Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mineral Springs, Magpies and Waterfalls

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Today's adventure in Colorado began with a tour of the mineral springs found downtown and a short history of Steamboat Springs. I always thought it was a town catering to the rich who arrived by rail to take the "waters" for their health, like Saratoga Springs in New York, or French Lick in Indiana. To my surprise, that was not so. In 1910, the population was about 1,200, mostly miners and cattle ranchers. By 1960, it was only up to 1,800, and up to about 2,300 by 1970. Then the ski resorts were developed, and now the permanent residents exceed 12,000. Of course, the population doubles during the season. The bubbling is not from heat, but hydrogen sulfide, the chemical compound which is a colorless gas with the characteristic foul odor of rotten eggs; it is heavier than air, very poisonous, corrosive, flammable, and explosive. And it bubbles up in the water to make it look like the water is boiling.
Black-billed Magpies
 
I've seen Magpies several places out West, but there seem to be more of these members of the Corvid family here than anywhere else. You can recognize them in flight with their extra long tails, and the bright flash of white in their wings. I did not realize that their wings and tails have a blue sheen in the sun, rather like their cousins the Blue Jay. We just saw large flocks landing in nearby trees to roost for the night.
Fish Creek Falls
Several reservoirs at the top of the mountain, damming up Fish Creek, provide the water supply for the city, but the water still feeds a beautiful 280-ft tall waterfall. Imagine the water that must roar over it in the spring when 15 feet of snow pack melts!
The city's advertising describes it as "clear and fresh high alpine water," and I would agree. We climbed down into the creek bed and took our shoes off to cool our feet, and it felt like they would freeze at first!
Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel
Cheeky little Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels aren't shy around the hikers or waders at Fish Creek at all. They begged hand-outs from anyone with food, and munched on seeds otherwise, or chased each other around the rocks. We noticed more brightly colored butterflies in the creek bed than we have seen anywhere else so far. I wonder if they use these valleys as highways.
Hummingbird Female and Nest
A bright green female Hummingbird worked her way along the shoreline too, eventually ducking into some low hanging branches. Using binoculars, I found her at a nest on a small branch, not far above the cascading water. She stood on the side of the nest for a bit, then settled down on top of it, but not for long. Two of those brash ground squirrels got too close to suit her, and she chased them around the rocks until they went away. What a brave little Hummingbird!

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