Rocky Mountain High - Part 1

Mark Walker MWalker at
Mon Jul 29 23:57:22 EDT 2002

Things seem awfully quiet in spite of the fact that we're in the peak of the
summer.  I had the need to be in Colorado Springs for some consulting, and I
decided to drive and bring the whole family along.  Now that the trip is
half over, I'm not so sure it was a great idea to bring my family along on a
work/collecting trip.  Perhaps the better thing to have done would have been
to leave my net at home, and concentrate on having fun with my wife and
Yeah, right.
We'll have to continue to work on that.  In the meantime, I found my
adventures in the high country of Utah and Colorado to be exhilarating.
Relaxation was what my family was looking for, but instead they got alpine
meadow sprinting, pre-dawn waking, jeep trail bouncing, and chaotic Frit
chasing.  This part of the U.S. has suffered from a once-in-100-year
drought, and the lack of water had a significant impact on what was actually
flying, but I found the areas above 8000 ft. to be surprisingly productive.
On Saturday, July 20th, after a midnight drive to Las Vegas (and a 40-minute
hotel check-in line at 2:30 a.m.), we left before sunlight and made our way
into SW Utah.  From Cedar City, we drove into the Dixie National Forest
(near Cedar Breaks) and stopped a few miles east of Interstate 15.  Here,
after a good 2-hour snooze while Dad did the driving, the family got out of
the car for a bit of a stretch.  The time was about 10:00 a.m.  We
immediately began seeing Fritillaries flying, and decided to get the nets
out for some exercise.  My daughter brought me several bugs that she had
managed to capture with her bare hands.  This is especially embarrassing
after you've struggled to net them.  She's rapidly becoming a pro.  To my
delight, there were quite a number of butterflies flying.  It was a good
sign of things to come. 
We stopped a few times along this highway and every stop proved to be
productive.  The most common insect on the wing was the token Speyeria
atlantis/hesperis ssp., silvered below with reddish brown ventral disc.  It
was found everywhere above 7500 ft.  Also common was the smaller Speyeria
mormonia, though it was more common at higher altitudes (and completely
replaced the larger Speyeria near timberline).  Beyond this, I think I may
have at least another Speyeria species from Dixie National Forest - perhaps
a ssp. of S. egleis, though the USGS site doesn't show that species in Iron
County.  The other species I think I may have is S. zerene - but that bug is
also not shown for Iron County.  Ironically, I do not think I saw any S.
coronis or S. cybele, which are known for this county.
Fritillaries are so much fun.  Unfortunately, they can be so hard to
identify that you go crazy trying to selectively sample them.  Sometimes
I'll catch many that I'm sure are different, only to find that they are all
the same.  Other times I'll refrain from collecting many - only to find that
I was in the presence of 4 or 5 different species.  In any case, there's
nothing quite like having large orange butterflies flying all about you.
We didn't stop for long at any of these locations, and were generally in a
bit of a hurry to head east.  As a result, I spotted only a relatively small
number of different butterflies.  Of these included Papilio multicaudata
(Two Tailed Swallowtail), Papilio rutulus (Western Tiger Swallowtail),
Pieris marginalis (Veined White), Plebejus icarioides (Boisduval's Blue),
Nymphalis antiopa (Mourning Cloak), Phyciodes pratensis (Field
Crescentspot), Limenitis weidemeyerii (Weidemeyer's Admiral), a most
distinctively marked Coenonympha tullia (brenda)?, Cercyonis oetus (Small
Wood Nymph), and two skippers - Polites sonora (Sonora Skipper) and Ochlodes
yuma (Yuma Skipper).  The black and white admiral is one of my favorite
Nymphalids - it's an especially exciting bug for those of us from Lorquin's
territory.  I would see this bug on every day during my drive into the Front
Range.  Howe (Butterflies of North America) describes as many as three
distinctive ssp. across this range.  How cool is that.
By 11:30 I could hear the thunder at my back.  What started as a perfectly
sunny day was quickly turning into an electrical show.  The ensuing rain
would keep me out of the field for the next couple of hours.  Instead, we
focused on the unbelievable terrain.  Driving across the heart of Southern
Utah is an experience that everyone should enjoy at one time of their life.
My 16-year old son took the wheel as we drove through Bryce N.P., up and
over a high pass, and down into Capitol Reefs N.P.  This is truly a "Land
Before Time".  You can easily imagine extremely large reptiles roaming
across this country, and you find yourself watching for a leather-wrapped
Raquel jumping out from behind some large boulder.  This is not recommended,
as the roads can be treacherous.
We did stop briefly outside of Bryce to swing at another instance of
Plebejus icarioides (Boisduval's Blue) flying about a different lupine.  The
altitude here was lower, and the insect I sampled here was completely
different from the one that we captured up higher.  I love butterflies.
Another sagebrush butterfly found at this intermediate altitude was Hesperia
uncas (Uncas Skipper).
At Hanksville, in the basin, we stopped to chase Colias philodice - an
insect that is a junk bug for everyone but a Californian (and Leroy, of
course).  They were everywhere, but proved to be a challenge to capture.  
Our destination for the evening was Green River - a small town along
Interstate 70 nestled on the river that bears the same name.  It would be
the last few miles of Interstate we would see for the next few days.  The
Best Western swimming pool overlooking the river and facing the sunset made
for a perfect finish to our first day in the field.
Mark Walker
Working part of my tail off in Colorado Springs
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