Flora on the Forest Floor

June 6, 2018

This Spring in Colorado has been a gift. Thanks to mild temperatures and abundant moisture, the Boulder forests are resplendent with late Spring flora. The floor on the North Fork of the Shanahan Ridge is one of the best places to experience the joy of Spring’s reawakening.

The Shanahan Ridge Trail is easy to get to. My entry point starts where Lehigh and Lafayette streets intersect (Map search 1903 Lehigh Street Boulder). Parking is on the street.

Shanahan Ridge Access Point

Shanahan Ridge Access Point

The forest floor with its tall green grasses forms the stage where the plants will perform their evolutionary duties by producing sweet treats and visual clues to attract their pollinators. Fortunately these visual clues are very pleasing to humans and keep photographers busy.

Grassy Field

The Forest Floor with Foothills Backdrop

Here’s a bee caught in the act pollinating Blue Mist Penstemon. Note the yellow pollen sack on the hind leg. Blue mist covers large sections of the forest at its peak and it does look like mist…

Bee on Penstemon

Penstemon with Pollinating Bee

Asteraceae offer the butterflies a sweet treat in exchange for transporting its pollen to another aster…

Aster (Asteraceae) with butterfly

Aster with Butterfly

These shy Chiming bells (Mertensia fusiformis) have pink buds which turn blue to purplish…

Chiming Bells

Chiming Bells

The Blue Flax (Linum lewisii) makes no secret of its pollen…

Blue Flax (Adenolinum lewissi)

Blue Flax

Mouse-ear chickweed grows in bunches attracting crowds of insects…


Cerastium – Mouse-ear chickweed

Add Heart-leaved Arnica to the cast of flora …

Heart-leaved Arnica (Arnica cordifolia)

Heart-leaved Arnica

Here’s a glimpse of the National Center for Atmospheric Research with arnica…

NCAR with Arnica

NCAR with Arnica

No nature celebration is complete without Wild Roses (Rosa arkansana)…

Wild Rose on Rock

Wild Rose

The ladybugs (Coccinellidae) are prolific this time of year…


Ladybug Waiting for Lunch

Add some lonesome Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) to the mix…

Western Wallflower

Western Wallflower

These southwest desert spikes of Yucca are throwing up their flower stalks. This is about as far north as these pointy plants can grow…

Yucca with Rock


Put all these plants together for ten thousand years or so (after the end of the last glacial period) and let them compete through natural selection with each other for survival on the forest floor. The result is a very pleasing panorama where the flora and fauna have all found their niche…

Shanahan Ridge Forest Floor

Shanahan Ridge Forest Floor


Boulder’s Mighty Migrator

September 4, 2017

This is the tale of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) whose existence depends on a 1800 mi / 2900 km migration from Boulder to a specific grove of oyamel trees in Angangueo, Mexico. These mighty migrators employ a complex but fragile lifecycle which permits them to overwinter where they can survive the cold while still getting access to our essential northern milkweed plants in the warmer months. This is the story of a unique and environmentally vulnerable lifecycle.

Monarch Butterfly

Boulder Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) Fueling Up on Verbena Nectar August 31, 2017

The tale begins at underside of the leaves of the Milkweed Plant (Asclepias) when the Monarch butterfly lays her eggs.

Milkweed Plant

Milkweed Plant with Seedpods

Milkweed With Monarch Eggs

Boulder Milkweed Leaf with Monarch Eggs

As with all butterflies, the eggs hatch into baby caterpillars, also called the larvae, in about 4 days. The caterpillar eats the milkweed leaves which fuel rapid growth. When Monarch larvae ingest milkweed, they also ingest the plants’ toxins, called cardiac glycosides. They sequester these compounds in their wings and exoskeletons, making the larvae and adults toxic to many potential predators. Vertebrate predators may avoid Monarchs because they learn that the larvae and adults taste bad and/or make them vomit. The bright coloration of the larvae and mature butterflies is a warning to predators.

After several molts and about two weeks the caterpillar will be fully-grown and will find a place to attach itself so that it can enter it’s protective pupa and start the 10 day process of metamorphosis to transition from caterpillar to butterfly.


