Saturday, January 19, 2019

Frozen Foothills - The Beauty of Snow

Beauty of snow

Deprived of sunlight, January is a dark month defined by brown meadows, black forests and gray brush. This forbidding time of year is exacerbated by isolation, solitude and endless waves of bad weather.

The storms come steamrolling down from the divide, dumping incredible amounts snow in a short amount of time. The wind-driven event shrouds the valley in a ghostly rampart that erases everything from view.

The next morning as cloud cover dissipates, warmer air is released into the atmosphere allowing an arctic chill to settle over the frozen foothills. The glistening, fresh powder instantly transforms the dreary landscape into a winter wonderland.

Pure, white snow brightens the area’s muddy palette as the trees appear greener, the grasses more yellow and the bushes more violet. The sparkling sky is a smooth gradient blended from cerulean to cobalt blue.

The forest is decorated with laced pine whose needle clumps collect drifts of plastered snow. The limber warriors are built to withstand the burden of heavy weight as they bend into impossible angles without breaking.

Making a trail through the park’s hard pack is a bear but the glorious scenery is worth the slog. The place is completely quiet except for the crunching of boots and the lively caws of a few hardy crows.

Springtime in the Rockies reinvigorates the soul while the summers are short and sweet. Fall is a magical time of year but there’s nothing in the mountains that compares to the beauty of snow.

Frozen foothills

Glistening, fresh powder

Winter wonderland

A brightened palette

Decorated with laced pine

Needle clumps collect snow

Limber pine are built to withstand weight

Glorious scenery

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Kountze Lake - Teeming with Waterfowl

Common Goldeneye

Kountze Lake is a man-made reservoir located in the middle of the city of Lakewood. During spring and summer, the central oasis is a hotbed of activity for both birds and animals but it seems to be busy this time of year too.

Upon entering the preserve, a vacant woodland was sparse with inhabitants save for a few fox squirrels. At the waterfront from out on the pier, the partially frozen pond was teeming with babbling waterfowl.

Canada Geese were shown in force, far outnumbering the rest of the birds. Conspicuous amongst the herd, a few white-headed floaters must have been hybrids of the Canada and the snow with their speckled plummage glittering in the evening sun.

Also basking in the warm sunlight, a male mallard’s already iridescent coloring sparkled even more brilliantly. The shovelers segregated themselves from the rest of the pack, staying close to shore on the rocks while forming a striking silhouette.

Most active of the bunch was a goldeneye that kept diving into the frigid water, disappearing for several seconds at a time. We weren’t expecting to see much wildlife on such a cold, winter day so we were surprised to encounter so many birds at such a small, urban lake.

Eastern fox squirrel

Conspicuous amongst the herd

Canada Goose x Snow Goose hybrid

Iridescent mallard

Northern shoveler

A striking silhouette

An active goldeneye

Disappeared under the water

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Bald Eagle - A Regal Bird of Prey

Bald Eagle

Back in 1872, Benjamin Franklin argued against the Bald Eagle’s nomination as the United States national symbol. The shifty bird’s frequent thievery prompted him to write that the bald eagle “is a bird of bad moral character”.

Franklin believed the wild turkey was a better selection because it was “a much more respectable bird”. While it’s true the bald eagle is an opportunistic feeder that will scavenge carrion and steal prey from other raptors, it’s also a fearsome hunter.

This huge, dark-bodied bird, with a seven foot wingspan, white head and tail, razor sharp beak, deadly talons and extraordinary yellow eyes is a fish’s worst nightmare. Although seafood is it’s favorite meal, the bald eagle will also strike turtles, snakes, ducks, geese, muskrats and rabbits.

The regal bird of prey can only be observed in North America but you can find them just about anywhere on the continent. They build some of the largest stick nests on earth with some measuring eight foot across and weighing up to two tons.

They prefer to make their home near an aquatic habitat such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs or oceans. If the local water source stays thawed during the winter, the cold tolerant eagles will reside in their territory all year long.

Mated bald eagles are paired for life and share all domestics tasks from nest building to hunting to caring for the young. They are devoted parents who faithfully safeguard the yearly clutch of two eggs and dutifully teach fledglings how to fly.

During the mid-to-late 1900s, the bald eagle population was decimated by hunting and poison, necessitating urgent conservation and a ban on DDT pesticide. The maligned bird became a national symbol despite support for awarding that honor to a turkey and now the resilient raptor has fully recovered from the brink of extinction.

A fish's worst nightmare

A regal bird of prey

Cold tolerant

A national symbol

Back from the brink

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Western Slope Winter - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Western Slope Winter" Colored Pencil

It seems like there’s always more snow on the other side of the Great Divide especially in the bottom of the Blue River Valley. During January deep drifts occur in the long shadows of giant peaks.

Bad weather usually wreaks havoc at night but often breaks just before daylight. A clear sky in the morning means transparent light with a sun glare that stings the eyes and a frigid temperature that burns the skin.

In this snowscape, a jagged range exhibits sharp features while thin clouds whisk across a pale sky. The forest’s edge is a conglomeration of strange shapes creating a wind break separating the white slopes from the arctic plain.

