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to the Rockies - Spring 2006
by Sylvia R. Gallagher
p.m., Wed., May 24, 2006
Bellaire USFS Campground, Red Feather Lakes area,
After a hectic
morning, we're now in a lovely campsite for the upcoming Memorial
Last night I stayed up until 11:00 trying to get my diary edited to
send to Nancy. She said she'd be home before the weekend. The file
was extra large because I was all ready to send her an installment
when she emailed me that she was going away for a couple of weeks.
My computer kept giving crazy messages and locking up, so I'd have
to reboot. This computer is a cheapy with an Intel Celeron processor,
which I suppose is the problem. I tried to remember to save frequently,
so I wouldn't have to redo too much editing when it coughed, but I
was forever getting so wrapped up in my editing that I'd forget to
do it. Then when I rebooted and reopened the file, I had a hard time
figuring where to start doing the editing over again.
I gave up at 11:00 last night and then spent an hour or two on it
this morning. I got up at 5:00 and did it before breakfast. Again
I had the same problems, but finally I got it right.
To top off the
frustration, I had no sooner gotten to sleep last night when some
guys brought in a fifth-wheel and parked it in the site next to us.
They jabbered away in Spanish for an interminable length of time.
Finally I yelled at them out the window to be quiet, but don't know
if they understood, for the racket continued a little while longer.
I think they had brought the trailer from some storage facility for
people who were to arrive today.
We got away at
around 8:45 and headed for the Wal-Mart in Greeley. I had a prescription
to fill, so the timing was perfect. Their pharmacies open at 9:00.
I like using those pharmacies on the road, for I can do my grocery
shopping while the prescription is filled. (Most Wal-Marts are Super
ones, unlike the one in Huntington Beach, which doesn't have a grocery
department.) I know people are down on Wal-Mart for monopolizing the
market, but in some places that's all there is these days.
We drove through
the Fort Collins metropolitan area on more horrible roads (freeways
and town streets equally bad), stopping for gasoline and propane.
We were really happy to be headed north on US-287 and be out in the
country again. At the little village of Forks we turned left on the
road to Red Feather Lakes. It looked like a little byway and I had
wondered how it would be to tow our trailer on it. It turned out to
be a beautiful road, and we only had to use low gear a couple of times
near the tops of hills. We were amazed at how many widely spaced mansions
there were along the road. It wasn't until we got almost to the turn-off
to our campground that we entered the National Forest. There's a village
of Red Feather Lakes nearby, but we didn't go to it. It's supposed
to have a general store in case we forgot anything.
I really pored
through the Trailer Life and AAA camping guides trying to find a nice
campground for the Memorial Day weekend. I discovered this one listed
in TL, but not AAA. The book said it had 21 sites with 15-amp electrical
hookups and doesn't take reservations. (Any campground taking reservations
would probably be completely reserved.) I hoped that the reservations
part had not changed since the book was printed, and it hadn't. There
were only one or two sites occupied besides the host's, and after
driving the loop twice, we picked out a really nice one. It has a
little brook on one side and some shrubs as well as the pines and
aspens that most of them have. I think I know what kind of pines they
are, but will check the book tomorrow. We were pleased to discover
that the old 15-amp electrical boxes had been replaced with new ones
that accommodate 15, 30 and 50 amp plugs. Ours is 30. To top it off,
Jim can even get several TV stations to come in. And the price is
only $12.50 a night with our Golden Age Passport.
We got here around 12:30 p.m. and by the end of the afternoon half
the sites were taken.
We've walked around
the campground a bit with Toby, but haven't checked out the lake,
which supposedly is within walking distance. I don't even know where
the trailhead to it is. There's also a road to it and a day-use area.
Not too many birds
yet, but the first one I saw I take as a good omen. While I was bringing
stuff into the trailer from the truck, I looked up and saw soaring
just above the treetops a Northern Goshawk. [We never saw it again.]
It was so close I was able to ID it easily with my naked eye. Binocs.
were elsewhere. The rest of the birds we've had so far are more ordinary
mountain species. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are singing their "chubby
cheeks" song most of the time. Hermit Thrushes were singing just
before sunset. The only species to find Jim's birdseed has been a
Steller's Jay. It's a different subspecies from those in California.
Mountain Chickadees were active all around the trailer most of the
time I sat outside this afternoon, and I heard American Robins, Yellow-rumped
Warblers (saw an Audubon's), and perhaps a few others.
to be up out of the heat. The lowlands are headed for 90+ degrees
in a couple of days, but it should stay in the 70s here at 8600 ft.
It didn't get out of the 60s today. I've really been looking forward
to being in the cool, dry high country. We just relaxed this afternoon,
enjoying it all.
p.m., Thurs., May 25, 2006
Bellaire Lake Campground, Red Feather Lakes, CO
It was great to
have a really cold night again and to snuggle up under our electric
blanket. It got down to 34 degrees. The morning was clear and calm,
but a slight breeze got up in the afternoon and the sky became up
to half cloudy by late afternoon. A few drops of rain fell--just enough
to make me come inside. But that was OK. I was glad to watch the news.
We get three stations from Cheyenne, but only one comes in really
well. The other two are tolerable. NBC, CBS (good), and PBS. It sort
of seems like cheating to be sitting in a beautiful USFS campground
and watching TV, but we really do like to keep up on the news when
This morning after breakfast I walked the short road to the lake,
which turned out to be next to the tent-camping sites. I hoped there
would be more birds there than in the campground, but there weren't.
I did hear a House Wren singing a learning subsong, but it switched
to calls before I realized what I was hearing and decided to record.
The only bird whose presence was due to the lake was a Spotted Sandpiper.
I wished I had taken my camera instead of my tape recorder. I did
take a flower book and a tree book and spent most of my time figuring
out a few of each. As those of you who did my mountain workshop know,
I've developed an interest in conifers and discovered five species
in this area. Lodgepole Pines are the most common. They're supposed
to be a different variety than in the Sierra/Cascade chain, but the
book didn't say what the difference is. I thought the bark seemed
yellower and more flaky than I remembered and the prickles on the
cones longer, but don't know if that's really true. Douglas-Firs are
second most common. There are scattered Ponderosa Pines, but we're
a little high for them to be dominant. Also present in one place next
to the lake were a few Limber Pines. In California I associate them
with high, dry places, e.g. Mt. Lassen or the White Mtns. Here they
were on a rocky south-facing slope. The final conifer was Common or
Dwarf Juniper, which is actually a shrub. It's in our campsite and
very fragrant, especially when in the sun. The other two trees were
Quaking Aspen and Scouler Willow. These deciduous trees have their
leaves less than half of their fully developed size. It's still springtime
The fact that
we're so high and it's still springtime may be the reason there aren't
a lot of birds, especially in the deciduous riparian areas. In areas
like that in California, you can usually hear a dozen or more birds,
even in the middle of the day. I'll have to see what happens as we
get later in the season. We plan to be in the Colorado Rockies throughout
My flowers were:
Oregon Grape, Berberis repense - beautiful yellow flowers,
prickly holly-like leaves like the larger version found farther
Ribes cereum - a shrub
Golden Pea, Thermopsis montana - showy yellow flowers
There was also one more, which seemed to be in the Figwort family
(probably a Mimulus), but I couldn't find it in the meager supply
of Rocky Mtn. flower books I have. It's a ground-hugging mat of
a plant and grows in open, sandy areas. The largest clumps of it
I saw were about six inches in diameter.
I got back to
the trailer around 10:00, and we drove into the little village of
Red Feather Lakes, where I visited the Red Feather Trading Post, a
general store with an amazing assortment of necessities for such a
small place. I bought a small flower book (all they had), a DeLorme
atlas of Colorado, a couple of books to read, and a package of fresh
mushrooms. They had a good supply of groceries. Jim bought the Denver
Post. We like that paper.
I sat outside
in the late morning and part of the afternoon, but it was a little
chilly. The highest temperature I noted on our thermometer was 67
degrees, but it may have gotten warmer than that when I wasn't checking.
