Living – Places: 29

There is no need to run towards the ocean. Just slowly enjoy the trees, and the birds, and the people, having a trust in your heart that every river has always reached the ocean. And you cannot be the exception. Existence does not allow any exceptions. You will also reach the ocean.
– Osho, The Razor's Edge


What a glorious start to the new year! After a couple of very cold weeks with lows down to 0F (-18C) and highs well below freezing, it finally warmed up above freezing today, so we headed to one of our favorite places, Buttonrock Preserve.

It's still deep winter, so the floor of the steep canyon is often still in shadow and fairly nippy even at midday, but the skies were crystal clear and the sun on the canyon walls was brilliant.

We climbed up to the reservoir to bask in the sun along the shore for a few minutes, while I quietly celebrated a small personal victory: this was my third hike up the steep hill to the reservoir during the past two weeks—my first times hiking a steep climb since I injured my knee three months ago—and each time I have felt a bit stronger. I still have a ways to go before I can tackle the billygoat trails up in Rocky Mountain National Park again, but at least I'm on the path to recovery.

Canyon wall at Buttonrock Preserve

Close up of the canyon wall.

A closer view of the rock formation high up on the canyon wall near the entrance to Buttonrock Preserve

For those who find the ultimate beauty in nature, the landscape of the environs of the ranch stirs the emotions to sublime reactions. Situated deep in the mountains, away from highway traffic, it is a secluded spot in an unspoiled wilderness. the ever-changing character of the river meandering in the valley between wooded mountain sides, rock ledges and open vistas forms the leitmotif of a symphony of color, form and sound.… The emotional response to its enjoyment was expressed in a singular statement by a recent week-end guest who, on leaving, exclaimed "I have had my first glimpse of heaven, and I want to come back."
– 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.

We took a hike up Cow Creek in the northeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park, on the back side of Lumpy Ridge. It's one of my favorite places. The valley is wide and quite open with lots of towering old trees and there are some beautiful rock outcroppings jutting above the top of the canyon.

It has been about a week since the last snowfall. While the snow had melted off the south facing slopes, the valley floor was still covered in snow. The trail itself was hard-packed snow and ice, but we've got Stabilicers so the going was fine.

The light through the partially cloudy sky was gorgeous, lighting up the granite of the rock outcroppings beautifully.

Rock dome rising above the ponderosas

As we climbed further up the valley, we caught additional glimpses of the rock outcropping through the ponderosas.

Rock outcropping seen through the ponderosas

Further still, the clouds mostly evaporated and the rock face glowed.

View of the rock dome from further up the valley against the clearing blue sky

On our way back down, we passed by my favorite old ponderosa in the valley bathed in sunshine. It's like a giant tuning fork.

Ancient ponderosa shaped like a tuning fork

Ice painting in irrigation ditch along the South St. Vrain Creek.
Mixed natural media, 2016.

Ice patterns, including tiny, small, and larger trapped air bubbles

The view from our lunch spot, where we were serenaded by the murmuring North St. Vrain Creek.

The creek flows by beneath a towering canyon wall

The solid rock canyon wall at the entrance to Buttonrock Preserve.

Lichen-tinted canyon wall jutting into a vivid blue sky

We had a substantial snowfall over two days earlier this week with a total of more than 20″ of dense snow followed by some very cold days. It's finally beginning to warm up this weekend so we got out for a walk along the South St. Vrain down the hill from our home. This is one of the open fields along the creek showing some beautiful ridged patterns in the slowly melting snow, highlighted by the slanting afternoon sunlight.

Ridges of snow atop lumps in the field are highlighted a brighter white

We've had a beautiful visitor dropping by for the past week or so. Today, he flew up onto the railing just a few feet from my desk and spent a fair bit of time calmly looking in at me.

Long-tailed pheasant with a scarlet red face and a luminous blue-green neck above a pure white neck ring

As we walk up the valley along the North St. Vrain Creek at the Buttonrock Preserve, we pass one rock wall. At some point in the distant past the face of this wall was sheared off, leaving an expanse that is perhaps 15 feet high and 40 feet wide, very flap, sloping slightly inward. Over time, the face has been delicately painted with lichens in a variety of soft pastel colors. When my mind is slowed down enough by the peacefulness of walk up this valley, and the sun is just right, the beauty of this painted wall invites my heart to soar.

Smooth rock face painted with subtle brush strokes of soft pastel lichens

The pastel lichen colors adorning a rocky ridge glowing in the early morning sun at Rabbit Mountain.

Lichen-painted rocky ridge tumbles down a hillside

A Teasel seed pod patiently waiting for spring.

A gracefully spiralling seed pod

Spring is in a couple days, and to prove it, this lovely young couple stopped by to check out the neighborhood and see if it might be a good place to raise their kids.

The guy has been around for a few weeks, actually, and even had a big fight in our parking lot with another guy, leaving lots of feathers flying in the breeze. Looks like he won, and then decided to show off his girl to us … or show us off to his girl.

Male and female pheasant standing together on the railing of our deck

A couple days ago, the high was in the mid 70s F. We woke up this morning to a different fairy tale. I love living in the Rockies!

