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Married at Maroon Bells!

We both woke earlier than normal on the morning of our wedding day. We were nervous about being the center of attention, and apprehensive but hopeful that everyone would have a good time at our non-traditional wedding. The good news is that we weren’t worried at all about marrying each other!

Crawling out of our tent early in the morning with our pet bird Cheep Cheep

After some breakfast, it was time to get ready for the ceremony. Chris had it easy. He dunked his head in Maroon Creek, rustled his hands through his hair and called it done. Lili and Cindy took more time and care doing Anna’s hair up. They even added in a few white flowers.

Lili and Cindy putting up Anna's hair

Lili and Cindy putting up Anna’s hair

Chris’s suit had been hanging in the van to keep it wrinkle-free. When Chris saw it, he decided to change into his wedding outfit right there in the van since it had more headroom than our ultralight tent!

Chris getting ready in the cargo van (photo by Kent Meireis)

Chris getting ready in the cargo van

Anna slipped her dress on near the creek in the privacy of the trees. As we mentioned in our previous post, there had been a lot of rain the last few days. Today was as clear as could be and we were thrilled. The whole group happily applied sunscreen.

Applying sunscreen (photo by Kent Meireis)

Applying sunscreen

We then all left the Silver Queen Campground and headed up to the Maroon Bells amphitheater for the ceremony. Chris’s sister Becky played Wild Mountain Thyme on the concertina as we walked down the path into the amphitheater with our parents.

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Pre-Wedding Camping and Aspen Mountain

We love the outdoors and we love each other, so it seemed logical to have a camping wedding. Over the past year we have been planning a three-day wedding celebration near Maroon Bells and Aspen, Colorado. Two days before our guests were due to arrive, we loaded up a big rental cargo van with all sorts of camping equipment and wedding items we had carefully collected from thrift stores, consignment stores, and Craigslist. Our drive to Aspen took us through some stunning mountains. We were tired when we arrived so we set up camp, ate a quick dinner, and fell fast asleep.

The next morning, still groggy, we heard a deep voice outside our tent say “Anna and Chris.” Anna started to unzip the tent, dreading that a ranger would bring us some sort of bad news about the group of campsites we’d reserved months ago. “Anna and Chris” came the call again just as she tossed the rain fly to the side. It was Mags and Stu! They had also come up a few days early to do some backpacking in the area and had decided to see if we had arrived yet. So wonderful to wake to old friends smiling down on you.

Mags and Stu greeting us in our tent

Mags and Stu greeting us in our tent

Soon we were up and running errands: securing additional campsites, buying groceries, ordering flowers, etc. At the grocery store, we (Cheep Cheep too!) were thrilled to meet Smokey Bear. We think he was excited to learn about our camping wedding too, though he is a pretty chill sort of bear, so it’s hard to tell.

Sharing a moment with Smokey the Bear

Sharing a moment with Smokey the Bear

On Thursday afternoon our friends and family started arriving and setting up camp at the Silver Queen Campground in White River National Forest. It’s a spectacular car camping site with Maroon Creek rushing past a few steps from the campsites, towering red-hued cliffs, aspens quaking in the breeze, and the Maroon Bell peaks visible in the distance if you stand in the right spot.

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Visiting PCT Friends on the CDT

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.

 

Poudre Lake, the beginning of the Poudre River

Next to the Continental Divide at Milner Pass is Poudre Lake, the beginning of the Poudre River which flows through Fort Collins

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PCT Book Sale! (We’re homeowners!)

View from kitchen looking out onto living room and patio

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!)

Pacific Crest Trail: A Journey In Photographs Book Cover

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!

 

Unmanned Wildlife Cameras

Bobcat on the prowl at night

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

Young deer bounding down the trail

Coyote in tall grass

Coyote in tall grass

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Fish Creek Falls, Routt National Forest

Fish Creek Falls Overlook

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.

Glacier lilies

Glacier lilies

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!

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It’s Time to Teach!

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

Bobcat Ridge Natural Area

Rabbit in a prairie dog hole at Coyote 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.

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Master Naturalist Training

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.

Instructor and student looking for insects in the Poudre River

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

Roots and reflections in the Poudre

 

High Country News Gallery and Book Review

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:

http://www.hcn.org/issues/46.3/pacific-crest-trail-a-journey-in-photographs-by-chris-alexander/@@gallery_view

High Country News also published a wonderful review in their print magazine and online. We smiled from ear to ear when we read it:

High Country News Review of Pacific Crest Trail: A Journey in Photographs

If you like what you saw and read, please consider purchasing a book for yourself or a good friend. Thank you.

Backcountry Yurt Trip, State Forest State Park

North Fork Canadian Yurt

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.

Snowshoeing to North Fork Canadian yurt

Yurt blue trail markerFresh 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.

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