Caterpillar Chrysalis (Monarch-butterfly.com)

The Caterpillar Enters Metamorphosis (photo from monarch-butterfly.com)

Monarch Emerges (Monarch-butterfly.com)

The Butterfly Emerges (photo from monarch-butterfly.com)

The monarch butterfly will emerge from the pupa and fly away, feeding on flower nectar and mating during the two to six weeks of its lifespan. This first generation monarch butterfly will then die after laying eggs for generation number two. This cycle will repeat for 4 generations until fall when an ancient call to migrate is detected.

The forth generation of monarch butterflies does not die after two to six weeks. It will not mate and it produces the larger wings necessary to fly and glide for its trip to Mexico. This generation of monarch butterflies migrates to warmer climates and will live for six to eight months until it is time to start the whole process over again. By the end of October, the population of monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains migrates to the sanctuaries of the Mexican Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve within the in oyamel fir tree forests in the Mexican states of Michoacán and México. How they navigate is still a mystery but they must have evolved a map and navigational system to guide them.



Monarchs Flocking on Oyamel Fir Tree (monarch-butterfly.com)


The insects will rest in a dormant stage called diapause for 3-4 months until they are cued to eat, mate and to start the multigenerational flight north to lay eggs on milkweeds and start the process over again.

This delicate lifecycle was forged by natural selection through the ages but it represents prehistoric conditions that may no longer exist. Climate change and habitat destruction have landed the Monarch on the threatened list. The Mexican government has established a biosphere reserve to protect the fir tree forests but there is still illegal tree cutting. Milkweed is poisonous to livestock so farmers and homeowners spray herbicides on milkweed plants in the U.S., and climate change is messing up the temperature cues and flyway conditions which drive the great migration.

In an attempt to counter two decades of destruction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a partnership with two private conservation groups, the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to  grow milkweed in the hopes of saving the monarchs.

Here in Boulder we can help by planting and helping milkweed to propagate. I went hiking with a naturalist in August 2016 and when he spotted a patch of milkweed we all blew on the open pods to help spread their seeds. You can also help by adopting a monarch.


Milkweed Blowoff-1.jpg

Milkweed Blow-off

It appears that climate change tends to leave Monarchs stuck in Northern climates. Our climate is changing faster than these fragile creatures can evolve. Monarch butterflies are thriving in 2019 but it could be the last.

This is a tale about the preservation of a unique butterfly but it may also be a warning about our fragile survival as well.



The Creation of the Boulder Flatirons

January 18, 2017



Summer Flatirons with Sweet Pea Flowers Captured 29 June 2013 6:45am

We Boulderites love our Flatirons. In the dozen years that I’ve lived in Boulder, Colorado I have taken hundreds of photos of the Boulder Flatirons but I never knew what created these iconic structures. I dusted off my old (unread) copy of The Geology of Boulder County by Raymond Bridge and tried to figure out how the Flatirons were constructed.

Boulder has witnessed a complex geological history including the rise of two Rocky Mountain ranges, the present day Rockies and about 300 million years ago the Ancestral Rockies. Over the past 150 million years, Boulder’s environment ranged from inland seas to floodplains, deserts, swamps, seashores, then back to floodplain conditions again. Each setting deposited layers of sedimentary rock formed by broken fragments of older rock. Out of this rich geological past grew the set of outcroppings which defined the geomorphic term flatiron. There are flatirons all over the world. Other well developed flatirons in the Western US are found in the eastern Uinta Mountains in northwestern Colorado, the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park and the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix, Arizona.



Superstition Mountains Arizona Captured 10 December 2012 @ 5:07pm


The first stage of the construction of the Flatirons was the deposition of a thick layer of sand and gravel which occurred about 300 million years ago when the Ancestral Rockies were completely eroded. Powerful rivers draining these ancestral peaks carried sand and gravel to the adjacent plains, where they accumulated in a massive, 1,000 foot thick sediment that geologists have named the Fountain Formation. The Ancestral Rockies were eventually worn down completely and the eroded material formed younger sedimentary rock layers on top of the buried Fountain Formation. Even our Flatirons are made from recycled materials! 


