BROWNS CANYON & ARKANSAS RIVER
Over a billion years ago a long sequence of immense uplifts interspersed by sea sedimentation, volcanic action, and water and wind erosion began in this region. In more recent geologic time, huge glaciers chiseled the Upper Arkansas Valley’s monumental Collegiate Peaks. Other geologic formations include the Buffalo Peaks’ massive volcanic humpback and the water-carved forms of Browns Canyon that cut through the Arkansas Hills. The Rio Grande Rift, a fault running from Leadville to El Paso, Texas, runs down the valley’s center.
The dramatic white of Mt. Princeton’s Chalk Cliffs comes from the kaolinite in granitic material from hot springs leaching up from fault lines. For a close-up look, hike to Agnes Vaille Falls or lounge in Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. Geothermal waters also supply Cottonwood Hot Springs and the Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center.
Elk, moose, mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, mountain lions, bobcats, coy- otes, bears, and beaver thrive in the area. Visit the Love Meadow State Viewing Wildlife Area for bighorn sheep and the Maxwell Park and Heckendorf State Wildlife Areas for elk and pronghorn. Mule deer wander daily through Buena Vista and Salida. Large elk herds gather in the fall and winter on the grasslands lining the county roads near Buena Vista, Mt. Antero and Mt. Princeton. Watch for bald eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, red-tailed hawks, American white pelicans, wild turkeys, mountain bluebirds and hummingbirds. In the alpine tundra look for yellow-bellied marmots, pikas and white-tailed ptarmigan.
Ecosystems change with elevation, from prairie grasses and cottonwoods along valley watercourses to alpine tundra. Pinon-juniper hills with yucca and cacti rise up to mountain slopes blanketed successively by ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, aspen, Colorado blue spruce, white fir, lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, bristlecone pine and limber pine. The paved Cottonwood Pass and Monarch Pass Exploration Routes take you through every zone.
WILDFLOWERS & ASPENS
Wildflowers grace the spring and early summer landscape and trails provide accessible wildflower day hikes. In the fall, aspen color blazes from yellow-gold to flame or- ange. In late September seek out brilliant aspen displays on the Aspen Ridge, Lost Canyon, Cottonwood Pass, Chalk Creek Canyon and Marshall Pass Exploration Routes.