Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

A Wildlife Oasis in the City

I live fairly close to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. It takes me only about 20 minutes to get there by car The wildlife refuge is built on the site of the old Rocky Mountain Arsenal, which was used by the U.S. government to manufacture, and later dispose of, chemical weapons from World War II until the Vietnam War. Shell Oil also used the site in the 1980’s to manufacture pesticides. The arsenal was closed in 1985, and after the site was found to be extremely polluted it was eligible for a cleanup financed by the federal Superfund projected administered by the Environmental Protection Agency,. During this time the site was also found to be home to over 330 species of wildlife. It was designated the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge by an act of Congress, and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. 

I have visited the Refuge on numerous occasions, and most recently spent a lot of time there in hot July weather. Despite the heat the wildlife was abundant, although we could often see how they would find ways to stay in shaded areas as much as possible. For long stretches of the Refuge you have to stay in your car, as the Bison graze in free range. Otherwise there are lakes and trails in other parts of the refuge where you are free to roam as much as you like. There are so many opportunities here to photograph animals  in their natural habitat. It really is a wildlife oasis in the city. 

When you first enter the Refuge you have access to a visitor center. Leaving there you can almost immediately start to see wildlife. 

Heading east from the Visitor’s Center you will come to Lake Ladora on your left. That is where I captured the snowy egrets and pelicans you see below.  

By far my favorite species here is the American Avocet. It is a graceful, beautiful bird that to me often looks more like an object of art than a living species. They are abundant at the refuge.

Once you pass Lake Ladora and then the adjoining Derby Lakes you enter a new section of Wildlife drive that takes you through the bulk of the refuge. This is where the images below were captured. The road is one way on this stretch, and visitors are encouraged to stay in their cars. 

Finally, as you leave the one-way section of the drive, you can turn left into a parking lot overlooking Lake Mary. Lots of trails here, along with several large trees that are home to a large group of Double Crested Cormorants. These guys are so much fun to observe. 

We were able to pick up a brochure listing the seasons and migratory patters of the birds that access the Refuge. That means I will be visiting it again and again as the opportunities for photos are endless. For more information on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge visit their website. There is also a great write-up covering the history of the Arsenal on Wikipedia

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