Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 2

Colorado boasts 33 native species of orchid and Spotted Coralroot Orchid (Corallorhiza maculata) is one of more common species. The coral-like rhizomes of this orchid feed off a fungus that is itself parasitic. The plant does not produce its own chlorophyll and therefore has a rusty brown coloring that makes the Spotted Coralroot Orchid sometimes difficult to find among the detritus of the forest floor. Only upon close inspection are the small, interesting flowers revealed.

Ouzel Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park

Flowers of the Spotted Coralroot Orchid have 3 petals – 2 side petals that are the same color as the rust-colored stem and a lip petal that is bright white with purplish spots.

Reynolds Park

Heart Lake

The Coralroot was immortalized by Robert Frost in a poem called On Going Unnoticed.

Reynolds Park

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 8

Next up in the Countdown to Spring series is a member of the penstemon family called the Whipple Penstemon, also known as the Dusky Beardtongue.

The Dusky Beardtongue can be found in two different colors – a rich, deep purple and a cream color with just a hint of purple.

This plant was named after Lt. Amiel Whipple, an American engineer/surveyor who led an expedition in 1853-1854 in search of a transcontinental railroad route along the 35th parallel.

The following close-up of a Dusky Beardtongue shows where the “beardtongue” part of the name comes from.

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 14

It’s time again for my annual “Countdown to Spring” series, whereby I spotlight a beautiful Colorado wildflower each day until we reach the Vernal Equinox on March 20.

Let’s start the series with the Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii), aka the Mariposa Lily. This generally white, three-petaled flower is an early bloomer in the foothills and the Ponderosa zone of Colorado’s woodlands.

The bulbs of the Sego Lily are edible and were roasted, boiled, or made into a porridge by several Western Native American tribes. Tribes in Utah taught starving Mormon settlers how to use this plant as food, which is how the Sego Lily ended up as the state flower of Utah.

The Sego Lily can also be found in a lovely shade of lilac.

Iceland – Day 11

After our rewarding but exhaustingly long day on Day 10, we spent the entire morning and into the early afternoon of Day 11 relaxing and being generally lazy (two things at which we both happen to excel). It was great. We finally decided after lunch that we needed to get out of the house. We jumped in the trust little Chevy Spark and drove into the capital city of Reykjavik to see some of the sights there. Reykjavik was about a 15-20 minute drive from our house by the sea, so it was really nice to not to have to spend a lot of time in the car.

After driving around the heart of Reykjavik for quite some time trying to find a FREE place to park (our Dutch roots run deep), we found a really nice (FREE) spot not too far from Hallgrímskirkja, which was what we most wanted to visit anyway. Yay for us!

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church with very impressive and unique architecture that is visible for miles in all directions. We had visited this church during our 2006 Iceland trip but were unable to go inside or up the bell tower because a wedding was taking place while we were there. We were very happy on this visit to find both the interior and the tower to be open to the public.

The construction of Hallgrímskirkja began in 1945 and took 36 years to complete. The building was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson to resemble the columnar basalt that can be found throughout Iceland.

The interior of Hallgrímskirkja lacks the ornate decoration of other large European churches but there is definite beauty in its minmalism.

The two things that stood out for me, however, were the rock crystal baptismal font and the beautiful pipe organ.

After wandering around inside for a bit, we purchased our tickets to take the elevator up to the bell tower. (The elevator sure beat the 387 steps up to the top of Notre Dame in Paris)! From the tower, you get a really great bird’s-eye-view of the city.

Next on the agenda was a bit of souvenir shopping. From Hallgrímskirkja we headed down Skólavörðustígur, which eventually meets up with Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping street. One thing I noticed during this stroll that Reykjavik has a lot of interesting graffiti.

We hit pretty much every souvenir shop along the way and I must say that all of the shops had pretty much the same stuff so it got old fairly quickly.

On the way back to the car, we passed Hallgrímskirkja again and the sky was bluer and it was so much prettier that it had been earlier.

A note about the statue in the plaza in front of Hallgrímskirkja: The statue of Leif Erikson by Alexander Stirling Calder was a gift to Iceland from the United States in 1930 that commemorated the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament, established at Þingvellir in 930 AD.

