It is late in the month, and since I have been planning to highlight a photo each month, I had better get to it!
I wish I could say I took this photo this week. Alas, we have not had really good snowshoeing snow yet this season, at least not down low here and nearby. This was taken a couple seasons back about two miles south of our home and a mile west of downtown Castle Rock, in an area that will soon be developed into a regional park. It will be a lovely place with miles of trails connecting the butte tops.
The area between Denver and Colorado Springs is peppered with buttes, as the foothills fall off and break up going east to the high plains. Most of these are flat but some are capped with a conglomerate stone, like the namesake of the town. Here around the city of Castle Rock itself, several of the flat tops had historic quarries up top where a building stone called rhyolite was quarried from the late 1800’s into the 1900’s. It is a fairly soft stone of pressed volcanic ash, spread eons ago from an enormous eruption over a hundred miles to the southwest. Local stone ranges from whites to grays to pinks and light purples, and even today graces many an old building in the greater Denver area. The butte in this photo had such a quarry at one point, attested by the scrap rock that can be seen pitched from the cliff edges.
Any guess as to what may have left the tracks that cross mine in two places? Look it over, and I’ll give the answer below. There is enough detail to make a determination.
About the only tree the photo shows is the ubiquitous Gambel (a.k.a. Scrub) Oak, though a few Ponderosa Pines show off to the left in the shadows. This is pretty typical of the foothills here at 6200 feet elevation. Though small in stature (only up to twenty feet in height, usually smaller) and thus very unlike the huge oaks in the rest of the continental U.S., Gambels still provide an unusually large crop of acorns for being so small, and so offer a much needed deer browse when the ground is clear of snow. And actually, contrary to popular opinion outside Colorado, snowcover in the Denver area is very much the exception than the rule. Though we average 57 inches of snow annually, what we get does not last long; moderate temps and intense high altitude sunshine see to a very quick melt. This would not be the case, of course, another three or four thousand feet higher where the snows can last the winter.
The openings you see are not clearings but natural high meadows. It is actually pretty amazing to come across openings even high in the mountains, called alpine meadows, interspersed among the pine and spruce forests. Found where they are due to moisture and drainage patterns, these gorgeous places are typically covered with all sorts of wildflowers the whole spring and summer long. I’ll post some of our alpine meadow photography some time.
To the attentive eye, each moment
has its own beauty, and in the same
field it beholds, every hour, a picture
which was never before seen and
shall never be seen again.
OK, the tracks? Those belong to cottontail rabbits. When the tracks begin to melt they can start to look like human footprints, but these remain on top of the snow and don’t ‘posthole’ like a typical footprint. A series of clumps about the size of a man’s shoe, going in a roughly straight path with about an eighteen-inch center, tell the cottontail’s sign. These rascals have proliferated around here like, errr… like rabbits, and also offer a tasty regular morsel for area coyotes, bobcats, black bear, mountain lions, weasels, hawks, owls and eagles.
Well, a naturalist can talk on and on about what might seem to some not much of anything! But there is a great deal to see in nature observation, wonders in fact. Consider Ralph Waldo Emerson: "To the attentive eye, each moment has its own beauty, and in the same field it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never before seen and shall never be seen again.” Or how about Emerson’s colleague Henry David Thoreau, who said, “That man is richest whose pleasures are simplest.”
Thanks for sharing in some of God’s riches I have known.
Next up next week? “From My Nature Journal…”
~~RGM, January 28, 2013