Shutterbug, North Star, Monkey, Mama Bear, and Wheels
Last weekend we headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park hoping to cross paths with our Pacific Crest Trail friends Mama Bear and Monkey. Their trail names might ring a bell because when she was 9, Monkey became the youngest person to thru hike the PCT. This summer Mama Bear and Monkey are tackling a large section of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) from the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado to Yellowstone National Park in northern Wyoming. They are updating an engaging, well-written blog as they hike.
We’ve been texting back and forth during their trek trying to figure out a good time and place to meet up. Last Thursday they informed us that they expected to be in Grand Lake, CO on Saturday afternoon. We changed some plans and headed up, up, up to the Continental Divide. Water that falls on one side of the Divide ends up in the Pacific Ocean. Precipitation on the other side flows into the Atlantic.
Next to the Continental Divide at Milner Pass is Poudre Lake, the beginning of the Poudre River which flows through Fort Collins
View of the living room and patio from the kitchen
Exciting news! We bought a condo! It’s close to the river bike path, near several Natural Areas, and less than a mile walk from the center of downtown Fort Collins. It’s modern, bright, and very energy efficient with foam insulation, a tankless hot water heater, double pane windows, a 92% efficiency furnace, and a downstairs neighbor who will heat our floor. We love it.
To celebrate, we are offering FREE shipping on Pacific Crest Trail: A Journey in Photographs book orders until June 25th. (That’s a good discount because shipping large heavy books isn’t cheap!)
We think you’ll love the book — but don’t take our word for it. Liz Bergeron, Executive Director and CEO of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, says:
This is the best collection of PCT photographs I’ve seen! Day hikers, section hikers, thru hikers, and anyone who enjoys the outdoors will love this book. The photos do a great job of capturing the essence of the PCT.
You can view sample pages and learn more on our book page.
Time for us to get packing, both our apartment and PCT book shipment boxes! Woohoo!
Bobcat on the prowl at night
During Anna’s naturalist training, she learned of an awesome Fort Collins project: unmanned wildlife cameras. These cameras are mounted to trees. Whenever they sense motion and heat, they snap a photo. Unmanned cameras let us peek into what’s happening in the middle of the night, during a snowstorm, or after we round the bend out of view.
Below are a few of our favorite images from these cameras. Big exciting wildlife like bears, bobcats, fox, coyote, and mountain lions are out there, they just prefer to hide when loud humans come walking down the trail. Note the time stamp on each photo. It’s cool to see when these animals are out and doing their thing – whether it’s hunting or playing.
Young deer bounding down the trail
Coyote in tall grass
Fish Creek Falls Overlook
We recently spent a week in Steamboat Springs, CO with our family. As with most families, everyone had different preferences when it came to activities. The short hike to Fish Creek Falls was a hit for everyone though, including little one-and-a-half year old Kion. It was such an enjoyable yet easy hike, we came back a second time later in the week.
A paved path led us very gradually uphill to a gorgeous overlook of the falls. The warm day melted large amounts of high elevation snowpack, so the falls were gushing.
Melting snow brought out another kind of beauty too: glacier lilies. One of the first flowers to bloom after the snow recedes, they were in full bloom along the trail. Their delicate bowed heads always remind us of origami.
We then backtracked a bit and turned onto the Picnic Trail, which led us down towards the base of the falls. The sound of pounding water intensified as we drew closer. We soon reached a bridge over Fish Creek which provided a great view of the Fish Creek waterfall — all 283 feet of it!
Anna recently completed her Master Naturalist training! The classroom training was extensive and covered subjects from the ecology of the prairie to the geology of the Rocky Mountains.
Bobcat Ridge Natural Area
Rabbit in a prairie dog hole at Coyote Ridge Natural Area
One of her favorite topics during the training ended up being prairie dogs. They are fascinating creatures, and a true keystone species, with about 160 other species benefiting from their presence. Prairie dogs turn the soil as they dig their complex tunnel systems, inadvertently aerating and fertilizing the soil. They are a great food source for larger animals like eagles, hawks, and ferrets. Plus, their abandoned burrows serve as homes for other animals, like burrowing owls and rabbits.
Master Naturalist training requires not just absorbing information, but also teaching it. In mid-April, each trainee had to create and present a lesson plan on a topic of their choice. Anna decided to give a talk about the water cycle and water conservation, geared towards 3rd graders. Her water cycle drawing connected with people, but the real hit was her Lego dioramas depicting the river and various ways humans use its water. She filled the river container with water, then poured the water into other containers representing a variety of city and agricultural uses. This demonstration visually showed that our water supply is limited, and that we need to conserve and share the water with wildlife.
Earlier this month, Anna was very excited to learn she’d been accepted into the Fort Collins Master Naturalist Program! The program provides 60 hours of ecological and interpretive training. After completing the training and giving two trial presentations, she’ll become a certified Master Naturalist. Anna will then volunteer to lead field trips and informative nature walks in the Natural Areas around Fort Collins.
