The day was shaping up into a lovely one, mostly blue skies with scattered, fluffy clouds and a cool breeze. The cottonwood trees in Last Chance Basin were well leafed-out in golden-green, robins were nest building and singing, and my favorite yellow violets graced the trailside.
The area around The Horn still looks like a war zone, where the extensive trail work took place. The ravaged cottonwood trees have so few undamaged branches that the roots may die back for lack of nutrition. The outside edge of the trail is eroding in places and clearly has not reached a point of stability. There were many rockfalls from the cliffs above the trail - a small one came down as I passed, and larger ones covered the trail in some spots. It seems clear that rockfalls and erosion will be perennial problems on this part of the trail.
There were only a few snow patches on the trail as far as the double steel bridges over Gold Creek. After that, it was post-holing in deep, soft snow, so I only went a few hundred yards more to a spot where dippers have often nested - but they were not there, yet. On the way back, I joined the Parks and Recreation hiking group for the return trip.
I heard resident golden-crowned kinglets and migratory ruby-crowned kinglets in the conifers, along with varied thrushes, winter wrens, and Townsend's warblers. Hooters called from the hillsides. In the deciduous stands were American robins, fox sparrows, myrtle warblers, and orange-crowned warblers. A few hermit thrushes complained from the thickets but did not sing.
A porcupine happily munched fresh willow leaves. Willow leaves and especially the inner bark contain salicin, a plant hormone that functions in growth and resistance to pathogens, among other things. It oxidizes to salicylic acid, a compound closely related to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Willow-bark extracts have been used, historically and in many regions of the world where willows grow, to reduce fever and relieve pain.
Several mustard-white butterflies were visiting the yellow violet flowers and looking for mates. We saw a few mated pairs fluttering about, the white-winged male carrying the darker, smaller female whose wings were folded. One pair, linked together while resting on a leaf, was assaulted by an aggressive male, who battered the mated male with his wings for several minutes-in vain, for the pairing persisted, and the aggressor eventually went in search of more promising venues.
We stopped briefly at the mining museum. For me, the most interesting exhibit is a model showing the13 levels of tunnels through the mountain, most of them below sea level. Upon asking, I was informed that the grated opening in the mountainside across from The Horn was once a mine adit, but, with some rearrangements inside the mountain, it now serves as a drain for the upper-level tunnels. The lower-level tunnels are filling with water - again, having been pumped dry some years ago - and may some day pour water out of the adit at the head of the Perseverance Trail and down into the parking lot area. An interesting thought!
Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.
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