Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Point of Rocks

15-Point of Rocks

Recent restoration of the Point of Rocks Stage Station makes it easier to visualize pre-railroad days. Ruts to the left of the building mark the route of the Overland Trail. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published August 18, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Overland Trail relay stage station is a precursor to the truck stop.”

By Barb Gorges

The rocky cliffs rise high above the convenience store at the Point of Rocks exit, located on the north side of I-80. Stop there for gas, food, water and the restrooms since the original stagecoach stop has been out of business for over 100 years.

When you’re refreshed, cross under the Interstate and explore the precursor to the truck stop.

Imagine the hustle and bustle in the years before the railroad arrived. Around the barn, now only a sandstone foundation, new teams are being hitched to stagecoaches, and many passengers and supplies are transferred to wagons for the trip north to the gold mining districts.

Ben Holladay bought the overland mail delivery contract, but in 1862, the U.S. government asked him to find a safer alternative to the Oregon Trail across Wyoming. Even after the arrival of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1868, the Overland Trail continued to be used, even as late as 1900.

The Overland Trail continued west, on to Ft. Bridger, Salt Lake City and California.

Point of Rocks Stage Station State Historic Site

Directions: I-80 Exit 130, south, then west on frontage road about ¼ mile, then south over railroad tracks.

Open: Year round.

Admission: Free.

Address: Point of Rocks

Phone: 307-332-3688

Web site: http://wyoparks.state.wy.us

Attractions: self-guided tour. No visitor amenities.

Time: Allow 1 hour.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet breeding?

Ruby-crowned_Kinglet-wikipedia

Male Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle June 19, 2016, “New bird on the block singing, maybe breeding.”

By Barb Gorges

There is a new bird on our block. It’s a loud bird. That’s how I know it is here, even though it is tiny, 4.25 inches long, and prefers to hang out unseen around the tops of mature spruce trees while gleaning insects and spiders.

The ruby-crowned kinglet, despite its name, is not a brightly-colored bird. It is mostly an olive-gray-green, with one white wing-bar. Only the male has the red crown patch and he may show it when singing, but the red feathers really stand up like a clown’s fright wig when he’s around other male ruby-crowneds.

We get a variety of small migrating songbirds in our Cheyenne yard in May: lazuli bunting, pine siskin, clay-colored sparrow, and even our first ever yellow-breasted chat this year.

This isn’t the first time for a ruby-crowned kinglet in our yard. I recorded one at www.eBird.org on April 25, 2012, and another April 24, 2015. They are usually on their way to the mountains to nest in the coniferous forest of spruce, pine and fir.

The difference this year is that beginning May 8 I’ve been hearing one every day. My hopes are up. Maybe it is going to nest. My neighborhood has the requisite mature spruce trees.

I talked to Bob Dorn May 27, but he thought that it was still too early to suspect breeding. They might have been waiting out cold spring weather before heading to the mountains. Bob is the co-author of “Wyoming Birds” with his wife, Jane Dorn. Their map for the ruby-crowned kinglet shows an “R” for the Cheyenne area, “Resident”—observed in winter and summer with breeding confirmed.

The Dorns’ breeding record is from the cemetery, where they saw kinglet nestlings being fed July 18, 1993. They also suspected breeding was taking place at the High Plains Grasslands Research Station just west of the city June 2, 1989 and June 15, 1990.

For more recent summer observations that could indicate breeding in Cheyenne, I looked at eBird, finding three records between July 3 and July 7 in the last five years, including Lions Park. There were also a couple late June observations at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch and Lions Park in 2014.

I first learned the ruby-crowned kinglet’s distinctive song in Wyoming’s mountains. You’ve probably heard it too. Listen at www.allaboutbirds.org. It has two parts, starting with three hard-to-hear notes, “tee-tee-tee”, as ornithologist C.A. Bent explained it in the 1940s, followed by five or six lower “tu or “tur” notes. The second half is the loudest, and sometimes given alone, “tee-da-leet, tee-da-leet, te-da-leet.”

Those who have studied the song say it can be heard for more than half a mile. The females sing a version during incubation and when nestlings are young. The males can sing while gleaning insects from trees and while eating them. Neighboring kinglets have distinctive signature second halves of the song and males can apparently establish their territories well enough by singing that they can avoid physical border skirmishes.

Actual nesting behavior is not well documented because it is hard to find an open cup nest that measures only 4 inches wide by 5 to 6 inches deep when it is camouflaged in moss, feathers, lichens, spider webs, and pieces of bark, twigs and rootlets—and located 40 feet up a densely branched spruce tree.

The female kinglet builds the nest in five days, lining it with more feathers, plant down, fine grass, lichens and fur. She may lay as many as eight eggs. The nest stretches as both parents feed the growing nestlings tiny caterpillars, crickets, moths, butterflies and ant pupae.

