September 30, 2009
After the bumper to bumper lines of summer tourists return home, savvy autumn visitors head to Estes Park, to explore a less crowded Rocky Mountain National Park, photograph snow dusted peaks or golden quaking aspen, and witness the fall rites of majestic elk.
As days shorten, large herds of elk move from their summer range among high slopes and alpine valleys to grassy meadows in the park and around town. Grazing wapitis add unpredictable hazards to the fairways and greens at the Estes Park Golf Course. A bugling bull plays havoc with the perfect back swing.
Fall denotes mating season, the rut, when bulls establish dominance and breeding rights of the herd. Body posture and displaying of antlers attract females. The antlers, shed after the rut, are an itching irritant. Intense rubbing and polishing against tree trunks creates dark scars especially evident on aspen. The scraping shreds the soft velvet summer coating.
During our last visit we decided to drive through the park on our way to dinner. Almost immediately after passing through the Fall River Entrance Station we see cars parked along both sides of the road. Sure enough, there’s a large bull with his harem munching in belly-high grass 800 feet away. We’re thankful for binoculars when observing from this distance, and spot several smaller herd members not initially seen with the naked eye. We hear our first bugle of the season – a combination bellow, whistle, grunt.
Teams of rangers and park volunteers monitor the area near the West Horseshoe Park and Sheep Lakes parking areas. Meandering streams snake through this lush meadow – a habitat sure to attract wildlife before nightfall. Through October 24 rangers offer a 30-minute nightly program, Elk Echoes, at the Sheep Lakes parking lot and a Saturday evening program at the Moraine Park Museum amphitheater.
Just before we exit the park at Beaver Meadows, traffic comes to a halt. We join the curious, parking along the side of the road – but not too far over into the planted restoration area. Armed with cameras and binoculars we walk to the edge of the gathering. There stands a magnificent bull with massive antler expanse watching over his herd. An observer noted that she counted 32 cows and calves.
This grouping feeds so close to the road rangers halt traffic in both directions. Almost on signal, three calves bolt across the highway to taste grasses along the south-facing bank. Dad observes for a minute or two before ambling after them. His mouth opens but we hear not a sound although it appears he’s talking to the wayward trio. Perhaps they are the teenagers of the herd. Circling uphill and behind, he gives one grunt and all three bound back to where they started.
Mr. Bull slowly sniffs his way across the asphalt, seemingly undisturbed. We speculate about three green stripes on his right side. Has he been purposely marked? “No, he’s just been in a tight spot with green paint,” a ranger informs. The green is a perfect match to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center sign the sultan now poses next to.
Slowly he circles the harem, forcing them closer together, when suddenly he gives chase to a young buck on the hillside. They move through the herd until the buck retreats a safe distance away from the bull’s vigilant stare. Stretching his shaggy neck and lifting the six-point antlers the bull produces a deep, resonant call rising to a high-pitched, tinny whistle followed by a series of grunts. An elk bugle we’ll long remember
Learn about Elk Fest in Estes Park.
September 30, 2009
Estes Park Celebrates Elk
Elk Fest in Estes Park, Colorado salutes these awesome animals October 3&4, 2009. Educational exhibits and seminars help further our understanding of the mammals and their habitat, and teach us how to observe them in the wild. Modestly priced elk viewing tours is a stress-free way to observe without driving hassles. The guided tours leave from Bond Park in downtown Estes Park each afternoon of the festival.
A Mountain Man Rendezvous and Native American storytelling and live music enhance the weekend experience. Vendors offer an array of elk-ivory jewelry, wildlife art, scrimshawed antler knives, antler furniture and antler chandeliers. Food options include elk cuisine.
Anyone with the ability to imitate the haunting call of elk rut may enter the Bugling Contest on Sunday afternoon. Amateurs or professionals, adults, youth and junior youth (6 years old and younger) using vocal chords, horn or diaphragm are welcome to demonstrate their skill and compete to see who sounds most like a bugling elk.
