There are not many better things on a back road trip than running into unexpected wildlife. There is an abundance of birds and animals to be discovered on the road. For me, my camera is always at the ready for the chance meeting of some interesting animal or bird.
One such incident happened on a gravel road near Dell, Montana. I was on the lookout for bison as I drive along Ted Turner’s massive bison ranch. While stopped to look I heard a strange bird call that I had never heard and shortly thereafter a pair of large birds came zipping by. I got some shots, but wasn’t sure what I had until I got to the hotel later that night and discovered they were a pair of Sandhill Cranes, my first ever sighting of these glorious birds.
Just a few years later in my own state of Kentucky I was able to track down a migration of 1000s of these magnificent birds. I actually came close to walking among their huge flock and they were flying all around me. Words can’t explain the awe I had.
These birds migrate north back to their homes in Michigan and Wisconsin and fly through Kentucky in late January. They stop in the bounteous cornfields to eat the leftovers that remained after harvest.
Chance encounters are always a thrill. On a morning drive in Grand Teton National Park on a snowy morning in March 2013, I caught a fox leaping in the snow out of the corner of my eye. The lovely animal stopped and stared at me as I sought to nab a shot.
On another trip earlier this year, we were driving on a backroad in Arkansas when we saw a “field of white” ahead of us. Turned out to be a massive flock of migrating snow geese.
There could have been 1000s of them here, much the same as the Sandhill Cranes I noted above. But it was such an unplanned surprise.
Once again, camera was always at the ready, so I was able to get a few shots while still sitting in the van (though we had to go about a mile down the road to turn around and accommodate the photo shoot.
Just like the snow geese, I happened upon a large flock of white pelicans at Andes Lake in South Dakota. I could see them from a distance and thought they were ducks.
Of course, its not always about birds. There are plenty of opportunities in the high plains to come across America’s fastest animal, the pronghorn antelope.
On trips through Montana and Wyoming I always saw these lovely sleek animals. Sometimes I got them right on the side of the road.
I did have one lucky trip in 2013 when I was driving through Colorado and saw a mother and her two calves go jaunting through the tall grass. I was able to get a nice shot with my telephoto lens.
The National Parks are always a great place to get some nice wildlife shots. I have been to Yellowstone three times in the past 5 years and have seen a nice variety of wildlife, but mainly its the bison that roam free that are a thrill. I was amazed at how huge some of these guys get. One that walked by my car was at least 7 feet tall.
Elk are another great large mammal to look for. I have seen them in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, as well as some of the mountain drives I made.
These are lovely animals. And, like the bison, are huge.
The great culprit of car accidents and frequent recipient of roadkill awards are deer. These can be seen along highways everywhere both day and night.
I recently made a trip to Shenandoah National Park and got some very nice shots of deer. I have many more from other places, but these are my best.
Sometimes I make trips to find the wildlife myself. Such was the case recently on a visit to the fish hatchery near Cave Run Lake in Eastern Kentucky. I was in search of some of the bald eagles that hang around there. Found one!
There have been more sightings recently of these lovely and regal birds. I have seen one or two almost every week at Jacobson Park locally and also have been able to see a nest with three adults and two offspring near Taylorsville Lake west of Lexington.
Love these eagles.
My most favorite wildlife subject is the Great Blue Heron. These huge birds hang around lakes and rivers in Kentucky and many other places. I literally have 1000s of photos of them. Here are a few recent ones from Lexington.
I have photos of these birds in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio and other places as well.
I could post dozens and dozens of other photos, but I will only add a few other wildlife shots to this post from my travels.
If you are at all interested in the whimsical, unique and humongous roadside attractions of this great country, then a drive down the amazing Enchanted Highway in North Dakota is a MUST!!
On April 2, 2013, I finally had the opportunity to drive one of the “Bucket List” trips for me in all of my travels across the country. The 32 mile drive features a number of pieces of the amazing artwork of retired Regent, ND school teacher Gary Greff who has taken on this effort in order to keep the small dying town from becoming a ghost town. I hope to have a pretty comprehensive overview of the entire route, including the map below and detailed directions, mileage, photos and even some details about each stop along the way.
The Enchanted Highway – from I-94 near Dickinson to Regent, ND
GEESE IN FLIGHT – STOP #1
To get started you must get to Exit 72 on I-94 east of Dickinson, ND. You most certainly cannot miss the first stop, which is called “Geese in Flight” and has been listed as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world by the Guinness World Book of Records.
“Geese in Flight”, in my opinion, not only has the geese, but the giant backdrop appears to look like a giant eye looking out towards the Enchanted Highway. For my trip south on the Enchanted Highway, this is Mile Point 0 (zero).
