Category Archives: Animals

Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge

November 1, 2014

Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge
6550 Gateway Road
Commerce City, CO 80022

PHONE: Refuge: 303-289-0232, Visitor Center: 303-289-0930

HOURS: Open from sunrise to sunset; the visitor center is open from 9-4 on Wednesdays-Sundays

I’ve visited Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge a handful of times over the last year. The refuge was once an area where the army produced chemical weapons for World War II. Clean up for the area began in 1985 and when a bald eagle winter roost was discovered, the area was converted to a refuge.

The refuge is not only home to bald eagles, but also countless birds, bison, prairie dogs and deer. Last winter I took a wildlife viewing tour with staff to see the deer during rut. I learned quite a bit about the difference between white tail and mule deers. I will probably do it again later this month.

Today, I decided to advantage of the 10 mile trail system at the refuge as I didn’t feel like driving miles to the mountains. I had hoped I would spot a deer, but I was starting my walk mid-morning so the likelihood was low. I drove past the visitor center to check out the Locust Loop and Army Historic Trail first. I kept my eyes peeled for four-legged friends, though mostly found song birds and one remaining home with a windmill. Two hundred families once lived here, and eight kids were raised in the Egli House.

As soon as I gave up on spotting a deer, one stood just outside a small clump of trees and stared at me, just like a “deer in headlights”. I slowly raised my camera with my blue water bottle in the other hand, and just as soon as I went for a shot he moved into the protection of the “forest”. I finally found an angle in the trees that provided a full view of this magnificent buck. He was huge with a giant rack!!

Upon finishing up the 1.7 miles of trails, I felt like I wanted to walk somewhat longer, so I crossed the parking lot to Lake Mary’s Loop and followed the 0.6 miles around the placid lake. The quiet, sunny day offered wonderful reflections on the glassy lake. From Lake Mary’s Loop, I connected to Ladora Lake Loop, which added another 1.8 miles to my journey. This lake was much larger and home to ducks, geese, terns, a heron, and a crane, though I didn’t have a long enough lens to capture a decent photo.

At the end of my hike, I drove through the bison area, but didn’t spot any grazing on the grassy plains. They weren’t very cooperative given it was national bison day! My self guided wildlife drive was still nice and just one more activity the refuge offers. Maybe I’ll try fishing in the spring, or not, but it is available to visitors. What a nice way to spend a few hours within 10 miles of downtown Denver! ETB

Another bonus is the gift shop carries my cards which may also be found at or

Sunflowers website

The Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary

August 30, 2014

The Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary
42132 Ridge Road
Deer Trail, CO 80105

Hours: Call to schedule tour (allow 3+ hours)

Suggested Donation Fee for Tour: $40/adult, $20/child (6-15), under 6 FREE

Today I went with a group to the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary. I hadn’t heard of the sanctuary before, but was excited to have a chance to go see some wild horses, especially Mustangs, a symbol of the American West.

The Sanctuary, also known as GEMS, is located on 900 acres at the northern tip of the Black Forest in Deer Trail, CO about 85 miles southeast of Denver. I wouldn’t have guessed there could be a forest after driving past miles of flat farmland. Uniquely, the driving directions on GEMS website use “trees” as a landmark! Part of the drive is along a well maintained dirt road and probably takes 1:15 hrs from the Stapleton area.

Our group of ten took a hiking tour that we found on Living Social through the property to see the wild Mustangs. Deanna greeted us. We signed a waiver and were offered a restroom in the office before we began by visiting the burros.

The burros arrived from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holding facility in Canon City ten days ago. Enclosed in a fenced area by the barn, they stood in the middle of the pen as we peppered Deanna with a variety of questions about the facility, its mission, and the Mustangs in general.

IMG_5869 burro

We followed a dirt road along the open, rolling hills of the property. Though the rain wrecked havoc on the road which may also be used for driving tours, it made for a nice landscape of green grass and wildflowers that would otherwise be non-existent in August. We enjoyed a lovely day, no rain, and though warm by the afternoon, I can think of much hotter days during most summers.

IMG_5888 bee

After about 1.5 miles, we finally spotted the Mustangs up on the hill in the shade of one tree. We walked a half mile further, mostly on the road and partly bushwacking through tall grass sprinkled with yucca and prickly pear. Soon we were picnicking 30 feet from 21 wild horses.

The Mustangs came to the sanctuary from a variety of places, though all future Mustangs will be coming from the Sand Wash Basin about 45 miles northwest of Craig, CO. The Sand Wash Basin is one of the BLM’s Herd Management Areas where the BLM conducts round-ups. As Deanna put it, “The round-up is not a pleasant experience for the horses,” but the area is rocky with little shade and cannot support the herd, so the government collects as many horses as it can and keeps them at its holding facilities. From what I understand, the holding facilities are not that great either, so it is nice that non-profit sanctuaries like GEMS are being created to offer these horses a better life.

Not only do the American Mustangs have better grass, shade and weather in Deer Trail, CO, they are also handled, trained, and adopted over time, thus the horses go to good homes! GEMS is currently home to eleven Sand Wash Basin Mustangs. Most of them were gathered as yearlings in 2008 and lived at a holding facility in Canon City until the sanctuary adopted them at the end 2012. Of course, before GEMS could adopt the horses, the government inspected the facilities and did not hand over the title to the horses for a year until after the government checked on the safety and well being of the Mustangs.

