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“Jerry’s Journeys” Blog — 2015

During my travels, I’ve been fortunate to see and experience much that is worth sharing.

My hope is that these images touch your hearts, much as the USA’s natural beauty has touched mine.

May the adventurous among you benefit from the travel information I share on these pages!

June 15, 2015
Waterfalls at The Grottos, near Aspen, Colorado
A waterfall at The Grottos, in the White River National Forest near Aspen, Colorado - photo by Jerry Blank

Waterfall at The Grottos — Click / tap image to view full size

At the beginning of my 2014 autumn visit to Aspen, I left Interstate 70 and followed Colorado Highway 82 west over Independence Pass. One can see miles of the Roaring Fork gorge from the summit trail, and after leaving the summit and continuing westward, one can find lots more hiking and photo possiblities. The highway offers great views of the Roaring Fork canyon nearly all the way down to Aspen—but to get photos that are interesting, one must find a trailhead and do some exploring. Which is just as well, because Highway 82 is narrow and shoulderless in the scenic areas. There aren’t enough turnouts to accommodate the number of drivers seeking to pull over, and parking space at the trailheads is also sparse. If you intend to explore a trail in the Roaring Fork canyon, a good plan is to pick your trail in advance and arrive at the trailhead by sunup.

One scenic area along Highway 82, not far from Aspen, is The Grottos. The Grottos has been a popular recreation spot for folks in Pitkin County for a while. From what I can tell, a large number of rocks, ranging from car-sized to house-sized, tumbled to the bottom of the canyon over the centuries. There aren’t enough of them to dam the river, though they’ve almost certainly changed the course of the Roaring Fork.

A waterfall at The Grottos, on the Roaring Fork River in the White River National Forest near Aspen, Colorado - photo by Jerry Blank

Roaring Fork water has sculpted Ice Cave at The Grottos.

When the Forest Service roads and trails near Lincoln Gulch Campground and The Grottos were built, the builders were obliged to choose a route that winds between massive chunks of stone. Most of these are weathered and eroded into interesting shapes. I reasoned that most of the fallen rock had been sitting in the canyon for a very long time, being reshaped by the Roaring Fork River all the while.

In spite of having pretty good directions to The Grottos, I drove straight past the access road on my first attempt, and nearly did so again on my second. I’m unsure why the Forest Service doesn’t mark the access road more conspicuously. CO Highway 82 is a pretty busy road, and folks who follow me in their cars like to know when I’m going to hit my brakes and turn south. So, for the sake of those who may visit this place, I’m posting this link to Google Maps to help you navigate to The Grottos parking area / trailhead.

Perhaps it is because of the lack of signage on the highway that there were few other cars in the parking lot. After I got out of my car and stretched my legs a bit, I found that one only needs to walk a short distance up the trail before the pleasant sound of the Roaring Fork River replaces the traffic noise of Highway 82.

A waterfall at The Grottos, on the Roaring Fork River in the White River National Forest near Aspen, Colorado - photo by Jerry Blank

The Roaring Fork in early summer: Fewer boulders visible, but more rainbow.

One can choose either of two trails leading east toward a series of cascades such as the one pictured here. One trail follows the north bank of the river, and the other one begins with a footbridge over the river, allowing access to the south bank. The north trail dead-ends near the waterfall, offering pretty much only one view. The bridge trail is much better, allowing you to scramble up and down the rocks of The Grottos to your heart’s content. The place is more child-safe than other popular Colorado waterfalls; the rocks are smooth, and the incline is not steep. Having raised raised kids myself, though, I suggest keeping your small fellow adventurers in sight. Beneath The Grottos is a section called “Ice Cave”. The entrance is too tight for me, but a four-year-old could squeeze in all too easily.

I returned to the same place early the following summer of 2015 to capture some video footage. Colorado had an extended spring season in 2015, with heavy rains occurring well into July. When I visited the waterfall in mid-June, the Roaring Fork was living up to its name—with a vengeance. The boulders I stood upon while shooting the autumn image (vertical photo above) were covered with a rushing wall of water. As you can see, the still clip I copied from my video footage from June (shown here) looks nothing like my fall photo. But I had no complaints; the churning waters made for a great video, and the spray and mist hovering over the falls created a much larger rainbow than I had seen when the water was low!

