Soda Canyon Hike

June 9, 2011 at 9:01 pm (Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park, National Parks, Nature, Photography, Wildlife)

When the wind blows from the southeast, Mesa Verde National Park is shrouded in a thick haze of smoke coming from the huge Arizona wildfire more than 250 miles away. But yesterday, thanks to a westerly breeze,  the smoke was gone, the wind calm, the temperature fabulous.  So I went for a hike.

Soda Canyon Overlook trail is short and sweet, but it took me two hours because of the distractions.  Birds.  Flowers.  Lizards.  And the view of Balcony House from a distance.

Balcony House is one of the Ancient Puebloan dwellings we give tours to.  In this photograph  the parking lot is just out of the image on the top right.  Note the ladder far below.  Visitors walk down to the 32-foot ladder then climb up to access the dwelling.

But the neatest things for me on that trip were these:

A Yellow-Headed Collared Lizard, which is just about the handsomest reptile I’ve seen in the wild.  This guy posed nicely for me and another visitor, and although they are known for racing towards people on their hind legs (presumably to scare them away?) he didn’t feel I was threatening enough to put on such a display.  Another view:

And here’s a closeup of the colorful scales:

The butterflies are also out, and I added a new one to my “collection”:

A Juniper Hairstreak, the only green butterfly I’ve ever seen.  (The Luna Moth is a moth, not butterfly.)

A Juniper Titmouse with a larvae of some sort, scolding me for interfering with her brood hidden away in a Utah Juniper.

A Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher couple making a nest in a dead juniper, with much squeaking and pleased bird-murmurs.

Unusual flowers that I can’t find in my flower book, which means I must purchase a Colorado Wildflowers book soon.

This pretty penstemon and the new blooms on the Plains Prickly Pear cactus below.

The broadleaf yucca are blooming all over the mesa top.  They are shorter than the Torrey yucca in Big Bend, but the flowers are edible, as is the root.  Native peoples used the pounded leaves to make rope, sandals, and tump lines (to carry burden baskets over their foreheads) among other things.

Much of Mesa Verde burned in 2000 from lightning strikes.  We’re like a huge lightning rod as the mesa sticks up 2,000 feet higher than the valleys below.  Recovery is slow, but from the ashes comes a new beginning.

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