Crested Butte

The area around Crested Butte is world famous for its variety and quantity of wildflowers. There’s a festival every summer, which we wanted no part of. We arranged to visit the weekend after. We weren’t the only ones with that thought—the town and surrounding area was packed. 

But it was also stunningly beautiful. I’ve long considered the shores of Lake Superior to be my favorite place on earth. Crested Butte didn’t surpass it, but I think it equaled it. It looked stormy when we arrived on Friday afternoon. We checked into the Old Town Inn and then went for a drive up Gothic Road past Gothic Mountain (named for the Gothic-looking arches on the cliffs). 

Back in town we took a hike on the Woods Trail, looking for the blue columbine that grow there. I think we were late in the season because we only found two.

We didn’t feel like hanging in the hotel room all evening—there weren’t any comfortable chairs, for one thing. So we walked across a parking lot to the tiny theater and saw Ant-Man and the Wasp. We both found it amusing.

We got up fairly early on Saturday morning and drove up Washington Gulch.

Our original plan was to walk a trail at the top of the valley, but we eventually got to a place where the road was rougher than I wanted to tackle in our CR-V. We turned around and parked at a curve where we could see down down the gulch.

The wildflowers were impressive.

Even up here, there were people around—camping, biking, and driving up the gulch.

We drove back down to Crested Butte, then headed uphill again on Gothic Road, where we’d been the night before. The hillsides were carpeted with purple fireweed, which grows wherever the ground has been disturbed—like after a fire.

We stopped at a coffee shop that’s part of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory—a station located in what’s left of the town of Gothic. It’s set aside for scientists who come to study the unique local environment.

We hiked the Judd Falls Trail. It was two miles round-trip, and we took it slow and enjoyed the view.

The falls were down in a gorge. This is as close as we could get.

When we finished the trail, we drove up the road toward Schofield Pass. 

We kept going until we got to a spot where the road narrowed to a single lane on a shelf between a rocky cliff and a drop-off. After gingerly creeping over a bump in the road (where we scraped on the way back down), I decided to be smart and take the first chance I had to turn around. Heading back along the shelf, I was last in a string of four cars that met three others coming up. We had to wait while they backed against the cliffs, then we crawled past with our right wheels at the edge of the drop-off. Traffic was picking up, and on the way back to town the dust was so bad we had to close our windows and turn on the air conditioning.

We showered at the hotel, then headed into town for lunch at Brick Oven Pizza. We sat in the outside patio and enjoyed a tasty and inexpensive pizza served by a friendly server. We walked up the street to Niky’s for ice cream and a couple mini donuts for later.

Later in the afternoon, I dropped Sally at the hotel and went back to the Woods Trail. I was hoping to find Clark’s Nutcrackers and Red-naped Sapsuckers, both of which I needed for my year list. I had hardly begun walking when I found a pair of sapsuckers. There were also a lot of Pine Siskins around, feeding on the dead flowers. But no nutcrackers.

Another afternoon thunderstorm passed to the south and gave me a few nervous moments, but the skies cleared when I got close to Peanut Lake.

The mountain in the photos above and below is Crested Butte, after which the town is named.

In some old ruins, I found these two Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrels.

I would have liked to do more, but it had been a long day. We crashed in the room for the evening, eating Lunchables from the nearby market. We had a good time in Crested Butte, and would even stay in the same hotel if we make it back. It was fairly pricey, although I’m guessing it’s about as inexpensive as it gets in that town. It was clean and the beds were comfortable—all I ask of a hotel. It would have been nice if there had been decent chairs and if the water temperature in the shower didn’t change every two minutes. But you can’t have everything in life.

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Lifer #499 — Dusky Grouse

dendragapus obscurus

Friday, July 20, 2018 — 12:16 pm

St. Elmo, Colorado — Chalk Creek Drive (County Road 162)

As is the case with most gallinaceous birds, you don’t really go to a spot and look for Dusky Grouse. The way to find them is to put yourself in the right habitat and hope you and the grouse happen upon the same spot at the same time. As Sally and I drove up the canyon to the ghost town of St. Elmo, I asked her to keep her eyes open for grouse-looking birds. We saw nothing on the way west. By the time we were heading down the canyon, the road was busy with cars and pickups and ATVs. It definitely didn’t feel remote, and I said to Sally that we weren’t going to find any Dusky Grouse in all that mess.

