Goshawk Ridge sky
Michael Morton

Goshawk Ridge sky by Michael Morton

Boulder is located where the Great Plains abruptly end and the Rocky Mountains begin. The land rises from 5,000 feet above sea level to over 14,000 feet, and as a result there is an amazing diversity of plants and animals within a relatively small area. There are over 700 species of trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses and ferns on Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP). These lands provide critical habitat for some of the most diverse wildlife in all of Colorado. Come explore this unique mosaic of ecosystems.

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Monthly Nature Almanac

August Hike of the Month - Marshall Mesa

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Wildflowers at Marshall Mesa
Ann Duncan

Wildflowers at Marshall Mesa by Ann Duncan

Marshall Mesa is located near the town of Marshall and is the site of some of the oldest coal mines in Colorado. Coal was discovered in Marshall in 1859. During the 1860's and 1870's coal mining prospered and Marshall's population exceeded that of Boulder. Hikers today can still see several mine entrances and the old railroad grade that passed through town. Besides a wealth of history, Marshall Mesa is a great place to enjoy birds and wildflowers. As summer winds to a close, the mesa top explodes with brilliant displays of asters and goldenrod.

Marshal Mesa is a great place to visit with your dog or on your bike. Please respect all other users and Leave No Trace on Open Space. For more information on this area, pick up a copy of Joanna Sampson's Walking Through History on Marshall Mesa PDF.

Nature's Bounty

Many of OSMP's shrubs are heavily laden with fruits and berries in August. Go for a hike along any drainage or gully to see chokecherry bushes drooping under the weight of their shiny purple-black fruit. American Wild Plums, Three-leaf Sumac, Creeping Barberry (Mahonia) and Hawthorn bushes also produce dark sweet or sour berries.

All summer long, the bushes have been diligently converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugars, which they have packed away in the fruit. It's a lot of work, but the bushes expect a huge pay off: animals attracted to the ready source of nourishment will carry the hidden fruit seeds on long journeys in their stomachs. When the animal defecates, out come the seeds in a big dollop of fertilizer! Animals also transport the seeds far from the mother plant, helping spread the fruit bushes across the landscape.

Although the berries may look tempting, please remember to Leave It As You Find It. Collecting and fruit picking is not allowed on OSMP, since animals rely on the berries for survival.

August Flowers

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Smooth Aster

Many Foothills trails provide a colorful show this month as late summer flowers and warm-season grasses begin to bloom. Asters are the real show-stealers. White asters include the Heath Aster and Porter's Aster, which can be distinguished by their foliage. The former has pale-green fuzzy little leaves while the latter's leaves are dark green, long and thin and the plant is less dense. The taller Smooth Aster has purple or bluish flowers, each with a yellow center. Golden Asters sprawl close to the ground. Their flowers are a lovely yellow-orange color. Curly-cup Gumweed flowers look a lot like the Golden Asters, but the plant is tall and spindly. Each flower sits in a small cup with tiny sticky appendages. Touch one and smell the resin on your finger! Dotted Gayfeather is a low plant with needle-like leaves and gorgeous magenta floral spires. Several species of Goldenrod also occur on OSMP trails. They provide nectar for late summer butterflies. And keep your eyes peeled for gentians, which often mark the end of summer. Blue Gentians are only a few inches tall, but so intensely colored that they will reward your search.

HAAACHOOO! Goldenrod’s Bad Rap

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Goldenrod with Monarch Butterfly

During August, Colorado’s various species of goldenrods provide lovely floral fireworks, and hay fever sufferers take notice. But wait! Contrary to popular belief, the goldenrod is not to blame for the sneezing and itchy eyes. The real culprit is the inconspicuous ragweed, which blooms at the same time.

Goldenrod is pollinated by insects, such as bees and beetles. Its large pollen grains are heavy and sticky – perfect for attaching themselves to an insect but unlikely to get into your nose. The plant invests a great deal of energy to attract pollinators: showy flowers, sweet nectar, a pleasing scent. On the other hand, ragweed is wind-pollinated and has very small pollen grains that blow long distances through the air – or up into your nose. The wind doesn’t care about showy flowers or nectar, so ragweed invests as little energy as possible in its blossoms. Its tiny green flowers are beneath notice. Ragweed lurks behind the showy goldenrod, which gets framed for your allergies.

Now that you know the truth, consider adding goldenrod to your garden. Read our Growing Tips for Native Plants.

Forecast: Meteor Showers

August promises a spectacular meteor show, without much interference from the moon this year. The Perseid meteor shower should peak on the nights of August 11-13 around midnight or in the early morning hours. However, the nights immediately before and after should also offer up a great show. At its peak, you may be able to see on average about 1 meteor every minute. The meteors, also called falling stars or shooting stars, will seem to originate in the northeastern sky. They will appear as bright glowing streaks of white, orange or even green!

Meteors are actually small particles of rock, dust or metal. They are usually about the size of a grain of sand. Every August the Earth passes through a patch of outer space grit, providing us with a predictable sky show. Meteors hit our atmosphere 50 to 80 miles up at speeds of up to 130,000 miles per hour (at that speed you could travel from Boulder to Denver in a second). Friction with the air causes them to burn up, leaving a glowing trail behind. Very few meteors actually fall to earth. When they do, they are called “meteorites.”

The Last Word

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.
- Martin Luther

Meet Some of OSMP's Rarest Residents

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