Updated: Prescribed Burn

Continuing with catching up, it’s onto late October when we ventured up to a county open space park not far from our house to check out the aftermath of a prescribed burn completed for forest maintenance.

The prescribed burn at Hall Ranch, coincidentally, occurred the same day we were at Chasm Lake.  You could see some of the smoke in the air, but thankfully it wasn’t nearly as windy at that park as it was on our hike.  They were able to complete the burn as planned, and as crazy as this sounds, they did a really nice job.

Burn Area
Burn Area

Wildfires are a scary thing, but they’re nature’s way of maintaining balance.  For too long, many forests across the US have not burned, putting them at higher risk of being utterly ferocious fires when lightning strikes or – God forbid – a human starts a fire either on purpose or out of sheer ignorance.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught my breath each time I see someone flick a lit cigarette butt out the car window on the highway – just that little ember can put so many people and the forest at risk of a fire!)  Prescribed burns like this one are carefully controlled to kill the overgrowth and let nature hit its own reset button.

The burn covered a fairly large area.  I was particularly impressed with the lines of control.  They were so clearly defined that the park and forest personnel involved clearly knew what they wanted to burn and kept the rest from catching fire.

A Meeker View Among the Burn
A Meeker View Among the Burn

In its wake, the fire left a black landscape that was oddly pretty.  It’s certainly not something you see everyday, and there were already glimpses of the forest floor regenerating itself even only 2 weeks after the burn.

Already Coming Back
Already Coming Back

Whether it was cactus or yucca plants surviving the fire or little blades of grass popping through the blackened soil, it was more proof that nature is a pretty astounding and resilient thing.

-JC

May 2016 Update:  During our hike a few weeks ago at Hall Ranch, we went through this same exact area and it’s simply astonishing how it’s bounced back and is thriving.  This is exactly why prescribed burns – when done correctly and controlled – are so good for nature so it can regenerate itself!!

After the Burn
Hall Ranch – Prescribed Burn Area May 2016

Hiking the Learning Curve

Last Friday was pretty exciting for me – my new camera came!  After waiting 6 1/2 years for Nikon to update their semi-pro DX cameras, they finally did it and my D500 came!!  (This camera will replace my nearly-9-year-old D300.)  With all that time between updates – holy steep learning curve Batman!!

Luckily for me, we finally had nice weekend weather for the first time in a month and my husband was amenable to my “hijacking” his planned hike at Hall Ranch and slowing it down to more of a photography hike so I could start learning my new “toy” – er, I mean “tool”.  Friday night was spent with a wonderful beer in one hand (Duchesse de Bourgogne – an awesome Flanders Red Ale, for anyone interested) and the D500 manual in the other.  Exciting life, huh?

I got through enough of the manual and played with enough settings (or so I thought) to give it a go on Saturday.  Off we went and the first thing I wanted to snap a picture of was a poster about rattlesnakes as a joke for my sister after her encounter with them during her visit last year.  I go to click the shutter and notice it’s not focusing!  What?  It was focusing last night.  I took a few minutes to dig around the menus, stumbled on the setting I needed, and I was good to go.  Ok – first crisis of the day avoided, and I didn’t even have to get out the manual!

The Procedure
The Procedure

Right of the bat, I notice that the exposure meter on the D500 is a little different than what I’m used to, so I kept clicking away on this sign until I got it right.  Then the panic of the day set in – fatal memory card error!  Say what the !*&!@! what?!  Brand new card, brand new camera, all top quality… what is happening!?!

As a last resort, I turned the camera off, then back on again, and it seemed to be working fine.  Concerning moment (to say the least) but no images were lost, thankfully.  Mental note made to do some web hunting on errors being reported by other photographers out there and off we go.

It was a really gorgeous day to be out at Hall Ranch for a hike, though I think my brain was on overload most of the time looking for shots, figuring out settings, finding where Nikon added or slightly moved buttons, and discovering new features.  Luckily for me, nature was cooperating too with some fun things along the way…

Puff
Puff
Bloomin' Ball Cactus
Bloomin’ Ball Cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even remnants from old activities back in the day made for some fun shots:

Barbed Wire Rounds
Barbed Wire Rounds

The hike is about 9 miles round trip, and not long after we set out, I kept getting the memory card error.  So frustrating!!  Nonetheless, we kept pushing forward towards our destination a few valleys over that gives us a great view of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak.  When we arrived, there was a little welcoming committee waiting for us – just chilling out in the trees watching…

Baby Doe Don't Care
Baby Doe Don’t Care

After a bite of lunch, my husband and I split up and wandered a bit.  The skies clouded up a bit on this oddly hazy day, but I did find a few things worthy of pictures as I poked around.  Here’s just a couple of them:

White Wildflower
White Wildflower
Meeker, Longs, & Pine
Meeker, Longs, & Pine

Thankfully the memory card errors subsided as the day went on, but it was always in the back of my mind.

