Animals Birds Landscapes mountains Rocky Mountain National Park

July 21, 2012 … last lingering look at the Rockies

Our last day in Colorado.

With Mary at her the conference, I decided to utilise the multi-day ticket to the Rock Mountain National Park for the third and final time. As in my last visit I chose the highest roads available. The breathtaking nature of the views from up there are due only in part to the lack of oxygen above 12,000 feet. Mountain views move me, as does the very structure of the earth laid bare.Near 12,000' in the Rocky Mountain National Park

I was a bit surprised at the extent of the shattering in the exposed rock, imagining that in any seismic event, much of it might topple and fall. Not so, apparently.

But I promised you “critters” today. Any North Americans amongst my readers should  feel free to skip over the rest, since the things that fascinate me are probably commonplace, bordering on the irritant level for you.

First, I saw a ground squirrel outside the boundary of the park. This was just as well. since it was snacking on peanuts and peanuts do not grow naturally in this area. And,  as everyone knows, it is illegal to feed or approach the wildlife. But who can resist a squirrel skilfully opening the husk of a peanut to get at the kernels within?

Ground squirrel with tourist -supplied peanutMarmot scurry from rock to rock on the high tundra

Higher up in the park, near the maximum altitude on the road, I saw a marmot. These things “waddle” and it gives the appearance of a tail waggling, as it scurries form rock to rock. It’s not very sharp, but I counted myself lucky to see almost the whole animal out from behind the rocks.

And then I saw what I took to be a very large dragon-fly  which was a surprise at this extreme altitude. I took the shot and it was not until later that I realized what I had caught.

Rufous Hummingbird at high altitude in Rocky Mountain National Park

I think,  but am not absolutely sure, this is a Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), but either way, I was amazed that even a shutter speed of 1/1250 second, did not stop the motion of those amazing wings. Unfortunately this was quite a distance way and the image is a small section of a much larger picture.

But the star of yesterday’s show for me was the tiny Pika. Someone commented on an earlier post that these are extremely rare now. Well, I have to report that I saw several, maybe six or more, in this one little spot. The one that caught my attention was clearly on guard duty, and emitted regular barks (more like shrieks) to warn the community of approaching danger. What was fascinating to me was the way that, with each squeak, its ears would fold back, only to rebound to the forward position when the bark was done.

Pika barkingPika with ears reset after the bark

Today was spent in transition from hot high dry Colorado, to hot humid overcast Louisiana. More tomorrow

Art Colorado creativity Longmont

July 20, 2012 … he’s a genius but I don’t have to like him

In yesterday’s post I admitted an error.

I said I had seen no reason linger in Longmont. Well, I was wrong. In the Longmont Museum and Cultural Center there was an exhibition, due to end on Sunday, entitled “Edward Weston: Life work”, It consisted of images from the remarkable collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg. This collection has been touring for quite some while (at least 2002). It is a collection that no photographer worth his or her silver nitrate would knowingly pass by if the opportunity arose. Well, it had arisen, and I did not pass it by.

To my astonishment, photography was permitted (but no flash or tripods permitted). The security guard who kept a beady eye on me throughout my stay obviously thought even that was way to liberal for his liking. The exhibition itself was representative of Weston’s entire career, and included some of his most famous peppers, and the once notorious nudes.  It was beautifully curated, and the mounts and mattes were of a standard of perfection I have never seen before.

Whereas I would love to own some of them from an investment perspective, I have commented elsewhere that there were not many I would like to hang on my own walls. I am sure that permission to photograph the works was not permission to publish, so the only shot from the exhibition I shall share is the set of cameras of the type used by Weston in his prime. If you want to know what kind of images Weston made, look here


Sorry I can’t tell you how many megapixels these cameras are, but I did learn that Weston was generally a great fan of very small apertures and high gloss paper to achieve maximum sharpness. He preferred contact prints to enlargement in order to avoid the loss of sharpness that resulted.

