Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rabbit Ears - Wildflower Wonderland

Rabbit Ears
This morning we got on the road early to drive to Rabbit Ears Pass on US 40. The remnants of an old volcanic plug, the peak resembles less of its namesake than in the past due to gradual erosion. Several years ago portions of the east tower fell, causing the peak to look even less like rabbit ears. That said, the peak is still very recognizable and is a very popular destination in the area in Routt National Forest.
Somewhat unusual, the highway over Rabbit Ears Pass has a gently rolling character in the vicinity of the summit. After crossing the Divide westbound, the road dips briefly and then reaches its highest point (about 9520 ft) before descending gently to the west summit (9400 ft) and then dropping steeply (7%) toward Steamboat Springs.
Hiking sticks in hand, along with binocs, camera, and water bottles, we started up the trail. Other hikers included people with dogs, a few horseback riders or mountain bikers, and families with children of all ages. One family allowed their children to climb barefooted! The ascent was easy for the first few miles, but a hiker said that it got steep at the end, climbing to 10,400 feet more or less.
The farther we climbed, the more beautiful the views became...
Dead Pine Trees
...except for the areas with fallen pine trees, killed by the pine bark beetle. The Forest Service does a good job keeping the trail itself cleared from obstructions when the trees fall, but they will be doing this for some time to come. The good thing was seeing all the young spruce trees growing in the newly available sunshine.
But the best part was all the fantastic, gorgeous wildflowers growing in profusion everywhere we went. It's so hard to get the real feel for the large meadows full of color with just a camera, and believe me, I really tried hard, taking over 300 photos today alone! I bought a Colorado Wildflower guide (over 400 pages), and still can't find all the flowers we saw in the book. Here are some of my favorites.
Colorado Blue Columbine

Prickly Rose
Red Paintbrush and Lupine

North Side View from Rabbit Ears
Since I had to stop every few minutes for a photo, or to catch my breath in the high elevation, it took us almost 3 hours to climb about 3.75 miles to the top. Thank goodness we had those hiking sticks or I wouldn't have made much of it! The wind picked up as the day progressed, blowing dust devils across the rocks and into our faces.
Volcanic Rock
The rocks at the top are volcanic and full of little gas holes. The non-volcanic rocks that surrounded the "ears" for millennia have worn away, much like Devil's Tower in NE Wyoming. Several other places below the pass have volcanic outcroppings as well.
View from top of Rabbit Ears
The view from the top was incredible. (I seem to have trouble coming up with appropriate adjectives for this trip without repeating myself!) But dark clouds gathered in the west, and we knew we must start down to avoid getting caught in the rain.
Threatening Skies
There hasn't been any measurable rain in Steamboat Springs in July, but you never know when those purple clouds will let loose. You can watch the rain fall miles away, and not know if it will come to you or not. At one point on the downward trail, we were passed by a Jeep on the way up. What wimps! If you can't walk even part of the trail, you won't enjoy getting banged around inside a Jeep across the rocks and ruts any more! And even a Jeep won't be able to make it up the steepest part at the top! We made it back to our car in time, and ate lunch at nearby Dumont Lake in a very light rain. Now I know why hiking boots are usually tan - you should have seen all the dust I had to wash off in the shower when we got home!

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