In the end, I think it was a pretty successful first day with my new toy – until I got home and remembered that I’d have to upgrade all of my processing software to work on the new camera’s files!  Talk about making the learning curve steeper!!  I’ll get there though – this mountain to climb is just a mental one that will take practice and time.  Just one more reason to play with my new toy more often, right?

-JC

No Words – Just Some Winter Beauty

Ok, so maybe a few words.  New Year’s weekend 2016 involved another snowshoe adventure because when the conditions are good and you’re not stuck at the office, you’ve just got to go!  This day took us up to Lake Helene and the views along the way were simply stunning.

Here’s just a couple of shots from that day that I liked the most.  This is definitely a hike we’ll have to do again no matter the season!

-JC

Winter Trek
Winter Trek
Notchtop Mountain at Lake Helene - Winter
Notchtop Mountain at Lake Helene – Winter

Photographic Coincidences

We were lucky enough to get snow on Christmas again in 2015, so that meant for the second year in a row that conditions were perfect for snowshoeing that weekend.  Woo hoo!

Last winter or the one prior, we attempted to go to Mills Lake on one of our hikes, but somehow missed a turn and ended up at Loch Vale instead.  Whoops!  This year though, we made it to Mills Lake.  Simply a gorgeous day for a winter hike.

Glorious Winter
Glorious Winter

Along the trail up to the lake, a twisted pine tree caught my eye sitting atop a small hill whose snow was largely untouched.  Light was right, sky was crystal-clear blue, so off I trudged.  Boy was I happy I did…

Twisting Into Blue
Twisting Into Blue

Later that day, I hop online at home and start checking the various feeds to catch up on the world and whatever we may have missed while we were out playing in the snow.  As I’m poking around, I come across a post from the official Rocky Mountain NP account on Facebook or Twitter and it’s got a picture of a tree that looks really familiar.  Hmm…

I started wondering why that looked so dang familiar and then it hits me – of all of the trees and thousands of acres in that park, the Park Service and I took a picture of the same tree!  Unreal…  The Park’s picture was good and composed in a very similar way, but I think mine was better simply because of sheer luck:  I had better conditions to shoot in.  They had a gray cloudy day, and I had all kinds of sunny, snowy, gorgeous-ness!

Funny how things happen sometimes…

 

-JC

 

The Hiking Gourmet

With some good early snow coming to the high country last year, that meant that snowshoeing season could start early!  We were able to get out for a snowy hike the first weekend of December because there was already 2 feet of snow at higher elevations at Rocky Mountain National Park.  Yay mountain winters!

Our hike on the Flattop Mountain trail was relatively uneventful – just a patch of plain fun in the winter wonderland.  The centerpiece of the day’s trip was really the lunch because my husband decided to get “gourmet” about it and bring a special treat – hot cocoa!  Not just the water and powder kind either… he warmed up the milk and used the good stuff in it too.

Normally when we hike, the lunch is just some tortillas, salami, cheese, and cookies.  (More on the cookies later.)  We keep it simple enough to carry and caloric enough to fuel us on the day.  Greens are not the order of the day when we hike!

Snowshoe Gourmet Lunch
Snowshoe Gourmet Lunch

While we were huddled up having lunch in a patch of trees off of the trail, we noticed 2 things:

  1.  There was a really simple, yet pretty, scene shaping up among the trees with the light coming through the forest.  And…
Rocky in Winter
Rocky in Winter

2.  That – while hiking – I’m basically a little kid some days.  If I’m good and can make it a long way without hurting myself or whining, I get a cookie!  And we’re not talking a simple Oreo or Fig Newton – we’re talking a big, thick, chewy, gooey chocolate chip cookie!!  (What can I say?  I’m food motivated I guess!)

So our first winter outing was a success, and it happened before the winter solstice t’boot.  That’s a success in my book!

 

-JC

Catching Up at Chasm Lake

It’s been an absurdly long time since I last worked on my pictures, let alone posted to the blog.  So here I am, almost 6 months behind – again – trying to catch-up – again.  No need to bore everyone with a lame list of excuses, so I’ll just dive in to where the picture processing left off… a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park up to Chasm Lake.

In October, we had a day off from work to hike up to Chasm Lake.  The lake’s name isn’t exactly original because it describes more or less exactly where to find it – tucked in a hidden spot between hills at the base of Longs Peak.  What the lake lacks in originality in its name, it more than makes up for with an amazing up-close view of the diamond face of Longs Peak.