I took a roundabout route back to the motel, via the wonderful Boulder Canyon, so here are some shots of running water from that magnificent place.

Boulder Canyon 1 Boulder Canyon 2

More “critters” tomorrow, after we arrive in New Orleans.

Birds Hygiene insects Landscapes mountains Travel Trees

July 19, 2012 … away from all the world

Yesterday was a comparatively low altitude day.

You may be surprised, as I was, to  know that almost a third of the state of Colorado is not mountainous. Along with Wyoming to the North, Colorado appears on the map to be almost perfectly rectangular. The Rocky mountains run North/South and everything to the West of Boulder is of an alpine character.

So, let’s see what lies to the East. With Mary still at the conference, I set out along US119 which, since it seems to be one of the few roads in the state that is not aligned with one of the four cardinal points of the compass, is also known as “the Diagonal Highway”. Obvious, really.

At Longmont, I saw no obvious reason to pause, so kept going. This was a mistake, of which, more tomorrow. Fort Collins was further North than I wanted to go, so I turned West onto Highway 66 (not “the” route 66, but one that heads from Longmont  to Lyons). Some way along that road, in wide open spaces, but with the impressive front range of the Rocky Mountains dead ahead, I was distracted by a sign that pointed to “Hygiene”. How could I resist?

It turns out to be more of an idea than a physical town, though there are a few shops and a café at an intersection. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be as “a state of mind”.  I have no idea where the mythical town of Mayberry was supposed to be (think of the late Andy Griffith), but this could be a candidate. I stopped in at some local lakes in the hope of seeing birds or other wildlife.

The people were almost as fascinating as the wildlife I was seeking. I don’t know if they think of the outside world at all, but in their little piece of paradise, there would be few reasons for them to do so, if you see what I mean.  And so you get a big handful of images today.Heron lake, on the Pella Crossing trail near Hygiene, CO

People were pulling up in their pickup trucks or SUVs and unloading their belly boats, a rod and a net, and then paddling out into one of the several lakes in pursuit of bass or catfish, and to heck with war, politics or taxes. They were in the water and catching fish within minutes of arrival. The man in the picture below on the right with the orange life jacket was very helpful in telling me where to look for birds.

Two young women fishing from belly boats on Sunset lake, near Hygiene, COA friendly man fishing from a belly boat on Heron Lake, near Hygiene, CO

According to the local rules, artificial flies are the only permissible lures, and all bass must be returned alive, to the water.

Some fairly large fish were being caught, photographed and returned to the lake. A good catch on Heron Lake

The two men in the image at the left were using a larger boat. The posted rules say it must be unpowered, so I suspect the electric trolling motor on the transom is probably outside the rules, but it was silent. And that’s a pretty good bass.

Grasshoppers were hopping, cicadas were singing ( a strangely different tune to the ones at home), and there were birds about. For me, this was the dream time.

I strolled around the lake in about 90 deg F pausing in the shade of trees to  see whatever there was to see. A family were enjoying a picnic.  Several people walked their dogs.

Some lovely bulrushes caught my eye and as I approached a loud “ribbit” and a heavy splash marked the panicked departure of a large frog which I never saw. But the  next visitors obligingly held still to be photographed,   and I am grateful to my son David who located their proper identities on the website of the Boulder County Audubon Society.

Eight spotted skimmer (Libellula forensis) on Sunset Lake near Hygiene, COWidow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) on Sunset Lake near Hygiene, CO

These flying jewels were a joy to watch, and relatively easy to capture on camera since they seemed to rest quite often.  But the real treasure for me was to be found on Heron pond. Pausing again on a seat under a tree and contemplating the simple pleasures this park afforded its community I saw a large bird approaching. 

 It had the slow stately flight of the heron family,  and though I am not 100% sure of the identification because this bird has yellow feet, I think it is a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). It might also be the Little Blue Heron, but it seemed much bigger than that,  It was at least twice the size of our own white faced herons, and bigger than the kotuku. 