I’ll need a great deal of practice on my bellow, whistle, and grunts to join in the annual bugling rite.
September 30, 2009
Successful and Safe Wildlife Viewing
- Watch wildlife from a distance. Sit down and create a low profile. If animals notice you, or if they seem nervous, you are too close. Move away quietly.
- Use binoculars or a telephoto lens to get close views.
- Feeding wildlife is illegal in all national parks. Feeding wildlife reduces its ability to survive the long mountain winter. When they panhandle by roadsides, animals fall easy prey to automobiles. As they become habituated to humans and lose their natural fear, the animals become aggressive and may be destroyed.
- Never approach wildlife. Harassing animals is unlawful.
- Keep pets in your vehicle. Pets may scare wildlife, and animals can hurt your pet. A deer can crush a dog’s skull with its hooves. Pets can also introduce diseases such as distemper.
- Drive slowly. Watch for animals crossing the road. Deer and elk are seldom alone: if you see one animal cross the road, look out for others that may follow it. Every year numerous animals are killed by autos.
- Stop your car to watch animals only if you can pull off the road safely. Do not block traffic.
- Talk quietly so you don’t disturb the animals or people nearby. If watching from your car, turn off the motor and headlights.
Guidelines courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park
September 26, 2009
Panning for Autumn Gold in Cripple Creek
Today’s journey took us to Cripple Creek, Colorado. More than a century ago Cripple Creek was the center of a rich mining district with a population of over 50,000. We went in search of history, spirits and autumn gold.
Snow lines the road in shady alcoves, a testament to our interlude with winter in the past week. A bronze patina paints some of the aspen trees, hues seldom seen with aspen. The sky stayed cloudless throughout the day, treating us to rich blue in distinctive contrast to yellow quaking leaves and white bark tree trunks.
The 18-miles between Divide and Cripple Creek is blessed with large numbers of aspen. With the west shoulders of Pikes Peak rising to the east visitors find the drive scenic any time of year but truly outstanding during peak color season. We saw some very nice color today but the region has a lot of green still to make the transformation to gold. The best color around Cripple Creek is yet to come.
September 25, 2009
The Week That Was
As summer turned to fall Colorado experienced schizophrenic weather this week. The last full day of summer gave us chill temps and enough snow in some locales to call out the snow plows. Photos from Winter Park show the peaks and ski slopes fully covered in white. Is that to be the color of the season? I’m sure some enthusiasts are tuning and polishing their skis this weekend. The forecast for Saturday shows temperatures predicted to equal August averages. We can only take it one day – no, one hour at a time.
Hopefully we’ll join others this weekend reveling in sunshine and warmth for a day trip to check out how the changing aspens withstood the week. Come back tomorrow night for an updated report.
September 25, 2009
Art, Art and More Art
Always a major focus in Taos, the local art community ramps it up a notch September 25th with the opening of the 35th annual Taos Fall Art Festival. Three shows at the Taos Convention Center highlight the works of Taos County artists during the two week festival.
The region has hosted a large concentration of artists for more than a century. Works in the three shows are all by artists who live at least 75% of the year in Taos County. The works of emerging artists or those living in the region for at least one year can be seen in the Taos Open show. Artists living in the county for at least five years and whose portfolios have been accepted by the jury committee are featured in the Taos Invites Taos show. A special exhibition, Taos Living Masters, highlights the works of nationally and internationally recognized artists who have been residents for at least 15 years. The inclusive shows represent local Hispanic culture, as well as the Pueblo and Anglo communities. All works in the three show are for sale. Patrons will see the latest from known favorites and discovery the up-and-coming new masters.
The exhibitions open with a reception Friday evening, September 25th, at 5pm in the Taos Convention Center, 120 Civic Plaza Dr. A feature this fall will be artists creating new works in the venue. The show can be view daily through October 12th from 10am-5pm.