Back at the house, I decided to go out again and look for a nearby geocache. (If you don’t know about geocaching, check it out HERE. It’s a lot of fun). It was quite an interesting drive to get there and when I came to a closed gate, I decided to continue on foot. Not a good idea. The whole area is apparently an Arctic Tern breeding ground and Arctic Terns do NOT take kindly to intruders. They’re actually quite vicious and frightening. They hover over your head screeching and then swoop down to attack your head. It’s the stuff of which nightmares are made.

After taking close to 30 videos of terns trying to kill me, I gave up on crossing that field to look for the geocache and headed back to the house. On the way back, I photographed some of the abundant bird life and another beautiful Icelandic horse.

Later on, after a delicious dinner of cheese and potato soup with broccoli and white wine (not sure if that’s the proper pairing, but… who cares?), I headed back down to the beach to watch another sunset over the Greenland Sea. It was not QUITE as spectacular as the sunset on our first day there, but definitely worth staying up for!

Thus ended Day 11. A few additional photos can be found HERE.

Iceland – Day 7

On Day 7, we thought we’d give Dyrhólaey another try. If you’ll recall, we drove to the top of Dyrhólaey on Day 3 and couldn’t even get out of the car because the wind was blowing so hard. Day 7 was a much nicer day with much less wind and a morning that was absolutely free of rain, so it seemed like a good day for another attempt. After making an appointment to go horseback riding in the afternoon, we headed in the direction of Dyrhólaey. By the way, Dyrhólaey means “door hole island.” For obvious reasons. Except it’s not an island.

I decided first to stop at a parking lot below Dyrhólaey that seemed to be quite popular (i.e. crowded). I first noticed this breathtaking sight:

This large chunk of basalt sitting right on the beach is called Arnardrangur (“Eagle Rock”) because eagles used to nest here, although no one has seen any here since 1850. There were bunches of people clumped together taking photos toward the cliffs and I knew that could mean only one thing: PUFFINS!! And sure enough, there were puffins. Lots and lots of puffins.

Please note that the puffin in the last photo appears to be sitting on a puffling. Awwwww!!!

We spent an inordinate amount of time photographing puffins. They were quite plentiful and they are SO very adorable! We wandered around the area and got great views of the beach below Dyrhólaey, then went down to said beach and spent another inordinate amount of time there.

The photo above shows where a Dutch couple fell 40 meters down to the beach when the edge of the cliff gave way at the end of May this year. They both survived.

Oh, and there were more PUFFINS!!

With our horseback riding appointment rapidly approaching, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the puffin place and off we went back to the farm. As soon as we started driving back to the farm, the rain started. Of course. We were, however, absolutely DETERMINED to ride Icelandic horses on this trip so we went ahead with our plans.

We met up with our super nice guide, Deborah, then headed to the horse place and got our trusty steeds and ourselves all ready. Mom was assigned to a very handsome blond horse whose Icelandic name meant “Sunshine.” I got a brown and white fella whose name in Icelandic meant “Chief.” Mom’s horse was a slow-poke and mine kept trying to go back to the barn.

Neither of us had been on a horse in quite some time (and then some), so even getting ON them was an adventure. Icelandic horses are, in general, smaller than other horses but boy did those stirrups look high off the ground!! We kindly requested a box to stand on to facilitate the process. Mom made me promise not to film the horse-mounting process, so, being the good, obedient daughter that I am, that part will have be left to your collective imagination.

With Deborah expertly leading the way, we headed of toward the nearby black sand beach for our rainy, windy ride. Keep in mind that any photos taken DURING the ride are not very high quality as I was too busy trying to hold on for dear life to worry much about composition, focus, exposure and such. Plus it was raining. And REALLY windy.

Upon reaching the beach, Deborah asked, “Do you want to try going a little faster?” We both responded with a resounding, “NOOOOOOOOO!” But I think we went faster anyway. Icelandic horses have an unusual gait called the “tolt” which looks really smooth and easy, but to me it just felt bouncy.

This was the view of Dyrhólaey  from our turn-around spot:

Since Mom didn’t dare let go of the reins to take photos during the ride, this is just about the only photo of me to commemorate the experience

As you can see, taking a selfie with a horse is not an easy task 🙂

So that was the last day of our stay on a farm near Vik, and what an eventful and memorable day it was!