This piece was erected in 2001 and weighs over 78 tons. The main structure is 154 feet wide and 110 feet tall. The largest goose has a wingspan of 30 feet. On a clear day this structure can be seen from nearly 5 miles away (it was a clear day for us – thank goodness!!). Gary Greff used oil tanks and oil well pipe for the materials to construct this humongous piece of art.
DEER CROSSING – STOP #2
The drive from Stop 1 “Geese in Flight” to Stop 2 “Deer Crossing” is about 3.4 miles. As shown above, you can see Deer Crossing and the Enchanted Highway from the top of the “Geese in Flight” hill.
“Deer Crossing” is one of the newer works by Mr. Greff. It was erected in 2002 just a bit south of the small town of Gladstone. The jumping buck is 75 feet tall and 60 feet long. The doe is 50 feet long and 50 feet tall. Mr. Greff used oil well tanks for the material to construct this.
GRASSHOPPERS IN THE FIELD – STOP #3
The next stop on the trek south to Regent is “Grasshoppers in the Field”. It is about 12 miles down the road from “Deer Crossing”. You must pass the small — nearly ghost town — of Lefor, ND before the giant grasshoppers appear on the right side of the road.
Unlike the first two on the drive, “Grasshoppers in the Field” was a complex set of sculptures. There is one large grasshopper and a couple of smaller ones. As well, Mr. Greff had added large strands of wheat to the sculpture (made of metal of course!!). The design of the grasshoppers was similar to the Balsa Wood animals and insects that can be purchased at hobby shops.
All of the grasshoppers have stringed lighting so I am assuming they can be lit up at night as well. This work was completed in 1999. The Giant Grasshopper 60 feet long and 40 feet tall. The Medium Grasshopper is 24 feet long and 12 feet tall. Some of the wheat pieces are well over 40 feet tall. Fuel tanks and oil well tanks were the predominant materials used for these pieces.
FISHERMAN’S DREAM – STOP #4
The next stop on the Enchanted Highway is the newest of Mr. Greff’s creations. Called “Fisherman’s Dream”, this complex and beautiful work is 14.8 miles south of the “Grasshoppers in the Field”. Greff completed this work in 2007. It includes 6 large fish of different sizes including a 60 or 70 foot leaping trout going after a giant dragonfly.
I must say that I was most impressed with this stop more than any of the others. All of them are impressive, but the use of colors, the variety, the complexity of the fish scales and even the use of the small fisherman in the boat was just fabulous.
PHEASANTS ON THE PRAIRIE – STOP #5
Continuing south for about 4.5 miles from “Fisherman’s Dream” is the next stop, called “Pheasants on the Prairie”. This is also a quite impressive work of art with a giant rooster and hen and their three chicks.
This work was erected between 1996 and 1997. The pheasant rooster weighs over 13,000 pounds and is 70 feet long and over 40 feet tall. The hen weighs 12,000 pounds and is 60 feet long and 35 feet tall. Each of the chicks are about 5000 pounds and are about 20 feet long and 15 feet tall. Greff used pipe and wire mesh to construct these. Ironically, the mesh construction was conducive for numerous birds to build nests in!!
TEDDY RIDES AGAIN – STOP #6
The next stop is quite different from most of the others. It is about 2.2 miles south of the “Pheasants on the Prairie” and honors the inventor of the National Park System in the United States. This is more like a giant wire sculpture of Teddy Roosevelt. Erected in 1993 out of well pipes, it is 51 feet tall and weighs over 9000 pounds. This little park also includes a small wooden stage coach being pulled by horses.
THE TIN FAMILY – STOP #7
The last big stop on the road to Regent is the Tin Family. It is about 3.4 miles south of “Teddy Rides Again” and can be seen for a distance before you get there. This one has a Dad, a Mom and a son. The Dad is 45 feet tall, the Mom is 44 feet tall and the boy is 23 feet tall. Mr. Greff used farm tanks, telephone poles, barbed wire and augers to make these, the first of his sculptures.
As can be seen in the photo above, each of the sites has an informative kiosk that notes the name of the work, notes the names of donors and other information.
REGENT, NORTH DAKOTA – STOP #8
Continuing south from the Tin Family about 1.9 miles you pull into the small town of Regent. Though we arrived around lunch time on a Tuesday (April 2), the town was pretty much dead. There was a gas station (and believe me…you better fill up here!!) and a small grocery store. We inquired about cafes and there were two and both were closed. Even the Enchanted Highway Visitor Center was closed. Off season I guess.
After filling up with gas, we meandered our way to the end of Main Street to see the Enchanted Castle Hotel, which was apparently built from an old school. We didn’t have time to stop there as we continued to head south.
The Enchanted Highway makes for a great diversionary trip, especially if you plan to head south to Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills. Definitely one of the Dream Places!!