This trail and the lake will forever be special for me because it’s the first hike my now-husband took me on in Colorado back when we were just friends oh-so-many years ago.  What’s sad, but slightly funny, is that since that first time he took me up there, we’d never been back!  This hike was the first time we’d been back in over 12 years.  (We must change that in the future…)

We got lucky on this day and didn’t have to deal with any mountain snow.  (Yes, the mountains start seeing snow at that elevation as early as September.)  We did, however, have to contend with some vicious winds.  They were so strong at points it felt like we were walking and not moving an inch.  It certainly slowed us down at points, and I was thankful I was only lugging my phone for some quick shots.  If I had my whole camera setup with me, everything would’ve been shaky no matter how much I tried to stabilize it.

The Way to Chasm Lake
The Way to Chasm Lake

Thankfully, because Chasm Lake is tucked in a little valley, the wind wasn’t as horrible as it was on the hillsides coming up.  That’s not to say it wasn’t windy at all, but we were able to shelter ourselves near some boulders on the shore and have a spot of lunch.  The views from the lake while we ate were absolutely terrible.  (sarcasm)

Longs Peak at Chasm Lake
Longs Peak at Chasm Lake

Eventually we did have to turn back and head downhill like we always do.  Even though we didn’t have to contend with snow, the signs of alpine winter were starting to appear.  It really wouldn’t be long until the cold set in for good and all the plants and animals were tucked away for winter.

Trace of Winter in Fall
Trace of Winter in Fall

It wasn’t the easiest day of hiking, but it sure was worth it – just like that first time my husband took me up there to show off one part of his favorite places in the world… Rocky Mountain National Park.

-JC

Independence Trek

For the 4th of July this year, we decided to celebrate by doing a little 13 mile hike.  Ya know, nothing big – just a tiny little outing to get into the mountains and enjoy some nice weather before hunkering down with barbecue, beer, & fireworks later in the day.

Our destination was – as it often is – Rocky Mountain National Park.  (We’re fortunate enough to live only an hour away from the park, so why not use it!?)  We went a little further north on the east side of the park than we normally do for a change of pace, and in hopes of avoiding some of the summer holiday weekend crowds.  The destination: Lawn Lake.

The trail was long, but thankfully not very steep.  This was probably my first hike up there in years – if not ever – where I felt like I could keep a really swift pace without getting winded.  (If nothing else, it made me feel like all of the working out to build up my cardio over the last year or two is finally working.)

The hike itself was pretty and took us up along a mountain stream with some seriously steep drop-offs due to erosion, through some forests, and finally up towards treeline.  We got up to the lake around mid-morning and it was gorgeous!

Summertime Lakeside Snowcaps
Summertime Lakeside Snowcaps
Windy Reflection
Windy Reflection

As is our usual routine, we hung out on the shore of the lake and had our lunch while taking in the views.  We stayed at the lake for almost an hour walking around and exploring more of the area before having to turn around and head back.  We could’ve easily spent more time up there, but with summer storms bound to start building, a dog who’d like to see us before too long, and the 4th of July barbecue goodness and fireworks to be had, it was time to go.

Now that we know how easy that trail is and how we can make good time the entire way, that opens up a lot of possibilities for taking time for pictures and exploring the entire way without my shutterbug-ness slowing us down too much.  This is one hike we’ll definitely be doing again.

-JC

Unholy Hot Getaway

One of the big things that happened to us over the summer was my husband taking a new job where he gets to build parks and trails and preserve open space (lucky!).  With his vacation allotment about to reset to zero, we took advantage of his little bit of time off between jobs to scoot out of town for a long weekend. Getting away was especially important because other than our long-planned trip to Great Sand Dunes NP, we weren’t sure when we’d be able to get away again.

Since this trip was a last-minute thought, our options for where to go were a little limited because every mountain town’s hotels were fully booked or just insanely expensive.  Eventually, we zeroed in on heading to Grand Junction about a 5 hour drive away from our home so we could see some decidedly different scenery.

We’d only been to Grand Junction once before about 5 or 6 years ago as part of one of our big vacations.  We didn’t spend much time in the town then because we were camping at nearby Colorado National Monument, but we’d heard good things about the town since that trip.  We’re always up for going to new places, so why not check it out?

As departure day got closer, the weekend weather forecast kept getting hotter and hotter.  We were in the middle of a big heat wave in the Denver area, but that was nothing compared to Grand Junction.  Grand Junction is normally hot because it’s lower and flatter and closer to the deserts of Utah, but it’s not usually 105+ degrees every day of a weekend.  (Yowza!)  Knowing the heat would be brutal, we packed up, sucked it up, and got the hell out of town.

