CLOUDLAND CABIN JOURNAL - September 2016 (Part A - 1st - 10th)
Cloudland Coloado Campsite Cam, September 10 - our last morning in camp - we'll be home in Arkansas in a few hours
Journal updated September 9th - I LOVE being at altitude!
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09/01/16 SEPTEMBER is here already, really? And it feels like September, one of my most favorite months of all. The air is cooler, and sweeter, and somehow life seems to slow down a bit - not quite fall, but summer is on the way out. Colors of the landscape are beginning to change and come alive - especially ground cover plants like poison ivy and Virginia creeper (and whatever they have along the ground here in Colorado!). Bushes and small trees will join in with paint brushes of their own. Fruits and nuts of the forest ripen and fall to the ground - or are eaten by waiting wildlife - sometimes they go up into the tree to munch, like when bears feast on juicy pawpaws, often breaking tree limbs in the process.
We arrived in Colorado a week ago and have been on the move since we landed - exploring, hiking, going to my second ever play at a real theater. And trying to keep up with the puppies, who seem to be super-charged by this cool and crisp early fall weather. My lovely bride has continued to keep up with daily business chores - she process all individual and wholesale orders from our campsite here on our property near South Fork. If we get up early to go somewhere, she has to work late at night getting guidebooks packed and postage labels created. This is our slowest time of the year, which is not good for our income, but helps lighten the work load while we are on the road.
Today we drove and hiked around an area that was part of a giant 109,000 acre wildfire three years ago - the West Fork Fire Complex - much of the burned area was along the Continental Divide near Wolf Creek Pass, and also inside the Weminuche Wilderness Area (largest wilderness area in Colorado). The fire was so intense the smoke rose more than eight miles high, and blew all the way across Europe. To see the trees - completely burned up to the very tip, 100 feet or more in the air - was almost unbelievable, and oh so sad. I guess it is a little comforting to know that many of the millions of trees that burned up had already been killed by a beetle infestation.
And now the landscape has begun to renew, with not only zillions of young aspen trees sprouting up, but also ground cover that is helping control erosion - it is that ground cover that has really lit up with BRILLIANT COLOR this past week - OH MY GOODNESS!!!
While out exploring today we ran into an ongoing search and rescue mission for a lost hunter way up high. We didn't realize it at the time, but later found out the lost hunter was the person we bought our campsite property from!!!!! He got lost while scouting for elk yesterday in the high country wilderness - he spent the night under a burned-out log I guess, and was found OK about noon today. He's one of only a small handful of people we know in Colorado - such a small world.
Yesterday I was up before 4am and Wilson and I were on the road by 5:30am headed into the high country for a hike. We drove nearly 30 miles of dirt forest road around to a trailhead above 11,000 feet high. It was tough for me to drive a time or two as the mountain peaks all around us lit up with the brilliant lights of dawn.
The sun was just arriving as we headed up from the trailhead into a thick forest of towering spruce and fir trees. But within minutes we had hit treeline, and the world all around really opened up. And so did my dog, Wilson. He took one look at the miles of alpine meadows ahead and quite literally SPRANG for joy! I've never seen him do this before - or any other dog - but as he ran UP the trail as fast as he could, he was also SPRINGING as high as he could! I swear at times he reached four or five feet in the air. Well, after all, he is a springer spaniel and they do like to SPRING! One note - I've never seen a springer actually SPRING while on a leash - it is against Momma Nature. So for this trip, I kept the leash in my pocket, and let the boy do what he was born to do (at least until we saw other hikers - which it turned out, we never did, so Wilson got to run and play and SPRING for hours and miles).
We hiked for a couple of hours - up to and across the Continental Divide (unnamed lake above) - then switchbacked down, down, down and around and up into a drainage until we landed on the shores of Crater Lake (not THAT Crater Lake in Oregon, but one of several in Colorado). Along the way we not only never saw another hiker, we never even saw a footprint of one! It was one of the most beautiful and epic hikes I'd ever done.
We didn't linger too long at the lake though - we had book orders to get to the post office in South Fork for their only "run" of the day. So I took a big gulp of cold water, gave Wilson the last of my peanut butter and strawberry preserve wrap, and we turned around and headed back to the trailhead at a pretty good clip. I wanted to see how well my legs and my lungs were holding up at the high altitude (12,200' plus along the Divide), so we leaned into the backbone of the continent and never stopped until we had gone up and over and down the other side to the van at the trailhead - 3.6 miles in just over one hour. I had milled around a bit during the hike in, and the total roundtrip hike was about nine miles. Turned out my legs and lungs were pretty good for an old geezer like me!
