Living – Places: 18

2014 (continued)

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.

Platypedia putnami on a blue sock hanging on the clothesline

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.

Vivid green Bedstraw Hawk Moth caterpillar with yellow, orange, and black eyes along its body and a large orange horn at the tail end

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!

Yellow yarrow in the late afternoon summer sun

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.

Garima at the base of Balanced Rock

A closer view of Balance Rock

A view of Balanced Rock from across the little valley next to it, with a telephoto lens

This is near where we always lunch when we visit Balanced Rock.

A line of stones running up a large boulder that look a bit like giant buttons

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.

A one-foot round of moss bathed in dappled sunshine coming through the branches of the pine tree

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.

A tall Green Gentian flower stalk

I love the way morning sun lights up flowers.

Delicate blue and light purple Penstemon 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.

A cluster of Rocky Mountain Columbine, white and pale lavender

We saw our first Paintbrush flowers today.

A Wyoming Paintbrush, a green flower wrapped in reddish-orange bracts

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.

A large, deep orange, six-petaled flower

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.

Closeup of a light violet Bee Balm flower

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."

Large, relatively thin slab of rock standing on end

Marguerite Falls was roaring. This is the strongest I've ever seen it flowing.

Waterfall crashing down a steep canyon

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.

Thin, spikey, burgundy leaves with a cluser of delicate white flowers atop

A trio of Little Red Elephant near Fern Lake.

Tall, thin stalks of violet flowers that look a bit like elephant heads with a trunk

Finally, after much climbing, we arrived at the tranquil Fern Lake at 9,500 feet.

Shallow, mirror-still lake surrounded by pine-covered hills with snow-capped mountains beyond

Greenback cutthroat trout swimming in the clear, shallow water near the Fern Lake outlet.

Three trout in crystal clear water

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.

View of the Fern Lake pond near the outlet

This was our view from the spot where we sat and ate lunch.

Pine forest reflected on the gently rippled surface of Fern Lake

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.]

Rosy-red colored flower with rounded petals

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.

Small lake framed by pine-covered hillsides with Gabletop Mountain and Castle Rock beyond

Garima enjoying Spruce Lake.

Garima walking along a bit of grassy shoreline

We came across one bunch of the tiny, delicate Twin Flower plant along the trail.

Small rose-tinted white flowers hanging down in pairs

This is the variation of Sickletop Lousewort with green leaves.

Clusters of white flowers atop plants with thin, pointy 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.

Lightly hued, burnt-orange seedhead arching out from the shadows and catching the light of the morning sun

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!

Backlit sunflower

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!

Large, six-foot tall cactus bush full of magenta flowers

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.

A cluster of magenta flowers

And this is on a cloudy day!

A closeup of a flourescent-hued magenta flower with delicate yellow stamen

Another beautiful walk along the South St. Vrain river, including a star spangled sunflower.

Sunflower in the early morning sun with star-shaped stigmas

Evening primrose.

Yellow evening primrose flower against a dark green background

Very ripe chokecherries.

A cluster of deep red chokecherries

The bluffs along the north side of the South St. Vrain river valley.

Mesa shaped bluffs along the river

Campanula in the early morning sun.

Brightly lit violet bell flowers

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