Where is Elizabeth?

Day 12: May 26, 2016

  • Reporting on Hikes 3 and 4: Only 66 more to go
  • Locations: In the vicinity of Perry Park, Colorado (see descriptions below)
  • Distance: 4.25 miles and 3.68 miles respectively
  • Short Walk: See description below
  • Location: Cherokee Ranch, Colorado
  • Cumulative Distance: 33.83 miles

Like the famous Waldo, I am sometimes hard to find. For example, if you looked at my blog earlier this week, you would have had no idea where I was. There were no wordy descriptions of hikes I have taken and no new images from the talented camera of my husband, Curt. (Now that didn’t quite come out right, did it? I should truly attribute the photographic talent to Curt and not to his camera. If I were using that same camera, I suspect that many of my pictures would be spectacular bird blurs or my specialty, inadvertent photos of my fingers or feet! Perhaps I will post some of those photos sometime—I’m sure that you would enjoy them!) One of the reasons for the absence of blog posts this week might be the glorious blue skies, the newly green trees, and the May wildflowers that have tempted me each day. When I compare staring at the keyboard of a computer to experiencing the wonders of nature in Colorado’s great outdoors, there is no contest. Don’t look to a computer screen if you want to find me on a perfect spring, summer, fall, or winter day. Instead, assume that I am outdoors living in the moment. If that were your assumption this week, you would have been at least partially correct.

Last Saturday afternoon, my friend Barb and I walked slowly back and forth across the Hidden Forest Open Space in search of the elusive prairie violet, Viola pedatifida. This lovely purple violet, with leaves shaped like a bird’s foot, is quite different from its yellow- and white-flowered cousins that we frequently see in the spring in Colorado. It is also considered to be uncommon in our state, but due to our observations in previous years, we thought there was a high likelihood of finding it in bloom. I’m enclosing a picture of what we found…. Yes, our search was not successful—we found no leaves or flowers or shadows of the plant. We plan to return in the near future to see if the flower has just been reluctant to bloom due to snow and cool temperatures earlier this month or perhaps it is taking the year off, just to frustrate us on our diligent search. We are trying to help a talented botanical artist locate the prairie violet in bloom so that she can paint its portrait. If you see one, please let me know, but only if you are in Colorado, you are completely sober, and you can show me exactly where it is. (Note that this leisurely walk may have added to my distance goal, but it was not a “real” hike.)

Later in the weekend, Ransom and Sophie, our beloved Australian shepherds, took me on a real hike instead of just pursuing one of our normal short walks down the road to sniff out(they do this, not me) and bark at (they do this, not me) the neighboring dogs. We went wherever they wanted to go, which was apparently down an undeveloped road not far from home, into the woods in several random directions, and into a neighborhood pond (they went into the pond, not me). When we returned home, I dutifully reported to Curt that we had walked over 12 miles. He looked somewhat skeptical, and so—somewhat reluctantly—I had to admit that was the cumulative distance that the three of us had walked. My tracking device said that I had walked 4.25 miles. If truth be told, Ransom and Sophie undoubtedly ran and walked much farther than I did, since they have not yet learned the meaning of a “straight line.” I asked Ransom and Sophie if they would like to write a post about our hike, and they declined. Since none of us felt like sitting down at the computer to write, the task was postponed.

Early Monday morning, I met friends Shawn and Crista to hike to the fabled waterfalls on Bear Creek above Perry Park. Although I have lived less than two miles from this natural wonder for well over 20 years, I had never before ventured up the trail, which is on private land, although open to Perry Park residents and guests. Somehow I had assumed that there was some level of exaggeration in the descriptions that I had heard of the grandeur and beauty of this neighborhood attraction.   However, Shawn—feeling strongly that my education had been sorely neglected and being appalled at my corresponding lack of experience with this aspect of the region’s beauty—had volunteered to lead us on a short hike to visit the waterfalls. Just a few feet up the trail, I started doubting where I was. The beautiful canyon looked nothing like anything I had expected to find within many miles of Perry Park. Why, I wondered, was this not preserved as a state park or at the very least, included in realtors’ descriptions of reasons why Perry Park is an ideal location for those of us who love nature? The canyon walls were verdant green and I saw plants that do not grow anywhere else within the Perry Park environs. Far below, Bear Creek, running high with spring runoff, tumbled over the rocks, releasing spray into the cool morning air.

