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

Medicine Bow Curve

July 26th, 2015 · 2 Comments

Today my continuing ascent to the high country reached 12,183 feet at the crest of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. The destination was a little known trail leading west from Medicine Bow Curve.

The Park Service doesn’t publicize this trail, which starts at 11,640 feet and rises probably no more than 100 feet in its short length of less than one mile. I don’t know how long it is because it’s not mentioned in any of the four guidebooks that I have for the park or shown on any maps, including the USGS topo map or Google’s Earth map. The trail is all above timberline where the vegetation is tundra.

The trailhead is two hours from Sharon’s condo in central Boulder, meaning that we had to leave early to get started by sunrise. In fact, I woke up after a good night’s sleep at 2:45 a few minutes before my alarm was set to wake me.

Arriving at the trailhead at 6:24, a few minutes after sunrise because we had stopped several times for the view the temperature was 45 degrees, much cooler than in Boulder, which is more than a mile lower. I was glad that I wore my down jacket and would have worn my gloves, except that they make photography a little more difficult.

While this is one of our shortest hikes, requiring only 5,900 steps according to my pedometer, the rarified air takes our breath away even with moderate climbing. As short as the hike was, we remained three hours fully enjoying the weather, the scenery, the alpine tundra, the birds, and the animals. The weather was sunny with a light breeze, and only a few clouds on the eastern and southern horizons.

​Here are a couple of shots to establish the setting of today’s hike.

The Never Summer Mountains from the Trailhead

The Never Summer Mountains from the Trailhead

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​This Pond Along the Trail Still Had Some Ice

This Pond Along the Trail Still Had Some Ice

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Sharon and I chose to hike the trail at Medicine Bow Curve i part because we wanted to see a bird that lives only in the high country, the White-tailed Ptarmigan, the smallest bird in the grouse family. We had seen one when we hiked this trail four years ago, as I wrote then at “Back to the High Country.”​ A Guide to Trail Ridge Road that I picked up at the Alpine Visitor Center today says that “Ptarmigan live on the tundra, but they can be difficult to see because they are exceptionally well-camouflaged​.​” But Sharon ​is an exceptional spotter, and she found then just beyond the end of the trail.

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Moose at Brainard Lake

July 25th, 2015 · 2 Comments

As the temperature in Boulder climbed to 93 degrees today, I went even higher in the Rocky Mountains than any day this year. My friend Sharon, a friend of hers also named Sharon, and I drove up to Brainard Lake at 10,050 feet where the temperature this morning made me glad that I was wearing a heavy jacket even though the sun was out and we had little wind.

We went there thinking that we might see bull moose feeding in the willows just south of Brainard Lake. We saw five just as we arrived at sunrise.

But my friend Sharon spotted a young bull on the far side of the lake. While further away from us, we had clear views of him, so that’s where I directed my attention as long as he remained there.

The Moose Stands at Lower Right Below Mount Audubon

The Moose Stands at Lower Right Below Mount Audubon

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Unlike the older bulls, younger ones prefer to eat and drink from the lake.​

Up from a Big Drink

Up from a Big Drink

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As I watched, the young bull moved west. Then, it swam across the lake.

The Moose Swims

The Moose Swims

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He swam to the south shore of the lake, where I was standing. He rejoined the herd.

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Ceran Saint Vrain Trail

July 24th, 2015 · 1 Comment

When people say that they love life, I think they are usually talking about the one life that they are leading. I certainly love what I get to do in my life, but when I say that I love life, I am talking about all the myriad forms of life. I find all of its forms wonderful and beautiful, sometimes in strange ways.

Today I found a great variety of lifeforms on the 1.9 mile Ceran Saint Vrain Trail in Roosevelt National Forest. The trail parallels South St. Vrain Creek its whole way and the melodious sound of running water was my constant companion. The trailhead is three-quarters of an hour northwest of my home in Boulder.

On my hikes I am working my way up in stages to the high country. Summertime in Colorado is mountain time, where it’s cooler than on the high plains. Today I went from 5,365 feet at my home to 8,365 at the trailhead, up exactly 3,000 feet. I’m glad that my car rather than my feet took me there.