I fixed mashed
potatoes for dinner. I knew it would take longer to boil them than
at home, where I usually allow 12 minutes when they're peeled and
sliced one-half inch thick. Here at 8600 ft it took 20 minutes.
p.m., Fri., May 26, 2006
down to 34 degrees last night. The highest temperature I noticed today
was 71 degrees. The day dawned clear and calm, but clouds started
forming in the early afternoon, so the high of the day was around
noon. In the afternoon there was intermittent cloudiness and once
a very short sprinkle of rain--just enough to send us indoors for
I walked around
for about 3 hours this morning. I had Jim drive me to where the road
to the campground cuts off from the through county road and walked
back to the campground via the lake. I suppose it was about a mile
by the road, but I wandered around in the edge of the forest several
places. I heard--and saw poorly--a Dusky Flycatcher. It could conceivably
be a Hammond's, but the habitat was better for Dusky and I'm pretty
sure I can tell the two apart by voice. I got nice recordings, so
will find out for sure when I get home and plot the sonogram. A Ruby-crowned
Kinglet also gave me a nice solo.
I took my camera
this time instead of a backpack full of books. I took photos of all
the trees enumerated yesterday and some of the flowers, including
that Mimulus(?) species that isn't in any of the books I have. I really
must look for something better. Perhaps I'll be able to at Rocky Mountain
National Park. After I got back to the trailer, I also photographed
the beautiful blue Pasqueflowers (Anemone patens) growing right beside
Did little the
rest of the day but enjoy the area. The campground is full, but since
the lake is only used for fishing from the shore and nonpowered boats,
no rowdy types are attracted here for the holiday. The sites are widely
separated, too. There are lots of families, including some three-generation
ones. There are a couple of double sites which accommodate two RVs
(and cost double), and it looked as though the grandparents came out
a few days ago and staked out the sites. The younger generations arrived
after work tonight. All license plates are Colorado, no doubt from
Ft. Collins and other nearby towns.
p.m., Sat., May 27, 2006
Bellaire Lake Campground, CO
Today was the
warmest since we got here. I didn't check the thermometer when we
got up, nor did I note the high. There were very few clouds this afternoon,
and nothing remotely threatening. The sun was shining on our thermometer,
so it wouldn't have given an accurate reading, but I'd estimate the
high was in the mid-70's.
I fixed pancakes
this morning. At 8600 ft, they were the lightest I've ever made. Lots
Our only activity of any significance was a drive down to Rustic,
which is on SR-14, the highway through Poudre Canyon. We wanted to
see if the dirt road was OK to tow our trailer on. It's nice and smooth,
but has about two miles of steep downgrade and hairpin turns, but
Jim thinks there will be no problem using it. It's only 7.6 miles
long and will save us about 60 miles. This road is on the Colorado
State map, but a portion of it is not on the AAA map.
were in the Roosevelt National Forest, there were people camping beside
the road or off on little side roads. Some of these places are actual
marked campsites, others seem strictly informal. Of course, all the
regular campgrounds are full for the holiday weekend. I don't know
if people need a special pass to park there, but there were no signs
to that effect.
The area is criss-crossed
with old logging roads--in various states of disrepair, I suppose.
A popular activity is to drive these with ORVs. Several parties in
our campground have these vehicles, but most folks are just here to
gab with their relatives and friends and to fish. We saw several young
boys proudly returning to their campsites with their catch of one
or two fish. Jim was sitting fairly close to the camp road and took
pains to admire the fish. They beamed.
I finished my
Indigo Bunting embroidery (I'm pleased with the irridescence I achieved)
and picked out threads and started work on a Scarlet Tanager. Including
it, I only have four squares left to do on my Birds of North America
quilt. Then it'll take a year or so to piece and quilt it--all by
hand (I'm a purist).
People always want to know how long it takes to embroider a square.
I've been mentioning when I finish each block in my log in order to
try to answer that question. I started the Indigo Bunting on May 14,
so the answer is about two weeks for a relatively simple bird in an
uncomplicated setting (in this case a bit of green grass). The Sharp-tailed
Grouse was typical of the complicated ones. I started it April 17
and finished it around May 14, so it took nearly a month. Not only
was the bird complicated, but I had to embroider the tangle of fairly
tall grasses in which it was displaying. I think the Canada Goose
took about that long, too. Even though the bird was only moderately
complicated, the picture I used had a reflection in the water, and
I embroidered that, too, so it was almost like embroidering two birds,
with the reflected image darker and less crisp. [Note added later:
I finished the Scarlet Tanager on June 8, twelve days after I started
How many hours
does it take to do a square? I have no idea. Even when I have my embroidery
in my lap, I may spend a lot of time looking at birds--or may take
a break and pick up a book for a while, take a walk, work on dinner,
or any number of things. Some days I have no time for embroidery at
all; on others I may have it out for six hours or more.
p.m., Sun., May 28, 2006
Bellaire Lake Campground, CO
Not much to report
today. We would have left had we not realized that there would be
no other campsites available on this holiday weekend. I slept in until
7:00 and awoke to find Jim watching Sunday Morning on CBS, the only
station from Cheyenne that comes in well. So I sat down and watched
it, too. Hadn't seen it in years--and it's still as good as ever.
I used to watch it every week, taping it if I was going to be away.
After the program was over, I fixed breakfast. Then we drove into
Red Feather Lakes Village to get a Sunday Denver Post. On the way
back, I had Jim let me and Toby out to walk a short stretch of road,
where a neighboring camper had said he'd seen Mountain Bluebirds.
I saw none, but will surely encounter them before long on this trip.
There was an awful lot of traffic on the dirt road, which had a rather
narrow shoulder, so it really wasn't a very pleasant walk. Toby, however,
is getting to be a pretty good walker. Thanks to that no-pull harness,
he behaves almost like a mature dog. I could even stand and watch
a bird without putting a foot on the leash to keep him from jerking
my shoulder so badly I couldn't hold my binocs steady. That was not
the case before the new harness.
After we got back,
I sat outside until lunchtime working on my embroidery and watching
the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds fighting over Jim's bird feeders. He
has two out now. Until late yesterday we only had females--at least
four. (I just saw three at once on a four-hole feeder.) Then a single
male showed up, and he was around all day today off and on. Once I
saw a courtship display only about 6-8 feet from my chair. The female
was perched on a twiggy bush about six inches off the ground, and
the male assumed about a 45 degree angle head down facing her and
darted forward and backwards toward her from several directions within
about a 30 degree angle. All the while his tail was flared somewhat--not
as much as with other hummers. The base of the tail seemed broader
than for most hummers (hence the name?) and the tip was only about
twice as wide as the base. White on the outer tail feathers showed
well. His loud zinging feather sound was especially strong. Both males
and females give the feather sound when they fly, so you're always
aware when one is near. [Note added later: Since we've been in the
Rockies, it seems I hear that sound almost constantly no matter where
a new wildflower (for me):
Purple Fringe (Phacelia sericea)
It's a purple flower with long yellow stamens and grows on a spike
about 6-10 inches high with basal and near basal leaves. According
to the only book I found it in, the purple fringe is those yellow
The day dawned
cloudy and the temperature didn't seem as cold as it has been. It
cleared off partially by mid-morning and became reasonably warm, probably
high 60s. Just before noon, dark clouds formed and it began to look
really threatening. Jim put away the chairs, etc. I think the predicted
cold front came through during the early afternoon hours. We had only
a couple of very brief showers--barely enough to wet down the top
of the picnic table and make spots all over the dusty windshield of
the truck. But the wind has become quite strong and the treetops are
really whipping around. The temperature had gone down to 40 degrees
by 7:00, when I last checked. It may get down into the 20's tonight,
according to the newspaper. Needless to say, we stayed indoors all
afternoon watching the clouds passing by and reading that nice, fat
p.m., Mon., May 29, 2006
KOA, Grant, CO (Listed in TL under Walden)
Jim spent the
morning photographing Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. He especially wanted
to get the male. After he finished shooting a lot of film, he got
out the digital camera. We looked at them on the screen of the camera
and they seemed very nice. He hasn't gotten the computer out yet.
