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Colorado Bucket List: Monte Vista Crane Festival

Mar 10, 2017 09:22AM ● By Stephanie Wilson

Photo by Joe Zinn, Courtesy Monte Vista Crane Festival

In early March, a wildlife phenomenon akin to Antarctica’s march of the penguins takes place in southern Colorado’s scenic San Luis Valley, where more than 20,000 migrating sandhill cranes descend upon the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge to rest and to roost. The silver-feathered birds stand four feet tall, with a wingspan of six feet. When they take flight en masse, it’s an impressive spectacle that has captured the attention of locals for thousands of years. There’s even a six-foot-long petroglyph on a nearby rocky cliff face to prove it. These days, photographs are the medium of choice for the birdwatchers and nature lovers who flock to the area from far and wide each spring.

Since 1984, the birds’ annual return has been celebrated during the Monte Vista Crane Festival.  The free, donation-based festival, which takes place March 10-12, hosts educational seminars featuring wildlife experts, local naturalists, and biologists. There are also sunrise and sunset tours, photography workshops, craft fairs, trips to the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park, and other compelling happenings.

And the most compelling of all is the show put on by mother nature. With the impressive snowcapped mountain range as a backdrop, a field full of cranes perform ritual courtship dances for each other, leaping and bowing, flapping and croaking—a call that’s something like a cross between a tiger’s soft roar and a pigeon’s coo. It must be infectious, because when a sandhill crane chooses a mate, it’s for life. For those who get to witness it, it’s a memory that lasts a lifetime.