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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Entries Tagged as 'Photography'

Water in Fort Collins

October 28th, 2014 · No Comments

Water was what we wanted when we went wandering out West on Wednesday. Whoops! We actually went on Thursday, which wrecks the alliteration.

Sharon and I went to Fort Collins, which seems to have as much love of alliteration as I do. We went past the city’s Magpie Meanders and on a previous trip had visited Prospect Ponds and Cattail Chorus.

Sharon wanted to go to the Cache la Poudre River Corridor Natural Areas at North Shields Ponds and the nearby McMurry and Salyer Natural Areas. I wanted to go to the Fossil Creek Reservoir Natural Area. So we compromised and went both places.

We appreciated the Cache la Poudre River, which has so much more water than Boulder’s creeks do.

The Cache la Poudre at First Light

The Cache la Poudre at First Light

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The first big bird we saw was on one of the North Shields ponds just north of the river.

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Wild Basin

October 27th, 2014 · No Comments

Sharon and I managed to make one more trip up to Rocky Mountain National Park before the snows of winter come. Each of us wanted to get back to Wild Basin, which is one of the prettiest parts of the park and is the closest to our homes in Boulder.​

“Ouzel Falls is the most popular destination in Wild Basin,” says Lisa Foster in Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide. “It is a short cascade in Ouzel Creek that plunges dramatically over a small granite cliff.”

This is my favorite Wild Basin hike too, one that I’ve made four or five times over the years. Sharon has also hiked here often. But neither of us had been to Wild Basin since the September 2013 flood damaged many of the trails and took out several of the bridges, including the one over Ouzel Creek, effectively blocking the trail beyond the falls.

That didn’t inconvenience us, because the 5.4 mile roundtrip hike to Ouzel Falls was long enough. We started at 8 a.m. when the car thermometer registered 29 degrees 8,500 feet up in the Rocky Mountains. After climbing steadily for 1,000 feet, we reached the falls.

Much of the hike was within hearing distance of North St. Vrain Creek, into which Ouzel Creek flows. A spur trail took us to a short waterfall en route.

​Copeland Falls on North St. Vrain Creek

Copeland Falls on North St. Vrain Creek

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​When the trail reached Ouzel Creek, we could see the falls in the distance. But the real view required a little scrambling up the left bank over boulders and through thickets until we got close enough to the falls to feel the mist.

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Moraine Park’s Elk

October 20th, 2014 · 2 Comments

Colorado’s two fall events are the yellow and orange of our trees and the elk rut. This week Sharon and I went to Rocky Mountain National Park and experienced some of each.

Mainly, however, we wanted to see elk and to hike. We went to Moraine Park, a park within the national park, hiking a trail where we had never gone before. It was a good choice.

The Pinedale Glaciation in the central Rocky Mountains, which lasted from about 30,000 to 10,000 years ago, formed Moraine Park. During this time a tongue of ice crept down what is now Moraine Park, plowing up rocks and soil. Pushing them to the side where they remain in lateral moraines to the north and south of present-day Moraine Park, they cleared the center.

A Bull Elk Studies Me in Moraine Park

A Bull Elk Studies Me in Moraine Park

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We got to the road along the north side of Moraine Park well before sunrise at 7:13, giving me enough time to set up my tripod when we saw a large herd of elk on the south side. The bulls weren’t competing for the females, but two females or immature males sparred.

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Leaf Peeping

October 19th, 2014 · 2 Comments

When fall comes to Colorado, many photographers turn into leaf peepers, and I am no exception. While leaf peeping may sound slightly risque, it is actually a pretty nice thing to do.

It got me away from my easy chair this afternoon and out to Boulder County’s Coot Lake Open Space, nine miles northeast of my apartment. I took the 1.2 mile trail that circles the lake and wetlands just to the west of Coot Lake. After an aspen teaser a few days ago near Mud Lake up in the Front Range, I wanted to see some of the trees down here turning to gold and remembered the cottonwoods and reeds in wetlands here.

The Mellow Light at the End of the Day Illuminates the Wetlands

The Mellow Light at the End of the Day Illuminates the Wetlands

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The Wetlands Shine in the Golden Hour

The Wetlands Shine in the Golden Hour

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Mud Lake and Aspens

October 18th, 2014 · No Comments

Some lakes deserve to be called muddy. Maybe the six other Mud Lakes in Colorado warrant this derogatory name, but Mud Lake in Boulder County doesn’t.

