Living – Places: 26

The basic problem is that one believes that everything is real, and thus everything is treated as such.
– Kalu Rinpoche

2015 (continued)

Towards the end of our hike on the Nighthawk trail this past weekend, the late afternoon sun really lit up the landscape beautifully, with deep shadows providing great contrast.

View of the rocky canyon wall with Hatrock off in the distance

A closer view showing the beautiful lichens painting the surface of the rocks.

A closer view of the rocky canyon wall showing the pale yellows, oranges, and sage greens of the lichens

I had an errand to run in Estes Park this morning. It was totally gray with low hanging clouds at home, and remained that way all the way up the canyon until I reached the west side of Estes Park to find the clouds over Rocky Mountain National Park breaking up to reveal the full glory of the Continental Divide. This view always takes my breath away, and even more so today. Not the greatest photo, but the context reveals why I was moved to take a quick snap with my phone.

The snow-capped mountains of the Continental Divide seen through breaking clouds from the West side of Estes Park

We woke up one morning this past weekend to find everything immersed in a haze, likely due to dust blown in by the strong overnight winds from the dry plains to the east.

We had intended to go hiking nearby, but thought it would be better for our lungs to head up higher into the mountains. Good call. It always feels like a reunion with old friends to see the snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide from close up, and the air was crystal clear, smelling of the fragrance of pines.

Standing in the still winter tan Upper Beaver Meadows looking west towards the peaks of the Continental Divide

Here we're standing in Upper Beaver Meadows, where we hiked, looking up at the chunk of granite named Deer Mountain, a smaller mountain (10,013 ft) that epitomizes the name Rocky Mountains.

Standing at the foot of the massive chunk of granite that is named Deer Mountain

Yesterday afternoon, we had some welcome rain that turned into a few inches of snow overnight. One of my favorite things in life is to wake up to a landscape painted in freshness being highlighted by the first rays of the new day's sun. Knowing that it will melt away quickly makes it all the more poignant; a loving tap from a zen stick reminding me once again that all that can sometimes seem ordinary is really extraordinary.

The tracks of our driveway, in which the snow melted in, curving up our hill beneath frosted ponderosas

First rays of sun glowing through our birch tree.

The still leafless branches of a birch tree frosted with glowing snow

The remnants of last year's grasses brought back to life.

A tangle of tan grasses frosted with fresh snow

Snow fence.

Snow delicately balanced in wavering lines on our garden fence

Hanging out.

Snow balanced on curving clotheslines

Snow falls and melts
Birds come and go
Silence remains

A small rock cairn frosted with fresh snow

First signs of Spring at Rabbit Mountain.

Tall golden clumps of grasses with fresh green grass emerging at the base

We took a walk our favorite lane yesterday afternoon. Beautiful late afternoon sun lit up the rock outcroppings nicely.

Salmon colored sandstone tinged with light green lichen

The trees are just days away from leafing out.

The branches of a tree heavy with sswollen buds outlined against the deep blue sky

The Wild Plums are flowering, so the air is full of their wonderful fragrance and of the soft humming of nectar-loving insects.

A branch crowded with an abundance of white blossoms with delicate yellow stamen

The Box Elder trees are flowering, too, and thrumming with the sound of small insects feasting.

Cluster of delicate tea rose colored blossoms

And the first Box Elder leaves are opening.

Fresh pale green leaves tinged light apricot on the edges, and being visited by a vibrantly colorful ladybug

Delicate white blossoms
floating gently in the breeze.
Last week fashioned from snow,
tomorrow, too.
Today, a gift from an old apple tree.
Springtime in the Rocky Mountains.

Apple blossoms open to the bright miday sun

One of the gifts of Springtime is the way my senses are awakened. It seems like every day brings new delights, as long as I take the opportunity to pay attention.

We've had crazy swings of weather: snowstorms, then warm and sunny days, then more snowstorms. Through it all the Box Elder trees (a type of maple with separate male and female trees) have been flowering and, as I noticed today, successfully pollinating.

This is a shot of the winged seeds forming on a female tree. I've never noticed them at this tiny, young stage before and am delighted to see that they are reddish! Very soon, they'll turn a beautiful pale green as they mature.