Fall is a favorite time for a Taos visit with sunny days, evenings with a slight nip in the air, whiffs of pinon wood fires, and flowering chamisa. Taos museums and galleries feature special exhibits such as a one person show by Teruko Wilde at Total Arts Gallery or Walt Gonske and Jerry Jordan at Parsons Gallery of the West. Both have artists receptions on September 26. Join in the celebration of Taos art.
When You Go: For information to plan your Taos visit contact the Taos Chamber of Commerce Convention and Tourist Bureau.
September 23, 2009
A Walk with the Spirits
A leisurely walk through an historic cemetery relates intriguing details of the region’s settlement and struggles. Styles of enclosures, markers and headstones reflect cultural, ethnic and societal influences. Inscriptions tell of epidemics, natural disasters, gunfights or the steadfastness of a man’s character. A chiseled boulder in the Cripple Creek Mt. Pisgah Cemetery states, “He died as he lived, honest, loyal and an upright man.”
Children’s graves were frequently enclosed with wooden or wrought iron fencing, or carefully laid stone borders. Headstones with carved lambs denote infant burials. Poetry abounds. Especially memorable is a monument in a Central City cemetery marking the graves for one family’s five children – all who died before reaching their first birthday.
Graveyards near ghost towns and mining camps remain worthy of investigation. Spend a crisp autumn afternoon strolling the distinctive cemeteries near Alma, Central City, Cripple Creek or Leadville for a Colorado history refresher coarse.
The Littleton Cemetery on South Prince Street is the permanent (?) resting place of Alfred Packer, the only man in United States history to be convicted of the crime of cannibalism.
The tombstones in Cripple Creek’s Mt. Pisgah Cemetery tell so many stories of the town’s famous and the infamous. On September 26, 2009 the Gold Camp Victorian Society plans a day of Mt. Pisgah tours with character reenactments throughout the cemetery. Tours start at the Cripple Creek District Museum located next to the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad Depot. The tour begins with a ride aboard the historic trolley. The first tour leaves the museum at 9:30am; the last departs at 2:00pm. Donations to benefit the society’s historic preservation efforts are $8/adult, $15/couple and $5/child under 12. I’m sure you’ll meet Pearl.
Under the October full moon, Riverside Cemetery is the site of a History & Mystery Tour on October 2 & 3. Tours at 4:30, 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30pm each evening with tickets priced at $12/adult, $10/child. Required reservations can be made by calling 303-322-3895 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. On Halloween, Oct. 31, free tours are planned every 15 minutes between 2:00-3:15pm. Historians and actors will share the stories of influential Colorado residents such as Governor Evans and Augusta Tabor. Reservations are encouraged.
In Glenwood Springs, costumed historic characters recall their lively pasts as lantern led tours visit the “spirits” of Linwood (Glenwood Pioneer) Cemetery. Doc Holliday is reportedly buried here … or is he? Join the Annual Historic Ghost Walk to hear the story. The walks are planned for Oct. 16-18, Oct. 23-25 and Oct. 30-31, 2009. Tickets are $15/person and go on sale Oct. 1. These annual walks sell out quickly, purchase tickets as soon as they go on sale by calling the Frontier Historical Museum at 970-945-4448.
We’ve tramped around many of Colorado’s cemeteries through the years, especially those near early mining camps. Each has its own distinctive characteristics and slate of citizens with fascinating stories. Leadville’s Evergreen Cemetery contains graves from 1879 to the present, graves with ornate headstones and those with rotting crosses. One early section with sunken graves ranks as the spookiest I’ve ever visited. Judge Neil Reynolds introduces the spirits of Evergreen Cemetery during Halloween Cemetery Tours, Oct. 30-31 at 8:00pm each evening. This popular event usually sells out – call 719-486-3900 or 888-532-3845 for tickets, $10/person.