Grand Junction itself was pretty cool.  The downtown area was cute with some good shops and a few restaurants.  Just a good general place to hang.  There’s plenty of outdoorsy things to do outside of the city limits, and one of the most well-known attractions is Colorado National Monument.  Even with the ungodly heat, that was where we were going hike at some point in the weekend.  So long as we got an early morning start, it wouldn’t be so bad, right?

Up before dawn and on our way, we picked the Monument Canyon trail that takes you out to the Independence Monument rock formation.  We hiked part of this trail before on our previous trip, but this time we decided to do the same trail again and go a little further out because we had a lot of fun the first time around.

Very quickly we were reminded of how different canyon hiking is from mountain hiking.  With mountain hiking, you start your day climbing uphill and finish it coming downhill with little or no flat spots in between.  Canyon hiking is the exact opposite.  You start at the canyon rim, descend (sometimes rapidly) to the canyon floor, trudge through the flat for a ways, then climb out at the end of your day when you’re dog tired.  In a lot of desert canyons, the floor doesn’t have a lot of trees or shade, so it gets hot – and fast.  By 8am it was already pretty toasty and we were barely an hour into our hike.

Red Hot Day Dawning
Red Hot Day Dawning

Once you reach the canyon floor, it’s fun watching the little details of rock formations, desert plants, and even some critters.  Ecologically it’s so different from the areas we hike in around our home that it’s visually and mentally refreshing in a lot of ways.  We got lucky on this day and even bumped into a nice-sized collared lizard along the trail.  (This guy was colorful and much bigger than the little lizards zipping around all day.)

After a while, we turned around a bend and could finally see our destination – Independence Monument.  (The Kissing Couple formation is just to the left of center in the picture below, with the shorter Independence Monument just to the right of center a little further back in the distance.)

The Destination
The Destination

As I took this picture, here’s a snippet of the conversation I had with myself in my head:

Is it seriously that far away?  Can’t be.

… Damn, it’s hot. …

Really?  It’s still that far away?  We’ve already gone a few miles, so how is that possible?

…. Dear Lord, I think my boots may melt today if we’re not done by noon. …

But if I do this, that justifies having beer and bad-for-me food when we get back to town!  Hmmm…

… Holy hell – this is getting seriously hot.  Can I manage to keep my yap shut about the heat all day to get to the beer and fried food?  I think I can. …

(It’s truly amazing what you can motivate yourself to do by rationalization or visualization.  For me, both rationalization and visualization usually involve food.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentally pushed myself through a workout I didn’t want to do in the first place by bargaining with myself using pizza & beer on a Friday night as a bargaining chip!  But I digress…)

We did get to Independence Monument and it was really cool.  I think enough of my brain cells had melted by then that I forgot to get a picture of the rock up close.  Oh well!

Once we got back to our car, we spent the weekend operating like most Southerners do during their sticky, humid summers – dashing between air-conditioned cars and buildings as much as possible.  (Lucky for us we just had the heat to deal with – not that icky humidity added onto the heat!)

In the end, we had a good hike and a fun trip in spite of the wickedly hot weather.  We also zeroed in on where we want to hang out the next time we’re out that way, so maybe it’ll be less than 6 years between trips to Grand Junction this time.

-JC

Mountaintop Beer

And now, we time warp all the way to summer with the shots hiding on my phone – our hike up Twin Sisters in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We had a really grand plan for the day.  Left Hand is one of our favorite breweries in our town.  They make a special Double IPA beer called Twin Sisters that comes out only every other year.  When we moved in 2013, we just missed this beer, so this year was the first chance we got to have it and it’s awesome!  One night – probably after a serving of Twin Sisters – we decided we should grab a bottle of the beer and take it up Twin Sisters with us and toast with the beer on its namesakes.  Bottle purchased, plastic cups packed, and off we went a week or two later.

The hike wasn’t particularly long, but it was tough because it was really steep in some sections.  One extra complication was damage from the floods of 2013.  A massive landslide took out a good chunk of the trail about 1/3 of the way up, so hikers have to pick their way through the debris field as best as we can to safely get across the chute.  Looking down into the valley floor below, you can see how far the destruction went when the mountainside came loose.  (There were still a few hundred feet – if not more! – of slide behind us when I took the picture on the left that looks west.  You can see the full magnitude of the slide in the picture on the right in a shot I grabbed a few days ago while we were hiking up to Chasm Lake, looking back towards Twin Sisters. )

Once we got through the mudslide area, it was hiking as normal – including racing the weather rolling in for the early afternoon.  As we were getting near one of the peaks, we also saw a ranger pop up on the trail on some sort of patrol.  Dang it!  Beer on the trails in national parks are kind of a no-no, so we had to be watchful and respectful.  Between the weather and the ranger, our plan was definitely in jeopardy.

