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LAKE AT SOUTH PLATTE PARK: Each
spring, college students head to Florida or other southern climes to soak in the
sun and water. Birds do, too, and the luckiest will head to South Platte Park,
where a kingdom of waterfowl cruises placidly on a wide lake in the middle of
by the city of Littleton, South Platte Park's Cooley Lake is 230 acres of water.
Once a gravel pit in the 1950s, the 1965 flood not only changed the terrain, but
forced citizens to consider how best to stem flooding and preserve some natural
BUTTES: East of Greeley, drought shapes the Pawnee Grasslands and
winds shave layers of sandstone from chalky bluffs. Tuffs of grasses support
throngs of small birds and the Pawnee Buttes rise 300 feet like ships in a sea
of grass. The buttes, striped white and pink, red and orange, brown or gray,
reflect the waning sunlight. Within thirty minutes the sky changes from wispy to
thunderous clouds, although rain is scarce. Grasses survive on a gush of water
in the spring, which carries them through a parched summer. Theses eastern
plains are serene and spiritual. Empty spaces and an eerie quiet contribute to a
AND LICHENS: The French adore chanterelles. The Italians savor porcinis.
The Japanese crave matsutakes. Truffles, which are underground mushrooms, cost
plenty. Mushrooms are ancient food but still mysterious. Were you to question
chefs or hikers, their mushroom knowledge might be thin and scanty. Mushrooms
are unlike any other food. They’re not even a plant. Mushrooms are fungi.
AND LILIES--Stroll on the wide paths of Florissant Fossil Beds National
Monument and step back in time—far back. Florissant includes not only the
brief history of humans, but also the history of all creatures that galloped,
slithered, lumbered or flew on this earth before us. You’re on the graves of
millions of ancient mammals, fish, insects and reptiles. On any summer day,
fields of wildflowers and the gentle hiking trails lure nature lovers. Except
for the stump of an ancient sequoia, and a few fossils in the visitor center,
many unearthed specimens now lodge in universities or museums. But most reside
RIDGE TRAIL: In a forest of Colorado green, two of the brightest
wildflower reds to be found are paintbrushes and penstemons. Lipstick red. Fire
engine red. Screaming reds that can be seen from miles away—and that’s the
point. Although paintbrushes may be pink or yellow and penstemons blue or
purple, the reds exist to be pollinated by one specific creature—the
hummingbird. These tiny-winged birds, in their long migratory flights, seek out
bright red blossoms for a nectar snack and pollinate an oddly
STATE PARK: Sunflowers
arch over high summer grasses exposing a wide-open sky as storms roll in from
the west. Wild roses have exchanged summer blossoms for autumn red hips.
Chokecherries ripen into purple clusters. Yellow prairie coneflowers mix with
Indian blanket flowers, scarlet gilia, orange globe mallow, spotted gayfeather
and clusters of prairie winecups. A breeze ripples waves in a sea of golden
grasses. But it’s the sunflowers that stand tall, as high as the grasses,
All plant families have their champions. The rose family
arrives perfumed, dressed in scarlet colors. The mint family includes basil and
thyme--great additions to world cuisine. But for sheer success, the daisy or
aster family takes center stage.
the crow flies, Phantom Canyon sits northwest of Fort Collins, a canyon in
Colorado without a road. This single distinction makes arriving at the canyon
unlike any other. People arrive on foot as they have for hundreds of years.
Parking is near the highway and visitors hike a short distance from Highway 287
crossing privately owned ranch land. There's only silence followed by the sounds
of caws from birds. Suddenly the earth opens to reveal a huge cleft with the
silvery glint of a river below. It's not until hiking the trail into the canyon
that the swooshing of water swirling around boulders can be heard.
BUTTERCUPS AND CLEMATIS: It’s easy to understand why the columbine is Colorado’s
state flower. With its sky-blue color, elegant bobbing stems and finely
scalloped leaves, the wild columbine is stunning to anyone who has hiked a
mountain trail and chanced upon a cluster. And while columbines can be found in
China and Europe, the Colorado columbine is as spectacular as any.
