Living – Places: 28

Without the fear of heights, there can be no appreciation for the beauty of high places.
– Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest

2015 (continued)

Earlier this week, we took a hike in our beloved Buttonrock Preserve, which re-opened just recently for the first time since the September 2013 flood. In places along the creek it is much changed from the raging flood waters that scoured the valley, but there is still so much beauty to be enjoyed. This view was early in the hike, just as the dawn sunshine was beginning to kiss the valley.

Early morning creekside reflected in a still portion on the creek

My heart leapt as we climbed further up into the Preserve and I began to catch sight of the hills stretching out to the horizon, thickly covered with a deep green pine forest.

Pine covered hillsides climbing up to the distant horizon

First view of the earthen reservoir from across the valley, with Mount Meeker barely visible above the distant hills.

Looking through an opening in the pine forest down at the dam face and the reservoir beyond, surrounded by pine-covered hillsides

As we were crossing one of the wildflower blanketed meadows higher up in the Preserve, we came across this magnificent creature on the side of the trail. Perhaps some type of Katydid?

A large, fat jumper, primarily green with black stripes and hints of maroon

On our way back to the parking lot, a beautiful Great Basin Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola) gracefully crossed the road in front of us.

A 5 - 6 foot long snake with black, interconnected geometric shapes on a light tan background slithering across a gravel road

We returned to Buttonrock Preserve on a beautiful late summer day, today. This time we hiked up to the reservoir and sat looking out over it as we enjoyed our picnic and, for a long time after lunch, just to listen to the chattering of the birds, to watch the journey of a water snake alone the shoreline, and to experience the unique silence that permeates everything up there.

Looking across the sparkling reservoir

On our way up to the reservoir, we passed the overflow channel, now totally dry. In years past, we've seen it when it was running hard, but even then it was just a couple smallish streams tumbling down a beautiful hillside. The flood two years ago swept the hillside away, scouring it down to bedrock. Quite a dramatic change, but still beautiful in a new and different way. For comparison, here's a photo I took at this same spot several years ago.

The overflow channel scoured down to the bedrock

I love Maximilian sunflowers with their graceful clusters of flower heads. In fact, they're my favorite type of sunflower. When we first moved here more than 15 years ago, we planted quite a few of them in front of our deck and around our parking area. They took a few years to establish and then, just as they were getting robust, they were overrun by spittlebugs, which create nests of foam for their eggs/nymphs. This happened for several years, and then the Maximilians disappeared.

I thought they had died off, but it appears they just went dormant for a few years. This years, two clusters of them came back, grew to full height with no spittlebugs, and now are flowering in all their glory. I'm so glad they're back!

Cluster of bright yellow sunflowers

The Maximilians have attracted a little, uniquely striped bee that I haven't seen around before. Given what is happening to bees right now, I always happy to see them enjoying the pollen of our flowers.

We don't use any pesticides, insecticides, or artificial fertilizers, just natural organic compost, so I trust that the bees and other insects who enjoy our flowers are getting some good nourishment.

A yellow and black striped bee on a maximilian sunflower head

It's definitely autumn here. We've had our first frosts, the leaves are turning, and we've enjoyed a soaking autumn rain that left the mountains with their first coat of snow. Of course, that meant that on the next sunny day, we visited Rocky Mountain National Park to get our first closeup views of the fresh snow. Here we're looking across Bear Lake at Hallett Peak, with a young snow-dappled pine in the foreground.

Young snow-dappled pine on the near shore of Bear Lake with snow-covered peak beyond

We sat for a long time on the shore of Bear Lake looking south towards the Keyboard of the Winds, enjoying the interplay between the warmth of the sun and the chill in the air, and watching the mesmerizing magic light show on the surface of the lake.

Looking across Bear Lake with the Keyboard of the Winds ridge beyond

I stripped the audio out of the following short clip (the wind played havoc with the microphone), but the silent video actually matches my experience; I get lost in the sparkles and everything else fades away. It's also appropriate that the camera lost focus towards the end of the clip, as that happens to me, too.

Later, we walked around Sprague Lake in order to see the magnificent view of the Continental Divide from across the lake.

Ice blue lake with tan marsh, green foothills, and snowcapped mountains beyond

The next day, we took a walk along the South St. Vrain Creek near our home. The cottonwoods are glorious! I couldn't manage to create a reasonably sized video clip of the dancing leaves that looked decent, so here's a still shot that you can click to play just the susurrous audio, in which you can hear the leaves playing in the tree, and some of them landing around me.