In addition to the American Mustangs, GEMS offers a home to several Spanish Mustangs. The Spanish Mustangs have quite a different appearance from the American Mustangs. Many have a dark stripe down their back and most of the ones at the sanctuary were of a roan, gray or pinto color, though not all. The Spanish Mustangs came from a few different ranches including the Cayuse Ranch, Caballos De Destinos, and from a man in Foxton, CO who passed away.

Most of the Mustangs are small for a horse, pony size standing 14 hands high. Generally, the group stood with their rumps to us beneath a tree, however, a few entertained us. Naomi, a chestnut mare with a few white splotches on her side, was the most interested in us. She came the closest and let Deanna pet her for a second. What a pretty face she had too!

The black and the gray were inseparable, so they followed each other around near the vicinity of the other horses. Tanner, one of the two geldings on the property, was very interested in three of the Spanish Mustang mares, so he pinned his ears and directed traffic occasionally. While I was standing slightly off from the group for a few minutes shooting photos, the Spanish mares came directly toward me. Deanna mentioned that Tanner was relatively friendly, so I held my hand out in hopes for a quick pet, but he was more interested in the ladies he was following.

After our leisurely picnic, we bushwacked a different direction back to the road as we headed toward the barn. We met a few more Mustangs in a pen near the burros. One old lady was close enough to pet. We also walked out to the front pasture to meet some of GEMS “ambassador” Mustangs, though they were more interested in grazing than visiting us. The ambassador horses are halter broken, trained in ground work, and trailer trained. They go to different educational events for Mustangs.

IMG_6022 ambassador

There are many ways to get involved with Mustangs including volunteering at GEMS and even documenting horses at the herd management areas to improvement lineage records. Visiting the sanctuary was both an educational and peaceful experience. I recommend it for something fun and different to do near the outskirts of Denver…ETB

For notecards, key chains, and photos on canvas, visit or
lichen website

The Butterfly Pavilion

August 28, 2014

The Butterfly Pavilion
6252 West 104th Ave.
Westminster, CO 80020

hours: 9am-5pm, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas

prices: adults=$9.50, Westminster residents and seniors=$7.50, children(2-12)=$6.50, children<2=FREE

The forecast called for showers throughout the day, so Tanya and I chose to visit The Butterfly Pavillion for an indoor activity. The Butterfly Pavillion calls itself "a zoo of small wonders and BIG experience" and boasts over 5,ooo animals. While the majority of animals are butterflies that fly free in a humid dome, the small facility also includes a variety of other creatures to admire.

The entry hall led us to the first room which featured bugs, spiders, and bees. We looked beetles, cockroaches, scorpions, stickbugs and trantulas from around the world with the highlight being Rosie. Rosie was a tarantula that crawled on a zoo keeper's hands. Tanya and I had pepper the young lady with multiple questions before we allowed Rosie to crawl on our hands. First, we wanted to know what it would feel like. "Q-tips," she responded. Just looking at the hairy spider sent chills through my spine. I expressed my fear that I might fling her across the room when she touched me. The young zoo keeper assured us that she would hold our hands. After much convincing, we faced our fear. Despite Rosie being the size of our hand, she hardly weighed a thing! It was so cool, and we even earned a sticker for holding her.


We moved from the bug room, to the room of sea creatures. Though the room was small and featured approximately eight aquariums and two touching pools, I could have stayed in this area for an hour, probably due to my fascination with underwater sea life. As much as I have been SCUBA diving, I was surprised to see such a unique collection of sea life, some species of which I have never seen.

I loved the Fiddler Crab which lives in mangroves on land and not in the water. The male is identified by its large pincer that it waves to court females. Each crab had a tiny pincer it ate with and another large one to attract the females! The aquariums also featured upside down jellyfish, colorful Halloween crabs, amazing sea anemones and corals (many of which were new to me), as well as sea stars and horse shoe crabs to touch.

We moved from the cool, rectangular rooms to the butterfly pavilion which was humid like a rainforest. Orchids and hibiscus along with a selection of blooming flowers attracted countless butterflies. Many flitted one flower to the next. Others perched quietly on trees, vines, and even plates of fruit from which they fed. At first, we walked along the curving sidewalk, spun around, and pointed at the colorful insects as they glided around us. Then we simply stood still and stared into an area. It was amazing how many we could find camouflaged on a tree. Two of them even landed on Tanya.

Signs posted in the gardens reminded us of the life cycle of the butterfly. A butterfly’s egg, generally the size of a period punctuating a sentence lasts for two weeks before it enters the larval stage. The larva, also known as a caterpillar, lasts two to eight weeks before it enters into the pupal stage. The pupal stage is two to four weeks long before the butterfly emerges. A sign describing a few species of butterflies was also posted, though a more descriptive pamphlet to help identify these delicate creatures was available at check in for a $1.

From the gardens, we visited an interactive maze for kids which tested their knowledge on the rainforests and butterfly farms. Every week, the butterfly pavilion buys 600 to 1,000 pupa from butterfly farms located around the world! We learned all sorts of facts about butterflies, including their eating habits and reasons why butterflies lay their eggs on certain plants.

I found the exhibits to be well done and informative and the gift shop was extensive. We spent approximately 2 hours at the facility, from 10:30-12:30 on a week day and shared it with many toddlers. It would be a good place for a kid’s birthday. The Butterfly Pavilion also hosts events such as yoga and “Hoppy Hour” and has a ballroom for any type of corporate meeting space. For more information including membership, visit ETB

For notecards, key chains, or photos on canvas, visit or
great spangled fritillary website copy