Saturday, November 18, 2017

Chief Hosa Trail - Peaceful and Beautiful

A study in contrast

Looping casually behind a historic chalet, Chief Hosa Trail is a hardened pathway that passes through forests of Douglas fir, lodgepole and ponderosa pine. Devoid of much activity during this season, autumn is a fine time to bask in nature’s glory.

The enlightened track circumnavigates a broad ridge that knifes through the wilderness, sharing with the keen observer a study in sharp contrast. By traversing the hillside, you’ll encounter two distinctly different ecosystems.

The north-facing slope is mired in an eternal shadow where giant fir and spruce trees envelope the lush undergrowth of glossy ferns. Once inside you’ll discover that deep snow is ever-present and white aspen glow against the dark backdrop.

The south-facing slope is flooded with bright sunlight where the ponderosa pine are twisted above an open scrubland of yellow grasses. Out there the rocky terrain is wide open with far-reaching views that extend all the way to the Continental Divide.

Mule deer favor the damp seclusion provided by the murky backside while small birds seem to prefer the sunny front where they cheerfully flit about. Passing through such diverse life zones sparks a curiosity to learn more about the plants and animals that inhabit this special place.

Chief Hosa Lodge opened in 1918 on the far west side of the circular setting. Named after the Southern Arapaho leader Little Raven, also known as Chief Hosa, the rustic retreat was made from local stone and logs so that it would blend seamlessly into its natural surroundings.

Back in its day, it provided shelter and amenities to Denverites escaping the bustling city for a few days in the tranquil foothills. If you come to visit, you’ll see that Hosa is a fitting name as that word comes to us from the Ute Indian tribe and it means peaceful and beautiful.

Mired in shadow

Flooded with sunlight

Pine above a yellow grassland

Rocky terrain

Views extend to the Continental Divide

Chief Hosa Lodge opened in 1918

Peaceful and beautiful

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Little Bighorn Valley - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Little Bighorn Valley" Colored Pencil

It’s springtime on the northern plains and the Little Bighorn Valley is a kaleidoscope of lively colors. From the rim of this lonely overlook, one can review Montana’s remarkable landscape.

Carving a rugged valley within the vast prairie, a winding river comes rushing down out of the big, gray mountains. You can barely catch a glimpse of the water as its concealed by a sprawling forest of cottonwood.

The lush treetops form wavy bands of foliage that are highlighted with lemon yellow. The trees are mostly green and modeled with dark shadows that appear more blue as they recede into the distance.

The sweeping hillside is steeper than it looks as it blends smoothly into the canyon floor. Just below the summit, a small patch of scrubby woodland has found its niche in a crease of earth called a coulee.

Blemishes of sagebrush are stippled randomly throughout the countryside’s quilted patchwork of fresh growth. Flowing across the picture’s foreground, lush grasses steal their color from the rest of the composition.

The approaching storm is nothing compared to the historical drama that haunts this ground’s turbulent past. Once the scene of a bloody battle, this place has healed itself into a peaceful refuge for solemn contemplation.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Genesee Mountain - Bursting with Beauty

Genesee Mountain trail

When heading up out of Denver, the first big peak you’ll encounter is the wonderful Genesee Mountain. A network of well-worn trails spirals around its flanks, taking you all the way to the top.

On a cold November morning the colors are dull and gray but the spectacular setting is classic Colorado foothills. The steep, grassy slopes are golden ochre and covered by an old-growth forest of ponderosa pine.

Erected at the precipice, a sturdy flagpole flys an American flag that’s tattered from the constant barrage of blowing wind. The historic guidon is a beacon of national pride and it’s determined flight is a symbol of the pioneer spirit.

Every Flag Day since 1911, an organization called the Daughters of the American Revolution has replaced the shredded banner with a new recruit. Off towards the west a patriotic path, inspired by the Stars and Stripes, descends gradually into a wide open meadow.

After you break out of the woodland, you can get right up close to a fence that encloses another western icon, the buffalo. A large herd of these impressive creatures roams majestically all over the pasture’s rolling hills.

Just a few miles from home, it’s interesting to view the town of Evergreen from such a unique perspective. You can see all the recognizable landmarks but mighty Bergen Peak is surprisingly dwarfed by the snow-capped Mount Evans Massive.

Genesee Mountain Park is often overlooked by those traveling I-70 to the Rockies’ more exotic locales. The truth is, though, that this underrated area bursts with just as much beauty as almost anywhere else in the state.

