June 9, 2010

Dancing Calypsos

I’ve moved up to the mountains for the summer to do plant research at the Mountain Research Station on Niwot Ridge in Colorado. It’s an amazing, beautiful place that I’m lucky to be able to live and work in. More on that later with pictures of the old rustic cabins, wildflower carpeted forest floors and meadows filled with vibrant green & white aspens.

When I first arrived the other night I met the father of the station operations manager who happens to be visiting for a few days. We got to talking and he mentioned that when he was here a couple of years ago he had gone hiking with a couple of visiting botanists who showed him a small field of Calypso orchids (Calypso bulbosa). This is a somewhat rare and hard to find wildflower that only makes a very brief appearance in the spring and they keep their heads bowed low to the ground so they can be difficult to see if you aren’t looking carefully. Last year I was lucky enough to find 3 buried under a loose pile of leaves in the forest here but they’re the only ones I’ve ever seen. I peppered this poor man with so many questions about what he had seen that he finally said ‘You know, I’m here to hike around all week, I could take you there and we can try to find them’. DONE! No need to ask me twice.

He picked me up at the appointed hour earlier today and we drove to the trail head where it immediately started to rain with thunder and lightning directly overhead. We waited about 20 minutes for the lightning to pass and then finally started down the trail. Soon after we hit a very swollen creek from the excessive snow melt that we’re having this year. We managed to augment the logjam we found and used dead branches we found nearby to stick in the water and steady us as we crossed the logs. I immediately stepped on a log that rolled and ended up with one entire leg in the creek, but eventually we managed to cross with cameras dry and intact.
We hiked about a mile crossing through some boggy areas, an old train track trail from mining days a century ago and field after field of blooming wildflowers- thermopsis, pseudocymopterus, mertensia, strawberries, knickkinnick, artemesia, wallflower, larkspur and half a dozen others.

Eventually we crossed another tiny little creek that could be stepped across and he said we should start looking up the hill to our right. We went no more than about a meter after he said that when he suddenly stopped with a big grin and just pointed up the hill where there were DOZENS AND DOZENS of Calypsos in shady little patches throughout the forest!! A gold mine of orchids! It was incredible. I took 100 pictures in less than 10 minutes before the batteries in my camera died, but it was orchid heaven and an amazing experience. These are a few of the little guys we found.

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