Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ready for spring already!

What a year this has been!

I am settling in and enjoying small town life in northwestern Kansas. The windmill picture is from rural Phillips County, taken in mid-October when I was out measuring irrigation well depths for work.

I've had quite a few adventures this past summer and fall, so I hope to get a few of those posted soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Current Update and Future Plans...

This picture was taken by Mitch in my office of an owl he saw at a cattle feedyard. I'm not familiar enough with owls to know what species this is exactly.

I will be retiring this blog and establishing a new blog in the near future. I am moving away from Garden City and the reason I established this blog is to promote this area and especially the Sandsage Bison Range. Since I will no longer be involved with those activities, I will be starting a new blog that will detail my travels from now and into the future. I am moving to a new area of Kansas with many new things to see and do.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the Sandsage Prairie Adventures blog and I will keep it alive because there are a lot of pictures and memories that are preserved here. I will probably post a link to my new blog when I get it set up.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Friends of the Zoo annual meeting

On January 29th I attended the annual meeting of the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo. We had an awesome catered supper and then listened to a rundown of what the Friends group was up to in 2008. This is a group with over 3,000 members and an income of $87,000. Nearly $40k of that was just from memberships alone. Wow! The big push right now is funding for the new "Cat Canyon" exhibit and the group has raised just over half of the $600k needed.

The thing I enjoy the most about this annual meeting is the speakers they bring in. Last year was awesome and this year was too. The speaker was Craig Piper, the director of the Denver Zoo. He talked for over an hour about elephants, which is a controversial subject for a lot of zoos including Garden City, which is home to a pair of aging female African elephants. One criticism is that elephants need space and the exciting thing is the new elephant exhibit being built in Denver. It will be a huge 11 acre area and the animals (including elephants) will be rotated from one pasture to another througout the day within the enclosure. When he got to "elephants walking overhead on a bridge", I was sold!

Another really cool thing is that the Denver Zoo will be converting 95% of the animal waste plus human garbage to energy via a process called gasification. This has been done for large industries before, but not on a small scale and could have huge implications for waste management and energy production in the future. He got a laugh out of everyone when he said the zoo just didn't have enough poo to run the system, so they'll have to add garbage too.

A lot of Craig's presentation was about the struggle of wild elephants and how the African elephant population dropped from millions in the 1970s to only about 1/2 million in 2008. Zoos are hoping to establish a viable population of elephants in order to preserve the species. The problem is that male elephants are difficult to house and therefore most zoos do not have the space to breed elephants (in other words, housing the male babies once they are not so small and cute anymore). Enter The National Elephant Center.

The National Elephant Center is a new 300 acre facility being built in central Florida, just north of Lake Okeechobee. It will serve as a training facility for all elephant handlers in AZA-accedited zoos and also provide a stop-over place for elephants who's enclosures are being rebuilt around the US. The main thing is the Center will be an important part of the AZA elephant breeding program.

I can't wait to see the Denver Zoo elephant exhibit once it opens and I definitely have a lot of respect and admiration for the good job being done by the elephant keepers at the Lee Richardson Zoo. Oh, and I can't wait to go see the new sloth bears either. Apparently they are very playful!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2009 awaits!

Not much has been going on for me in the winter months. With the warm January temps I half expect the bison tours to start picking up, but last year was slow because it seemed like people just wern't traveling. Apparently I missed that memo because I have quite a few travel plans for 2009!

In late March or early April, I hope to head to the Sedan area in southeast Kansas to see the redbud tree blossoms. (There is an actual redbud festival.) My wonderful coworker Sue has relatives in that area so she's going to show me the sights. I will be back in that general area in the fall for the Native Plant Society's annual meeting, so I'll get to see the spring and fall wildflowers!

I hope to meet my parents sometime in Denver to tour the sights and visit the botanical gardens for sure. Then in early May I plan to attend the Barber County wildflower walk in Medicine Lodge. I enjoyed it last year so I hope we go to new wildflower locations this year. I have learned to stay at a motel in Pratt though...

