Thursday, July 28, 2016

Colorado Trail, Day 5 - Hike to the Alpine Tunnel

     Our crew was 7 days in length, so we got a day off on Wednesday, ours was spent with the first half of the day hiking to the Alpine Tunnel. This involves a hike up a railroad grade trail, much of it still with railroad ties from its last use in 1910. The railroad grade makes it not super steep, that is until you get to the tunnel. The tunnel is no longer a tunnel, it had damage to it in 1910 and then with landslides and collapse, it is sealed shut. So with the tunnel no longer a tunnel, you then have to climb up and over the continental divide to get to the other side, where a telegraph station and turntable are located. 
     Along the way, especially this time of year, there were lots of blooming wildflowers all along the slopes and within the crags of rock, plus plenty of wildlife that blended into the alpine scenery. It was a long but very rewarding hike with awesome views and great people to experience it all with!
     Enjoy the sights...
Originally, I thought this to be a snowshoe hare.... it is actually a white tailed jackrabbit! There were at least three individuals within our camp, each in their own little territory where they often were seen.
Jack rabbits and hares are basically the same thing, both differ from rabbits, being in general, much larger and having larger ears.
Like snowshoe hares, the white tailed jackrabbit sheds its white fur for a more tawny, brown colored fur to help camouflage themselves in the summer, only to turn white again once winter and the snow settles in.  These bunnies are snow bunnies, they do not hibernate but subsist on grasses and twigs to survive the winter.
Rabbits, hares, and jack rabbits are not rodents - they are known as lagomorphs- they have similar incisor teeth, but have a set of small, peg-like teeth behind those upper incisors, giving them more teeth than rodents.
I think some crew folks were discussing volleyball, while I snapped these photos as this jack rabbit hopped out from the brush, under a camper, car, and onto the very road they were standing on, these buns were not shy!
A bunch of us awesome folks, ready to set off on our hike. I truly enjoyed spending a week with these people!
Lots of Indian Paintbrush, everywhere, some blooms redder than the others. The hummingbirds liked these.
Alpine Mertensia, common and beautiful along the trail.
Subalpine Larkspur. I used this website to help me recall things I was told, because plants... not my forte.
Hiking party among some amazing scenery.
This place reminds you that you really are just a small component of matter on this planet, especially in comparison to these monstrous peaks, valleys, and tress.
Can't remember this one, or find the right match (because, not going to lie, like a novice birder to sparrows, these yellow ones all look the same! Even though I know I was told the name!)
Making our way up the divide.
I drank a lot, I mean, a lot of water this trip.... this was my view when I found a bush to pee near... I mean, that's kind of the best bathroom view ever. I also get to boast, proudly, that I pee'd on the continental divide. Its the little things in life, really.
Is this real? Is it a painting? Scenery from a model train set? Nah, that is real life alpine valley, just off the continental divide!
View of the turntable from above... This is pretty much how you would turn your locomotive around so it can head in the reverse direction from which it came. 
Turntable, from the ground.
The telegraph station (in front of my husband, on the right), is unlocked, you can walk in, see some small exhibits a sign a book, stating who you are and where you are from. A marmot sits on the back stairs, so don't be surprised when a large hairy rodent greets you upon opening that back door from the inside.
Speaking of marmots, this one is a yellowbelly marmot. Think: mountain groundhog.
So at this point, I whipped out my lunch, a peanut butter and bacon sandwich. I am 99% vegetarian, the bacon was calling me for the level of exertion on this trip and dang, was it good! Anyway, once the sandwich came out, so did all the creatures from among the wood... err, rock work.
This marmot ran down the rocks and boulders at the sound of crinkling plastic, or the tempting smell of peanut butter, but he was not the only one, oh no...
Meet the pika. The cutest rabbit relative, its resemblance to a chinchilla is no coincidence, as both chinchillas and pikas are made for living on the cliffs and rocky outcrops among the mountains. But remember, it's not a rodent, unlike the chinchilla, the pika is a lagomorph, like the jackrabbit from earlier.
Clearly, the pika has tasted human handouts before. Everywhere else on the mountain they kept a distance and dove between rocks, giving their (adorable) "yip" of a call. This one did the opposite, this prey animal ran towards a potential predator, me. A sure sign that people stopping here for a lunch/snack break share their food with wildlife, which is a huge no-no, in terms of safety for people and even more so, safety of the wildlife.
Because honestly, chipmunks should never ever run towards a huge scary human being, as this guy did. I mean, he did give me a clear shot, but I prefer wildlife to act and be wild. Oh, and this guy happens to appropriately be a Colorado Chipmunk!
Wildflowers blooming along the mountainsides.
Some of our hiking party atop the continental divide with some lingering ice/snow in the crevices of the slopes. Notice how there are no trees, we are above the tree line which ends at approximately 12,000' in elevation.
You can see how the gradual slope is an easy hike on this railroad grade trail, you can also make out some of the old, 100+ year old ties that lay across the trail. Can you imagine trains running through these mountains? Amazing.
As we hiked closer to camp, I snapped a picture of sawmill curve, a small waterfall fills this pond that empties into the slopes below. My huband and I attempted to use this as a place to rinse off and clean one night. The water was COLD, the pond was mostly silt, to get decent results, you had to get close to the falls, where gravel was the substrate below the water. It worked out alright, but it was good to do on a warmer day, as that water was a tad bit chilly!
    A day off was huge, it made a big difference having a day to rest your arms from digging, chopping, hauling, and pounding trails into place. On Thursday, it was back to work, but we were able to feel "fresh" doing do!
     We capped off this day with a trip to the Mt. Princeton hot springs whre we got 2, YES, TWO showers! And got to rest our muscles in some warm pools. And if that wasn't enough we had dinner in Buena Vista, at our uncle's favorite spot, Jan's. I had a HUGE slice of peach pie a la mode for dessert, IT. WAS. AWESOME.
     So, yeah, it was a very good day off :)