Sunday, June 3, 2012

Waterfalls and the Upcoming Transit of Venus

Red Mountain #1
It may not be the dog days of summer yet, but it sure seems like it.   The threat of forest fires is occurring sooner this year because of the warm spring, so the fire crew is rushed to complete some of the fuel-reduction treatments around buildings at Mesa Verde.  The buildings around Chapin Mesa are in the middle of Astragalus schmolliae (Schmoll's Milkvetch) habitat, so we needed to flag plants at risk so they wouldn't be mowed down.  Then we did some reveg work at Yucca House National Monument, where we found a state-listed rarity, Penstemon breviculus.  Finally, that led to us chasing Houndstounge, Cynoglossum officinale at the Morefield campground.  We've been fighting houndtoungue there for at least 3 years now, and so far it has not been seen outside the environs of the campground so we hope we can exterminate it before it infects another area of the Park.  The good news is that it seems like we're suppressing it well; the bad news is that the seed base lasts from 5-10 years, so it will take a few more sweeps before we can claim victory.

Gray Copper Falls
It was a hot weekend for Montezuma county, with temps in the upper 80's, so we escaped to the mountains.  There is a really nice hike near the ghost town of Ironton called Gray Copper Falls.  We spent the afternoon leisurely hiking up to the falls.  We found a tiny population of the uncommon orchid Calypso bulbosa (fairy-slipper orchid), and something I have dubbed the Snow Ghost mushroom.  We did encounter a little bit of snow, but it is nothing compared to last year when even on the 4th of July we were still humping over snow drifts.

By late afternoon, we had reached the falls in the shadow of Red Mountain Number 1 (really, couldn't think of a better name for a mountain?).  The
"Snow Ghost" Mushroom
hosetail-falls had the remnants of a giant snow/ice cone similar to Coronet Falls, but only the base was left.  We couldn't approach the base of the falls, but I continued hiking up to the top and found the collapsed tunnel of an old mine and crumbled down cabin on the north side of the stream.  Timberline was just a little bit further, but it seemed best to turn around and save peak-bagging for another day.  Before turning back to the trailhead, we saw a Golden Eagle circle the high mountain ridges.  Then we were visited by a family of mule deer.  It was really nice having the trail all to ourselves for the entire day!

We camped near the leach fields of Ironton (don't drink the water!) and had a nice, little fire by moonlight.  In the morning, we re-visited Cascade Falls in Ouray and payed traditional homage to Mouse's Chocolate. YUM!  We stopped at Little Molas Lake to soak in the vistas when lightning strikes chased us out from the mountains.  It was great to see it rain, since the wildflowers aren't going to make it on the snow melt alone.

I hope to see the Transit of Venus this coming week and then think of some way to celebrate World Oceans Day when I'm over 1,000 miles from the closest ocean.

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