It hung around for a while and then, just like its New Zealand cousins, got nervous and flew away.  It was just beautiful,

probable Great Blue Heron on Heron lakeThank you, residents of Hygiene for allowing me to share your special place.



adversity Colorado Landscapes mountains Travel

July 18, 2012 … of mountains and mammals

Solo journeys are not so much fun.

However, they do afford more opportunity to “waste time” making images. The one with the camera is always aware of the patience required from the non-photographer.  Mary was at her conference today, as she will be all this week, and I had the rental car at my disposal, and our pass for the Rocky Mountain National Park was good for a week.

One of the oddities of the American roading system is the lack of places to stop and rest,  or to simply enjoy the view. There is simply no place to pull over and stop, and very few places on the road akin to our “rest areas”. I wonder what are the statistics for people who die by falling asleep at the wheel.

Thus, you are driving at 45 mph on a narrow winding road through some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth, and you see something that screams out for a photograph. And there is a truck on your tail with its headlights on, nowhere to stop, not even a private driveway. If you do find a “turnout”, parking is usually prohibited at all times, or if it is not, the verge is so narrow that you would be courting death to walk back to the viewpoint that first caught your eye.

The road from Lyons to Estes Park is a case in point. On the other hand, the National Park itself more than consoled me for the lost opportunities on the way there.

As I have said before this is a landscape of such breathtaking magnitude that it demands panoramas. I made about seven, each stitched together from 8 or more images. I am unsure how well they display on WordPress but here is my attempt to share one with you. Rocky Mountain National Park

I apologise if it does not do justice to the scene. I wish I could show the real thing. The original stitched image was enormous at 1.5 GB. Converting it to .jpg compressed it to a mere 40 MB. Chopping it back to 1600 pixels wide is just cruel (and that’s only if you click to see the large version, so please do click)My friends with American connections tend to snort at my fascination with the “little critters”, but for those of us who are new to them, the encounter is fascinating.

Ground squirrelGrey Squirrel

Most of them move very quickly. And the third rodent in today’s post I have yet to identify. It was basking on a rock at the high pass(12,183 ft or 3, 713m ASL) where I stopped to eat my lunch on the road from Beaver Meadows to the Alpine Center. Anyone know what he is? He was quite small (see below). Update: My apologies to the creature below, (s)he is not a rodent at all, but rather, a lagomorph … a relative of hares and rabbits … Pika (Ochotona princeps).

Unknown rodentAnd that’s another day in Colorado, and my 200th post.

Boulder mountains Trees

July, 17 2012 …. tumbling water

I couldn’t live here, but I can see why people write songs about the place.

Yesterday, Mary had to work (attending the conference) so I meandered around the city of Boulder for a while, and found that quite pleasant, even though the temperatures were soaring. On returning to my car, I drove up Canyon Road into the canyon that gives it its name. Boulder canyon did, in fact, get a mention in John Denver’s “I guess he’d rather be in Colorado”.Boulder creek rushing down the canyon

Whatever you think of John Denver’s shortcomings, musically or personally, no one could doubt his love of this spectacular state. Boulder Canyon is one of Earth’s magic places. Tumbling waters, steep shattered rock walls, clean clear air … it is truly beautiful.

river, rocks and treesshattered rock

I got to the town at the top of the canyon. The origin of its name is a bit of a mystery, or some kind of local joke. Its 1,700 or so occupants live 8,228 feet ASL. The highest point in the country from which its name is borrowed is 1,059 feet ASL.

On the way back down the canyon, I picked up a hitchhiker. He was the stereotype of every old cowboy I ever saw. Though probably no older than me, he had that “rock of ages” look … lean, grey-bearded, hat, boots, denim, and slowest, deepest drawl I have ever heard. He was some sort of mineralogist and told me a lot about the structure of the canyon, and the health of its river and forest. And he has a daughter-in-law from Christchurch, and knew all about our earthquakes. He was a pleasure to ride with.

