Alpine Gulch – July 06, 2015

Columbine high above Alpine Gulch in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

Columbine high above Alpine Gulch in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

The summer rains, commonly called monsoons by the locals, had arrived.  These rains are often accompanied by bolts of lightening and peals of thunder.  For that reason, climbing to the high peaks where there is no shelter is often a dangerous pursuit.  To be done with even a modicum of safety, one must leave early in the morning and that was my reason for getting up out of bed at such an early hour.

I arrived at the Alpine Gulch Trailhead around a quarter past five in the morning.  Even this close to the summer solstice the sky was still dark with nary a hint of the morning’s light to come.  But no matter!  I was ready to hike and so were my two trusty canine companions, Draco and Leah, German shepherds extraordinaire.  The day and night before the clouds had let loose a torrent of rain and that combined with the snow-melt created a constant deluge from the surrounding mountain sides.  We crossed the bridge over Henson Creek and although not at the time visible the audible roar of the water passing beneath was enough to cause me concern.

Oddly enough, this area was never part of a national forest although there is enough timber and water to meet the criteria for such designation.  This land I visited today is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and has been designated as part of the Red Cloud Wilderness Study Area.  Hopefully, it will remain as such, and further mining and logging will be permanently prohibited.

We hiked some half a mile in the steep and narrow gulch named Alpine.  By that time, the day’s first light had become noticeable.  This was fortunate as we came to the first of many crossing of the creek that flows down Alpine Gulch.  It was fast and deep and not a little bit hazardous to cross.  But I was confident that it was passable, although a misstep might lead to disaster.  Nonetheless, the dogs plunged in and crossed without incident.  I followed and made it safely across.  That was the first of many such crossing on this outing.

As we climbed the trail, the light became brighter as the sun approached and finally crossed the horizon.  Not that I could see the horizon, deep in the gulch as I was, but I could begin to make out color and shapes with greater discernment.  The trail repeatedly crossed the creek, but each subsequent crossing was easier and less treacherous.  The sky grew brighter and decided to be mostly blue with only a few puffy clouds hinting at the previous twenty-four hours of rain.  The surroundings were all green, as is appropriate for an early day in July in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Eventually, the dogs and I reached the forks of Alpine Gulch.  We went left, up the East Fork and climbed through meadows of multi-hued flowers and thick, sub-alpine conifer forest.  The understory of the conifer forest was made of vast patches of brilliantly yellow arnica, a type of sunflower that cheerfully brightens any hike regardless of the weather.  Up and up we went, until we finally reached the low saddle between Grassy and Red Mountains.  Here we rested before we climbed up to an unnamed summit, Point 12,601.

We climbed up through the last remnants of the forest before the high, thin air became to dissipated for trees to grow.  Up over treeline we went, climbing through the talus.  We reached a ridge and I could glance over at Red Mountain.  More orange, perhaps, than red it was nonetheless a mountain comprised of streaks of colorful rock that sharply contrasts with the normal browns and grays.

The summit of Point 12,601 is obtained and the views to the north especially are worth the effort.  I would like to continue down to another saddle and then over to Red Mountain itself, but the clouds are building up rapidly and this is no place to challenge the weather when it might include a multitude of lightening strikes.  But the views!  My, oh, my… I can see Uncompahgre Peak, plus the Matterhorn, Wetterhorn and Cock’s Comb.  To my south extend the San Juan Mountains, ridge after ridge fading off to the distance.  My western view are lofty, high peaks that seem to be floating.  To my east is a jumble of earth.  I am in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, the mighty San Juans, born from the Earth’s core as a volcanic reaction to the uplifting of the main chain of the Rocky Mountains.

The dogs are mostly oblivious to all this.  Much more interesting for them are the various mountain rodents, the pikas and marmots, that emit high-pitched squeaks and chirps.  The inducement to chase such beings is nearly overwhelming for the dogs, but I restrain them from creating too much havoc.  The squeaks are emanating from all points as the little beasts are busy going about their short season of living above ground.  Draco and Leah are resting, now, but alert with heads up and ears focused.