The sparkling hues are a phenomenon that can only be seen in the mountains the morning after a storm. The pointillistic image is like a mirage broken by bits of pure color that, from a distance, fuse in the viewer’s eyes.

Even in winter, the foreground of brush, twigs and branches is described with predominantly warm tones. It’s the dawn of not only an unspoiled day but the thoughtful unveiling of a pristine new year.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Sprague Lake - An Unforgiving Environment

Sprague Lake

In 1874 Abner Sprague was the first person to homestead in Moraine Park, one of Colorado’s most scenic valleys. Further up in Glacier Basin he established a lodge that outfitted guests for hiking, hunting and fishing.

The resort sat on the banks of Boulder Brook and just downstream Abner dammed the creek, creating a lovely lake brimming with big trout. Today, all traces of human encroachment have been reclaimed but the reservoir, beaver and moose still remain.

This time of year Sprague Lake’s shiny green water is about half frozen and the fallen timber is partially submerged in cold slush. The hazy light is filtered by moisture produced by a high country snow squall.

Still set deep in an emerald forest below powder blue skies, the reservoir is surrounded by a crunchy, snow-packed trail trimmed with boardwalks and bridges. On this day a biting wind sprays pellets of ice against your face making the big mountain views virtually invisible.

Situated at an elevation of 8700 feet, the sub-alpine lake is confined to an unforgiving environment. By the calendar it may have just turned to winter but up here it’s been winter for a while and it will continue to be so for a long time to come.

A scenic valley

A lovely lake

The green water is frozen

Fallen timber is submerged

Hazy light

Snow squall

Powder blue skies

An unforgiving environment

A long winter

Saturday, December 15, 2018

DePoorter Lake - A Beautiful Landscape

DePoorter Lake

During Wild West times, Julesburg was a dangerous place to live as it was a stomping ground for outlaws, gunslingers and Cheyenne Indians. Nearby Fort Sedgwick was an important military base protecting the Overland Trail and Colorado’s only Pony Express Home Station.

Today, the once notoriously rowdy town is known for it’s colorful history, clean living and peaceful atmosphere. One of the more tranquil locations is an icy jewel set between the city and the South Platte River.

DePoorter Lake is a lonely oasis concealed in Colorado’s forsaken, eastern plains. Dug out of the open prairie in 1988 when fill dirt was needed for a construction project, the picturesque pond was transformed into a fishery and stocked with sunfish, catfish, bluegill and rainbow trout.

The charming lake is bordered on the east by a coniferous windbreak that impedes the countryside’s brutal chinook. Fringing the cobalt reservoir, bare cottonwood trees are twisted into painfully distorted silhouettes.

Circumnavigating the clear water on a cold November morning is an exhilarating activity that rouses the soul. Broken light streams sporadically through drifting clouds inspiring thankfulness to be bound to such a beautiful landscape.

A tranquil location

Set between the city and the South Platte

A lonely oasis

A picturesque pond

A charming lake

The trees are painfully twisted

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Chapel on the Rock - An Indestructible Shrine

Chapel on the Rock

"Upon this rock I'll build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
~ Matthew 16:18

On a pitch black night in 1916, Monsignor Joseph Bosetti was lured deep into the Rocky Mountains by the fiery afterglow of a falling star. Bosetti was unable to locate the meteor’s impact but he did find divine inspiration.

Bosetti stumbled upon a dramatic rock formation that filled his spirit with visions of grandeur. He became obsessed with building a remote church balanced right on top of those rugged crags.

Of course money or a lack thereof was an issue so without any funding, the construction project was delayed for twenty years. Bosetti’s dream came true after Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Malo donated land and architect Jacques Benedict finalized the design.

The chapel was built from native stone that was hauled in from the surrounding area by mule-drawn carts. This natural material allows the structure to blend perfectly into the environment, offering a seamless transition between earth and heaven.

Entrenched below the impressive Mount Meeker, the wilderness setting is absolutely breathtaking. As for the sanctuary, it’s detailed with elaborate stonework, adorned with statues and the windows are fitted with stained-glass.

The church was completed in 1936 and officially christened as the Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel. Other structures were added and by 1987 the meadow was transformed into the Saint Malo Religious Retreat and Conference Center.

Pope John Paul II hiked through the area, prayed in the chapel and blessed the site during World Youth Day. Since that remarkable visit in 1993, the hardened house of worship has been virtually indestructible.

In 1911, a devastating fire roared through the neighboring forest spewing flames that licked the church’s edge. The conference center was completely destroyed but miraculously, the stone structure survived unscathed.

Two years later, torrential rains produced devastating mudslides that flowed down from the high peaks into the valley just missing Saint Catherine’s by the slimmest of margins. Once again the sacred rock persevered in a pristine state.

Despite the wrath incurred by such natural catastrophes, the holy shrine has managed to hold its rocky ground. Still perched precariously today, the resilient Chapel on the Rock has become an obvious symbol of hope during the midst of disaster.

A remote church in the mountains

Built from native stone

It blends into the environment

Impressive Mount Meeker

The wilderness setting is breathtaking

Elaborate stonework, statues and stained-glass

A hardened house of worship

A holy shrine

Hope during the midst of disaster