A couple of days ago Pam wanted to do a "plein air" pastel of a scene she had found along the Old Spanish Trail down in the low country, so while she set up her pastel equipment and worked for an hour or so, the puppies and I went on a ramble through the countryside that was lush with wildflowers and other bushes that were bursting with early fall color. I sound like a broken record, but I don't know how an artist can begin with a blank canvas, sheet of paper, or panel, and create such beautiful art - and especially someone like Pam who does it in the flesh, with light, shadows, and even the clouds changing so fast.
Oh, and also the other day we drove through a small National Wildlife Refuge near here just to have a look, and found a beautiful reflecting pool filled with puffy white clouds. You can't see them in this photo, but right along the horizon there are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (and also Great Sand Dunes National Park) - they got covered with snow the night before - snow-capped mountains in August! (most of the snow melted the next day) There were also lots of ducks and other waterfowl in the wetlands as we drove along, which was almost torture for a bird dog like Mia - she wanted to get out and play with the ducks SO BAD!
So we have bid summer goodbye, and welcome about THREE MONTHS of terrific fall color to come. The aspens have begun to turn here already and will continue all month; then we'll be back in Arkansas for the beginning of the great blaze of color in the Ozarks; PLUS we'll follow the color down south through the Ouachita Mountains and swamps and prairies in Arkansas during November. In fact we'll be touring all 52 Arkansas State Parks between October and next May working on a new picture book.
09/03/16 Quick update this morning. The distant Sangre de Cristo mountains that we can see part of from our campsite (they are 54 miles away if you were a crow) are beginning to light up with the glow of dawn this morning, and a few clouds directly above us are turning pink. Yesterday we took a road trip to Salida to have lunch with friends from Springfield, Larry and Marilyn Daniel (they've been on a trip around the Pacific Northwest for the past several months and had lots of great stories and pictures, as always). Ironically the restaurant we ate at (Boathouse Cantina) was literally on the banks of the Arkansas River, with the clear whitewater flowing only a few feet away - it was a great view!
The drive over in the morning and back in the afternoon took us through a large part of the San Luis Valley - it is potato country and flat as a pancake! The Sangre de Cristo mountains form the east and northeastern boundary of that valley, and part of the peaks are what we see from our campsite. It was a beautiful drive through the valley, then up and over Poncha Springs Pass to Salida. Then after lunch we followed the Arkansas River downstream to Canon City as the river sliced a deep canyon through redrock (on into Royal Gorge, which we did not visit). We needed some supplies at the Home Depot in Canon City, so that was the target of the trip.
During the drive back up and over the pass and through the San Luis Valley there were afternoon thunderstorms happening back towards our campsite, and the views across the valley and into our mountains were quite stunning, and included a God Beams light show for about 30 minutes - it was TOUGH for me to keep driving! I finally did pull over and spent a few minutes taking snapshots of the spectacular light - these sorts of scenes continue to keep me spellbound and in awe of the great beauty and power of Momma Nature. I know this is not Arkansas, but I hope you enjoy anyway - it is where we are and what we are doing at the moment...
09/05/16 Shhhh. Listen... There's a lynx outside our tent tonight not far away. He's been circling our campsite for about 20 minutes now, screaming like crazy. There is no other scream like that of a lynx (here is a video with sound - this is EXACTLY what our guy sounds like!). It's about an hour after sunset, and it is good and dark outside. And Mr. Lynx is roaming through a stand of young aspen trees - not sure if he is looking for something, or just wanting us to know he is out there, watching. He was there yesterday morning also, about 4am. And a couple of times last week. Pacing back and forth in the forest.
Big cats were on my mind last night as I was standing in the middle of a high mountain meadow not far away from our campsite. I was taking pictures of a group of towering ponderosa pine trees that were silhouetted against the brilliant night sky that included the Milky Way. There was no moon, and I didn't have a flashlight - only starlight to move about by. A cougar had been spotted several times within a mile, and a mountain lion attacked a five-year old child near Aspen, Colorado this summer - last we heard the child lived, but had been mauled pretty bad. Game and Fish guys located and killed two mountain lions in the area within an hour - there are a reported 4,500 of them in Colorado.
