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.

Cling ~

Amazon milk frog

Now for an excursion into the humid hallways of “Tropical Discovery,” the facility at the Denver Zoo that houses reptiles, amphibians, fish, and a few invertebrates. Despite the name, some animals here are not tropical species—but this lovely jade-colored frog is.

A peek at South Park ~

For yesterday’s drive I skirted Denver on the west side and took U.S. Hwy. 285 over to Kenosha Pass and down to South Park. I’d been keen to see this part of Colorado ever since I read a magazine writer’s comment that, though he’d been many places in the world, the view down across South Park from the pass was his favorite. Not ever having watched the animated series “South Park,” I didn’t know that it was named after a real place. (There is also a North Park, northwest of Rocky Mountain National Park.) The designation “park” here refers to a broad plateau or basin ringed by mountains.

I stopped to eat lunch at Fairplay, then took state route 9 up through Alma (10,578 feet elev.), and over Hoosier Pass (as it turns out, there are two Hoosier Passes in Colorado, both of them—I presume—originally sited in Indiana, then trucked west and greatly enlarged). A series of hairpin turns on the other side of the pass takes you down to Breckinridge. There were still golden-leafed aspens along 285 east of Kenosha Pass and in Breckinridge; elsewhere, the aspens were mostly bare. Given the abundance of stands on the slopes, it must have looked spectacular a couple of weeks ago. Now I know an ideal driving route for seeing the fall colors in Colorado.

Aspens ~

Yesterday I took my sister for a 7-hour drive to see the aspens in their fall colors. We drove from Loveland to Boulder, up Boulder Canyon, down the Peak-to-Peak Highway, up Hwy. 40 to Granby, up Hwy. 34 to Rocky Mountain National Park, and across Trail Ridge Road. We didn’t stop for photos very often, but here are a few.

No guardrails ~

Today I drove Old Fall River Road up to the Alpine Visitors Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. This route was the first road through the park. Today it’s one-way (uphill) and nine miles of it are dirt. Very little of it runs above the tree line, so it affords very different views than you find from Trail Ridge Road.

At the Visitors Center one can climb “Huffers Hill,” which rises a bit over 200 feet in elevation, taking you to 12,005 feet. I didn’t think I could get up there, but with a lot of rests, I did, and a kind young woman offered to take my photo at the elevation sign. Normally I don’t include myself in photographs, but I was happy and proud that I’d made this climb—such a little thing to most people, but a big thing for me—so it seemed okay to make an exception. It was 46 degrees and very windy. Gloves would have been a good idea; also a scarf and a more suitable hat.

On the way up I was passed by a talkative group of Japanese tourists. When I reached the top, they were taking pictures with their phones. I walked on to the sign at the end of the trail. When I turned back, I saw that they had all sat down, some on the ground and some on a rock outcrop—silent, eyes closed. They were meditating. Their silence was of a piece with the silence of the stones. Only the wind could be heard. Theirs seemed the most apropros response to the landscape, and I considered sitting with them, but I was afraid if I sat down I wouldn’t be able to get up again. The coldness of my ears also argued against any possibility of meditating, so I walked back down (much harder on the legs than the walk up, but a nice respite for lungs and heart).