Prairie Falcons, Pictographs and More!
All of the (online) art challenges and my addiction to the outdoors, are meshing into a life where one interest feeds and enhances the others.
My man and I love to go hiking and birding. So as soon as the snow had melted off the prairie we headed out to the plains for a camping/hiking/birding trip. We may have jumped the gun at bit as we had to retreat to modern shelter twice during this trip.
We went to a place we hadn’t been to together for about ten years. Indian Caves in the Pawnee National Grasslands. It used to be a favorite place, but crotchety ranchers, mining operations and the explosion in the cactus population had us going elsewhere.
The ‘caves’ are actually a deep and wide series of south facing overhangs. They are located on public lands. If you look you can find pictographs that stir your imagination. When we first camped here we slept in the caves near the pristine spring and the kids were fascinated with the pictographs and spent hours sifting through the dirt looking for arrowheads. We did find some ‘knapped stones, I can’t remember if we ever found a complete ‘head.
The bad things:
The cattle population has left the actual caves knee-deep in dried, pulverized manure with more recent secretions deposited on the top layer. The spring is a smelly mud hole with larvae and flies. Pee-eweeeee! The mining operations that are above the caves on the top of the ridge have caused parts of the cave ceilings to fall down.
The pictographs are still there. Any one of them is no bigger than my hand except for the line of counting markers. Getting to them is not a pleasant experience anymore.
The good things:
Another reason we stopped going out to the Indian Caves was that the USFS and DOW started closing the area in the spring because Prairie Falcons were nesting there and actually thriving. Spring is the only time we humans like to go there because the summer and fall are way too hot. Winter is just winter.
The Prairie Falcons are still there, although it looked like there was only one adult around the nest. Those birds are intense and I would not have been surprised if it had attacked. Because of all the ‘bad things’ people no longer trek out there and the DOW no longer closes the area. Disclaimer: We are very conscientious and though we could have climbed right to the nest, as soon as we realized it was occupied we left. We got some pictures of the falcon flying, but they were too far away to really see – thus the picture from Wikipedia.
We also located a huge nest that two Red-tailed Hawks were jealously guarding, but alas we also found the remains of a young (most probably) Red-tailed at the spring below that nest.
The other thing that occupies us while camping are the wildflowers. My man is a botanist and loves keying out and identifying the different flowers. I like to draw them. My goal this trip was to draw a flower every day of the trip. One of the things that had us seeking modern human shelter was winds of over 30 mph at below freezing temperatures. This wind also has all the early flowers adapted to being low growing and prone to hiding in the rocks. (This is short-grass prairie.)
As you can see – the botanist comes up with some of the names. The weather usually co-operates when we go out. This time was the exception. The wind was really bad the first two days. If we stayed in the sun and close to the cliffs we could manage even though my watercolor dried so fast I couldn’t do much blending. The second evening we were dealing with wildly gusting winds and wondering what to do. It was blowing so hard I couldn’t walk up on the top of the cliffs. We hung around camp fooling with the flowers and having a nice lazy time. Then the temperature dropped and we were wrapped in camp blankets, shivering in below freezing gusts of over 30 mph – and then I started worrying about tornadoes. That tore it. We packed up and headed for shelter. We returned a day and a half later when the sun reappeared also. Here are the flowers I managed to get on paper.
I used my Neocolor water color crayons, Micron pen .05 and gusty wind for drying. Sketched with pencil then added pen lines and watercolor.
Almost forgot – Another change that has occurred in the past 3 years is the installation of several hundred windmills. In this case you would have to think of them as wind powered electricity generators or turbines. They are huge and every once in a while they would loom up over the horizon as we traveled, giving the sense the movies aimed at when the “Indians” loomed up, silhouetted on the skyline.