I really want to go over to Red Mountain, but the clouds are building and the entire trek would be over sharp rock in the talus and scree fields between here and there.  I am sure the dogs would make it, but why risk an injury.  Already, Draco has scraped his paw up pretty bad when he sprinted across the sharp rock to get to the last known location of a furry squeak monster.  The real factor, however, is the unsettled weather.  I would be exposed to any storm that might come racing in, and it is with surprising swiftness that clouds can gather in these mountains.

We retreat back down to the saddle below were we rest up a bit.  This forest is charming, as they all are at this elevation, and Leah is soon asleep against a log, posing in the most comfortable way.  The storm never really gathers, but I don’t regret my retreat.  We scamper back down the trial past all the wonderful sights we had seen on the way up.  But now the light is a bit better and I take time to notice the patches of snow high up, tucked away in dark crevices were the sun’s warm light rarely if ever touches.  The air temperature is warm enough now to melt these patches, albeit slowly, and the result is a constant stream of water tumbling down from nearly every high ridge and coulee.

Just above the forks, I discover an old, unused trail that leads up to a couple of old mine sites.  Since the clouds have held off and I have extra time on my hands, I climb up these trails and explore some of the old mines.  I don’t enter them, as they can be extremely dangerous what with rock falls, vertical shafts and poisonous gases, but I enjoy the explorations I make of the surface remnants.  A reminder of the days of mining in Colorado, an era that I am happy has passed.  Undoubtedly, these mines contribute some form of toxic runoff to the local watersheds.  Thus, our historical legacy…

We return down the trail to the first of the larger creek crossings and I am happy to find that the flow has abated somewhat.  The previous day’s rain must have swollen the creeks and it is not until this early afternoon that they have returned to their normal flow.  In the warm sun, the cold water is now cheerfully cooling and the dogs and I wade across, gleeful with mirth.  Eventually, the hike concludes.   I notice that Henson Creek is still running high, collecting the runoff from a larger portion of the mountains that the relatively small Alpine Gulch.  It would be a challenge to cross without a bridge, most likely resulting in being swept away.  I keep the dogs close so they aren’t tempted to so much as get a drink out of this swift stream and we all return to the trailhead, safe.

The views I have seen today can barely be expressed by my lack of creative writing.  Sometimes the views that I am seeing and the digital images I have created seem fake, as if I have a backdrop draped across some plywood behind were I am standing.  Especially now, since the greens are so vibrant and contrast with the grays, browns, yellows and reds of the rock that make up the tall, serrated peaks.  Early Summer is a challenge in these mountains, as the storms can be intense and the snows have yet to melt off completely, but the rewards are well worth the effort.  Another fine day!  I have been once again blessed by the mountains and look forward to my next adventure.

Mount Axtell Summit Hike – July 04, 2015

Old-Man-of-the-Mountains on Mount Axtell, Ruby Range on the horizon

Old-Man-of-the-Mountains on Mount Axtell, Ruby Range on the horizon

The Fourth of July had arrived.  Our National Day of Independence represents, in a Colorado tourist town, not only our political independence and all the responsibility involved with managing our own affairs but the onset of true, high Summer.  Tourists arrive in droves, most of the snow has melted off and the majority of the passes have opened.  The grass and aspen are brilliantly green.  Flowers and pollinating insects abound and the elks’ new summer coats have a fine, coppery sheen.

It was tempting, as always, to join the masses and celebrate the Fourth of July with customary zest at the parade and jubilee that is held in downtown Crested Butte.  But those thoughts dissipated with the onset of a clear dawn and the strong desire to declare a bit of individual independence.  It was the perfect day to visit Mount Axtell, something I had done only once before from Splain’s Gulch.  Today I would climb up the southern shoulder from the upper divide between Ohio and Carbon Creeks.

Only two weeks after Summer solstice the sun rises early.  I had anticipated my desire and thus rose early to judge the situation vis-a-vis the build of clouds in the sky.  Finding a rosy, clear sky to the east and seeing naught else but stars shimmering to the western horizon, I quickly made my pack and drove up to the trailhead for the 436 Trail, also know as the Carbon Trail.  This trail passes between Mount Axtell and Carbon Peak and crosses the divide between Ohio and Carbon Creeks.  All of my hike today would be on lands managed for the public by the Gunnison National Forest.

