Thursday, July 26, 2012

Colorado Rocky Mountain High - and Dry

Kali enjoying an all-natural Sno-Cone at Ouzel Lake
For our last natural excursion in Colorado in June, we elected to explore the Wild Basin area in the extreme southeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park.  In making our decision about where to explore, we considered that we'd been to the spectacular alpine meadows on the Continental Divide in the park previously, and the road to the Bear Lake section of the park (which we had also visited on our last trip) was being reconstructed and we were warned that traffic there was horrendous.  In addition, because there's easy access by road, the alpine meadows and Bear Lake sections of the park are extremely popular.  So we opted for Wild Basin, accessible only by foot or horse.
A group of seniors botanizing at the beginning of the Wild Basin Trail 

There's a hummingbird moth sipping nectar from the flowers in the right third of this image
 Wild Basin is drained by North St. Vrain Creek (I love that name).  The first stopping place along the trail is Copeland Falls where the creek plunges over two cataracts, the Upper and Lower Falls, the Upper of which is the more spectacular of the two.
Upper Copeland Falls on N. St. Vrain Creek
N. St. Vrain Creek canyon above Copeland Falls
A horsetail glen in a low spot along the Wild Basin Trail
The first two miles or so of the Wild Basin Trail are heavily traveled because the walk is only moderately difficult, there are three scenic waterfalls, and the distance makes for a good out-and-back day hike.  About one mile into the trip, I came across the plant whose image appears below.  It was growing from a crack between two stone steps that the National Park Service had placed along the trail to make the going a bit easier.  Dozens, if not hundreds of people walk this trail every day, yet here was this plant growing literally underfoot.  I was sure it was a member of the weird Broom-rape family since it had no leaves or chlorophyll and had the typical "fleshy" appearance of many of the broom-rapes.  Eventually, I caught up with one of the senior citizen botanist-hikers and asked her if she had noticed the plant.  While she hadn't seen it, when I described the plant to her she corrected me and told me that it was an orchid. 
An orchid growing in the trail
Tight grip in a tough spot
Midway along the popular part of the Wild Basin Trail, Cony Creek joins N. St. Vrain Creek by plunging over the Calypso Cascades.
Calypso Cascades on Cony Creek
Trail bridge over Cony Creek at the base of the cascades
Most visitors hike two miles to Ouzel Falls on Ouzel Creek, and then turn around and retrace their steps back to the trailhead.  That had been Kali's and my intention as well.  But one of the botanizing seniors told us that there was a great view of Wild Basin and good spot for lunch a few hundred feet further along the trail, so we followed her to a scenic overlook.
Ouzel Falls on Ouzel Creek
Kali (right) and one of the botanizing seniors surveying Wild Basin.  This view is eastward.
As we ate our our lunch, a young woman came by, returning from a hike to Ouzel Lake located three miles higher up in the basin.  Since it was still relatively early, we felt pretty strong, and we didn't have any other obligations, we decided to give it a go, too.

Unfortunately, from the high point vista overlooking the basin, the trail then descended a few hundred feet, then began to ascend again to regain the lost elevation.  The ascent was short and steep, and Kali very nearly declared the extension to be a mistake.  But, she persevered and we finally climbed up onto a ridge where walking was easy.  The forest on the ridge had burned years ago, so the trail was exposed and hot.
Kali on the Ouzel lake Trail, hiking through an old burn

Ouzel Lake, with Copeland Mountain (13,176 ft.) in the background
Ouzel Creek at the outlet from Ouzel Lake
Because we had crossed so much open ground under cloudless skies during the hike, we were really thirsty when we finally reached Ouzel Lake.  (We'd only brought enough water to hike comfortably to Ouzel Falls.)  So, we decided to dig into some of the winter snowdrifts that remained around the edge of the lake and enjoy natural "Sno-Cones."  We're really glad we did, since they cooled and re-hydrated us.
Returning from Ouzel Lake, which is located amid the dense conifer forest in the background
 While most of the Ouzel Lake Trail was high and very dry, when the trail dipped into shallow valleys and ravines, the snowmelt and small rivulets supported lush stands of wildflowers. 

Asters and lichens
A species of Polemonium (Jacob's Ladder), long since done flowering in the East

This was the final - and best - hike of our Western trip.  This beautiful hike was the clincher in our decision to retire to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains in a few years.


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Fine walk, Scott. Already looking forward to your Colorado blog!

Scott said...

A fine walk, indeed, John. Thank you!

packrat said...

Beautiful photos as always, Scott.

Scott said...

Thanks, Packrat. I was satisfied with the flower images, but I was disappointed with the images at the lake; they turned out a bit overexposed. My camera's so sophisticated, I think I'm going to have to spend some time learning how to stop it down on really sunny days. It was easy to do on my Nikon "point and shoot," but the new Canon has so many bells and whistles I'm a bit intimidated. And, even when I learn how to do something, sometimes I forget if I don't use the feature frequently.