Sights and Sounds From Arapahoe National Forest

Situated just to the west of Rocky Mountain National Park and extending much further south is a huge chunk of National Forest land. Its hard to tell where Arapahoe national forest begins and Roosevelt national forest ends but they are intertwined together. If you have ever skied in Colorado there is a good chance you have set foot in ANF because numerous ski resorts operate lifts within the national forest boundary. We were both incredibly sore after multiple days of hiking so we decided to drive a bit on forestry roads and see how far we could get.

View looking back into the ski resorts of Vail Colorado.

View looking back into the ski resorts of Vail Colorado.

We did not make it very far on the forestry roads. A rainy spring season had washed out quite a few of the dirt roads and we were met with closed signs at every corner we turned. We decided to park at the base of a ridge and hike up to get a better view. The hike proved to be very tiring but incredibly worth it. We started at about 8500 ft elevation and ended above 9000 ft elevation. The air was quite thin.

Our trail headed up to the top of the ridge.

Our trail headed up to the top of the ridge.

The landscape lower to the basin is mostly shrub and grasslands. Most of the shrubs in the photo are about my height or slightly taller (5’7”) and the grasses were around knee height. The larger shrubs were each home to a nest of humming birds. They made their presence immediately known by alerting us loudly that we were in their territory. When it was clear that we weren’t leaving, they began a series of kamakaze esque dive bombs in our direction. We would look up to try to get a glimpse at the noise rushing towards us, only to see a flaming red dot with a beak attached zooming at top speed towards our eyeballs. At the very last moment the hummingbird would swerve around, zoom back to the nest, and perch on a branch. It would then huff and puff at our general direction letting us know that he meant business and that was a freebie.

At some point along the trail, the landscape changes you become immersed in a forest of young Trembling Aspen trees. It feels like entering a fantasy world. The grass, a rich green color plump from the spring snow melt and long summer days, grows up touching the grey bark of the Aspen trees. The landscape doesn’t seem real.

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At the top of the ridge, we stopped at a hunting camp and took in the sights. The wind was fresh and crisp blowing in from the Rocky Mountains. Though we saw very few birds aside from hummingbirds, the air was full of songs.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the hikes I did in Rocky Mountain National Park this short hike somehow felt different. We were completely alone on the top of a ridge looking down on the resorts. The sounds were new and interesting. The air smelled sweet and fresh, a scent I have never experienced before. The wind was fresh on my face as if someone had opened a massive refrigerator somewhere behind a mountain. The landscape was unique but harsh. The ground seemed to be exploding with life, just released from a winter prison and allowed to breathe for the first time. This place was different than any other, and I felt that there simply wasn’t enough time to even begin to absorb all of it. Many people say that they go to the mountains and become mesmerized by them. I can understand the allure. They are massive and daunting, just walking is exhausting and slow. You begin to feel small, and realize your place in the world as just one tiny organism in the giant universe. At the same time you feel important, as if it is somehow your duty to make sure places like this are here forever.

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Bizarre finds in Jardines de Mexico

Located south of Mexico City in a rather nondescript highway exit, is the massive Jardines de Mexico botanical garden. We found the location while looking for a place to pit stop for gas and decided to check it out. The property has all the touches of international investors, solar panel lined driveways, electric charging stations for cars, and an ultra modern storefront greets you as you enter.

The botanical garden hosts several themed gardens that are meant to represent different parts of the world. The most striking thing about the garden was the bizarre collection of plants and the huge population of lizards that called the park home. No doubt the presence of huge amounts of flowering plants has created a gigantic food source for small predators. Following the old saying “if you build it they will come” the gardens are teeming with birds, insects, lizards and everything in between. The nearby somewhat desolate farmland is rather drab in comparison. The garden is undoubtedly privately owned and appears to be someone’s private collection of plants. There does not seem to be any emphasis whatsoever on making the garden educational as none (I mean none) of the plants are labeled with any information whatsoever. So for each of the plants and animals following I did my own research.

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The award for most bizarre goes to the one in the cover photo and shown above. This bizarre tree is called a Winged Calabash (Crescentia alata) and is an extremely rare tree to locate. They have a small green fruit which has evolved every mechanism known to making to PREVENT animals from eating them. Unlike most other fruits which actually developed flavors and textures that were desirable, this one is quite the opposite. The fruit is rock hard and described as a cannonball, when you do finally break it open it smells like rotting fruit. The flowers are pollinated by big black flies so native populations used to call these trees guardians of the dead. They live exclusively in Mexico and some Central American countries. This tree is a product of a very bizarre evolutionary history. They seemed to have developed a seriously hard outer covering on their fruit (located on the stem of the tree not the leaves) to prevent animals from breaking into them. However, now humans and horses are said to be the only creatures that can break into the fruits. As a result their seeds do not disperse and the trees have become more and more rare over time. It is thought that at one point there was a small elephant species that lived in North America and these were the primary consumers of their fruit. The owner of the botanical garden is obviously very proud of their calabash collection, they are displayed prominently around the park. Also keep in mind that these trees pictured are incredibly old, this species grows slow and tops out at a very modest height. It is likely that the first tree pictured might be well into the hundreds of years, meaning it must have been moved to its current location.

From L to R, Mexican Giant Cactus Pachycereus pringlei, Mottled Spurge Euphorbia lactea, Kapok tree Cebia Pentandra

As you move around the park the plants become more and more strange. There are trees that appear to be pines at first sight but on after a second glance you realize they really are cactuses. There are cactuses that tower above the tallest oak tree and are wider at the base that any other tree in the park. And finally there is a plant so alien it looks like it must have come from another planet. The bark is as green as any leaf but covered with perfectly round spines that end in a cone. The base of the tree is shaped like a vase and is wider in the middle than at the bottom or top. The Kapok tree (far right photo) is this bizarre creature. As it grows older it will form buttress roots to keep it stable in the wet rainforest soil.

A young green Iguana, striking a pose

A young green Iguana, striking a pose

The botanical garden was pretty empty while we were there. It was a pretty hot day and it was a Monday so the four of us were alone in most of the exhibits. As we walked around the corner we disturbed numerous basking lizards. The bravest by far were the various types of Iguanas. These seemed to be more annoyed by our presence than afraid, and often would open one eye slightly to watch us but refrain from moving too much. Mexico hosts several species of Iguana most of which are a brighter color when younger and then become darker as they age.

This is a species of Iguana, he/she did not want their photo taken. somehow yellow and black is a far more frightening color.

This is a species of Iguana, he/she did not want their photo taken. somehow yellow and black is a far more frightening color.

Can you spot both lizards in this photo?

Can you spot both lizards in this photo?

Finally, last but not least, there were quite a few interesting flowers in bloom. Some of my favorites are listed below.

All photos taken by me. Location: Jardines de Mexico Mexico-Acapulco km 129, 62900 Tehuixtla, Mor., Mexico