Saturday, December 13, 2014

South Table Mountain - A Beautiful Bastion

South Table Mountain

On a sunny September morn, we got out of our chairs and headed for South Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado. The inconspicuous trailhead was concealed in an urban environment but after the domestic beginning, we found ourselves in a rugged outback.

Slightly on our way, we encountered a sleepy serpent basking in the warm sunshine. After the rattlesnake rendezvous, we were fueled by a rush of adrenaline. Trailblazing up a series of sharp switchbacks, the heart-pumping path rose quickly.

In the cool, blue shadow of a magnificent mesa, we ascended ever higher. Finally, after a leg-burning scramble through a narrow passage of loose scree, we attained the flat, false summit. Off to the west, a solitary butte was a beautiful bastion overlooking the foothills.

In order to obtain the true finish circle, we mastered the final gut-busting set of steep stairs. From atop the round tower, an oval plateau offered a panorama of the pleasant landscape. After a while, as the sun continued to rise, we began our descent.

The return trek was a knee-pounding drop. A downward spiral emptied into the flowery snake den where the reticent reptile had so unceremoniously slithered off trail. Back at the beginning, hot and tired, a bottle of cold water was welcome refreshment after the weekend workout.

A rugged outback

Rattlesnake basking in the sun

A magnificent mesa and its cool, blue shadow

The flat, false summit

Gut-busting stairs

The summit plateau

A pleasant landscape

A downward spiral

A flowery snake den

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Prairie Rattlesnake - An Honorable Asp

Prairie Rattlesnake

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" ~ Indiana Jones

Dwelling in Colorado's dark underworld, the prairie rattlesnake is a misunderstood animal that always gets a bad rap. Despite its intimidating appearance, the shy serpent is not looking for trouble. As a matter of fact, the reticent reptile does everything in its control to avoid detection and possible conflict. When alarmed, the snake vibrates its tail rapidly creating an unforgettable buzzing sound. The distinct noise is a warning to all who can hear, "Don't tread on me!"

The reclusive rattler is beautifully colored and patterned in such a way that it blends perfectly into the rocky buttes and mesas that fringe the Front Range foothills. During the dog days of summer, it becomes nocturnal. The stealthy snake hunts at night using its innervated pits to detect heat emanating from warm-blooded rodents.

A lightning-quick strike is absolutely lethal. Delivered by two long, hinged fangs, large amounts of toxic venom are injected into hunting bites. Interestingly, some defensive encounters with humans result in a "dry bite". That's when little or no venom is actually released into the person's wound.

If it feels threatened or provoked, the prairie rattlesnake will turn downright nasty on a dime but not without fair warning. The antagonist better proceed with caution because the rattler will fight back fast and furiously. An angry snake will load up with tissue-damaging toxins and strike several times during a single attack.

The honorable asp seems uncannily self-aware of its destructive power and never strikes until it has generously given notice. Luckily for us, the deadly pit viper is distinguished by the beaded rattle on the end of its tail and the snake is conscientious enough to use it.

We encountered the snake pictured in this post while hiking up South Table Mountain in Golden. Comfortable and docile, she was sunning herself in the middle of the path on a cool, September morning. My wife and the dogs unwittingly walked right over the top of the camouflaged snake.

Bringing up the rear, our youngest was first to spot the coiled creature. A scary situation at first, we kept a careful distance and watched the rattler for about fifteen minutes. After a while, probably tired of our persistence, she slowly slithered off of the trail. She never buzzed once.

An intimidating appearance

A reticent rattler

Beautifully colored and patterned

Buttes and mesas fringe the foothills

South Table Mountain trail

Sunning in the middle of the path

Slowly slithering off trail

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Evergreen Memorial Park - A Pensive Garden

An impressive bison

While waiting for practice to end, wandering down to Evergreen Memorial Park is like walking back in time. Set in Colorado's Front Range foothills, the sprawling meadow serves as a cemetery, wildlife preserve and wedding ground. The weathered barn chapel, complete with stained-glass windows, is a symbolic structure and fitting tribute to the early settlers of Evergreen and the Old West.

Just like days gone by, buffalo roam across a golden plain and gather on the muddy banks of a lively watering hole. Occupying a rocky domain, amusing goats and friendly fallow deer greet the visitor with unbridled enthusiasm. Further along the path, an impressive herd of antlered elk is tame enough to be hand-fed. The curious critters use their long, sticky tongues to swipe pellets of compressed hay directly from your clutch.

An interesting ritual is the daily occurrence of congregating clouds that seem to melt into the cool-blue mountains. The fascinating weather effect blesses the evening landscape with a contemplative light not found anywhere else. Surrounded by antiques and artifacts, the pensive Garden of the Pioneers is a peaceful place to remember our past and an inspiring spot to try and foretell the future.

