Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Plains Lighthouse - A Beacon of Hope in Western Nebraska

Lake Minatare Lighthouse

Western Nebraska is known for its corn, cattle and lighthouses. Well, at least one lighthouse. The Plains Lighthouse is situated on Lake Minatare's Lakeview Point Peninsula. The 4-story structure was built towards the end of the Great Depression by the Veterans Conservation Corps, a new deal agency that provided jobs to unemployed veterans.

For people in the area, the unique landmark became a beacon of hope during darker times. The 55-foot tower rises above the rolling prairie and offers spectacular, panoramic views of the lake and scenic river valley. The lighthouse is mostly about form and not functional. There is no actual light so it doesn't provide navigational aide to boats out on the water.

It's built entirely from native stone and the maritime design, complete with spiral staircase, is a faithful reproduction of our nation's coastal guards. The Cornhusker version is a combination shelter house and observation tower only. Nevertheless, the Lake Minatare Lighthouse is a precious piece of local history. It's an iconic symbol for the pioneer spirit that came to light in the panhandle and still shines across the entire state of Nebraska.

Lake Minatare is in Western Nebraska

The lighthouse was built during the Great Depression

It's a unique landmark

Situated on the Lakeview Point Peninsula

The lighthouse was built from native stone

A beacon of hope

Lake Minatare is a state recreation area

It's a shelter house and observation tower

The lake is a wildlife refuge

A pioneer spirit shines across the whole state

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Gray Jay - A Legendary Thief of Hearts

The mischievous gray jay

The formidable Rocky Mountains are an imposing hideout for one of Colorado's most notorious outlaws, the gray jay. Upon entering its dark territory of spruce and fir, beware because this legendary camp robber isn't afraid to steal your food, your patience or your heart.

Blessed with boundless curiosity, the gray jay will investigate even the slightest disturbance in a subalpine forest. It scrutinizes the camper intensely and follows the hiker closely, waiting to see what happens next. If you offer one of them a bite of food, they will boldly pluck the treat right out of your hand. You'll also acquire a friend for life.

Early fur traders appreciated the gray jay's companionship during lonely treks into the outback but they resented the bird's relentless thievery. The jays were experts at stealing the bait from their snares, often committing the crime before the trapper had turned his back.

The gray jay will consume anything that's edible and certain goods that are not. It eats everything from insects, berries and small mammals to soap, candles and tobacco. But who could blame them, the gray jay is a year-round resident in one of the harshest environments on earth. Surviving winter at tree line requires a bountiful supply of prepared reserves.

Most of the stuff swiped during the summer is cached for later use during lean times. The gray jay has special salivary glands that transform a mouthful of food into a gooey, sticky ball of future nourishment. Up to 1,000 of these tasty morsels are hidden throughout the area each day. The bird adheres them to bark, branches and pine needles. An extraordinary memory is called upon to later recover the valuable merchandise.

Some people find their obnoxious behavior to become tiresome and consider the bird a nuisance. Not me, compared to the extreme shyness of other mountain dwellers, I believe the sociable gray jay's mischievous antics are a delightful change of pace. Up here good guys finish last.

A notorious outlaw

They live in spruce and fir forests

They're blessed with boundless curiosity

The gray jay lives at tree line year-round

A legendary camp robber

A friend for life

Gray jays will consume anything edible

Up here good guys finish last

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chief Mountain - Access to a Wonderful World

Ancient bristlecone pines are guardians of the alpine tundra
"The heavens seem to be nearer the earth. The elements are less reserved and distinct. Water turns to ice, rain to snow. The day is but a Scandinavian night. The winter is an arctic summer." ~ Henry David Thoreau

Located above Squaw Pass Road in the foothills of Colorado's Front Range, Chief Mountain rises above the surrounding valleys to offer spectacular scenery from its rocky summit. The panoramic views begin with Mount Evans and the Continental Divide to the west, Longs Peak looms to the north and massive Pikes Peak can be seen to the south. Eastward you'll see Squaw Peak and the Evergreen Mountains.

