Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Big Blue

Big Blue ––a watershed flowing from Uncompahgre Peak to the Gunnison River––and the nearby Alpine Plateau score high on several points. For one, they offer about the levelest hiking anywhere in Colorado's San Juan Mountains. Count us in!

Big Blue Creek flows from Uncompahgre's northeastern flank
(Photos by Narca)

First Noel and I hike along Blue Creek, its meanders lined in willows. Quickly the trail enters the Uncompahgre Wilderness, more than 100,000 acres of forest and tundra. Here in the trail's lowest reaches, a Clark's Nutcracker scrutinizes our progress. Back near the trailhead, Alan finds a family of Red-naped Sapsuckers in the aspens. 

Clark's Nutcracker

Clouds begin to build very early today, and flowers and butterflies are unaccountably scarce––we see a few fritillaries and a sulphur or two. Finally, with lunch calling insistently, it is no tragedy when the rain drives us out.

Purplish Fritillary

Soon the rain lifts as we retrace our route along the narrow 11-mile road. Near the top of the pass another less-traveled road takes off to Alpine Plateau. It's time to explore!

Meadows and conifers intersperse at Alpine Plateau.

Flowers and butterflies pick up considerably at Alpine Plateau. Among the many, Noel identifies a Boisduval's Blue (a new species for me), and we find several Rocky Mountain Parnassians. A juvenile Pine Grosbeak is a highlight.

Boisduval's Blue (large for a blue)

Rocky Mountain Parnassian, a swallowtail relative

Reluctantly retracing our route, we traverse mixed conifer-sagebrush country before returning to Highway 149 and Lake City. Exploring has paid off, again!

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