Frosted Flatirons Captured 27 March 2009 @ Noon

The next stage of the Flatiron’s construction is the result of a unique event that occurred 70-80 million years ago known as the Laramide orogeny. This orogeny caused a renewed period of uplift and deformation from Canada to northern Mexico. The easternmost extent of this mountain building is represented by the Black Hills of South Dakota. This type of event is usually associated with the subduction of one continental tectonic plate under another. The subducted plate melts into a hot layer of viscous molten rock deep under the Earth’s crust known as the asthenosphere. In this instance the subduction zone is off the coast of California where it causes faults like the San Andreas as well as  earthquakes, volcanos, and the Sierra Nevada mountains. This event also uplifted the modern Rocky Mountains and the western great plains.

How could this event have affected Boulder which is 1000km (600 mi) east of the Pacific ocean? Geologists speculate that a particularly low-angled subduction of one tectonic plate beneath the other caused mountainous bulges deep into the North American continent. These forces pushed up the Flatirons and its neighboring mountains. The subducted plate, known as the Farallon Plate took an unusually shallow angle under the North American Plate. The Farallon Plate did not descend into the asthenosphere in the Earth’s mantle until it moved east causing the upheaval of the Colorado Plateau.


Reproduced From Light Train Productions

The sandwich of layers laid down by the erosion of the Ancestral Rockies and subsequent events were uplifted to their present position by this orogeny. Erosion re-exposed the Fountain Formation on the Flatirons.


The third event that made the Boulder Flatirons so unique is the cement that hardened them. Although the Fountain Formation stretches the length of the Front Range, Boulder is unique because of its dozens of well formed flatirons. This is due to a geologic quirk. Here, and only here, the Fountain’s layers are held together by an unusually strong cement called adularia, which is called moonstone when it’s gem-quality. This cement  formed only in Boulder because on two occasions—about 135 million and 94 million years ago warm, potassium enriched water welled up along an ancient fault zone that stretches between Eldorado Springs and Idaho Springs. The Fountain Formation’s grains reacted with that water to form the adularia that tightly cemented its grains together.


Spring Flatirons with Lilacs Captured 26 may 2016 @ 8:30 am

Another consequence of the uplifting of the Fountain formation is that it occurred on the Western Slope of Colorado as well. In the same way a drawbridge is tilted upward to allow ships to pass, the Rocky Mountains rose tilting up the overlying sedimentary rocks. In fact, the other flank of the  “drawbridge” can be seen in Aspen, Colorado on the Western Slope. The iconic Maroon Bells near Aspen form a portion of the Fountain Formation’s western counterpart called the Maroon Formation. Boulder and Aspen are linked by their geological icons.

Maroon Reflections

Maroon Reflections Captured 14 August 2013 @ 7:30am

For those who don’t believe all those geologists and their fancy pants scientific theories and speculations here is an alternative explanation for the construction of the Flatirons. This one was created by Jerry McElroy. He graciously gave me permission for the use of this photo and description of an alternative to the fact-based geological explanation…


Construction of the Flatirons (click to purchase a print)


The construction of the Flatirons in 1931 was the largest building project undertaken by the Civilian Conservation Corps. This massive development was designed to bring jobs to the Town of Boulder, Colorado and to help promote sagging post-depression tourism. Popular tours inside the Third Flatiron were discontinued in 1948 after a Ranger discovered that the interior space was taken over as a convenient den by black bear.


The last time I searched for photos of the Boulder Flatirons there were about 4,350,000 results! Here are some more of mine…


Cold Flatirons Captured 5 February 2014



Smoky Flatirons Captured 7 September 2010 @ 7:37am during Fire Season!



