Living – Places: 15

2014 (continued)

I've never seen snow quite like what we saw on today's hike. I'm not sure what caused it; perhaps it fell as a mist gently blowing almost horizontally towards the west. However it happened, it left the east-facing branches and needles coated with shiny but very soft and light feathers. The feathers were very unusual, shiny like crystals, but soft as cotton.

Fortunately it remained cold enough today—well below freezing—that these delicate formations hadn't yet started melting by the time we arrived in the early afternoon, even thought the sun was shining brightly.

Towards the end of our walk a very gentle breeze stirred and filled the air with millions of tiny crystals floating down out of the trees.

As soon as we gained a little altitude, we knew we were in for a treat

The crystals were formed nearly horizontally in some cases.

The feathery crystals were formed on one side of every branch

They totally transformed pine needles.

The crystals lined one side of every pine needle, too

The trees were stunning on the northeast side … and totally snowless on the other side.

Because the pine needles are in clusters, they ended up looking a bit like flower heads

A yucca plant wearing its plumage boldly.

I really enjoyed the way the yuccas looked

In this view, looking southeast, you can see that there is almost no snow on the west-facing sides of the trees.

When there is a light snow, it outlines rocks and rock walls in a beautiful way

A glowing mountain mahogany.

When the sun was coming from behind or the side, the feathers had an inner glow

The thinnest of twigs were thickly adorned, but the feathers were so light, the twigs weren't even bowed.

The crystals looked very substantial, but were in fact soft and light

Brush strokes of grasses.

The patterns of the grasses in this area were a form of poetry

The forested areas were enchanting to walk through.

I loved the way the snow on one side of all the trees lit up the forest in a special way

This grand old tree lit up the sky on our way back down.

We've seen this tree dressed up in fresh greens, autumn golds, and now lace white

Somehow the white twigs made the sky look an ever deeper blue.

I felt like I could almost fall into the sky

We took a brisk walk at Hall Ranch, going straight up the steep fire road so we could spend more time up at the top. We went as far as the old Nelson Ranch House, where we ran into very slippery spring snow and a very icy wind. This was the view that greeted us at the beginning of the hike. I love this butte, which is an eagle sanctuary.

Looking up at the butte at the entrance of Hall Ranch filling the sky

A walk on the Wild (Basin) side. We went up to Rocky Mountain National Park today to enjoy a walk in the snow. On the way up the canyon, Garima spotted some Bighorn sheep grazing. This is only the second time in the 23 years we lived here that I've seen them.

Bighorn sheep grazing on the steep sides of the South St. Vrain canyon

It was really windy up in Wild Basin, but otherwise very beautiful. I love the park year around, but there's something undeniably special about seeing it cloaked in snow. We got a glimpse of what I think is Copeland Mountain as we were walking from the parking area towards the trailhead.

Copeland Mountain towering over the landscape

Although there's still a lot of snow and cold wind, it was warm enough for the creek to be running.

The creek bed reflected a rich bronze color, which was accented by the white snow banks

There's still a lot of snow up there, with a snow pack well above average. In a normal year, this would be a welcome situation, since the snow pack is our water source, but after last falls's flooding, we're all a bit on edge, worrying that the April runoff may cause damaging flooding again this spring.

The roof of the sign at the trailhead is normally about 7 feet above the ground

We took advantage of what may be one of the last snowfalls of the year to have a little hike today up the Picture Rock trail.

Footprints in the snow

It was beautiful and enchanting. There's something about a trail wandering up a snowy valley …

A view up the valley

Considering that it was snowing pretty hard at times, I'm pretty happy that the photos turned out as well as they did, though I did have to crop one to remove the edge of my gloved hand that was shielding the lens from the snow.

The valley opens up

About two miles up the valley, we came across a beautiful, natural redstone picnic table nestled under some pine trees and just in front of a beautiful rock formation, with a nice view of the valley. Will need to return there for a picnic lunch some sunny day!

Natural redstone picnic table

Today, just a week after our beautiful walk in the snowfall, it was in the high 60s F by mid-morning, so we headed to the nearby Nighthawk trail to enjoy the beautiful weather. After a long winter, we could see hints of spring in the fresh green grasses poking up through last year's tan growth. So welcome!

Hills tinged in green

We've seen a few tiny wildflowers around, but this was the first bigger one I've seen this spring. I love the way its yellow flower contrasts with red clay soil beneath.

Vibrant yellow flower against red clay soil background

For me, there is a certain magnetism in a trail through trees … which is a good thing in this case, because this is a fairly steep section of trail switchbacking up a hillside.

Hiking uphill

This was the view from our lunch spot.

View of distant hills

Another view from our lunch spot, this time looking down the valley we had just hiked up.

View down the valley

When we wandered off the trail to sit down for lunch, we walked past a small herd of perhaps a dozen deer, and were mildly surprised when they just looked at us from perhaps 15 feet away.

A couple young deer, ears alert

As we ate, the deer slowly circled around us, munching fresh grass, occasionally giving us some curious glances, always within about 15 - 20 feet of us, until they finally headed on off downhill. We passed them again later when we were on our way back down; they were laying under pines chewing their cud, seemingly enjoying the beautiful afternoon as much as we were, and as relaxed as they were when they wandered past us when we were eating our lunch.

Three more deer

The view when we got up higher of the trail winding up the hill to the spot on the ridge across the way where we had lunch and shared the hillside with the deer.

View of trail zig-zagging up hillside

On the way back down, Garima paused to listen to a lone frog singing alongside a tiny creek pond.

Garima hears a lone frog

We decided to sit down for a few minutes in the shade of a pine alongside the creek pond to listen to the frog and relax into the afternoon. As we were sitting there, a white cloud formed above us. It seemed to be laughing. By the time we made it back to our car, the entire sky was filled with thick gray clouds and it had started to sprinkle.

Smiling white cloud

I love the rocky cliff wall the runs up this canyon.

View of the rock canyon wall

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A little treat from our walk today: Spring pond symphony. The frogs clearly think it's springtime!