We proceeded to travel up the steep trail until the first waterfall came into view. Indeed this waterfall is spectacular, especially on this day when it benefited from the contributions of spring snowmelt and rainfall. However, this is just the first of the waterfalls, and having been augmented by some type of dam in the distant past, it is not quite natural. As we walked just a short distance further up the trail, I much preferred the subsequent wild rapids and beautiful upper falls where nature has done all of the landscape design with no help from man. While I could write much more about this area, I will not do so now, since I expect to return often. Hopefully, the next time I come for a visit to the falls, I will have “husband-with-camera” in tow, and he can help me to record the experience more accurately than mere words can do. Visiting this beautiful area requires just a short hike, although a walking stick is highly recommended and small children and pets should probably be left at home. Part of this trail is somewhat precipitous, and a slide off the loose gravel surface into the canyon below would not be pleasant.

Returning to where we had parked our cars, we discovered with some amazement that this entire adventure had been accomplished in under a mile of walking.   This would not do! By my definition, anything under two miles cannot possibly be considered “a hike.” Therefore, my companions and I proceeded to walk and talk our way down some nearby roads, and after they left I continued for a short while. Overall, this became a short hike of just 3.68 miles.

Later in the day on Monday, I was privileged to teach two classes for volunteers interested in leading hikes and participating in other outdoor volunteer activities at Cherokee Ranch. I personally love doing the activities that I was teaching, not only because they allow me to explore the beauty of this private ranch property, which is protected by a Conservation Easement, but also because they give me an opportunity to share my love of nature, conservation, and land stewardship with ranch guests. Helping to prepare other volunteers to have these same experiences is a joy. With their participation, we can work together to reach even more people to teach them about the natural treasures on Cherokee Ranch. Hopefully, we will also help to instill conservation ethics and love of the land in our youth visitors and their parents.

Tuesday I taught two more classes for outdoor volunteers at Cherokee Ranch. Again, I found that experiencing the enthusiasm of the class participants and learning about the considerable experience, knowledge, and skill that they are so willing to share with others was inspiring. Cherokee Ranch and its guests will benefit greatly from each of these volunteers.

If you were looking for me on Wednesday, where would you have found me? Yes! Once again I was at Cherokee Ranch. This time I was privileged to be outside on Cherokee Ranch land, helping to lead a group of talented Plein air artists and botanical artists up Rattlesnake Road. There they each found their own inspiration from grandiose vistas of mountains and valleys in the distance, nearby ranch landscapes and Castle views, or nature’s more intimate offerings of individual wildflowers or other plants. As I have come to understand from  looking at beautiful photographs and other artwork, each of these special artists can say more with one painting than I can say with many words. And so, enough said about this experience. Throughout the day I walked 3.5 miles, but again I do not consider this to be a hike. It was not continuous, and hiking was not the focus of the day for me.

Now it is Thursday, and I am listening to dire predictions of stormy weather from news reporters and weather forecasters. When? Well, I am told that severe storms with rain, wind, and hail are possible today in the low country and snow is probable in the mountains. Then tomorrow there may be more of the same. Never fear, we are not expected to have famine or swarms of locusts. I do hope that you find that as reassuring as I do.

Blessings!