It was 31degrees
last night and didn't warm up above the low 50's today. Brrr! But
I'd rather have this than heat. The morning was sunny and breezy,
but Jim was sitting in the shade. Several times he came into the trailer
to warm up before going out again. Except for taking Toby for a walk
around 10:00, I stayed indoors. I've already explored the entire area
and gotten some recordings when the wind was calm, so there was no
point in braving the chill.
We ate an early
lunch and then drove 55 miles to our present stop. We took the eight-mile
road down to SR-14 with no problems on the steep, curvy stretch. SR-14
ascended gradually along the Cache la Poudre River to Cameron Pass,
10,273 ft, then descended perhaps ten miles to 9200 ft in the minuscule
settlement of Gould, where the KOA is located. The KOA is small and
located in a lodgepole pine grove. The place was almost empty, but
we learned it had been full all weekend, as we expected. We got a
very nice site, #25, which looks off into a slightly open area of
forest. Gray Jays have already discovered our offerings, but are playing
coy about being photographed. They have the whitest heads of any of
the subspecies of Gray Jay in North America. Jim photographed them
once before--in Leadville in June, 1990--and the photos were very
good, but not excellent.
There are quite
a few turnouts, picnic areas, campgrounds (some still closed), etc.,
in the vicinity of the pass. There is also a Colorado State Forest/Park
visitors center just west of the pass. We eyeballed all of these places
as we drove by and plan to return to the area tomorrow. According
to the ABA guide, there are supposed to be Clark's Nutcrackers, Pine
Grosbeaks, Red Crossbills, and Boreal Owls in this area. We could
use some nice Pine Grosbeak pictures The Boreal Owl is probably impossible,
but it won't hurt to ask in the visitors center.
We got a couple
of brochures when we registered here, and the one on the state forest
says one of the campgrounds has electrical hook-ups. It's not listed
in either TL or AAA camping guides. I saw it as we drove past and
it is definitely open. Will have to check it out tomorrow. We might
want to move up there after our two nights here are over.
As we neared the
pass, the sky gradually became totally cloudy--not bumpy rain clouds,
just high, smooth ones. The temperature was 48 degrees when we arrived
and unless it clears off may not go below freezing tonight.
p.m., Tues., May 30, 2006
KOA, Gould, CO
We drove back
up to the Cameron Pass area. Our first stop was at the Moose Visitors
Center, a facility of the Colorado State Forest/Park. (Out front is
a life-sized moose made out of barbed wire. It seems strange, but
is actually very beautiful. It was a project of a grandfather, son,
The place didn't
open until 9:00, and it was around 7:45 when we got there, but we
discovered a lot of bird feeders around back and also a trail along
the edge of the forest between it and a willow-filled creek. I walked
a ways along the trail while Jim photographed some of the birds around
the feeder. There was nothing there he especially needed, but he did
get some Cassin's Finches in a tree. Most of his shots of them are
on the ground.
Along my walk I found some Engelmann Spruce trees and picked up a
couple of cones. Beside the parking lot was what I think is a Blue
Spruce. I wonder if it's growing naturally there or was planted. (The
tree book says it's sometimes hard to tell Blue and Engelmann Spruce
trees apart, so I'll have to hope to see a Blue sometime on a nature
trail with a label beside it.) I picked up cones from the two types
of trees and they seemed different, but the Blue cone was on the small
side--in the overlap area where it could be either. [Later: I really
think it's just another Engelmann.]
I bought a two-volume
wildflower ID set in the nature center. It's arranged for amateurs
like me and I spent a lot of time the rest of the day figuring out
a few flowers using it. Volume 1 has lowland flowers, while Vol. 2
has the mountain ones, so you don't have to carry both. Some flowers
occur at a variety of altitudes and are pictured in only one book
and simply listed in the other, so it's necessary to have both. The
books are called "Guide to Colorado Wildflowers" by G. K.
Guennel, Westcliffe Publishers. What I got is the 2nd edition, published
in 2004. [Later: As I edit this installment, I realize that I have
been able to identify all--or perhaps nearly all--of the many flowers
I've seen using the mountain books. I really recommend them.]
We drove on up
the road toward Cameron Pass, checking out the Ranger Lakes campground,
which has electricity. We found its setting not to be very different
from the KOA where we are now. It doesn't have any water. The water
system isn't functioning at the present. Even when functioning, there
is only one place to get it. Furthermore the sites are awfully close
together. That wouldn't matter now, for hardly anyone was there, but
we're happy with our KOA, although it's considerably more expensive
($32 vs. $21).
We stopped at
a few scenic turnouts and picnic areas, where I looked at flowers
and trees and Jim tried to find birds and wished I'd quit looking
at flowers and trees. (He didn't enjoy the drive, although he was
a good sport about it.)
There's a county
road (#41) that runs about 2 miles east from the KOA along a fork
of the Michigan River to a reservoir. (It runs farther than that,
but I think much of it is 4-wheel-drive beyond there.) We drove it
at the end of the morning just to see what it was like. The river
is really only a large creek and spreads out all over the bottomlands,
with the assistance of beavers. The area is supposed to be great for
moose, except the KOA owner told Jim that all the Memorial Day crowds
scared them away, at least for now. Despite that information, we drove
it after dinner just in case. No luck. We'll try again first thing
in the morning. (It costs $5 per vehicle to explore that area, but
the pass is good until noon the day after it's purchased. Our Golden
Age pass doesn't work there, because it's a state forest, not national.)
We got back to
our trailer in time to fix lunch. In the afternoon Jim sat outside
hoping the Gray Jay that greeted us yesterday would return, but it
didn't. I drove back up road 41 with my new flower books and identified
and photographed several right beside the road on a south-facing slope:
(Lupinus argenteus parviflorus)
Cushion Phlox (Phlox pulvinata)
Starwort (Stellaria longipes)
There was one
other in the rose family that I couldn't find. When I got back to
the trailer, I discovered that within each color, the author has put
shrubs and "herbs" in separate sections. I think what I
had was a small shrub. It looked a bit woody. I'll check it out tomorrow.
I didn't photograph it today because it was too far up the slope,
but it won't be for mountain-goat-Jim.
On our morning
drive, I also found a patch of beautiful yellow Avalanche Lilies (Erythronium
I'd like to walk the entire two miles of road 41 in the morning, but
don't know if I'll make it. It's 9200 ft here at the KOA and somewhat
higher at the dam. The road isn't all down-hill either. There seem
to be quite a few birds in the willows--finally. I heard Lincoln's
and White-crowned Sparrows, saw Yellow Warblers, and think I heard
We may not have
had any moose on our after-dinner drive, but while we were eating
dinner, three Mule Deer does wandered slowly by our site, grazing
on the nice fresh grass as they went. We've seen so many White-tailed
Deer on our trip, it was amazing how much bigger Mule Deer are. I
also think these are bigger than the ones in California. (The book
just said coastal ones are smaller, but I don't know how far inland
"coastal" extends.) Toby didn't catch sight of them for
quite a while, but when he did, he started barking. So we put him
in his kennel for the duration.
p.m., Wed., May 31, 2006
Elk Creek Campground, Grand Lake, CO
A long day and
I'm exhausted, but here goes.
We got up at 5:00 this morning and drove the same road we did last
evening, but no Moose. Then we came back and had breakfast.
I had Jim take me up to the dam for the North Michigan River (Creek
in some sources) Reservoir, and I made it back to the KOA without
having Jim come and get me. I carried my recording gear, camera, and
new flower guide. Although the creek noise was loud some places, it
was surprisingly quiet in others. I got several nice recordings, including
some mixtures. In addition to the birds heard or seen yesterday, I
added Wilson's Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker, Hammond's Flycatcher, Warbling
Vireo, and a few others. Got really nice recordings of the Lincoln's
Sparrow song and adequate ones of several others.
I actually spent
most of my time looking at and photographing the flowers. Getting
down on the ground--and, especially, back up--with my tape recorder
and microphone draped across my shoulders is not easy at 9500 ft.
New flowers were:
Pin Cherry (Prunus
pennsylvanica) - the shrub I had trouble with yesterday
Mountain Tansy Mustard (Descurainia richardsonii)
Broadleaf Arnica (Arnica latifolia)
Mountain Candytuft (Noccaea montana)
I got back to
the trailer around 10:30, having spent three hours moseying down that
We drove out of the campground at 11:30 and headed for Grand Lake.