Wary of the potential for afternoon thunder storms and their concomitant electrical storms, my thoughts were to make it to the peak well before noon and then be safely below treeline before the clouds could gather, as they ordinarily do at this time of year.  Therefore, it should be no surprise that I was hiking by about a quarter to six, just after the sun first broached the horizon and poured its golden illumination upon the northeastward facing slopes of the West Elk Mountains.

In the distance I could see The Castles lit up, each spire glowing like a rod of heated iron.  The amount of snow shrouding the high peaks was significant and it helped to explain the high volume of water to be found in every river, creek and rivulet.  By climbing the southern shoulder I hoped to bypass any such remaining snowfields and instead walk on relatively dry fields of grass studded with Summer’s bounty of colorful wildflowers.

From where I parked it is about two miles to the small, inconspicuous divide and the exhilarating hike along a relatively level grade of a railroad never finished was a great “wake-me-up”.  An interesting story about the railroad, but the Denver, South Park and Pacific never had a real chance after they lost the race into Gunnison with the Denver and Rio Grande.  The trail passes through large slopes of Talus and along the creek stuffed full of aspen.  Where man hoped to dominate nature now reigns.

About a half a mile after cresting the divide I walked into a large meadow filled with tall grass and taller monument plants.  This species of Gentian must be seen to be believed and they are part of the annual spectacle of flowering sublimity to be found in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.  The sun had just driven the shade from this peaceful valley and Draco and Leah, my two German shepherds, and I paused to take in the extraordinary feel of crisp mountain air laden with the morning’s dew.  This glowing emerald valley was also the place from which we would begin to climb in earnest up the steep slope immediately to our north.

The pause was refreshing and the exploration of the native flora put my mind at ease.  We got up, walked through the meadow to the edge of the aspen forest and began to climb.  At first the slope was fairly shallow but that soon changed to a slope that was more akin to a steep flight of stairs.  Up and up we went, leaving the thick forest for a more dispersed forest until finally passing into a grassy hillside.  About a quarter of the way up, there is a small pond and part of my goal was to find this pond.  I crossed a small ridge and it was suddenly there, covered with lilies and set in a small basin well below the summit.

A good way point, this pond invited a short exploration.  From here on out the slope of the hike would be a bit more reasonable.  We soon started up.  Fortunately, one of the benefits of this hike was that there would still be patches of snow for the dogs to eat snow from and consequently quench their thirst.  The patches of snow also have the added benefit from of cooling off the pups after the walk in the hot, exposed sun.  This early, it would be cooler but nonetheless even now this low-angled sun could throw some heat.

We climbed and climbed, the dogs eagerly engaging whatever small, high-pitched sound emanator was scurrying about.  As for myself, I was eagerly drinking in the change of flora and fauna as we climbed higher and higher.  Flowers I hadn’t seen yet today at the lower elevations began to grow and some of those from below had disappeared from the scene.  Clark’s nutcrackers had become more abundant while the bluebirds became relatively unseen.  And the sky was cheerfully blue with a few white clouds scudding by on the winds and adding to the sublime texture of this day.

We kept on gaining elevation and the vista’s revelations kept increasing as a new valley or ridge would come into view with practically each footfall.  I climbed about a thousand feet in half a mile and come up on a ridge that allowed a view into a small glaciated valley.  The slope of my hike decreased significantly at this point and the last quarter of a mile to the summit would be a quick stroll through an alpine wildflower garden.  There are numerous flowers in bloom by this time of the year but perhaps the most striking are the alpine sunflowers, a species of Hymenoxys in Asteraceae.  It cheerful yellow countenance is especially striking on such a bright day contrasting with the blues and greens in the natural world.   Even on a cloudy, rainy day this flower will cheer up all but the most doleful of personalities.

