Colorado, a Land of Contrasts

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We departed late for Colorado on Tuesday,  May 22, spending a very appreciated night at my brother’s house in Aurora, a suburb of Denver. We wasted little time heading out the following morning, reluctantly merging back onto I-70, yet gratefully heading west into the Rockies. Our first and 2nd camping nights would be in Sylvan Lake State Park, in a lovely valley with snow capped mountains beyond.


Our quietude was interrupted by constant buzz of chainsaws…which I quickly grew to appreciate as it insured a constant supply of firewood, usually illegal to take from state parks. However, the Forestry “guys” were right across the creek, in State Forest land, and offered us as much wood as we could get our hands on…and we graciously accepted. I asked if they were culling trees killed by the infamous “Pine beetle bugs”, Dendroctonus ponderosae, or for some other purpose. The reply was that most of the trees were Pine Beetle caused, but a few by the creek, like the fir tree, had died simply of old age. I made some nice walking sticks for Lucas and myself out of the freshly cut wood. The fir wood was dense and hard, just dry enough to make handsomely carved “staffs” as my son lovingly puts it.

IMG_1428Our fire-pit very quickly gained a generous heap of firewood from the trees felled in the creek behind….it’s hard to tell in the photo, but there is quite a steep slope behind the Blue Spruce to the left. I am the dedicated “fire-woman” of the camp. One of my few talents is that I can make a campfire from virtually anything, so long as it’s not pouring down rain. I proved this on a number of occasions after realizing we forgot to bring charcoal lighter fuel and charcoal. What was I thinking? in any case…the experience of chopping firewood with a Kukri was incredibly satisfying.IMG_1427Lucas proudly guards the tent….

and plays after a day hike around the lake…I wasn’t sure who had more fun…Ari the German Shepherd, or Lucas.



Above^…this is the feeder creek for Sylvan Lake. It is nicely wooded. Parts of the path were still  covered in snow, and it got quite chilly at night. We were glad to have brought Ari’s winter coat…since his own had already been shed.

Below-Lucas and Ari are standing on a part of the stream bank where the stream actually passes underneath the bank and under the adjacent trees ….





Shortly after Sylvan—with all it’s amenities typical of a State Park, we traveled to the Gunnison National Forest, which was day 1 of 6 days of no showering (Lucas had one hot shower on day 2 Sylvan—4 minutes for a couple dollars)…. We did, however, get plenty of rain! Upon arrival, we met an 81 year old gentleman, Mel, who served as our gracious camp “host”. He traveled all over the country in his motorhome, and shared stories with us about being a salesman for a plastics company years ago. He was from Cathedral City, CA., and had no clue about Colorado. Lucas adored him…and offered to help him dig out some of the recently flooded campsites near ours. We were in site #17. #18 was totally flooded. I should have guessed. The whole campground was “littered” with these huge round river rocks, arranged very randomly like a Japanese Zen garden. This was no accident…the whole place was probably inundated with several feet of water each Spring. One could see the flood debris in the shrubbery at least 4 feet from the ground.

Our tent lies just inside that forest of tall Pine and Spruce…This was the circle road where campers on horseback could stay. They had hay stands on each lot. In the middle was a pile of wood also cut by the Forestry Service. The following night we got totally rained out. Everything in the tent was FREEZING and soaked (so much for the Coleman tent…never again!) Ari became ill with horrible case of giardia…watery diarrhea and vomiting for the next 4 days after drinking out of the Anthracite Creek. You’d think with freshly melted, rapid moving snow water that it would be purer than the lakes he drinks out of at home…but….guess not.


Waking up to mom’s comforting campfire on a cold morning in the forest is hard to beat…esp. when there is fresh coffee. I tried to get up each morning and get the fire going before everyone got up…Getting up on a cold morning and out of a warm sleeping bag is a difficult way to start a day.P1020368


Nick is my firewood collector. I still didn’t have Charcoal starter or charcoal. We’d have to travel 20-30 miles to Paeonia to buy it….down, down down the mountain, through a tiny coal-mining town called Somerset (seriously…it looked just like West Virginia…complete with truckbed jacuzzis, and tar-sided shacks)—then after 15 more miles you arrive in the town of Paeonia, which had more liquor stores than food stores. …then back up again, and 7 miles of unpaved roads.


The Anthracite Creek was just 50 feet from our tent…roaring away!P1020353

Below: Relaxing along the Anthracite Creek



Ari checking out one of the few Lupine stands in bloom. Must have been in a warmer spot.IMG_1483

Below: quercus gambelii leaf on a lichened rock



Path through the forest…P1020422


Below: Views from the back of our campsite




These scattered rocks were all over the place… a Zen garden…P1020463


…Hmmm…these rocks fell from…? Time to get outta the way!