Tiny, red-tinged, winged seeds forming

I'm one of those fools who values nature's gold more than "real" gold.

Birch catkins glowing golden in the late afternoon sun

We enjoyed a nice morning hike yesterday, finishing up just as the afternoon thunderclouds were forming overhead. Thanks to the good rains we've had so far this spring, Garima spotted 25 different kinds of wildflowers.

We don't often see native Spiderwort flowers, so really enjoyed seeing these two. The flowers are very short lived, blooming in the morning, gone by afternoon.

A pair of delicate, purple, three-petaled wildflowers

Some type of Milkvetch.

Delicate white flowers, looking somewhat like a flattened Lady Slipper

Western Giant Puffball, Calvatia booniana. This pair were definitely the largest we've ever seen at about 9″ across, but apparently they can get to be about two feet in diameter, especially on the western slopes of the Rockies, where they're more common than here on the eastern side.

Conjoined twins, each 4 - 5 inches across

Just as we arrived at the high point with the best view of Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak, the afternoon thunderstorms began forming. Between us and the mountains, the skies were quite dark—as you can see from the dark shadows being cast on the foothills—but we were still basking in sunshine, as were the peaks.

The mountain peaks lit up brightly above the darkened hills below

Mountain lily, Leucocrinum montanum, one of my favorites.

Small, white, six-petaled stars nestled in spikey green leaves

We've been having a huge amount of rain this spring, more than I've seen before in the 25 or so years I've lived in this area. Our snow pack up higher in the mountains is well over 200% of normal, and it's still raining down here and snowing up there.

The upside of all this moisture is that our ponderosas are experiencing robust growth, which is wonderful because they went through a sudden and deep freeze early this past winter that left a lot of their older needles frostbitten and turning brown on the ends. It's great to see such a vigorous and beautiful recovery!

I'm also grateful that we got a few minutes of sunshine to enjoy this. We already had one big thunderstorm with a hard downpour and hail earlier today, and it's clouding over and thundering again right now. Crazy!

A tight cluster of pollen cones with fresh needles emerging from the center

Pasque flower blooming earlier today near Little Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park. Even with its dog-eared petals, what allure it must hold for nectar-seekers.

We went up for a midday hike, then drove all the way to the top of Trail Ridge Road to see what the snow levels are like. So much snow up there! In places, the roadside walls were still 12 - 15 feet high.

Bright yellow stamen peeking through fine-haired pale violet petals

Our weather abruptly changed from cool and rainy, rainy, rainy (for nearly the entire month of May) to hot, hot, hot and sunny, sunny, sunny. One consequence is that our poppies are popping. Such insane beauty!

A bright reddish-orange poppy with deep purple marking against a lush, deep green background

The salsify seed head is one of the most graceful I've ever encountered. Its flower reflects the same grace. I was particularly heartened to encounter this blossom, as we're just a few days past the most ferocious storm I've ever been through, including torrential amounts of rain and a massive amount of damaging hail, some more than 2″ in diameter. How something this delicate survived that onslaught is beyond my comprehension, but I'm grateful it did.

A pale yellow salsify flower

Yesterday, we took a hike around Upper Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park. We had good luck because, although it rained on the way up and we could see big storm systems all around us, there was a big doughnut of clear skies above us, and we were bathed in sunshine for the several hours we were up there.

While the slopes above the meadows are thick with lodgepole and ponderosa pines, the fine-grained soils in the meadows themselves don't support trees well, and this is reinforced by the grazing of elk and deer.

The predominant color, other than the glorious green we are enjoying this spring from all the rain we're getting, is yellow. There are thousands and thousands of Golden Banner flowers carpeting the meadows in all directions, interspersed with some Wallflowers and Salsify.

A meadow carpeted with Golden Banner flowers framed by forests and mountains in the background

Just to keep things interesting, the meadows are sprinkled throughout with delicate Wild Irises.

Closeup of a pale violet wild iris

When I'm hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, the majestic vistas of snow-capped mountain ranges act as powerful eye magnets, but I also pay attention to what is closer at hand, and am often delighted.

A light salmon colored rock painted with yellow, orange, pale green, and dark brown lichens

Here and there, our way was lit by miner's candles.

A tall stalk covered with small white flowers and spikey green leaves

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