Iceland – Day 1

My mom and I have now embarked on our grand return trip to Iceland. We first visited Iceland in June/July of 2006 while I was on R&R from my then-job in Iraq. I had wanted to go to Iceland since I was a youngster and when I invited my mom to go along she said, “Sure! Why not?!” We had a fabulous time, fell in love with the country, and vowed to go back. Nine years later, here we are.

Here are a few highlights from Day 1.

The highlight of the flight over was, by far, flying over Greenland. The coasts are SO rugged and the in-between expanse of nothing but whiteness are all very impressive.

The west coast of Greenland

The west coast of Greenland

The east  coast of Greenland

The east coast of Greenland

The next highlight of the day was Urriðafoss (“Trout Waterfall”), a little-known but quite spectacular waterfall on the river Þjórsá, the longest river in Iceland. The information sign states that Urriðafoss is the most voluminous waterfall in Europe.

Urriðafoss

Urriðafoss

Unfortunately, Urriðafoss is being threatened by a proposed hydropower station. It would be a tragedy to lose this impressive natural wonder.

This is Alaskan Lupine and it is EVERYWHERE here in Iceland.

Nootka Lupine

Alaskan Lupine

This beautiful and ubiquitous plant was brought to Iceland in the late 1800s to help combat soil erosion but has become quite invasive.

Þorvaldseyri is a lovely farm located at the base Eyjafjallajökull, the glacier whose underlying volcano erupted so spectacularly in 2010.

Þorvaldseyri

Þorvaldseyri

The cave on the right in the photo below is called Rútshellir. It was pretty cool and there were sheep and horses too.

Rútshellir

Rútshellir

So that’s about all I have from Day 1. I’m actually at the end of Day 2 as I write this and I took WAY more pictures today, so I better get busy with the next blog post!

Sleepy Squirrel

This sleepy little squirrel was lounging in my cottonwood tree yesterday, obviously enjoying the warm sunshine after Sunday’s sloppy wet snowstorm. I’m pretty sure that this was the first time I’ve ever seen a squirrel napping.

Did you know that over ONE-THIRD of all mammal species are rodents?!! I find that quite astonishing.

Countdown to Spring 2015 – Vernal Equinox

In celebration of the Vernal Equinox, today I will feature Colorado’s beautiful state flower, the Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea), aka the Rocky Mountain Columbine. Last year was a banner year for the Columbine in Colorado’s Front Range and I was fortunate to see absolutely stunning displays of Columbines on three separate occasions.

Kenosha Pass Columbines

McCullough Gulch Columbines

Crater Lakes Columbines

The Crater Lakes Columbines were the best of the lot. As I mentioned in my blog post about that hike, I very unexpectedly came across a hillside along the lake that was just COVERED in Columbines. It was a stunningly beautiful and truly breathtaking sight to see. What made it even more interesting was the horde of Hummingbird Moths that were flitting from bloom to bloom, lapping up the yummy Columbine nectar.

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 1

Spotted Saxifrage (Saxifraga bronchialis ssp. austromontana) is one of my absolute favorite Rocky Mountain wildflowers. I’m generally partial to cute things and this little flower is just plain CUTE.

The habitat of the Spotted Saxifrage is typically in subalpine and alpine life zones but I’ve seen it in the montane zone as well.

Spotted Saxifrage, near Mount Evans

Spotted Saxifrage, near Mount Evans

The Latin word saxifraga means “rock breaker.” Depending on the description one is reading, this name refers either to the rocky habitat in which the plant often lives OR it indicates the plant’s alleged medicinal use for treatment of kidney stones.

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

The Spotted Saxifrage is a larval host and nectar source for a butterfly called the Astarte Fritillary.

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 2

Double Bladderpod (Physaria acutifolia), aka sharpleaf twinpod or Rydberg’s twinpod, was another new find for me last year, or perhaps just another often-seen-but-newly-identified one. Like the Yellow Alyssum featured earlier in this series, the four small petals of the Double Bladderpod give it away as a member of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family. The inflated seed pods (not shown) are the source of the “bladderpod” moniker. This plant can be found in open soil patches in the plains, foothills, and montane life zones of Colorado.

Double Bladder Pod, South Valley Park

Double Bladderpod, South Valley Park

“Physaria” is Greek for “bladder” and “Acutifolia” is Greek for “sharp-edged foliage.”