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19 hours

June 4, 2012

When it’s June and 90F, and you’re in your backyard planting tomatoes like an impersonation of a hot noodle, the mountains call like a mirage to a thirsty desert hiker.

There is a different weather system at 10,600 feet. Storm clouds knock around the sky, thunder grumbles from neighboring peaks, hails bounces off your head cartoonishly for 3 minutes, and then the sun returns.

Dan and I spent 19 hours alone in mountains this weekend. When my parents offered to keep the kids overnight, it took us 5 minutes to decide to go camping, 30 minutes to pack and 1 hour to arrive here.

Gathering logs from the avalanche to shore up the cliffy side of the road.

Ten years ago we spent our honeymoon driving a loop through the San Juan Mountains, feeling grown up and luxurious to be sleeping in the back of our truck on a nest of blankets with our cooler full of eggs and beer. Last night we slept outside under the big bright moon.

How did we fit in there? Must have been the honeymoon juju.

Not much (for Dan) trumps viewing elk from your sleeping bag.

We watched a few small elk herds with Dan’s spotting scope, which is powerful enough to see, um, how do I say it…the floppy vulva on a cow elk, indicating perhaps that she had recently given birth. (Biologist Amy, can you speak to this?) The majority of cow elk give birth in early June, and we did see one gangly-leg calf nuzzling its mother.

After breakfast, we walked for 2 hours, which is a delicacy never sampled on our kid-centered camping trips. I may have said, “it’s so wonderful to be here,” 19 times, one for each hour away. Dan and I have a long history of camping together. We’ve sat still as stones watching a coyote paw around a meadow; we’ve waited out lightning storms that felt like an act of terror, huddled under a spruce tree skirt; we’ve poked around pika dens, discovering their drying caches of arnica and raspberry leaves.

(I love the circus that is camping with other families. I also remember on our last camping trip deciding to take a hike after breakfast. But first we had to wash the breakfast dishes, then tidy up camp, mediate a few kid disputes, get the baby down for a nap, take a few kids to dig a “latrine” hole, and then it was time for lunch. We did get out on that hike, which turned out to be a lovely 15 minute stroll before stopping to splash in a creek for 2 hours).

I kept thinking we’d see a bear. We didn’t, but we did see some handsome tracks.

For those of you astute readers who remember me mentioning that Dan and I didn’t exchange wedding rings (for no reason other than we’re not big on jewelry), Col found this turquoise ring on a picnic table and gave it to me (after no one answered our classified under “found” in the local paper).


Glacier Lily

Edible flower lanterns.

King’s crown.


Mountain Parsley.

Yum, yum.

White violet.

Full of Vitamin C.

And for the spirit of Dan’s dad, Hal, who loved primroses: northern fairy candlabra, a dainty little friend.

If you’re curious about San Juan plants, Al Schneider put together an incredible compilation of local plants on the internet: Southwest Colorado Wildflowers. (Also, Al’s been known to identify mysterious plants via e-mail photo).

We drank lots of spring water.

We watched tanagers, wrens, clark’s nutcrackers, pine grosbeaks and flirtatious swallows zipping through the air, synchronized. And then we packed up and drove down the mountain to see our little peeps (where they were happily, very happily, eating cereal from a box with their Baba and Nana).

ps: that frost in town that took our tomatoes, pears, peaches, squash, waaaa waaaa, etc…also zapped many wild oaks and chokecherries, both of which are essential food for black bears. We saw a lot of chokecherry blooms that had turned to brown mush, but some that looked ok. Some of the oaks had already made acorns, which looked healthy, despite loss of leaves. I’m hoping that, Bryan Peterson (Hi Bryan!), our local “bear guy,” will chime in on how the local food supply looks for the bruins.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Bryan Peterson permalink
    June 4, 2012 8:07 am

    Great post, Rachel. As for bear foods: looks plentiful right now, lots of grasses, plants look really good. But the consecutive nights of frost last week is worrisome for fall bear food, (berries, acorns), production. p.s. I walked up on an elk calf yesterday, hiding in the tall grass. Took me a second to process what I was looking at – then I promptly left the area.

  2. Ania permalink
    June 4, 2012 8:40 am

    It is such a luxury to be out there TOGETHER without the kids! Me and my husband met in the mountains, I don’t think we have ever been on a regular date – it was always walking, biking, backpacking, being outside, that we appreciated most. We went for our first mountain hike together again last year, after 5 years(!) of taking turns babysitting. We were so exhilarated that we did 21 miles that day!
    I see some careless camping coming our way soon too, as we are going to Poland for one month this summer and grandparents can’t wait to have Voytek all to themselves.
    We’ll have to do some serious hiking to get to 1,985 meters above sea level, where you normally reside, though.
    Have a great summer!!!

  3. ike permalink
    June 4, 2012 11:28 am

    Love those wildflower pictures especially the flower lanterns.
    WE loved having the kid s for those 19 hrs. and so glad you and Dan could have that time together.
    Back in Berkeley now where it is raining-very unusual for this date although, it rained when you were born on June 7 a number of yrs ago.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      June 4, 2012 11:30 am

      “a number of years ago” that’s a nice way of putting it, Dad.

  4. June 4, 2012 11:30 am

    i didn’t know that was what arnica looked like – awesome stuff, we use it a lot with 5 littles ;-)

    such a fun getaway for the two of you, together, no kids, conversations uninterrupted.

  5. June 4, 2012 1:02 pm

    My husband and I have some kind of special juju when camping in the woods. We always see more wildlife together than apart. It’s kind of weird and cool and magical. We watched a family of river otter in a limestone creek in southern Missouri a few years ago. One would stand up on its hind legs to check on us occasionally, then they would all go back to playing, including two young ones. They were maybe 30 ft from us. We stood and watched, the water running over our feet, for about 5 minutes, and a burst into tears when it ended because the whole thing just took my breath away. Nothing like some quiet time in the woods with your husband!

  6. Melissa permalink
    June 4, 2012 8:48 pm

    That all looks and sounds blissful. You two really do enjoy one another! I love your description of the weather up there, too. So spot on!

  7. June 5, 2012 2:31 am

    That looks dreamy. We are nowhere near having grandparents offer to watch kids overnight (unless I’m having a baby). But I suppose the time will come and then we will miss having a little ball of baby.

  8. June 5, 2012 7:41 am

    The special juju that happens when I camp with my husband is rain. It springs up out of nowhere, almost every time. We’ve had exactly two successful camping trips without rain in 18+ years. On the plus side, we know how to end a drought, we just plan a camping trip.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      June 6, 2012 9:33 pm

      PLEASE come camping in the Southwest. We need some serious rain.

  9. June 5, 2012 10:04 am

    It is hot here right now! We just headed into the high country as well for a few days away from the heat. Hope you are enjoying.

  10. June 5, 2012 11:16 am

    What a beautiful date. Watching elk from the sleeping bag and going on a walk to kneel down and feel a bear track. What a wildly awesome place you live in. And thanks for the info on edible flowers — that always fascinates me.

  11. Dan permalink
    June 7, 2012 2:45 pm

    What a date is right! I’ll sleep on the ground with you anytime! Love, Dan

    • June 8, 2012 2:34 pm

      Aw….you guys… :)

      You’re surrounded by so much beauty – it’s no wonder your posts are always so full of love. Always.

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