As we reached the first peak, things were starting to look good on the ranger front.  As in, the ranger was nowhere to be found!  So we went about finding a place to settle in, away from the wind and the trail, and had ourselves some lunch.  Storm clouds were close enough that we weren’t going to be able to summit the other peak, but no matter because we had one hell of a view!

Rocky Mountain National Park from Twin Sisters
Rocky Mountain National Park from Twin Sisters

After lunch, it was beer time.  As I was literally unzipping my pack to pull out the bottle (and yes, our plan was to be discreet), the ranger magically popped up again and foiled our plans.  We didn’t want to take any chances as the weather was starting to build, so we couldn’t wait him out and decided to head back down to the trailhead.  Before we did, I at least got proof in a picture that I hauled the bottle up there with the best of intent.

Twin Sisters on Twin Sisters
Twin Sisters on Twin Sisters

Once we got back to the house, we cracked that bottle open and enjoyed it.  Just too bad we couldn’t have it at the peak like we had hoped!  Maybe in 2 years we can try again when Twin Sisters is back, and have a little better luck next time.

-JC

A Bit of Snowshoeing

Moving right along with the clean-up of the shots piled up on my phone, that brings us up to Christmas 2015 and some shots from a snowshoeing adventure up in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Snowshoeing is something I never tried until we moved to Colorado a couple of years ago.  My husband took me out with a guide to try it out and I immediately fell in love!  It wasn’t long after that trip that I suddenly owned my own pair of snowshoes.  Just too bad it was the end of the season and I only got to use them once!

This past winter was going to be my chance to dive in and really break in my new snowshoes and hang out in the snow.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate.  Most weekdays – while we were stuck at work for our “day jobs” – the weather was awesome.  Fresh snow, little wind, decent temperatures.  The weekends were another issue all together… storms rolling through, bringing with them lots of wind, biting windchills, and gobs of snow making navigating our way to and through the Park a little tricky.  Figures, right?

So yes, we were a tad wimpy when it came to wanting to avoid the wind and the travel headaches.  That meant we didn’t get out nearly as much as we had hoped.  The first time weather and time off lined up was just 2 days after Christmas – with fresh snow and “little” wind t’boot!

We chose to snowshoe up part of the Flattop Mountain trail at Rocky Mountain National Park because we know the trail, there’s plenty to see, and the lower parts of it are pretty sheltered by trees.  (We live only an hour from the Park, so that’s usually our go-to for snowshoeing because it keeps us out of miserable winter skiing traffic heading into the high country out west and gives us more time to play.)

With the snow that had fallen the day before, it was a winter wonderland.  Amazingly picturesque no matter which direction you looked.  The only complication was the wind picking up (not in the forecast… typical mountain weather!) and we were “bombed” by clumps of snow being tossed off of the pines.  No matter – it’s dry and fluffy snow, so it wasn’t like being pelted with chunks of wet, packed, ice-laden snow like we often get back on the East Coast.

The Trail Ahead
The Trail Ahead

We tooled around in the woods for a few hours, working up quite a sweat and an appetite.  (Showshoeing is an excellent workout, said to burn around 1200 calories an hour!)  We went a couple of miles up the trail until we found a nice sheltered spot in the woods an plunked ourselves down in the snow for a spot of lunch before heading back down.  I simply love being out in the snow, and I think my husband captured my utter glee quite well…

Me in Snowshoeing Glee
Me in Snowshoeing Glee

Once we got ourselves back down to Bear Lake, we popped out into one of the openings along the shoreline to check out the view.  It’s always so gorgeous at Bear Lake – unless the clouds move in and hide the mountains, of course!  That wasn’t the case for us that day.  It was quite spectacular and we quickly saw that we made the right decision to turn around when we did because the wind was only getting worse up high.

Windy Bear Lake Winter
Windy Bear Lake Winter

(That’s not clouds coming in over the mountains – that’s wind-driven snow being blown uphill and over the peaks from the western slopes!)

It’s only October now, but we’re already getting our hopes high and committing to getting out more this winter.  It may seem odd to be thinking about snow during the fall, but up at the higher elevations, it’s already snowing a little and winter will be going full-force within a month.  With a good storm or two, who knows?  Maybe we can break out the snowshoes again sooner than we thought!  (Fingers crossed!)

-JC