Living – Places: 24

All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
—Blaise Pascal, Pensées

2014 (continued)

We hiked up the Nighthawk trail yesterday. The very beginning of the trail lies beneath Hatrock, a small mesa that is a sanctuary for eagles and other wildlife. It always looks so freshly beautiful to me.

Red stone mesa highlighted agains a bright blue sky

Further up the trail, after an invigorating climb, amazing views are revealed: to the west of the canyon leading up to the mountains, of the foothills of Hall Ranch open space, and to the east a glimpse of the Great Plains, as seen in this photo. It always feels like such a sense of accomplishment to reach this point and look down to see the trail winding up the hillside. It was a comfortable temperature, in the high 50s F.

Today started out the same way. Within 90 minutes of sunrise , the temperature had climbed up to 60 F under clear skies. Then clouds started coming in from the north and the temperature plummeted over the next 90 minutes to the mid 20s. Now it's cloudy, foggy, and bitingly cold. I love the surprising unpredictably of the mountains!

A view across late autumn-colored foothills with a glimpse of the plains beyond

We took a walk along the South St. Vrain river this afternoon. It was early afternoon, but the sun was already low in the sky, causing dramatic lighting. I was testing out a new telephoto lens, so my attention was was drawn to things further away, such as this weathered cliff that is along the other side of the river.

Last rays of winter sun on weathered cliffs along the South St. Vrain river

An interesting cloud in an otherwise clear sky hovered above us just as the sun was setting behind one of the hills along the valley.

A large round disc of cloud bathed in the glow of the setting sun

A cliff on the other side of the valley.

Sandstone cliff aglow in the late sun

Hatrock mesa across the valley, above the Nighthawk Trail's trailhead.

Sandstone mesa lit up by the late sun

Grasses glowing in the last rays of sunshine.

Glistening grass seedheads backlit by the setting sun

Field of grasses catching the last rays of sunshine.

Dried grases lit by the setting sun

A rock outcropping high above us still brightly lit though we were by then standing in the hill's shadow.

Colorful and brightly lit outcropping beyond a shaded hillside

Just over a year ago, three days of torrential rains turned the typically lazy trickle of water that is the South St. Vrain river in the autumn into a 1,000-year flood, sweeping away one of the two bridges that led into our neighborhood. I'm not sure where that concrete and steel bridge is now; I guess it must be buried somewhere beneath the tons of rock and silt that washed down into the valley.

A small flow of water that you could jump across in front of the rubble where the bridge once stood with the barricaded road beyond

Winter sky.

The branches of a tree—high enough above us to be still brightly lit by the setting sun—reaching up into a vivid blue sky

We took advantage of a warm, sunny day to hike up the Nighthawk Trail again. Since the trail climbs up a south facing hill with lots of open areas, it's a nice winter trail (it can be a scorching hot trail in the summer). This is one of the beautiful weathered rock formations the trail passes on the way up.

Closeup of a weathered rock outcropping across the valley

The rock ridge that runs up the hillside.

A weathered rocky ridge running up the side of a valley

I wonder if anyone is hibernating in there?

A closeup of the rocky ridge showing a cave opening

The view towards the Continental Divide up the South St. Vrain canyon.

A view up the rugged St. Vrain canyon

A little over four miles up the trail, we stopped for lunch, where we enjoyed this view of the cloud-shrouded twins: Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak.

A view over forested hills of moutains in the distance

We enjoyed a crystal clear view of Hatrock on the way back down.

An exceptionally clear view of Hatrock mesa agains a deep blue sky

We just enjoyed our second significant snow of the year, but there was such a long period of tan in between that it felt like the wondrous first snow of the season all over again. We took advantage of the beautifully sunny, though quite cold, day that followed the storm to hike the Eagle Wind trail.

Trail winds up a snowy hillside with snow covered Mountain Mahogany bushes

Our mountains looked amazing bathed in the late season sun off in the distance. Originally named Nay-ni-sote-uu-u or the Twin Guides, they're now known by the more prosaic names, Mount Meeker and Longs Peak.

A view of twin peaks, mostly in shadow, but with some features highlighted by the late afternoon sun

The low winter sun cast exquisitely long shadows.

Three lone ponderosas on a ridge casting long shadows down the hillside

I love the way snow changes my awareness of the environment. In the many times we have hiked this trail, I had never noticed this old tree before, but today it presented one of the most beautiful sculptures on our walk.

A very gnarled, long dead ponderosa, with all of its many curves outlined in snow

We're having a few days of extremely cold weather, way below zero (F). When we raised the blinds this morning, we discovered a frost pattern on the window unlike any we've seen before, like strands of a spider web stretching up the window. I managed to quickly take a photo just as it was melting. I love the unpredictable nature of ice crystals.

Frost climbing up a window in branching lines

2015

The new year is welcoming a full moon. As I arrived home this afternoon, the sun was setting, racing up the hill to the east of us, just as the moon, two days shy of being full, was rising.

A big moon rising over a hill lit with the last of the evening's sun

Ah, the breathtaking beauty of an unexpected morning snow mist.

Closeup of ponderosa needles flocked with snow mist

A ponderosa bough heavily laden with frost.

A ponderosa branch thick with snow flocking

Natural flocking is so much more precious.

Looking upward at a large flocked ponderosa

An ordinary winter twig transformed into time-stoping extraordinariness.

Closeup of a Rocky Mountain birch branch flocked with snow mist

We took advantage of warmer temperatures yesterday to hike up into Hall Ranch until we got just high enough to catch a glimpse of our beloved mountains peeking above the horizon, and to listen to the chatter of the prairie dogs who live up there.

View across forests and open areas (where the prairie dogs live) to the barely visible Longs Peak and Mount Meeker

Morning after. A surprise snowfall overnight, followed by bright, clear skies this morning, with the first rays of sun revealing breathtaking beauty.

First rays of sun shining through snow-tipped pine trees

We enjoyed an invigorating hike up into Hall Ranch today. We went up the Nighthawk Trail, across on the Nelson Loop, and then down the Bitterbrush trail. It was fairly warm, though when we got up higher and were in snow with a stiff wind blowing, it was pretty crisp.

On the way up, we stopped to catch our breath in a spot we hadn't previously and caught a nice glimpse of Hatrock peaking above the ridge on the other side of the valley.

Hatrock mesa rising above a ridge

Another story lost to the passage of time. Way up on top, there is a beautiful old rock wall, rough and aged with lichen. It's a strange wall, running for just 30 or 40 feet on one side of the trail and perhaps 50 or 60 feet on the other, in the middle of what was once a ranch of thousands of acres. It's no small task to lift and stack rocks of that size. Every time I see it, I am spellbound for a few minutes, wondering who made it and why.

A quite chaotic rock wall, 4 or 5 feet high, wandering for a short way through the forest

At the very top, we enjoyed a sweeping view of our beloved mountains. My heart is always lifted when I see them towering over everything else.

Mount Meeker and Longs Peak rising above everything else

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