Monday, July 15, 2019

Wilson's Snipe - A Feathered Phantom

The Wilson's Snipe

The reclusive Wilson’s snipe lives in North America but you'd be lucky to ever lay eyes on one. Because of his secretive nature, he’s most active around dusk and dawn while preferring to sleep much of the daytime.

When he's awake this plump, little shorebird uses his long, flexible bill to probe in the mud for larvae and earthworms. His unique mandible can move independently upwards allowing him to swallow small prey without having to pull his bill out of the dirt.

The Wilson’s snipe is mottled brown overall with a white belly and streaked breast. Dark stripes decorate his head and back. He makes his nest in the wetlands where his drab plumage blends perfectly into the dried, cattail willows.

His bill is outrageously long and his eyes are set so far back on his head that he can see not only in front and to the sides but also completely behind. He has short legs and massive flight muscles so when he’s flushed from his safe haven he can explode into the air at 60 miles per hour.

The Wilson’s snipe is a feathered phantom and during the breeding season his ghostly persona is further enhanced by a nighttime, courtship display. He circles high above his marshland territory and then suddenly dives straight towards the ground.

This spectacular, aerial maneuver creates a “winnowing” effect that vibrates in the wind creating an eerie sound. Scientists have discovered that this noise occurs when air streams across the bird’s specially designed outer tail feathers.

You may not be able to see this apparition during spring daylight but if you’re in the foothills after dark, keep your ears open because that’s when you’ll hear this common snipe’s haunting notes emanating through the thin, mountain air.

Active around dusk and dawn

A feathered phantom

A ghostly persona

You'd be lucky to see one

Eyes are set back on his head

A plump shorebird

An apparition

An outrageously long bill

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mount Rushmore - A Massive Memorial

Mount Rushmore

Exhibited near Rapid City, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is a magnificent monument sculpted from a granite mountain. The massive memorial is a group portrait featuring presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

It took artist Gutzon Borglum 14 years to complete the government commission. Concealed in a sacred wilderness of rock and pine called the Black Hills, the creation looks unfinished but rough hewn edges give it a certain sketchiness that blends into the natural environment.

Upon entering the busy complex, a grand boulevard leads to an amphitheater where the sculpture can be closely contemplated. Mount Rushmore definitely exudes patriotism and as an attraction luring tourists to the remote Northern Plains, the astonishing work of art is certainly a success.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Utah - A Celebration of Diverse Scenery

Lower Bells Canyon Waterfall

Blessed with untamed rivers, deep canyons and green mountains, the state of Utah is celebrated for its diverse scenery. Established on a painted desert, the topography transitions dramatically up to the lofty Wasatch Mountain Range.

The winding waterways rush towards the southwest while carving surreal chasms out of an uplifted plateau. Heavily eroded by wind and water, the unique landscape is littered with an interesting array of arches, pinnacles and hoodoos.

I enjoy wandering around our local foothills and I could spend a lifetime exploring the vast Rocky Mountains. I must admit, though, that the territory to our west has definitely cast a spell. Our home is Colorado but my second favorite state is magical Utah.

San Rafael Swell

Wasatch Mountains

San Rafael Desert

An untamed creek

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Square Top Lakes - A Wealth of Beauty

Lower Square Top Lake

Out of Georgetown up at the top of Guanella Pass there’s a faint trail heading west into the wilderness. Bushwhacking through muddy bogs and thickets of prickly willows, the alpine trek to Square Top Lakes is an uphill battle all the way.

Stair-stepped into the ochre grassland, the cobalt reservoirs are a striking study in color contrast. Twilight softens the landscape and radiates onto the jagged peaks in the distance as passing clouds cast peculiar shadows across Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth Ridge.

Spending an afternoon above tree line on a secluded thirteener is a precious experience. While tramping back across the tundra on a warm autumn evening, it’s obvious that the wealth of beauty amassed by these mountains can’t be measured in anything but gold.

