Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Colorado Trail, Days 2, 3, & 4

     Much of our time on these days was spent (in the order that follows), waking up for good (since you got zero sleep on the ground overnight), get some breakfast and eat it fast --because your mess kit is metal and therefore cold and holds zero heat, pack your lunch for the trail (pack a lot, work makes you hungry and salty snacks help you stay hydrated and I rationed my food out over 3 breaks), hike out to the trail (approx. 1.5-2 miles one way) and work till about 3:30-4pm, hike back to camp, clean-up (new clothes that are not covered in soil and if you're lucky, a baby wipe bath), get a delicious dinner - we ate like kings and queens, we had stir-fry, salads, and spaghetti, to name a few-- oh and every dinner included dessert! Then as light faded, so did the crowd. With no fire to stay warm around (a fire ban was in place due to dry conditions), we went usually to our tents, but after dinner some folks hung around for card games, a beer, or to talk about anything and everything.
     In any free time I had, I also explored, we hiked the second evening to Hancock Lake, in hopes of seeing a moose, we ventured over to the ghost town of Hancock, and looked for wildlife in and just beyond our camp. What a treat it was to live among all this for a short time, because let's be real, nothing is better than a clean bed after a real shower!
     Enjoy the sights:
My best match for this one is an Arctic Fritillary.
It also happens to live in alpine and subalpine meadows, pretty much where we were!
This is most likely also an Arctic Fritillary or a subspecies, purplish fritillary, I only saw its underside...

Ice and snow packs continue on most peaks around us.
This is all that remains of the old town of Hancock. Hancock was a town built around the railway that stopped running through the area in 1910. People living in Hancock helped build the Alpine tunnel and some mined in the area, but once the railway discontinued, so did the town. All that is left is some of the old saloon.
Moonrise over Hancock Lake. No moose were seen, but we got this amazing moonrise.
Woke up to a cold Monday morning, and took a crappy, far-off picture of a bird, but sometimes a crappy shot is all you need to get an ID...
A little zooming in reveals a gray jay! These birds live in high mountain and spruce forests-- hey, that's where we were! This was a very cool life bird to add to my list!
A mule deer makes her way through our camp with little care for us and what we are doing, which at the time was cleaning up after dinner.
On the road just outside our camp I found some amazing yellow-rumped warblers, the ones out west are absolutely gorgeous, looking like a different birds from the ones we have in the east! This plumage is known as the "Audubon's" variety.
Man, is he striking! I also saw a mountain chickadee and hermit thrush, singing their beautiful song all over the forests.
Lots of red squirrels in the area, we mostly heard them, with their rattling alarm call. Red squirrels feed on pine cones and the seeds within them.
We missed seeing moose at Hancock Lake, instead the moose came to us. 

A bull moose at dusk made his way to the willows surrounding Chalk Creek that boarded our camp area. Moose are the largest species of deer, this one is a bull, as he boasts a growing rack. Right now, those antlers are growing, covered in velvet, later in summer/early fall, they will shed the velvet and go into rut- where males will mate with females as they come into heat. Females will have their calves in the spring, and the bull moose in the winter will shed their antlers, only to regrow for the next season. Antlers are shed, horns are permanent.
This moose didn't mind it's mini crowd of spectators as we all enjoyed watching this guy graze as dusk faded into dark.
On the way to "work" for the morning, I took a more leisurely pace and took my camera.
Along the way I spotted a few dark-eyed junco, of the "grey headed" plumage. The ones in the east are "slate-colored" I think the western varieties, "grey-headed" and "Oregon" are far more handsome birds. These guys were all along the trail, what tipped me off to them as juncos were when they flew, they had white bordering tail feathers on their tail.
The wildflowers had me in awe, especially the wild columbines- I am not a flower person, but the variety and the fact that they were all in bloom, they had me looking! This, again, was on my way up to the trail we were building, what a gorgeous bloom!
At camp, after work on Tuesday, a male and female (pictured) Wilson's warbler foraged for food among the spruce trees, it appears that food was plentiful!
I adore those little black, beady eyes! So cute, although, this one appears grumpy - I would assume, she is quite content, especially with that beak full of food!
Everyone goes cray for these when they are in New York, the white-crowned sparrows turned out to be regular yard birds in camp. But they also happened to be very vocal, boisterous, and clearly, photogenic. I am not complaining that they were all too common!

A flower named after an animal... do you see it's pachyderm resemblance? These are elephant head flowers! They grew all along the wet trailsides and along the chalk creek. 
On Tuesday some scary lightning storms rolled through the mountains. This is a common afternoon occurrence, a brief rain, and then we sometimes got more rain at night. This occurrence was bittersweet. Being wet AND cold, it sucks. But, the rain clouds provide insulation around the mountains, making the nights feel warmer.
When the clouds rolled out though, it was like a painting, I didn't know such serene scenes were real!

Seriously, a privilege to camp in this wilderness!