To view the “Colors of Colorado” video clip, visit my YouTube channel. The Roaring Fork footage can be seen about 50 seconds into the clip.


June 26, 2015
Mount Daly, in Colorado’s White River National Forest

Some of my favorite trails are in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley and the Maroon Bells-Snowmass National Wilderness Area. Most of the action is centered around the town of Aspen, a well-known hotspot for tourism in the Rockies. I’ve lodged at Aspen a couple of times in my travels, but actually prefer the accommodations at Snowmass Village, which lies nearby at the base of Snowmass Mountain. Snowmass is much quieter after the sun goes down, compared to Aspen—which appeals to many folks my age. In 2015, I decided to lodge at Snowmass Village once more, then do some exploring in the mountains southwest of the Village.

One can get views of the surrounding mountains by way of Snowmass Ski Resort’s main lift, which operates during the summer hiking season. From the lift, one can hike to the summit and enjoy any number of views. Hikers can also access the White River National Forest between Snowmass and Mount Daly via the East Snowmass Trail. Another scenic route is the Brush Creek Trail. The trailhead is located south of Aspen, instead of Snowmass—but it leads to Buttermilk Ski Area and continues west to Snowmass.

The morning I captured the panoramic image of Mount Daly shown below, I was exploring Divide Drive, one of the spur roads which provide access to private homes just west of Snowmass Village. In such areas, it’s often tough to get a clear shot of the scenery from the road. But I was lucky in this particular case; the meadow pictured below lies right alongside Divide Drive.

#53866 - A south view of Mount Daly in Colorado, from the high meadows above Snowmass Village, in the White River National Forest

Balsam flowers and lupine cover a meadow north of Mount Daly in Colorado — Click / tap image to view full size

In fact, as I explored all the spur roads leading from Brush Creek Road, I found similar slopes, mostly at elevations of 9000 feet, filled with bright balsam flowers and clumps of lupine. I enjoy hiking anywhere where I can find this kind of color—but even if you can’t hike, the Forest Service access roads around Snowmass are an enjoyable drive. Of course, the drive to Maroon Lake, south of Aspen, offers better access to wide-open views, and is therefore more popular.

I hiked up the Maroon-Snowmass Trail a bit that morning, but due to a late summer season, there wasn’t colorful scenery closer to the peaks; it was still too cold. You may notice that the foothills in the right half of the panorama hadn’t quite greened up at the time of my visit.

For the more adventurous, there are several photogenic lakes and mountain ranges located beyond Mount Daly, in the national wilderness. Backcountry skiers love the snowy areas that remain on the peaks till July. Personally, I prefer hiking high altitude trails in August, when trail conditions are better and where one can easily find wildflowers on sunny moist slopes.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to explore Colorado’s high country so many times. And though my narratives may seem intended for those who want to explore the Rockies themselves, it’s more accurate to say that these images are meant to bring a bit of color into your life—whether or not you’re able to travel to the mountains yourself!


July 13, 2015
Colorado Columbines in the Flat Tops National Wilderness Area
Cascading springs flow down slopes covered with wildflowers at Cold Springs Campground, Routt National Forest, Colorado - photo by Jerry Blank

Those who camp at Cold Springs have THIS for a backyard view!

The Colorado state flower is the Rocky Mountain columbine, which can be seen in many places during the summer. Oddly enough, before I moved there I had never laid eyes on a columbine when traveling the Rockies... and I hoped my luck would change over the summer.

After settling down in Lakewood, I spent the next couple of months traveling around Colorado and exhibiting my prints at several art shows. At one such festival in Steamboat Springs, I met many tourists and travelers, and a couple of them made a point of telling me about the great wildflower meadows they’d found in recent visits to the Flat Tops National Wilderness Area.

As it happened, in late June I had traveled west via Yampa through the Routt National Forest, going as far as the Cold Springs Campground at the eastern edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness. At that elevation, the season was still early—and the only flowers out in force were the dandelions at the campground (see photo above right). I was a bit sorry I had not reserved a campsite there. Who wouldn’t want to pitch a tent or park an RV at a place such as this? Who couldn’t resist falling asleep to the sound of the springs flowing down one’s back yard, into a pond surrounded by flowers?