Bench on hillside under snow-covered ponderosas

Last week's snowstorm nearly forgotten, we spent a few hours at Lily Lake today. There was just a bit of snow left in patches here and there at our altitude, but the crystal clear air gave us nice views of the snow covered summits of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak to the south.

Thankfully, the snow pack is once again above normal this spring. Given the looming threat of drought in the West, I'm always so grateful when we get enough snow to give us our year's water supply.

View of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak rising above a snow-covered hillside

The mesmerizing view from our lunch spot on the shore of Lily Lake. It was warm enough that we could sit basking in the sunshine, getting lost in the moment.

Pines painted on the almost calm lake surface

The stone outcroppings of Lily Ridge watching over the lake and her visitors.

Stone outcroppings rising above Lily Lake

Ah, springtime!

We've had a beautiful spring: enough rain, but not too much (unlike last year); enough warmth, but not too much (unlike so much of the world). Consequently, the pastures are lush green and the mountains are still covered in snow.

View of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak across a lush green pasture

One of my favorite harbingers of spring are the deliciously fragrant chokecherry blossoms, which are in abundance this year.

Chokecherry blossom celebrating springtime sunshine

When we awoke this morning, the sky was mostly clear and it looked like we were headed for another scorching hot day (this has been the hottest July I've ever experienced here, day after day after day in the low 100s or high 90s). But then these gorgeous scalloped clouds formed out of nowhere, covering the whole sky, and keeping the temperature from rising so fast. So grateful!

Beautiful scalloped clouds

When we awoke this morning, we found that it had been raining overnight, and a cold fog, really unusual for here, hung over everything. We decided to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park, and ended up on the Cow Creek Trail.

When we got a mile or so up the trail, the fog lifted and the sun broke through, lighting up vividly colorful bushes and hillsides sprinkled with neon-yellow aspens.

The Cow Creek Trail wandering through autumn-tinged bushes

The Chokecherry bushes displayed a luscious range of colors.

The leaves of the Chokecherry bushes ranged from yellow through orange to deep red

Ah, the crazy variations of life. Sometimes it's like living in a sci-fi novel! This is the caterpillar of the Io moth, Automeris io (Fabricius). The spines, true to their appearance, apparently pack a painful sting. But oh so beautiful!

Green caterpillar, about 3 inches long, covered with spiny protruberances

Autumn along the South St. Vrain Creek. Virginia Creeper berries.

Deep blue Virginia Creeper berries on bright red stems

There is lots of Wild Clematis growing along the South St. Vrain Creek. Most it blooms into splays of delicate pale green pistils like you can see in the lower-right of this photo. But there were also a few beautiful little white fluff balls gracing one of the Wild Clematis stems.

White fluff on Wild Clematis stem

This is how the autumn sun feels on my face while I'm walking along the South St. Vrain.

A sunflower turned to the sun

We spent a beautiful autumn day in Rocky Mountain National Park, driving slowly up Old Fall River Road and then down Trail Ridge Road, enjoying the glowing aspens and the clear glacier water tumbling down the valleys.

Looking south from the Alluvial Fan across a small tributary of the Roaring River.

Looking across a stream at a pine-covered hillside splashed with colorful aspen

A closer view of a stand of aspens on the hillside. I find it amazing how red, orange, and especially yellow aspen leaves can make a sunny day even brighter.

A stand of aspens with changing leaves ranging from pale green to yellow, orange, and red

The glacial water flowing down Fall River is so clear that in places where it's flowing gently, you almost can't tell there is water above the colorful rocks.

A colorful diversity of rocks brightly lit in the river bed

In other places where the water is falling gently, the play of shadows across the rocks is mesmerizing.

Beautiful patterns of light and shadow at play on the rocks in the river bed

It pays to look up when out wandering around. We had a big wind storm last night that blew a lot of the autumn leaves off the trees, revealing this amazing wasp nest hanging a few feet above our heads. It's about a foot long from bottom to top.

A large cone-shaped wasp nest

I thought it must be pretty heavy until I took a closer look at the very thin branch it's hanging from. I love it that some leaves are sticking out right from the sides of the nest. I also love the shape of the nest and the striped pattern.

Close up of wasp nest

The cone actually has a curve to it, which makes it look a bit like the wasps who created it. Nature is so amazing!

View around the side of the wasp nest

(Are you as curious as I was about what a wasp nest looks like inside? Check out this video from the "What's Inside ?" gang: What's inside a Giant Wasp Nest? And here's a time lapse of wasps making a nest, which helps explain the stripes: Wasp nest time lapse.)

Now that the crush of summer visitors is quietening, we can visit some of the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park that we avoid during the peak months. Today, we enjoyed a wonderful autumn walk up the Wild Basin trail along the North St Vrain Creek. Gorgeous weather (too warm for this time of year, but still…). Given how dry this summer and fall have been, it amazes that the creek is still flowing so strongly. Hope we get a lot of snow this winter!

North St Vrain Creek flowing through Wild Basin

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