The summit is reached.  Hurrah!  Happy Independence Day!  What a vista!  Expansive view!  Understanding and comprehension!  My focus changes from the closeness of the flora and fauna to the far-ranging, encompassing fabric of topography and geology.  I now understand how the batholith that includes the peaks of Gothic Mountain and Crested Butte had pushed up through the now-eroded sedimentary layers that had been the eroded remains of the ancestral Rocky Mountains.  Mount Emmons and the high peaks of the distant Elk Mountains are the opposite sides of an large anticline and this revelation is mind bending when I consider the forces involved and the steady, unyielding time allotted to this process.

I can see the headwaters of so many different drainages from here.  The Ruby Range to my northwest and the north face of the Anthracite Range to my west give rise to Ruby Anthracite Creek which flows into the North Fork of the Gunnison and passes by Paonia on its way to the confluence with the main stem of the Gunnison just below the Gunnison Gorge.  To my south lie the drainages of Ohio and Carbon Creeks.  These waters join up some eight to ten miles downstream.  To my northeast are the drainages of Wildcat and Coal Creeks which flow down and converge just above the town of Crested Butte and the Slate River.  I may not be able to soar like an eagle in body but in mind I can sail over all these places mentioned and take a look.

It is so nice here.  I unpack a snack for myself and another for the dogs.  We contentedly munch away until I become curious about the next small summit another quarter mile on.  We hike over and the view is just as nice.  It has been a fine day and the clouds are beginning to build up.  They are sailing overhead some hundreds of feet up above me.  They are swift, but there is only a light breeze here on the ridge.  Look at all the mountains!  I wish this place were a bit more wild and had a more complete complement of wildlife, but I can’t help be enthralled with the current state of my location.

Time slips away, the sun is so warm and pleasant that I take a quick nap.  I wake, the clouds are even thicker, but not really dangerous with thunderstorms.  I have lingered an extra hour or so, fascinated by the view and wanting to take in as much as my mind can ingest.  Finally, I rise and the dogs, noticing my deliberate movement, are soon standing and stretching, yawning and tails wagging in anticipation of our impending movement.

The walk back down the steep slope is brighter and warmer now in the late morning.  The added benefit is that many more of the flowers have bloomed out encouraged by the sun’s warmth and the salubrious season.  We pass the small, unnamed pond and I take more delight at observing its lily-covered surface.  I return to the small meadow below on the trail by a slightly different route.  The meadow is so green.  I take photos of some of the flowers, but they seem overwhelmed by the surrounding verdure.  The snapshot won’t capture the essence of this place but it will help me remember the fantastic.

I return to the car.  It is just before one in the afternoon.  My snack that I ate on the summit will pass for a lunch.  I still have most of the day ahead of me.  Perhaps I will just go home and enjoy the newly minted memories that I have created today.  Later on, their will be fireworks in the nearby park.  I won’t see them because it spooks the dogs too much and I will instead head up to Taylor Canyon and find a bit of quiet where the pups can linger and sleep until the festivities are over.  I wish I can see the display.  However, I am resigned to the fate of being a conscientious carer for canines.  All in all, a fine day, a fine way to celebrate our Nation’s birth and continued existence.

Hike to Henry Mountain within the Fossil Ridge Wilderness – June 29, 2015

Mount Henry seen from the northern shoulder of Square Top Mountain

Mount Henry seen from the northern shoulder of Square Top Mountain

Fossil Ridge and the wilderness area of the same name are essentially the dividing ridge between Taylor River and Tomichi Creek, both of which are major tributaries of the Gunnison River.  This long ridge starts near my home in Gunnison, Colorado, and runs to the northwest where, nearly thirty miles later, it connects to the Sawatch Range and the Great Divide.  What begins in sagebrush ends in alpine grasses, passing through a variety of habitats along the way.

The south side of the Fossil Ridge area is perhaps where I do more hiking and exploring than any other place.  At least I begin my backcountry treks from the Gold Creek Trailhead more often than any other location.  Both Lamphier and Mill Lakes are quick treks that lead to beautiful aeries in the high basins of Fossil Ridge.  Other scenic delights abound in the region and are accessible from this same trailhead with a scant bit of extra effort.

