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

Sprague and Bierstadt Lakes

September 29th, 2011 · 2 Comments

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The biggest thrill of our hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park yesterday was a bird that I had never seen before, much less photographed. My friend Sharon immediately identified it as a Clark’s Nutcracker.

This bird came close to us at 10:41 a.m. as we enjoyed a late breakfast on the north shore of Bierstadt Lake. We had left Boulder at 5:30, too early to eat.

My First Clark's Nutcracker

My First Clark's Nutcracker

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William Clark made the first recorded observation of a Clark’s Nutcracker on August 22, 1805:

I Saw to day Bird of the wood pecker kind which fed on Pine burs its Bill and tale white the wings black every other part of a light brown, and about the Size of a robin.

Together with Meriwether Lewis, Clark led “The Corps of Discovery” that President Thomas Jefferson commissioned to explore the territory of the Louisiana Purchase, establish trade with Native Americans, and claim sovereignty for the United States. Jefferson’s aims were also scientific, and in their 4000-mile three-year journey Lewis and Clark recorded 178 plants and 122 animals not previously know to science, among them Clark’s Nutcracker.

Now, we know that Clark’s Nutcracker is actually a corvid, which also includes ravens, crows, magpies, and jays, rather than a “wood pecker.” And people usually describe it as gray rather than “light brown.” Its range doesn’t extend beyond the American West and small areas of Mexico and Canada. But William Clark, who went on to become governor of the Missouri Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, was undoubted the first person to record a sighting of this bird that I saw for the first time yesterday.

A few minutes later a bird that looks quite similar came to see us. But this one has gray, rather than black, wings.

A Gr1y Jay

A Gray Jay

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The Gray Jay Flies

The Gray Jay Flies

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Bierstadt Lake itself offered a beautiful vista.

Bierstadt Lake Yesterday

Bierstadt Lake Yesterday

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About 1877 Albert Bierstadt, one of the leading members of the Hudson River School, painted this lake, then known as Whyte’s Lake. His dramatic paintings developed American appreciation of the West, but weren’t true to life. He painted what he thought the scene should be, rather than what it was.

The Way Albert Bierstadt Saw Bierstadt Lake

The Way Albert Bierstadt Saw Bierstadt Lake

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After breakfast at the lake, we hiked down the steep trail to the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead. We had driven to the Bear Lake Trailhead at 9,475 feet, climbing a few feet to 9,763 feet and then down for the rest of the 2.1 miles to Bierstadt Lake at 9,416 feet. The trail from the lake to the trailhead dropped about 600 feet in 1.2 miles. Then, we caught the park’s shuttle bus to take us back to my SUV at the Bear Lake Trailhead.

Going in this direction made a wonderful loop. And by taking the shuttle bus up to the Bear Lake Trailhead we sidestepped the general rule that what goes down must go up.

Along the trail down from Bierstadt Lake we continually saw glorious views of the Rocky Mountains and the seasonal turning of the aspens. This was the view to the west.

Sharon Views the Rocky Mountains and the Turning of the Aspens

Sharon Views the Rocky Mountains and the Turning of the Aspens

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But the aspens were turning all around us too. Here Sharon hikes through a golden grove.

Under Aspens, Sharon Hikes the Bierstadt Lake Trail

Under Aspens, Sharon Hikes the Bierstadt Lake Trail

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Looking to the east, we could see Sprague Lake in the distance.

Sprague Lake from the Bierstadt Trail

Sprague Lake from the Bierstadt Trail

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We had first gone to Sprague Lake on the off chance of seeing a moose there. A corresponded, Rich Wolf, had captured a magnificent image of a bull moose there recently, and we wanted to replicate his accomplishment.

Sprague Lake, named for Abner Sprague, who established a resort there before the creation of the national park in 1915, is only an hour and one-half from Boulder, half the time it takes to reach Long Draw Road, where we have often found them. Even though we hiked most of the way around the lake as well as bushwacked along the creek and willows, we found no moose yesterday.

The view of the Rockies at first light was worth the trip.

Hallet Peak and the Rockies from Sprague Lake

Hallet Peak and the Rockies from Sprague Lake

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And from Sprague Lake we we found aspens turning yellow and red on the hillside across the way.

Aspens Turning Yellow and Then Red

Aspens Turning Yellow and Then Red

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At the end of our trip yesterday to Rocky Mountain National Park we enjoyed a very late lunch in Estes Park. We then walked the town’s lovely promenade along the Big Thompson River. This elk was enjoying the same walk, and I don’t think that she objected to my photographing her.

An Elk on the Estes Park Promenade

An Elk on the Estes Park Promenade

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Then, we drove around this tourist town to look for more of the four-legged tourists that also throng there in the fall. In a small park between a school and Lake Estes, we walked right up to three bull elk. As hard as this one looks at me, I knew that his main interest was in eating the grass.

A Young Bull Elk in Estes Park

A Young Bull Elk in Estes Park

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While we failed to see any moose on this trip, we tried. Sometimes we fail when we try, but we always fail when we don’t. And we succeeded in seeing elk, aspens, the Rockies, and lakes.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dennis Dixon // Sep 2, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    What a lovely blog. I’ll be in Estes Park 9/30-10/3 (2013), and I look forward to duplicating your hike! Thanks for posting.

  • 2 David Mendosa // Sep 2, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Dear Dennis,

    I’m sure that you will enjoy it very much.

    Namaste,

    David

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