Thursday, June 28, 2012

Colorado National Monument - Part 1, Devil's Kitchen

Sandstone pedestal near Devil's Kitchen  
Continuing with my account of my June 2012 visits to natural areas in the West.

Kali and I left San Diego early Saturday morning on June 2. We flew to Denver, Colorado, where we switched planes to a "puddle jumper" (a small regional jet) for a 45-minute flight back west to Grand Junction, Colorado, just 30 miles east of the Utah border.  We had reservations at a beautiful bed-and-breakfast with views of the cliffs in Colorado National Monument, a few miles away.

Sunday morning, right after breakfast, we set out to explore the monument on the 32-mile Rim Rock Road, which meanders along the very top edge of the cliffs.  We planned to incorporate a hike into our exploration, and because the day was forecast to be very hot, we decided to tackle a moderately strenuous 4-mile round-trip walk in the morning before it got too warm.  Despite its short length and modest ascent, the hike was still very uncomfortable because there was no cover.  The trail took us to the Devil's Kitchen, a group of impressive upright monoliths that enclose a large, cool, shady rock "room."
Devil's Kitchen Trail in No Thoroughfare Canyon
The Devil's Kitchen from below.  The formation is much more impressive than this image conveys.
Weathered juniper log along the trail
Approaching the Devil's Kitchen.  The Colorado River valley (locally known as the Grand Valley) and the impressive Book Cliffs on south side of the valley are visible behind the Kitchen.
Kali in the Kitchen.  This is the only time you'll ever see Kali in a kitchen since she doesn't cook.
Yours truly high up near a  Kitchen "window"
Rose-colored prickly pear cactus flower
I'll continue my account with images I made during our drive along the Rim Rock Road.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One Trail Twelve Times - June

 Newly formed goldenrod gall

June's edition of the One Trail Twelve Times series of hikes was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, June 24.  As those of you who have been following my postings about the walks, attendance has dropped off precipitously since January (is it me?), so I didn't hold out much hope for a crowd for June's walk.  Kali posited that one reason people don't accompany me may be that I take too long taking photographs as we walk, so she and I decided to walk the trail ourselves on Sunday morning to scout out interesting changes in the landscape, to take pictures, and - because the day was forecast to be uncomfortably warm, which might discourage people from taking a mid-afternoon walk - to make sure we had documented the trail's attractions in their early summer glory even if no one came to hike.

As it turned out, one individual, a loyal member of our organization, showed up at 2:10 p.m., just as I was about to give up hope and return home having been stood up by my public.  So, this member and I walked the trail and found several things Kali and I had overlooked, like the brand new goldenrod gall pictured above.

Though the Beech Springs Trail begins in woods, emerges into meadows, and then re-enters a woods, I've elected to group the meadow images together, followed by a relatively few woodland images.

Trail trough the meadow.  The white flowers on the right are non-native but well-behaved yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

As we walked during the "official" walk in the afternoon, we were overtaken by an equestrian (who shouldn't be using this trail).

One of the knapweeds (Centaurea spp.), another well-behaved non-native.  Members of this genus are a scourge further west.

The meadow was full of blooming summer wildflowersHere's a sampling of the most common.

White avens (Geum canadense)

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia serotina)

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with a shy bumblebee

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum spp.), which has a heavenly scent reminiscent of peppermint when crushed

Almost ripe! (Rubus spp.)

In the wet meadow

Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum)

 Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), a ubiquitous non-native species, offering nectar to a native bee

Our neighbor, whose driveway bisects the meadow, maintains apple trees (Malus spp.) that delight the deer (and hikers) later in the season.

Two non-natives, neither benign - a Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) on porcelainberry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata)

And, last but not least (for the meadow), a New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) blooming at least two months early!

In the woodlands, the squirrels have harvested the fruit from the spring ephemeral Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), and the plants are declining.

Spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin) continue to develop.  They'll turn red in late summer, and birds migrating southward will quickly pick the shrubs clean of the lipid-rich fruit.

Beech Springs, with skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) looking a bit worse for wear.

A Pileated Woodpecker continues its excavations.  The hole beneath the neat rectangle is new this month.

Tuliptree flowers (Liriodendron tulipifera) are maturing into seed clusters...

...that blow into the meadows, become established, and advance natural succession.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Iron Mountain

Kali and I have been out of town for nearly three weeks, and I haven't had a chance to post during that time.  Over the next few weeks, I'll prepare a series of posts about our visits to special natural areas, though Kali and I were also traveling for business, to address family matters, and to investigate potential retirement locations. 

Our first stop was San Diego, California, where we visited my father (who is in hospice care with congenital heart failure), Kali's mom (who moved from my brother-in-law's house to assisted care just three days before we arrived), and where Kali attended a professional conference.  On one of Kali's conference days, my brother-in-law, Patrick, and I hiked the Iron Mountain Trail in central San Diego County, ascending about 1,000 feet over a distance of about 1.5 miles.  The Iron Mountain Trail is very popular, and we were joined by many other hikers along the way even on a weekday.
 At the Iron Mountain trailhead

 Wildflowers on the gentle lower slope

This image, looking westward toward the Pacific Ocean (which is not visible through the haze in the background), was taken about one-third of the way to the summit.  Patrick and I had just climbed up through the canyon on the right side of the image.  The canyon contains the remnants of small exploratory excavations for very low assay iron ore, hence the mountain's name.  Though it was only about 11 a.m., we were already very hot, sweaty, and breathless by the time we reached this point. 
Patrick under "attack" by a large weevil

Split rock with flowers

Wildflowers were blooming profusely all along the route.  However, since I only visit San Diego, on average,  less than once per year, I haven't yet invested in a wildflower guide to the chaparral and oak scrub habitats of southern California.  We'll just have to enjoy the images of the flowers unidentified.

Nearing the rocky summit

Resting at the summit, with a view to the south

The view (westward) from the summit, with a crow preparing for a landing

Location of Iron Mountain (about 25 miles northeast of central San Diego)