Monthly Archives: July 2011

Can It Get Any Better Than This?

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I just spent a wonderful five days photographing, hiking, jeeping, and enjoying the West Elks and the San Juan Mountains between Crested Butte and Lake City, Colorado.  The West Elks had nearly 300% of normal snowfall, so the wildflower show is later than usual, and I believe any time this summer is wonderful for colorful meadows beneath towering peaks in that area.  This year, however, we wanted to jeep to another wildflower mecca on the Alpine (jeeping) Loop:  American Basin.  I’ve been following (and enjoying) Darren Kilgore’s website,  Darren has a lot of experience photographing gorgeous medium format film images all over the state, and especially in the San Juans.  He has a lot of information and shares it generously.  Our biggest concern was timing for the best wildflower displays, especially since the mountains around Crested Butte, just to the north, are so behind in the blooming season this year.   Kilgore says, however, that the best wildflower dates for the San Juans is the 10 days between July 20-30, no matter if a big snow year, or a dry one.  We crossed our fingers and started off for the high country.  I must say that after several years of visiting the West Elks around Crested Butte at different times of the summer, that the area truly is a crowing jewel of wildflower display; however, I am not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite as amazing as the high basins of the San Juans.  We hit it right on, jeeping into the high country on July 25th.  (Thanks, Darren!)

In Colorado, there are several life zones of vegetation as one ventures from plains to foothills, to peaks, to mesas, to desert.  Each area has its timing for best wildflower viewing from early spring to mid-summer.  Of all the life zones, the sub-alpine zone buried beneath the heaviest snows of winter, is the last to emerge.  It is also the most vibrant and lush of any of the Colorado vegetation zones.  Perhaps the heavy, wet snows of the southern mountains, and their southern position of more temperate climate and better soils, makes for a vast variety of species, bigger size, and more colorful individuals.  My comment to friends on this trip was that while we have stems of lovely flowers in the central mountains, the more southern areas have the same species, but in bush and tree size!

We didn’t hike in the San Juans as we have in the West Elks, but went by jeep.  Next time I’d love to go into some other basins famous for wildflowers in these mountains!  Our five days were filled with wildflowers, wildlife, sunsets, sunrises and many good times.  I hope to comment on some of these in the next editions of my blog.  Until then, I show here several views of American Basin.  Everywhere we looked there were unbelievable flower displays.  The Lake Fork of the Gunnison River begins high in the snowbanks of American Basin.  Directly up the streambed was a view of streamside chimingbells and brookcress, Parry primrose and other species who live with their feet wet along the streamsides.  Lovely feeder streams were lined with other flowers as were the meadows between.  All had the jagged ridge between Jones Mountain and Cinnamon Mountain, both peaks above 13,000′, rising above the alpine meadows.  What gorgeous scenery!  Next time we will rent the jeep the night before and get an earlier start.  Luckily, we had some stormy weather and cloudscapes to vary our lighting, but definitely this is a morning kind of place.

Categories: The High Country | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Summertime….Is for the High Country

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Since I am a teacher, summers are pretty much my own time.  I do work at summer camp a couple of weeks most summers, so in between work and keeping my photography business intact, (and this year, publishing a book, Foxes at My Window-see my previous post to preview), I hike.   I have hiked avidly in Colorado since 1969 when I was a Hike Master at a camp in Estes Park.  An old knee injury incurred in college is now making it harder to do the high peak summits I used to scale…….now I am more content to do the most exciting wildflower and scenic hiking I can do to add to my photography files.  I have favorites I hike nearly every year……but always, new horizons beckon.

This past week, a friend and I hiked one of the most beautiful areas in Colorado:  Shrine Mountain and the Shrine Ridge Trail.  I have always arrived at Shrine Pass too late for the wildflower displays I’ve seen depicted by other photographers……and this year I’ve been determined to time it right.  Summer out here is about 2-3 weeks behind the normal season.  The mountains received 300+% of normal snowfall in some areas… the snow has been slow to melt.  We found the season was just getting underway at Shrine Pass, but at least I now know where the flower show stands……it promises to be incredible, and I want to return when it peaks.

On the other hand, the snow on the mountains is beautiful, giving the landscape a touch of Switzerland.  By late summer our mountains are usually bare of snow…..these views along with the gorgeous greens of the alpine tundra gave the entire scene the feeling of an out take from The Sound of Music along Shrine Ridge!

We took our Samoyed dogs along……my friend is working on pack hiking and working certificates on her dogs.  I put these titles on many many dogs in the past.  I’m not actively pursuing the titles now, though I should, since my 10 year old Sammie, “Avie” has been on so many hikes in the past 7 years with me, she probably has earned the WSXM title a couple of times over.

The trail was marshy and muddy until we gained the ridge to Shrine Mountain.  I regretted the many extra trails forged through the willows that people made trying to avoid the muddy mess that was the trail itself.  This is so hard on high mountain wet habitats, and the multiple tracks through the marshes will not erase easily.   I know the U.S. Forest Service likely doesn’t have the funds to elevate the trail, or lay boardwalks through the marshes, but it should be a priority considering the number of people who use the area.

Our white dogs were soon two-tone white and red from the red muck we walked through.

Marsh marigolds, globeflower and narcissus anemones were everywhere……these are early wildflowers that love the lush wet of melting snow.

We passed and trekked through some of the snowfields.  In the slideshow photo of the Gore Range behind Shrine Mountain, you will see a group on the foreground snow on their way up the mountain.  Once past the wet and snow, the alpine meadows were a heavenly green, and dotted with alpine wildflowers.  The alpine sunflowers were putting on their best show, and mouse-eared chickweed, and black-headed daisies dotted the meadows.

I love tundra walks!  The trail across Shrine Ridge was beautiful, with views of stunning high peaks in every direction.  The views of the rugged Gore Range were magnificent.  To the northeast we could see the ski slopes of Copper Mountain, and to the south, the views were of the highest peaks in Colorado:  those around Leadville and the Collegiate Range.  To the southwest, the Holy Cross Wilderness was stupendous.  I was excited to have such an incredible view of  Mt. of the Holy Cross with snow still in the couloirs that form the shape of the cross (more-or-less).  Avalanches in years past have rendered the cross a bit less cross-like than when William Henry Jackson first photographed the mountain in the 1800’s.

After many photographs, lunch, and soaking in the scenery on the Ridge, clouds began building and we reluctantly moved back down the trail.  Raindrops did not fall until we were back into the vehicle to return home!  A perfect hike; a perfect day!  And to think I’ll be in another Colorado scenie paradise this weekend:  The mountains around Crested Butte and Lake City!  More to come on that.

Categories: The High Country | 5 Comments

Preview My New Book!!


This is a totally new addition of my book about red foxes:  Foxes At My Window

Take a look, make a comment, buy through

Categories: Red Foxes | 3 Comments

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