Colorado columbines abound in the summer, above Stillwater Reservoir in the Flat Tops Wilderness.

Rocky Mountain columbines—
Click / tap image to view full size

After hearing the wildflower news from the hikers at the art show, I realized that with the coming of July, the subalpine wildflower meadows in the Flat Tops had warmed up enough to awaken and put on their annual show. Therefore, the day after the art show ended, I headed back to Yampa and Cold Springs to investigate.

Upon arriving at the Cold Springs campground, I noticed that the dandelions pictured above were gone, but the bushy patches of blue mertensia alongside the falls had increased in size. There was but one camper in the campground, which did not surprise me, since it was Monday; the weekend rush had come and gone.

#60327 - Wildflowers cover the foothills above Stillwater Reservoir, located in Colorado’s Flat Tops Wilderness - photo by Jerry Blank

Can there ever be too many wildflowers?

The camper, who was standing by his pickup truck, waited till I was done taking pictures of the cascades before assuring me that if I would travel a bit farther to Stillwater Reservoir, I would see patches of columbines “THIS big”, emphatically stretching his arms out as far as he could.

He added that I should park by the dam at the reservoir, and hike up the Devil’s Causeway trail, where the columbines awaited. I asked him how far up the trail I would have to hike to see the scene he described. He replied that I’d have to go no farther than half a mile.

Thanking the camper for his advice, I left the campground and followed the Forest Service road west another quarter mile, where it dead-ends at the Stillwater Reservior dam and the Devil’s Causeway trailhead. Shouldering my pack, I took to the trail, which crosses into the wilderness boundary a short distance from the trailhead. The friendly stranger at the campground was true to his word: I had gone barely half a mile up the trail before getting my first look at the Colorado state flower. And not just one flower, but huge swaths of columbines, just as my friend had promised.

Thinking back on the sequence of events makes me a believer in Divine Providence. The initial catalyst was my intention to find the columbines and share them with you. Next came the hints and advice I heard at Steamboat Springs and Cold Springs—all of which, I should emphasize, was unsolicited. I could imagine the One who planted the wildflowers by Stillwater Reservoir saying: “I understand you want to take pictures of columbines. How many do you need?” If you’re old enough to remember George Burns’ movie portrayal of God, you’ll understand why I found the thought amusing.

Along parts of the trail, the columbines dominated the slopes, much as shown in the picture below. Along other stretches, they were interspersed with other wildflowers of nearly every color. I got a case of “color overload”—which happens to me occasionally—during which I bounded up and down the trail for two hours of non-stop picture-taking. As I did so, other hikers occasionally passed me, going in both directions. I realized the ones going uphill probably wanted to reach the Devil’s Causeway, the rugged and forbidding ridge which lies above. That part of the trail is a sheer rock ledge about 50 feet long, and only 3 feet wide in spots—hence the name. But the ledge can be traversed without climbing gear, if done carefully.

Colorado columbines, goldeneye, and arnica cover the meadows above the north shore of Stillwater Reservoir, in Colorado’s Flat Tops National Wilderness Area

Columbines and many other flowers cover the hillsides in the Flat Tops Wilderness — Click / tap image to view full size

In spite of the challenges of the higher trail, I thought the name “Devil’s Causeway” to be inappropriate during columbine season. I’d have picked a name such as “Angels’ Meadow Trail”!


September 6, 2015
Small Wonders of the Colorado Rockies

I almost never devote a blog post to insects...though I’ve certainly taken many pictures of them over the years, as you can see here. I tend to put more energy into capturing grand panoramas of the Rockies and its waterfalls, and I find the majestic scenes easier to write about.

Seeking the aforementioned grand panoramas, I decided to make a few trips to the Continintal Divide near Winter Park, to explore the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail on foot. One of the easier waypoints for accessing the Trail is located at the Berthoud Pass parking lot.

A hillside covered with lupines near Berthoud Pass, Colorado - photo by Jerry Blank

Looking down a hillside covered with lupines, just below Berthoud Pass, Colorado

By the time I crossed Berthoud Pass the second time in August 2015, the winter snowpack had nearly receded from the Divide, and wildflowers were just beginning to bloom near the shoulders of the highway. But shortly before reaching the south side of the summit, I rounded a hairpin curve and was astonished to see an entire hillside with a lush carpet of lupines. Not the usual Rocky Mountain lupines, but the big, richly colored ones that one usually finds in the Pacific Northwest.