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Bluebirds Beckoning

 

Progress:

Day 7: May 21, 2016

  • Short Walk: Not defining anything less than 2 miles as a hike
  • Location: Golden Eagle Pastures, Cherokee Ranch, Colorado
  • Distance Today: 2.2 miles plus another mile later at Hidden Forest Open Space
  • Cumulative Distance: 22.39 miles
  • All Photos by Curt Frankenfeld

It is 7:30 on a sunny Saturday morning and Bluebirds are beckoning. I unlock the Wauhatchee Gate on the southwestern border of Cherokee Ranch and stand by as Curt drives the Expedition through the gate onto Rattlesnake Road. Please note that “Rattlesnake” is the only part of the name that is accurate in this century, and “Road” is a bit of a misnomer. This is the historic route to Cherokee Castle, a magnificent replica of a Scottish castle that was built from native Rhyolite in the 1920s. Although very young as castles go, Cherokee Castle blends into its mountain-top setting and appears to the viewer to have been there for centuries. Replaced by a more modern road approaching the castle from the east, Rattlesnake Road is no longer used by visitors to Cherokee Castle or other Cherokee Ranch guests. Few people brave its ruts and protruding rocks in vehicles except experienced ranch hands, intrepid Bluebird monitors, and other outdoor volunteers. And yet, for nature enthusiasts traveling by foot, the upper part of Rattlesnake Road descending from the castle is an ideal and easily accessible hiking trail. As a naturalist, I often lead groups of school children on hikes down Rattlesnake Road, where we all marvel at wildlife tracks and other wildlife signs and search for the various types of natural treasures that are found on Cherokee Ranch. However, that is a story for another day, when hiking is the primary item on the agenda.

On this warm May morning, we are on our way to the Golden Eagle Pastures, where Curt and I monitor 55 Bluebird nest boxes throughout the spring and summer months. Each week we observe and record the activities of the Mountain Bluebirds, Western Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and Violet Green Swallows who claim these nest boxes as homes in which to build their nests, lay their eggs, and raise their young. This activity is part of a Cherokee Ranch Bluebird project that includes 200 Bluebird nest boxes divided into five routes, each monitored by volunteers. Ascending the steep hillsides on the way to the Golden Eagle Pastures, Curt drives slowly while I watch for wildflowers we have not yet added to our list of plants in bloom this year, birds hunting for their breakfast, and other wild creatures hiding in the Gambel oaks that grow thickly alongside the road. Cherokee Castle is not visible from the lower stretches of Rattlesnake Road, but as the road winds its way into the higher country, the castle comes into view. No matter how many times we are privileged to drive up Rattlesnake Road, the moment when we first see the castle on the mountain top ahead always seems magical. When it is cloudy and gray, viewing the castle in the mist makes us imagine what it would be like to live in medieval times. However, on this day, the sky is blue, and as we round a curve, the castle is illuminated in the morning sun.

As we near the area where the first Bluebird nest box on our route is located, I take a deep breath of the warm air coming through the open window, and smell the scent of chokecherry blossoms and evergreen trees. Then Curt parks the car, and we disembark to start the task at hand. I cannot truly call this a hike, because monitoring Bluebird boxes on our route entails a series of short walks alternating with short drives on ranch tracks so that the overall route can be accomplished in several hours. Nevertheless, when we are doing this route together, each of us walks over two miles. When I do this route by myself, I walk much farther, because foot travel is required between the ranch tracks where we drive and each of the Bluebird nest boxes that are mounted on poles out on the Golden Eagle Pastures themselves. This morning, as soon as we set foot on the land, we see a large raptor soaring high overhead—it is a Golden Eagle, and this reaffirms our belief that the pastures have been aptly named.

ET and Castle

As we approach each box, we pause to identify any birds that may be flying in or out of the boxes or perching on nearby shrubs or stalks of mullein, a noxious weed whose sole benefit appears to be providing places for birds to land and rest. We knock softly on the side of each box to warn any birds inside that we are standing nearby and are about to open the door. Today we find ten empty boxes out of the 55 we monitor, although a number of Bluebirds and Swallows still appear to be shopping for the best homes to rent for the season. We also find 45 boxes with partial or completed nests, and 25 of them have from one to seven small blue eggs inside. Altogether, we find that Mountain Bluebirds or Western Bluebirds have laid well over 50 eggs that we can see, although there are seven nests where we cannot see or count the eggs because a female Bluebird is sitting on the nest. The Swallows are building nests now, but being later nesters, they do not appear to have laid any eggs yet. After finishing the northern and southern portions of our route, we are pleased to write in our summary for the day that there were no new boxes damaged by hungry bears in search of eggs or young this week. Fortunately, bear activity seems to us to be low this year. We have found just one Bluebird box destroyed by a bear so far compared to 22 of the Bluebird boxes on our route destroyed on our worst season of bear predation in the past.

