Western Expanses Bob Leverett
July 17, 2009


To be  fair to all regions of the West, I am attaching six images of eastern Colorado and western Kansas. The first two images are of Colorado and the last four in Kansas. I wanted to be fair to Kansas. The Colorado images were taken on July 4th. The Kansas images were taken the following day. The focus of the images is western expanses.     

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1. Blanca: The first image was taken as we were leaving the San Luis Valley in Colorado going eastward. We had stopped at a small roadside park on U.S. 160 for lunch. The stop afforded me the last opportunity to photograph one of my favorite subjects - the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The cone shaped peak, more or less, in the center of the image (farthest one away) is 14,345-foot Blanca Peak. Blanca dominates the Sierra Blanca Massif and is the 4th highest summit in Colorado. Traveling south, you would have to go all the way to the great volcanos of central Mexico to reach a higher elevation. The peak to the left of Blanca in the clouds is Little Bear, another Colorado fourteener. In the foreground sage brush dominates. Eventually a zone of pinyon and juniper is reached. This is spacious country. I have mentioned before that the San Luis Valley is approximately the size of Connecticut. It reflects both its Spanish and Indian heritage.

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2. WesternExpanses0: This image was taken east of Walsenberg, CO in a vast area of cattle country.  The road in the image leads to a gas field miles away. Cattle are the dominant residents in this part of Colorado and the bovine inhabitants are spread thinly. It is wide open space, and do I ever love it. Sky, sage brush, and cholla cactus. A wonderful combination. Folks who are unable to enjoy these great expanses of space are missing one of life's great experiences.

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3. MonicaAtRestStop: This image was taken at a rest stop in western kansas on U.S. Route 50. Prairie flowers were everywhere and my camera clicked away. The Kansas wind was blowing as it almost always is. It may sound odd that we could fall in love with rest stops, but many in Kansas are just delightful. They feel exceptionally peaceful and are appropriately restful. Monica attributes their therapeutic effect to being in the heartland. When she biked across the country, Kansas was one of her favorite states. She still talks about her pleasant experiences biking across Kansas. Oh yes, and she did see one scissor-tailed fly catcher on our path eastward.

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4. Pinwheels: This image show gaillardia in abundance. The image was taken at the rest stop of image 3. In places the flower carpets the prairie. It vies with sun flowers for dominance.

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5. OldSantaFeTrail2: Farther east, near Dodge City, Kansas we encountered a remnant of the original Santa Fe Trail. 
By remnant, I mean a place where the impact of the trail can still be seen today in the vegetative cover. The area is the home of both short and tall grasses. It is the transition zone between the two ecosystems. Once there were oceans of grass in the sun flower state. For me, prairie grasses are as captivating as the ocean. But alas, while we have plenty of the latter, the former is in short supply. Still, maybe we can get an inkling of what the travelers of the trail first saw. Take a peek at the last image.

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6. OldSantaFeTrail: Natural Kansas is about grasslands and the state's once vast grasslands were home to one of the largest of the bison herds. It roamed western Kansas. There was also a huge herd in Texas and one in a region that includes part of South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana . Of course there were many more bison scattered across the plains and prairies than just in these great herds, but the referenced ones were enormous and often described by chroniclers of the day. The nutritious prairie  grasses sustained the giant herds. Today, in this small preserve, all that remain to remind the thoughtful traveler of what life may have been like in those days are  grass, sky, and the unrelenting, but blessed wind . It keeps bothersome insects away. The prairie ecosystem is superbly described by the late great John Madson in his book "where the sky began". Any nature lover who has not read this wonderful book has missed one of the classics.

The Santa Fe trail extended 750 miles from Kansas City to old Santa Fe in what is now New Mexico, but then as part of Spain up until around 1830 and then Mexico for another 15 years. It was established in 1608 and made a capital in 1610. It was often dangerous to travel the trail in those days especially in areas where Comanche, Kiowa, and Southern Cheyenne ruled. Those tribes/nations were the lords of the southern plains.


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