I looked at the map and measured against the scale of miles and discovered
it is about 23 miles from where we were camped at Gould to Grand Lake.
However, in order to get there we had to drive 90 miles. First we
went northwest to Walden on SR 14, then southeast to Granby on SR
125, finally north to Grand Lake on US 34. We stopped for lunch at
Walden and also bought gas and did a lot of grocery shopping. I hadn't
had anything other than the general store at Red Feather Lakes for
a week. The lunch and the groceries were both quite expensive, and
neither was particularly satisfactory. The lunch was so-so and the
grocery store lacked several quite common items. Their meat looked
The drive itself
was absolutely gorgeous the entire distance. Most of the time we were
in North Park, an 8000 ft valley completely surrounded by snow-capped
mountains. The valley floor was dotted with ponds, marshes, and wet
meadows in many places. (Arapaho NWR is there, but we decided the
birds would be those we'd seen in many other NWRs in the west.) A
little higher much of the land has been converted to pasture. On the
hillsides there is a lot of Big Sagebrush. To complete the scene,
towering puffy clouds were over the mountaintops, but not extensive
enough to be at all threatening. (They're all gone now.)
Much of the Big Sagebrush shows signs of having been dragged to convert
it to grassland for cattle. This is the habitat of the Greater Sage-Grouse,
which is declining alarmingly, but which the current administration
refused to list as Endangered. Despite the obvious habitat destruction,
the ABA Bird-finding guide blames the decline on photographers who
get too close to the birds. Let's face it, only a very small number
of leks are accessible to photographers.
According to my
new (2004) Colorado plant book, Big Sagebrush is now Seriphidium tridentatum,
no longer Artemisia tridentata. I wonder how many other Artemisias
have been placed in the new genus. Another change that I discovered
is that all three of Colorado's tree-sized junipers are now in the
genus Sabina. Only the Common Juniper, a circumpolar shrub, is still
in Juniperus. I wonder if all the rest of the North American "junipers"
are now in Sabina. I don't ever read the scientific botanical literature.
As we drove north
from Granby, our eyes were assaulted by a lot of scroungy lakeside
tourist businesses--marinas, motels, cafes, crowded RV parks, etc--along
Granby Lake. We wondered what the campground I'd selected would be
like. It turned out to be quite nice. It's on a slope with Elk Creek
running through it. We have a full hook-up site with willows on three
sides. Below our rear window, we can barely make out the creek through
the willows. On the other side of the creek is a tent-camping area
and off to one side is the office of the campground, but it's not
has recently been purchased by a couple from Newport Beach, and they
are assisted in running it by another couple from Irvine. The young
man from Irvine, the only one we've met, is exceedingly friendly and
shared with us the learning curve associated with figuring out how
to run a campground. He also suggested a couple of places we might
like to visit locally.
told him of our fruitless moose hunts, for he told us there are moose
wandering the campground grounds regularly, especially early and late
in the day, and we might even see one out our rear window. A little
while later he came back and said there was one in a grassy patch
just past the far end of the campground from us. Jim drove up there
and got some poor back-lit photos. I had dinner started and couldn't
leave. I do hope to see one or more of them before we leave here.
We paid for four nights.
start exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. The entrance is only
a short distance north of where we're camped. I've always driven in
from Estes Park before--once or twice with Mother and once with Jim--and
skimped on exploring the western portion of the park. This time we'll
be entering from that side. Estes Park has grown to be a huge tourist
town, which is also a minus. I hated it last time I was there. The
town of Grand Lake is quite small. Haven't seen the main business
part of it yet.
p.m., Thurs. June 1, 2006
Elk Creek Campground, Grand Lake, CO
was our day to explore the high country of Rocky Mountain NP. We got
an early start, as always, so the visitors center was closed, but
we did get a park map when we showed our Golden Age pass at the entry
first part of the road passes through the Kawuneeche Valley, through
which the north fork of the Colorado River meanders. On the meadows
on either side of the river we saw several herds of elk grazing. We
took a look at some of the nature trails along this low section of
the drive, but decided to delay walking any of them until tomorrow.
So we continued on up to the Trail Ridge portion of the road, which
is above the tree line.
Farview Point we could look down on the valley we had just driven--a
beautiful scene. At the viewpoint itself Clark's Nutcrackers and Gray
Jays were panhandling. Jim succeeded, finally, in getting some nice
shots of this race of the Gray Jay. He didn't need Clark's Nutcracker,
but I'll bet he got some anyway.
A little farther along we crossed the Continental Divide, where one
side flows into the Colorado R. and the other into the Cache la Poudre,
whose waters eventually end up in the Mississippi. By the time we
got to the Alpine Visitors Center and store, we were meeting all the
people who came up from Estes Park. The visitors center hadn't opened
for the day yet, but I browsed the store. Then we continued further,
passing the highest point on the road. We stopped at a lot of turnouts
and scanned the scene carefully for White-tailed Ptarmigans or rosy-finches
(2 species possible here). But all we found were a few American Pipits,
most of which were heard only. This early in the season very few flowers
were in bloom and the tundra was brown with scattered patches of snow.
(We'd actually encountered more snow in the subalpine zone, which
is usually the case.) The only flower I identified was Alpine Forget-me-not,
(Eritrichum aretoides). I saw a couple of other species,
but they were down too steep a slope for me to examine closely. The
summit of the road is around 12,200 ft, so we didn't have a lot of
energy for tackling steep slopes anyway.
half way along Trail Ridge (the high part), we turned around and headed
back down. The steady stream of traffic was becoming a big turn-off.
We'll find some other alpine places that are not so crowded in a few
the way back we stopped a couple of places in the subalpine, especially
Lake Irene, but the trails were covered with snow. That's supposed
to be a good place for Pine Grosbeak, but we didn't see one. The trees
there are mainly Engelmann Spruce with a few Lodgepole Pines. The
only other stops were for elk. The first was a lone male right beside
the road. He had a nice velvety rack, but his coat was pretty moth-eaten.
This is shedding time. The other was for one of the herds we'd seen
earlier, but this time it was much closer to the highway. We got back
to the trailer around 12:30.
the long day yesterday and our trek to the high country this morning,
we were ready for long naps.
Around 6:00 this evening, Jim went down to the main building to take
a shower. While he was gone, Toby started gruffing at something outside
the window. He does that a lot, and it's usually somebody walking
their dog--or even just somebody not walking a dog. So I told him,
"Be quiet, there's nothing out there." But he insisted there
was something. So I looked out the window and could barely make out
a dark gray form on the other side of the willows. Pretty soon, I
could see the blackish velvety antlers of a young male moose!
order to keep Toby from developing full-scale barking, I thrust him
into his kennel where he could no longer see the animal. After a brief
moment of indecision, I decided the animal wasn't going to crash through
the willows, but was going to go around them, so I could safely dash
out to the truck for my camera with a 35-70mm zoom. (I don't know
how to work any of Jim's.) Even though this is a campground moose
and has not attacked anyone, I wasn't taking any chances, so I stayed
close to the trailer door. Pretty soon the moose finished browsing
on those willows and ambled out into the campground road in front
of the trailer. I blazed away with my camera as it headed for more
willows across the road. I must have shot half a roll of that animal
in various locations, but don't really remember. I was pretty excited.
Jim got back from the shower and I told him what he had missed, he
was really disappointed. Figuring it might still be in the campground,
he grabbed the wrong camera and headed out looking for it. Other campers
helped him find it. Then he came back for a camera that would do a
better job, but by then it was too dark and the moose was gone anyway.
Oh well, we still have two more days here, and according to the visitors
center, where we are is the better than any place in the park for
moose. Our campground is just outside the park entrance.
To which he responded, "It'll be butter by the time you're done!"
My readers will have to decide if I overdid it that much.
p.m., Fri., June 2, 2006
Elk Creek Campground, Grand Lake, CO
is filling up. Even the short, uninteresting site across the road
is occupied. The young folks in the big fifth-wheel in the site next
to us took at least a half-hour to get backed into the narrow site
to their satisfaction squeaky brakes and all. Now they have to unhook,
put down jacks, hook up utilities, extend slide-outs, and all those
other things. We wonder if they've ever backed a trailer before. These
sites are tricky to get into, and the road is somewhat narrow. (I
suspect they borrowed their parents' trailer. It has a Florida license.)