Bright yellow leaves agains a deep blue sky
autumncottonwood.m4a

Milkweed growing at the edge of a horse pasture along the South St Vrain Creek, basking in the late afternoon autumn sunshine.

Exploded milkweed pod with the seed fibers backlit by late afternoon sunshine with cliffs in the background

Autumn flowering Hibiscus in our sunporch.

Bright red Hibiscus basking in the autumn sunshine

"Without parks and outdoor life, all that is best in civilization will be smothered. To save ourselves, to prevent our perishing, to enable us to live at our best and happiest, parks are necessary. Within parks is room—glorious room—room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve."
– Enos Mills

The ridge to the north of Lily Lake.

Rocky ridge bathed in crystal clear mid-November light

The recently frozen lake surface was a tapestry of fairly evenly distributed dendrites interspersed between swirling patterns of thicker, whiter ice.

Dentrites and white swirl patterns in the ice

The full moon this month was framed as it rose by a unique cloud formation.

Full moon rising between two contrails forming a V

The day after the full moon, the temperature plummeted and a misty rain coated everything with a thick layer of ice, then turned to snow.

Pine needles coated with an ⅛″ of ice

A Sharp-Shinned Hawk, one of the Bird Hawks, caught a Dark-Eyed Junco in our yard today, and then spent about 20 minutes feasting. The Bird Hawks have shorter, rounded wings, which allows them to fly through trees to catch small birds, their main prey.

A small, gray hawk with a mottled rusty orange and white breast, standing amongst the scattered feathers that are all the remains of a Junco

Recipe: Coat with ice, then sprinkle with a pinch of fluffy snow.

Delicate twigs of a Rocky Mountain Birch coated with ice as thick as the twigs and with a sprinkling of fluffy snow on top of the ice

A noble old Ponderosa greets the sun the morning after the snowstorm. Oh, I love living here!

Snow frosted Ponderosa bathed in sunlight against a brilliant blue sky

It was a beautiful day so we headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park for a nice hike in the snow. This was my first hike in hilly terrain since I hurt my knee early this past summer, made possible by an amazing knee brace (Shock Doctor Ultra Knee Support with Bilateral Hinges 875). Though I was skeptical when I ordered it (and desperate), it really does do the job of giving my knee enough stability to enable me to climb and descend. Felt wonderful to be on a trail again after months of wondering whether I'd ever be able to get back out.

The weather was perfect for winter hiking. High 40s, sunny, only an occasional light breeze. The best part was listening to a creek that ran alongside the trail at one point as it murmured and chattered as it flowed by us hidden under snow and ice. Paradise!

Garima pausing on the snowy trail

A couple days after another nice snowfall, we headed up to the reservoir at Buttonrock Preserve. It was so incredible to sit on a rock outcropping above a small inlet to soak up the silence and the radiant warmth of the low winter sun, just a couple days before solstice. (It was a chilly walk back down the deeply shadowed canyon, though!)

The low sun reflecting across the water

On many occasions when I was out on the stream, I would find an inviting spot and sit down to gaze on the unceasing flow of the water before me. The perpetual movement of the water fascinating me and would set the machinery of my imagination into action. I would visualize the travels of a drop of that water coming from melted snow and ice high up in the mountains, moving on from brook to river and on to the sea for a pause, but not for long, then taking flight into the air and being carried by the wind to some new habitation and eventually back to the brook and another cycle of adventure.
– Ivan E Wallin, The Professors' Ranch. Wallin was one of the owners—along with a group mainly of other professors from the University of Colorado, Boulder—of the ranch that eventually became Buttonrock Preserve.

New Year's Eve. Oftentimes when we hike up to the reservoir at Buttonrock Preserve, we sit on a rock ledge on a small inlet, right next to an ancient, gnarled Ponderosa that, as many of them do, appears to be growing out of solid rock. It looks kind of like a large bonsai with part of its trunk growing horizontal to the ground.

Much of the trunk is an aged weathered gray that speaks of what has certainly been much more than 100 years under the blazing high country sun, but the underside of the horizontal section also reveals some flashes of brilliant burnt orange, a glimpse of long ago youth.

A section of brilliant burnt orange bark framed by weathered gray bark

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