Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Many Musings’ Category

Magpie Talk

          The robin flies low, just barley missing Nikki’s head. Then lands making a sharp“Chit Chit Chit” sound. A few more tail pumps and Nikki is bombed again. In our study of bird language this is fantastic. I feel a little bad causing such stress to the mother who feels that she needs to defend her nest with such aggression. But it is sure interesting to watch.

Nikki is really not that much of a threat. In fact most of the time Nikki can walk right by this robin with out her rustling a feather, so why the agitation today? It is not really Nikki that is causing this. It is the magpie sitting on her shoulder.

Nikki and I have had the opportunity to help rehabilitate this captive magpie destine for release. Magpies are curious and smart birds. They also have been known to raid the nest of smaller birds. The robin is so intent on defending he nest from the magpie that it thinks nothing of flying close to Nikki’s head. The magpie on the other hand would rather be somewhere else than sitting on Nikki’s shoulder. He squats trying to avoid being hit by this frantic mother.

This magpie has been a great teacher for learning bird language. Not only does he cause alarms in nesting song bird like in the video of the dark-eyed junco and robin. But he has keen eye sight. On one of our walks the magpie took on a very squat and defensive posture. It was as if he wanted to become invisible. In a moment we saw the cause.

A prairie falcon came gliding over the ridge.

Leaning bird language has been a fun. It has also helped tune my awareness of different relationships in the world. Once I started paying attention. I began to see the different alliances and conflicts. How the cotton tail rabbit and the Richardson’s ground squirrel will share the same wood pile, both will duck for cover when the robin gives the alarm of a weasel in the neighborhood.

The more tuned Nikki and I become to the language of the bird and other small mammals the more interactions of wildlife we notice. We hear when the goshawk hunts in the forest by the silence that follows her. We can tell when the harrier hunts on the edge of Pine Butte by the wing-shaped alarm of the ground squirrels the sweeps along in front of him.

If Nikki and I are really listening, we may hear the birds scolding the deer or coyote sneaking away from our approach…

As I continue to learn bird language I keep reminding my self that none of the noise the birds make is random. Each one has significance. I won’t always be able to know the meaning of each sound. But if I continue to be curious and ask my self what could that song or call mean. I continue to learn, and the window into the world of bird language may widen to be a door I can walk through.

Bird alarm video links:


Pictures of summer

Well, this is Montana, so remember that pictures of summer may include the following:





More Wind

Large Hail

Another glimpse of Sun


Bellview School (established 1906) as the storm rolls in…

But in all seriousness, the weather only adds to the drama of the Mountains. Without further ado…


Pine Butte background



Everyone needs an onlooker when looking at birds through a scope


Western meadowlark looking handsome


Mariposa lily with extra fuzz for entrapping insects


Jeff does a little early morning horse training after wrangling the horses


The Yellow-bellied marmots say that it’s summer!


More birds, more bears, and a pony or two


Baby killdeer…awwwww…aren’t they ridiculous =)

Another fine week in Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, which means we had sun, snow, sleet, rain, hail, gropple, and wind.

Never be unprepared (or expect to be bored) in mountain country =)

Ornithologist and artists David Allen Sibley and Keith Hansen kept spotting amazing birds, improving our drawings skills, telling ridiculously entertaining stories (and in Keith’s case, puns) and filling our brains with bird knowledge.

Among the many amazing things we learned this past week, the following are some of the tidbits that stuck out:

Cool nugget 1: Look at sandhill cranes—they are reddish in the spring from preening with highly oxidized mud picked up on their beaks when feeding.

How do you know this?

The only spots that are still their natural grey plumage are just under their chin, because they can’t reach that spot with such a long bill.

Cool nugget 2: Curlews (and many other long-billed shorebirds) have a very flexible end on their upper bill. They have little accessory muscles (also possibly tendons or ligaments) that they can use to flex just the very tip of their bill. This solves the problem of trying to open a gigantic beak in thick mud to suck up tasty invertebrates.

Cool nugget 3: How the heck does a shorebird get the little brine shrimp or other invertebrates up its beak without picking up its head and letting the little tasty morsel slide down? 