Flatirons from McClintock Trail Captured 13 October 2014 @ 10:50am




Spring Flatirons with Golden Banner Captured 7 May 2007 @ 10:45am




Dawn Flatirons Captured 11 January 2011 @ 7:30am





Mandy the Dog Loved the Flatirons Too. Captured 16 January 2013


I always thought the top of the 3rd Flatiron looks like Mandy the Dog…


The Mandy Flatiron Captured 2 February 2014 @ 1:25pm


This sculpture of the Boulder Flatirons was created by the late Cydd West a local artist who also used recycled materials to form his Flatirons…

Cydd West's Flatirons.jpg

Cydd West’s Flatirons Captured 13 August 2010 at 3:20pm


If you’re in Boulder here’s a nice 3 mi / 4.8 km round trip hike to a big flatiron that I call the Red Slab.



The Red Slab from the East




The Red Slab from the Sky (39°57’51.19N 105°17’7.80W)


To get there take the North Fork of the Shanahan Ridge Trail past the Mesa Trail and you’ll walk right up to this massive flatiron (see the push pin in the above satellite image).



The Red Slab from the Trail



Approach To Slab



The Bottom Of Slab is a Nice Spot to Have Lunch with a Flatiron…



…And Look Up An Ancient Streambed!





The Real Turkeys of Boulder

December 7, 2016

Slow though the process of selection may be, if feeble man can do much by his powers of artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and infinite complexity of the co-adaptations between all organic beings, one with another and with their physical conditions of life, which may be effected in the long course of time by nature’s power of selection.

— Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

I was out walking on Boulder Colorado’s  Goshawk Ridge Trail after the US Thanksgiving Day and I saw a single line of at least 15 Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) cross the trail in front of me. This seemed ironic as Thanksgiving is a time when lots of domesticated turkeys in the US are sacrificed for dinner. According to the National Turkey Federation, 95 percent of Americans surveyed eat turkey during Thanksgiving. They also estimate that about 45 million turkeys are consumed each Thanksgiving holiday.

I was sorry I didn’t have my telephoto lens and an off-trail permit to get some photos of these real, not for sandwiches, naturally selected (vs. artificially selected) turkeys. I was determined to return and get some photos for you.

Our journey starts on the Fowler Trailhead. To get to the Fowler Trailhead go left about two miles west of highway 93 on Eldorado Springs Drive (highway 170) to County Road 67. County Road 67 goes up past the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram and ends at the Eldorado Mountain entrance where we pick up the trail…


Eldorado Mountain Trailhead Sign

Here’s a trail map…


Take the Fowler to Springbrook North to Goshawk Ridge

The Goshawk Ridge Trail is within the Eldorado Mountain Habitat Conservation Area (HCA), meaning hikers must stay on trail unless they have an Off-Trail Permit. This free permit can be immediately obtained on-line.

Follow the Fowler Trail to the Springbrook  Trail. The  Goshawk Trailhead starts on the opposite side of a metal bridge over an aqueduct where you will see this sign…


Sign at Goshawk Trail

After several fruitless attempts I found a flock on 05 December 2016 in the old growth forest on the South side of the Ridge about 1/3 mile (550 m) from the trailhead…


I Found a Flock!

 Some Wild turkey facts:

-The wild turkey, throughout its range, plays a significant role in the cultures of many Native American tribes all over North America. Thanks to this we eat turkey on Thanksgiving day.

-The turkey was Benjamin Franklin’s choice for the United States’ national bird. He described the Great Seal…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… “

If the turkey was chosen as the US National Bird would we eat bald eagles for Thanksgiving?


United States National Bird (Almost)

-By the early 20th century, thanks to hunting and habitat destruction, wild turkeys no longer roamed over much of their traditional range. Wild turkey reintroduction programs began in the 1940s. These efforts worked well and wild turkeys now live across North America.

-Only adult male turkeys (Toms) display the ruffled feathers, fanlike tail and bare head commonly associated with these birds. They also gobble with a distinctive sound that can be heard a mile (a kilometer and a half) away.

-Wild turkeys can have over 5,000 feathers. Male turkeys also have what is called a beard located in the chest area. Upon sight, the beard appears to be hair, but is actually a mass of thin feathers.

-Turkeys have a keen sense of hearing and can pinpoint sounds from as far as a mile away.