Nevertheless I’m glad that somebody changed its name from Muskee Lake. The new name encourages most people to bypass it and go up the road a bit to the Caribou Ranch Open Space trailhead, so our Mud Lake is never crowded.

Sharon and I enjoy both the lake and the ranch. But after coming from Mitchell Lake we just wanted to see the aspens turning yellow and orange at Mud Lake. The aspens turn in the fall, starting at the higher elevations, and Mud Lake is at 8,400 feet in the foothills of the Rockies. We we didn’t see any mud, but we did find colorful aspens.​

Aspens Are Beginning to Turn at Mud Lake

Aspens Are Beginning to Turn at Mud Lake

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Mitchell Lake

October 17th, 2014 · No Comments

Sharon and I didn’t expect to see birds when we hiked up to Mitchell Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. We had just returned from the Pawnee National Grassland, which is famous for its birdlife. The mountains aren’t, and we had never seen any birds on the lake before.

But I’m an optimist, so I took my long and heavy lens on my camera anyway. I would have been awfully sorry if I had left it at home.

I had to get up before 5 a.m. in order to get to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead by sunrise. The day lived up to its prediction of full sun and no wind, but we didn’t quite expect it to be so cool. We had been having temperatures in the 80s in Boulder, and it was 39 degrees when we reached the trailhead. But it eventually warmed up to 62 degrees when we returned to my car.

The trail to the lake is easy, only 0.9 miles, but we stayed two hours there. That was a lot longer than either of us expected, but we had a good reason.

The lake was lovely in the early morning light.

Mt. Audubon, 13,223 Feet, Towers Over Mitchell Lake, 10,735 Feet

Mt. Audubon, 13,223 Feet, Towers Over Mitchell Lake, 10,735 Feet

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I saw a plant of my favorite color at my feet when I was photographing the lake. I don’t know its name, so I call it “Pretty Plant.” I was busy photographing it when Sharon called out to me.​
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The Natural Resources of the Pawnee Grassland

October 12th, 2014 · No Comments

The Pawnee National Grassland has considerable natural resources besides birds and wildlife. In fact I was so concerned about one of these resources that I almost didn’t return there this year.

Returning to a place that we have loved can bring great disappointment as Tom Wolfe wrote in his great novel You Can’t Go Home Again. I ​had ​previously regretted returning to several places and didn’t want my return this year to the grassland to override the ​good ​memories that I had of my 2008 and 2010 trips there.

Fracking specifically was what concerned me. The terms fracking, ​shale, ​horizontal drilling,​ ​oil, and natural gas go together. Fracking creates fractures in rock formation by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open and extract gas or oil.​ ​Shale is ​source rock formation ​where plankton turned into hydrocarbons. However, over millions of years some oil and gas gradually seeped up from the source rock into sandstone and coarse-grained limestone that until recently provided most of our oil and gas. ​But very recent advances in horizontal drilling ​have now made ​oil and gas wells in shale formations practical.

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​​One of these important shale reservoirs of oil and gas ​is the Niobrara Formation of western Nebraska, southern Wyoming, and northern Colorado, particularly Weld County. This county now has more active wells — more than 18,000 of them — than anywhere else in the United States, according to ​Weld County Commission Chairman Sean Conway.​

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History of the Pawnee Grassland

October 11th, 2014 · No Comments

Reading a novel is t​he best way to appreciate the colorful history of Weld County, Colorado, which includes the Pawnee National Grassland that Sharon and I visited for three days​ in September​. That novel is James A. Michener’s epic saga Centennial, originally published in 1974 and reissued just last year.

In 1936, well before Michener published any of his more than 40 books, he moved to Greeley, Colorado, the county seat of Weld County, which includes what is now the Pawnee National Grasslands. He went there to study at Colorado State College of Education (now the University of Northern Colorado) and graduated the next year with a master​’​s degree​. Then, he taught social studies at Colorado State’s College High until 1941.

