Friday, August 29, 2014

Buffalo Herd Overlook

If you drive west along Interstate 70 in Colorado, approximately 20 miles west of Denver, you will see this road sign before exit 254 advising you that there is the Buffalo Herd Overlook at that exit.  My husband and I pass this sign whenever we head up into the Rocky Mountains from our home, and we were always curious as to what we'd see when we got off this exit. (All photos in this post will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)

This is what we saw at first when we drove off the exit--a pasture of grass and trees, surrounded by a twelve foot high, barbed wire topped fence.

There were warning signs on the fence, that the bison that lived within were owned and managed by Denver Mountain Parks City and County of Denver.  Denver has 46 mountain parks, with over 14,000 "pleasure acres" for the use of hiking, picnicking, and sightseeing in the Front Range foothills and the Rocky Mountains, all within an hour's drive of Denver.

This sign on the fence has been severely weathered and it's hard to read, but it tells the sad tale of the American Bison--the true name of the animal which is often incorrectly referred to as Buffalo. The North American Plains were once roamed by as many as 60 million wild Bison. As westward expansion occurred in the 1800's by gold prospectors, homesteaders, the US Army and railroads, there was a wanton destruction of these bison. They were slaughtered for their hides, as sport, and as a way to control the Native American population which relied upon bison as a major food source. By the late 1880's bison were nearly extinct, with less than a a few hundred left.  Fortunately, conservationists, such as President Teddy Roosevelt and William T. Hornaday, founded the American Bison Society to help prevent the total extinction of  bison. The last wild bison were contained in Yellowstone National Park. and the Denver bison are direct descendants of this herd. Two bull bison were brought to the Denver Mountain Parks system in 1914, and mated with bison cows from the Denver City Zoo. They have thrived over the years.

Since we did not see the bison in the meadow on the north side of the interstate, we drove back to the south side towards Genesee Park. There is actually a tunnel that the bison can use to travel under the interstate from one side to the other.  It connects the south and middle pasture to the north pastures.

Genesee Park is Denver's first and largest mountain park at 2,413 acres. We began to drive up Genesee Mountain which ascends from its base at 6,000 feet to its 8,284 feet summit.

As we drove, we finally saw the bison herd!  Twenty new calves were born this past spring, and if you look closely you can see them, as they are lighter in color.

The bison were eating machines, enjoying the wild grasses in the meadow.  The Bison is North America's largest land animal.  Males can stand six feet high and weigh between 1,000 to 2,000 pounds.  Females stand up to five feet tall and weigh 800 to 1,00 pounds. They are herbivores, grazing on grasses and sedges.

We enjoyed watching the bison for quite awhile.  The bison have about 743 fenced in acres to roam, and the herd numbers are kept under control, in order that they will have enough to eat.  Excess bison are auctioned off to help pay veterinary and maintenance fees.  Today, wild bison number around 19,820 nationwide, according to the Denver based National Bison Association.  An estimated 250,000 head are raised on ranches for hides and meat, although many of those bison have been interbreed with cattle, or carry cattle traits.  The largest herd of free roaming bison today are in Yellowstone National Park, with approximately 3,500 bison.

After watching the bison herd we then took a drive up towards the summit of Mt. Genesee. The day was overcast and threatening rain, but we could still see some of the distant mountain ranges.

When we arrived at the parking area near the summit we saw this couple enjoying the peaceful view and cool mountain air.

This collage are some of the berries, flowers and grasses we saw along Mt. Genesse's summit trail.   Photo upper left: Baneberry, photo upper right: Smooth Goldenrod, photo lower left: Gray Golden Aster, photo middle bottom: Hoary Alyssum. Last photo bottom right is of wild grasses.

The word Genesee is a Native American word for "shining valley" and seeing bison roam relatively free in this park was a shining moment for me!  I'll be looking for them again on future trips to Genesse Park.

Come back next blog post where I'll show you our exciting drive up to 14,000 feet on Mt. Evans. It's the highest paved road in North America!

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Digging Up the Past!

One wonderful activity my husband and I partook in this summer took place in Douglas County. We enjoyed driving south east through the high plains under the deep blue Colorado sky.  Even though we were on fairly flat ground, the altitude was close to 7,000 feet high!  All the while as we were driving we had a view of the Rocky Mountain range in the distance.  (All photos in this post will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)

We then headed even further east, away from this majestic view of Pike's Peak.

We pulled into a parking lot where we waited until we were met by an SUV, that led us to a secret location.

Our destination?  It was an archaeological dig being conducted by the Colorado Archaeological Society (CAS).  We were invited to see the dig site by the historical society in our community, of which we are members. The CAS has an interest in the history and pre-history of humans in Colorado and were conducting this dig in a site that they knew had a deep history of being used by prehistoric people, Native Americans and early Spanish and American explorers to this land. The reason the site was basically being kept a secret is that they plan on returning it to its natural state when they are finished with their exploration.

This area was also the site of an early pioneer homesteads, primarily for two reasons. One of which was that there was a water source nearby, as you can see by this old pump house still pulling water from the ground....

...and secondly, because there was a rock cave shelter nearby. If you look closely at the photo above you can see how one of the last tenants of a farmhouse on this land closed up a portion of the rock cave entrance with bricks and a wooden slat door in the middle.  He probably used the cave as a storage space for food and other supplies.

A view inside the cave.

Native Americans also used caves such as this as shelter, as well as past explorers to this land.

Artifacts from these past peoples were in the process of being found by the archaeological team.  Knowing that there would have been camp areas around the cave, they dug deep trenches in various positions in front of it.

All the dirt that was removed from the trenches was carefully sorted through screens, such as this one, and anything significant is removed for examination.

Pieces of petrified wood were discovered.... well as spear heads, arrowheads, ancient awls, bones, and pieces of cooking tools and other hunting weapons.

It takes a trained eye to identify the artifacts as being important! The CAS has been conducting the dig for months, and uses radio carbon assays to date the artifacts. One of the earliest artifacts found was a spear head that dated from 8,000 years ago!  My husband and I found it so fascinating to watch the work being done and see some of the discoveries of the day.  We hope to become members of the CAS one day to learn more about Colorado's rich prehistoric and historic past and to volunteer for future digs.

Before we left the dig site I took some photos of the wildflowers in the area.  If you look closely at the photo bottom left, you can see that there was a creepy crawly bug on one! I did not see that until I enlarged the photograph--I'm not sure what it is but it has a thick brown body and very long legs!  I'm glad it did not jump up on me at the time, or my camera would have also become history! (smile) Does anyone have any idea of what it is?

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