Here in Colorado, when it’s hot out on the plains, we head to the mountains. And there’s no better mountain to head to than Mt. Evans. No hiking required, unless you want to reach the 14,265 foot peak, and even that is only a quarter mile up a series of switchbacks from the summit parking lot. And while the view from the top is worth the effort, most of the really good stuff is on the way there. It’s a good metaphor for life.
Our first stop was Summit Lake, which is not at the summit. It is high, however, at a smidgeon over 13,000 feet. You feel the lack of oxygen as you hike up a short trail to a spectacular view of the surrounding valleys. We were looking primarily for birds, but you can’t miss the countless wildflowers covering the tundra.
We did see a number of American Pipits, as they nest at these altitudes, preferring to be near water. There were no Rosy-finches on the lingering snow fields, but I’ve seen them there in the past. Common Ravens soared overhead, easily identified by their V-shaped tail and hoarse cry.
The biggest treat was a herd of bighorn sheep. At this time of the year, the mothers and young are separated from the males. It was a delight watching the lambs dance up the rocks, then leap across to the next boulder, while the dominant female kept careful watch.
We piled back into a car and slowly drove the bumpy road to the summit, scanning for ptarmigan and stopping to admire some Yellow-bellied Marmots. This mother had two youngsters she was clearly enamored with.
The summit parking lot was full, typical of a gorgeous day, but you can always stop at a near-by turnoff. Here were the mountain goats—again it was a herd of mothers with kids. They showed no fear of humans, sometimes wandering too close for my telephoto lens. At one point I heard a “baaa” behind me and turned around to discover a kid standing a few feet away! Mom wasn’t the least bit concerned.
After taking a gazillion photos, we headed down the mountain, this time stopping at the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Mount Goliath garden. Ancient bristlecone pines are surrounded by typical alpine wildflowers. White-crowned Sparrows flitted in the altitude-stunted willows.
Our final stop was Echo Lake, at the base of the toll road. We parked at the restaurant and gift shop, which has hummingbird feeders hanging outside. Then we headed down the trail to the lake. Clearly we had saved some of the best for last. As we walked through the forest, we heard, then spotted, a pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers. I was thrilled, as I had only seen this species once before. They were busy knocking the bark off the firs, looking for the beetles and grubs underneath. In fact, the easiest way to spot these forest birds is to look for bare spots on the tree trunks with a pile of bark flakes below. The birds specialize in dead or dying trees.
If you plan to visit Mt. Evans, know that there’s an entrance fee of $15 per car (the Denver-owned park also accepts federal park passes). That’s a bargain for driving the highest paved road in North America!
The answer to last week’s quiz is Yellow-rumped Warbler, Myrtle sub-species.