Sunday, August 22, 2010

Several trips, two local and one long distance

Well, I've been kind of busy lately with Louis, my grandson, being here at music camp at Rocky Ridge in Estes Park and then taking him back home to Denton, Texas. He had a solo viola performance on Friday, August 13th and then played on the orchestral performance on Sunday, August 15th. We drove up from Denver for both performances, and they were great.
Here he is doing his solo. Note the intense concentration. That's because his pianist kept going faster and faster and got ahead of Lou. He was trying to figure out what to do next. But he was a good sport about it. Just wanted to kill the pianist, who did the same thing to several other soloists.

Then here he is in the orchestra as they got ready to play. It's tough getting good pictures in this setting because the huge windows behind the orchestra let in a lot of light. I had to do a little manipulation in Photoshop Elements to get detail in the orchestra. Did a bit in the picture of the solo also because of the lighting from the big window behind the pianist.

And here's a picture of Louie when he first got to camp. Of course the youngsters flanking him are Kath and me. And my trusty little Forester is in the background.

You can see that the camp is in a wonderful wooded setting just below Longs Peak, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Lou saw both elk and black bear while he was up there. Neat! I saw an elk, but no bear.

Then Louie and I drove down to Denton on Tuesday of this past week. Lou drove a bit of the way, out on deserted highways out in southeastern Colorado, as we get him ready to learn to drive. I taught his mother and uncle to drive, so I've been down this road before. Same road. Same problems. Same fun.

We drove the 13 hours to Denton straight through, but I took two days coming back. Wanted to see Palo Duro Canyon, just southeast of Amarillo and Capulin volcano just east of Raton, NM. Both were on the way back, so I didn't even have to drive out of the way. Palo Duro Canyon was formed by the, and I'm not making up this name, Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The canyon has beautiful colored walls, mostly of reds, but also yellows, beiges, and lavender, among others. Here's a picture showing some of the colors.
I took this picture from the canyon floor as I drove through the park. The PDTF of the Red River flows east from the park and I drove across it way down near Witchita Falls. The color of that fork, as well as the Red River itself takes its color from the sediment from these rocks.

Here's a picture I took after one of four river crossings on the main road through the park. The water was about six inches deep and flowing rather quickly. Note the water depth gauge at the crossing and note the color of the water. It pretty much matches the color of the rocks in the background. And no, I did not add color in Photoshop. These pics are as I took them from the camera.

I stopped at a large parking lot at the trailhead to one of the many trails in the park and suddenly noticed a mule deer chomping on some grass near a picnic table. I took several pics of it and followed it as it went into a very shady place to join its mother and another fawn. The fawns still have their spots. And yes, I did play with this picture in Photoshop to lighten up the shadows where the deer were. This would be a picture of shadows if I hadn't done that.

I left Amarillo at 5:15 in the AM on Thursday and headed for Denver by way of Raton, NM. As I crossed out of Texas into NM, I noticed cinder cones, small volcanos, in the distance. I was headed for Capulin, the tallest of the cinder cone volcanos in that area. I kept being fooled by cinder cones as I drove, thinking each one must be Capulin. You know how it is on the way to someplace. You want to be there, not driving to it.

Finally the signs announced that Capulin wasn't far away, and then I saw it towering above the other cinder cones. There is, however, a shield volcano, Sierra Grande, from millions of years earlier that towers over Capulin. But it is several miles away, so Capulin was just fine.

I drove to the parking lot at the west edge of the crater's rim and walked the mile-long trail at the top of the rim. The views from up there are wonderful. The rim is 1,400 feet above the prairie, so the views into Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico are spectacular. Here are some views from the rim.

The next several pictures are from the rim looking down into the crater. The first one is from the east, the highest part of the crater back to the west into it.

The next one is from the west, near the parking lot, back to the east.

And the third one is of lava rock with lichen growing on it.

And this is perhaps my favorite shot of the day. The wind was blowing about 5 to 10 miles an hour up on the rim, and to me the rock and wind shaped juniper epitomize the difficult place for things to grow on the sides of a cinder cone.

The final picture is of a lizard who ran across a rock in front of me and then stopped, almost invisible against the rock. He's hard to find, but is in the center of the picture.

So I had a great time on the trip back. The only bad part was that I had to leave Louie down there in Texas with his parents. Darn. We were having a great time in Denver.

Here's a haiku inspired by my visit to Capulin:

     On Capulin my
          eyes feast on the earth's glory.
     Wind sighs through piƱon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Youngsters on the prairie in early August

Yesterday I went out on the prairie at the Plains Center in Aurora for my monthly critter count. I haven't been able to get out the past two months, so I was really eager to see what was going on out there. On my last trip, in May, only the prairie dog pups and great-horned owl chicks were youngsters that were visible. Now the PD pups are almost full grown and act more like adults than pups, and the owls are the size of their parents and hiding out of sight in the cottonwood trees.

The pronghorn fawns are in nursery herds with their moms and are now two months old. The fawns are about two thirds the size of their mothers and gather in groups of fawns who seem to love to frolic and chase each other. Of course, they are also learning from their mothers that they have to be alert to predators.

So they graze, look up for danger--they watched me--go back to grazing, and then burst out in a frenzy of racing the others around the nursery herd. When the herd decides to move off, the fawns gather in smaller fawn herds inside the nursery herd, sometimes off to the side, sometimes out in front, or sometimes behind the main herd. They are showing that independence that we expect of human pre-teens. I'm sure it's just as scary and maddening to their parents.

But the youngster who made my day yesterday was a coyote pup who had no idea I was watching it. Shows the difference between the predator and the prey. The coyote pup did none of the looking over the shoulder that the pronghorn fawns did. It was as blithely confident in his abilities and safety as the high school kids I see driving down the highway texting. Indestructible.

Anyway, this pup was jumping, pouncing, running, stalking, goofing off, practicing all the moves it will need later when he has to make a living on the prairie. I suspect it was stalking crickets, grasshoppers, perhaps a mouse or vole. It would stalk, listen and watch intently, ears pricked up and nose pointed at the prey, stalk a few steps, then pounce like I've seen red foxes pounce. Except it seemed always to come up empty. I never saw it eat anything.

But it did find something that made it sneeze and sneeze and sneeze and ... perhaps 20 or 30 times. And these were those leg thumping, head rattling, sinus clearing sneezes that only bless us once in a great while. What a hoot. Just about the time it would think it had had its last sneeze and put its nose back down to sniff for food, it would go off on another blast of sneezing. I got a good belly laugh out of that, almost falling into some prickly pear cactus.

But that didn't seem to reduce the enthusiasm of that coyote. I watched for a while standing, but I was having as much fun as the pup, so I sat down. I leaned elbows on knees to steady my binoculars and keep my arms from getting tired. I guess I watched that pup for 15 or 20 minutes before I decided I'd better quit acting like that pup, act more like an adult, and get back to more important things--although at this point, I'll be damned if I can think of anything more important, or fun, than watching a coyote pup enjoy itself. I need to do more of that.

     The coyote pup played,
          pounced, whirled, ran, unaware he's
     practicing to kill.