Training began this week with classes in the ecology of the Rocky Mountains, taxonomy, life zones, aquatic invertebrates, and the shape and speed of rivers. The teachers and other trainees are awesome. Everyone is passionate about the natural world and each participant brings their own expertise. Anna will likely come away from the training with new friends in addition to new knowledge.
Looking at insects we found in the Poudre River
Yesterday’s class took place in the middle of the Poudre River, where she practiced dip netting and identification of aquatic invertebrates. So much fun!
Anna will learn much more in the coming month of classes, including:
- Geology of the Front Range
- Plant Ecology of the Shortgrass Prairie
- Mammals of the Rockies
- Riparian Native Trees and Shrubs
- Night Sky and Nocturnal Animals
- Birds of Fort Collins
- Interpretation and Outreach Techniques for Different Age Groups
Though we won’t write about all the classes here, we’ll make sure to include pieces of Anna’s newfound knowledge in our future hiking posts.
Roots and reflections in the Poudre
Want to take a peek into our book Pacific Crest Trail: A Journey in Photographs? Well, now is your chance. High Country News is featuring 12 of Chris’s PCT images on their website. (Soon the gallery will be highlighted on their homepage too!) Check the photographs out here:
High Country News also published a wonderful review in their print magazine and online. We smiled from ear to ear when we read it:
If you like what you saw and read, please consider purchasing a book for yourself or a good friend. Thank you.
The most stressful part of winter wilderness travel can be getting to the trailhead. Remote mountain roads may be icy or unplowed. In addition, we have little experience driving in winter weather, since we don’t own a car, and only rent one to go on hikes like these.
On this trip we drove over Cameron Pass and made it within 100 feet of the trailhead, only to get stuck when we stopped to read a sign. Underneath the snow was a layer of solid ice on which the car’s wheels spun freely. Reversing did nothing, and getting out to push had little effect. Fortunately after a few minutes some friendly snowmobilers happened by and helped push the car free. Thanks Arlen, Justin, and Travis for your noble effort and your useful tips to avoid getting stuck in the future.
Relieved and with the car appropriately parked, we suited up and strapped on snowshoes for our journey to the North Fork Canadian Yurt. The trail began on a compacted snowmobile path, which made for easy walking.
Fresh snow gracefully covered the ground in white curves, giving the landscape a peaceful quality. Whenever we took a break, snow-damped silence blanketed everything. Only occasionally would a bird call or rustling wind interrupt the calm.
The trail led us across the frozen North Fork Canadian River. Soon after crossing, the larger snowmobile path diverged from the yurt path. The remainder of our route was a small dimple in the snow, marked periodically by blue yurt signs.
This past Sunday was the anniversary of our first date. Five years ago we met at the marina in Berkeley, CA where Chris taught Anna how to fly her new two-line stunt kite. Conversation was excellent and flying was fun. Much has changed for us over the past five years, but we still love to experience new things and spend time together outdoors. January in Colorado isn’t ideal for kite flying, so we opted for a more appropriate winter activity to celebrate our anniversary: snowshoeing.
We arrived at the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park to gorgeous sunny blue skies. The wind was fierce but we had noted that in the forecast so we were prepared. We bundled up, strapped on our snowshoes, and set off, though a bit awkwardly at first. It had been a while since we’d walked with snowshoes.
Within steps, frozen Bear Lake was visible with classic Rocky Mountain peaks behind. It was a grand start to the hike.
Bear Lake, just steps from the trailhead
Orange trail marker
We followed the eastern shore of Bear Lake for a few hundred feet, then broke away from the lake and started climbing. The route wasn’t obvious because people had compacted the snow in numerous paths and the official trail was buried. Preparation and solid navigation skills are important for travel in snow. Even though we were ready to use our map, compass, and GPS to navigate, we were happy to find the Bierstadt Lake Trail marked with permanent orange flags affixed to trees.
Once we got into our rhythm, the snowshoes made us feel more superhuman than clunky. It was fun to easily traverse steep or heavily side sloped terrain without fear of falling.
All was going well until we realized that the trail should have ceased climbing and that an orange flag sighting was overdue. We decided to backtrack.
2013 was a challenging and eventful year for us. The year was filled with a mix of emotions–anticipation, joy, frustration, and excitement. It wasn’t the year we had planned, but it was full and that’s how we like it.
Our PCT book in the window of the Roads, Rivers, and Trails store
The most memorable events were:
- Completing our book Pacific Crest Trail: A Journey in Photographs. Before the book was finished, a friend told us that publishing a book was like giving birth to a baby. We were skeptical when we first heard this comparison, but there is truth in it. Our publishing experience was emotional, painful, and hugely time-intensive. It feels like a part of us is embedded in the book. Once it was printed, we were simultaneously proud and nervous to send our creation into the world. And of course, the work isn’t done. We must constantly support the book and find new people to love it as much as we do.
- Hiking 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Each day introduced us to new sights, people, sounds, and smells. We love the simplicity of living in nature. Our hike was cut short by a terrible case of shingles, but that did not diminish the unique experiences we had on the AT.
Anna crossing a creek on the Appalachian Trail