What makes Chief Mountain special is its unique access to the wonderful world above the trees. After a quick hike through a dense forest of spruce and fir, the trees become stunted and windblown. Rare bristlecone pines are ancient guardians of this incredible ecosystem. The alpine tundra is a stunning expanse of blue sky, tiny wildflowers and harsh climate.

Relentless winds and frigid temperatures limit what plants can grow here. A patchwork mosaic of hardy vegetation clings to the rocky soil. Some plants take two or more years to produce flower buds, which survive below deep winter snows and bloom for just a few weeks each summer. The amazing environment is an adaptable place but we must tread lightly. Crushing footsteps can destroy the fragile plants, leaving the exposed soil to blow away and a centuries long remediation to recover.

The hike begins in a dense forest

Panoramic views are spectacular

Chief Mountain's rocky summit

Mount Evans looms to the west

The tundra is a stunning expanse

Wildflowers bloom for just a few weeks each summer

Windblown, stunted and gnarled trees

Evergreen's mountains to the southeast

Chief Mountain is special

We must tread lightly

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mount Sneffels - Queen of the San Juans

Mount Sneffels is the Queen of the San Juan Mountains

At the Dallas Divide, a restrained landscape of lower hay fields gives way to riotous slopes of quaking aspen and colorful wildflowers. Rising above tree line is a sweep of rugged terrain composed of banded layers of rock, steep crags and serrated ridges. Positioned majestically amongst these enormous peaks is the "Queen of the San Juans".

Mount Sneffels is one of the most beautiful peaks in Colorado. The diamond-shaped, east face of Longs Peak is spectacular and the Maroon Bells are picture-perfect, but my favorite mountain is Sneffels. The odd name comes from the Hayden Survey of 1874. They thought the peak resembled the Icelandic, Snaefell volcano featured in Jules Verne's novel Journey to the Center of the Earth.

My two brothers and I reached the top of the world when we summited Mount Sneffels a few years ago. We bypassed the standard route that ascends a steep, scree-filled gully. Instead, we chose to scramble up the perilous southwest ridge. To achieve our lofty goal, we had to navigate a labyrinth of rock spires and crawl across a terrifying, knife-edge ridge.

I've approached Mount Sneffels from every direction, during different seasons and in all kinds of weather. Reaching the pinnacle was an awesome experience but the climb was never about bagging just another 14er. It was about building a relationship with the mountain and creating a bond with my brothers.

Elk in the lower hay fields

We had to navigate a labyrinth of rock spires

A sweep of rugged terrain

Mount Sneffels is a beautiful peak

The top of the world

Sneffels is one of the most photographed peaks

Snaefell is the Nordic word for snowfield

Fall colors below Mount Sneffels

Spring in the Sneffels Range

I've approached Sneffels from every direction

Reaching the pinnacle was awesome

Mounts Sneffels from the Dallas Divide

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Yankee Boy Basin - An Incredible Journey

Incredible Yankee Boy Basin

"Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking stick". ~ JRR Tolkien

In a land far, far away there exists such a place. An ancient volcano has been sculpted into a castle of pinnacles and spires. A ring of peaks with names like Teakettle, Cirque, Kismet, Gilpin, Stony and Potosi encloses a magical, green passageway.

Famous for its turquoise lakes and sparkling waterfalls, the alpine garden is bursting with dazzling wildflowers. Mount Sneffels looms over the valley as the undisputed ruler of an extraordinary kingdom. The rigid monarch forms an imposing barrier between paradise and reality.

A clear blue sky gives way to afternoon rain showers. Thunder demands the traveler must leave. The incredible journey has come to an end so it's time to return to our shire. As gray clouds draw near and darkness descends, the Misty Mountains vanish like a dream.

He wished to go and see the great mountains

A magical, green passageway

A castle of pinnacles and spires

Potosi Peak

Kismet Mountain

Sparkling Waterfalls

An extraordinary kingdom

A high mountain meadow

A barrier between paradise and realty

Sneffels Creek

A ring of sculpted peaks

An alpine garden bursting with wildflowers

Colorado Columbine