I heard that a cougar will stalk you, and sometimes attack and play with you instead of just trying to kill and eat you right away. I've seen our cats at Cloudland do the very same thing with a mouse - so I guess it is a cat thing. Anyway, I was out there in the middle of the meadow late last night taking pictures, thinking about the recent cougar sighting nearby, and the attack in Aspen, and wondered if one was watching me, and if he were thinking about dinner, or just a play toy? I don't believe I've ever setup and taken nighttime pictures as FAST as I did last night! Then quietly back to the van - YIKES!!! I made it. But when I got home the lynx started to scream at me...
The "Survivors" and Milky Way- a group of ponderosa pines that survived the massive forest fire in 2002
My lovely bride had done a plein air pastel of one of the survivors from the opposite side looking northeast - this one is a large fir tree...
The earthquake that hit Saturday morning at home in Cloudland was very odd - Amber called almost immediately to tell us the ceiling fans were swaying back and forth. The cabin sits on 50 yards of solid concrete that is tied directly into the main rock layer below, so unless the earth split open, nothing would bother the actual structure. Our biggest issue with it all was that it was the very first earthquake in the area of any real magnitude in recent history and WE MISSED IT!
09/06/16 Here's a quick tour of our campsite this morning, just after a sunrise that created a rainbow behind camp. Left to right: our camper van/office; the very top of the storage shed (in the background) with the small internet dish on top; the bookmobile van & daily vehicle; our "gazebo" tent, with the curtains pulled tight - it rained overnight; and Pam's canoe. This view is to the east, looking in from near the front of the driveway - the level pad ends just past the storage building.
09/07/16 We headed north to Creede today and hiked on an old road/trail to Phoenix Park Falls. It was a pretty easy 5-mile roundtrip up and back. They were calling for partly cloudy skies, so I took my tripod along in case I got a cloud or two in front of the sun - I usually don't like to shoot delicate subjects like waterfalls with harsh sunshine. As luck would have it, there was a thin veil of cloudiness when Mia and I first arrived at the thundering waterfall, but it did not last long. As I climbed closer to the base of the falls the sun got really bright and all the clouds went away. Bummer. But when life give you lemons... So I set up the tripod and did the best I could, hoping the camera sensor and newest software would allow me to get something pleasing of the falls. The camera did a great job - no way I could have ever recorded this detail with such harsh light with slide film, even the very best slide film. Digital has come a long way baby! I plan to keep seeking out great light, especially for waterfalls, but at least I know I might be able to get a good cup of lemonade is Mr. Sunshine hangs around, sometimes...
*There is a wooden cross/memorial at the base of this waterfall - to Jamie Matush, 14, who fell to his death here in June, 2000. He had been climbing the cliff with his dad to try and reach the top of the waterfall when he slipped and fell (about 50 feet). So sad, but his memory lives on as the waters flow down the hillside and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico...
09/09/16 I got high in the Rockies yesterday and spent most of the day and night there. My lovely bride and I trucked on up to Ellwood Pass (above 11,000'), parked our van, and wandered around the giant meadows right at and above treeline. It was kind of like The Sound Of Music only most of the flowers had gone to seed and much of the ground cover was starting to turn yellow, gold, and red. Clear blue sky, bright sunshine, and cool temps. I just LOVE air above 10,000 feet!
Pam was drawn into a scene that looked out across one of the giant meadows or "parks" towards mountains to the east. On one side of the view was the Ellwood Pass Cabin - a forest service log cabin you can rent! (shhhh, don't tell anyone) When doing "plein air" pastels I think much of the magic of the final product comes from an artist first being drawn to and then into a scene like that - so much so that your total attention becomes that scene, and then your skill in reproducing it on paper, panel, or canvas.
While my bride worked on her pastel, I took the puppies on a romp over the hill and through the woods and across the meadow for a couple of hours. We saw bear scat, hawks soaring, several deer, and a coyote (a sign of things to come).
(Sorry to interrupt, but it's about 9pm tonight as I'm typing this and the resident lynx just started to scream - he is a little uphill of us and seems to be making his way downhill and around to the right. Got all puppies inside and accounted for...)
