We arrived at Ralph and Lenora Dampman’s spread last night around 6 PM. For some reason we had pictured them as an older couple and their place as a bit run-down, but we were pleased to find that they’re about our ages and their ranch is very nice, with individual guest cabins for the hunters that descend on them in force during the winter and spring to hunt deer, elk and wild turkeys. They served us a pleasant dinner in the main house and then took us down to our cabin, which is the middle one of three. The first cabin is occupied by a summer worker at Devil’s Tower; in fact, we think she might have been the one manning the entrance when we visited yesterday (in which case, she was very nice). The cabins are rustic but spanking clean – there’s no phone or television (or internet, so this missive will have to be posted at another place further down the road). We do have a little refrigerator so we off-loaded our groceries and left the cooler outside to dry out. Using ice instead of cooler packs gets messy but we’ve no way to refreeze cooler packs on the road.
Our cabin has two bedrooms, each with three single beds, and one bathroom, so it must be a bit cramped if they’re ever full up. We took just about everything out of the car and loaded it into the bedroom we’re not using to sleep in. Then as sunset approached, we took a walk around the Dampman place. We could hear some of their cattle off in the distance but couldn’t see them; we did meet their border collie mix, Missy, and a redbone hound that Ralph keeps for hunting. They were both penned in very small runs and I felt sorry for them, particularly in contrast with the Dampman house dog, a pom named Dixie, who’s nice but clearly pretty pampered. We also heard a cat meowing plaintively in the barn as we went by and I would assume it’s there as a mouser; there is a clear delineation between the life of the pampered house dog and the “working” animals who live outside.
As the sun began to set, some deer appeared in a nearby field. There were three of them and as soon as they caught sight of us they froze, then flipped up their “white flag” tails and took off. John and I walked down to the entrance to the spread and then back (about a half-mile, I guess) and kept startling rabbits. Eventually we made ourselves some drinks and settled on the porch of the cabin to watch evening draw in. The deer appeared back on the horizon; as long as we didn’t move they couldn’t really see us, and eventually they were no more than forty yards from us and their numbers increased to six. A rabbit went came down the gravel drive and took up a post in front of the unoccupied cabin, and to our great surprise, a single wild turkey came over the hill and went down the spread’s main road. I don’t know whether it saw us or heard us, but it suddenly turned tail and went back the way it had come – and it was FAST. I had no idea that turkeys could go so quickly – it was almost running. Later on we heard it gobbling in the distance, so it probably didn’t go too far.
Finally we finished our drinks and came inside, as it was pretty cold out. Although it was early, we went ahead and got in bed, and actually turned off the lights around 10:30. I had a very solid night’s sleep; John less so, as he said he kept having dreams about prairie dogs.
About 9 AM we presented ourselves at the main house for breakfast, and as soon as we were done John went off with Ralph to sight his rifle, and I jumped in the car and headed back to Devil’s Tower.
I had a pretty decent day birding, although the Tower area was much more crowded than yesterday. I spent about an hour and a half walking through a picnic area near the administrative offices and scored a yellow warbler, then a red-breasted nuthatch on one of the side trails of the Tower and a pair of pine siskins near the Visitors’ Center (I also saw red squirrels, cottontails and least chipmunks). Altogether I spent about three hours in the Tower area, then headed back to the Dampman place and spent another couple of hours birding around their spread. I saw a western tanager, mountain bluebirds, red crossbills, western meadowlarks, lark sparrows and my best sighting of the day, a common nighthawk (which is not so common for me; I’d never seen one before and never expected to). Around 6 PM John came home from his shoot, grinning from ear to ear and sunburned around the ankles (he’d slathered on sunblock before heading out, but forgot that when he went prone to shoot, his trouser legs would ride up). In spite of that, he’d had a good day, too.
We had dinner up at the main house, then came back to the cabin, made some drinks and sat on the porch to watch the sun go down. Afterward, we got everything ready for a quick getaway in the morning, and by 10:00 it was lights out.