Archive for the ‘HOT SPRINGS NP’ Category


November 13, 2011

I never knew Jamalee Fenimore or Stephne Staples.  Nobody who reads this knew them, either.  Both of them loved the Sandhill Cranes, as do I.  Both have a viewing blind named for them at Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon, Nebraska, at the southern bend of the Platte River.

Every spring, the Sandhill and the Whooping Cranes, the most and least common of the 15 worldwide crane species, begin their 5000-7000 mile migration to the subarctic in North America and Siberia.  Their final staging area is on the Platte River.  They go to the Platte because there is food nearby–formerly small animals, but now mostly corn–and because of the safety that one of the largest braided rivers in North America affords.  They feed in the adjacent fields by day and roost in the river at night, where the shallow water allows them to hear predators approach.  Before the Platte was dammed and water used for irrigation, recreation and drinking, it was a mile wide and an inch deep, “too thick to drink, too thin to plow.”

Now, the Platte in many areas contains less water, has invasive species and many trees nearby, limiting the suitable habitat to 50 miles from the former 200.  Rowe Sanctuary manages 4 miles of river and owns 1900 adjacent acres, preserved as habitat.  Every night, for 6 weeks in March and April, up to 600,000 Sandhill cranes, 90% of the world’s population, roost in the river.  Every morning, they leave.  It is a spectacle that Jane Goodall has called one of the world’s best.  I’ve been fortunate to have seen many great sights in nature.  This one is in my top three; seeing a solar eclipse and a wolf in the wild are the other two.  I love the cranes so much that I volunteer at the Sanctuary, along with dozens of others, helping the full time staff of four–that’s right, four–show visitors the cranes from viewing blinds, for cranes are shy birds and will not let people near them.

Many talk about the cranes that migrate to Arizona.  I simply reply, “You don’t understand.”  And you can’t, until you witness the a flock of fifty thousand cranes, darkening the sky.

Stevie Staples mentored one of the Rowe Staff and lived 74 years, dying in 2006 from cancer.  She was a former canoe racer and a real character.  I once raced canoes, and I would have loved to have discussed racing with her.  She touched the staff at Rowe.  She knew it, for she did live to see a beautiful picture of a Sandhill Crane in flight with her volunteer tag with “9 years of service” on it.  The picture hangs on the wall in the hallway of Rowe.  A picture of Stevie’s receiving the picture from the Rowe staff hangs in Keanna Leonard’s office.  Keanna is the dynamic educational director at Rowe.

Jamalee Fenimore grew up in Nebraska and practiced veterinary surgery in Washington State.  She died of cancer far too young at 49, donating her estate to Rowe.  Nobody at Rowe knew or remembered her being there.  But obviously, she was touched by the river, the cranes and the sanctuary.  We volunteers learn that we may touch visitors in ways we never know at the time.

When I volunteer at Rowe, I work 17 hour days, sleeping on the floor in the sanctuary so I can hear the cranes on the river in the middle of the night.  I guide people to the viewing blinds, and I teach them everything I know about cranes.  Mostly, however, I let people look at the sight, staying silent, so they can hear the birds.  I clean toilets, paint, greet people, make a noonmark, build a sundial, do whatever needs to be done.

On one tour, I took a disabled person to Stevie’s blind in an electric golf cart.  Had he been able to walk, all of the group would have gone to Strawbale blind, which had better views at that time.  But we still saw many cranes, American white pelicans, and unusual crane behavior.  My rider loved the view and tried to tip me, which I of course refused, asking him to put the money in the container at the sanctuary.  I planned to talk to other clients, because as the lead guide, I hadn’t spent time with them.  But I spent time with this man.  He was originally from Singapore; when I told him I had been there twice, his first comment was “Thank you for saving my country.”  I’ve never heard that before, and it did me good.  I hope I and Rowe did him good.

We touch each other in ways we may never know.  Good people spread kindness throughout their world.  The lucky ones receive that kindness or are those who live long enough to discover that their kindness was deeply appreciated and honored.  But all who spread kindness are fortunate that they have the ability to do so.  Stevie knew in her final days that her kindness was appreciated.  I hope Jamalee Fenimore did, too.  But if not, I know she knew she was doing the right thing.  I deeply appreciate what she did.  And every time I guide people to either of the two blinds, I tell them the story. Both women deserve to be remembered.  To have a viewing blind named for you on a river where a half million cranes visit every March is a wonderful honor.  I really can’t imagine a better one, frankly.


October 6, 2009

This is an urban/suburban park around and in Hot Springs, AR.  It made for my being in all 50 states, never having found much reason to go to Arkansas.  The Park itself has surprisingly good hiking on a ridge that is several miles long with some climbing.  Much of the hike goes through hardwood forest before coming out on a road.

There is plenty of sulfur-smelling water that people bring jugs to fill up with.  I dispensed with the baths, but the hiking was a pleasant surprise and there were very few people present in the “backcountry”!