Before preparing to leave the Golden Eagle Pastures, we look up at Cherokee Castle for one last time. Then we climb into our car and cautiously descend Rattlesnake Road. We exit through the Wauhatchee Gate and return home feeling happy with the results of this week’s Bluebird monitoring. It has been a good morning! We are finished for this week, but next week, weather permitting, Bluebirds will beckon again, and we will return to check on nesting progress.

 

Yellow Rain Slickers

Progress:

Day 4: May 18, 2016

  • Hike Number: 2 (68 to go)
  • Location: Upper Cheyenne Road, Perry Park, Colorado
  • Distance Today: 6.37 miles
  • Cumulative Distance: 15.19 miles

The past couple of days have been rainy and cold and that has put a damper on my hiking activities in more ways than one.  However, the wet weather also created an opportunity for me to slow down and relax and observe the abundant avian life in our own backyard (Evening Grosbeaks, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Spotted Towhees, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, etc.).  Nature brightened up the gray days by bringing a small flock of Western Tanagers to our backyard along with our more common visitors.  Although most summers we are privileged to spot one or two of these colorful birds in the treetops near our home, we have never had Western Tanagers as customers at our bird feeders until this week.  It appears that the rain made it difficult for the Western Tanagers to hunt for insects, their normal food source this time of year.  Instead, they were attracted to our suet feeders.  At one point, I observed 7 male Tanagers and 4 female Tanagers at or around our suet feeders at once.  I was thrilled to see so many of them so close.  Curt took some pictures of the Tanagers in the rain, and they are brilliantly handsome, even when wet.  However,  I think that these gentlemen are wondering where their yellow rain slickers are!

I am not always a fair weather hiker. There is something mystical about hiking in the fog, and I find light rain to be renewing. No, you will not find me singing in the rain.  Not only would that scare the wildlife, it would also frighten me! I prefer the quiet sound of raindrops falling on tree leaves and gently trickling down to renew the earth.  Hiking in light snow reminds me of growing up in South Dakota, when snowflakes melting on my skin were still a wondrous mystery and icicles sparked my imagination. Light snow brings back some of that childhood magic.  Snowshoeing through the woods on new-fallen snow is my favorite way to experience the peace and quiet of a winter morning. Gentle breezes sway frost-covered branches, and tracks in the snow tell timeless stories that need no words.  However, heavy wind or rain that lasts for hours and shows no sign of letting up can dampen my enthusiasm for doing anything outdoors, especially for hiking.  That is the time for sitting by the fireside and losing myself in the pages of an engrossing book.  (After all, I could read about hiking, couldn’t I?)

Today there was no rain to greet the day, no snow, no wind, and no chill to make me don a heavy coat. Yellow rain slickers remained hanging in the closet.  When I awoke, birds were singing joyously to celebrate the sunshine beaming through the treetops.  Hummingbirds were humming, squirrels were scavenging, and mule deer were browsing on everything in sight.  Wait!  Stop!  Not that flower, please!  Oh, too late….  Well, living in deer country, we all learn to share.