I listened to two young couples and their assorted kids and dogs set
up tent camps down below us. Every operation had to be discussed in
detail and various options considered: where to place the tents, how
to set them up, how to inflate the air mattresses, where to place
the sleeping bags in the tents (conclusion: diagonally), etc. The
wives seemed to have no trouble getting food prepared. Of course,
the young kids had to have their interests redirected occasionally.
I couldn't see any of it because of the veil of willows surrounding
our site, but one man in the group had a voice that carried perfectly,
so I always got his side of every conversation--and his side seemed
to be the most authoritative part.
Today we stayed in the Kawuneeche Valley portion of the park. I walked
two nature trails (one mile each), both of which started out in a
forest, crossed a wide, wet meadow and the Colorado River. One of
them ended up at a historic dude ranch that was established in the
1920s. The oldest buildings have been maintained, and I think they
have interpretive staff there in the peak of the season, but I had
the trail and everything to myself this morning. Got a nice photo
of a beaver dam. Of course, the beaver was nowhere to be seen.
Well, almost to
myself. I saw one moose from the trail. It was a female and kept watching
me and making me nervous, but I finally figured out I was making her
nervous, for when I continued on up the trail, she trotted quickly
across it and along the edge of the forest for several hundred yards
before I lost sight of her.
My most interesting
recording was of a single Sandhill Crane bugling. I have lots of recordings
of masses, but it was fun to have a solo. The same or a different
one flew in close to the parking lot, where Jim was shooting Violet-green
Swallows, so he was able to photograph it. It was stained almost completely
brown, but had the red and white head of a full adult. Don't know
where it spent the winter. A ranger told some people who were also
photographing it that it is a migrant headed for Alaska. They don't
breed in the park. I looked it up and found they do breed in extreme
northwestern Colorado. However, none of the field guides showed the
breeding range in the Sierra Valley of California, so I wonder if
they don't breed here, too. The habitat looks perfect.
The other nature
trail, the Coyote, was less interesting, but maybe it was because
it was later in the morning and there were quite a few people on it.
It crossed the river, then followed along its course for a half-mile.
I learned that "Kawuneeche" is the Arapaho (Indian) word
for "coyote." I didn't see any coyotes, but I did see lots
of elk in the meadow--all far away.
We had a small,
perhaps yearling, female moose near our campsite this morning, and
Jim succeeded in getting pictures of her. We haven't seen the big
male of last evening, but the hubbub of everyone arriving and setting
up camp must be a deterrent. However, the park employee told us that
last weekend there were sightings in the park--and it was Memorial
Day. I really hope Jim will be able to get good photos. He waited
until nearly dark to take his shower tonight.
just like the last few--low of 31 degrees this morning, high in the
mid-70s, which may be a bit warmer than it's been. Same cloud situation.
Perfect! It's been 92 degrees in Denver. I guess we'll just have to
stay in the mountains until fall.
Later: A few days
later the Denver Post had an article on a research study just completed
in the Kawuneeche Valley. Apparently having the Colorado River meander
through a nearly dry meadow is not the normal state of affairs. There
should be far more beavers than there are (30 today, 600 in the 1940s).
Their dams would cause the river to overflow producing marshes full
of willows, aspens, etc. The researchers feel that the surplus of
elk has eaten so many willows that the beavers have nothing to build
dams with. They recommend eliminating some of the elk. That's the
rub. Open season on any wild animal is a no-no in a national park.
So the recommended option is to have rangers or a contractor shoot
them at night using rifles with silencers. The final suggestion, reintroducing
their natural predator, the wolf, would cause the same outcries from
neighbors that it did at Glacier NP.
p.m., Sat., June 3, 2006
Elk Creek Campground, Grand Lake, CO
We didn't do too
much today, knowing that the park would probably be mobbed with weekenders.
We did go to the park, but to an area that we didn't expect very many
people to know about--but we were wrong. It's Adams Falls, which is
accessed by driving through the village of Grand Lake and continuing
on to a parking lot where the paved road ends. We'd been told the
trail was easy, but it was quite steep with lots of steps. I wished
I had taken my walking stick, but I made it up to the falls without
help. I did have Jim hold my hand on some of the taller steps on the
way down. My arthritic knees are just not that dependable any more.
I need railings, and there were none.
was beautiful and the area below it cascaded down an extremely narrow
canyon and was really impressive, too. I don't know the name of the
creek, but it bordered on being a river, it had so much water in it.
This is, of course, the best time of year for waterfalls.
I took my time
on the 0.3-mile trail, identifying and photographing some of the wildflowers
along the way with no trouble, because they looked similar to those
we see in the west. The first one looked a lot like the common Pussytoes
of the Sierra Nevada, except it had long stems. Logically enough,
it's called Tall Pussytoes (Antennaris pulcherrima anaphaloides).
The other looked like a Senecio, and I was close. It's called Rock
Groundsel (Packera werneriifolia). Others were some sort of wild strawberry
and a few I'd already seen in Gould. One was extremely tiny, and I
couldn't find it in the book, but I didn't try really hard, knowing
I couldn't get a decent photo of it anyway with my lens.
The 0.6-mile (round
trip) hike today took more out of me than the 2 miles I did yesterday
on more or less level ground. After we got back to the truck, we debated
going somewhere else, but decided we were just too tired and didn't
want to encounter crowds of people. This morning's were enough. So
we got back to the trailer around 10:30 and spent the rest of the
day loafing. I tried to take a nap, but Toby kept bouncing up and
down off the bed. There are dogs down in the tent camping section
that he can see out the rear window, where the bed is. I should have
put him in his kennel, but kept hoping he'd settle down. In fact,
he's barking out the rear window right now.
Around 5:00 I
took Toby for a walk around the camping loop and discovered the male
moose several sites away. I sent Jim down there and he wasn't back
for nearly an hour. I didn't know whether he got cornered by the moose
or found someone to talk to. It turned out a little of both. He did
get some good shots of the moose, but the sky was cloudy, so he's
still not completely satisfied. Then he found a fellow moose-watcher
who turned out to have lots more in common with him than that. They
shared common ideas about politics and religion, too. And when you
get Jim started on either of those subjects, he can talk forever.
We ate an early
dinner, because I was grilling hamburgers and feared the clouds might
start to leak, but they didn't. A front is supposed to come through
in the middle of the night, but is expected to be dry. Today the temperature
got up to 77 degrees after a low of 31 degrees last night. This is
probably the warmest day we've had in the high country.
June 4, 2006
Cottonwood Campground & Mobile Home Park, Idaho
p.m., Tues., June 5, 2006
Cottonwood Campground & Mobile Home Park,
Idaho Springs, CO
Yesterday so little
of interest occurred that I didn't bother to get out the computer.
Since we only had 75 miles to drive, I spent a couple of hours in
the morning finishing up my chapter in the ABA/Lane Bird-finding Guide
to Southern California and mailed it off to Brad Schram. It has been
quite a job, because I had to email folks in Orange County for lots
of simple information I could have gotten by myself had I been home--precise
street names, mileages between streets, hours when places are open,
etc. Lena Hayashi, Nancy Kenyon, and Kaaren Perry helped a lot. But
I depended most on Terry Hill for getting information on what exactly
they're doing at Bolsa Chica and what it'll be like when they finish.
She also got me a lot of the same types of information that the other
three women did. I really appreciate their help.
