Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gothic Moods

Flush with our success at finding the Lustrous Copper, Alan, Noel and I embark on a daytrip into the Elk Mountains, in the hope of encountering something new and extraordinary, and also with the intention of visiting our friends, Mary Price and Nick Waser, who spend their summers teaching and doing research at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado. Noel nearly went to RMBL ("Rumble") as a tenderfooted biology student, and I have heard about it for decades, but none of us has ever been there.

The lab was founded in 1928 amid the ghostly ruins of an old mining town. Their mission is "to advance the deep scientific understanding of nature that promotes informed stewardship." Labs like RMBO (and the Southwest Research Station in Portal) foster a community of scholars and students, engaged in investigating the wild and in finding ecological patterns that underlie our native habitats, our place.

In 2009 alone, RMBL hosted 44 scientists from 35 institutions, and 60 undergraduates from 48 schools. This independent research station offers full and partial scholarships. What better way is there for students to learn the techniques of field investigation, in a superb high-mountain setting?

You can read more about doings at RMBL on their website:

Rocky Mountain Biological Lab at Gothic (Photos by Narca)

After a couple hours' drive via Gunnison and Crested Butte, we are soon lunching at Galena Cabin with Mary and Nick. The cabin's outhouse boasts quite the view. (An interesting photo essay could be fashioned on the reading material that plasters the wooden walls of western outhouses.)

This summer Nick continues to ponder the mysteries of pollination. Mary is deep into editing a textbook, An Ecology of Place, which sounds like a work we must read, once it is published. They both have a profound familiarity with lives small and large, here in the Elk Mountains.

Judd Falls near Gothic

Nick and Mary join us for a steep climb to Judd Falls and a short hike along the East Maroon Trail (which crosses a pass in the Maroon Bells and eventually ends near Aspen). We find floral differences between the mountain range here and the San Juans: here a tremendous bloom of tall Green Gentians spikes between clusters of buckwheat and deer-munched Pedicularis. I spot a lovely mariposa lily.


Gunnison Mariposa Lily

The same Mormon and Purplish Fritillaries are abundant in both ranges, but we do find a new butterfly––a Dotted Blue.

Dotted Blue near Judd Falls, Copper Creek

Red Crossbills sing. Young Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels peer at us from the safety of a gnarled tree trunk.

Young-of-the-year Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

Building clouds threaten rain, and we withdraw from our ramblings, well content.

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