The Valley is flat, billiard table flat. Oh, it’s a little rumpled along the edges. The massive, volcanic San Juan Mountains are to the west. East of here are the knife edged Sangre de Cristos. Flat, almost treeless and now that its warmed a bit, there are dust devils scrolling across the dry alkali playas. Sometimes the wind brings a little grit to the tongue. All in all a very nice day.
Sandhill cranes have been migrating through the San Luis Valley here in Colorado for thousands of years. No one knows what the crane numbers looked like when mastodons roamed the valley or even if the cranes flew here then, but the 25,000 or so that are are here now may have it a little easier in some respects than their ancestors. A swath of the valley is farmed land and the cranes feast on the grains left over from harvest. Easy eats compared to the small vertebrates and roots foraged in the wetlands and flooded fields.
The Valley (everyone calls it simply the Valley) is heavily impacted by humans, cattle graze the meadows and ranchlands adjacent to the farm fields. Water is moved all over the central and southern Valley (it’s a big valley, you could drop Connecticut in here) to irrigate some of the grazing areas, for those farms and to help out the wild beings that still call the Valley home at least some of the year. Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge brings some of that water onto areas that were once dry and certainly didn’t provide for the thousands of waterfowl and wading birds that use them now.
That’s why we are here, the calendar said it was still winter on our first of the season trip down here but those thousands of cranes aren’t too concerned about our concept of time. They are heading north out of Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico. Feeding and resting, they spend a few weeks in the Valley before moving on north to nest and summer from northern Colorado up through Idaho. But for now their wild trumpeting calls, their impetuous and giddy dancing brings summer a little closer.