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).
Edible flower lanterns.
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.