Rocky Mountain High
With school now well underway, this will be the last of our articles in our series of getting out and experiencing Nearby Nature. As Matt indicated in the last article when he took us north to Pictured Rocks, I will take us west to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Yes, we know they are both a little more than one tank trips, but in our estimation they are more than worthy places to visit and enjoy nature. For some they might be worthy of going on the bucket list, for others just an opportunity to go and relax.
As some of our readers know, I graduated from James A Garfield High School in 1976. During that era, there was a song writer named John Denver who caught the imagination of myself, and my classmates with his ballads of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Around that same time a movie starring Robert Redford, called “Jeremiah Johnson” was around, depicting a man who became a mountain man living in the Rockies. I would venture to say that during that time is when I really began my love of nature and the outdoors. The call of elk bugling, hawks and eagles soaring through mountain passes, and the beauty and majesty of an aspen grove at 10,000 feet all were ingrained in my mind. Someday I would have to see the Rockies for myself, experience the exhilaration of hiking back country trails, and gasping for air as we ascend to dip our toes into a crisp mountain lake. Two weeks ago, I got my chance and, boy, it didn’t disappoint in the least.
I have had the thrill of sitting in the woods surrounded by the redwoods, touched a sequoia, but words can’t explain the feelings I had during our hike through Rocky Mountain National Park. I now know what John Denver meant with his lyrics in his song “Rocky Mountain High”, “talk to God, and listen for his casual reply”. The experience was almost religious, definitely magical.
When most people think of Colorado they think of the green mountains, snow, and the Denver Broncos. In reality it is a brown and rather ugly state (sorry Colorado board of tourism). As you fly into Denver all you can see for miles is brown with the occasional green circle. It is actually referred to as high desert, similar to northern Arizona. On the eastern side of the Rockies, are vast wheat, oats, and barley fields. Colorado ranks in the top five in small grain production in the country. The green circles are sweet corn and other vegetable crops. All are irrigated by water from snow melt and the Platte River and its tributaries. Colorado ranks first in the production of sweet corn, cabbage, and several other vegetable crops in the country. I guess the marketing departments in California and Florida have done their jobs because I was under the impression that they grew everything, but that is not the case. Not to mention the incredible number of fracking wells that have been drilled in the last five years. It is almost as big an industry as we have here in Ohio.
For the first part of our trip we headed south to Colorado Springs, home of the Air Force Academy. We drove through the Garden of Gods, hiked Seven Falls, and Cheyenne Canyon. We learned what the monsoon season meant and the danger of flash floods, especially in “burn scars”, areas where recent forest fires had occurred. During our trip to Cheyenne Canyon we fortunately got off the mountain just an hour before it rained three inches and caused massive flooding in Colorado Springs. However, while we were hiking the canyon, we had a near-death experience only to be rewarded by an aspen grove tucked in a vale at 9,000 feet. To get there we had to walk about a mile on a gravel goat path 8” wide on the side of a mountain with the canyon floor 1000 feet below us. Let me tell you it was worth having my life flash before my eyes several times. As we rounded the bend we entered the vale with its cool crisp air, green grass, mountain stream babbling, and aspens so thick that I had a hard time walking through them. It was almost like time stood still. It is hard to describe the experience but something I will never forget.
Then we went north to Rocky Mountain National Park. You enter the mountains in a small town and twenty miles later you are in the town of Estes Park. From there you enter the national park. As with all National parks, I encourage you to stop at the information center to get a park map, ask the rangers where points of interest might be, ask about any problems in the park (bears, mountain lions, fire). The park rangers are very helpful and are a great resource. On this day we hiked the Bear Lake area. We began our day at 9250 feet and climbed to 11,000 where we sat on the banks of Lake Haiyaha , where to quote John Denver again we saw , “the majesty of a clear blue mountain lake” and where I saw my first Townsend Nutcracker and Magpie, both birds I will add to my life list. There was still snow far up in the mountain pass. White fir, Subalpine fir, Lodgepole pine, and Englemen spruce reached to the sky. At every bend we saw a view that took our breath away. We ended our hike at Alberta Falls, a roaring waterfall that was so cold and crisp it put shivers down your spine when you stuck your hand into it. A refreshing way to end the day after seven miles of hiking through the Rocky Mountains, an experience that lived up to my imagination and dreams.
It is the hope of Matt and me that you go out and experience nature; understand why it is important to cherish what we have for future generations. Share your experiences with your children and grandchildren and along the way enjoy Nearby Nature.
More Nearby Nature
Black Bear Valley – Sunday, September 22 (1:00-3:00pm)
Explore this remote section of the Akron Watershed that has had numerous reports of black bear
Activity with naturalist Bob Faber. This sprawling woodland near Hiram Rapids stretches from the uplands along Tilden Road to the Cuyahoga River. We will search for signs of bears and other wildlife in this area of upland forests and a wildlife rich floodplain along the Cuyahoga River. This is an off-trail walk that may require sloshing through shallow water and some mud. Fee: $6 for members of the Friends of the Hiram College Field Station ($10 for non-members). Directions will be provided at the time of registration. Call 330.569.6003 or email email@example.com.
The LaDue Shuffle and a Welshfield Lunch – Sunday, October 6 (9:30-11:30am)
Join naturalist Bob Faber to explore the country road and the mature forest trails along the western shore of La Due Reservoir. Loons, swans and other waterfowl rest on the waters and eagles fly overhead as the various species prepare for the winter migration. Wild turkeys patrol the forest while beavers and muskrats scour the wetlands in anticipation of winter storms. Bring binoculars and be prepared to get a tad muddy. Following our exploration we will have the option for delicious lunch at the nearby Welshfield Inn (not included in fee). Fee: $6 for members of the Friends of the Hiram College Field Station ($10 for non-members). Directions will be provided at the time of registration. Call 330.569.6003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.