Staunton Jaunt

Just before Jamie shuts the car off in the parking lot I see the air temperature. 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The expected high is to be in the 40’s, but that will be after we finish. I’ve dressed for about a mid 20’s start so it seems as though I’d better generate some heat.

We embark on the Mason Creek Trail in Staunton State Park, a park of the Colorado State Parks system that gets better every time I visit. They groom the trails in winter allowing hikers, fat tire mountain bikes and snowshoers alike to enjoy the winter trails.

The trail is snow packed, but not quite icy as we move into the Mason Creek drainage. It’s evident that it had been above freezing yesterday as there are deeper frozen footprints, but not so many as to rut the trail out and make it difficult passage.

On either side of Mason Creek the mountain rises steeply. The temperatures must be in the single digits here. I’m layered properly on my torso, but can feel the cold air on my legs, having opted out of wearing a base layer. My cheeks catch the cold air and I wiggle my finger tips to keep them warm inside my wool mittens. After some time I can feel the cold permeating the soles of my trail runners. The cold affects the tendon in my left knee, causing it to be a little more stiff. It’s all perfectly acceptable, just awareness in my body but little cause for alarm. As we rise out of the drainage the temperature will warm and eventually we will be in the sunshine.

As I look at Jamie I realize just how cold it is!

One trail runner passes us, then shortly thereafter we hear voices and another pair moves past. Eventually we ascend into some aspens and the air temperature is much less intense. The trail dips and rises, winds and wends in and out of the aspens.

The sight of the aspens brings longing for summer days, sounds of hummingbirds and overnight backcountry trips. I reign in my anticipation, to not waste the day I have right now, a bluebird day, with clear blue skies contrasted by the bright white landscape.

Back home, even after the Bomb Cyclone a few days ago, I can see spring growth emerging and a neighbor’s crocuses blooming. But here, if one is to step off the packed trail, it’s at least knee deep snow at 9,000′.

At Staunton we’re still in the Front Range but not in the true high country. The big mountains have received an abundance of moisture this year, with every river basin in the state over 100% of average snowpack. This is welcome after the drought of last year and dreadful wildfires that ravaged significant portions of the state’s forest. It will be late June or even July until some of the high mountains are accessible.

Jamie and I pause in the aspens allowing the sun to beat upon our faces as we soak up the warmth. It is a windless day, which is absolutely lovely. Not wanting to posthole over to a log we opt to stand in order to take in a snack. Early on, I blew the line to my hydration bladder clear because it was so cold. I attempt to draw water through the tube and I feel like a kid trying to suck a thick chocolate shake through a straw, unsuccessful to draw any water through the tube. Some banging on my pack by Jamie and blowing back and forth finally breaks the ice dam free that must have formed, and I am able to take a drink.

Exiting the aspens we enter back into the darker timber. Not as many people have ventured here and I begin to remark that the trail is softer when my right leg sinks knee deep into snow. I do my own version of an Irish jig as I quickly step out of the post hole attempting to keep my balance.

I’ve been on this trail just once, I believe, and I was running at the time. So now, moving at a slower pace, and in winter, it all looks different to me. We comment how we’re hoping to intersect another trail versus having to backtrack when we finally arrive at the Old Mill, built here in the 1930’s. The old building stands defiant to the elements high on the mountain, nestled between the rocks that make up much of this park. I marvel at how they got various pieces of large equipment up here nearly 90 years ago. The resourcefulness and perseverance of the people impresses me.

We don’t linger long and venture lower on the Old Mill trail and intersect with a main trail that takes us back to the parking lot. Now there is much more activity with fat tire bikers, hikers and snowshoers. We have timed it right as the trail is now beginning to thaw out and muddy up when we arrive back where we started to a now full parking lot.

Reflecting on the morning warms my heart as we move into spring and the transition of longer days, blooming plants and more time afield. I look forward to many more trips this year, and hope to explore some new places as well.

Meeting my Mistress

John Muir said “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

It is too easy to not take advantage of beautiful spaces that lie close to where I dwell. Quite often I am easily distracted and miss an opportunity to move toward an adventure. Or I may desire a larger adventure, overlooking something shorter that might offer simple beauty. If pressed for time, I’ll opt for a run instead of a stroll, catching bigger vistas and not seeing minute effects of nature’s brilliance.

This week, despite ten degree temperatures, I took advantage of an open morning to go for a short hike. The trail was snowy yet fairly packed since the previous day’s snowfall. I was looking for interesting items to capture in order to have “keepsakes” of the time afield. I may walk for an hour but I can spend far more time creating stories from images. Especially during this time of year, when the journeys might be much shorter, it provides fuel for my desire to be able to make longer trips or multi-day extended trips. Then, it may become harder to reflect on the adventures, because time is spent cleaning gear, working and getting ready for another adventure.

I enjoy reflecting on the outdoors and how it speaks to me, to my soul. I am moved by how I will feel differently about life after even a short while on a trail compared to the excess energy that may have been building up before I left. Stress can, at times, dissipate, and I may even forget about what might have annoyed me earlier.

Nature has tremendous staying power. Trees, plants, mountains, butterflies, hummingbirds, insects will never feel artificial heat provided by a furnace. They endure a harsh winter or perhaps migrate to a warmer clime. As a human I come to them on their terms, in their territory, to gather what I may from them. Largely, leaving no trace, or intending to do so, being a good guest of their beautiful dwellings.

Upon returning home, or to work, I reflect back upon the experience, attempting to capture a feeling that I had. I often draw that feeling from a photograph, memory of the trip or even a conversation with another guest that I might meet on the trail. The memory becomes a daydream as it morphs into a future trip. I quite literally will feel my heart skip a beat, as I think back to a treasured journey or plan ahead for another escapade. Nature becomes my mistress, yet one I happily share with my partner, my family and my friends.