And so it was time for hike number two. This afternoon I hiked by myself up Cheyenne Road where it slowly climbs the mountain side above Perry Park, not far from my home. The route I took, which in its current state is somewhat less than a road and more than a trail, passes between slopes covered in defoliated Douglas Fir trees, the result of a Tussock Moth invasion early last summer. Although this makes me sad, I will need to come to terms with this act of nature and not focus on what might have been. This was a day for introspection and not for recrimination of the insect larvae who do not care what I think about their assault on my beloved Douglas Fir trees. I was still able to enjoy the spring wildflowers, the tree-framed mountain views, and the relative solitude as I slowly hiked farther from “civilization.” As I approached Bear Creek, the sound of rushing water from snow melt and recent rain became dominant. It would not be ignored. The quiet stream of last summer was just a memory, replaced by something more akin to a river, rushing down out of the Pike National Forest to impress those of us more accustomed to its leisurely flow. I crossed the creek or the stream or the river and continued on into the shade of the forest on the other side for a short distance. This was a day when the trail was the destination, and I had no place in mind that I needed to reach in order to feel that I had arrived. (Besides, I’ve always felt that “arrival” is highly over rated!) The lure of the next bend in the trail was there, but I knew that the afternoon sun would soon be slipping behind the mountains and it was time to return home. And so I did, walking once more up the trail, and down the trail, and past the dead or dying Douglas Fir trees, whose Tussock Moth invaders may soon return. I will not mourn.

Barr Lake

Progress:

Day 1: May 15, 2016

  • Hike Number: 1 (69 to go)
  • Location: Barr Lake State Park
  • Distance: 6.82 miles – almost 1/100th of the way there!

Picture 1

This was one of those storybook perfect days. Everything that I can think to say about it starts with a cliché!

Cliché # 1: Over the Hill

Yesterday, May 15th, 2016, was the official first day of my “70 at 70” challenge. Yes, I can no longer say that I am “in my sixties.” Instead, when I look at the mountain and the glaciers in the picture from Alaska at the top of my blog, I imagine myself at the top of the mountain just starting to traverse my way down the other side. Now some people might say that means that I am “over-the-hill.” I am fine with that! I embrace it! Just picture the view! Being “over the hill” means that I have traveled a wondrous and adventure-filled life to this point, with lots of ups and only a few downs, and now I can envision the paths to new adventures on the other side. Hurray! The paths that I see go in many directions, and I plan to explore as many of them as I can.

Cliché # 2: Age is No Excuse

I’ll bet that when you read that, you thought that I was referring to myself. Actually, I was thinking of the other end of the age spectrum, the youngest generation in my family. Yesterday I went on a birthday hike at Barr Lake State Park (east of Denver) with my husband Curt, daughters Teresa and Meaghan, and granddaughter Carolyn.  I really wanted to walk much farther to get a good start on my hiking challenge, but I decided that we’d better limit the hike to just 3 or 4 miles. After all, Carolyn is “just 9 years old,” and I thought that since she is an inexperienced hiker, we should be considerate of her limitations. Forget that!!! At 4 miles, Carolyn was ready to walk on and on, and so we hiked for almost 7 miles, until the threat of rain made us decide that it would be expedient to call it a day. Carolyn was often at the head of our group, and never once did she utter a complaint of any kind. I should have known! Although she isn’t a “master hiker,” Carolyn is a great bike rider, she is “into karate,” and she has boundless energy. I’m taking her hiking again. She will inspire me! Thanks Carolyn!

Cliché # 3: Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

Early in the morning, the weather forecasters’ gloomy predictions and the cloudy skies were not auspicious. However, once on the trail, we forgot the weather and focused on the sights, sounds, and smells around us. We walked the shoreline trails and watched the never ending display of aquatic birds and their onshore relatives. Although prone to making lists, I lost count of the number of species of birds that we saw somewhere around 34 or 35. Released from the need to organize everything, I was free to live in the moment, and each moment was a gift. The most memorable gift–outside of spending the day with beloved family members–was the unexpected discovery of a gracefully posed glossy ibis, feeding on a sandbar on the shore of the lake. Later I was told by “those who know” that it might have been a cross between the more common white-faced ibis and a glossy ibis. Unable to check its DNA on the spot, I was forced to simply watch this elegantly colored bird in wondering reverence. Sometimes the simple joy of watching something so beautiful transcends the need to know!

