Thursday, August 2, 2012

Colorado's High Country In Pictures

The past few months I have had a chance to spend some time in Colorado where I was born.  I have been hiking, biking, even driving around this amazing state.  Most people know about the wildfires that struck the eastern part of the state this year, driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.  But the Western Slope, across the Continental Divide, managed to dodge that bullet, and got some much-needed rainfall by July.  Still, Climate Change has hit Colorado with a vengeance.  Longer and hotter summers not only make the forest susceptible to forest fires, but provide for an extra generation of Pine Beetles to thrive.  These beetles attack water and pollution-stressed forests all the time, but now that the summer season is at least a month longer due to warmer summers, they have a chance to spawn further generations.

According to a new study by scientists from the University of Colorado, what this means is if you have twenty pine beetles born in May, they would normally die before spawning, but now they are being born in April, then grow, make Pine Beetle love, and manage to spawn another generation, so each of those twenty beetles spawn twenty of their own, so instead of 20, you have 400 of the pine-munching little ones.  So Colorado's forests are dying, and it is tough to watch them go.  In the Vail valley, according to this report in Ski magazine, they will lose 80% of all their pine trees.  But there are some interesting points.  One is that the beetles won't kill all the trees, only about 4/5s of the old ones.  Young ones can resist the attack.  Less pine trees often mean more of the gorgeous Aspen trees, which create more open woodlands that in turn support many more species of plants and animals.  According to other reports, like this one from the High Country News, all those dead trees also open up forests, create diverse habitats, and surprisingly don't add fuel to future fire threats.

Colorado's vast forests of pine trees, like this one above Leadville, are beginning to disappear.

A Pine Tree in the Frying Pan River Valley ravaged by Pine Beetles.

As the pine trees pass away, eventually they will be replaced by Aspen trees like these ones, or so it is hoped.

The snow covered mountains of Lamborn, left, and Landsend, right stand proud in the spring air above the North Fork Valley where I grew up.

Maroon Bells lake reflects the top of Highlands Ski area in the far distance above Aspen, Colorado.

Maroon Bells Lake with the top of the 14,000 ft tall Pyramid Peak.  It is possible that this rock came all the down from near the summit of this high mountain.

The lower of the three main Frying Pan Lakes in the Frying Pan wilderness.  The Continental Divide is at the top of the ridge on the far right of the image.

The highest of the Frying Pan Lakes.  Lakes like these are Tarn lakes, formed when the Glaciers pushed up a damn-wall in this huge valley.

The mily Way Galaxy framed by a rank of pine trees in Colorado's high Rocky Mountains, more than six hours hike from the nearest road of any kind.

The Carbondale Rodeo, int he Roaring For Valley.  Colorado ranchers love their rodeo.

Independence Pass in Colorado, to left of the picture water flows to the Mississippi River, to the right it flows down into the Colorado River.  This is the Continental Divide.
Whatever the long-term Climate Change threat is to our high-country in Colorado, there are still some stunning places, and I put together a selection of some of my favorite ones here in pictures.  I send out a special thank you to everyone who hosted me and supported the launch of Alliance Earth, and a very special thank you to my parents who helped instil in me a love of nature, wild places and environmental stewardship.

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