Her impact on my soul is so great that it brings forth words from which I scratch out in my journal, or assembling into a work for others to see, I gather the thoughts together as an essay on virtual paper. I think so much of her that I’ll pore back over my words to make certain I did her no discredit; a love story and profession of impact that she has had on my heart.

Nature beckons for all who yearn to meet her on her terms; a sunny day, in the face of a biting wind, caught in the power of her storm as lightning creates the incredible sense of insignificance in the midst of a strike. If you’ve not found the time recently to go visit nature, I suggest that you do so. She is waiting for you, she is a mistress that we all desperately need.

A Prelude to Change – 2017.03.02

A Prelude to Change

  • Thursday, 2 March, 2017
  • Roxborough State Park, Douglas County, Colorado
  • Time 0945
  • Elevation – 6,785’
  • 45℉, blue skies, light wind, sunshine
caps

Only caps remain from acorns that dropped the previous autumn from the Gambel Oaks.

It’s been years since I have been to this park and I’ve only been once, probably more than fifteen years ago. So much time has passed that I don’t remember what it was like. Having been sick for two weeks, I’m happy to be outdoors. I missed last week’s trip of sitting outside because it was too cold, too windy and I was having trouble getting healthy.

But today is sunny, it is going to top out at 50℉ and the feeling of my feet hittting a dirt trail is soothing to my soul. Heading toward Carpenter Peak I don’t have a spot in mind as much as a place of respite. I’m seeking a feeling, not a destination, and when I come to a split in the trail I opt for Elk Valley instead of Carpenter Peak, the trail showing fewer tracks in the snow versus the icy path moving higher.

I make my way to my chosen spot in the valley after having walked in from the northeast and then back out of it to the west. As I explored the upper reaches there didn’t seem to be as much “life” to the area, so I backtrack and find a spot nestled between three Ponderosa Pines.

Looking across the little valley my eyes tell me it is still winter. Thin snow covers the hillsides to the south that face north. I am on the north side of the valley that roughly runs east/west. On the large mountain behind me the terrain is dominated by Gambel Oak, mostly barren now at the end of winter. I’ve heard Gambel Oak also called “Scrub Oak”. It is more like a shrub than a tree, growing about chest high with crooked branches that reach out in all directions. It provides food and cover for black bears, wild turkey and mule deer. It has an extensive root system from which it spreads. Acorns provide food for wildlife, and birds forage on the ground beneath fallen leaves. It is so thick on the mountains in this area that if a fool were to attempt to walk through it from the bottom of the mountain to the top, he would  exhibit scratches from head to toe on exposed skin, and clothing that covered the body would likely suffer tears in the fabric.

As I close my eyes I am fooled into believing that it is spring. Bird life is abundant here as they sing, chirp and squawk. A fly buzzes by my feet, the first insect that I have seen this year in my time afield. On my right cheek I feel the cool breeze and chill of the air. Conversely, on my left cheek and shoulder the warm radiance of the sun, as winter and spring play a game of tug of war with my senses.

My ears tune in to the breeze as it builds in energy creating different sounds around me. As the invisible force moves through the pine needles of the ponderosa it creates a soft whisper. A few leaves hang on the oaks behind me, spinning, rustling, a natural wind chime here in the valley. My own body creates a disturbance of the moving air as it buffets my chest, resulting in more of a deeper tone. It all takes on a pleasant air as I embrace the wind in lieu of shuttering away from it. The force uses all that is in its way to create music in the outdoor world; my body, the trees, the contour of the mountain acting as reeds creating a symphony in nature.

From behind comes the now familiar sound of rustling leaves on the ground. All morning I have been slightly startled by the noise. The fallen oak leaves litter the spottedtowheeground, crunchy in texture as they sit on the dry mountainside exposed to sun, wind and drying elements. It sounds as though someone or some little thing is raking the leaves, persistent, moving about as the leaves take on a life of their own. There is a flutter of wings and I see the spotted towhee, somewhat difficult to pick out on the ground as it searches for food among the leaf litter. I’ve posted a photo to the right of one I saw from my walk in. Can you see it? Look for the unusually colored eye, then you might see the rest of it.

A hawk soars above the valley and flies north. At 36 minutes a hiker comes along the trail, merely 30 yards below me. I sit still and watch. He is intent on the trail, trekking poles in hand, click-clack, click-clack, a light pack on his back and a large brimmed hat on his head. He never sees me as he heads through the valley, lost in his own world enjoying the first days of March.

The spot I am in is so comfortable and cathartic that I could easily stretch out and nap. I’m brought out of my daydream by incessant chattering from a pine squirrel in the fold below. It is immediately met by the scolding of a steller’s jay. The jay silences the squirrel, a feat upon itself, and then flies through the valley allowing me a glimpse of this striking bird of blue and black with its signature crested head.

I scan back and forth taking in all that Elk Valley has to offer to the eye. To the west about 300 yards away I am sure I see some faint movement. Binoculars reveal a mule deer doe barely moving, almost imperctible as she forages in the dense cover of oaks moving toward a small grove of aspens. She blends in so well that I can not make out her full body, just a head, then the horizontal line of her back. Behind her another deer appears out of the brown oaks. As I check out this deer the other disappears not to be seen again this hour.

My time here ends and I know there will still be some snowy days yet to come. Yet my spirit lifts in knowing that as the days lengthen and warm in the coming weeks, that there will be an abundance of birth and growth in the world outside. Nature is about to begin its second act entitled Spring.