Wonderful Genesee Mountain

A spectacular setting

Classic Colorado

Steep, ochre slopes

An old-growth forest

American flag at the summit

Buffalo roam these hills

Bergen Peak and Mount Evans

Bursting with beauty

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Red Rocks Park - Garden of the Angels

Garden of the Angels

By the end of October in the Colorado foothills, the birds have slipped away, the first snow has loosened and most of the leaves have fallen. Luckily, lower down near Morrison there’s still enough color to brighten your day.

On a gorgeous, golden morning at the Garden of the Angels, autumn’s palette is composed from red, yellow and orange. The little creek that flows gently through this geologic wonderland is still lined with lush cottonwoods.

With the world famous amphitheater set as its centerpiece, this unique state park is currently known as Red Rocks. It’s a surreal place where sandstone slabs are tilted precariously, thrusting upwards towards a deep, blue sky.

Stair-stepped trails weave through the preserve, offering a fresh viewpoint at every turn. If you’re able to position yourself at just the right angle, you’ll see pale foliage set against dark shadows, creating a striking contrast of color and tone.

The search for a last bit of this year’s vibrant hues has ended in the transitional zone where the plains meet the mountains. Historically a sacred spot revered by native peoples, this heavenly hillside still feels like hallowed ground.

This year the temperatures are warmer than usual but a cool breeze blowing down from the white peaks gives you a chilly forewarning. Each successive day is supplied with gradually less light so now it’s time to start preparing for that dreaded season of darkness.

Color to brighten your day

Autumn's palette

A geologic wonderland

Cottonwoods line the creek

Sandstone slabs are thrust upwards

A fresh viewpoint

Pale foliage set against dark shadows

A transitional zone

Hallowed ground

Prepare for the season of darkness

Saturday, October 21, 2017

American Kestrel - Heart over Height

American Kestrel

The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest and most widespread falcon. This pocket-sized bird of prey is extremely adaptable as she can be found anywhere in the Western Hemisphere from Alaska to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

The most colorful of all the raptors, she is distinguished by brown wings as opposed to the male’s beautiful slate blue. Perceiving her identity is practically unmistakable while she’s perched on a small pine scanning the grassland for her favorite food; grasshoppers.

She owes much of her success to a broad diet that includes almost any insect, lizards, snakes, mice and voles. She’s a ferocious predator that has the ability to take red squirrels and small birds especially sparrows while still on the wing.

She’s the fearless matriarch of a tight-knit group as both parents are equally active in rearing the young. Often, the whole family will go out on a hunting foray as it’s an effective way to teach the fledglings how to stalk prey.

American Kestrels nest in cavities but they lack the ability to excavate their own. They rely on old woodpecker holes, natural tree hollows, rock crevices, and nooks in buildings and other human-built structures.

With plenty of available resources, this sparrow hawk is a permanent resident of the Rocky Mountains. Colorado is her home and she’ll spend her entire life here, flourishing happily even during the region’s cold and snowy winter.

Despite her small size, this little bird is a courageous warrior so don’t dismiss her diminutive nature. When it comes to the physical attributes necessary to survive in this crazy world, I’d take her heart over height any day.

The smallest and most widespread falcon

A colorful raptor

Scanning the grassland

A ferocious predator

A fearless matriarch

The sparrow hawk

A permanent resident

Flourishing happily

A courageous warrior

Heart over height

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bear Gulch - A Dragon's Den

Bear Gulch

Bear Gulch is a steep ravine knifing through the forested foothills of Genesee Park, Colorado. Once you enter into the forbidding chasm, a rocky trail goes downhill all the way.

Upon leaving the land of brilliant light, this seedy underworld is thick with thorny brush and tangled trees. A murky creek cascades quietly through the secluded gorge.

Further in, the trek heads down a slippery slope where every step must be taken with extreme caution. A misstep at this position could result in a fall filled with painful repercussions.

At the soggy bottom, water falls over black boulders and broken logs. The sun’s rays barely make it to the base of the canyon but where they do, autumn bushes glow with yellow when set against the somber shadows.

Closed in by rock and mud, the narrow crevasse is cold and damp. You’re separated from the sky and sunny topland but there’s still a bright side to being stuck inside this complicated scenery.

The consolation garnered from descending so far into the dark depths of this smoldering dragon’s den - there’s nowhere else to go but up.

Forested foothills

A seedy underworld

A murky creek

A slippery slope

Water falls over black boulders

A narrow crevasse

The sunny topland

Complicated scenery

A smoldering dragon's den

Nowhere else to go but up