June will be a busy month. The first weekend there is a spring wildflower tour at the Maxwell Bison Range just south of Salina and I also want to see the Rolling Hills Zoo. The weekend after that I am attending a friend's wedding in Manhattan. Packed alongside my high heels will be my hiking boots because I plan to take a stroll or two around the Konza prairie. I've always wanted to be in that area in the spring and now I have a reason! Yaa for love and to-death-do-us-part!

Then I will be in Nebraska for the 4th of July holiday and I will definitely make it back out to the Spring Creek Prairie. The wildflowers were wonderful last year and I got some amazing pictures! Not so excited about the ticks though... September will be another busy month with a fall wildflower tour at the Maxwell Bison Range one week, then my cousin's wedding in Hebron NE the next week, and the weekend after that the Native Plant Society annual meeting in SE KS. Busy busy busy!

I hope to travel even more than what I've talked about, so be sure to check back here often for updates! Have a great year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tour of John Martin Reservoir Dam in southeastern Colorado, Dec. 9th

View of John Martin Reservoir dam, on the Kansas-facing east side.

On Tuesday this week I was fortunate to participate in a tour of John Martin Reservoir (JMR) Dam. I've been working with issues involving that reservoir for 2 years now but have not seen inside the dam before. We got a guided tour from a Corps of Engineers employee and we visited the 3 levels in the dam. The 2 levels that were actually inside the dam are just long corridors with 1 row of lights to help see. Our guide told us a story about when he was working inside the dam and the lights went out and he had to walk about 1/2 a mile in pitch black before he could get out. Now he carries a flashlight, even though emergency lights were installed. The inside of the dam was like an echo chamber and when those loud pumps start running it could really freak you out in the dark!

* Click on the pictures for a larger view *

The dam was completed in 1948 and it is amazing that most all the equipment like pumps are still original issue. JMR is 60 years old, but the tour guide said that it was built so well that it's only aged about 25 years. I can vouch for that because there was only a trickle of water running in the gutters in the very bottom level of the dam. My favorite part was climbing along the outdoor catwalk level just below the road that goes across the dam. Definitely not a place for those scared of heights! Below is a picture of the west-facing side of the dam, and the bottom picture is the east side of the dam with Lake Hasty below JMR and the Arkansas River heading towards Kansas.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Deer close-call!!

I was driving back to Garden City after spending Saturday with friends in Hays and I saw a buck heading towards the highway and if I hadn't slowed down I probably would have hit it! The buck actually stopped on the side of the road and looked at me before crossing the road. I got a close enough look to see that it was missing an antler. This was a good reminder to be careful and watch for deer this time of year. I had my camera sitting on the seat so I snapped a couple pictures!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Arkansas River pictures

Here are pictures of the Arkansas River in Kansas. Below is a picture of the river at Kendall, which is a tiny town 40 miles west of Garden City. Note all the salt cedar lining the banks of the river. Salt cedar is a non-native plant that uses about 2x the amount of water compared to native plants like willow and cottonwood.

Below is a picture of the Amazon Ditch headgates where water is taken from the river and put in the Amazon Ditch to carry surface water to farmers. The headgate is located between Kendall and Lakin and is about 35 miles from Garden City.

Below is a picture of the Arkansas River at Ingalls, which is a tiny town 28 miles east of Garden City. The river looks like this currently from about 20 miles west of Garden City, but sometimes it gets within a couple miles of Garden City during a wet year.

Interesting info...

I had a curious moment this morning and found myself looking up the population for towns I am familiar with in KS and CO. How bored am I? Actually, this weekend someone told me that Liberal KS was a big as Garden City and I just couldn't believe it so I hit the internet this morning and found that Garden City is about 10,000 more people than Liberal. Ha!

