Last week a friend and I drove out to Pawnee Buttes, in the Pawnee National Grassland. This is on the prairie in northeast Colorado, not far south of Wyoming and Nebraska. It was a warm but lovely day. The grassland is beautiful: lots of miles on dirt roads; beautiful undulating hills; and the isolated buttes themselves. The only downside is the sheer number of oil and gas facilities out here, along with the accompanying truck traffic. In a time when it’s imperative that we phase out fossil fuels, I was discouraged to see the amount of fracking and other fossil-fuel extraction on this, one of our national treasures.
In Fort Collins there is a small botanic garden, the Gardens of Spring Creek, that turns on the holiday cheer and becomes the “Gardens of Light” for a few weeks. This Christmas Eve I joined dozens of other people who were walking through the display, where of course plants are the main theme. Here you’ll find giant coneflowers and daffodils and hollyhocks, vegetable plots with pumpkins and chilies and carrots, grapevines, a lily pond, and even Christmas cactuses (though not Christmas cactus). Little kids were running and giggling and adults were snapping photos. It was a bit nippy—exactly 32 degrees—and I was glad to warm up my hands afterward with the car heater. Happy holidays!
On October 13 in Loveland, Colo., the day before a hard freeze and a six-inch snowfall, the flowers I’d planted on the west side of my house were still going pretty strong. That was no thanks to me, since I’m a novice gardener and not strong enough or educated enough to do the proper things, like amending the soil and fertilizing. (All I know how to do is buy the plants at Lowe’s and plop them into the dirt.) But these flowers have been very forgiving of me for the past few months. I was especially surprised to see foxglove blooming in October. And even now, on October 24, after the snow and the cold, the verbena still has blossoms. Even if the perennials among these don’t overwinter, I’ve gotten my money’s worth of enjoyment out of them.
This nasturtium graced my breakfast plate at the Regis Café in Red Lodge, Montana. I don’t recall ever having been served a flower before. A fellow diner told me that nasturtiums are delicious, but I just photographed mine with my iPhone and then took it in the car with me.
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.
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.
Note: I have since learned that the purpose of the rocks is to divert water, thus preventing deterioration of the tops of the posts. Thanks to Michael Bliss for telling me this.