Not scenery ~

Some non-scenic sights from my recent road trip to Wyoming/Montana.

 

 

Guanella Pass ~

 

For this year’s aspen photos I drove the 24-mile Guanella Pass Scenic Byway from Highway 285 north to Georgetown. The road starts out gently on the south side of the pass and gradually ascends. The aspens were at their peak, and flowers were still blooming here and there.

It was a beautiful Friday. These photographs show no hint of the sizable crowds at the Summit Overlook (elev. 11,669 feet); this is definitely “curated” reality. Something I’m learning about Colorado in 2018: There are now so many people driving the drives and hiking the trails that you must be a very fit person to find solitude in the mountains. Every trailhead I passed in eight hours of driving, from Highway 285 up through Clear Creek Canyon, had a pretty full complement of cars. A number of people were hiking the Square Top Mountain trail (below), which originates at Summit Overlook on Guanella Pass. It was an unusually warm day, probably at least 70 degrees at the pass and breezy.

Square Top Mountain and trail

Square Top Mountain and trail

Solitude on the high plains ~

This afternoon I drove up to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, located about 15 miles north of Fort Collins and about 10 miles south of the Wyoming border. The last several miles are on a very well graded dirt-and-pea-gravel road. I went to the north parking lot, where there was only one other car, and walked a short trail to a site that overlooks a former archaeological dig, now restored to prairie. This is some of what I saw. I’m still working on an identification for a couple of the plants. I’m also a bit puzzled by the rocks atop the fenceposts—are they decorative, or do they have some sort of significance I can’t read?

The sense of remoteness and the solitude were gratifying, very different from the isolation of being at home. It was a beautiful, unusually cool day for August and it was windy; my ears actually got cold. I was fine in a T-shirt but began thinking longingly of earmuffs; what a strange sight that combination would make! A hat or scarf would have done the trick. I want to return to this area soon with my Olympus and my binoculars.

Some perspective ~

I’m keenly missing many things from Southern Illinois—besides my friends, I mean, whom I miss constantly. Maybe it’s time to tally up a few things I like about Colorado and Loveland, to allay a sort of disoriented feeling I’ve been getting lately when I ponder that I really live out here now:

  • Cool nights even on hot days.
  • Lilacs. The lilacs out here grow much larger and bloom much longer than they do in Southern Illinois. (I guess the cold nights agree with them.) The large lilac in my yard bloomed for a full month this May. And in Loveland there are enough lilac bushes to perfume the air for several weeks.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park. Now that U.S. 34 is once again open through Big Thompson Canyon, it’s less than an hour away. Also: The Peak-to-Peak Highway, which runs from Black Hawk to Estes Park, and the drive from Fairplay over the mountains to Breckinridge. I’m itching to do some mountain drives that are new to me.
  • The sky. Although I don’t see as much of it as I’d like to, I see enough to appreciate that the clouds are very interesting out here. If it weren’t for the fact that winters and summers are both more extreme out on the open plains, and everything so remote, I’d like to live out there. Since my house has no mountain view, I wish it at least had a good view of the sky. Fortunately, things open out just a block or two from home.
  • Benson Sculpture Garden in Loveland, which has more than 100 works of art, mostly bronzes, in a very pretty pond setting.
  • Aspens, of course, and columbines, with their lovely molded five-cupped centers.
  • Tokyo Joe’s, a “fast-casual” chain where I can get a big bowl of udon noodles, veggies, and wild salmon for $11.65. Oh, and New York–style pizza bought by the slice. Yeah, they have that here! I wouldn’t be my mother’s daughter if I didn’t mention food in some fashion.
  • No chiggers! As Calvin Trillin knows, this is never the least consideration in any list of  positive attributes.

That’s a start. More later, I hope.

Capitol Reef ~

In tiling these photos, WordPress has made the big small and the small big. It’s fitting. This landscape is so vast that gigantic land formations, even mountains, are small on the horizon when seen from distances of 20, 50, 100 miles. And only when you take the time to pay attention close at hand do you realize how many plant species are blooming all around you, dwarfed by the rock.

Zion National Park ~

I first saw Zion Canyon as a child, and it remains the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. When my companion and I arrived in early May, though, the weather was rainy and foggy, with clouds obscuring all but the very bottom of the canyon. It was still beautiful, with many flowers blooming, the just-leafed-out trees along the Virgin River a tender, bright green, and the red rock of the canyon walls backdropping everything.

The next morning we took the shuttle up the canyon (due to its popularity, this park has been forced to limit vehicles on the canyon drive for all but the winter months).  As the day went by the clouds gradually lifted, but the sky remained mostly gray. We walked the Riverside Walk, a paved trail along the Virgin River, down to the The Narrows, where the river becomes the “trail” because the canyon walls are only about 20 feet apart. The Narrows was off-limits this day due to the high water; hikers sometimes die in this wilderness area because of flash flooding and swift currents. Toward sunset we hiked the Canyon Overlook Trail at Zion’s southeast corner. Without my companion’s help up and down the steep, rocky path, which was sandy, damp, and slick, I could never have made this hike. The view rewards the effort.