Monday, August 2, 2010

Copper Tales

Last week Alan and I set off for Lake City in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, on a butterfly expedition with our good friend Noel Snyder. For two years, Noel has been daydreaming of Tailed Coppers, ever since I found them along Henson Creek on an earlier trip. So, naturally, the first day found us exploring Henson Creek in search of Tailed Coppers and their flighty relatives. And coppers we found!

Two views of a Tailed Copper

Mixed in with the Tailed and Ruddy Coppers were quite a few Coral Hairstreaks, a species I had only seen previously in Missouri.

Coral Hairstreak on composite

Most were nectaring at composites, which flourished along the roadside with Colorado Columbine, wild rose, geraniums, and the familiar, wonderful Common Fireweed, its soft purple blossoms blending so beautifully with the blue-green of its foliage.

Henson Creek originates in the 13- and 14,000-foot peaks of the San Juans, and rushes down to join the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Here I spent many months of my childhood, in this quintessential country of the high Rocky Mountains. The main changes in the intervening decades have been the level of use for recreation––now very high indeed!––and the proliferation of second homes, where once only wild strawberries cloaked the hillsides. Returning here is bittersweet. But masses of flowers still riot in the high country, chipmunks scamper away at every bend of the road, Prairie Falcons still hunt the tundra, and Uncompahgre is still lord of the high peaks of southwestern Colorado.

Common Fireweed
(All photos by Narca)

And, yes, the old-fashioned soda fountain still operates in the town of Lake City, and though it now is a gift store rather than a general store, the ice cream remains outstanding. My grandfather being partial to ice cream, we often stopped here in the 1950s and 1960s for chocolate milk shakes after an evening of boisterous square dancing or an exhilarating day of jeeping or fly-fishing.

Pity Alan and Noel! They are about to be subjected to endless tales of mother lodes and miner's lore, of Lynx and Mountain Sheep, of our inner-tubing club––the Blue-bottomed Butt-busters––with its initiation rite of a 10-mile tubing trip in the icy waters of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison. The Lake Fork has a chance to warm up ever-so-slightly, because its waters are held in the natural lake of San Cristobal. First innner-tubers adjust to that, then when Henson Creek converges with the Lake Fork, they are slammed with another icy blast as the water temperature drops even further, to 52º! Yes, Lake City....

Tomorrow we seek our long-sought-after grail butterfly, the Lustrous Copper!


  1. Your stories here bring a smile to my face, Narca. Love hearing your memories... a fond hello to everyone. I have seen Coral Hairstreaks here again this summer. They are lovely.

  2. Hi Lori! Your home is quite wonderful for both birds and butterflies--we need to return. Likewise a warm hello to everyone there! Are you floating the rivers this summer?

  3. No floating, if you can believe it! We do swim a few times each day in the lake or the pool, though, and are having a great summer. We are due for a float down one of the spring-fed rivers, hopefully to camp; the Current River would be lovely this month.

    However, the copperhead bites gave Kai and me room to pause...
    I still can't get over Noel sleeping out on the open on the ground, with snakes and scorpions roaming about! All I had to do was walk in the wrong place in the yard. Of course, Kai shouldn't be doing handstands in the woods at dusk. :-)

    We are a bit busy, but loving it. Some of our upcoming recent projects: an outdoor cob oven and a solar thermal panel, to be completed this month, with the help of friends. We are also arranging to have a straw bale building workshop here for October and a solar PV workshop for November. We are pleased with the interest and momentum - exciting stuff.

    Do stop by anytime! We have a freshly painted guest home available with your name on it. :-)