On the drive down from our cabin to the “main drag” along the Animas River, we spotted a snoeshoe hare (in summer coat) hopping slowly into the woods. They're far cuter than our rabbits in San Diego :) As we drove down, we could see the tops of clouds below us, peeking through the trees. It was stormy last night, raining for several hours, and the air was humid and crisp (48°F).
The entrance to Stony Basin is just a few miles up the road from our cabin's road, and we turned straight in. Almost immediately we saw a pika, and we kept seeing them all day long. On our previous visits to the San Juans, the pikas were elusive creatures – we heard them, but rarely saw them. This time we're seeing lots of them, often working away collecting “hay” while we're watching from a short distance away. We're not sure why it's different this time, but we're sure enjoying the good viewing!
A short way up the Stony Basin road, there's a good view of a crazy building to the northwest. We call it crazy because it's huge and perched high up on the side of a very steep escarpment. There are no roads to it, and we can't even see a pack trail to it. We'd be hard-pressed to get to it even today, unless there's a hidden trail that we somehow can't see across the open rock. It's a mystery to us how they built that thing!
We've been enjoying one of the more decadent features of our FJ: the refrigerator it carries. It works just like the refrigerator in your kitchen, only much smaller and powered by the car's 12 volts. It makes very little sound, and (surprisingly) uses relatively little power. We leave it on all night when the truck is turned off. We're keeping some sparkling water drinks in there, along with some crisp Fuji apples. Having ice cold water out in the middle of nowhere is quite a treat...
This morning we aired down to 23 pounds. I'm still experimenting with pressures to see what gives us the best ride. Some of today's road was quite rugged, over wet rocks, and the tires performed beautifully. I suspect I'm near the perfect pressure at 23 pounds.
The drive up Stony Gulch to the pass was beautiful. The vegetation looks lush and green, especially the three kinds of low shrubs we see (one of them is a willow, but the other two I don't know). This is probably the result of the recent rains, as the year is actually quite dry. Wildflowers were everywhere, and beautiful. Near the top of the pass was the very best, in a valley perhaps a half mile from the road. Tomorrow morning I'm going back here to take a walk (Debbie can't do this sort of uneven ground yet, so I'll have to leave her behind, dang it).
While parked so that we could gaze at the aforementioned valley, we spotted sheep moving on the hillside across the valley, high above us. Debbie quickly spotted two border collies actively herding them, two Pyrenees guarding them, a shepherd whistling out orders to all of them, and the shepherd's horse (a gorgeous Palomino). At one point we saw the shepherd call the border collies to him and give them a big hug. It was an idyllic scene, something you might imagine would be more common in years past. A beautiful stream gulch, painted with various shades and textures of green. Patches of wildflowers everywhere you look. Green hillsides littered with sheep, and a shepherd employing techniques in use for hundreds of years to manage his flock (there were something like 250 sheep in it). We sat there for quite a while just enjoying this panorama...
At one spot as we drove along, we saw a purplish “puddle” ahead of us. On getting closer, we realized it was the densest and largest display of elephant's head flowers we've ever seen, anywhere or anytime. On our previous visits we saw quite a few of these showy flowers, but never anything even remotely resembling this show. I tried to estimate the size by counting the number of flowers in about a square meter (110) and then estimating the number of square meters (about 150) to get a total of 16,500 – but that is only slightly better than a wild guess. Whatever the number was, the display was both impressive and beautiful...
In one seep we passed, there was a lush display of bright green moss. Amongst the moss clumps were patches of yellow violets. All of this was covered with sparkles from the droplets of rain or dew that covered all of it. As if that wasn't attractive enough, brightly colored butterflies by the dozen flitted back and forth between the violets. I could stare at that for hours...
After crossing over the pass, we started looking for irises, because in years past we'd seen wonderful displays of them there. We could see the plants, but they were in seed – we missed them. Dang! Later in the day, along Bear Creek we spotted one meadow with a couple patches of late bloomers, but those were the only irises we saw. We did discover something else, though: while we thought the irises were common along Stony Pass Road, we found that there were many more irises along some of the initial stretches of the road along Bear Creek. We passed a couple of knolls where the iris plants were so dense they looked like a lawn. One can only imagine what those knolls looked like when the irises were in bloom!
Not far from where the Bear Creek road branches from Stony Pass Road, there are several outcrops of a greenish mineral that we don't know. From a distance, these outcroppings are quite striking; close up, they're actually a little hard to pick out. We have no idea what the mineral might be...
We spotted a moose browsing the willow along Bear Creek, about halfway to Kite Lake. The moose out here look just as big and dumb as the moose back in Maine used to look :)
Toward the end of the road along Bear Creek, as we approached Kite Lake, the afternoon got dark and stormy. The rain poured down on us, and there was lightning all around us. For people like us from a dry part of the world, this is a wonderful and enjoyable sight. Not everyone would agree, I think :) However, it did add to the challenge of the drive – that section of the road is very rugged and steep, and the rain made for mud and slick rocks. The FJ handled it all very competently, but I will say that Debbie and I were repeatedly thankful that we had decided to “armor” the FJ – we scraped over quite a few rocks!
It was too cold and wet at Kite Lake to let the dogs out. This was a little disappointing, as we were looking forward to watching Race playing in the lake. I'm sure he'd have loved it.
The drive back from Kite Lake along Bear Creek brought us a bunch of unexpected delights of the wildlife variety. First we spotted a doe browsing in an open forest, just 30' or so from the road. She wasn't spooked by us at all. Then we spotted a male mountain bluebird hunting bugs and scouting from his perch on false hellebore growing in the meadow. What beautiful birds! A bit further down the road, Debbie spotted a doe with twin fawns along the edge of the forest; the fawns couldn't have been more than a few days old. Another few hundred feet and I spotted another male mountain bluebird, bug in beak, sitting on top of a 10 foot tall dead tree trunk – and then we watched him flit into a hole in that tree. A nest! We sat and watched the mom and dad bluebirds feed their babies. I went out and peeked up into the hole, and I could see at least two babies, both looking like they were ready to fledge. Then another half mile or so down the road, Debbie spotted a bachelor group of young bucks, three of them, browsing in the willows.
When we got back to the ford over Bear Creek, just before hitting the Stony Pass Road, we stopped to let the dogs play in the stream and to have a little meal. The dogs, as usual, had an absolute blast. They crawled back into the truck wet and shivering, but as happy as a dog can get. Miki actually went into the water a bit; he's getting braver. Race plunged right in and commenced his crazy water-biting and water-slapping. I'd give anything to know what's going on in his little head when he's doing this. The only thing that's clear is that he's having a great time! Debbie and I had slices of cold Fuji apple with peanut butter, some handfuls of trail mix, and some teriyaki beef jerky, all washed down with cold sparkly water. Lovely!
All day long we were entertained by countless numbers of nano-chippies and pika. The nano-chippies were especially numerous along Bear Creek.
On the drive back toward home, we saw the shepherd and his flock again. This time his sheep were scattered all over the high meadows, stretched out for over a mile. The shepherd's tent was on the other side of the pass, perhaps a mile away. We're guessing that closer to sunset the shepherd will move his flock to the meadows around his tent for the night.
When we got back to Silverton (to gas up and buy a few groceries), it was pouring rain. The grocery store owners were sitting out on their covered porch, enjoying the rain and lightning show. That's something Debbie and I might do, if we ever had a storm like that back home in Jamul :)
It was altogether a wonderful day...