BEAUTY: COMANCHE GRASSLANDS--After miles of flat grasslands, the Comanche National Grasslands suddenly
give way to the deep interior of a grand canyon--unexpected and breathtaking.
Comanche is a piñon-juniper forest with broad canyons carved by the numerous
drainages feeding the Purgatoire River. You'll often see a forest of cholla
cacti sprinkled among the junipers and piñon pines. Spring wildflowers carpet
the grasslands. And in the fall, sunflowers and feathery grass spikes
bend and sway. The
grasslands are a bird-watchers' paradise. Lark buntings clothed in black and
white feathers, like a tiny tuxedo, look unsuitably formal for grasslands. At
Comanche they perch atop the cholla cactus and dart within for protection. The
spiny limbs never appear to bother them.
LABORATORY OF TREES: Mueller State Park--Our ancestors have walked on this earth for such a short
time that it may be impossible for us to truly appreciate conifers--until we see them
in a grand display. Mueller State Park, west of Colorado Springs, is an astonishing laboratory of Colorado
trees on 5,000 acres. With over 50 miles of trails, you can hike into zones of
ponderosa, Douglas-fir, aspen, bristlecone pine, limber pine and Engelmann
POINTS--In the eyes of global rock gardeners, Colorado’s alpine
and subalpine wilderness areas define our most extravagant and spectacular
gardens. It’s no surprise that rock gardeners in Colorado have inspired
gardeners elsewhere. And many enthusiasts of rock gardens travel to our state
simply to see our alpine gardens. Most make an effort to visit at least four
sites: Trailridge in Rocky Mountain National Park and Summit Lake on Mount Evans
are prime destinations for alpine plants. Guanella Pass and Boreas Pass must be
included for subalpine natural rock gardens, too.
DINOSAUR HIGHWAY: DINOSAUR RIDGE--One of Colorado’s most unusual museums consists of a road sliced through a
mountain where dinosaur footprints, bones and fossils of prehistoric insects or
plants are etched by nature into the scraped rock walls. Children hug the giant
footprints, as if to clutch the spirit of a prehistoric beast while their
parents scan the shale for a glimpse of a fern or insect outline. Dinosaur Ridge
draws families, and even foreign visitors, to this unusual site. Once a month, a
ribbon of highway serves as a ramp up and over a modest mountain.
MOUNTAIN ARSENAL NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE --A short distance from downtown Denver, in the heart of Commerce City, you’ll
find the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. At first glance, it’s
an unlikely site for wildlife. But this refuge reveals a story unlike any other.
you ask people how often they take their dogs to dog parks they may smirk,
or shuffle a foot or two and blush. Some will tell you they “go a little
bit overboard when it comes to the dog thing” and then admit that they
go at least four times a week and drive up to 30 minutes each way to get
to the best parks. They stay about an hour and, they say, trips to dog
parks are usually made in addition to walks around the neighborhood. They
tell you that the dog parks give their dogs some time to run, socialize
with other dogs and play.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: LESSER-TRAVELED TRAILS -- When I first came to Colorado, I avoided Rocky Mountain National
Park. It was too crowded and I thought
the scenery was ho-hum, especially compared to other parts of the state, such as
the San Juans or the mountains around Aspen. I admit it; I was a snob. But over the years, its closeness (and the joy of avoiding the I-70 and 285
corridors) started drawing me up, and I found another good reason to hike the
national park: its wildness.
THE COLORADO WAVES: For those who grew up near water--oceans, lakes, or ponds--the call of
the water is understandable. It soothes, invigorates, and offers hours of active
or peaceful enjoyment.
In a land-locked state those who seek water adventures find them more easily
than you might imagine. Across the Front Range manmade watercourses have been
mapped out for young and old kayakers and those who wade into the water to
watch. And then there are the natural courses, the rivers and streams that are
peopled with kayakers all year round.
THE COLORADO TRAIL WITH FRIENDS: To some, snowshoeing conjures up
images of peacefully making one's way through serene forests and
blissfully getting in touch with one's inner self. Not me. Having never
been on snowshoes, I pictured myself struggling along, feet clamped in
oversized tennis racket-like contraptions.