September 23, 2009
Colorado Color – Off the Beaten Path
While steady streams of gawkers admire Colorado’s fall colors from busy highways those willing to eat a little dust and dodge a few potholes discover even greater rewards. I share a few favorite, off-the-beaten path roads around the state.
Crested Butte to Gothic
A short but always rewarding side trip to a Crested Butte visit. “The Butte” isn’t exactly a place you stumble upon, you get there on purpose. And, some choose to never leave. A former ghost town, Gothic is now headquarters of the Rocky Biological Laboratory, a high altitude environmental research field station.
Old Mining Roads Above Central City
Prospectors rushed to the area 150 years ago when gold was discovered in Gregory Gulch. Central City soon became a supply and cultural center – nearly designated as the state capital. The remains of old mining camps and abandoned mines dot the hillsides – Nevadaville, Apex, Russell Gulch, American City.
Ohio Pass - Gunnison to Crested Butte
The most colorful autumn route between Gunnison and Crested Butte is the Ohio Pass Road. Not the most direct, fastest or smoothest but without a doubt the most vibrant.
Image these aspen in their golden glory.
More posts on Colorado Fall Color:
September 23, 2009
Gunnison to Crested Butte
The most colorful autumn route between Gunnison and Crested Butte is the Ohio Pass Road. Not the most direct, fastest or smoothest but without a doubt the most vibrant. North of Gunnison the road follows the Ohio Creek Valley – hay fields, cattle ranches and more recently built ranchette homes. Aged willows grow close to the creek. Stacks of large hay rolls promise feed for livestock during the coming winter. At approximately fifteen miles deserted, decaying structures are all that remains of Baldwin, once a company town for one of the region’s largest coal mines. Peaks of the West Elk Wilderness and The Castles – eroded volcanic remains – rise to the west. The further along the road we travel the thicker the aspen – area has been blessed an abundance of the quaking trees. At 10,076 –ft, Ohio Pass is not above timberline; near the top, dense growths of ferns carpet the forest floor. This is also a great drive during wildflower season.
**Photography Note –Sept. 20,2009 -In the hour we spent driving Ohio Pass Road this morning we had everything from thick low-hanging clouds, bright blue sky, rain and rainbows. There are a lot of aspen yet to change along this route.
- The Route – Drive north of Gunnison on CO135, after mile marker 3 watch for “Ohio Creek Road” signs, turn left (Forest Road 730). The road is 23.5 miles to the intersection with the Kebler Pass Road. the first eight miles are paved, the remainder gravel/dirt. Some sources list this as a jeep or 4WD road. I disagree, I believe it’s appropriate for automobiles except for extremely low clearance vehicles. (Drove this road 9/20/2009, saw no reason 4WD would be required.) Large RVs and boat trailers are not advised on the narrow portion near the top of the pass. At Kebler Pass Road, turn right on County Road 12 for the six mile drive into Crested Butte.
September 23, 2009
Boreas Pass – Breckenridge to Como
Narrow gauge trains once puffed across the Continental Divide at Boreas Pass – named after the Greek god of the north wind. Today the old railroad bed provides a gentle grade for automobile traffic. Although bumpy in spots with random potholes 4WD is not required. Plenty of aspen and panorama views of the Ten Mile Range and Breckenridge to the northwest and South Park to the southeast make the drive a popular autumn destination. An interpretive site atop the pass includes the section house, “Ken’s” cabin, stone rubble of the original engine house and a boxcar. Even on a clear sunny day you’ll probably be reminded of the Greek god – Boreas.
The Route – From CO 9 on the southern edge of Breckenridge turn east on Boreas Pass Road – County Road 10. You may want to stop at Rotary Snowplow Park to examine the massive 108-ton machine once used to clear railroad tracks. Although the first few miles are are paved most of the road is graded dirt, approximately 10 miles to the summit and another 10 miles down to Como. A semi-circular stone roundhouse recalls the days when Como bustled with railroad and mining activity.
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