A Day Among the Bristlecone Pines

A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our 10th (!?) wedding anniversary.  Because it fell on a Friday, we made a long weekend out of it and went hiking.  The only real issue we had was where to hike.  It’s still too snowy up high, and lower down the snow is melting and making things a muddy mess.  Add to that the high temperature forecast for the day was 100+, we definitely needed to find cool!  That’s when it hit me – let’s go to the Mt. Goliath Nature Area outside of Idaho Springs!

The Mt. Goliath Nature Area fit the bill because it sits at 11,500′ of elevation meaning it’d be cooler than down here on the plains, the road to the Nature Area is right along the road up to Mt. Evans that opened up for the season a few weeks ago, and the hiking trails shouldn’t be too snow-packed or muddy.  Add to that that we haven’t been there in years and the drive from our house isn’t too long and we were on our way!

Getting up there in the morning worked out perfectly because we had the entire place to ourselves for the first few hours of the day.  Just us and the bristlecone pine trees.  These trees are some of our favorites – for my husband, it’s b/c he loves any and all trees; for me, it’s because they can be insanely photogenic.  Bristlecones can live to be almost 2,000 years old.  The trees in the Mt. Goliath Nature Area range in age from 700-1,600 years old!!  They’re weathered, they’re twisted, and that makes them immensely interesting.

Straight out of the gate, my eye was going bonkers looking at the different grains and shapes the trees make.  For a tree that’s so weathered and bleached on the outside, the grain on the inside that is exposed at points is so bright and vibrant that it’s a clear reminder that they’re very much alive and thriving.

The trail we hiked takes you through some mundane mountain forest, and then turns into groves of bristlecones the higher you get.  I found myself crouching down and bending into awkward positions quite a few times, trying to get shots of the spooky shapes they were making against the crystal-clear blue skies we had that day.

Reaching Higher

We were even lucky enough to get some wildflowers along the way.  Couldn’t believe they were already out in June!  A welcome pop of color along the way, especially as we got up real high and saw my husband’s favorite – Alpine Forget-Me-Nots (on the left, below).

Even though it had been 5 years since we were last at Mt. Goliath, I recognized some of the trees along the trail from the pictures I took back then.  I think part of that was simply having worked on the pictures and I loved so many of them that they stuck in my brain after all that time.  Another part was that some of those shots became desktop wallpaper at my “day job” to help remind me of days not spent whiled away at a desk.

All that aside, there was one tree that was memorable simply because it was that amazing.  I call it my “tree arch” and I couldn’t wait to see it again to see how (or if) it had changed.  As it turned out, it was there waiting for me without having changed a bit!

Tree Arch & Purple Flowers (HDR)

I took a ton of shots of this tree 5 years ago, and this day it was very much the same.  Better yet, on this particular day, we had the trail to ourselves and all the time in the world for me to play with my camera because we weren’t having to race weather even though we were above treeline (~12,000′).  Simply seeing Tree Arch had me giddy and I think the volume of pictures I brought home reflected that a bit.

I had to temper my giddiness a tad because I was <slap my wrist> going slightly off the trail above treeline </end wrist slap>.  I know I shouldn’t stray off the trail, especially above treeline because the grasses and flowers are so fragile since you’re in an alpine tundra climate where the greenery fights so hard to survive harsh conditions and short growing seasons.  I kept my footsteps to just rocks and sand to be safe, so no plants or other delicate greenery were harmed in the taking of these pictures.

Peek Through the Arch
Peek Through the Arch
Ages
Ages
Drinking Arch
Drinking Arch

Turns out I got all up in Tree Arch’s “business”, taking shots from inside the arch, different angles, just going wild.  I had a blast (and I already want to go back and take more pictures of it!!).

Random aside:  When we got home and I showed the shots to my folks who were visiting, they immediately said how they could see faces in the grains – especially in Drinking Arch (above)… they said it looked like a horse drinking.  Since then, I can’t help but see creatures’ faces in the wood!

Eventually I did pull myself away long enough so we could get up to the loop trail at the top of the mountain that gives a spectacular view of the Continental Divide.  Not a bad place to stop for a light lunch before heading back to the trailhead and civilization.

Continental Divide Pano from Mt. Goliath

Shockingly, we had the entire trail to ourselves the entire day until just yards from the parking lot.  We were totally spoiled, and that made for a superb way to start our anniversary celebration that ended with a wonderful dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants.  Simply a perfect day to celebrate 10 years together!

– JC

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