Sawtooth Ridge

Peculiar shadows

An ochre grassland

A wealth of beauty

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Bay Window House - An Impressive Residence

The Bay Window House

Animas Forks is a rickety ghost town teetering high in the San Juan Mountains just east of Silverton, Colorado. It used to be a bustling community during the silver boom of the late 1800s but today only the miner’s spirit permeates the cool, mountain air.

Pictured above is the best preserved building, an impressive residence known as The Bay Window House. Broken down and beaten after enduring years of nasty weather, the resilient structure rises defiantly out of a dense thicket of green willows.

I can’t imagine how people lived up here all year long, extracting precious minerals from the generous earth. There’s no debate that they enjoyed breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks but struggling to survive the harsh winters must have been absolutely brutal.

Cool mountain air

The best preserved building

An impressive residence

Rising out of the willows

High in the San Juan Mountains

A miner's spirit

A rickety ghost town

Breathtaking views of surrounding peaks

A resilient structure

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Alderfer Park - Where Spring has Barely Begun

Alderfer Park

A obscure trail in Alderfer Park descends into a quiet drainage called Coneflower Creek. It’s a fascinating experience wandering deep inside this lost valley where springtime has barely begun.

Its banks crowded by stands of barren aspen, the shallow stream is slow moving because the big peaks that fill it are still locked in a fierce battle with snow and ice.

Blending beautifully into the rocky mountainside, an abandoned homestead and its historical outbuildings are a tangible record of our region’s earliest settlers.

It’s interesting to observe how the wildlife reacts to our sudden appearance. Mule deer are activated into a state of heightened alert and a cottontail becomes frozen solid while a downy woodpecker ignores our very existence.

The gray clouds don’t mean snow but they do suggest the possibility of a dramatic weather effect. Almost every afternoon during the monsoon the sky unleashes a torrent of heavy rain, thunder and lightning.

At the end of the excursion as the evening light shines through a veil of transparent clouds, the ambiance creates a solemn atmosphere that complements the peaceful solitude of an isolated wilderness.

Mule deer on full alert

The big peaks are locked in battle

Ice and snow

A frozen cottontail

A historical record of early settlement

Spring has barely begun

Coneflower Creek

The wildlife is interesting

A solemn atmosphere

The woodpecker ignored us

Peaceful solitude

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Three Mountain Passes - The Crest of a Continent

Kenosha Pass

Recently, we explored three mountain passes that traverse the crest of a continent. It may be spring in the foothills but after a looping excursion through Colorado’s Front Range, we discovered that winter is still lingering in the high country.

Kenosha Pass (10,000 feet) is a wide open space famous for its charming aspen grove and being bisected by the untamed Colorado Trail. The centerpiece of this grassy plateau has to be the sparkling blue lake that reflects the ring of white peaks that surrounds it.

As it’s early spring here, the cool temperatures create persistent snow drifts that are scattered across the muddy earth. Kenosha Pass descends abruptly while forming the steep eastern boundary of the spectacular South Park meadow.

Hoosier Pass (11,500 feet) is a narrow gateway to the town of Breckenridge renowned for its cluster of big mountains and rich mining history. The beautiful landscape is forested with a picturesque combination of subalpine fir and Englemann spruce.

It’s late winter in the raven’s domain where rock, snow and ice dominate this harsh environment. Hoosier Pass rises sharply below steel-blue skies while a steady breeze pours down through the forbidding quagmire of dark peaks.

Loveland Pass (12,000 feet) is an arduous, winding thoroughfare looming over the I-70 corridor while linking some of Colorado’s most popular ski resorts. Positioned well above tree line, it’s celebrated for crossing over the Continental Divide.

Winter is dug in deep here where a ferocious wind blasts your entire being with jagged pellets of ice and snow. Loveland Pass is a harsh environment blessed with panoramic views that include several, legendary mountain summits.

Kenosha Pass is wide open

A lake is the centerpiece

White peaks surround it

Spectacular South Park meadow

Hoosier Pass is a beautiful landscape

A quagmire of dark peaks

A rich mining history

Loveland Pass looms over the I-70 corridor

Panoramic views

A harsh environment