South & west KS:
Garden City ~30,000 people
Dodge City ~26,000
Liberal ~20,000
Hays ~20,000
Scott City ~3,900
Lakin ~2,100
Syracuse ~1,900

Central & East KS:
Salina ~46,000
Manhattan ~50,000
Topeka ~122,000
Wichita ~360,000

Colorado cities I frequent:
Lamar ~8,900
La Junta ~7,500
Pueblo ~102,000

My hometown of Crete, Nebr. ~6,100
My college town of Kearney, Nebr. ~27,500
Lincoln, Nebr. ~226,000
My grad school town of Fargo, North Dakota ~93,000
My western North Dakota job town of Dickinson ~16,000

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What is it?

*Click on the picture for a larger view*

Above is a picture taken yesterday by Mitch in my office. I think this is a bull snake because there isn't a rattle and the snake is already a foot long. I ran into a similar-sized snake in North Dakota and it definitely rattled. The snake's coloring is enough to give you quite a jolt though!

** Update ** I have recently been bragging about my awesome rattlesnake pictures (from summer 2006 in western North Dakota) so I figured I better post them to back up my claims! Enjoy! Or slowly back away from your computer and scream for help...

Monday, October 13, 2008

(Rainy) weekend in Colorado Springs

Yet another weekend adventure took me to the base of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. I was in Colorado Springs to visit my uncle with my parents in tow and we had a great time even though the weather was dreary. Saturday was 40 degrees all day with intermittent sprinkles and rain. Still, we spent nearly an hour that morning wandering (frozen) through the Garden of the Gods. That was awesome with the trees turning fall colors among the rock formations. I did notice that there are a few rotton apples in the Garden of the Gods, in the form of a nasty plant called burdock. I hope somebody in Colorado Springs is herbicide-friendly enough to spray the burdock, otherwise yet another invasive plant will continue to degrade our nation's natural treasures.

** Burdock **

On the way back to Garden City we stopped at Bent's Old Fort aka "Castle on the Plains" (Website: This reconstructed fort from the 1840s is really neat and fun to explore. The fort was originally built by fur traders and it played a major role in the history of the west. Did you know that all the land south of the Arkansas River used to be part of Mexico? That's why Bent's Fort was located and then rebuilt on the north side of the river! While my parents and I were exploring the fort I made friends with the local black cat (Halloween!) and it followed me all over and is in most of my pictures of the fort. The fort is located off the beaten path, but is definitely worth visiting, especially if you have kids. I know I made the $ouviner $hop owner a happy person!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Native Plant Society meeting in Hays

KNPS members at a location just north of Hays, KS

This past weekend was one of my most anticipated times of the year. I got together with 50 to 60 fellow plant lovers and we spent the weekend hiking and enjoying the last few plants that haven't given up for the year. I enjoy having the opportunity to travel to areas of Kansas that I haven't seen before and to do so with a group of people who love being outdoors.

The focus of this year's meeting was medicinal and cultural uses of native plants. We heard about the harvesting of wild populations of Echinacea (purple coneflower) for the medical industry. Its good to know that Echinacea is resilient even after people have over-harvested the plant throughout the midwest. Echinacea roots are used as an herbal treatment in Europe and the U.S. for medical maladies such as the common cold.

On Sunday the group met at Wilson Lake, 45 minutes east of Hays. Being from southwestern Kansas, I was amazed at the volume of water in the reservoir because we don't have anything like that in the dry, sandhills area of Garden City. The scenery was beautiful and a lot of native plants were still blooming. We hiked a 3-mile trail and I saw several plants I've never seen before. Several people in the group are plant experts and can identify every plant and we even had an insect expert in the group. I am always awestruck to be around that level of expertise and experience and I can only hope to know a tiny fraction of what they carry around in their heads all the time. Plus, you can tell that everyone is enjoying themselves and doesn't want the weekend to end.

It was a great mini-vacation for me and I look forward to next year when we are supposed to travel to extreme southeastern Kansas. It will be a whole new world to me!