-Despite their weight, wild turkeys, unlike their domesticated counterparts, are agile fliers. They usually fly close to the ground for no more than a quarter mile (400 m) at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour (88 kilometers/hr.)…


These Wings Are Made For Flying (note the “beard” growing from the breast)

-Males are polygamous, mating with as many hens as they can charm and may be seen courting in groups. Genetic analysis of pairs of males courting together shows that they are close relatives, with half of their genetic material being identical. This evolutionary strategy is unlike that of species (e.g., deer) where only the dominant male mates. This ensures that non-dominant male’s genes will have an opportunity to remain in the turkey gene pool…


Two Wild and Crazy Toms

-Turkey hens lay 4 to 17 eggs in early spring. The eggs are incubated for at least 28 days. The hatchlings are called poults and they hit the ground running. They are precocial (they are born able to survive) and nidifugous (they leave the nest shortly after hatching). Poults leave the nest in about 12–24 hours allowing mom to join the flock as a free bird. Hens do not invest much in rearing offspring because they don’t have to. Male turkeys don’t invest any effort in their offspring because that’s the way it is for turkeys.


Two Hens

-Occasionally, turkeys may behave aggressively towards humans. They have been seen to chase people. However, attacks can usually be deterred and minor injuries can be avoided by giving turkeys a respectful amount of space. A telephoto lens is required!


Thirsty Hen

– Predators of both adults and poults include coyotes (Canis latrans),  American black bears (Ursus americanus), and northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis). This may explain why the latter are attracted to this forest.

-Wild turkeys are omnivorous, foraging on the ground or climbing shrubs and small trees to feed. Turkey populations can reach large numbers in small areas because of their ability to forage for different types of food.


Tom Foraging on the Forest Floor

I discovered this young mule deer buck (Odocoileus hemionus) watching me photograph the turkeys. He appears to be saying…


How About Taking My Picture?

Wild turkeys have been created and evolved by natural selection. This makes them precisely adapted to the environments they inhabit. They are amazing and beautiful wild creatures reflecting the influence of the natural world.

Domesticated turkeys have been selectively bred by humans to satisfy our needs with traits that we want. The result is a freak unsuited for the natural world. For example, domesticated turkeys are bred to have large breast muscles. The big breast muscles on these turkeys make it too difficult for mating, so they must be artificially inseminated. What a life…


Modern Domesticated Turkeys Under Commercial Conditions. Photo by Scott Bauer

I prefer tofu.



There’s A Big Moon On The Rise

November 16, 2016

“Do not swear by the moon, for she changes constantly.”

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet   

On November 14, 2016 the full Moon came closer to Earth than it has since 1948, the same year that there was a surprise victory in a US presidential election – President Harry Truman and New York Governor Thomas Dewey. Perhaps it is fortunate that we won’t witness another so called “supermoon” like this until 2034.

The term “supermoon” is not astronomical, but it originated in modern astrology. The astronomical name for this celestial phenomena is the perigee-syzygy of the Earth–Moon–Sun system (hence the popularity of the non-scientific term supermoon). It occurs when a full Moon comes closest to Earth as it follows its slightly elliptical orbit around us.


A Supermoon Occurs When a Full Moon is Closest to Earth in its Elliptical Orbit (http://earthsky.org)

A bigger Moon seemed like a good excuse to watch this lunar event from Panorama Point on Boulder’s Flagstaff Mountain


Panorama Point On Flagstaff Road


Panorama Point Overlook


This overlook faces East with a view of the City of Boulder. The University of Colorado is directly below. The lakes are the Valmont and Baseline Reservoirs .


The Daytime View From Panorama Point at 12:18 PM


Waiting for a Super Moonrise in 15 Minutes at 5:07 PM

The first hint of moonlight occurs on the horizon at 5:33 PM…


Can You See The First Light of The Silvery Supermoon?


At 5:40 PM The Supermoon Rises Above Low Clouds


At 5:46 PM It Is Clear of The Clouds


Here It Is At 6:08 PM Reflecting Off Of The Valmont Reservoir.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to capture a clear image of the moon and the city lights at the same time so I opted to expose for the Earth rather than the Moon. Here’s a photo I took of the (same) full Moon on 7 December 2014 at 9:39 pm.


