Monument Valley isn’t a national park, but it has all the beauty and stature of one, especially if you grew up on a diet of western movies. After a stop at Four Corners, my sister and I ventured deeper into Navajo Country. The flat land is endless as far as you can see. Miles from nowhere, there is almost no visible life except for one creature — a bird.
This is the land of the raven. Everything we spotted with the exception of one grouse, was a raven. As we weren’t seeing much of anything else, it was a little eerie. The valley is in Utah, but in this land where four states meet, we were constantly crossing borders.
The trip’s goal was to see all four of Colorado’s national parks plus several other places known for their beauty and interesting history. Colorado had been on our bucket lists for many years. A friend from childhood always talked about Grand Lake, Colorado, as if it was the most beautiful place on earth. It is beautiful, and its history of mining, railroads and colorful little towns adds to its fascination. When visiting a state you haven’t seen before, its national parks are a good place to start.
Seeing new birds and species we haven’t seen in a long time also was part of the plan, but the breath-taking scenery, small towns and friendly people made this trip two weeks of fun and adventure.
There were interesting birds such as the black-billed magpie, the Southwest version of our Steller’s jay with its white eyebrows. There also were pinyon jays, gray jays, mountain chickadees, mountain bluebirds, Townsend’s solitaires and other high-elevation species. The hoped-for white-tailed ptarmigan eluded us but there’s always another trip, another place.
The old mining town of Ouray is snuggled deep in the mountains and the area’s hot springs are part of its history. Like hot springs around the world, Ouray’s water attracts bathers seeking relief from a variety of ailments. Even the hotel where we stayed, Box Canyon Lodge, had its own hot springs source. If nothing else, a soak in the mineral springs is a good tonic for tired travelers.
Yet, once the sun reaches deep into this valley in the morning, the birds begin waking up all around you. Calls like that of the mountain chickadee were familiar, but one was a mystery. Was it a pinyon jay or a Clark’s nutcracker? It stayed hidden in the tree where we knew it was located, but it was later in the trip that this mystery bird was identified. I’ve seen black-billed magpies many times and in many different places, but I obviously never learned their call.
A walk around Bear Lake, in the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park, gave us more glimpses of familiar species such as the spotted towhee, northern junco and more mountain chickadees. Gray jays and their famous charm were the walk’s highlight. When we took advantage of one of the trail’s benches, they joined us.
In her book, “Heart of a Peacock,” Emily Carr (1871-1945) wrote: “To be honored by the trust of wild things is to have one’s self-esteem hoisted. Condescension from great humans does not pride one as confidence from wild creatures does. When cocked heads and round curious eyes stare at you direct, when winged timidness stays on human level instead of lifting to bird freedom, it raises one’s faith in humanity and in one’s self.”
This country has many wonderful places to see and people to meet, and our national parks are a good place to start.
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