Friday, March 16, 2012

16 March: Signs of Spring

Charles here again.

Beautiful day in Boulder, so we set aside the gajillion other important things we have to do to get ready to leave for the PCT, and decided to push the mileage upwards. We're enjoying the warm weather – which isn't odd for Boulder, even though back east the heat's been been record breaking. Must have gotten to 80° or so here.

Packs loaded again to 35 lbs, the three of us headed out from Chautauqua Park on the Mesa Trail. It's a rolling foothills trail that runs along the base of the flatirons, most of the time through ponderosa pine and douglas-fir forest -- sometimes out into mixed trees and prairie. Lots of other trails branch off this way and that. 

Christo had to turn around after 1.5 hrs and hike back for work. Seano and I continued to the end of the trail 6.5 miles at Eldorado Canyon Creek where we stopped to drink from the creek (yummm!) and soak our feet. Then we turned around and hiked back. We made the full 13 miles in about 4.5 hrs, so our hiking pace is around 2.9 mph. (Christo could beat that pace easily). We'll keep working at it.

With as much hiking as we've been doing the past year, you'd THINK our feet would be tougher. But after today's 13 miles with the loaded pack, the feetsies feel like someone's been banging on them with little hammers. Not a big deal -- but achy. Footsore after only 13 miles? What gives? That's gonna have to change one way or the other. Geez.

But while we were trundling along, we saw and heard some beginning signs of spring in the woods and fields. In warm sheltered patches along the trail, we found Oregon grape in bloom.  --------->

<---------------- We also found a few scattered spring beauty.

We saw some of the beginning foliage of the usual suspects this early: filaree, mallow, sage, wild caraway, etc. The shrubs weren't buying any of this warm weather, though. Three-leafed sumac, smooth sumac, mountain mahogany, wild plum -- none of them were budging. They know we have three more months where snowstorms can happen. Willow wands were turning orange-green.

But some bugs are making the most of it. The box elder bugs, for instance – they're already mating. We saw mourning cloak butterflies (always first).

And down through the meadows leading to Eldorado Canyon Creek, the flying insects brought out mountain bluebirds zipping and flitting.

We heard the voice (and then saw the silhouette in the bushes) of a Spotted Towhee. Yay! First spring birds. [Bluebirds better watch it; every year some get caught in our snowy spring weather, and end up frozen]. Robins are belting out mating songs now, and the juncos and trilling away with real verve (it's just a one-note song; you'd think they'd be self-conscious about it). House finches have been going full bore for three weeks now. Mountain chickadees and the black-capped, not yet. Raptors are back and sussing out nest possibilities in the cliff faces of the Flatirons.

We saw our first Least chipmunks emerge about a week ago from their winter snooze. But we don't see them much -- must be still napping mostly. Mule deer bucks still have their antlers (some, anyway), but those'll drop any day now. Didn't see any today -- they hang out in our yard a lot (mountain house). Unfortunately, the Mesa Trail is popular -- and Boulderites do love to take their dogs with them wherever they go. We just don't end up seeing nearly as much wildlife when dogs are running the trails. But when we're alone in these hills, we bump into foxes, coyotes, weasels, skunks, ground squirrels, Abert's squirrels, bears -- once a bobcat. But today, nothing much in the four-footed department except canines. Woof.

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