Saturday, April 2, 2011
Springtime in the Rockies
Springtime in the '90's meant a trip out west, driving through the Rocky Mountains to Utah to explore the canyons and photograph Anasazi ruins. We usually spent the equinox under the moonlight somewhere on Cedar Mesa. Oftentimes, we would camp out of the back of my little red hatchback. We spent more than one night at the edge of a canyon, eager for the morning hike down to the bottom where petroglyphs, pictographs, and ruins awaited.
One evening in early April, en route home, we headed out of Durango, Colorado, just as the sun was setting. We were hoping to find a place to camp for the night somewhere outside of town. A few miles down the road, darkness had fallen and finding a spot became somewhat problematical. It's not much fun to arrive in the dark. It's good to get the lay of the land before decisions are made, but that night we did not have that luxury. We decided to turn down a forest road that skirted a section of the Piedra River. We drove down it a ways and found a spot where we could at least park the car and get some sleep. It was dark enough that seeing our surroundings clearly wasn't possible. It felt isolated, with just a tinge of spooky.
We settled in for the night in the back of that hatchback.
About two in the morning, I had to go to the bathroom, the bathroom being whatever patch of ground struck your fancy, preferably a short distance away from the car. When I got out of the car, I could hear the river flowing beyond the ponderosa pines in silhouette all around us. The cool light of the stars peeking through the trees looked so close, as though I could reach out and touch them with my fingertips. I could sense the cold rock walls of mountains just beyond. It felt like wilderness. I spent a few minutes taking it all in, then climbed back in the car and fell asleep.
At first light, I woke up and looked around to get a better sense of where we had spent the night. I crawled out of the warm sleeping bag into the crisp mountain air. It was as beautiful as the glimpse I'd had during the night: the pine trees, the river, the Rocky Mountains just beyond, all to ourselves. It felt good to be guided, in some fashion, to this beautiful surprise.
John Muir wrote about his encounter with the mountains and his first summer in the Sierra with words that remind me of my own memories:
How deep our sleep last night in the mountain's heart, beneath the trees and stars, hushed by solemn-sounding waterfalls and many small soothing voices in sweet accord whispering peace.
And our first pure mountain day, warm, calm, cloudless, -- how immeasurable it seems, how serenely wild! I can scarcely remember its beginning. Along the river, over the hills, in the ground, in the sky, spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, unrolling in glorious exuberant extravagance, -- new birds in their nests, new winged creatures in the air, and new leaves, new flowers, spreading, shining, rejoicing everywhere.
Springtime in the canyons, springtime in the Rockies, springtime here in Minnesota: "Rejoicing everywhere."
Photo from my first trip to Cedar Mesa, in southern Utah, at the edge of Owl Canyon, dated April 2, 1992.