Not thirty seconds later, we rounded a corner and I saw something dark about 100 yards ahead of us. I had a good feeling that it might be a grouse, but a car was approaching from the other direction, and I figured it would flush before we got close. Nope. The car had to swerve around the hen as it ambled slowly across the road. I pulled up close to it and started taking video. When the bird got to the south side of the road, it turned and walked along next to us for about 20 yards. I took this video with my phone, then scrambled for my camera.

The grouse hopped up on a fallen log and watched us warily. I knew they were tame, but this one was sticking around longer than I would have expected. Then we found out why. Over the next couple minutes, three half-grown chicks flew across and landed in the woods near the hen. I didn’t get great looks at them because I was concentrating on photographing the female, but Sally saw them well. After three of them got across the road, the female took a short flight off the stump where she had been perched and disappeared into the trees. I got a good look at her fanned tail with a distinct gray band on the tip (also visible in the photos).

Hiding

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St. Elmo

St. Elmo is a ghost town in the Sawatch Range about two hours west of our house. The road that leads to it passes through the Chalk Cliffs along Chalk Creek.

The town was established in 1880 when silver was discovered along Chalk Creek. The railroad soon followed. By 1930, the mining was pretty much done and the railroad was shut down. Several buildings still remain in good condition. All of them are privately owned, and we were only allowed in two of them—the town hall and a general store. 

We wandered up the street and back down, looking at the buildings. Several of them were undergoing restoration projects.

The buildings are fun to see, but they weren’t the chief draw for us. The general store (above) sells sunflower seeds. We bought some and crossed the street to a pile of lumber that was crawling with chipmunks and ground squirrels.

Golden-mantled Ground-Squirrel

When things were quiet, the critters were very tame, running across our laps and up onto our shoulders. But before long a whole bunch of kids swarmed the pile and many of the animals disappeared.

But the main attraction for me was the hummingbirds. There were 10 or so feeders around the general store, and hummingbirds were everywhere. Most of them were Broad-tailed, but I spotted a couple Rufous and at least three Calliopes (the one I had just gotten as a lifer the evening before). They too were tame as long as people were calm and moved slowly. The Rufous seemed more skittish, and I didn’t get a great photo of them.

Broad-tailed

Rufous

Calliope

We stayed about two hours and had a lot of fun—especially after I saw my lifer Dusky Grouse crossing the road outside town (next post).

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Lifer #498 — Calliope Hummingbird

selasphorus calliope

Thursday, July 19, 2018 — 4:55 pm

Colorado Springs, Colorado — Colorado Springs Utilities Xeriscape Demonstration Garden

Calliope Hummingbirds are the smallest North American bird. They don’t make much noise, and they forage on low flowers, so they’re really easy to overlook. Their range is mostly west of the Rockies, but a handful wander along the east slope in the fall. The “fall” apparently begins in mid-July, because people have been reporting them over the past couple weeks. I made a try for one last weekend at Garden of the Gods without success.

At least one has also been seen during the past week in the demonstration garden in front of a Colorado Springs Utilities office building. The garden features plants that can be grown in the high desert. 

As I got out of my car, a woman walked by with her dog. She asked if I was there to photograph hummingbirds. I said I was. She directed me to a patch of red flowers where she said they liked to hang out. I walked over and soon saw an immature male Broad-tailed Hummingbird. It was occasionally feeding on the flowers, but most of the time it sat in nearby trees. Whenever another hummer would show up, it would fly down and aggressively chase it out of the area. This was frustrating because they were moving too fast for me to identify. 

After about half an hour, a woman came by with a camera. She said she’d seen one on the other side of the building by the parking lot. She wandered over there, and when she didn’t come back after five minutes or so I wandered over there too. She was standing by a small island that was covered by low-growing orange flowers. As I approached, I saw three hummingbirds flying around the area.

The woman left and I settled in. The first bird I looked at was a male Calliope Hummingbird. It hung around for about two minutes, long enough for me to get a few photos.

It was very small, with a short tail. The streaky pink gorget (throat) is diagnostic. It took off toward the main garden, and although I hung around for another 15 minutes, I didn’t see it again. There were several other hummingbirds that continually visited the garden and chased each other. I think one of them, which I got a very close, very brief, look at, was a female Calliope, based on it’s very small size.

The next day, we visited St. Elmo in the Collegiate Peaks. The owners of the general store have hummingbird feeders hung all around the building. The hummingbirds are everywhere. I spotted three species (Broad-tailed, Rufous, and Calliope) and was able to observe them from less than a yard away. There were at least two males and one female Calliope Hummingbird. The male in the photo is with a female Broad-tailed, giving a good idea of the difference in size and tail length.

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