An Exercise in Winter Texture at Garden of the Gods

While visiting my mom in Manitou Springs recently, I took a long hike through Garden of the Gods Park. It was a chilly day, in and out of gray, but there was no snow on the trails in the park and I was thrilled to get my feet back onto real soil with colors other than white all around!

Most of you know I live in Aspen and recreate in Moab, Utah, as much as possible, so the red dirt fix complemented by multiple shades of greens and browns in the middle of winter was most welcome.Formations here are wonderful: hoodoos, goblins, windows, camelbacks, and the hiking and horseback trails roll up and down through the Pinyon-Juniper forest (otherwise known as PYJ) for a great workout.

Obviously the primary plants in the Pinyon-Juniper forest are: Pinyon Pine, Pinus edulis, and Juniper, Juniperus scopulorum or J. monospermum.

You can easily tell them apart, even from a distance as you can see in these photos. The Pinyon has needles about 2b long and is a bpineb green with a rounded growth habit. The Pinyon Jay, Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus, pulls the seeds from the 2-3b round cones and saves them, buried in the ground all around. The Jays, squirrels, and ground squirrels then dig them up, but some get forgotten and germinate into new trees. These pine nuts are the same ones we eat in pesto!The Junipers in these photos are one of two types; the cone shaped one is usually J. scopulorum, Rocky Mountain Juniper.The more olive drab colored one with the open crown and shaggy look is usually J. monosperma, or One-seed Juniper.In addition to the evergreens punctuating the landscape like chess pieces, are an astounding array of shrubs and grasses, Gambel Oak, Quercus gambelli; Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus montanus; Yucca, Yucca brevifolia, and many grasses I canbt identify with a quick glance.These plants combine to create a wonderful winter landscape with contrasts between dark and dense evergreen foliage, crunchy dried leafy texture, sharp and spiny uprights and grasses that indicate every breath of wind as it rustles by. Donbt forget to look up too; the leafless branches of oak and cottonwood create a stunning foreground for blue skies!

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