Once again, on my third straight outing, I returned to Willow Creek. Perhaps my second favorite locale for Nordic skiing, surpassed only by nearby Gold Creek, I enjoy the quietude and ease of access not to mention the low-key character of the natural world espied in that area. Lying at a modest elevation of eighty-five hundred feet above sea level the area is resplendent with large groves of aspen punctuated by old Douglas fir and spruce. Managed by the Gunnison National Forest as part of the great public estate that belongs to us all, this area also falls under the auspices of the Fossil Ridge Recreation Management Area, a designation that seems to be of less importance as many of its enhanced protections are being similarly adopted on all the adjacent National Forest lands. Still, it is good to know that further development in this area is likely to be curtailed. Although open to motorized vehicles, I am still able to enjoy the sounds of Nature on most of the days that I venture to this drainage.
There are some six creeks within Gunnison County that carry the moniker Willow. This one, as I have reiterated in previous blog entries, is a branch of Quartz Creek which is itself a tributary to Tomichi Creek. The latter stream empties into the Gunnison River near my home in the City of Gunnison before the totality of the fluid is carried to the Colorado River. Formerly, prior to all the impoundments and diversions, that river terminated at the Gulf of California where an ecosystem of immense diversity and quantity existed. So noted by the esteemed naturalist Aldo Leopold as well as the indigenous peoples of the area. Alas, that exists no more, as in many years, if not most, the river dries before reaching its end. There are efforts afoot to revive the area but matched against mighty powers that “own” the water and a skeptical public, it is a difficult task to say the least. These thoughts sometimes occupy my mind when I look at all this snow lying about the headwaters of this basin, that the ice will eventually melt and become part of the great coursing river as well as the discourse that occupies our society relative to water specifically and the environment generally.
I must admit, however, that the above paragraph emanates from my mind more as the gestalt of my thoughts rather than any specific recollection of this day. In fact, writing about this trek now, in late September, I hardly recall this ski. Looking at the photographs that I took I can see clearly that the snowpack had been well set and my tracks from previous skis were fairly well established. Leah appears to have been able to cruise along the surface of the tracks without punching through. It also appears that I skied up to my minimum distance for this outing, reaching East Willow Creek. A mid-morning ski, the temperatures wouldn’t have warmed up too much but I’m guessing that the overcast skies kept the warmth from dissipating overnight so that the morning never chilled much below twenty degrees Fahrenheit.
I’ve always thought that this area doesn’t relate well to digital imagery, as my snapshots never convey the feelings of contentedness that engender themselves onto my soul when I’m skiing along quietly. I look at this set and notice many of my favorite places here; the old cabin, now deteriorating into the Earth, decomposing slowly yet inexorably, comes to mind. I am especially fond of the big spruce where the road crosses the creek. It provides shelter for me as well as the wild denizens of this place. I have also come to know and appreciate individual boulders or outcroppings of the native granite, and often take a moment to reflect on the history of the Earth as told in rock. I am grateful for all of the individual aspects that make up the whole but enumerating them all would be tedious. I am especially thankful that I had this day to spend out in the woods, where I can relax a bit and decompress after a monotonous week of mentally stagnating work. The leaves outside my window are turning, green going to gold, and when the snows begin to fall in earnest again, then once more will I don my skis and head out into the whiteness of Winter.