Gaining Altitude

our first camp
our first camp

In the morning we woke up with the sunrise and I climbed out of the tent to play around taking pictures of the flowers as they opened their petals and pollinators flocked to them. The geometry on the immature thistle (I think) buds struck me as some of the land’s most wonderful radial tessellations, a pattern which emanated from the stem center and repeated conically from the wide base up to the pointed tip.

unopened thistle and wasp Beautifl unopened thistle

The opened flower was just as stunning with its purple fringe waving in the wind enticingly for insects, like this out of focus green bee or fly, mimicking a bee with its stripes. The contrasting colors of this symbiotic pairing reminded me that nature likes to play strange jokes. But I’m certain that strangeness is only generated by our own minds. The bee and the flower can have no concept that on our human color wheel they are opposite colors. No color theory is applied here, only the laws of natural selection operated to carve the contours and colors of these slowly sculpted beings.

natural contrast
natural contrast

Many of the wildflowers here are unfamiliar to me. I recognized a dandelion (which I consider a wildflower in my yard, not a weed), but the fluffy ball of seeds must have been ten times the size of those at home with fluffy white parachute tops specially shaped for travelling long distances over the plains. (For whatever reason, I didn’t take a picture) Clearly, this must be a different species or subspecies. Many of the other wildflowers I didn’t recognize at all, and I wished I had a wildflower field guide to sort through the biology behind each shade of yellow.

Yellow Flower Two

Yellow Flower One

Yellow Flower Three

Oddly enough, the prairie plant I did recognize was a species of grass that also spread across the valley at the ranch, called grama grass. I’m not exactly sure on which species, but the seed density suggested it was hairy grama grass (Bouteloua hirsuta). This is one of the Texas natives that fed the migrating buffalo and was reseeded on the ranch to help renew the prairie and ensure biodiversity even after cattle munched the tastiest and most nutritious grasses. Native grasses are critical to healthy prairie ecosystems and they have the added bonus of also adding beautiful colors to the plains when you look across them. The geometric shapes of the seeds are just as intriguing as wildflowers if you stop to look closely.  In fact, many grasses have their own minuscule flowers when they’re in bloom.

herringbone-like geometry of grama grass seeds
herringbone-like geometry of grama grass seeds
miniscule blooms on grass
minuscule blooms on grass

We took off to the north, continuing the path of our own migration, heading for Denver, where we met up with friends before they dispersed to Washington, to work on a farm, and to Hawaii, to study bees. On our long drive up to Denver, we saw several hilarious business names out in the boonies: Back Door Cafe, Toot n’ Totum, High Plains Escort Service (for over-sized loads), and The Sugar Shack.  We also saw our first snow-capped mountains. I couldn’t wait to get out into the majestic landscapes of the wilderness after we explored the mile high city. After just one night of sleeping on thin inflatable mattress pads, we were treated to the hospitality of our friend’s uncle who had wonderful bed to spare. Nothing will make you appreciate a good mattress more than a night or two on the ground. But, to me,  sleeping on the ground is worth it when you’re surrounded by stunning scenery like Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison, our next two stops.

First Glimpses of Mountain


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