These can also be found here and there in the Rockies, but only where moisture is more plentiful. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the hillside is a large “spring seep”; as you can see on this map, it stands out as a brighter green patch near the highway. Seeps such as these provide excellent growing conditions for wildflowers.

#63000 - A bee gathers nectar from lupines blooming near Berthoud Pass, Colorado - and drops a bit of pollen in the process.

A bee visits lupines near Berthoud Pass — Click / tap image to view full size

I clambered up and down the moist hillside, taking wildflower pictures from every angle. The highway below me appeared in many of the pictures, but I figured I could paint out the road later, in Photoshop. As it turned out, the “keeper” shot of the day was not one of my panoramic views of the hillside. Instead, it was one small portion of one lupine bunch, which I noticed by the guardrail as I walked back to my car. The day was warming up, and I noticed the bees getting busy in the lupine patch. Part of me wanted to return to my car and resume my journey, but another part of me happens to like bees. I’ve been stung a fair number of times, yet I still like bees—and prefer to think that they like me as well. I chose the photo displayed here to share with you, because I rarely capture a sharp image of a bee hovering in place like a hummingbird.

Some time later, early in September, I made a trip to Guanella Pass, which is a short distance west of Denver. It is tougher to find colorful things in early September; the nights begin to dip below freezing in the high Rockies, freezing the wildflowers which seemed to be everywhere in August; and there isn’t much fall color to enjoy till late September.

Still, I wanted to get out of Denver for a while and clear my head with some crisp, clean mountain air. I chose to explore the Silver Dollar Lake trail, and though I brought my camera as usual, I decided it was a good day to visit the mountains, regardless of whether I came home with a photo or not.

#65541 - Rose crowned sedum attracts a blue butterfly along the Silver Dollar Lake trail, Arapaho National Forest, Colorado - photo by Jerry Blank

A butterfly feeding at a patch of rose crowned sedum—
Click / tap image to view full size

Most of the easily-seen beauty of the Silver Dollar Lake trail is below treeline. After a half mile up the trail, one can look down at Naylor Lake, which is surrounded by large fallen chunks of the surrounding mountains.

Crossing timberline, where the trail is lined by bushes and more chunks of rock, the wildflowers which had covered these slopes but a few weeks ago were plainly frostbitten and withered. But as I approached Silver Dollar Lake, I was surprised and pleased to find a large swath of very healthy wildflowers. Though located at a higher altitude, the nearby RV-sized rocks provided sufficient shelter and stored heat to protect the flowers, which lined both sides of a small rivulet—the meltwater from a small patch of snowpack high above the trail.

Upon arriving at Silver Dollar Lake, I found another rocky ravine, where I rested for a bit and ate my lunch. The place was sunny and sheltered from the chill winds. It also had healthy wildflowers; not as many, but I could see that some were just beginning to bloom. It was plain that I have much yet to learn about the high alpine parts of the Rockies! Which is another reason I no longer venture far off a trail; if my inexperience gets me into a bind, I know assistance is not far away.

I finished my lunch shortly after noon. By that time, the breeze was warmer and gentler, so I shed the coat I had worn on the uphill trek, and made my way down along the same route.

I stopped at the large swath of wildflowers I had seen that morning, noticing that it was now swarmed with bees, orange butterflies, and blue butterflies. I could not pass them without stopping! Instead, I fetched my camera out of the backpack and took literally hundreds of pictures of the small creatures at work. That might seem like overkill, until one considers that even good autofocus systems get fooled when doing macro shots such as these. For every image I saved onto my computer, I discarded a dozen others that were out of focus—or the subject had flown away just before the shutter clicked.

One bug which was not in such a hurry was the blue butterfly pictured here. It was feeding at a small patch of rose crowned sedum, a very showy alpine wildflower that happens to be a late bloomer. I had seen many of them in August, but I saw none in full bloom until September. I marvel at how well adapted these high altitude perennials are. They’re buried in snow for the greater part of the year... yet as soon as they feel the sun’s warmth in late summer, they waste no time! Though they and the insects are tiny compared to the mountains, it’s easy to see that they are no less beautiful, if one only stops for a moment and takes a closer look.