Same Moon Different Year


Winter Solitude

January 6, 2016


Winter solitude –
in a world of one color
the sound of wind. –Matsuo Basho

Dried Flowers in the Snow

When the flowers have dried and snow covers the ground there is quiet beauty in Winter’s solitude. It is as if life is suspended while waiting for the natural world to reawaken.

A recent snowfall motivated me to capture some quiet solitude here on Boulder Colorado’s Open Space and Mountain Parks trails

Snow Pix -7.jpg

Snow Pix -2

Snow Pix -4

Solitude can be found in small things too…

Snow Pix -6

Moving closer reveals the feathery crystals of surface hoar on the snow. This frozen frost is beautiful but deadly

Snow Pix -11.jpg

My close-up lens exposes a world of crystal fragility…

Fern Crystal-3



Fern Crystal-2 edit

This is close enough to see individual ice crystals…


Hoar Frost Crystals

In a few months the snowmelt will nourish our early spring flowers and sustain the reawakening of the natural world for the next cycle of life.

Crimson Canyon

October 21, 2015

Here in Boulder Colorado the native plants are generally earth-toned in Fall leaving our bright yellow and red aspens for higher elevations. One notable exception is Sumac (Rhus glabra). Sumac’s fall foliage fills our canyons with a deep crimson that is a photographic magnet.

Sumac, poison ivy, Brazilian pepper, cashews, mangoes and pistachios are all related. Rhus glabra is not poisonous and, in fact, the seeds (drupes) are a widely used spice in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. It is also used as a lemonade-like tea called Sumac-ade.

My favorite area for Sumac peeping is on Boulder’s South Side. I was hiking on the Fowler Trail a few days ago when I noticed the signature crimson on the lower portion of Shadow Canyon. I decided to return there with my cameras the following day.

Lower Shadow Canyon

The houses are in the town of Eldorado Springs (home of Eldorado Natural Spring Water). The pool is the Eldorado Swimming Pool and Resort.

This portion of the Canyon can be reached by descending from the Shadow Canyon trail. Parking is available at the South Mesa Trailhead (there is a small fee for non-Boulder cars)

South Mesa Trailhead Signage

Hike up the Mesa Trail for 1.5 miles/ 2.4 km until you reach this sign, then follow the Shadow Canyon Trail…

Shadow Canyon Signage-1

Soon you will pass the McGillvray Cabin to the South of the trail…

McGillvray Cabin

The main part of the McGillvray Cabin was built sometime between 1870 and 1885.  An addition was made in the mid-1920s and since their construction style is quite different, it’s easy to determine the original cabin from the new.

Stay on the Shadow Canyon Trail past this turnoff back to the Mesa Trail…

Shadow Canyon Signage-2

Behold The Matron in Autumn, popular with climbers…   The Matron in Autumn (8x10)

At 2.1 mi / 3.4 km you will see this missing sign which is the way to the Lower Shadow Canyon. I’ve heard this trail referred to as the “Old Mesa Trail” but I haven’t found any references to that name…

Lower Shadow Canyon Sign

Proceed down this trail over the ridge past this weird sign. The Fowler and Goshawk Ridge trails are across the way. Down toward Eldorado Springs and through the sumac hued canyon we go…

Shadow Canyon Sumacs-20

Shadow Canyon Sumacs-2

These sumacs are taller than humans…

Shadow Canyon Sumacs-18

Shadow Canyon Sumacs-12

Shadow Canyon Sumacs-13


Shadow Canyon Sumacs-17

Leaves in transition…

Sumac Leaves in Transition

The drupes are full of lemony seeds…

Lemony Droups

After 1 mi/ 1.6km the trail abruptly ends in Eldorado Springs…

Lower Shadow Canyon Trailhead

The walk back to the South Mesa Trail parking area is about another mile east on Eldorado Springs Drive. Unfortunately this stretch of the loop is on the highway. To get there cross the South Boulder Creek