My biggest thrill on the trail was to see a species that had never seen before. It happens to be Colorado’s State Amphibian and is one of the largest species of salamander in North America. This one is 6 to 8 inches long.

A Western Tiger Salamander

A Western Tiger Salamander

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That was a lucky find. But I was especially lucky when I stopped to take a shot of a Wild Geranium. I bee happened to check it out at the same time, but didn’t land.

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Goshawk Ridge Loop

July 23rd, 2015 · No Comments

Now that it’s stopped raining almost every day along the Front Range of the Rockies, I was able to hike one of my favorite local trails again. The loop trail over Goshawk Ridge starts just six miles southwest of my home in Boulder, but until a few days ago it had been closed because it was so muddy.

Early yesterday morning I got back there with Nancy, my friend and neighbor. We left at 5:30 and saw the sunrise en route. Just after we reached the trailhead we got this view.

​Early Morning Light on the Front Range

Early Morning Light on the Front Range

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One of the things that I like best about this 4.2 mile loop trail is its variety. We passed through both meadows and forest as we climbed up and over Goshawk Ridge. We saw birds and wildflowers in abundance.

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Mount Sanitas

July 4th, 2015 · 4 Comments

Six days ago I didn’t know that this trail up to the top of Mount Sanitas existed. In fact, it didn’t exist until a few months ago and the trail still isn’t on the maps or in the guidebooks. It purposely isn’t publicized because there are only five places to park at the main trailhead in Sunshine Canyon.

When I got there before 6 this morning, I didn’t have any trouble finding a place to park. This new “Lion’s Lair Trail” climbs gradually from 6,088 feet at the main trailhead to 6,838 feet at the summit. Smooth with few rocks and roots to trip on, the trail is closed to dogs and bikes. It climbs through ponderosa pine forest and meadows for about 2.1 miles or for precisely 5,899 steps.

At a switchback near the peak I paused to view the Rocky Mountains to the west.

Snow Covers the Rockies

Snow Covers the Rockies

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I was hiking in what is known as the Front Range. Just last night I was reading about it in Richard Manning’s beautiful book, Grassland:

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Rabbit Mountain without Rattlers

June 27th, 2015 · No Comments

Rabbit Mountain is only about 30 miles north of my apartment in Boulder and at 6,006 feet in elevation is only about 650 feet higher. But it’s wild.

And its wildness is what drew Sharon and me to hike a trail there as far as it goes up the mountain. Neither of us had been there this year, and we took our sweet time on Thursday exploring the three-mile Eagle Wind Trail, the longest of the Boulder County Parks and Open Space trails on Rabbit Mountain. In fact, from our arrival at 5:15 a.m. before the sun was even up until we returned to the car at a little after 11 we had enjoyed almost six hours experiencing nature, flowers, and birds.

We didn’t see any rattlesnakes even though this used to be called Rattlesnake Mountain and rattlers are common here. In fact, just last month one bit a Wyoming woman at Rabbit Mountain. She lived.

We did see a profusion of wildflowers. Two of my favorites contrast the delicate softness of the flower with the rugged thorniness of the plant.

​A Prickly Rose

A Prickly Rose

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Bear Canyon Trail

June 8th, 2015 · 4 Comments

The Bear Canyon Trail is a Boulder migrant trap for birds visiting here. That makes it a bird trap for me.

The month of June has barely started, and I have already been drawn twice to this trail that is just 2 miles from my apartment. Sharon and I hiked up to to the end of the trail on Monday, and I returned to the lower portion on Wednesday.

When Sharon and I hiked there, she commented that she liked the last house that we passed. I think that it is pretty nice and has an adequate location, although it’s a bit too big for my taste. This was its setting at 5:45 this morning.

​A Trail, a House, the Devil's Thumb, and Bear Mountain

A Trail, a House, the Devil's Thumb, and Bear Mountain

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Just 10 minutes later I noticed that a jogger who had run to the top of the meadow was taking a break.