We left around
10:30, drove US 40 over Berthoud Pass, 11.315 ft. This is the highest
pass we've ever towed the trailer on, and we were somewhat apprehensive
about it, but the Suburban got us over the top like a trooper, albeit
slowly and in first gear. After we got down the other side we only
had 8 miles to drive eastward on I-70 to Idaho Springs. We wanted
to drive up Mt. Evans, so I picked the above campground, because it
was the only one anywhere near the road. It's 1.4 miles northwest
of Idaho Springs on SR-103. It's in a steep-walled canyon with Rocky
Mtn. Juniper and perhaps Ponderosa Pines (haven't checked closely
yet) on the south-facing slope and Douglas-Fir, Engelmann and Blue
Spruce on the north-facing. There are lots of Blue Spruce, the first
truly wild ones I've found, but I'm going to have to look around to
find a place to photograph one. The campground has so many utility
wires all over the place that I can't get a nice photo here.
themselves are pretty uninteresting. They're just on a gravel area
and very close together. They do back up to the steep north-facing
mountainside, though. A beautiful rock retaining wall backs up the
row of sites--huge boulders artistically stacked, with green plants
growing out of the crevices. Jim learned today that the man who owns
the park constructed the wall himself 30 years ago.
Today we drove
up to Mt. Evans. The SR-103 portion of the road is OK--has nice guard
rails and is in the forest. But when we turned onto SR-5, the spur-road
to the top of the mountain, 14,264 ft, the road became narrower, lacked
guard rails, and had sheer drop-offs that scared me to death when
we had to be on the outside. I can't believe I once drove that road
myself with Mother as a passenger. This time I was petrified, especially
on the way down, when we were mostly on the outside and were meeting
all too many cars--and the outside of the pavement was crumbly in
spots. I just closed my eyes or looked at my lap until it was over.
Jim really did a nice conservative job of driving; it's just me.
we got above the treeline, we started encountering large numbers of
Yellow-bellied Marmots--probably more on that road than the total
of all the marmots I've ever seen in my life. They were everywhere.
In one place the animal was right on the road and looked as though
it wasn't going to get out of the way, but just before we got there,
it darted down into a hole in the pavement about 2 feet from the side
of the road. If the animal had not been there, Jim might not have
seen the hole.
We were among
the first tourists to arrive at Summit Lake today, 12,800 ft and hadn't
been standing around the truck very long when I spotted a coyote.
Jim grabbed his longest lens, but the animal was very tolerant of
people and trotted right across in front of us. Jim had to keep backing
up with that lens. We were amazed at the bushy coat of that animal--much
fuller than any other coyote we've ever seen. Jim probably got the
best coyote pictures ever and was very pleased. Usually they're much
Summit Lake, a glacier-carved tarn, was nearly covered with ice. American
Pipits were doing flight songs all over the place, ascending from
one rock and landing on another some distance away. I tried to record
them, but didn't get anything as good as I got last time I was there.
Most of the time they were too far away, and then the wind got up.
Also, there was a lot of airplane traffic. Denver isn't far away.
I spent most of
my time there photographing and identifying three species of wildflower
plus a foot-high dwarf willow that had a few "pussies" on
it, but no leaves yet. My flowers were:
Fairy Primrose (Primula angustifolia)
Snow Buttercup (Ranunculus adoneus)
The road between
Summit Lake (a misnomer) and the true summit at 14,130 ft is even
narrower and I refused to ride any farther. (I drove to the top with
Mother many years ago, so saw no need to go again. "Been there,
done that.") So Jim went to the top without me. He couldn't remember
what the view from there was like, although I told him I'd show him
the pictures he took last time when we get home. (I wouldn't ride
to the top with him that time either.) Anyway, he took more pictures
and was especially pleased with one that had a fairly distant group
of Mountain Goats for accent.
We got back down
to the treeline area around 11:00. There is a new visitors center
that hasn't opened yet and also some nature trails. It's called Mt.
Goliath Natural Area. Lots of wildflowers were in bloom along the
trails. Some of them may have been planted there, the variety was
so great. I spent an hour identifying and photographing a few and
never got very far from the building. By then it was lunchtime and
there was no restroom there, so I reluctantly left. But we're going
to go back up there again tomorrow morning and make that our first
stop. By the time we got there today, the clouds were building fast
and so was the wind. I'd like to get better pictures of the flowers
I identified today--plus figure out even more. It's a great spot.
My flower list there today is:
Ladder (Polemonium foliosissimum)
Charming Wallflower (Erysimum amoenum)
Alpine Lily (Lloydia serotina)
Alpine Sandwort (Lidia obtusiloba)
Some sort of Cinquefoil
that I failed to figure out, but it was the most common flower there.
We got back down to the trailer exhausted. Hiking even a little bit
at that altitude takes a lot out of you. Also my nervousness about
the road was added to it. So after lunch, I took a long nap and worked
on my embroidery outdoors the rest of the day.
Last night was
pretty cold, but I don't think it got below the high 30s or low 40s.
We're at only 7900 ft and there's a heat wave going on. Denver broke
its all-time temperature record for the date at 96 degrees today.
It was 85 degrees here, according to a thermometer in downtown Idaho
Springs. (We still haven't put our thermometer out.) Sky was clear
first thing in the morning, but clouds built up, then disappeared
after sunset. Scattered thunderstorms were forecast, but came nowhere
p.m., Tues., June 6, 2006
Cottonwood Campground, Idaho Springs, CO
on the Mt. Evans road, but this time we did things in a different
order. We stopped briefly a couple of places for me to try to photograph
Blue Spruce trees, but one of them turned out to be a Douglas-Fir
when I picked up a cone. The others were a group on the other side
of a small creek with no cones visible either on the tree or on the
ground. I know I can get the ones in the campground, but I want some
in a wild-looking setting.
We continued on
until we were almost to the turnoff for the road to Mt. Evans. Echo
Lake is a park run by the City and County of Denver and is in the
upper portion of the montane zone. Yesterday we'd thought it looked
interesting, but continued on to the mountaintop. On our return it
was crowded with people either fishing (from shore only) or eating
picnic lunches. Today we got there around 8:30 and had the place to
ourself for a while.
My purpose in
stopping there was the hope that there might be Pine Grosbeaks that
were used to people. I knew they occur in the upper montane and subalpine.
I only had to walk about 50 ft when I started hearing soft, short,
finchy phrases that sounded like the description of the sounds of
that bird in the National Geographic guide. Usually that book's descriptions
of sounds are somewhat inadequate, but this time there was a nice
male on a treetop that wasn't too high to confirm my ID.
I grabbed my microphone
to record him and discovered I'd left it on yesterday and the batteries
were dead, so I had to go back to the truck and change them. I told
Jim where to go, and he got a few photos before his batteries, too,
went out on him. He had forgotten to recharge them last night and
had to go back to the truck for a different camera. The bird was still
vocalizing when I got back with fresh batteries, so I got a few sounds
before he flew. We hung around the area an hour or so longer. I got
a few more sounds and once saw a male and a female perched together
in the top of an Engelmann Spruce too far for a photo. We decided
we should get up there earlier if we want good photos and sounds.
Even though our experiences were less than satisfactory because of
our carelessness, it was only the third place I've ever seen a Pine
Grosbeak, and only the 2nd one Jim has photographed. The first one
was the female on her nest at Church Creek Meadow in the northern
Sierra Nevada--the place I took my Learning Mountain Bird Sounds field
trip groups. Those photos were borderline recognizable, but still
We continued on,
turning up the Mt. Evans road. I had Jim let me out at the Mt. Goliath
treeline area where there are so many wildflowers. The ranger at the
entry booth had told us there were Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep at
about mile 5, so Jim decided to go up there and then continue on to
Summmit Lake. He saw the sheep, but they were not at mile 5 and were
too far away for photos.
Meanwhile, I was
kept plenty busy with the birds, trees, and flowers. I recorded a
nice Lincoln's Sparrow and a distant Fox Sparrow (saw it poorly and
it wasn't a Green-tailed Towhee and that's its only sound-alike; wouldn't
come to playback) and Dusky or Hammond's Flycatcher (probably Dusky
but I always plot sonograms to be sure).
There is a short
trail that leads up into a grove of Bristlecone Pines, which I think
are a different subspecies from the ones in California. Some of them
are quite old, but not as old as California's. I took photos of the
trees, foliage, bark, and cones--and picked up a cone to add to my
The rest of the
morning I spent working on more wildflowers. The variety there is
wonderful. I identified the following new ones:
Frosty Ball (Cirsium scopulorum)
Rose Crown (Clementsia rhodantha) - still in bud
Alpine Clover (Trifolium dasyphyllum)
These were by
no means all. A couple of others I tried to figure out hastily, then
gave up. It was getting close to lunch time. Besides, leaning over
at awkward angles to photograph tiny ground-hugging flowers at 11,500
ft really compresses the lungs. After each photo, I'd have to huff
and puff a while before I could take another--and I always try to
get several of each plant. So I still want to spent more time at that
location when we go back up there.
