Sunday, August 12, 2018

Visiting Colorado--Old Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain National Park

alpine tundra, Rocky Mountain National Park
Almost to the top of Old Fall River Road
Old Fall River Road was the first automobile road to the alpine tundra in Rocky Mountain National Park; it opened in 1920.  It is unpaved and runs steeply up. It hasn't been continuously open: for almost a decade in the 1950-1960's it was closed by a landslide. Today it is open when (mostly) snow -free, about Memorial Day to Labor Day--until Oct. 1 in 2018. It is one-way, uphill only.

Long vehicles are discouraged. We were a bit concerned about taking a Prius but in fact having a compact car made the turns, some truly hair-pin, easier for us than for bigger vehicles. Had it been after a heavy rain, we might have regretted the Prius: there were muddy ruts in the road, some quite deep, but when we were there, dry and easily avoided.

So on a sunny morning we headed up Old Fall River Road.

Rocky Mountain National Park

There's a helpful brochure you can purchase at the base of the climb which points out highlights and is careful to warn you about steep grades, no guardrails and other hazards.

Speed limit: 15.  Road length: 9 miles. Elevation gain: 3,280 feet, to 11,796 feet above sea level.

We were pleased to find some wide spots to hop out.

Old Fall River Road

I wasn't thinking of writing about it the time, so I don't have pictures looking forward or back along the road. It was just a dirt road, occasionally with ruts to avoid.

subalpine forest, Old Fall River Road
Subalpine forest
The road climbs out of montane forest to the subalpine zone and finally to alpine tundra.  Montane forest has ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), with some aspen (Populus tremuloides) and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). The subalpine is a spruce-fir forest (Engelmann spruce, Picea engelmannii and subalpine fir, Abies lasiocarpa), with tall slender trees. Both zones had spectacular views, mostly where we thought it unwise to stop. We were there early on a weekday morning so the road was not packed, but there were plenty of other vehicles ahead of and behind us.

Old Fall River Road

waterfall, Old Fall River Road

Thanks to the brochure, we noticed the transitions between zones as they happened, rather than saying, belatedly, "wait, didn't something change?"

All kinds of neat things were flowering under the trees in the subalpine (we didn't stop much below that).

subalpine wildflowers

This small goldenrod (probably the Rocky Mountain goldenrod, Solidago multiradiata) was only about 6" high, growing near or under the trees in the subalpine.


And there was this pretty little cinquefoil (genus Potentilla, rose family, Rosaceae). I don't know which species: Colorado has 30 species, most of them small with yellow flowers.


Then the road climbed some more, the forest fell away, and we drove through alpine tundra. An elevation too cold, frozen too much of the year, for trees. In my picture below, there is a big patch that is a knee-high fir tree. Trees keep trying to grow in the tundra. Warming will let them grow better but it won't be uniform: decent-sized trees will grow in sun-warmed areas, the exposed or deeply shaded spots will likely be tree-free for a long time.

alpine tundra, Rocky Mountain National Park
Alpine tundra, dwarfed trees in the middle distance.
The pole will be put back in the ground before fall, to
mark the road when the snow is deep.
In its brief summer, the tundra is ablaze in wildflowers. Alpine tundra is a very neat ecosystem full of really tough little plants. The area around Rocky Mountain National Park's Alpine Visitor Center is one of the most accessible places in all of North America to see it. whether you drive there on Trail Ridge Road or Old Fall River Road.

alpine flowers, Rocky Mountain National Park

The above is clearly a composite, aster family, Asteraceae. Perhaps it is Senecio amplectans, showy alpine ragwort.

Below is elephant's head, Pedicularis groenlandica  (broomrape family, Orobachaceae). There are many species of Pedicularis in Colorado, most called louseworts. This one, if I have the id right, is found clear to Greenland, as the scientific name imples, widely distributed at high elevations or in the far north.

alpine wildflowers, Rocky Mountain National Park
elephant head, Pedicularis groenlandica
In the photo below, we were just about to the top of Old Fall River Road. That is Rocky Mountain National Park's Alpine Visitor Center, seen from "the back."
Alpine Visitor Center from Old Fall River Road
Alpine Visitor Center from Old Fall River Road
This photo looks back down Old Fall River Road from the Alpine Visitor's Center. Since the road is  one-way going up, of course it is closed.

