We got up early this morning and hit the road just as the mountaintops got the first touches of sunshine. We headed down toward Silverton until we hit the entrance to Corkscrew Gulch, then dropped into four wheel drive and low range to head up the mountain. This was a relatively easy four-wheel drive, rugged in only a few places and never challenging. We saw several deer and most memorably a fearless chipmunk who let us drive up to within 5 or 6 feet of him – close enough to see his little nose quivering. Near the highest point we reached today, we found this icy pond. The knolls around it had abundant (and tiny!) arctic wildflowers. An odd bird cry repeated frequently; I only caught a glimpse of it and couldn't even begin to identify it. It appeared to be the size of a small duck, and was light-colored (perhaps grey). When I spotted it, it was flying low away from a pond and up to a snowbank. We're speculating that it was a ptarmigan, mainly because we can't think what else it could be.
After leaving this summit, we drove down the canyon straight into Silverton. We saw some beautiful ice formations just below the summit, formed above a little rivulet draining the tundra. On the beginning of this drive, we saw lots of deer and chipmunks, and fat marmots. One of the marmots we saw was carrying a baby, apparently moving it from one place to another. This marmot ran straight up the road toward our jeep, stopping every 100 feet or so to rest – that baby was about 1/3 the size of the mother, spherical, fluffy, and cute!
The scenery at the beginning of the drive down to Silverton was beautiful, but there weren't many flowers. The snow hasn't been gone from the higher areas for more than a week or two. As we got closer to Silverton (and lower in elevation), we could watch the season advancing. About a mile outside Silverton, we took a little side road to the east for about a mile. A deer ran across the road right in front of us. The road climbed steeply up through spruce and aspen groves, and the occasional meadow of a few acres in size. Most of these meadows had streams running through them, and all of them had wildflowers. These weren't spectacular, but they were the best we'd seen up to that point.
Here are a couple more pictures taken along the drive down:
In several of these meadows, we let the dogs out to run, off-leash. They had a blast! The most fun for them (and for us!) was the dog's find of the day: a little spring that formed a mud-hole. That mud was black as could be, and Race was terrifically excited about the opportunity to dig in it. He dug out great globs of mud and sent them flying behind him, some of them smacking Miki right in the head (and Miki looked mighty put out about this!). When Race got done with this, he was all black – every bit of his white fur was caked with black mud the same color as his black fur. Later we found a clear-running stream for him to wash off in, and our black-and-white Race returned. Miki refused to get into this clear stream. When I tried to get him in, he simply leaped over it (our agility dog!). Race, on the other hand, absolutely loved playing in the stream. He got all wound up, chasing something he thought he saw in the stream, and making funny whimpering noises. It was hard to get him to leave – I think he'd have stayed in there all day. Later on the drive, Race would watch any water we were driving by, and looked expectantly at us, as if to say “Here? Is this where we play in the water again?”...
After leaving this lovely area, we drove on down to Silverton, grabbed a cup of iced coffee, and headed toward Stony Pass. We never actually went up Stony Pass, though – we first took the road to Cunningham Gulch and ended up spending the rest of our day there because it was so beautiful. Gorgeous waterfalls seemed to pop up every 6 feet or so. There were dozens of them along our route, and we didn't even go to the end of the road. Then there were wildflowers – more wildflowers by far than we'd seen anywhere else. This, despite the altitude of up to 11,000 feet. The valley runs north-to-south, but so did the valley we took down to Silverton earlier in the day, and the wildflower abundance couldn't be more different. The altitude ranges were comparable as well. So we have no idea why we had an abundance of wildflowers in Cunningham Gulch. But who cares? They were there!
On the way out of Cunningham Gulch we had the best treat of all. Looking across the gulch, Debbie spotted white dots moving on the talus slope perhaps 2/3 of a mile away. When she got the binoculars on them, we discovered that we were watching a family of Rocky Mountain goats: the momma, the poppa, and a baby. We were able to watch them for about 10 or 15 minutes as they made their way across a talus slope into a stand of spruce, where they apparently were grazing or taking a nap. What fun that was to watch them!
Ok, here are the flowers: