Sunrise on the flank of Bison Peak withing the Lost Creek Wilderness
I’m not one to generally set an alarm clock while backpacking and this morning, the morning of the Summer solstice, was no different. I had had it in my mind that I wanted to rise early from my sleep and hike up to the summit of Bison Peak and gaze out on the world as the sun rose over the new season. My subconscious seemed to be working well as I woke up just as the first tint of the new dawn was brightening up the eastern horizon. My conscious mind was cognizant, however, of my comfort and only with an hearty effort was I able to rise, quickly dress, grab the pack and head out, with Draco and Leah, my two faithful German shepherd hiking companions, towards the waiting divinity that is always the sunrise.
From camp it was a near-one-thousand-foot climb to reach the summit of the Brookside-McCurdy Trail. The trail started out within the cloistering bristlecone pine forest and began to climb a series of switch-backs until the summit and its large, grassy expanse was reached. As I rose up ever higher, the sky changed from dark blue to dark purple to a dark red, each phase a bit less darker than the previous. From the summit I left the trail and walked north through the open meadows studded with oddly shaped pinnacles of eroded granite. It is nearly a mile from the trail to Bison Peak and each step was one of stunning beauty. Adding to the texture of the landscape were patches of snow scattered about, a reminder of the Spring storms that had precipitated so much late-season snow.
As I approached the summit, the sky continued its transmogrification from the darker hues to the lighter. The sky became a rusty orange, and the sun below the horizon caught the high-sailing clouds and lit them up consequently casting a glow back down to the earth upon which I was trodding. There, ahead, was the peak, still some ten minutes away when the sun burst over the distant horizon formed by the Great Plains. It would have been nice to make it to the peak before actual sunrise, but no matter. This was as fine place as any to watch the sun’s first rays on this first day of Summer.
There was a bit of a cold breeze and the granite itself was chilly as I climbed hand over hand to stand atop the rock that is the highest point. There was a small, wooden sign announcing my location as well as an ammunition box with a small diary and register. I signed in, happy to have this well-visited location to myself on this auspicious day. The sun lit up the granite, the golden rays enhancing the pinks, reds and oranges naturally occurring in the stone, and I gazed out on the world, entranced.
Oh! Fine day! I could see out to the plains to the east; Pikes Peak somewhat nearby. The view to the west was sublime as the totality of South Park was spread out like a blanket between my perch and the distant Mosquito Range. Epic, sublime… words can barely hint at the soaring sensation within my heart as I sent my spirit out across the vast distances singing praise to all creation. Hee Hee! A smile lit up my face as surely as the sunlight did.
This transcendent day’s significance was lost on my canine friends as well as all the critters that must make a living as best equipped to do so. The chipmunks gathered seeds and the dogs attempted to gather chipmunks. I discouraged the latter effort out of respect and piety for the wild ones. But the dogs continued to skitter about guided by their nose, eyes and ears. The mounds of rounded granite were a wonderland of activity for all involved. Draco, fearless when not being told what to do, scrambled up the side of a granite boulder that I would have thought impossible to do. Leah stood off to the side, her total countenance focused on Draco’s doings.
Soon enough the cold seeped into my core and I felt at this point that I had paid enough reverence to the world around me from this high, exposed point. I scampered back down the rock and found a lee place where I could catch a bit of the new rays’ warmth while remaining out of the wind. Growing in profusion were a few species of alpine flowers whose petals wouldn’t fully open until a bit of that warmth I was enjoying should warm up the soil and air. Still, there was color added to the green grass and reddish granite.
Walking back to the trail I took my time, moving through the rock garden slowly and contemplatively. There were sculptures that made me stop and observe for five or ten minutes before I could move on. I have seen dioramas that explain how the rocks are eroded but I can’t really explain it. No matter, as the end result kept me entranced and added a deeper appreciation for the natural world and the slow, nearly timeless, pace that the forces of nature use to create their wonders.
I stopped and sat once or twice more, finding a grassy knoll or slope above a small valley where I could sit in the morning’s warm sunlight and enjoy the solitude and general peacefulness of the scene. It was a Sunday, so even down in the Front Range, were the teeming millions live and work, there was a certain stillness as most folks were at home, most likely still asleep. I consumed my snacks, and then decided that the time had come to meander back down the trail to camp.
By the time I reached camp, the day’s sky was the cerulean blue we are all familiar with. Still early by the clock, I had done much already and eagerly ate my hiker’s breakfast before packing up camp. This camp, here at the headwaters of Indian Creek just north of Bison Pass, had treated me well and there was part of me that was loathe to leave. But, leave I must, for my food, and the dogs’, had run out and as much as I hated to admit it, the quick-paced civilized world beckoned. I had to return home and earn a paycheck, a task that I would rather not participate in but one which I must submit to.
Camp was packed and making sure I left nothing but the faint imprints on the ground I had laid upon, I said a quick prayer of thanks before making off over Bison Pass and back down the Ute Creek Trail from which I had walked up four days previous. Back down the long grade over the nose-ridge between the two forks of Ute Creek, through the bristlecone pine forest, much cooler now in the morning’s easy temperatures, until I finally reached the creek bottom where the vegetation changes into a ponderosa forest.
The hard part of the day’s hike was behind me and the trail, now at a slight grade, meandered easily down towards Tarryall Creek. I walked slowly and stopped often, observing the numerous lower-elevation flowers that were blooming radiantly. The evening primroses, penstemon, locoweed and some type of white rose were only the most prominent of a wide variety of species blooming and being activity pollinated by just as wide, probably wider, array of insects.
The ponderosa forest scented the mountain air with a smell of butterscotch and made my passage just that much more pleasant. It also made it much easier for me to linger and enjoy the spectacle of June in the Rocky Mountains. Soon enough, I emerged from the Ute Creek drainage and found myself in the valley of Tarryall Creek. I turned upstream and followed the trail through wide open meadows filled with stunning, orange paintbrush. Alas, I turned one, last corner and found myself crossing the bridge from whence I had started my hike.
The creosote smell emanating from the bridge was faintly and strangely pleasing. I strode over it as the dogs ran forward. Tarryall Creek flowed swiftly beneath me, filled from bank to bank with snow-melt. I was now brought back to the reality of the world at large and I was reminded that this runoff was enough to close U.S. 285 in another location when I had driven in. I wondered what the state of the highway would be when I drove back to my home in Gunnison, Colorado, not really expecting much change one way or the other (it was still flooded).
I unburdened the dogs and myself before scrambling down a slope so that the dogs could have one final drink out of the wild river flowing below before we drove back home. I changed my clothes, having had the foresight to bring along and stash a fresh set in the car. I also took a swig of water out of another stash I had made. All too soon, I forced myself to take one last look around at the mountains where I had spent the last three nights. With a hearty sigh I took my place behind the wheel and fired up the mechanical beast that would speed me on my way. The windows came down and as I applied the accelerator the wind came pouring into the car. Leah and Draco, who normally has his head out looking around, were sprawled out, asleep and content. We all had a fine time exploring some of our wild places. I can only hope that it won’t be another decade before I get another chance to visit the Lost Creek Wilderness. Hike on!
Ute Creek Trail near the trailhead along Tarryall Creek
Near Bison Peak in the Tarryall Mountains
The Tarryall Mountains on the Summer solstice at dawn
Bristlecone pine in the dawn’s early light
Dawn’s multi-hued colors on the Summer solstice over the Tarryall Mountains
The distant horizon, barely visible, formed by the Great Plains
Sunlight striking the eroded granite of the Tarryall Mountains
Near Bison Peak in the Tarryall Mountains
Sun rising over the Tarryall Mountains
Looking south from Bison Peak
Sign at the summit
Distant view to the south from Bison Peak
Northwest from Bison Peak
Bison Peak register
Dawn’s glory on Bison Peak, with the Lost Creek Wilderness
Leah and Draco on Bison Peak
Draco at sunrise on Bison Peak
Sunrise from Bison Peak, Tarryall Mountains, Lost Creek Wilderness, Colorado
Leah in the Tarryall Mountains, near Bison Peak
Distant sunrise view from the Tarryall Mountains
Sunrise over the plains as seen from the Tarryall Mountains
Draco and Leah in the Tarryall Mountains
A white forget-me-not? in the Tarryall Mountains
Alpine flower near Bison Peak in the Lost Creek Wilderness
Fuchsia alpine flower, unidentified
Granite outcropping and fuchsia flower
Fuchsia flower and granite outcropping
View to the south from the Tarryall Mountains
Draco climbing an granitic outcropping as Leah watches
Draco climbing granite
Leah in the Tarryall Mountains
Looking out over the expanse of South Park at the Mosquito Range
Eroded granite of the Tarryall Mountains
Snow drift on the Summer solstice in the Tarryall Mountains
Pike’s Peak seen from the Tarryall Mountains
Granite outcropping framed by South Park and the Sawatch Range
Easter Island-like granite outcropping in the Tarryall Mountains of Colorado
Granite and snow in the Tarryall Mountains, Pike National Forest
Granite in Tarryall Mountains
Weathered granite in the Tarryall Mountains
High in the Tarryall Mountains
The Tarryall Mountains, a fine place to wander around on the Summer solstice
Granite spire in the Tarryall Mountains
Looking over the grasslands of the Tarryall Mountains towards Pike’s Peak
Almost alpine Tarryall Mountains
South Park from Tarryall Mountains
Mountains! Colorful Colorado, indeed.
Hiking down the Ute Creek Trail
A view from the Ute Creek Trail in the Lost Creek Wilderness
An evening primrose along the Ute Creek Trail
Onagraceae, Oenothera spp.
Insect pollinating a white rose
Rosaceae along the Ute Creek Trail
White rose with bristlecone pine
White rose being pollinated
Snag on the Ute Creek Trail, good for wildlife
Found along the Ute Creek Trail
Boraginaceae? Lost Creek Wilderness
Penstemon on the Ute Creek Trail
Penstemon growing in the granitic soil, Lost Creek Wilderness, Pike National Forest
White Fabaceae, Lost Creek Wilderness
White Fabaceae on the Ute Creek Trail
White Fabaceae with a background of ponderosa pine
Ponderosa pine growing along Ute Creek, Lost Creek Wilderness
Draco in front of a large ponderosa on the Ute Creek Trail, Pike National Forest
Ponderosa aglow on Ute Creek
Leah on the Ute Creek Trail
Ponderosa Park near Tarryall Creek, Pike National Forest
Ute Creek Trail, Pike National Forest
Another species of Oenothera, Onagraceae
Gorgeous evening primrose, a different species from the one found earlier
Evening primrose framed against the ponderosa pine forest, Ute Creek Trail along Tarryall Creek
Sunrise on the flank of Bison Peak withing the Lost Creek Wilderness