Living – Places: 18
I heard the high-pitched song of the first cicada this morning, but it wasn't until I went out to bring in the laundry this afternoon that I came eye to eye with it. Looking more closely, I guess it's a Rocky Mountain Socada. And I guess I'll fetch that sock tomorrow … or later this summer.
I think this is actually a Putnam's cicada. In all the years I've lived here, I've rarely seen one this close. Pretty cool.
Garima spotted this caterpillar enjoying her garden this afternoon. It's pretty large, about the size of my index finger, and I've got fairly large hands. I think it's a Bedstraw Hawk moth caterpillar (Bedstraw Hawk-Moth or Galium Sphinx (Hyles gallii), a moth of the family Sphingidae), which turns into a large moth that flies like a hummingbird, though it's much quieter.
After a scorching hot day, it has begun to cool down, so I took a walk around our place, enjoying the special glow of flowers and wild grasses in the late afternoon sun.
I also learned the definitive answer to that age old question, “Do bears shit in the woods?” Knowing the answer, I'm really glad we recently finished a big project of putting grates over all the windows we leave open at night to capture the cool mountain breezes, especially since we'll soon have fresh Colorado peaches ripening on our kitchen counters!
We took a hike up to visit an old friend today: Balanced Rock up on Lumpy Ridge. We hiked from the Cow Creek Trailhead, which was recently re-opened. In a few places, the flooding last fall has permanently changed the landscape (kudos to the Park Service for getting the bridges over the creek rebuilt so quickly), but most of the trail was just fine. We were very happy to see that there was no damage to Balanced Rock itself.
This is near where we always lunch when we visit Balanced Rock.
Under one pine tree there was one of the greenest and lushest balls of moss that I've ever seen. There must be some special symbiosis going on between the tree and the moss.
It always feels like a special gift to come across a flowering Green Gentian, knowing that this is the culmination of between 30 and 80 years of life.
I love the way morning sun lights up flowers.
There were more Rocky Mountain Columbine flowering in the most dense part of the forest than we've ever seen before. This is one of our favorite walks for enjoying wildflowers, and today was just exceptional, most likely because we had a lot of rain this spring. There were flowers everywhere, splashing the meadow and forest with brushstrokes of white, yellow, orange, purple, blue, and magenta. These Columbines, which are the Colorado state flower, were nestled beneath a Blue Spruce, which is fitting because that's the Colorado state tree.
We saw our first Paintbrush flowers today.
Rocky Mountain Lily, aka, Wood Lily. This is the first time we've ever seen this rare beauty, which is endangered. One was open on our way up the trail. By the time we came back down, a second had opened.
Our legs and lungs are getting more used to the mountains now that we've been hiking up there for last couple of months, since the highways reopened, so we took a longer hike today, up to Fern Lake, an old friend, and then beyond to Spruce Lake, a new acquaintance.
This was the first time we revisited this area since a fire, the biggest in the history of Rocky Mountain National Park, burnt in the area in the fall/early winter of 2012, and since the floods of last September. I wasn't sure what we would find, but it actually was amazing. Some of the canyon walls had fire damage, but the area the trail passes through was mostly fine. We did see a couple areas where there were flash floods that tumbled down the steep canyon walls and across the trail, but no major damage.
The thing that is most amazing is how well the forest is doing as a result of all the rain we've had this year. The underbrush is lush and green, and there are wildflowers everywhere. This is the best I've seen things looking up in the Park in years.
Early in the morning, we were greeted by a stand of Bee Balm.
About a mile in, the trail passes between two large boulders that tumbled down long ago from the towering cliffs alongside the valley. To give an idea of the scale, that's a fall size pine tree between the two "Arch Rocks."
Marguerite Falls was roaring. This is the strongest I've ever seen it flowing.
Here's a short video clip of Marguerite Falls crashing down the hillside:
This beautiful plant with deep burgundy leaves and delicate white flowers has an unusual name: Sickletop Lousewort. There were thousands of these along the trail. In most places, the leaves were green, but in a few places they were burgundy.
A trio of Little Red Elephant near Fern Lake.
Finally, after much climbing, we arrived at the tranquil Fern Lake at 9,500 feet.
Greenback cutthroat trout swimming in the clear, shallow water near the Fern Lake outlet.
View of Fern Lake from the bridge over the outlet. Actually, there is a thin belt of bushes and small pines mostly separating this shallow pond from the main lake beyond.
This was our view from the spot where we sat and ate lunch.
This was the first time I had seen this type of Paintbrush, which is called Rosy Paintbrush. [Looking back through my photos, I realize I have seen—and photographed—a similar Paintbrush previously. So revising this to say that this is the first time I know its unique name.]
The spur that goes from Fern Lake to Spruce Lake is described as an "unimproved trail," and it was a bit rough going in a few places, but nothing too bad. It does pass through an area that is very marshy, so there were lots of mosquitoes, which was a bit unpleasant, but once we reached Spruce Lake, we found a beautiful boulder to sit on that juts out into the lake, and we were left alone by the biters.
That was nice because we had the entire lake to ourselves and were able to totally relax into the majestic beauty of the place, with the only sounds coming from a hidden waterfall that tumbles down through the forest into the lake, lots of bird songs, and an occasional trout jumping.
Garima enjoying Spruce Lake.
We came across one bunch of the tiny, delicate Twin Flower plant along the trail.
This is the variation of Sickletop Lousewort with green leaves.
One bit of the magic of morning walks along the South St. Vrain river is the way the sun catches things, like this stalk of Curly Dock curving out from the roadside brush.
One thing I love about taking early morning walks is the way the rising sun shines through things like this sunflower, giving them an extraordinary glow. Ah, summer!
When we first moved here, the place was a real dump, but it had two things going for it that sold us on it: great views and lots of wonderful Ponderosa pines.
We moved here in the fall. One thing we discovered in the spring was that there are a lot of beautiful wildflowers here, too. And then in early summer we were stunned when a rather scraggly large cactus on a dry hillside burst into flower with scores of bright magenta flowers.
The annual flowering of this amazing old Candelabra Cactus has become a favorite moment of ours each year, and it's happening again right now. Wow!
The flowers are a stunning magenta color, and are very attractive to bees. The flower buds always have a lot of ants on them, so they must have a sweet sap.
And this is on a cloudy day!
Another beautiful walk along the South St. Vrain river, including a star spangled sunflower.
Very ripe chokecherries.
The bluffs along the north side of the South St. Vrain river valley.
Campanula in the early morning sun.