One of the hikes we took was on the Tonahutu Trail which follows, appropriately enough Tonahutu Creek. We picked up this relatively easy trail in the parking lot of the Kawuneeche Visitor's Center. Most of the trail goes through a forest of Lodgepole Pines whose botanical name is Pinus contorta. There is nothing contorted about these trees. Their trunks are ramrod straight, with no side branches. These skinny, but relatively tall trees (50-80') made ideal building materials for Native Americans and the pioneers. The foliage is at the top of the trunks and the trees grow very close together blocking out a great deal of light, thus keeping the diversity on the forest floor to a minimum. Lodgepole cones will persist on the tree for years and require temperatures above 115 Fahrenheit to melt the wax that holds the seeds to the cones. In other words there needs to be a fire.
And there will be a fire very soon, and it will be big. Many of the Rockies iconic trees like Spruce, Fir and the Lodgepole are being attacked by a pine bark beetle. This native insect has destroyed several hundred thousand acres in and around the park. The beetle has taken advantage of several situations. Many of the trees are under stress from years of drought, and many of its forests are in the words of a park volunteer "in a vulnerable, geriatric state". I was concerned that this seeming calamity had something to do with the hand of man, but was told it was an overdue part of the natural cycle. I also asked the volunteer if the beetle had any natural predators, to which he replied - fire, and the critters are busy making lots and lots of firewood. This conflagration will produce lots and lots of Lodgepole seedlings.
On the edge of the trail and in clearings, more light falls to the forest floor, and in these areas there is more diversity.
Pyrola asarifolia - Pink Wintergreen
Heracleum lanatum - Cow parsnip
Linnaea species - Twinflower
Campanula rotundifolia - Harebell
Lest anyone think that the forest is all black and white, here is a photo of Shepa Girl B. and my son walking among the Lodgepoles, green carpet at their feet.
my flickr page.
Next Colorado Post: Some Scenes From Trail Ridge Road