Numerous routes exist, depending on how much effort is put forth, to get to Henry Mountain from this trailhead.  The most direct route passes Lamphier Lake and climbs up the eastern spur from Square Top Mountain.  This is the route that I had used to previously gain the vista from Henry Mountain and it is the route that I would use today.

The hike to Lamphier Lake is about three miles.  I have done this hike often and it is a fun and rewarding hike the highlight of which is the splendid lake set in its basin of rocky ridges quickly shedding is blanket of snow in the early June warmth.  The sights along the trail are familiar and an ease comes over me as I pass through the ubiquitous aspen forests and sub-alpine conifers.  Ubiquitous but this case certain trees as well as the forest itself are known to me and come across not only as parts of a larger whole but also as individuals.  It is good to see them and renew our acquaintance.

It is still dark with shade at seven in the morning and I don’t bother taking digital snapshots of the thick vegetation.  What feeds gloriously cool air into my lungs, what is soundless excepting the calls of the forest denizens and the soft passing of my feet and the dogs paws over the rounded stone on the trail, what small shaft of light shining through the canopy spotlighting one small patch of verdure but leaving the remaining forest in dark shade, just does not translate to mechanical imagery without an effort of time that I wasn’t willing to invest in this morning.

I was anxious to visit the realm above treeline before the clouds could gather and pour rain on or strike bolts of lightening at this poor boy whose hope for the day was to gaze out at the wide world from the peak of Ol’ Henry.  So, I kept the first part of the hike to my mind and didn’t take a snapshot until I reached the lake itself.

So, the first, steep grade comprised of rounded creek-stone was made in mute silence.  The aspen forest I kept to myself, its sublime, fresh green carpet and canopy sandwiching the white trunks of the trees.  The two crossings of Lamphier Creek where miraculously made without soaking my feet.  The passing of more steep trail made challenging by rounded rock and the noting of the hidden trail that leads to Little Lamphier Lake.  The change into sub-alpine fir and spruce forest that announced the imminent termination of the first part of the hike and the last ridge before dropping a bit into the lake basin.

And there it is, Lamphier Lake gleaming in the light.  Snow on the high ridges all around me.  The bright, intense green seen below is still here in places but just as likely are patches of brown where Winter’s grip has but recently been loosened by the reinvigorating strength of Spring.  There are many blooms out, but the varieties are all known for their early season indicating that the height of the season is still some two to three weeks out.

We pass around the lake and enter the upper part of the drainage and find a route up to the east shoulder of Square Top Mountain.  The climb is now especially steep and we rise above treeline and into the alpine wonder of the Rocky Mountains.  There is still snow around, but most of it has already melted off and most of the soil is dry on the surface.  There are still patches of muddy bogs that ought to be avoided if possible and this is easy to do.

From here I headed over to the pass Square Top Mountain on its north side before descending into the grassy saddle that separates that summit from Henry Mountain.  The climb up out of the saddle is technically easy but steep and laborious.  It’s also not that much elevation and in about twenty minutes or so I am at the highest point in the Fossil Ridge Wilderness Area.

The views are outstanding at every point on the compass.  To the north lie the Elk Mountains and their lofty peaks.  The same can be said of the Sawatch Range, where lies the Continental Divide, to the east.  The western view holds the appropriately named West Elk Mountains and the string of Baldies clad in deeper snow than here.  To the south lies a long view of the Great Divide starting in the southeast atop the Cochetopa Hills and winding around the eastern extent of the San Juan Mountains.  To the southwest lies the sentinel tower of Uncompahgre Peak.

I have explored much of what I see but there are still nonetheless great gaps in my knowledge.  But I can point in any direction whatsoever and know that I will be pointing at a place that I have crossed on foot and seen with my own eyes.  By assessing my surroundings I can make an accurate prediction of the conditions to be found at any point seen.  Right now, it is Summer’s green splendor awash in snow-melt.

This morning, I left the trailhead at about seven but that was still a bit too late for this rainy season.  I wished I had left by half past five in the morning.  Originally, I had hoped to hike back over Square Top Mountain and then walk south along the ridge to Fossil Mountain where I could then find a way down to Mill Lake and Creek.  From the lake it is an easy hike back to Gold Creek Trailhead and I thought this would make a nice loop.  My plans were thwarted by a dramatic increase in the cloud cover that I was worried about.

I am wary of lightening and do have a healthy respect for its ferocious power coupled with a certain amount of fear and dread.  I decided that the loop portion of my hike could wait as I would prefer to retreat from the high ridges and peaks and descend into the relative safety of the conifer forest below.  The forest also stabilizes me emotionally as the trees act similarly on me as do blinders on a horse.

I had enjoyed my visit to Henry Mountain.  I had had enough time to linger on the summit and eat lunch while gazing at the amazing scenery that is the Colorado Rocky Mountains. I was also fortunate enough to have some time to philosophize to myself.  I reflect about my values and mores.   I am lucky to live in such a place, and enjoy the peacefulness obtainable here as well as the clean environment.  But I still miss having more wild animals around, especially the large mega-fauna.  Someday, perhaps, we will as a society truly accept that other species have an inherent right to exist.  I would love to live to see the day when wolves, grizzly bears and bison, and elk east of Interstate 25, all inhabit their rightful place within ecological community of the southern Rocky Mountains.

As much as I do truly love hiking among the mountains here in the Gunnison Country, it seems lonely without all the critters.  For now, it is just scenery.  Amazingly alive yet, but diminished nonetheless.  Perhaps we need to re-examine our values and make some changes.

Day Hike Via the Wild Cherry Trail in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – June 26, 2015

The glorious greens of early summer, Wild Cherry Creek, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness

The glorious greens of early summer, Wild Cherry Creek, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness

Once upon a time, I lived the good life in the Upper Huerfano Valley near the small town of Gardner, Colorado.  Not that things are so bad now, but they were really good then.  I was young, free of financial burdens and involved with a community that was serious about making a positive change in the world.  My viewshed encompassed that part of the Sangre de Cristo Range north of Sierra Blanca and since that time I have been fascinated with this knife-ridge of a mountain range.

Now, living in Gunnison, Colorado, the Sangres, as they are colloquially known, are not nearly so accessible and just getting to a trailhead requires a two-hour drive at minimum.  Some years ago, I had visited Wild Cherry Creek.  I’m not sure when that was exactly, but it was since I had lived in Gunnison, so I am guessing it was the summer of 2005, 2006 or 2007, since those were years that I didn’t have a camera to document my whereabouts.  One of my goals the last two summers has been to revisit those locations that I have been but not documented.  That list has been growing considerably shorter and this hike in late June of 2015 subtracts yet another location.

It would have been difficult to choose a better day to visit.  The sky was clear, cerulean blue and the temperatures were moderate; cool enough to keep the mosquitoes from buzzing me and the dogs en mass, but warm enough to stride along the trail comfortably.

One of the many things that I enjoy about the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is that a short hike will take you from desert scrub brush, pinyon and juniper through montaine conifer and aspen and sub-alpine forest all the way to alpine tundra.  This hike is no different than many others I remember in that all these sundry life-zones are visited.

Driving up the bumpy road I finally lost my patience and decided to park a half a mile or so short of the trailhead.  The heck with it, I thought to myself, it would be better to hike up this last bit of road and enjoy the morning sun and smell of the high desert.  It was, and the scented air was as invigorating as could be.  It was a nice way to start my trek and just added to the experience.

The trail begins at the canyon mouth and closely parallels the creek excepting when making some of the switchbacks used to gain elevation.  It is a sudden transition from the desert to the aspen and cottonwood that line the creek.  The early morning sun streaked through the forest’s canopy and lit up the shimmering leaves with a glorious back light.  The forest was aglow with radiant light and that glow simultaneously lit up my soul as the German shepherds, Draco and Leah, and I strolled along peacefully.

The trail is steep, climbing nearly thirty-five hundred feet in about four and a half miles.  The cottonwoods soon thinned out, leaving the aspen as the dominant deciduous tree.  The ponderosa pine, enjoying the warmer lower elevations, also transitioned into the spruce and fir of the higher elevations.

