my Son, Greg's best friends, they met in Kindergarten and continued hanging out through Senior year in High School. Robbie and Greg were always together, back and forth between each others home, Robbie even traveled with us on some of our family trips, Robbie is like another one of my kids.


March-July 2016 Planning a multipurpose trip to Colorado and Wyoming

The year of 2016 had already been busy with our two week Texas National Wildlife Refuge Trip in April and the weekend trip to Ohio River NWR in June so we didn't plan on another week long National Wildlife Refuge but Karen had plans to attend together with her son Greg the wedding of one of his childhood friends in Estes Park, Colorado. She has been saving the wedding date in July 2016 since the previous year and she planned to visit the National Wildlife Refuges around Denver after the wedding. I didn't want miss a change to see the Refuges in Colorado so around the middle of May 2016 I decided to join Karen on her trip to Colorado but I would spend time visiting my friend in Cheyenne, Wyoming while Karen was at the wedding.


July 8-10, 2016 Wedding and visiting Lorie I visited the Snowy Mountain Range in Medicine Bow National Forest, Curt Gowdy State Park and Vedauwoo National Park with my friend in Wyoming. Karen was getting her first looks at Mountain Chickadees, Violet Green Swallows and Pygmy Nuthatches in Estes Park and modifying the trip to include the Rocky Mountains.


July 10, 2016 Cheyenne, Wyoming After the wedding Karen said goodbye to Greg on Sunday and headed to Cheyenne to meet me for our NWR trip.

July 11, 2016 Hutton Lake and Mortenson National Wildlife Refuge

We left Cheyenne, Wyoming early Monday morning and headed west to Laramie on interstate 80. It was a warm day with clear blue skies so it was difficult to imagine this highway could be closed during the winter because of heavy drifting snow. Once we were in Laramie we headed south on a dirt road called Sand Creek Road towards Hutton Lake NWR. We had our first looks at Lark Buntings and Brewers Sparrows as we drove Sand Creek Road. (Lark Bunting photo). I had heard that one of the gates at the refuge were closed so I was so happy when we arrived and the main gate to the refuge was open. (photo 8474). Hutton Lake NWR is located in the southern part of Laramie Plain at an elevation of 7150 feet containing dry grassland surrounded by mountains. Hutton Lake NWR is just under 2,000 acres and was established in 1932 to provide resting and breeding habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. The Refuge has 5 small lakes called Hutton, Creighton, George, Rush and Hoge.(8320) We stopped to scope the distant birds on the white edged Creighton Lake and Karen had to make some quick moves to catch her scope before it blew over in the strong winds (photo 8328) There were many White-tailed Prairie dogs on the refuge road to Hoge Lake and Hutton Lake. photo 8311 We had 35 species for our 5 hour visit to the refuge with many opportunities to see breeding birds and mammals. The wetland areas provided opportunities to see American Coots and Pied-billed Grebes feeding their young. Along the roads we saw McCown's Longspur feeding a junvenile and a Pronghorn with two young. Around 3PM we headed north towards Laramie with the hope of seeing the one of the two other refuges in the area that were closed to the public. We could not even see a sign to designate the Bamforth NWR area and there was no overlook for the refuge so we birded at Alsop Lake Access Area, across the road from Bamforth for about an hour. We finished around 5 PM so we drove south on the back roads towards Mortensen Lake NWR. Mortensen Lake NWR was estasblished in 1993 since it is has the last known population of the endangered Wyoming Toad it is closed to the public. We were able to get to the Meeboer lake which is right beside the refuge. Mortenson Lake NWR has four main lakes on 1,776 acres just southwest of Laramie. The refuge is a resting area for migrating birds and there is habitat for breeding waterfowl and shore birds like Northern Pintails, Canvasbacks and American Avocets. There was public access at Meeboer Lake and we spent a couple of hours birding and then stopped at the Blakes pond hotspot since it was getting dark and we needed to head north to spend the night in Laramie where we had reserved a hotel. The views had been so scenic we considered driving back to Blakes Pond and Meeboer Lake in the morning since we would be passing these areas while we were headed south on 230 towards Colorado. 8474 8311 8328 8320

July 12, 2016 Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge

On Tuesday July 12 we left Laramie and headed towards Colorado down state road 230 that would pass Mortensen and scenic Meeboer Lake. We knew we could take one more look at that area but it would take time away from Arapaho NWR so we only made a quick detour off of 230 onto 422 for a quick look at Blakes Pond before we headed south towards Colorado. We added 22 species in about an hour and the morning light allowed some nice photos. We finally pulled ourselves away and headed south on 230. The views were so amazing as we crossed the state line into Colorado that we turned the car around several times to take a second and third look at going from Wyoming to Colorado. Colorado sign and scenery (photos)Not sure when we will be back this way again. We drove down 125 south through the small town of Walden and just 7 miles to the south is the Arapaho NWR Headquarters. Arapaho NWR is the highest refuge in the lower 48 states at an elevation of 8,700 feet above sea level. I think this is most scenic refuge I have visited because the area is rimmed by mountains on the west by Park Range, to the south are the Rabbit Ears Mountains and the southeast the Never-Summer Range and the east are the Medicine Bow Range. (photo 4731) We started our visit on the 6-mile self-guided auto tour which gave us a look at a variety of refuge habitats and some great looks at white-tailed prairie dogs and many birds. We had an unexpected photo opportunity when we noticed a couple of Badgers together and one was carrying something than looked like a young badger. We decided it wasn't a young Badger but a White-tailed Prairie dog that would be a meal. We waited patiently for the scene to be repeated and sure enough one of the Badgers left the area and headed out with purpose. I sat poised with my camera braced out the window while Karen watched the Badger from her window. She lost sight of him but could hear the frantic alert of the Prairie dogs and then one Prairie dog stopped his alarm call and sure enough Karen said here he comes and as the Badger passed the fence and I was ready when he came into view of my camera. So I was able to video the badger carrying the dead Prairie dog to the den. After spending 4 hours on the auto drive we headed to the refuge headquarters. We had a nice visit with a volunteer and the staff and learned how volunteers live in RV at the refuge in return for working and the staff told us how the headquarters had burned and this was the new visitor center but records had been lost. The refuge staff recommended the next areas to visit so we headed to the (Owl Ridge?) overlook. It was very windy on top of the hill but the view showed the green landscape below and we could see a Moose down on the inteperative trail in the riparian area next to the Illinois River. The shiras's moose were reintroduced to this area in 1978 and have thrived and 15-20 of them can be found at the refuge in the spring and fall. We left the overlook and drove down to walk the 1/2 mile interpretive trail but we never were able to locate the Moose. Then we drove north out of the refuge on 31 and to highway 14. The skies were blue with a few clouds. We made a quick stop at for the blind.