There is a nice
restaurant and a somewhat junky gift shop at the junction of SR 103
and SR 5 (the road to Mt. Evans), and we stopped there on our way
back. Food was quite good and the dining room was very attractive
with large windows overlooking the mountain scene and hummingbird
feeders outside each. It used to be a lodge, but they no longer take
Clouds and wind
were much less of a problem than yesterday. They didn't start until
after lunch, when we were on our way back to the trailer. High temperature
in Idaho Springs was in the mid-80s. With the breeze it was comfortable
to sit outside in the shade of the trailer. Jim stayed inside with
the A/C and TV on. This place has cable TV and he's been playing catch-up
on the news on CNN (Lou Dobbs, especially), PBS NewsHour, ABC News,
etc. I content myself with what I get from the Denver Post, which
we buy whenever we can.
I fixed a pork chop and rice dish for dinner--one of those recipes
where you brown the meat, then add uncooked rice, seasonings, and
liquid and cook until the rice is done. This time I cooked and cooked
and the rice just wouldn't get done. I had boiled some plain rice
last night and had no problem. I just added a little extra water and
cooked it 25 minutes instead of 20. I'm not sure why this rice wanted
to stay crunchy, but it could have been that the water kept evaporating
away in the broad-surfaced skillet, even though it was covered. The
other reason may be the salt in the dish. Salt affects the osmotic
pressure of the liquid and may have prevented the water from penetrating
the rice. There was actually a little too much salt, because I finished
up a jar of chicken base and didn't measure the 1 tsp the recipe called
for. (I know that when I make split pea soup at home, I have to add
the salt last--after the peas have cooked to mush. If I add some at
the beginning, those peas take forever to cook.)
We've about decided to stay here through the weekend if they have
room. We still want to go back to Mt. Evans once more, Loveland Pass
and perhaps Guanella Pass, and to a quilt museum in Golden. This seems
to be the best place from which to go to all these places. RV parks
are surprisingly scarce in this area, so even though this place has
its drawbacks, it'll do.
p.m., Wed., June 7, 2006
Cottonwood Campground, Idaho Springs, CO
We drove down
to Golden to visit their Quilt Museum. I had picked up a brochure
on the place when we entered Colorado. It's sort of small, with only
two rooms for display of quilts--and two more for a shop. Each room
has a theme and the displays in each revolve every three months. This
time one room had a group of small wall-hangings all made by one woman.
She works from photographs of people engaged in various activities.
Her work is machine applique and very good. I enjoyed seeing how she
did shadows, water, and in one piece pavement. There she got whimsical
and quilted each section of sidewalk (between shadows of people's
legs, etc.) with a different motif that had nothing to do with the
picture. It just gave different textures.
The other room
had crazy quilts. Although that genre was invented in the post-Civil
war period, these were of more recent construction and showed various
approaches. They were interesting, but only one or two showed the
really elaborate display of embroidery stitches I've come to expect
on that type of quilt.
I was glad I went to see the place, but I wouldn't go much farther
out of my way than we did to visit it (about 25 miles each way). The
one in Paducah, Kentucky, is worth a major detour. It's the project
of a national quilting organization--I forget the name. This one is
sponsored by a local group and really a credit to their dedication.
Since the museum
didn't open until 10:00, I gave Toby a bath before we went. He tolerates
the bath and the blow-dry, but still hates being brushed. Fortunately
his fur is so silky that it wasn't at all tangled. Still we should
brush him more often, for he looks so nice then. I say "we"
because Jim has to hold his head or he bites at the brush and sometimes
connects with the hand that holds it.
The temperature was 98 degrees in Denver today, another record. It
was 85 degrees in Golden around 11:00 when we left there to drive
back up into the mountains. I think the temperature here topped out
around 85 degrees. It was comfortable sitting outside, but indoors
the A/C is necessary because of greenhouse effect.
I finished my
Scarlet Tanager block this afternoon and picked out threads for a
Northern Cardinal. That's not really one of my favorite birds, but
it was Mother's, so I decided to put one on the quilt in her honor.
I forget what state I matched it with, but it was one in which I didn't
have any special birding experience. (There are a handful of eastern
states like that, and I just picked eastern birds that are colorful
for those states.)
There's a Black-headed
Grosbeak in our campground that sings a song so fast that the individual
phrases can't be identified. It sounds like a continuous warble. I
had to see the bird to be sure that was what I was hearing. I guess
it's because it's the peak of the territory-establishing season.
p.m., Thurs., June 8, 2006
Cottonwood Campground., Idaho Springs, CO
I'm getting a
late start writing up today's account because I had to duplicate some
Pine Grosbeak sounds off Stokes Western tape for Jim to use tomorrow
to try to bring the bird in for photos at Echo Lake.
This morning we drove to Loveland Pass. This is the high point of
the part of US 6 that bypasses the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70. Trucks
carrying oversized loads or hazardous cargo have to take this highway,
so it's been maintained in quite good condition. And there weren't
an awful lot of those trucks. The pass is 11,990 ft and is just above
The day was clear
to start with, but before we were through up there the usual puffy
clouds had formed. By afternoon it was totally cloudy. I didn't note
the temperature, but it wasn't overly cold or breezy. Denver has been
having a heat wave and I suppose the high country is warmer than usual,
This is the place
where Jim successfully photographed White-tailed Ptarmigans when we
were here June 10, 1990--almost exactly 12 years ago. Today he tried
to find them again, but without success. To do so, he had to climb
about 100 yards of steep trail to a place where he said it leveled
off on a ridge. He said he had no trouble climbing so long as he took
it slowly. (I'm so thankful his heart is in good condition. He has
a funny anomaly for which the LAPD gave him lifetime medical when
he retired, but it's never bothered him, and today would certainly
have been a test.) He said he did shoot a few American Pipit frames.
One bird species
that I found interesting was a pair of Mountain Bluebirds, which I
saw while he was up on the ridge. I've always thought their name was
a misnomer, for they're usually on high, open plains, but these were
on steep tundra and truly birds of the mountain.
That trail is
not my kind of trail--too much dropoff, sometimes on both sides, for
my acrophobia. Besides, I found a wonderful patch of wildflowers right
off the highway. Of course, being tundra flowers, I had to get my
eyes and my camera practically on the ground to photograph them well--and
then hold my breath waiting for the wind to stop briefly so I could
depress the shutter. So I was huffing even while sitting still. My
Alpine Clover (Trifolium dasyphyllum) - also on Mt. Evans
Alpine Avens (Acomastylis rossii turbinata)
Rock Primrose (Androsace septentrionalis subumbellata)
Mountain Candytuft (Noccaea montana)
After Jim returned
from the "mountaintop," we drove on another half-mile to
Pass Lake, which is just north of the highway at the end of a 200-yd-long
paved road. We didn't go there last time. I'm not sure why, but perhaps
the road was still covered with snow then. Anyway it's a beautiful
little tarn and is still pretty much covered with ice. The mountains
all around it were all mostly snow-covered. I got carried away taking
pictures of the lake, the mountainsides, and the willows that were
starting to bloom. Some just had pussies, while others had tiny flowers
on them. Blooming in the snow-melt water next to the lake were Marsh
Marigolds and a new flower for me:
Both of these
flowers are in the buttercup family, but there are differences. The
Marsh Marigolds are white, while the Globeflowers are pale yellow.
Petals and leaves are different, too. Both are very large and showy.
We took Toby with
us today, for I was pretty sure I'd not want to venture far from the
truck. I kept him with me at the top of the pass, and Jim took him
while I was photographing at Pass Lake. And some of the time he just
had to sit in the truck and wait. I had just bathed him yesterday
and he looked really handsome, so I took a lot of pictures of him
on the tundra. I hope some are nice. He's a real wiggle-box and exceedingly
frisky when out on a leash.
