Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills!

Columbine Creek
Come greet your newest National Monument:  Chimney Rock!  I read a great book about a new wildlife biologist who fought all kinds of obstacles to save the Peregrine Falcons nesting there: Wings for My Flight.  It's a very scenic spot, so no wonder the Ancient Puebloans build a Great House there.  The book House of Rain has an excellent chapter about the Lunar Standstill event than can be seen from the twin spires of rock that frame the ruin.

Nature's Hardest Hue to Hold
As always, I can't believe another season is drawing to a close.  We've been very busy at Mesa Verde trying to complete our projects.  The new Visitor Center is about to open; it is built on the site of an old corn field worked in the mid 20th century.  Since all the native plants were lost in the plowing of the field, we're working to restore it to some semblance of a natural mix of plants.  It will probably take another five years of consistent effort of planting and controlling invasive plants before it's done.
Columbine Lake (click link for professional photos)

Since our weekends are numbered, we've been sure to get out and enjoy fall every chance we get!  Having been born in Texas, I have a strong bias towards Spring as my favorite season:  redbuds, dogwoods, and magnolias all in full blossom, and whole fields turning blue, red, and yellow with wildflowers as the songbirds migrate up from Central and South America -- I feel like the New Year doesn't really begin until the first flowers.  A Rocky Mountain spring is very different: the weather pattern is chaotic with snows, dust storms and heat waves all in the same week.  The plants (and field technicians) can't trust it.  Oak trees do not leaf out until late May, and even then they can get zapped by frost like many did this year and have to go through a second leafing almost a month later.  Spring tries to start up in the valleys, and moves up the slopes in fits and starts, with July being the best wildflower season since snows have finally melted and monsoon rains hit the lower canyons.

Engineer Mountain
 Autumn is a different story in the Four Corners: the plants and birds all take their cue from the shortened day length and the season is much more organized.  The trees and shrubs all agree Fall is here and the aspens steal the show here with there bright gold leaves.  It is visually stunning to see the quaking leaves suddenly let loose by a strong breeze and rain down along a mountain side.  The air is crisper, so the moon shines bright as geese and humming birds all shuffle for the season.  Colorado's best season for me is Fall.

A scenic overlook of the Ampitheater
Finally, I made the effort to see Columbine Lake.  It's a steep switch-backing trail that heads over Silver Shield basin and up to Columbine Lake (not to be confused with the other 1000 Columbine Lakes).  I saw a Blue Grouse in the park last week, and another as we hiked the Pass Creek trail from Coalbank Pass this past weekend.  It was very windy as we stood below the summit block of Engineer Mountain, so we took shelter behind a lone, stalwart fir and watched a bluebird dance in the gusts.

View from campsite
We camped overnight at Angel Campground, nestled in the cliffs that frame Canyon Creek above Ouray.  This is the same campground I stayed with my brother and friend 4 years earlier before I began working at Mesa Verde.  The following morning, we hiked along the Portland Trail around the Amphitheater, and then went for a long soak in the hot springs.  Driving toward the Matterhorn on the way back home, we had to stop and stare at the aspens framing Mount Wilson.

A cold front was bearing down on the mountains and the first snowfall to hit the Weminuche would begin falling in two days.
Das Matterhorn

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