Our photography/camping season got off to a late start this year due to me being sick and bad weather, along with repairs and new doors for the teardrop (one was backordered for weeks!). And our 45th(!) anniversary rolled around so we combined photography, camping and anniversary trip into one. And therefore, my June blog became an early July post. Right now, I'm doing my least favorite part of photography - loading the pictures onto my big computer, culling, and keywording. However, I did get some images I'm happy with, so I'll be able to include several here.
The trip started beautifully with everything lush and green due to recent rains. Literally, we must have seen dozens of shades of green -- from gray-greens of various sage species, to yellow-greens of new growth on trees and multiple shades of grass-green, along with the blue-greens of evergreen trees like Douglas fir and lodgepole pine.
Driving north toward Steamboat Springs was gorgeous. We returned to a favorite spot on Rabbit Ears Pass and set up camp. Had to go into town for mosquito spray, though - the 'skeeters' were big and hungry, and that's actually unusual for Colorado (I haven't had to buy repellent for a few years). The wildflowers were definitely thick and happy. I know lupines and sego lilies, paintbrush and elephant heads, as well as asters and stonecrop generally, but I'm going to have to research some of those we saw during the trip because Colorado has such a variety of wildflowers I haven't learned yet.
One wildflower I have researched and have found several times is the Giant red Indian paintbrush (Castilleja miniata). These wildflowers are actually pretty interesting. They're partially parasitic and grow off the roots and shoots of grasses and forbs. The flowers are edible and were eaten by various Native American tribes along with other greens (paintbrush salad?). As seen from this photo, they also grow on disturbed soil, like the burned area pictured. Probably a dozen or more species of paintbrush grow in Colorado, but this one is easiest to identify because of its size.
However, after just one night and some early morning photos on Rabbit Ears Pass, it started to rain, and we packed up to look for dryer climes. Our hunt for a dryer campsite took us west and south along a road we haven't traveled before to Rifle, which didn't have anything to interest us this trip. We hadn't traveled over the Grand Mesa before, so that was next. Visualize an 11,000-foot mesa extending over 500 square miles; it's the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, in fact. There are over 300 ponds, lakes and reservoirs on top, which also meant the mosquitoes were the size of burros! So, we headed down the other side toward Cedaredge and Orchard City. I'll want to come back to the area because Cedaredge intrigued me, and we didn't get to drive out to the Land's End Observatory, a 1930's WPA structure on the edge of the mesa overlooking Grand Junction.
At this point, my husband decided we should just head for another favorite camping place at Silver Jack Reservoir near Cimarron. Great, until we got onto the gravel road that leads out to the reservoir. We thought we'd just missed a rainstorm because of how wet the road was. Unfortunately, the muddiness never let up; in fact, a couple areas were pretty slick. We should have turned around when we saw how muddy the camper was becoming, but powered through until we passed a road crew just completing their work about a mile before we reached the campground (this was 20 miles up the gravel road); now we knew that all the mud had been created by them, but we still didn't know its composition. We went on to the campground, spoke with the camp hosts, and tried to see how hard it would be to remove the mud with a couple of pans and water splashes (virtually impossible!). We couldn't hope to get into the camper without making a major mess, so we decided to head toward town. Passing where the road crew had been, we could now see their sign - they had sprayed the entire length of the road with magnesium chloride as a dust suppression measure. When I looked it up online later, we found out that this is great for dust suppression once it soaks into the gravel. But in the meantime, it's incredibly sticky and mucky, and not really great for the environment, and the county had done it about 2 days too late for the holiday weekend.
Late in the day as we headed back toward civilization, I reminded my husband of our honeymoon, when we spent an entire day leapfrogging the "Galloping Geese" (a motorcycle club with 30 or 40 cycles, most carrying double) through Yellowstone Park; they beat us to the last motel rooms in West Yellowstone, and we had to drive all the way to Bozeman in the wee hours of the morning to find a place to stay. His comment was, "I guess that should have warned you what you'd let yourself in for!" Indeed! Forty-five years with the guy and he still finds ways to lead me into adventures!
On the evening of our Steamboat-to-Gunnison day, here's what the first round of cleanup looked like about halfway through. And yes, that sticky mud on the running board was nearly 2 inches thick! Needless to say, after the drawn-out day, some 375 miles, car wash and missed dinner, we spent the night at a motel. The next morning, we had to power wash the wheel wells, door latches, underside and crevices all over again.
However, the weather finally cleared up for us and we spent the next 3 days near Gunnison, along Blue Mesa Reservoir. Right after breakfast, we started to leave town to look for a good campsite, but were distracted by a local recreation area we hadn't seen before. Hartman Rocks Recreation Area is on BLM land with nearly 50 miles of trails, rock climbing areas, and camping just outside Gunnison city limits. The deep blue sky and cloud mixture made stopping well worth it for the photos I was able to obtain. And it wasn't overly hot like it can be later in the summer.
From here, we drove along the reservoir to a campground we'd seen the previous year but hadn't stayed at. It turned out that the tall willow trees were a bird haven; there were doves, yellow warblers, hummingbirds, swifts or swallows, robins and others. Every morning, we were buzzed by a hummingbird, and the birdsongs never stopped until it became fully dark outside.
Each day, we explored along various back roads. Several miles up Red Creek Road, I found this pretty white wildflower, but was surprised at how long I had to research to find out what it was. I thought it looked a bit like a short hollyhock, and that's where I should have started. It's actually a wild hollyhock, but I haven't heard back yet about which species it might be.
We also saw several bighorn sheep just above the reservoir, including our first-ever sighting of a lamb. This cutie was staying really close to her mom, while mom was more than a little worried about the heavy traffic and number of people stopping for pictures. We believe the sheep were looking for the salts or minerals from the magnesium chloride we could see had been sprayed on the gravel of the road turnout where we found them.
A park service biologist confirmed that these are Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) at the far western edge of their habitat in Colorado. Rocky Mountain bighorns were close to extinction in Colorado in the early 1900's but are abundant now, and can be seen throughout the mountainous areas of the state - usually high on rugged slopes.
When we decided to head home, we chose the road between Gunnison and Crested Butte that follows the Taylor River to Taylor Park Reservoir and over Cottonwood Pass to Buena Vista. The trip home was really pretty due to the recent rains but almost too uneventful after the earlier days of the trip. We got back to Colorado Springs just after a heavy downpour, so we even avoided that. But I suspect the adventures will continue with the next trip, and I hope to find more images to add to my website.
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