Over the mountains again

There's nothing like the hot, dry Colorado sun to melt the ice out of your bones after a long Newfoundland winter. I recently journeyed across the state starting in Conifer, CO and ending in my hometown of Hotchkiss, CO. It was wonderful to show someone around who had never seen the western slope of Colorado before because it opened my eyes to many details that I had missed altogether or had taken for granted. My home state is as beautiful as she ever was with only a few notable changes: a couple new bends in my favorite creek on the planet (Currecanti Creek), some rather scary changes with the mountain pine beetle in the lodgepole pine forests and, of course, some other plants are legal now that certainly weren't before. 20140623-DSCN2179

This is Buffalo Mountain near Silverthorne, CO in Summit County. The dead trees (brown in the foreground and grey-blue on the side of the mountain) are all "beetle kill". On the bright side though, there's still a lot of snow at this elevation and there are even snow drifts present about 4,000 feet lower. This year marks a spike in precipitation for Colorado which will help to prolong irrigation and hopefully battle the cycle that consists of trees killed by beetles, drought and ultimately, the pathogen that is fire.

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Here's a cloud-burst falling on the mountains beyond Lake Dillon between Dillon and Keystone, CO.

Now for the main event:

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Before I bring this guy into focus, I want you to take a good hard look at those colors. This is a favorite high elevation bird of mine, the Steller's Jay. This jay takes the grey from the Grey Jay and the blue from the Blue Jay and packages it all neatly into one little bird. Dunk the head into some black paint and there you have it. These birds are omnivorous (berries and bugs) so when you see a tiny flock of them like I did, you know that they have found a plentiful food source. Otherwise, they mostly hang out in pairs. The Steller's Jays in the following pictures were all observed at Sapphire Point on Swan Mountain above Lake Dillon.

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This is Swan Mountain:

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See if you can spot a Least Chipmunk or Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel in the next picture.

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I'll give you a hint on the squirrel:

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They're very friendly in this part of the world.

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Here's the Least Chipmunk having a snack:

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This is just one tiny finger of Lake Dillon:

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Perfect habitat for Canada Geese and gulls to hang out.

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Moving over to Garfield County, check out this Purple Finch seen from the balcony of my hotel room at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.

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Glenwood Springs, CO sits below Red Mountain (below) and is very near one of Colorado's most iconic peaks, Mount Sopris.

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Near Glenwood Springs is an incredible hike up to Hanging Lake. It takes about 1-1.5 hours (if you're moving quickly) to get to the top of the trail where the lake is. In that hour, you gain 1,000 feet of elevation so the hike is straight uphill. Dippers and Black Swifts make the stream along the trail and the canyon walls their home. I wish I had pictures of those birds but I have failed you. All I have is this snap of a whistle pig (Yellow-bellied Marmot).

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Here's the lake and its life blood, the spouting rock waterfalls.

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With a much abbreviated in-between, I ended up on River Ridge Farm in Hotchkiss, CO where I grew up. This place is as classic to me as this House Sparrow is.

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And as I have mentioned before, a trip home is not complete for me without a Western Meadowlark.

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BONUS ROUND: Wild Turkeys seen on a drive through Barrow Mesa.

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