On our way back
on I-70, we got off and drove around Georgetown, an old mining town
with Victorian stores and houses, many of which have been restored.
Now the main shopping street is a full of attractive shops and tourists.
Their money, of course, financed the restoration.
As we were driving
up I-70 from Idaho Springs first thing this morning, we'd seen three
or four Mountain Sheep right beside the road, but couldn't stop on
the freeway. On the way back, signs directed us to a place off the
freeway to view the mountainside in that same general area, but we
saw no sign of the sheep. They'd have been too far to photograph from
p.m., Fri., June 9, 2006
Cottonwood Campground, Idaho Springs, CO
We spent the morning
at Echo Lake working on the Pine Grosbeak. The tape I made didn't
do any good; the bird came it when it felt like it and not when the
tape was played. Jim said he got some pretty good shots, but would
have liked one on a spruce tree. He almost had a shot going once when
I was standing there, but the bird just wouldn't get out of the shade
of the branch just above it. (It was feeding in spruce buds.) The
Engelmann Spruce trees there are very dense.
Just about the
time we arrived (6:45 a.m.) a man with a couple of teen-age boys came
in to go fishing in the lake. To avoid the noise of their talking
I wandered as far from them as I could in the park and was able to
get one really nice recording and several quite good ones of the bird.
They included an extensive song and several types of call, both perched
and in flight. I tried playing back my recordings, but they paid no
attention to them either. There was intermittent breeze/wind, and
my best recording came when the wind died down for a few minutes.
The others had rather loud wind in the trees--mostly spruce, but a
few Lodgepole and Limber pines.
I tried to get
more Cordilleran Flycatcher sounds, but all they would do is "tree-yip"
and a short high call. I never heard the three-parted song that is
their counterpart of the Pacific-slope's. (Actually the "tree-yip"
and high calls are also counterparts of Pac-sl calls, but lower pitched.
The "tree-yip" is more disyllabic.) Just before we were
leaving I figured out where they were nesting--atop a wooden beam
inside a stone storm shelter. I discovered them flying in and out
the big windows. I had been looking on the beams, based on our experience
at Blue Lake in the Warner Mtns. of northeastern California, but Jim
actually found the barely started nest.
My other interesting
recording was the soft trills of a male Spotted Sandpiper courting
a female. He spread his wings a bit and fluffed out his feathers while
he was doing it. This sound was different from the loud alarm calls
I usually hear from that bird. Those can carry clear across a mountain
lake. Unfortunately Steller's Jays, Clark's Nutcrackers and squirrels
were vocalizing at the same time and the wind was pretty strong by
that five Corvidae are common at that location. In addition to the
two in the previous paragraph, Common Ravens, American Crows, and
Gray Jays are also present. I've been surprised to find crows in places
like that--almost to treeline in rugged mountains--but we've found
crows and ravens together many places in the Rockies.
We quit shortly
before 11:00 and had a second breakfast at the Echo Lake Lodge. Service
and food were so-so. This evening we went into town (Idaho Springs)
intending to try out a Mexican restaurant we'd seen advertised. It
looked so uninviting that we ended up at an attractive Chinese place
nearby; I forget the name, but it's probably the only one in town.
Most of the appetizers were excellent (ribs tough with uninteresting
sauce), won-ton soup very good, but the two entrees we chose were
exceedingly bland. The place was very attractive, and the very young
Chinese man and woman serving us were delightful. Both spoke strongly
accented English and were apparently new in this country.
got down to the mid-40's last night and, surprisingly enough, was
about that up at Echo Lake. Our campground is in a narrow canyon,
so I suppose cold air settles down in it. As we were driving from
7,900 ft to 10,600 ft the temperature rose to the low 50’s,
then decreased again. It didn't warm up much up there during the morning.
When we got there it was almost totally cloudy, but it gradually cleared
off, then high puffies started forming. The breeze and lack of sun
made it pretty chilly standing around.
p.m., Sat., June 10, 2006
Cottonwood Campground, Idaho Springs, CO
Today was our
last day in Idaho Springs. I debated whether I wanted to drive all
the way back up to the Goliath Natural Area at the start of the Mt.
Evans road and finish working out the flowers there. Some were in
bud when we were there a few days ago. However, I decided to spend
the time in the lower elevations nearer our campground. We'd just
been driving past all that interesting habitat. (Jim didn't care what
we did, so it was up to me to decide.) As we were driving SR-103 up
to Mt. Evans, I'd noticed a dirt road off to the right that said "West
Chicago Creek Campground 3 miles." So I thought it might be fun
to explore that road.
But first I wanted to get some photos of Blue Spruce trees. I took
some along SR-103, but it was hard to get utility poles and wires
out of the pictures. The dirt road also had lots of homes, but the
wires were easier to get out of the pictures, so I finally got my
trees in their natural setting. Blue Spruce is the state tree of Colorado,
and a mature specimen is really impressive--a tall, symmetrical, full
About the first
two miles of the road run along the creek, with willows in the flatter
areas. There are several ponds, some beaver-made and others manmade.
The only new bird for the trip was an American Dipper, which seemed
to have a nest in an aluminum pipe culvert serving as the outlet of
one of the man-made ponds. The bird flew out of there and then foraged
in the creek for a while.
The canyon with
West Chicago Creek runs east and west, with the north-facing slope
dramatically different from the south one. The north-facing slope
has mostly spruce (probably Engelmann mainly) and aspens and is densely
wooded. The south-facing one is much more open and grassy with scattered
Ponderosa Pines and Rocky Mountain Juniper. (The Colorado flower book
I've been using prefers to call it Red Cedar since it's no longer
in the genus Juniperus. I personally don't think that's any better,
for it isn't a cedar either; all true cedars are old world trees.
Furthermore, there are other species called Red Cedar--or sometimes
Redcedar. Why compound the error and confuse the issue further?)
After two miles,
the road takes off upward steeply in a series of switchbacks, then
ends at the campground, which was full. It wasn't a very interesting-looking
campground either. The sites are quite close together, and there's
little vegetation between them. Quite a few people had towed trailers
the size of ours up there, but the road was awfully rough, steep,
and narrow. We decided we'd never want to take ours.
We took Toby with us, so after we drove back down the steep road with
the switchbacks and were back along the creek, I had Jim let us out
and we walked downhill 1.4 miles along the creek. There were lots
of flowers beside the road, which runs entirely along the north side
of the creek and is thus on the south-facing slope. I took photos
of all but one of the new flowers I identified, some as we were driving
up the road and others as I was walking back with Toby. (Of course,
I had to put my foot on the leash to keep him from scambling all over
the flowers I was trying to photograph.) Here's the flower list:
Mountain Balm (Ceanothus velutinus)
Colorado Loco (Oxytropis lambertii)
Leafy Cinquefoil (Drymocallis fissa, formerly a Potentilla)
Rydberg Penstemon (Penstemon rydbergii)
Tall Chiming Bells (Mertensia ciliata)
Colorado Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea) - no photo, for
it was too far below me in the creek bottom. A huge blue and white
columbine, it's twice as large as any other I've seen. No wonder
it's the state flower. I hope I'll encounter some more somewhere
and get photos. I also plan to try to buy some seeds. Maybe it'll
grow in our columbine patch on the north side of our 2nd house.
I wasn't tempted
to try to carry my recording gear because the creek was very noisy
and there was quite a bit of wind. Besides, I thought Toby deserved
a nice walk--hadn't had one for a while. Recording and walking Toby
don't mix very well.
We returned to
the campground around noon and found two gigantic units--a motor home
and a fifth-wheel--maneuvering with difficulty to back into the two
remaining cramped spaces in this camping area. We'll be glad to leave
this campground. Hope the next one is more spacious and less crowded.
Jim hasn't even tried to attract birds here.
much like the last several. Sky clear first thing, cloudy for several
hours during mid-day, then clear again in the late afternoon.
Tomorrow we head
for Leadville, which is away from the Front Range, where we've been
throughout this installment. This seems like a good stopping place.
Will mail it today. (My computer behaved perfectly during this editing
process, thank goodness.)
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