Sunday, December 27, 2015

Home for the Holidays

The Colorado winter, at least in the lowlands, can often be very mild and dry, but not December 2015. It seems like the white stuff has been falling more often than a Brit visits his local pub, ok, that may be unfair to Colorado, it does not quite snow that much :). In reality the snow did not arrive in full force until mid-December. The 12/13th we saw light snow, then on the 15th we saw 10"(25cm) of snow fall, and on the 25th/26th we saw another 2"(5cm) officially giving us a "White Christmas". The temperatures have remained pretty nippy, meaning any melting is just a tease, as it re-freezes overnight or gets added to from a new storm.

What this all meant was, I had to finally give in to winter and ditch any idea of cycling outside; instead I dusted off my cameras, hiking boots, and my snowshoes!. Christmas week was a week for me to explore (or re-explore) some old haunts, and some new ones in Boulder County, CO. 

Day 1: I started off with a barn that had caught my eye on many occasion whilst traversing the roads of Boulder County on my bicycle. (Note: Click any image for a larger slideshow view)

Patriotic Barn Highway 52

My second stop of the day was an old haunt called Sawhill & Walden ponds wildlife preserve. These old gravel pits close to Boulder are one of the top places in the area to view birds and waterfowl, although winter time is not always the best time for that. I had a pleasant stroll in the snow though, and did capture a couple of keepers.

Sawhill Ponds Winter Bunny

Sawhill Ponds

Day 2: I had planned to head up into the mountains, but the forecast for strong winds was less that appealing, so exploring closer to home was a better option again. At 8am I made the decision to hike at Rabbit Mountain, a Boulder County Park within 10 miles of home. My first stop on route to Rabbit Mountain was an old painted Silo, and one I often cycle past, and have photographed previously. The Silo and Rabbit Mountain are close to the foothills, and the wind was howling even here.

The Sunflower Silo

Once at Rabbit Mountain I decided to hike to the Little Thompson Overlook, I figured since that trail was on the East side of the mountain it would provide some shelter from the wind, and I was right, it did. The trail is a very pleasant 3.5 mile out and back, with views starting out to the continental divide, and switching to views to the Plains after 0.5 mile.

Ponderosa Pine

The Plant and wildlife at Rabbit Mountain is in the foothills ecosystem, where the plains meet the mountains. Ponderosa Pine and Juniper thrive, and alpine flowers in the warmer months, along with rattlesnakes!.

Little Thompson River Valley

Day 3: A fresh dusting of snow arrived overnight on the 23rd, along with a thick cover of freezing fog. My plan was to venture into the mountains and snowshoe, the wind forecast was finally a little less hurricane like. The fresh snow and frozen fog glistening on the trees was too good to pass up shooting though, so I first headed to Golden Ponds, a recreation area 0.5 mile from home.

The Geese take flight

The Fog bank clears

After scurrying back home from Golden Ponds, I quickly loaded my winter gear and snowshoes, and headed towards the hills. The journey up the canyon and along the Peak to Peak highway was very slow going, the overnight snow had made the roads slick and snow covered. I finally arrived at the Brainard Lake Winter Parking area in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area mid morning. To my surprise there were a handful of cars already there, but even more of a surprise there was ZERO wind.

I had snowshoed this area in the past, later in the season, and on both occasions the snow levels were fairly low. This season the mountains had been getting a lot of snow though, and this week in particular had received heavy snowfall. What is great about this area is they have a designated snowshoe trail, more info can be found here from CMC Boulder. My plan was to make it to Brainard Lake and back, about a 5 mile round trip, but starting out it was clear that a lot of snow had recently fallen, and that not alot of people had come through to compact the trails. It was hard going in certain areas, and the final 0.5 mile I was breaking trail. The closer I got to Brainard Lake, the deeper the snow, and the harder it got. I made it just past the campground area, and decided that snowshoeing in knee deep snow by that point was too much work. The fresh snowfall made for a beautiful winter scene within the trees.

Fresh Powder

Where the Snowshoe trail intersects with the road

Day 4: For a second day in a row I headed into the mountains, this time for a more relaxed excursion to Estes Park and a drive through Rocky Mountain National Park. No fresh snow had fallen overnight this time, and the sun was shining, although the wind had made a return up high. First stop was RMNP to activate our annual pass, and take a quick drive through to spot any wildlife. Well no wildlife was to be seen anywhere, I think they were all sheltering from the wind and bitter temperatures. The wander around Estes was just as brief too, the 14f temps ate into your body like an annoying tick.

Horseshoe Park view

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