My final scenic spot of the day was Table Mesa and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (thanks for the tip Neil Gordon). It is situated high on the hill overlooking the town, and as I neared the NCAR premises I was getting more excited about the view. Unfortunately there is little or no view from the publicly accessible part of the place because of pine trees grow up to block it off.  So I trudged around one of the many walkways until at last I came to a clear space. Boulder from Table Mesa

Why could I not live here? Well, as beautiful as the place is, and  as friendly as most people are, the cultural disconnect is just too unsettling.

adversity Denver Landscapes mountains Mt Evans Weather

July 16, 2012 … a lonely goat herd

There are fifty-four mountains with peaks above 14,000 feet in Colorado. US Geological Survey Bench Mark on the summit of Mt Evans (photo by Mary)

Yesterday, Mary and I walked together to the summit of one of them. This was no great feat since the summit at 14, 258 feet, is just 34 feet higher than the carpark. But first we had to get there.  In hindsight maybe I should have paid the USD$79 for the GPS for the week, but I thought I could read a map OK.

The catch is, that on the ground, the intersections bear little resemblance to their representation on the map. And many of the intersections are very subtle in the positioning of the exit signs in relation to the exit you really need, and sometimes they sneakily disguise themselves as something else … you are looking for US93 so obviously you go past the exit that says “6”, not knowing that they are the same road.

And to compound that, there seem to be many locals who have never ventured more than ten blocks form where they live, and although they have lived in Denver all their lives, they think they may have heard of Boulder, but have no clue in which direction to go to find US36 to get there.

On the other hand, there was the helpful guy in Lafayette (which was nowhere near where I should have been)  who drew me a neat map and warned me where to expect speed traps. In short, both coming and going we made many false turns  and saw far more of Denver than we had planned, since the road from Boulder to Idaho Springs does not pass through Denver.

In hindsight, I could now find my way from Boulder to Idaho Springs and thence to Mt Evans at least an hour faster than last time, and might even get home again first try.

But the mountain. You have to wonder why anyone would take a paved road to within a few steps of the summit of a 14er. There was a restaurant there once, built in 1941, but destroyed by fire in 1979 as the result of a mismanaged propane bottle switch. As you might imagine, by the time the volunteer fire brigade from Idaho Springs got to the scene things were out of hand and they had no water anyway. No one died.

I would like to think that in these more enlightened times no one would dream of putting a road up a mountain. And I had qualms about actually using this one, but I shall probably never have an opportunity again to be at such an altitude except in a plane.

We saw mountain goats, buzzards and marmots, and several hundred cyclists powering up, or hurtling down the road. My knuckles were so firmly clenched on the wheel, and my eyes so glued the steep drop on one side or the jagged rock wall on the other, that no images of those things eventuated.

At the top, the next battle was to find a park. And then join the long line of people who desperately needed a rest room. With these essentials dealt with, it would be a crime not to make it to the top, which is about a ten or fifteen minute walk, depending on how you are coping with the oxygen deprivation. We were among the fortunate ones, and got there briskly.

This is a place that absolutely demands panoramas. Please click to see them in full. The first one is to the North and overlooks the summit lake several thousand feet below. Panorama from the summit of Mt Evans, CO, looking North across Summit Lake

To the South East the view was a little more cluttered with other visitors but here we go:

To the South East from the summit of Mt Evans, CO

Got to love those clouds. By the time we got down to Idaho Springs to have lunch by the river, there was a thunder-storm in progress and heavy raindrops so the picnic was completed inside the car.

We got back to the hotel eventually,

Animals Birds Boulder Landscapes

July 15, 2012 … mountain grandeur

Yesterday we enjoyed a touch of Rocky Mountain magic.