The plan had been to head to Steam boat springs for the night and then on to the far western part of the Colorado for Browns Park NWR. We both agreed that we wanted to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park so we modified our plans. We drove on to Steamboat Springs but the next morning we headed back east to Lake Granby and the Rocky Mountains National Park.


July 13, 2016 Rocky Mountain National Park

We arrived by 7:30 Am and the views were amazing. We had good birds along that one road.

As we entered the park we noticed the signs that warned about not approaching wildlife. Of course we would never do anything stupid like that but within 2 miles we had to slow down because of all of the cars and RVs stopped and parked along side the road. Everyone was getting out of their cars and Karen and joined them. It was a large brown spot the left side of the road and we walked over to get a closer look with probably 30 other people. The moose was grazing on leaves on a tree and he seemed agitated within a second he was moving and it was fast towards our directions. Karen ran across the road to the driver side of our car and I noticed people jumping an RV on that side of the road and I considered joining thesestrangers but I dashed for the passenger side when Iooked back the Moose was coming up onto the road through the trees right where we had been standing. He crossed the road and went right in front of our car but I was safely inside. We had to laugh at our seeing the warning sign and then within in a few minutes blowing caution to the wind and flowing the crowd to get too close to a moose. We were laughing but it took a while for my heart to slow its speed.

Every turn in the road is another scenic mountain range and we tried to figure out from our maps which range were where viewing on the narrow winding road. There were so many places to stop but we finally stopped at Rocky Mountain NP--Trail Ridge Rd--Medicine Bow Curve and were told this was the area for White-tailed Ptarmigan. We stayed on the chilly trail for over an hour much of the time me staring at a rock in the distance trying to turn it into White-tailed Ptarmigan.

We drove to the Alpine trail and had close looks at pipets etc.

WE drove down Rocky Mountain NP--Old Fall River Road and we stopped to bird at the Lava Cliffs and even ran into a person from Kentucky I hadnot met him but he knew several people I had birded with Cincinnati Audubon chapter. I had to figure out how to use the panaromic view on my camera phone since a single wide angle view would not do justice to the views of mountain ranges. We would be staying Estes Park tonight so we explored the area of Bear Lake and Spraque Lake. We knew Bear Lake Parking lot would fill up quickly in the morning so we were glad we had a few minutes to bird this area and then we headed to Sprague lake. We decided we would have a better chance getting to this area the next day after the alpine trail.

We birded at other hotspots along the road but knew in the morning we would return to Trail Ridge Rd at Medicine Bow Curve for the White-tailed Ptarmigen


July 14, 2016 Rocky Mountain National Park

Spent the night in Estes Park

We had on our long underwear as we headed down the trailaround 6AM. We had not even gone hundred yards when Karen spotted our bird. The drive had been wonderful with great looks at Elk.

We did get our bird then on to the Sprague Lake and Lily Lake. Beautiful areas in the Rockies to look for birds.

July 15, 2016 Rocky Mountain National Park and Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge

We arrived in Denver late but had a quick look at Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge before heading to our hotel in Broomfield, CO. We entered the trailhead from the parking lot of an office building. The Northern Flickers were on the ground pulling things from holes in the soil and hundreds of swallows were landing in the bushes areas. It was getting dark and then headed to our hotel planning to hike the small urban refuge in the morning.


July 16, 2016 Two Ponds and Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

We arrived at dawm to explore Two Ponds NWR. The refuge has office building and a residential neighborhood on the borders and refuge is only acres. There were deer on the trail and they were obviously used to people. We I kept hearing a song so unfamiliar to my ears. What oriole was it?

Great looks at whatever and we hiked every trail. We were fanscinated by a rabbit and didn’t notice the manager of the refuge sitting in a lawn chair behind us. We talked about the refuge.

Then it was on to Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR. Great looks at Western Kingbirds with young. So many of the birds had young. Wonderful to watch them feeding. We would stop to watch a bird and every car that drove by would slow to ask if we had seen any Bison. They of course thought we were stopping because we had the view of bison.

Spent the night in Denver


July 17, 2016 Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

We came back the next day and stayed the whole day at Rocky Mountain Arsenal. We hiked the lake train with great looks at birds.

Then we drove down to the area that we could see a thunderstorm. We remembered the warning about getting to shelter when you see lightening. I was enjoying the hike but I just have no idea if the storm would be close or not. Great looks at Lark Sparrows.

Spent the night Denver


July 18, 2016

Teresa flew home to Lexington and I flew home to Chapel HIll


Visited 5 National Wildlife Refuges

Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming 7/11/16

Mortenson National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming 7/11/6

Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming 7/12/16

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado 7/13/16, 7/14/16, 7/15/16

Two Pond National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado 7/15/16, 7/16/16

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado 7/16/16, 7/17/16

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