Cliché #4: Music to My Ears

picture 3

 

Seldom was it quiet while we were on the trail. This was not due to human voices, as you might think, but rather to the avian songsters, who were never silent. For hours the red-winged blackbirds and their yellow-headed cousins entertained us with their bold calls and cacophonous songs. Then, on cue, the bullock’s orioles chimed in with a sweeter melody, and the woodpeckers made sure that the percussion section was never forgotten. Not to be outdone, the frog chorus added a ribbiting undertone. Intermittently, the ducks, Canada geese, and great blue herons quacked, honked, and squawked their applause, while the human audience listened at rapt attention

Cliché #5: Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life.

And so it was, just as I expect every other day to be.  There are paths to follow and hills to climb and trails to hike just waiting for another day.

Day 2: May 16, 2016

  • No hikes – It rained almost all day.
  • Walking Distance: 2 miles – all indoors, partly with Teresa and partly on the treadmill.
  • Cumulative Distance: 8.82 miles

Elizabeth at Garden of the GodsOnce upon a time, I looked like this when hiking at the Garden of the Gods.  I suppose that I still look more or less like this when I’m hiking–same hat, same boots, similar clothing, and same completely white hair.  Only the setting changes frequently, and that is what my 70 at 70 challenge is all about.  Stay tuned for a change in setting, and if you’d like to join me and help change the cast of characters as well as the setting, just let me know!

Age is just a state of mind….

For many years, I thought that 70 was old, not just OLD, but REALLY, REALLY OLD! However, like many young people my age, I have come to realize that age is just a state of mind, and on my journey, I have not visited that state yet.  In fact, I think that it is not even on my travel agenda.  There are too many flowers to smell, sounds of nature to hear, mountain streams to fish, and sunrises and sunsets to view to waste time focusing on age.  That said, in order to define the purpose of this blog, I do need to talk about age briefly.

Yes, in two days I will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the day of my birth. Some of my fellow 70-year-olds have challenged me to set a personal goal to do something of my choosing at least 70 times during the year when I claim 70 as my age.  One of my friends who turned 70 last year set the goal of playing 70 rounds of golf during his 70th year.  He successfully met his goal and enjoyed every moment while doing it.  (Actually, there may have been a few moments that he didn’t enjoy, but I thought that I’d exaggerate like many of the golfers whom I know are prone to do! I heard a rumor that occasionally a few four-letter words were heard on courses where he played last year, and not all of them may have been polite.)  I am not a golfer, so I won’t play 70 rounds of golf.  I would find doing that no more enjoyable than having 70 teeth pulled, getting 70 traffic tickets, or gaining 70 unwelcome pounds.  In addition, I am not going to write 70 poems, paint 70 pictures, or compose 70 country western songs, all of which “well-meaning” friends have suggested.  As those of you who know me well will understand, none of those are things that I would voluntarily  choose to do, and I would not voluntarily listen to 70 country western songs in a year, much less compose them.  (My apologies to country western music fans.)

So just what kind of challenge am I going to establish for myself and what goals am I going to meet?  I want to spend more time outdoors and continue the active lifestyle I’ve pursued since “retirement.”  I want to continue volunteering as a naturalist in Douglas County, the beautiful county that I call home so that I can share my love of nature with others and help to foster conservation values in our young people.  I want to be healthier and in better condition at the end of the year than I am at the beginning. I want to spend more time with family and friends, and I want to be relaxed and peaceful and happy while doing all of these things.  O.K.  So those are my criteria.  It seems obvious to me that my goal should involve doing what I’ve been doing all along, but more of it!  Therefore, my goal for the year that I embrace being 70 is to take at least 70 different hikes and to purposefully and mindfully walk at least 700 miles.  How I define “different hikes” is yet to be determined, as is how I intend to walk at least 700 miles.  My hikes will most likely not average 10 miles each, but in inclement weather, I can always meditate while walking on my treadmill to add a few more miles.  One way or another, 70 hikes and 700 miles seem like reasonable though challenging goals for me.