The weathered barn chapel is symbolic

Complete with stained-glass windows

Buffalo gather around the watering hole

Goats occupy a rocky domain

Friendly Fallow deer

A herd of antlered elk

Tame enough to be hand-fed

Clouds and cool-blue mountains

Blessed with heavenly light

The garden is a peaceful place to remember our past

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Carhenge - A Celebration of Life

Carhenge, Nebraska

On a sultry, summer afternoon, we headed up to the High Plains and investigated a western Nebraska icon. Rising conspicuously out of the verdant corn, Carhenge was constructed 27 years ago as an exact replica of southern England's Stonehenge.

At first, it was considered a despicable eyesore haphazardly fabricated by a crazy farmer but in actuality, it's an admirable display sculpted by a serious artist. Over time as the structure has blended into the environment, locals have not only accepted the work but they have embraced it as their own unique piece of Americana.

Though some may still dismiss Carhenge as the makings of a madman, artist Jim Reinders cleared his field and built it so now we come. Today, people from all over the world arrive in the agricultural town of Alliance, Nebraska to visit the quirky roadside attraction.

The grouping of gray gas guzzlers is a remarkable recreation. Aligned with the summer solstice, Carhenge faithfully replicates Stonehenge's current tumble-down state. As well as the main circle, the exhibit includes two station stones, three upright trilithons, the Slaughter Stone and the mysterious Heel Stone.

For an artisan or photographer, the place is interesting to examine. At the photogenic site, an enormous complex offers tight angles and dark shadows that form interesting compositions at every turn. The cold, Detroit steel contrasts sharply with the undulating Sandhills and billowing, white clouds.

Originally conceived as a memorial, at its core, the monument is a moving tribute to Jim's father. Encouraged to explore freely, children enthusiastically climb cars and kick tires. Whereas the stone slabs of Salisbury are the "Domain of the Dead", the arrangement of American automobiles near Alliance appears to be a celebration of life.

Constructed 27 years ago

Carhenge is a replica of Stonehenge

A serious sculpture

The structure blends into the environment

A piece of Americana

A quirky roadside attraction

Gray gas guzzlers

The mysterious Heel Stone

A photogenic site

Tight angles and dark shadows

The monument is a memorial

A celebration of life

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Janeway, Colorado - A Rowdy Rest-Area

Janeway, Colorado

"Though the white man may take this land, it and everything on it will never make him happy and his endeavors will forever fail." ~ Ute Indian curse after being forcibly removed from the Crystal River Valley

Once upon a time, coal was king...

During the late 1800s, combustible carbon powered locomotives and fired smelters from Aspen to Pueblo. So when "Black Gold" was discovered in Colorado's central Rockies, prospectors, investors and miners saturated the Western Slope. Treaties were broken and the region's native inhabitants, the Utes, were forced to leave their homeland for reservations further removed.

Situated in a rugged ravine, Janeway was a rowdy rest-area for frontiersmen heading into the high country. Originally known as Mobley's Camp, in 1877 the settlement was renamed after its affable innkeeper, Mary Jane Francis. The charming Mary Jane was the most popular resident in this fledgling town of fifty that included a general store, post office, boarding house and saloon.

Wedged into a slender meadow where the Crystal River emerges from a narrow gorge, Janeway offered just enough space for transportation and distribution of goods. At first, serving as a stagecoach stop was sufficient for shuttling passengers to work. Later, more horsepower was required to move the luminous Yule marble being quarried out of the West Elk Mountains.

By 1900, the Crystal River Railway followed the winding watershed all the way to Redstone and Janeway was quickly transformed into a railroad station with a siding for 29 cars. The entire area was prospering with construction, corruption and cash but as prophesied by the "Ute Curse", the success was short-lived.

Around 1910, silver was dropped from the monetary standard and trains were driven by diesel motors so the market for Colorado coal crashed dramatically. During the rapid decline, many of the Crystal River Valley boom towns fell into dark oblivion. Today, all that is left of Janeway are the remains of a lonely, log cabin concealed in the eternal shadow of somber Mount Sopris.

In a greedy rush for wealth, our forefathers may have ultimately failed in their endeavor to rob the land of mineral treasure. Today, one-hundred years later, I believe we've unearthed the true value of the Colorado landscape. I believe we've come to appreciate the precious beauty of these mountains and that does make us happy.

The Crystal River Valley

A rugged ravine

Janeway was wedged into a slender valley

The Crystal River

A lonely, log cabin

Somber Mount Sopris

Beautiful mountains