But when my editor suggested a "Snowshoeing along the Colorado
Trail" story, I thought, why not? I'm athletic, I know people who
love it, and I'd be able to get my dog out for some exercise while trying
something new. So here's how a reluctant snowshoer-to-be actually learned
to enjoy her first trek.
WANDERLUST: A GUIDE TO STARGAZING: The night sky glitters, lights skip and dance, and those down below gaze and
wonder. They watch closely and follow the show, connecting the dots, plotting
their course…Stargazing has an inextricable link to romance. It’s got all the essential
components: mystery, chase and ultimate discovery.
FOR HUMMERS: While the color purple is considered regal, hummingbirds bow to another
hue--red blossoms with a tubular
shape, says garden coordinator Liz Nichol, referring to bell-shaped blooms of penstemons that are
filled with nectar. Such flowers make ideal dinner plates for the tiny,
long-billed hummers that return every summer to the Hummingbird Garden at
Starsmore Discovery Center, 2120 S. Cheyenne Cañon Road in Colorado Springs.
IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: The
warnings were clear: lackluster snowfall, high winds and icy conditions in
Rocky Mountain National Park. But the lure was enticing--a snowshoe hike
with a ranger for two hours of trails. The warnings prove to be incorrect and
the day is perfect.
HOT SPRINGS: Not quite warm enough for water sports. Not nearly cool enough to hit the ski
slopes. But September and October are the perfect months to make a weekend trip
to one of Colorado’s many inviting hot springs. In my six years in Colorado, I’ve been to a dozen or so, including Mount
Princeton, Glenwood Springs, Hot Sulfur Springs and Eldorado Springs. But none
has pleased me quite like the Strawberry Hot Springs just northeast of Steamboat
LAKE: A PEACEABLE KINGDOM -- Even if you didn’t know that Barr Lake is a premier
Colorado spot for bird watching, in a quick visit, you would soon find out. To
the unacquainted, Barr Lake is surrounded by giant cottonwoods and willows, which house
hundreds of birds. The closer you get, the louder the broadcasting of trills, caws,
chirrups, whistles and melodies hatch from a bird orchestra.
IN VAIL-- ONE OF SUMMER'S BEST-KEPT SECRETS: Vail is snowy glitz in
winter, but when summer arrives, the crowds thin and bicycles replace
skis. True, Vail is best known for perilous mountain trails, but there are
14 miles of paved bike paths, most with breathtaking scenery and all free.
ROCK FORMATIONS: "Geologists look at the landscape and see things others don’t,"
Gregg Campbell says, "for us, one million years is a short time."
Gregg stands on a bluff in northern Colorado, where Highway 287 nearly meets
Wyoming. Across the highway lies a mountain in red layers—rock and pebbly
soil, sandwiched with clay, like layers of a frosted cake. "Part of our
ancestral Rockies," he points out, a mountain of sedimentary rocks, where
pressure and time has glued all together.
IN THE FOOTHILLS: Although Crested Butte attracts wildflower lovers in July, a quieter
profusion of flowers just as remarkable blankets the Front Range--home to a
wider diversity of species than anywhere else in Colorado. The blooms begin
earlier and last longer. And this year, perhaps as an antidote to fire and
drought, the early bloomers have provided a lavish production.
WALK: On a crisp, cold winter morning, naturalist Lynne Sullivan gathers
her flock--a group of vividly hued coated hikers ambling along a Colorado mountain
trail in search of wildlife. Lynne is a modern version of the old-fashioned
ranger, a naturalist who guides others. Slender and long-legged as determined hikers often
are, she wears layered clothing,
thick-soled boots and carries all the right stuff—water
bottle and day-old pizza, sunglasses and binoculars.
OTHER COLORADO: The sandstone bluffs are the Pawnee Buttes. The unbroken vista is Pawnee
National Grassland. And together, they're one of Colorado's best-kept secrets.
This is the place to go when you want a peaceful drive or near-solitary hike,
far from the hordes of visitors seeking tourist-town glitz and more familiar
Rocky Mountain views.