South Boulder Creek

It is possible to take a shorter hike up the Canyon from Eldorado Springs but the parking is limited and the trail access is tricky. Here is the loop I hiked, the mileage is shown…

Shadow Canyon Loop

Soon the snows will come and the leaves will fall…

Sumac Leaves In Snow

Summer Mint Makes Me Feel Fine

July 20, 2015

A July treat here in Boulder Colorado is the arrival of Summer mint…

Bergamot Flower

This beautiful, aromatic plant is called Bergamot or Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa). While I like it for the gorgeous flower, wild bergamot was considered a medicinal plant by many Native American tribes. It is the natural source of the antiseptic thymol, the primary active ingredient in modern commercial mouthwash formulas. In addition to alleviating bad breath it was also used to treat mouth and throat infections caused by dental decay and gingivitis. The leaves have the taste of strong mint. For many years I confused this plant with bergamot orange, an unrelated citrus plant used to flavor Earl Grey tea and make an essential oil (oil of bergamot).

Bergamots all have multiple flowers in dense heads with the pollen producing stamens protruding…

Bergamot Close-up

While Bergamot comes in many colors, here in Boulder it is usually a shade of magenta. We do have some that are white like this one on the Sanitas Valley Trail

White Bergamot Flower

My favorite purple bergamot vista is on the Mesa Trail between the North and South Forks of the Shanahan Ridge Trail. This is the perfect time to witness this yearly minty spectacle. I get there by hiking the North Fork Shanahan Ridge Trail  about 1 mile/1.6 km from the trail entrance on Lehigh Road up to the Mesa Trail and proceeding South. It is about halfway between the North and South Shanahan forks on the Mesa Trail. The total round trip distance is 2.2mi/3.5km from the access point.

Turn left at this sign…

Mesa Trail Sign

From here, it’s a short walk to the vista. I captured this panorama on July 23, 2009 @ 39°57’36.12″N 105°16’47.56″W…

Bear Peak Bergamot

I returned on July 19th, 2015 to capture this image from a slightly different angle…

Bear Peak Bergamot Vista-2 (12x5.4)

When I was there the flowers were being visited by our precious bees

Bee on Bergamot

…and hummingbirds

Bergamot with Hummingbird

The bergamot flowers won’t be there long so now is the time for your visit. The summer mint will make you feel fine and improve your breath.

Shanahan Ridge with Bergamot-3 (10x5)

Perishable Art

June 26, 2015

I can’t understand how people can create perishable art. I would feel awful seeing someone eating my photos, or watching them melt or wilt into oblivion. One of the many things that attract me to photography is its immortality. I have photos of landscapes that, as of the 2013 Boulder flood, no longer exist. Furthermore, now that the internet and digital photography are ubiquitous these photographs have traveled the world and will last until the next Ice Age freezes over the world’s servers.

While I spend most of my time photographing the natural world here in Colorado I am also attracted to documenting other artist’s urban graffiti. In 2007 I discovered this amazing graffito (singular) in a parking lot in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I photographed a section and uploaded it to my website for posterity. I’ve been trying to identify the artist but the trail has gone cold.

Santa Fe Graffito mural section captured on June 11th 2007…

Unfortunately, as I found out on a recent trip to Santa Fe, this form of art is as perishable as ice sculpture. Unless protected it will melt into obscurity.

Santa Fe Graffito melting mural re-captured on June 7th 2015…

The parking lot art gallery containing this and other works belongs to the New Mexico Workforce Connection building in downtown Santa Fe. Here’s a sampling of the creativity currently perishing in this cinderblock museum…

Urban Flora Corner

When I returned on April 21, 2018 it was all gone, replaced with a grey wall…

Blank Wall

More perished art…


Here’s a series on careers…





I was feeling bummed after seeing all this until I happened by the Santa Fe Teen Arts Center. This is an amazing place where art is nurtured and protected.

Here is the Phoenix that rose to lift my spirits. This fantastic mural is by John Santos. It is explained as follows…

Fenghuang the Chinese phoenix is a symbol of high virtue and grace of power and prosperity. It represents the union of yin and  yang.  When used as a decoration on a house, it symbolizes that loyalty and honesty was in the people that lived there.

