Spring in the Canyon Country
Colorado National Monument is positioned in the north-east part of the Colorado Plateau, that big chunk of canyon country that Ed Abbey so eloquently wrote the praises of. It sits west of Grand Junction, Colorado and north-east of Moab, Utah, its dry country, bisected by some great gulch topography, vertical sandstone walls, hot in summer and cold in winter. Spring is pretty close to perfect, especially if you come from country not yet released from winters drab cold. We arrived in late afternoon with warm light on the rock walls, red, buff, salmon and all gradations between. A few electric blue Penstemons were blooming under the ridge of a rocky hogback, along with radiant carmine Paintbrush, next to a beautiful purple Milk Vetch.
Now this is not a country of big wildflower meadows, these beauties grow with a lot of space between, plenty of rock with only a few highly specialized plants, makes them even more exquisite. The space between these huge canyon walls holds Vultures treading air on teetering wings, soaring, never flapping and Ravens chasing their shadows along the edge of nothing. Closer to the ground, Canyon Wrens flit between fallen blocks of sandstone , catching insects, gathering nest material all the while singing as only wrens can. And Hummingbirds! Both Black-chinned and Broad-tailed were zooming between roosts and the Paintbrush, we were ready for spring and here it is. A little exploration even gave us a brief encounter with a small band of Desert Bighorn sheep, moving from the rim rock up through the Pinyons.
This terrain cries out for the grand landscape shot, and it is all here, big canyons, big walls and remarkable formations full of color with those impossibly blue skies overhead. It is all of this but I think of it as closeup country, walk the trails and the substance of the land crowds in, detail is the landscape , it is full of “nichos” and alcoves, a hidden corner with a seep or spring, green as Ireland.
We were hopeful that it would be warm enough to bring the lizards out to sun and by midday we got lucky. With lots of small lizards running underfoot, probably Side-blotched Lizards, our search ( a lot of slow walking among the Ephedra, Prickly Pear, and boulders fallen from the vertical walls around us) turned up what we hoped to find. The Collared Lizard, not just one, which would have made me quite happy, but three, two males and one female. Now we usually move very carefully around whatever critter we are trying to photograph and we were quiet and slow-moving around these guys but I found that when setting up my tripod to get a few “record” shots, you know, a little more distance than you really want, the males would rush from whatever rock they were on to a position too close for the lens being used. Don’t you hate that?A nice, but short 2 day trip to spring and it ended with an interesting encounter. Barb kicked up a Gambel’s Quail that was under a Juniper which ran and then in a whirring flash flew up over the rock ridge, followed by another that was pure white.