While traveling the Great Plains, Caroline and I were able to make a few touristic stops. En route to my cousin's wedding, we swung into Gove County, Kansas, to check out one of the greatest landmarks in the state: Monument Rocks. These rocks, amazingly out of place in Kansas, stand as lonely sentinels in the middle of the mundane plains. We took our friend's advice to visit, and definitely didn't regret it! Additionally, the location was a good spot for adding some western birds to my state list: namely, Cassin's Sparrows that were singing in the surrounding scrub.
The Monument Rocks, an impressive rocky outcrop in Western Kansas, and arguably the most interesting geologic feature in the entire state.
The arch at Monument Rocks, Kansas.
From here, Caroline and I stopped by the wedding in Colorado for a few days (where I was able to sneak out for quality time with Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Bullock's Orioles) and soon found ourselves on the way to Arkansas to visit her family. Since we were crossing the largely monotonous plains, we decided to try to make it as scenic as possible by traveling along the easternmost fringe of the mountains: the Black Mesa Region. This region, seemingly out of place on the plains, is the only locality in Oklahoma hosting expansive desert canyonlands and Piñon-Juniper woodland. After a long drive through enchanted canyons filled with Elk, Desert Cottontails and Jackrabbits, we spent the night at the remote Black Mesa State Park in Cimarron County, Oklahoma. The location of a large reservoir surrounded by low sandstone cliffs and Piñon-Juniper woodland, it was the most western experience I have ever had in Oklahoma. Our campsite was infested with Cassin's and Western Kingbirds, and Say's Phoebes provided side-by-side comparisons with a nesting pair of Eastern Phoebes. Mississippi Kites foraged overhead, a pair of Bewick's Wrens sang in the scrub, and we scored two species of cuckoo with a singing Yellow-billed Cuckoo near the reservoir and amazingly close views of a Greater Roadrunner along the road. The best birds, however, were an odd pair of giant sandpipers flying overhead. Hearing them at first, I was elated to confirm a Marbled Godwit and a Long-billed Curlew circling over the west side of the lake. The birds came amazingly close, and Caroline enjoyed getting a good study of these two large shorebirds for the first time. As they flew away, we scanned for more shorebirds and, though we were unsuccessful in that endeavor, found a pair of beavers foraging around the willows.
As we left towards Arkansas, we had one last close encounter of the mammalian kind: an American Badger running down the side of the road! We were able to go back and get some close views as he ran off into the yucca-studded grassland. From here, we drove across to the eastern fringe of Oklahoma, and finally left the state along the Talimena Drive in the Ozark Mountains.