Only one phoenix exists at a time and lives every 500 to 1461 years. After birth the new phoenix embalms the ashes of the old phoenix in a egg made of myrrh then deposits it in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis.(Sun city in Greek) and places it on an alter for the sun god. Heliopolis in this mural is represented by the Aztec sun calendar. In the background is Quetzalcoatl dancing in celebration of Fenghuang’s journey to the sun god. Quetzalcoatl is known as the patron god of the Aztec priesthood of learning and knowledge and is associated with the morning star Venus. It is also believed that Quetzalcoatl is the originator of the arts, poetry, the inventor of books and the calendar, the giver of maize to mankind and sometimes a symbol of death and resurrection.

Painting a picture that acknowledges life’s journeys and diverse backgrounds of everyone that have been dedicated to the Teen Center and its mission is reflected in this mural – an outlet for youth expression.

Santa Fe Teen Center Mural

Hopefully this beautiful mural is protected by the artist’s sage advice…

Toy Sign

Here is a sampling of what I discovered outside the Teen Center (it was Sunday so I couldn’t visit the inside of the building)…


Santa Fe Teen Center-1


Teen Center Rear Entrance

I hope to go back and help archive this joyful graphical extravaganza.

While I enjoy the creativity and visual excitement of graffiti, I do have one major exception. There is no excuse for using the natural landscape as a canvas. When this happens it is no longer art; it is vandalism. Artists and taggers have generally shown great respect for Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks. Here’s an unfortunate example of vandalism recently inflicted upon the land. Remember, “Only toys tagg natural space”.

Graffito is seen vandalizing Boulder’s Gregory Canyon as reported in the Boulder Daily Camera. (Photo: Lauren Fagan / Daily Camera)

Boulder Grafitto Vandalism

I Like Lichen

May 6, 2015


Lichens are a strange and wonderful life form. They are composite organisms made up from as many as three biological kingdoms; fungus, algae and bacteria. While they all need each other in this symbiotic triangle of life, the dominant partner is a fungus.

Lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture- lichenologist Trevor Goward

The fungus benefits from this relationship because algae and cyanobacteria produce food by photosynthesis. The algae or cyanobacteria benefit by being protected from the environment by the filaments of the fungus, which also gather moisture and nutrients from the environment, and usually provide stability. This little arrangement works very well as lichens can be found in almost every habitat and geographic area on the planet. It is estimated that 6% of Earth’s land surface is covered by lichen. They are also considered the world’s oldest living organisms. Cooperation is a powerful survival tool and it accomplishes what evolution alone cannot provide in a single creature.

Lichens grow where other things can’t such as desert sand and bare rock. Their trick is to hibernate or shut down metabolically during extremes of heat, cold or drought. When they get wet conditions they reawake to capture solar energy and let their true colors shine. This is because moisture causes the lichen’s surface skin to become more transparent, exposing the colorful photosensitive partner (the photobiont) to light. This transition can happen within minutes. The next time you see some dried-up lichen, sprinkle it with water and watch it wake up.

It has been a soggy week here in Boulder, the cloudy wet conditions are getting to me and I need some color. This is perfect weather for our tiny lichens to come out of hibernation and make the rocks glow with color. Finding them is easy, just seek a place with rocks. Maybe the name appealed to my wishful thinking but I decided to head up Sunshine Canyon (40° 2’1.35″N, 105°18’56.63″W) to see what’s on the rocks. As you can see, the lichen was full of color on this grey and rainy day…

The Rocks Were Alive

The Rocks Were Alive and Photosynthesizing in Sunshine Canyon. Green Algae in the Forest.

This called for my close-up lens (60mm macro). Now everything is revealed in this miniature world…






Lichen Abstract Art

The moss was pretty well soaked too…

Moss Droplets

I interrupted this Abert’s Squirrel’s lunch (this photo was taken with a 200mm zoom)…

Aberts Squirrel

Thanks to lichen It turned out to be a Colorful Colorado day despite the soggy weather.

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