The geology also changes with the elevation.  The lower portion of the canyon is the typical “V”-shape that is consistent with erosion formed by running water.  At the higher elevation, there is a moraine denoting the end of glaciation and above this moraine, which is fairly large in mass and elevation, is a “U”-shaped valley that suggests glaciation.  The moraine has effectively blocked the creek, forming a couple of lakes up above.  The creek is also forced underground to pass the moraine and I found the large spring from which Wild Cherry Creek emerges.

The high ridges are all around as the trail is transversed but they barely hint at the alpine glory that awaits once up in the basin of Wild Cherry Creek.  Passing up the last major rise in the trail, through a forest of large, mature fir, we crested a small ridge and there before me lay Peanut and Cherry Lakes (for some reason, the creek is called Wild Cherry but the lake only uses the second half of the moniker).  I say “me” because the dogs are oblivious to the scenic grandeur instead focusing on the various rodents and the high-pitched audible emanations.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains have been seriously uplifted the result being that the overlying sedimentary layers have been pushed up thousand of feet.  These striations add to the scenic nature of the sharp-edged peaks and, to any who are aware of the forces necessary to move mountains, create a sense of awe and respect for the Earth.

Draco, Leah and I walk along the trial to the larger of the two lakes.  Peanut Lake is really a small pond but Cherry Lake is nearly a quarter mile in length.  There are no other people nearby and all is peace and quietude excepting the chirps of the pikas and marmots and the distant sound of flowing water.  Snow clings stubbornly to the northeast face of the cliffs above the lake, shaded from the sun’s intense rays.  This area is grand and sublime and green with the fresh vegetation.  It is still a bit early for the height of blooming flowers but there are plenty making an early show and these blooms just add to the rainbow of color and diversity.

The dogs and I hop about, exhilaratingly exploring the lake’s shoreline and the large boulders comprised of a conglomerate of rounded river-stone.  The newly eroded rock hasn’t yet had the chance to be rounded from erosion so these rocks must have been left over from prior to the uplift.  Unbelievable, yet how can it be denied?  The hillsides are oozing water from many springs and the snow-melt is still heavy.  The result is that finding a place to sit and relax becomes a chore in itself, but with perseverance that task is done and we sit and enjoy lunch, all the while marveling at the scenic mountains and all the hope and inspiration that such a setting inspires.

Technically, we aren’t above treeline but we are very close to it.  What few trees growing nearby are short and stunted.  There is an abundant species of willow that makes cross-country hiking more challenging than one would suppose.  We explore a bit, but are mostly content to sit and observe the day’s slow passing.  There is a certain sense of timelessness in a place like this but eventually the sun’s arc and the ever increasing shadows belie the passing of time and we begin to trek back down the trail.

I am in no hurry and stop to take snapshots of some of the flowers growing and blooming.  Of course, I am fascinated by the columbine but also the monument plant, sky pilot and cinquefoil growing in profusion.  It is simply amazing how many different species of life make their home in such a place and it is my particular blessing to be aware of this diversity and abundance.

We return back down the trail that we climbed up earlier.  I am a bit tired, muscles straining and joints complaining with each footfall.  Going downhill is often thought of as being easier but I don’t concur; for me, at least, going uphill might be more of a workout but I find it less difficult.  Downhill means slipping on rocks and sticks and the only thing I can say about it is that it is quicker.  Well, no matter, the hike was uneventful regarding my health and I enjoyed the transition between life-zones and the return to the desert highlands of the San Luis Valley.

Near the trailhead, we made one, last stop along the creek were the shepherds could slurp up some water and I could sit, unencumbered by my turbulent thoughts as the creek’s noise creates a loud but serene setting.  The final trek back down the road was then made and before long we were all headed back towards home.  It was hot in the valley and to make sure that the dogs didn’t suffer needlessly without water I stopped just off Colorado 114 at Spanish Creek so they could guzzle some more liquid refreshment.  This is one of my favorite early season hiking locations and I was only too happy to accommodate the pups as we strolled around one of the many grassy meadows in the area.  It, too, was vibrantly verdant and this stop was a final gift on this glorious day.