I wrote this from a cozy, rustic cabin in Grand Lake, Colorado.
We were there for a couple of days at peak leaf-turning time, which coincided nicely with the Autumn Equinox, and Jim’s 70th birthday.
The 8,300 foot elevation of the Grand Valley has ideal conditions for aspen groves to flourish. This is the Colorado montane life zone where several microclimates coalesce to support an amazing diversity of plant and animal species. Two of our favorites were busily caching food for winter: Stellar’s jays and Abert, or tufted-ear, squirrels.
I have never spent any time on the western slope of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, although Jim is more familiar with its beauty. It has been a most pleasant trip of discovery for me. We drove up the Kawuneeche Valley, sculpted by glaciers and by the Colorado River.
The Kawuneeche Valley (the Arapaho Indian word for valley of the coyote) is framed by the Never Summer Range, the only volcanic range in the Rocky Mountains. The road crosses over Milner Pass at the Continental Divide and peaks at the Alpine Visitor Center at 12,000 feet.
Golden and crimson aspen trees lit up the flanks of the Never Summers, like match flames amid the dark green Douglas and subalpine firs. With the Colorado-blue sky and fluffy autumn clouds as backdrop, the scenery was pretty darn spectacular.
Jim took me to the “creek” at La Poudre Pass which was the headwaters of the Colorado River. The water was clear and cold and shallow. Hard to believe this little stream brings light and power to California, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Mexico.
One of the reasons we both enjoy Colorado so much is the ready access to the land above the trees; the alpine tundra. The thin air, so light upon the skin, effervesces in the veins and makes one feel buoyant and lightheaded. Alpine plants, those tenacious little herbs that find purchase in the shallow rocky soil and turn the tundra into a green carpet in summer, turn the tundra red In autumn. Red pigments in the tiny leaves hold heat and store energy from the lowering sun so the plants can survive their long winter sleep. You can see the red tundra in this image.
In 1972, Beatrice Willard and Ann Zwinger collaborated on the splendid book about the alpine environment entitled Land Above the Trees. Filled with Ann’s beautiful drawings and Herman Zwinger’s photographs, I consider it the timeless “bible” of alpine ecology.
Mountain weather is changeable if nothing else. As we reveled in the warm sunny weather in Kawuneeche Valley, a storm began to brew and by nightfall it was snowing in Grand Lake and at higher elevations.
The next morning was invigoratingly frosty. The lake was steaming and the high peaks were white and glistening. The little getaway was great for us. Enjoy the photos.