Ruby-crowned kinglets winter in the Pacific coast states and southern states, but breed throughout the Rockies and Black Hills and in a swath from Maine to Alaska. If my neighborhood kinglet stays to breed, it will be one more data point expanding the breeding range further out onto the prairie.

While kinglets are not picky about habitat during migration, for breeding they demand mature spruce-fir or similar forest. Particular communities of kinglets decrease in the wake of beetle epidemics, salvage logging and fires. However, the 2016 State of the Birds report, www.2016stateoftheBirds.org, shows them in good shape overall, scoring a 6 on a scale from 4 to 20. High scores would indicate trouble due to small or downward trending population, or threats to the species and its habitats during breeding and non-breeding seasons.

As of June 13 [now June 19], the kinglet is still singing—all day long. If it is nesting on my block this summer, I must thank the residents who planted spruce trees here 50 years ago. What a nice legacy.

We should plant some more.

Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop Tour

17-Wild Horse Loop BLM photo

Wild horses roam on 392,000 acres of the White Mountain Wild Horse Herd Management Area. A scenic drive takes you through its heart. Photo courtesy of the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management State Office.

Published Aug. 6, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “See wild horses on loop drive or in Rock Springs corrals.”

By Barb Gorges

Whatever your beliefs are about wild horses, prized native species or feral cow ponies, you should also drive this loop tour for the wildflowers and vistas. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to find horses and give some feeling of depth to views of distant ranges as you drive the long crest of White Mountain.

The White Mountain Wild Horse Herd Management Area covers 392,000 acres of checkerboard lands. Square miles alternate between private ownership and U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, but there are no fences and few other man-made structures, although a wind farm is planned.

You can’t miss evidence of horses along the road. Stud horses build up piles of droppings to mark their territory and locating them on the road gives the stud piles better visibility.

If the horses stay off in the distance, or the weather or your vehicle make the road unsuitable to drive, check out the Wild Horse Viewing Area in Rock Springs. The corrals can have as many as 500 horses after a roundup, with many available through BLM’s adoption program.

Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop Tour

Directions: I-80 Exit 104 north on State Hwy 191 for 14 miles from Rock Springs, then left on Co. Rd. 4-14 for 2.5 miles, left on Co. Rd. 4-53 for 21.5 miles to Green River, coming out east of I-80 Exit 89. Return to Rock Springs on I-80.

Wild horse corral viewing area: I-80 Exit 104, north on Elk St., right on Lionkol Road and 1.2 miles to corral overlook. Free, open year round.

Open: Year round, weather permitting. High clearance vehicle preferred.

Admission: Free.

Phone: Rock Springs Bureau of Land Management office, 307-352-0256

Web site: www.blm.gov/wy

Attractions: Wild horses. Bring your binoculars. Also views of Rock Springs and Green River from the top of White Mountain, and 8 interpretive signs.

Time: Allow at least 1 hour just for driving.

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Indian paintbrush is one of the wildflowers found along the loop. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Wyoming Roadside Attraction: Flaming Gorge

16-Flaming Gorge Confluence

The glow of the setting sun on the sandstone cliffs illustrates the origins of Flaming Gorge’s name. At the confluence of the Green and Black’s Fork rivers, the cliffs aren’t so high, but neither is the noise level. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published August 22, 2009, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Visit a quieter stretch of the popular Flaming Gorge reservoir.”

By Barb Gorges

Flaming Gorge Dam was built in the 1960s on the Green River about 30 miles south of the Utah – Wyoming border. The reservoir it created was designated a National Recreation Area.

If you want to avoid the marinas and all the people, check out the road to the confluence of the Green and Black’s Fork rivers, preferably arriving in time for sunset when the red sandstone cliffs “flame.”

The cliffs are larger closer to the dam, but here, especially in the middle of the week, you are more likely to encounter solitude and wildlife.

The turnoff from the highway is labeled “Lost Dog.” We weren’t sure if the name pertains to the road, the area, or a notice tacked along the roadside perpetuated as a standard highway sign.

Even if you don’t fish, the road is worth the drive. A rattlesnake crossed in front of us, curious antelope stood before us, and sage grouse flew up beside us.

Down on the water, swallows were feeding on a swarm of non-biting insects. Gulls and terns winged along, above floating western grebes and gadwall.

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (at the Confluence)

Directions: I-80 Exit 91, south on State Hwy 530 through Green River, about 8 miles. Turn left, beyond the overlook turnout, at the Lost Dog sign, and drive 9 miles on rough gravel to water.

Open: Year round, weather permitting. High clearance vehicle preferred.

Admission: $5/day, day use or National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

Phone: Ashley National Forest, Vernal, Utah: 435-784-3445.

Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/ashley/recreation/flaming_gorge

Attractions: Fishing, boating, camping, picnicking (BYOB—bring your own blanket) , restroom.

Time: Allow 1 hour to drive round trip.

16-Flaming Gorge Lost Dog

At the end of Lost Dog Road at Flaming Gorge. Photo by Barb Gorges.