OK, back to the pass! One funny note that almost turned otherwise. While we were crossing one drainage area I let the puppies off leash - it was their turn to run as fast and hard as they wanted to. The grass and brush was little taller than them, and so they would spring up and look over the meadow over and over again as they went. Then one time Wilson disappeared, completely. Then his head bobbed up and he was totally wet! And the same thing happened to Mia - she was gone! Time passed and I started to worry - I got down on my belly and started to crawl around under there and suddenly she too popped up, totally soaking wet! I realized that they had both falling into the creek that was about two feet deep, but the creek was completely covered with the tall grass and brush so the puppies could not see it - they just went down into the narrow ravine and underwater! They would remain on leash for the rest of the trip!
By the time we made a large circle and returned to Pam, she was just about done with her plein air pastel. A golden afternoon it was...
Later in the day I returned to the area just after dark to try and get some photo work done - with two targets in mind. One was the old mining ghost town of Summitville. There are several miners shacks still there and the wood is really rich in color, grain, and texture. The moon was almost half full and holy cow did it light up the landscape! I didn't even need a flashlight to make my way around - which was a good thing because I could not find my special single-red LED headlamp that I normally use while out taking pictures at night. But I almost made a boo-boo. I set up my tripod behind one of the old shacks and noticed one of the legs was at the edge of what looked like a fire ring (black in the center). Later, after I had located my headlamp, I discovered that the fire ring I was inches away from was actually an open hand-dug well - probably a good idea to ALWAYS us a flashlight!
Later I made my way to the top of a ridge where I could see the spine of the continent spread out before - the jagged peaks of the Continental Divide were about a mile away - both the divide and me were about 12,000' elevation. The moon was still up but getting close to the horizon - which is what I was waiting for. My second target was the Milky Way, but you could hardly see it while the moon was up. I set up my camera with a large telephoto lens and took a few snapshots as the moon disappeared behind the divide. See our Facebook page for a two-shot example.
At first, the landscape all around me was lit up by the moon and within literally just a minute or two, everything went BLACK! Someone turned the lights out! And then a few minutes later the Milky Way began to appear brighter and brighter - right on cue - as the glow from the moon along the divide began to fade.
The brightest part of the Milky Way - the "galactic center" that you see in so many Milky Images - had already set behind the divide while the moon was up. But I had fun shooting the rest of the Milky Way - and well, to tell the truth, working at 12,000' has always been a joy for me! At one point as I wandered around up there above treeline I could see thousands of tiny sparkles in the grasses at my feet (it was pretty chilly and probably had reached the dew point) - yet when I reached down and wiped the ground cover with my hand, it was completely dry. Sparkles on the ground, sparkles above - who needs whiskey or wine or beer with the sky so darn CLEAR!
It was well after midnight when I packed my camera gear away and crawled into the back of the van to get a few hours of sleep. Only one problem - I forgot my sleeping bag back in ARKANSAS! I did have some of the dog's bedding, a down coat, and an Indian rug that Pam uses as a pad during yoga. So I wrapped myself up in dog blankets and laid down to sleep. But then a coyote yelled nearby - one of those lost and lonely and wailing cries that echoed across the night. Then another one yipped. A third joined in, and I'm sure they were having a grand time at my expense! It sounded like they were getting closer, and they were. All of a sudden I got really interested, sat up, and listened carefully. One by one they would move closer to the van, wait a minute or two, then call out. Before long they all sounded like they were within 100 feet of the van - I tried to shine my little headlamp out through the tinted windows, but I think they just laughed. Then I turned on the BRIGHT headlights, and all of a sudden there was a blur of fur (a furblur), and then silence. Yippie coyote away! (Just FYI, I held it the rest of the night and waited until dawn to water the nearby flowers...) I've never had coyotes come that close to me while in a tent (or vehicle) before (at least not that I know of), although one did almost step on me while I was sleeping in a pile of leaves under a bluff shelter one time.
OK, back to NOW. The lynx has gotten really close - even closer than the coyotes were last night. And then Mr. Coyote himself showed up - on the other side of the van, just down in the meadow - and started to cry and wail. For a few moments we had the lynx in one ear and the coyote in the other. I just ended it all by stepping out into the open with a big light to see who was who. I saw the coyote - just as he turned and trotted off, looking over his shoulder a time or two. He was the same guy who has been hanging around here - and the other day got chased around by a large mule deer doe - it was really funny to see this big coyote being chased to within an inch of his life by a DOE! I could not see the lynx and he has stopped calling.
Pam just heard footsteps go by in the woods...