End of Old Fall River Road at Alpine Visitor's Center

One last look at alpine tundra plants. The purple is Whipple's penstemon, Penstemon whippleanus (plant family Plantaginaceae, plantain family) found from the montane zone up to the tundra, but varying in flower color (creamy yellow, white, lavender, maroon, blue, black-purple and violet: what's with that?!)

alpine tundra, Rocky Mountain National Park

We took Trail Ridge Road down and, having packed a picnic, stopped for a scenic lunch when we found an open picnic table.

Photo from the drive down Trail Ridge Road:
Rocky Mountain National Park
Along Trail Ridge Road

Comments and corrections welcome.

Check out the description on Rocky Mountain National Park's home page: link
I have the Colorado Rocky Mountain Wildflowers App link on my iPhone--very useful, especially because despite having half a dozen wildflower guides for Rocky Mountain National Park, half the time, like this time, I don't remember to grab one.
Plant naming is rapidly changing. I used J. Ackerfield. 2015. Flora of Colorado. BRIT Press, Fort Worth Texas.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Botanists at Work--Botany2018 Meeting

This year I again attended the Botanical Society of America annual meeting this year in Rochester, Minnesota. I go to keep up--since I write this blog from retirement, attending professional meetings helps me check that I am providing accurate information.

Rochester Minnesota

So I attended general lectures and technical papers, read posters, looked at the books the publishers brought and, of course, talked to people.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Plant Story--Apricot Folklore

an apricot

Apricots (Prunus armeniaca, see previous post link) have been in cultivation more than 5,000 years, so of course there are all kinds of folk tales.

apricot tree

The plant was probably domesticated in China--it is mentioned in texts from about 500 BCE. Apricots in flower became the floral symbol of the second month of the Chinese calendar. The second month generally corresponds more to March than February since the Chinese lunar calendar begins with the first new moon after the half-way point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. In China under the emperors, civil service jobs, highly desirable jobs, were chosen by testing the candidates in very difficult examinations. Those were administered at the beginning of the year, so apricot flowers in the second month were also "successful candidate flowers" as examinations were completed and winners announced. I don't have a photo that I am sure is Prunus armeniaca in flower, so here it is online link. Other apricots, for example the Japanese apricot, Prunus mume, flower later in the spring.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Visiting Switzerland--Enjoying Mountain Wildflowers

This was a visit into the mountains of Switzerland simply to enjoy being there, which meant mountain scenes, cheese and chocolate, and especially, the flowers.

The flora of Northern Europe has many similarities to that of eastern North America and high elevation plants in the Alps have close relatives in the Rocky Mountains, so I knew many of the plants. Sort of. Because, apart from widespread weeds, North America's plants are only related to Europe's, not identical.

Where I actually knew the plants, they were European natives that are now weeds in North America.

Of course the dandelion, Taraxacum officinale (sunflower family, Asteraceae) - a source of food and medicine across the Europe in the 17th century, so it brought to North America intentionally, then we stopped using it and it got away.
dandelions, Taraxacum officiale
dandelions in Switzerland

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Plant Story--Adaptable Apricots

I am going to have an apricot crop this year
apricots on apricot tree
One of my apricot trees: enlarge to more easily see the yellow fruits.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Plant Story--Needle-and-Thread Grass, Graceful and Sharp

Needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata, formerly is Stipa comata, grass family Poaceae) is native to the northwestern three quarters of North America, found especially on dry or sandy sites. It is a beautiful grass, with long slightly nodding heads that catch the sunlight and nod in the wind. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Wishing You a Happy July

mountain trail, Switzerland
Swiss Alps
Almost always, creating a post for this blog is great fun. But I'm jet-lagged having just returned from Switzerland. Since Switzerland is 7 hours ahead of Colorado, I am alert in the middle of the night and sleepy at dinnertime. Writing well-thought-out sentences eludes me. 

What to do? Share photographs. It is a big beautiful world. Message: get out, observe, enjoy.