Just about a year ago, NB and I started a new season of life when our time living primarily in Kansas came to an end. On a sunny, late winter day we took one last journey on I-70 back to our permanent home in Colorado. As we settled back into one home, we also settled into a new vocation–retirement. I like to think of our retirement in the sense of “withdrawing from or to a particular place” as you would retire from the dining room to the living room after dinner. We withdrew from Kansas to Colorado and from daily prescribed labor to the elected labor of life without full time employment. Our first year of retirement quickly filled with outdoor adventures beginning with this opening season.
In our Kansas-years, we spent many hours exploring the shorelines of local reservoirs to view wildlife, to get exercise and to find other inspiration from natural treasures like bird’s nests, antler sheds, knotted driftwood or a turtle shell. Such explorations are not as readily available here in Colorado or at least not out our back door as before.
However, our first outdoor adventure of this new season called to mind those lakeshore explorations when we drove out to the Tamarack Ranch in eastern Colorado for a few days in late March. This state wildlife area flanks 10,000 acres of river bottom on the South Platte river. It is home to prairie wildlife including deer and wild turkey.
As a state wildlife area, the Tamarack Ranch is used primarily for hunting and fishing, but on this visit, no hunting seasons are open and the river is too low to fish. We will return in a couple of weeks for turkey season, but the main objective of this trip is to look for deer antler sheds and see if we can find some wildlife. Like our lakeshore ventures, there are no established trails. Here you make your own way along game trails or break your own path through the undergrowth.
We arrive to the primitive camping area with our aging pop-up camper and set up behind the very limited windbreak. We are and will be the only ones here for the next three days. The first afternoon starts hopefully with a quick discovery of an antler shed within the first 30 minutes, but this will be the only deer shed we find. All other discoveries will be wildlife viewing: coyotes breaking through the prairie grass, deer feeding on the river bottom, great blue herons nests high in the aging cottonwood trees. One morning, a barred owl piloted us through the wood, keeping 50 yards ahead and calling back to us as if to say “come this way.” We watched a group of wild turkeys as their putt-putting grew silent while a golden eagle swooped low and circled a time or two. You could hear relief in their chatter when the raptor returned to mile-high soaring without making a kill.
Spring was just peeking through the detritus of fallen leaves, and the sun was warm enough one day for us to take a break and cool our toes in the sandy river. But the next morning, we realized that winter had not quite released its grip when we woke to temperatures in the low 20s.
On our return two weeks later, we found the grass now established and the trees tipped with the lemon-green of new leaves. This time NB is turkey hunting, and our days are spent quietly in a blind. NB periodically uses a hen call in an attempt to lure a tom to the decoys. For me, blind-time is reading-time with frequent breaks to watch the light move across the landscape vignetted in the blind window. Our three-day turkey trip ended successfully with one turkey in the bag which would later make its way into a pozole stew to feed us on an elk hunt in the fall.
A week later we were packed again, this time to north central Kansas where we meet up with friends for more turkey hunting. Our skepticism about the “free camping” was unfounded when we pulled into a well-maintained park in Oberlin, KS. The park surrounds a small, abandoned reservoir which is now filled with native grass, providing an apt foreground to our view of the sunset. The weather was dramatically different from our Colorado hunt where we bundled up in the blind. Here in Kansas, spring had arrived. We shed the layers and sweat bullets in the sun-baked blind on one day when the temps reached 90+. In addition to hunting in a blind, we also wandered the designated “Walk in Areas”–private land where land owners make arrangements with the state wildlife agency to allow walk-in hunting to the public. On these walks, we move slowly looking for turkeys in the distance and hopefully set up a stalk. Such explorations uncover prairie beauty and wildlife other than turkeys, including a still sleepy rattlesnake. While we didn’t return with a turkey on this trip, we did return with knowledge of new landscapes and a deeper friendships.
At this point we shifted gears from turkeys to catfish and made another trip to Kansas to NB’s favorite fishing lake, Milford Reservoir. His folks joined us for 4 days on the water, pulling in catfish and crappie. The variable weather didn’t keep NB from finding fish, including 22 catfish for eating, 3-30+ pounders, a couple dozen crappie, and one outrageous snapping turtle. In the end, NB may have had a crick in his neck from cleaning fish, but it was well worth the effort to have such abundance in the freezer.
We marked the end of the spring season with a return to the mountains for a day hike on the Dunraven trail in the Glen Haven canyon. This is one of the few nearby trails open since the Cameron Peak fire of 2020. It was fascinating to see the variation in the burn areas, some scorched like an apocalyptic vision, while 100 yards away new life was exploding through the soot and ash.
This hike marked the end of our opening season. NB had learned just a few days earlier that he would have the opportunity to hunt a bighorn sheep in August. As the days lengthened to summer, we began preparing for that next adventure.