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