by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education, Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center
Last week, in preparation for the June 6th openings of the City of Fort Collin’s Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Larimer County’s adjacent Red Mountain Open Space (RMOS), a group of us from the Museum and the City’s Natural Areas Program (NAP), along with staff from Larimer County Parks and Open Lands (LCPOL), took a field trip to the properties along with elders from the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Northern Arapaho tribes. This was a wonderful opportunity for all of us with different backgrounds and expertise to come together and develop a more holistic appreciation of the areas. We had a chance to talk about what makes the land important from both natural and cultural history perspectives, we saw how the hard-working crews from the city and county have prepared the land for access by the public, and we shared how we anticipate the public will use the lands.
We started the day with a bang – we saw a great horned owl sitting in a tree as we drove north and we counted several pronghorns and mule deer on the route as well. Once we arrived at RMOS, we went for a hike on one of the newly-constructed trails, led by LCPOL educator Rob Novak who explained some of the unique geologic formations along the way (see photos below). Crevices in the red rock canyons held pack rat middens hundreds of years old, while smaller cracks revealed the remnants of cocoons formed by insects going through metamorphosis this very spring. Under overhangs high above the trail, swallow nests of mud clung to the sandstone. A prairie falcon zipped around over our heads. Volunteer Master Naturalists from NAP consulted each other while identifying plants. Katie Bowell, one of our curators with a entomology background, counted plenty of harvester ant nests. We were all amazed at a flock of 11 sandhill cranes as they spiraled up across the sky, flying on the thermals, headed for their summer habitat in Siberia. Someone even found a gorgeous green rock that none of us could identify with any certainty! It didn’t matter which way we looked, up, down and all around, there were exciting discoveries to be made.
After our hike, we headed over to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and the part of the trip I’ve been waiting over ten years to experience again. More on that soon!