Day 5: A full day of coulee exploration and wildlife discovery

“We hiked far up Bull Springs Coulee this morning, past fantastic hoodoos and deeply cut bentonite cliffs. A few dinosaur bone fragments were found, but nothing significant, and an elk antler was seen high up on a cliff edge.

We encountered a very defensive Prairie Falcon, and after watching her aerial theatrics, we worked out where the eyrie was, high on a sandstone cliff shelf.  At least two very young, down-covered “bobble-heads” could be seen.  When we passed by the site later in the morning, a second falcon joined in the aerial defense performance.

At the point where we decided to exit the coulee to access the height of land, we followed a game trail up and out of the valley bottom.  Half way up, we came across a dead deer fawn! The eyes were still moist, and no scavengers had yet found the tiny animal.

Some 150 or so meters above the river, we reached the prairie highlands.  Views in every direction showed no buildings, vehicles or people.  Gas and oil well heads dotted the landscape of course, but except for the ubiquitous white “No Trespassing” signs located every 100 meters for the military lands, it was classic, rolling native short grass prairie.

A Sprague’s pipit called from high above us, and Meadowlarks calls were a constant, as were Lark sparrows.  The moisture from the rains were quickly sucked up by the land, and a green flush has appeared. The wildflowers were a treat for the eyes: miniature gardens of mauve harebells, orange gaillardia, yellow Hawk’s beard and goldenrod, red scarlet mallow, white yarrow and prairie aster, pink showy milkweed and thistles all created bright splashes of colour in a brown and grey landscape. The scents of wolf willow and milkweed were lovely. New plants to us were grease wood and skunk bush shrubs.

We descended back into our valley via one of the prairie ridges, and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon waiting for the mid-day heat to dissipate.

After dinner, we ventured back out, this time ascending up a different route.  Dee found a nesting Nighthawk quietly sitting on her nest as we hiked up the steep slope, and we scared up a mule deer doe which bolted from her unseen resting site just meters from us.  As she made her escape, she gained a ridge to the river far below.  Her silhouette against that backdrop made for a powerful visual moment.

Height of land elevation: 2,543′ (775m), and our camp: 1,971′ (602m)…..so we climbed just under 600′ from our camp.”

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