With a clear day before Mary’s conference started today we went to Estes Park about 38 miles to the North and West of Boulder, across some wonderful mountain roads  mainly highway 36, in the “Front Ranges” of the Rockies. Just a little short of the town of Estes Park, there is a pleasant spot which affords a very nice lookout over the valley.Estes Park, Colorado from high on highway 36

Not only that, it seems well known to the local wild life as a place exempt from the stringent National Park prohibitions on feeding wildlife.  These were not mountain lions, bears or coyotes, you understand, but small creatures like ground squirrels and chipmunks. What’s the difference? To us outsiders, not a lot, but knowledgeable locals put us right, and the Colorado Division of Natural Resources have an authoritative page.

A ground squirrel

We bought some lunch in the town and then went to the Beaver Meadows entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Us and about 10,000 others. We did find a quiet place with a pleasant view to eat and enjoy the peace. Some birds, mainly Jays and cuckoos were seen.Identification uncertain ... perhaps an Oriental Cuckoo

While we were eating or having a siesta other people were out and about and I loved the group (or was it a posse) of horse riders in the distance?Riding across the wide open spaces

And then it was back home again via the very much quieter and even more spectacular South St Vrain Road to rejoin highway 36 at Lyons.

More tomorrow,

Aviation Boulder Colorado Landscapes Light Weather

July 14, 2012 … must refrain from singing John Denver songs

I am not a relaxed traveller.

I tend to foresee all the things that might go wrong. They rarely do, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying about them.

We decided to leave Santa Rosa early, around 7am for an 11:30 am flight. It was as well we did. The traffic on 101 to the city was flowing smoothly, though it was reasonably heavy. I blew it after we crossed the Golden Gate. Instead of taking the bypass though the Golden Gate park, and thence to 280 and the airport, I missed an exit and ended up on Marina Boulevard which would take me in the direction of downtown morning chaos.

Having some familiarity with the street names in San Francisco. I turned into Divisadero planning to rejoin 101 on Lombard. Alas, no left turn allowed. Plan C was to continue to Geary and rejoin at Van Ness. This worked, though it took me through every steep intersection and four-way stop sign in the city. By now, we were in the utmost morning traffic, all of which had unfortunate side effects on my nervous system, and I made it to the “Alamo” car park at SFO with seconds to spare to avert disaster, and had to flee the car at high speed leaving Mary to settle the paperwork.  Happily Alamo have one of the slickest check in systems I have ever seen and I rejoined Mary at the car to in time to move the bags. I am still wondering why there were no urinals in that toilet facility.

Then came ticketing and security. As I said yesterday, we packed in a panic and had not distributed the heavy stuff properly. Thus my bag as 2 kg over the allowed weight, and United wanted $150 to carry it to Denver. We backed out of line and shifted cords, power bricks and transformers to Mary’s bag, and were back to the “normal” domestic bag fee of USD$25.

This was my first departure from a US airport since 9/11 and I feared the worst. It seems that whatever the horror stories that emerge from LAX, they don’t necessarily apply at SFO. The process is tedious but conducted with good humour, and one of the agents even engaged in a discussion with me of the relative merits of Canon’s 5DII as opposed to the new 5DIII.

The plane departed on time, arrived on time, but most of the flight was above cloud. However, as we descended towards Denver I discovered where Pacman went when he retired.Pacman in retirement

On arrival at Denver, we negotiated their people mover system, the baggage claim, and then the shuttle bus to the Alamo depot where the computer system crashed just after the agent had entered all our data but before he pressed enter. So it was all done again, manually, with a pen.

I may have been conned but he suggested that a 1.2litre Corolla was not going to cut it for any travel in mountains at this altitude (we were a  mile high to begin with). I upgraded and drove away in a Chev Impala. I am still a little baffled by the thinking behind a foot operated parking brake. Oh, and if you press the little red button on the rear view mirror, someone outside the car calls you through the electronics to check if you are OK because you just pushed the emergency button.

And so to Boulder. On the way there I paused at an overlook area to catch the receding planes of the foothills of the Rockies. No doubt the shades were accentuated by recent forest fires. The temperature was in the high 80s and seemed very warm.  Towards Boulder and the Rockies

I am very happy to say that the hotel we are using is excellent and just a 10 minute walk from Mary’s conference venue.