Rocky Mountain High - Part 7

Mark Walker MWalker at
Sat Aug 17 01:42:10 EDT 2002

When we started on our long drive back to California on Wednesday, July 31,
we took our sweet time in leaving.  This significantly shortened our day, as
we knew we would be spending the peak of the day doing more high altitude
acrobatics.  We decided to stick with Highway 50, and made it to the top of
Monarch Pass by 9:30 a.m.  The thunderheads were looming again, so we got
right to work.
There weren't too many decent places to go directly from the pass, so we
drove back a ways to the east and found some interesting Forest Service
roads to explore.  We parked at one particularly nice vista, and decided to
put on our hiking boots.  As we were slipping them on, I noted a fast flying
Black Swallowtail zip past me and head for the rising slope in front of me.
It seemed to disappear in one of the tall pine trees that grew from the 60
degree slope.  I commented about this to Christian, who seemed to be
disinterested and in a daze (he's really not a morning person).  At long
last, I decided to pursue the Swallowtail.  This required scaling the steep
barren slope, a task that proved to be a lot harder than it looked.  When I
finally reached the base of the pine tree where I had seen the butterfly
disappear, I was a good 100 feet above the vehicle below.  The footing was
soft, and it was all I could do to lean forward and hold out my net towards
the tree.  As I did this, to my surprise, the resting butterfly suddenly
flew from its hidden resting spot and started to float up and away.  I made
one of those most miraculous swings - the ones that seem too few and far
between - and as I was falling backwards, I felt the soft tug on my net that
told me that the bug was in the bag.
What followed was not pretty.  I tumbled in the direction that gravity
preferred, and essentially ski'd (how do you spell that word?) my way down
the hill in a most ungraceful fashion.  As I returned to the road, I was
shocked to find my net bag flipped over, still possessing the gorgeous
Papilio.  I'm sure this is polyxenes, but wow - at 11,000 feet!  This was
the coolest bug I would see this day, so my jewel was in the bag before I
had even started.
We climbed one of the nearby peaks, which proved pretty exhilarating, even
if the leps didn't make much of a showing.  We did see the usual suspects,
including Colias meadii (Mead's Sulphur), Agriades glandon (Arctic Blue),
Parnassius smintheus (Rocky Mountain Parnassian), Speyeria mormonia (Mormon
Fritillary), Boloria chariclea (Arctic Fritillary), and Erebia callias
(Colorado Alpine).  The wind started blowing pretty hard, and by 12:30 we
decided to start heading farther west.
We stopped again down in the valley along Tomichi Creek.  This sits below
9000 feet, and soon we began seeing an occasional larger Speyeria.  We also
found an adorable water snake, no longer than 8 inches, and Christian
decided it was more enjoyable than swinging a butterfly net.  The two of
them became quick friends.  We didn't stop here for long, but managed to
find a few interesting species - including Plebejus icarioides (Boisduval's
Blue), Polites sonora (Sonora Skipper), and Hemiargus isola (Reakirt's
Blue).  I haven't id'd the Speyeria yet.
We then drove through Gunnison, Colorado, and headed past Blue Mesa
Reservoir.  We hunted awhile along the creek that flows into Blue Creek at
Halfway House.  This also turned out to be a productive stop, with lots of
Speyeria on the wing.  We found Speyeria cybele (Great Spangled Fritillary),
Speyeria coronis (Coronis Fritillary), Speyeria hesperis/atlantis?, Papilio
rutulus (Western Tiger Swallowtail), Pieris marginalis (Veined White),
Colias alexandra (Alexandra's Sulphur), Lycaena rubidus (Ruddy Copper),
Satyrium titus (Coral Hairstreak), Polygonia gracilis (Hoary Comma), and
Cercyonis oetus (Small Wood Nymph).  The cybele were particularly beautiful.

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