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Lawn and Garden

Nature's Garden

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11/01/2010 - November in Casper definitely is not the easiest month to find things to do out in your yard. With the coldest months still ahead, there are not many garden chores needing done that fill us with enough of a sense of urgency to brave the cold and wind to get out and get them done. Although it is beginning to get cold enough now for us to prefer the warmth of our homes to the cold landscapes outside, I do not think anyone would argue with me that we were blessed this year with one of the nicest falls we have had. The temperatures were very mild and, possibly most importantly, there was no wind to speak of up until Halloween.

I was able to spend quite a bit of time out in nature's garden this fall, both for work and play. At the end of September I was fortunate enough to get a job working in an evergreen-aspen forest in northern Colorado at a place called North Sand Hills Campground. We were down there to deliver some trees near a campground where they allow off road vehicles to operate. This area was unique because it was not just a forested mountain, but it also had two large sand dunes nestled within the forest at its base.

Although we spent our days working in the heat and the dust, we usually saved about an hour before dark to cook and relax before bedtime, which was usually about 8:30. If it was not my turn to cook I would spent that time exploring the area. The first thing I noticed about this area was that the trails were everywhere, like a labyrinth within the trees. You might think that this would detract from the beauty of the place but the nature of the sand made these look like well groomed paths within the forest.

The entire sand area was surrounded by two types of forest. One was a nearly impenetrable evergreen forest, and the other was an aspen forest which grew right up out of the sand. Most of the trails were in the aspen area, likely because, as I said before, the evergreen forest was like a fortress wall. The vigorous nature of the trees in the area seems to be slowing the expansion of the trail system within.

As I looked out from the trail within the aspens, the forest floor was a solid carpet of gold. Not because the leaves had fallen, but because every inch of it was covered by about a million three foot tall aspen saplings trying to out compete each other for their chance to reach maturity. I imagine that the sheer number of them made off road riders think twice about venturing off the trail at the risk of having one of the fenders ripped from their machine. Or it could be that their beauty and obvious determination to live inspired people enough that they stayed on the trail.

As I came closer to the evergreen boundary of the area I was surprised by the density of the trees within. It truly was like a fort wall that was keeping the machines and sand from penetrating deeper into the mountains. There were a few spots where you could see that an adventurous rider had tried to forge a trail, and had been turned back after only 25 yards or so. The woods were so thick, in fact, that it would have been almost impossible to pick a path through them even on foot. The riders that had punched into the forest inadvertently created something that I thought was very unique and beautiful. The areas where they had created their inroads into the trees allowed the sand to enter as well. In many places it had formed up to four feet tall raised paths of sand into the forest. It made it look like someone had spent months or years building a raised path into the dense forest. They were very pretty paths and not something that I had ever seen before. I had to laugh when I got to the bottom of a few of them because, in creating these paths, the first riders could not have known the traps they were setting for future users of the area. The wall of evergreens stops the sand from coming into the forest, and over time this has created a very steep hill. So now when a person rides up on these paths the nature of the sand makes them look well used. Only when they get to the bottom can they possibly see that there is nowhere for them to go but back the way they came. By that time it is much too late, because the hill is way too steep, and the sand much too soft for most machines to get back out without a pull. I imagine that there have been a lot of machines that have had to spend the night down in those holes.

Throughout the entire job I was impressed by the way that nature's garden is able to maintain itself within that area, even with the pressure of off road use that occurs there. In the case of the aspens, they seem to be thriving in most groves in spite of the intensity of off road use. I was told by more than one person that they had over 5,000 people there on Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekend. I can't even imagine that, but to people coming over from the Denver area, it probably doesn't seem too crowded. So, if you want to check it out, go during the week. While we were there, almost no people were riding. If you do go, please stay on the trails. Lets give those baby aspens a fighting chance.

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