INTO BUTTERFLY TERRITORY: Suddenly
a magnificent orange and black streak soars overhead. We’re dazzled by its
speed, here and there, alighting and taking off. Sam swoops the net. We gasp as
he details the expeditions that monarchs embark
upon: the miles of flight, their return to specific places and the gradual loss
of their habitat. All the while, the monarch is still, held firmly in Sam’s
experienced fingers. He releases the monarch and it’s a blip on the horizon. We will see rare
and exquisite small butterflies ahead, but none as showy.
LEGEND: Like the mining site that bears its name, the
word matchless also suits a story that could have been conjured up for a
film, had it not actually unfolded in Leadville, sometimes called the
Cloud City for its lofty elevation of over 10,000 feet. The tale takes on
fresh life for anyone who visits the site of the Matchless Mine, where
Baby Doe's one-room cabin, with its plank floor and small pot belly stove,
has been restored as accurately as possible.
BUTTE--COLORADO'S WILDFLOWER CAPITAL: Long after the columbines
have dropped their petals on the foothills of the Front Range, the
mountains surrounding Crested Butte, Colorado, burst into bloom. They are
beginning to awaken in the subalpine meadows of the Elk Mountains that
border the town when July and early August is bloom time at 10,000 feet.
THE BUFFALO ROAM: The
Medano-Zapata Ranch, the largest acquisition the Nature Conservancy has made in
Colorado, fits into the organization’s current focus on what is called
landscape-scale conservation. “Historically, the Conservancy has preserved
pockets of land in a wide variety of places,” says Sharyl Massey, the
group’s education and outreach coordinator for the San Luis Valley. “But
many species need a greater landscape. You can’t recognize political
boundaries, especially with migratory species. You have to work to save the
THE WILD MUSHROOM: Wild mushrooms may be the jewels of the forest, but with shitake, oyster,
woodear and portabello mushrooms in the stores, it’s hard to judge the
difference between a wild and cultivated mushroom. Here's the definition: wild
mushrooms must be collected from the forest and cannot be cultivated on a
mushroom farm. The exquisite, tender chanterelles or the robust, meaty boletus
rarely are found fresh in stores. They're discovered in the mountains of
IN THE GRASS: Spring flowers may be the prima ballerinas of nature.
But by late summer, the ballet corps of stalwart grasses pirouette on their own. With author and
naturalist, Ann Cooper, we'll walk through a sea of healthy grasses and discover
originals to Colorado and the prairie.
My first sighting of the elegant birds comes unexpectedly, as the final
leg of the auto tour edges alongside wide meadows backed by bare-branched
cottonwoods. Shivering from a chilly gust and wiping watery eyes, I
suddenly comprehend that the smoke-colored blurs fading into the darkening
fields are cranes. Thousands of them. Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
was created in 1953. But the sandhill cranes--whose huge, three-toed feet
first trod the world's wetlands at least 40 million years ago--have
probably been migrating through Colorado for centuries.
The light of
the full moon makes for perfect nighttime hiking. There's enough
illumination for you to see the trail and the beauty that surrounds you at a
quiet time when few - if any - other hikers are out. And hiking at night gives
you the chance to get a new perspective on your environment; you're likely to
see animals that you don't during the day, and even some flora transforms at
night, with blooms closing or leaves curling up.
A "FOURTEENER": You don’t have to be an Olympic-caliber athlete to
hike one of these majestic peaks. So if you’ve never been to the summit of a
" Fourteener," now’s the perfect time to try.
ALONG THE ROCKIES: Colorado is home to 250
species of butterflies, more than anywhere else in North America. George
Brinkmann, retired horticulturist from the
Butterfly Pavilion and former staff
horticulturalist of Denver Botanic Gardens, tells us how to plant
a butterfly habitat and why it's so important.
LURE OF FLY-FISHING: Patience may be the end product of fly-fishing, but
learning to handle the trout gingerly so that it's never damaged is a first
lesson. Experts prefer barbless hooks.
UP AND AWAY: As temperatures drop, balloonists gather for airborne
festivals. Autumn begins the most popular season to sail over the
mountains and plains, viewing scenery from the vantage point of
RENDEZVOUS WITH RAPTORS: Rehabilitating
is one of the environmental success stories in Colorado. Golden eagles
turkey vultures, Swainson's hawk and American kestrels are guests of
this special program. You'll meet
several birds of prey caretakers from Colorado State University.