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The Colorado Trail

June 3rd, 2015 · 1 Comment

Sharon and I hiked the Colorado Trail yesterday. Of course, we didn’t hike all of it then. Nobody can, because it is almost 500 miles long, running from Denver to Durango.

But we hiked part of it. Actually, we hiked the first 3.1 miles. And back another 3.1 miles. That was enough for each of us. We were on the trail from 6 a.m. until noon, and by that time the weather had become hot and humid.

We hiked up from where the South Platte River debouches from Waterton Canyon into the plains. Walking within view and sound of the water almost the entire morning, we appreciated that we were near the headwaters of one of the world’s great rivers. It is in fact the fourth longest river in the world. To make that calculation you of course have to include the streams into which it flows: the Platte, then the Missouri, and finally the Mississippi. It runs for almost 4,000 miles, draining almost all of the center of our country.

Before coming to this place that neither of us had ever seen before we had read that this part of the Colorado Trail was famous for the chance it offers to see Rocky Mountain Sheep. As we walked up the trail through Waterton Canyon we kept scanning the ridges on both sides in the vain hope of seeing these big animals. Actually, because I know how rare the Rocky Mountain Sheep, are I wasn’t surprised that none were to be found.

But on the way back we spotted a ewe and her lamb hundreds of feet up at the very top of the canyon! They were standing on the skyline in what I think of as the classic view of Rocky Mountain Sheep. The lamb looked so small that it must be only a few days old. The ewe on the other hand looked a little worse for wear because this is the season that she sheds her coat.

The Classic View of Rocky Mountain Sheep

The Classic View of Rocky Mountain Sheep

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The sheep delighted us so much that we watched them for well over an hour. During that time we spotted several other families, including one across the river and up on the rocks of the canyon.

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Walden Ponds

May 15th, 2015 · No Comments

The first sunny day in almost two weeks got me away from my desk yesterday, and I headed out to the Heatherwood Trail along Boulder Creek. But it was closed due to the flooding from all our spring rain, so I went instead to the nearby Walden Ponds Wildlife Habitat.

Boulder County has five Walden Ponds, while there’s only one Walden Pond in Massachusetts where Henry David Thoreau wrote his most famous book. Our Walden Ponds, named for a former Boulder County commissioner, aren’t quite as well known, but we probably have more birds. We almost certainly had more American White Pelicans yesterday.

Most of the pelicans were fishing together in the largest of the Walden Ponds, the misnamed Cottonwood Marsh. A few of my shots may show why I call them the most social birds.

​Up!

Up!

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Greenlee Wildlife Preserve

May 5th, 2015 · No Comments

For two days in a row I sacrificed sufficient sleep, getting out of my warm bed well before sunrise. While I am usually the instigator, this time I can credit Sharon.

The big reason why I like to be to the trailhead by sunrise is the special quality of first light for photography. Last light can also be glorious, but here in Colorado the clouds often roll in during the afternoon. I am more of a photographer than a birder.

Sharon’s interests complement my own because she is more of a birder than a photographer. She appreciates that we can see more birds at the crack of dawn. So a few days ago she suggested that we plan a 6 a.m. arrival at the Greenlee Wildlife Preserve in nearby Lafayette, Colorado.

I doubt if many people rejoice at the chance to get up while it’s still dark, but we thought of still more reasons why we like to do that. As we drove out to Lafayette from my apartment in Boulder we would have been driving straight into the sun if we had left a few minutes later.

Also because of our early start we avoided the heat of the day. The temperature reached 81° that afternoon, but by then we had returned to our homes. We completed our jaunt by 7:30 a.m. and had a whole day ahead of us after our early start.

Of course, we see both more birds and fewer people when we get an early start. But we certainly appreciated it when an older couple who were walking their dog stopped and asked us, “What kind of duck sits up in the trees?”

“A wood duck!,” Sharon exclaimed, because we had been looking for one. The couple then led us back a few feet and showed us where it was.

​A Male Wood Duck Near the Nest

A Male Wood Duck Near the Nest

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This bird is so colorful that it doesn’t look real. But it quacked and moved, and then it flew down to the pond at the preserve. All of our previous Wood Duck sightings had been on other ponds or creeks.

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