Raised in Pennsylvania, Michener fell in love with the West during his years in Greeley. “For the first time I caught the fire and the fury that characterizes life in the West,” he ​said​ as quoted in Robert V. Hine’s The American West: A New Interpretive History. “A new type of man was being reared in the West. He was taller, ate more salads, had fewer intellectual interests of a speculative nature, had a rough and ready acceptance of new ideas, and was blessed with a vitality that stood out conspicuously to a stranger from the East.”

Michener captured that fire and fury in Centennial, which made ​famous ​the Pawnee Buttes, the prime landmark​s​ of the grassland. Except ​that ​in the book he called them “Rattlesnake Buttes,” mentioning them 68 times.

​For example, w​hen he describes the settling of the grassland a century ago, he has the developer and promoter tell his prospects that “‘The free land extends in every direction, but I​’​​ll tell you frankly, if I was choosing, I​’​d take one of those half-sections in the northeast sector, up beyond Rattlesnake Buttes.’” These buttes tower about 350 feet over the plains at an altitude of 5,375 feet.

The Pawnee Buttes in Midday

The Pawnee Buttes in Midday

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Pronghorn

October 10th, 2014 · 4 Comments

Because ​the P​ronghorn ​is​ the only mammal that ​can eat ​much ​sagebrush, ​it is to me the ultimate animal of the American West and the Great Plains.​ ​To me sagebrush is a prime symbol of the ​land that I ​call home and ​love. But to ​the ​Pronghorn it is even more. It’s their diet.
No other large animal can tolerate eating much sagebrush. That’s because ​the Pronghorn are the only one that evolved along with that plant. it is the sole surviving member of an ancient family dating back 20 million years.​ ​Other large herbivores are more recent arrivals from Asia. That makes ​the ​Pronghorn another truly Western icon.

“Although pronghorns are native to grasslands, they do not eat very much grass,” writes Candace Savage in​ Prairie: A Natural History. “In lieu of grass, pronghorns prefer a diet of shrubs and forbs, using their small, dainty muzzles to nip off the choicest morsels. This ability to forage selectively, one mouthful at a time, is important because many of the pronghorns’ favorite foods are laced with poison…sage and sagebrush contain turpentinelike compounds…Cattle avoid sages, and even mule deer can’t eat too much, but pronghorns have completely mastered the challenge. Sage and sagebrush are among their staple foods and feature in their diet throughout the year.”

The Pronghorn diet isn’t obvious, but their prongs are. ​The most noticeable ​Pronghorn​ characteristic​ is also the source of their common name. Both males and females have a pair of short horns on the top of the head. ​Females ​have small ​horns​, usually only ​the size of ​a bump. ​But ​the horns of ​males​ are a​bout 10​ to ​12 inches long. The​ir shape is unique because​ they point backwards.​

We saw a Pronghorn couple on the afternoon of the first of three days that Sharon and I were at Pawnee National Grassland. Even though the sky was overcast, I like this shot because it epitomizes the protection that a male Pronghorn offers to its female.

​​​​A Curious Pronghorn Pair

A Curious Pronghorn Pair

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That timing of this photograph could have been better, and timing is a key to nature photography. We learn timing with experience, which is why going back to the same place again and again is important. As Sharon and I drove the roads of the Pawnee Grassland we kept noticing a Pronghorn herd a few miles north of the Crow Valley Campground along Weld County Road 77. Since they were to the west of the road, that meant a morning shot to have the light at my back.

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Crow Valley Campground

October 9th, 2014 · No Comments

During our three-day visit to the Pawnee National Grassland, Sharon and I birded every day at Crow Valley Campground. While a campground might sound like an unlikely place to find birds, it is in fact the premier place in the entire grassland.

​This oasis “is one of the state’s premier migrant traps,” says Colorado County Birding in the strange terminology that birders use. “​I​t is isolated in the middle of the prairie and is bordered on the south and west by nice groves of trees, in places quite thick, with extensive trails and underbrush.”

​​​Crow Valley Campground from the Trail of the Mourning Dove​

Crow Valley Campground from the Trail of the Mourning Dove

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The Birdwalk Trail through the large grove of old cottonwoods on the southwest side of the campground has the most birds. I got one good shot there when this warbler came out of the thicket and into the sun.

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