Monte Vista 2024 – After Action Report

Sandhill Crane Migration in Monte Vista, Colorado> 2024
Sandhill Crane doing the stick dance in Monte Vista Colorado

I’ve recently finished another photography trip to Monte Vista, Colorado to photograph the annual Sandhill Crane Migration. This is my 14th year making this trip. It’s one of my favorite annual photography trips too.

This year I was joined by my friend Jonathan Steele. I had been trying to convince Jonathan to make this trip with me for several years now, and he finally agreed to do it.

Adding to the confusion were weather forecasts of a major winter storm moving into Colorado later in the week. As it turned out, it was more than a major storm, it basically shut the entire state down for a couple of days, except for where we were. We caught a big break on that, but it did affect us.

Our trip started out on a rough note for Jonathan when his flight from Connecticut was delayed. He ended up arriving a day later than planned, but I met him at the airport here in Denver and we drove straight on down to Monte Vista from there. We ended up arriving in Monte Vista just in time for some late afternoon photography and we were basically back on schedule from there.

The bird count in Monte Vista was good. The area around the refuge is still suffering from drought, so many of the ponds outside the refuge were without birds. But, the east side of the refuge is where the majority of birds were congregating and they were present in large numbers, maybe more than I’ve ever seen there in the past.

We also managed to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park east of Alamosa. Jonathan had never seen the sand dunes so it was his first trip there.

Great Sand Dune in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado.

With the winter storm rolling into the state, we decided to bail out of Monte Vista a day early and drive to Durango on Wednesday afternoon to photograph the Durango & Silverton NGRR. We got there just in time to catch the trains on their return run to Durango from Cascade Canyon. We chased the train again on Thursday and then rode the train on Friday. What a great experience. Friday had fresh snow on the ground and the canyon was a winter wonderland.

Durango & Silverton NGRR on it’s way to Cascade Canyon.

We spent the first day in Durango chasing the train(s). We were fortunate as the railroad was running two trains this week for Spring break.

The second day, we actually road the Cascade Canyon Winter train. That was a great experience.

Return run of the Cascade Canyon train.

We made the trip back to Denver via Cortez, Colorado and Moab, Utah in order to avoid winter storms on just about every other route through Colorado. We had a bit of snow between Durango and Cortez and US 160, but for the remainder of the trip, it was either raining or clear. We had hoped to stop at Mesa Verde, but it was foggy with snow, so we decided to keep on trucking.

We made it back to Denver intact and before sunset on Saturday afternoon. All in all, it was a great buddy trip.