Last week was full of rocks and trees and even flowers. Joy and I took the children to Garden of the Gods, where red sandstone in ragged forms towers above the walking paths. Even the littlest guy walked more than two miles among the juniper and mountain mahogany, and wildflowers mostly gone to seed. The Gambel oaks, also known as Rocky Mountain white oak or Colorado scrub oak, had probably displayed more varied shades of orange and yellow a few weeks ago, but when we encountered them the leaves had aged to a rich, mellow gold.
We saw the rabbitbrush in many forms and places, but didn’t know what it was until just before we left the park and saw its picture in the visitor center. I have known of rabbitbrush for decades and I hope that after this extended encounter I will not forget it so easily. We saw its flower, two sorts of galls on the plants, and noticed its needly leaves and how they are softer than conifer needles. One of the galls is cottony gall; the other I haven’t been able to identify.
The very next day the whole family drove up to Woodland Park; it’s less than an hour to this town that lies at 8500 feet. We walked along Lovell Gulch Trail, among several species of conifers and groves of aspens. We suspected they were aspens, but we knew that birch have similar bark, so when we got home I googled around and it became clear that yes, what we saw were aspens, so plentiful in the Rockies and in dry places high up, while birches like floodplains and shade. And the few leaves that we saw — most had fallen after turning bright yellow — matched the pictures of aspen. I only saw one bright leaf, of another species.
We admired the bark of other trees, especially one that had lots of texture, and fresh sap flowing. Soldier had a sudden thought, came close to get a whiff, and concluded, “Oh, it must be a Jeffrey pine — they smell like butterscotch.” Indeed. Oh, that was delicious! I made up a mnemonic story for myself about a boy named Jeffrey who was walking down the trail and discovered a butterscotch drop on a tree trunk.
The view of the mountains is striking from there, a different perspective from our daily one. We have seen Pikes Peak from several angles now, and don’t know the names of any of the other peaks visible from here. Soldier just read that Colorado has more than 50 peaks over 14,000 feet. Colder temperatures are coming this week, and yes, snow is on the forecast, too. So our views will grow even more spectacular.