Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Green roofs and glimmers of moonlight on the road

Last week I gave a mini-class on green or vegetated roofs, roofs with an insulating, carbon-sequestering, heat-island-effect mitigating and habitat-providing layer of soil and plants. My audience: Boulder Associates, an architectural firm in Boulder with an office in a very cool renovated historic bank building on the Pearl Street mall. They specialize in sustainable architecture, and their office shows it: it's flooded with natural light, uses energy-saving products throughout, and showcases a variety of innovative, sustainable materials including my personal favorites, cork floors and sunflower seed hull counters, which show seed hulls clearly, giving the counters a lovely random and natural pattern.

After my talk, Richard and I drove home to Salida the long way. The very long way: we headed north first, crossing the subdivision-choked high plains to Fort Collins via back roads.

From there we headed west, following the winding canyon cut by the Cache La Poudre River through the ancient crystalline rocks at the root of the Front Range on its way to the Plains. We went upriver, driving into the late afternoon sun, following the Cache La Poudre-North Park scenic byway. Scenic the road surely is: it winds up out of the plains along the river in a rocky canyon so tight at times that there is barely room for both the clear flow of the river, punctuated by anglers in waders stalking trout, and the two lanes of Colorado highway 14. The rocks are the show here, forming sheer cliffs right along the river, or at a remove, high above, twisted and compressed and shot with huge white veins of quartz.

We wound our way up and up and up and up as the sun slowly headed toward the horizon, finally topping out on the gently planed landscape of Cameron Pass with the white crags of the Never Summer Range to the south and the air smelling of wet spruce and fir needles.

Then a short drop into the high basin of North Park, zipping along through forests of lodgepole pines, and, just after the small town of Rand, turning onto a gravel road that angled southwest across the high valley. Just as we turned, and Richard slowed for the slush left by a recent snowstorm, we saw a yearling moose, all chocolate brown with tan stockings on its long, gangly legs, trotting off the road. It was tagging along behind two adult mule deer who looked absurdly small beside their long-legged, long-backed, big-eared adoptive "child." I hope they know what they're doing. . . .

We headed out of North Park to the south, topping Willow Creek Pass just as the one-day-shy- of full moon rose in the east, a chalky white disk in the still-blue sky. On the western horizon, the peaks of the Park Range stood bright white against a sun that hadn't quite set.

The light held as we zipped down Willow Creek to join another scenic byway, Colorado Headwaters, at Granby. We rushed west along the upper Colorado where it winds through the rumpled topography of Middle Park, through Windy Gap with its wide band of autumn-gold cottonwoods along the river and in the rear-view mirror, the line of the Front Range turning pink in the afterglow of sunset. Through Parshall, where a freight train four times the length of the tiny town passed slowly by, Sulphur Hot Springs with a steaming cloud rising from the historic spa, and to Kremmling, where the Colorado cuts its way out of the Rockies in the steep V of Gore Canyon, headed for the Plateau Country.

We parted from that byway north of Kremmling, a good thing, because it was dark and I was too tired and sated with the sights of the road to take notes. We drove the rest of the way home by moonlight: up the Blue River with the peaks of the Eagles Nest Wilderness shimmering ghostly against a sky shot with stars as I fed Richard bites of potato salad for dinner-on-the-road while he drove. At Silverthrone, we shot onto I-70 and sped through the marbled walls of rock where the Gore and Sixmile ranges grind against each other in a still-active fault. We shot off the ribbon of interstate at Copper Mountain and then turned south again, headed up the short and nearly straight pull to Fremont Pass.

Coming over the pass and into our own watershed, the Upper Arkansas River drainage, Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert, Colorado's two tallest peaks, shone like enormous white elephants sleeping along one edge of the valley far below, their glimmering snow-lit bulk dwarfing and palely illuminating the landscape. Through Leadville, and then alongside the silver ribbon of the Arkansas River tumbling down the valley through Granite, Buena Vista, and on to the pool of lights of the town where the river slices its way out of the mountains, headed for the Plains: Salida, the exit for the Arkansas, but home for us.

We tumbled out of the car at nine-thirty, our brains stuffed with the sights of a seven-hour drive home via two scenic byways, three major river drainages, over four passes, and along eight mountain ranges, and the last half of it by the reflected silver light of an almost-full moon. It was magic - and our own bed never looked so good!

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