It was not your typical spring morning – no dew on the grass nor fresh smell of a new day. In typical Colorado fashion, the weather threw a curve ball at a hopeful AXL Academy CAP crew. It was an overcast, cold day, with a high probability of rain and snow. But the crew hardly noticed. They were too excited to go out for their class field day! After packing gear and making lunches at the school, they set off in the van to the destination, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.
As soon as the crew set foot in the wildlife refuge Mother Nature blew cold winds over the prairie, letting them know she was ready for them. The clouds obscured the view of the mountains and Denver’s high rises; it was as though they had gone very far from home. The crew was not phased by the wind or cold though. They put on cold weather gear and headed out to meet a park ranger who introduced them to two endangered black-footed ferrets. After saying goodbye to the ferrets who were having their breakfast, they stopped at the visitor center to get maps and made a plan to document every animal they would see.
The crew set off to the Lake Mary Loop where they were greeted by several species of waterfowl that were recorded on their clipboard. Halfway around Lake Mary, Mother Nature was intent on challenging us and sent blowing snow directly down on the crew, who were practicing techniques for staying warm and alert in cold conditions. The AXL Academy CAP crew showed Mother Nature that they had grit and began a game of “Who Stole My Red Dead Monkey?”. They crossed the floating boardwalk seeing Cormorants hunting for fish in the lake and spiderwebs hung with frozen condensation.
Finishing their hike, the crew headed back to the van where they shared a healthy meal. They were surprised by a small herd of deer that was bedded down in a grove of trees. After lunch, they started the wildlife refuge’s self guided nature drive to spot bison in their natural environment. In between seeing more deer, starlings, magpies and what looked like an owl, the crew took time to bond with each other. They talked about the school dance that was coming up and how special this trip was. They had been tested by the elements and had come out on top during their hike. As a reward for their optimism, a herd of 100 bison stopped nearby. As they passed around the binoculars, they learned that newborn bison are cinnamon colored which helps them hide from canine predators in green grass.
The crew moved on to the visitor’s center looking at the exhibit relics of the wildlife refuge’s past – an old rotary telephone, a hazmat suit from the 1950s and even an old control panel. Each crew member looked for details on one of the animals they had seen during the day at the visitor center (in total they saw 24 animal species!). We learned that a Scaup is type of duck that has colors like a magpie and that black-footed ferrets eat prairie dogs! Even though Mother Nature had tried to challenge the AXL crew, they showed they had a lot of grit and were strengthened in their bonds of friendship by the experience.
Written by CAP Instructor Ronald Cole
See more photos from our trip here!