…the trees were tall indeed….The night before we got rained out, I ventured out to do my native plant documentations. Nick said I had been unwise to go out later in the day without accompaniment. This was bear country.


…and the forest was loaded with a bounty of biodiversity…..The Columbines were just starting to bloom.



…including Columbines and False Solomon’s Seal…Polyonatum biflorum, or Smilacina racemosa. Note the flowers are on the end of the petiole and not underneath, as seen in true Solomon’s Seal.



Mountain Boxwoods, or Paxistima myrsinites , growing in between the rocks.P1020394


Above: violets and

Below: wild holly (actually, mahonia repens)


I took an evening walk just to find this little white flower that I had seen on the trail earlier that day. Not sure what it is…but I had to capture it in a pic.


Below: There were these bullrush looking bamboo things in the flooded areas….but the Columbines and penstemons seemed to do OK too.


Below: a white violet I think?


I’m not sure what this is below…a calycanthus?P1020389

Below- Narrowleaf CottonwoodsP1020384

Below: rosa WoodsiiP1020382

below: monkshood?P1020381


Above, r. Woodsii “Wood’s Rose” and

below, Redtwig Dogwood….

P1020374Not sure what this little fuzzy gem is…looked like miniature Lamb’s Ear.

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This below…I could not ascertain whether it was a variation of hypericum (St. John’s Wort) or a type of narrowleafed mountain Mahogany species . It had shredded looking bark and hirsute, pinnate leaves. It was growing amongst the quercus gambelii, or Gambel Oaks (scrub alpine oaks)…if anyone knows what this is…I would appreciate any insight.

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Below: These are some type of snapdragon, a local resident told me. The hummingbirds were going like gangbusters all over them.P1020409

More violetsP1020414

Wild serviceberry. The locals collect and make jam from the fruit. Very fortunate—as there are a TON of them. P1020426

These leaves below (the long ovoid shiny ones) are Penstemons, I am pretty certain.

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Below: This is a species of Geum, I think. geum aleppicum ? P1020387

Below: Wild strawberry


…from the Gunnison, White River National Forest to the Grand Mesa Uncompaghre…to the Far Western parts of Colorado…. it got arid looking pretty quickly. A nice change of environment from freezing rain. What we didn’t know..was that for the first night we would be bringing the rain with us…so one more night of wet and cold…I decided to sleep in the car with Ari, the German Shepherd, since he was still quite ill. Fortunately, it was his last night of misery.

It took us 50 miles out of the forest to find a place to eat. That is how rural this part of Colorado is. Through Somerset, Paeonia, Hotchkiss, and finally, to the town of Delta…where we found Butch’s Cafe with an outdoor eating area so Ari could be with us. We stood out a bit from the locals who looked us up and down but made glowing compliments about our handsome German Shepherd. While we waited on our food, we got to read some local literature on outhouse humor and Lucas got got learn &0’s and 80’s pop culture quizzes and corny humor:

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We loaded up on a protein rich breakfast before heading westward towards Grand Junction and the Saddlehorn campground at Colorado National Monument. We had no idea of what to expect…but the scale of the place was not short of stunning—and beautiful in its ancient, raw coarseness, from the 800 year old Utah Junipers, to layered rocks (Sedimentary and  Metamorphic monoliths and over-hanging promontories—- and in the valley far below…the pre-Cambrian black rocks from 4.5 billion years ago.) This place is surreal and no photo or words could capture its magic.

Below: Views from our campground at Colorado National Monument:



Below: These Utah Western Junipers are 300-800 years old…twisted and writhing from the centuries in harsh conditions….P1020565

This large red monolith  towered amidst the campground.P1020503




Above^ Independence Monument

below: Lucas in one of the many “water eroded holes” in the sandstone.



Below: Indian Paintbrush flower in the desert





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Below: we jokingly coined this as the Campsite Christmas tree….





Cooking was much easier when the sun emerged….







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Below: These were 2 young French rock climbers taking on one of the monoliths. Shows a little of the “beyond humanscale” of this place…





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My sunburn after 2 1/2 days in the desert….Photo on 6-2-14 at 1.20 AM #4

Below: Heading back East towards Denver….this was one of the hardest parts on I-70 for our 2WD, 4CYL Toyota RAV-4. Our next purchase is a 6 cyl, 4 WD RAV.

Dashboard view from around the Vail Pass , the elevation at this point on I-70 is 10,662 feet. That’s not the elevation of those mountains.

That’s the elevation from where I am driving=hard on a 4 cylinder transmission. Struggles to keep 45MPH in the ascent! Otherwise…the little thing did great!