Castlewood Canyon…dry, but not lifeless!

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I visited Castlewood Canyon State Park here in Colorado today. Castlewood is a small park on the northern outskirts of Black Forest, a fairly large wooded area on the plains to the east of the Rocky Mountains, stretching down to Colorado Springs. Castlewood Canyon is a small but interesting canyon through which Cherry Creek flows, the same creek that feeds the wetlands and reservoir of Cherry Creek State Park.

In the past, this area has been known as a riparian and wetlands area, although it has been drying in recent years and is no stranger to heat…however the drought this year seems to be taking a serious toll. Castlewood is very dry, with not much water to be found, even down in the canyon itself. I decided to take a hike along one of the numerous trails that I have yet to explore. There isn’t much in the way of wildlife here in general, and there were few birds. I decided to pop on my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens today, and see what little things were about. As it turns out, despite the dryness, there is life struggling amongst the crags and the rocks.

Castlewood is mostly scrub these days, with small spurts of green sprouting up within a sea of reddish sandstone formations. Hearty low-water plants like junipers, pines, and various other evergreens and low-water plants find their niche in the crags, pits, and anywhere else a little bit of soil builds up. Wherever the soil is particularly dry, small varieties of cacti, which are actually fairly common in Colorado, crop up. I noticed three varieties on the trail today…the more common Prickly Pear, as well as “Porcupine” Prickly Pear…a smaller variety with a thicker covering of spines, and Mountain Ball Cactus…a small globular cactus that seems to enjoy the acidity caused by pine needles.

I managed to get a few macro shots of both the Porcupine Prickly and Mountain Ball. Most of the Prickly Pear were out of macro reach, and aren’t that interesting when they are a small green blob on a large sandstone hillside. There are probably more varieties of cacti at Castlewood Canyon, as there are a total of 23 varieties which are common to the dryer regions of Colorado in general.

While scouting about for cacti, I noticed a considerable amount of rock surface covered in lichens. Another very hearty organism, lichens are essentially dry land’s counterpart to the corals of the sea. Symbiotic fungi that require the assistance of algae to survive, they tend to thrive in a wide variety of habitats. Lichens are also a critical component of many ecosystems, as they absorb and hold water over a long duration, slowly releasing it over time. Often thought of as a destructive form of life like other fungi as they are sometimes found on dead wood or on aging trees, lichens do not feed on their secondary symbiotic partner, their host.

A tribute to the loss of water in Castlewood Canyon in recent years, there are numerous husks of dead pines scattered about. They appear to have simply died, as there is no clearly visible fire damage. They do make for an intriguing photographic subject, however! The forms of wood and wood grain are really quite beautiful, especially when its color is still rich and vibrant.

I’ve always loved natural materials. When I look for interior decorating, the first things I look for in a furniture piece or decoration is: “Is it made from natural materials?” No plastic in my home. Everything is metal, stone, wood. Wood in particular is the most intriguing material…of all natural substances, it has almost infinite detail and unique natural form. Intriguingly, it is also one of natures most amazing decorations!