Click on the picture for an up-close look at a scorpion and notice the red/orange parasitic mites on the scorpion. Too cool!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Saturday trip to Scott City area

I spent all day Saturday with my coworker Sue in the Scott City area, which is a half hour north of Garden City. First, we went to the annual Whimmydiddle (I kid you not) arts and craft show and I enjoyed that WAY too much. Then Sue and I drove around Scott Lake, which is about 10 miles north of Scott City. We saw a rafter (group) of about 20 turkeys cross the road. I also walked in the cool water along the designated beach area, but was chased out by the unwanted arrival of a van full of pre-teen, church camp boys. Annoying! So then I took Sue's suggestion and we drove further north to one of the many natural wonders of Kansas, called Monument Rocks. The "rock" formations are actually clay bluffs that spring out of the otherwise flat landscape. Pretty impressive. I enjoyed climbing all over the bluffs and I saw a toad along with several neat plants. I had lots of fun taking pictures of the sun shining over the bluffs and through holes in the bluffs. Yes, I may have too much time on my hands, but what a way to spend it!

**Click on the pictures for a larger view**

Monday, September 22, 2008

Work in southeastern Colorado

*Click on the pictures for a larger view*

My office's water engineer and I drove around southeastern Colorado for 3 days checking on problems we found during our spring "dryup acres" inspections. See my June blog entry below for that trip. Basically we're looking for illegal irrigation and over-use of water on Colorado fields where no river surface water is supposed to be applied in order for Colorado to honor its water agreements with Kansas. We had a run-in with an unhappy farmer who said "don't you have anything better to do", but if we turn a blind eye to his problem then the other 80 problem fields we identified would be treated the same way, much to the detriment of Kansas farmers and irrigators. We felt sorry for the guy because he didn't know there was a problem with his field due to a breakdown in communication within the Colorado agencies. On the other hand, our view is that we'd like to see the landowners be pro-active rather than re-active on these issues.

*Update* I just compiled the numbers and this year my coworker and I visited over 60,000 acres (over 2,200 individual fields) of cropland/farmland in southeastern Colorado. Just to give you some perspective, a football field is 1.3 acres in size. Still, 60,000 acres is only about 19% of the Ark River basin which has a total of 318,000 acres of farmland. It isn't hard to see why there are water shortages.

What I love the most about fieldwork is the wildlife and wildflowers. Over 3 days we saw at least a dozen deer and I took several pictures of wildflowers. My coworker tried to catch a wasp that was laying eggs on a live caterpiller (for his son's bug collection for school), but after several capture attempts he gave up. Having an angry wasp trapped in a Taco Bell cup inside the truck wasn't my idea of a good time anyway. I can handle nature-stuff as long as it isn't mad at me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another day out of the office...

I spent all day reading 20 center-pivot irrigation meters in southeastern Finney County. I was so excited when I drove up to this one center pivot and saw an ornate box turtle crossing the road. I caught up with (her) before she fled into the corn rows. I have seen turtles on the prairie but never in a cornfield!

My day was going well until I started back for Garden City and noticed the work truck wasn't driving quite right. When I stopped to fill up with E85 gas, I noticed that the back driver's side tire was pretty low. As I was getting the tire fixed I took a picture of a hawk that had been rescued from traffic on Kansas Avenue by the tire workers. I don't know what happened to it, but it didn't want to fly. Pretty cute though! Whenever a person would approach it, the hawk would extend its wings out to make itself look bigger and supposably scarier, but that backfired because it made me want to take more pictures and get closer!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A day out of the office...

I got to get out of the office today to read irrigation meters. I don't normally do fieldwork with irrigation wells, so I tend to forget things like "wear hearing protection around a running well motor" and "take the cell phone with you before you walk a 1/4 mile out to a pivot center and can't find the meter". At least I am getting exercise! I'm glad I threw my boots in the truck because I had to walk 1/4 mile to another pivot center and the road was really muddy because the pivot was running!

Before today whenever I went out to read well meters I would wonder around the countryside not really knowing where I was, trying to drive and read a paper map at the same time, and hoping I ended up at the right well. Today, I took my work laptop with a GPS hooked into it and knew right where I was and where I was headed because I could see myself on the computer map (as a little blinking dot) as I was driving. I'll never have to ask for directions again! Yaa for technology! Now I need to figure out how to keep the laptop from flying off the seat when I slam on the breaks...