They use surface tension.

Water surface tension to be exact. The shorebird sucks up the invertebrates with a droplet of water, and uses the surface tension of water (the same thing some insects use to “walk” on water) to pull the little brine shrimp up, swallow it, and then shake out the water droplet and start over. Yummm.

Cool nugget 4: There are no birds with true green pigment in North America (you have to go to Africa for that). North American green birds (see parrots) have yellow pigment in their feathers combined with “structural blue?”


Structural blue is a feather configuration that scatters all other light rays except blue; so blue is the only light ray reflected back.

All other green colors (the head on a mallard or the feathers on a hummingbird) are the green created from refraction, like a sheen of oil on water.

There was lots more amazing information,but a few photo’s are in order to show (rather than tell) the rest of the week…



Ear Mountain with the balsam root



Black bear mamma keeping her eye on us



Skadi clearin’ trail!



Long-billed curlew



Allison (staff) exercising horses for us…



Storm rolling in as the birders watch prairie birds


The Randall family draws a Red-tailed hawk for the dinner board.



Ruffed grouse watching our cabin entrance.



Pine Butte Staff ride.



Bird artist Keith Hansen making sculptures!



Storm rolling in over the prairie



Looking for little black dots in the sky (a.k.a. Sprague’s pipit).


Aware(or not)ness


Aware(or not)ness

One of the things Jeff has been working very hard on (and so, by proxy and interest, have I) is awareness.

We all do this every day, and most of us, in defensive of our lives, are very aware when we drive. We use our peripheral vision to watch other drivers, or suicidal deer. We listen to the noises our engines—the rattles and clunks—often without realizing. If you don’t think the average person listens to the car, then pick any episode of Car Talk with Click and Clack.

We listen more than we know.

We feel how our vehicle drive. We know when the accelerator is sticky, or the breaks aren’t sticky enough. We notice when the car smells funny.

We are very aware on the road—most of us, most of the time.

Recently I drove with Jeff to meet John and Nicole Young (of 8 Shields Institute) where they talked about, among other things, natural history and nature awareness.

I took my awareness to a beach near Santa Cruz.  They were busy talking, and there was ocean nearby.

There is nothing quite like the ocean. People say the stars make them feel small, but really, the stars are so vast I have a hard time grappling with the concept.

For me, the ocean is both comprehensibly vast, and incomprehensible in what I am missing. So I sit on the beach and feel small and awed all at the same time.

In Santa Cruz, I had a little over an hour to spend looking at the ocean, so despite local advice on which beach to go to, I drove down the road and stopped at the very first ocean view with a parking lot.

It was a beautiful little cove, with a seaside cave breathing ocean spray like a dragon and pigeon guillemots swimming around looking very formal and serious, until you saw their clown orange feet and heard their squeaking, babbling conversation.

I took my binoculars, because it is the ocean and ocean birds. I love watching their antics with enhanced optics. I wanted to practice my nature awareness, and so I picked a spot on the surprisingly empty beach and glassed out across the ocean.

The guillemots were alternately fishing, then flying to the cliffs to have a lively debate about something—the quality of rocks maybe? The weather? Who had the most orange feet?

I was completely absorbed, when out of my peripheral vision (which I have been working on, as I mentioned) I catch a flash of pink.

Fleshy-colored pink, and a whole lot of it.

Which is how I, working on my great nature awareness, ended up on a naturist beach in Santa Cruz with a set of binoculars.

Awareness. It’s a tricky thing.

Africa Bound!

Just in case you thought I wouldn't be bringing enough optics to Africa...

40 hours of travel….. Each way… I must be nuts…..

Or Nuts if I dont!

Over the winter I have been working on my naturalist skills.

Tracking; reading stories in the tracks of animals. Stories like where the animals were going, which way were they looking, were they stressed, excited, or relaxed. I have been also been working on bird language interpretation. Bird language is using the eyes, ears and behavior of the birds to locate other animal activity in the area.

I’m still leaning.  Sometimes I feel like a very slow student. Sometimes , it has been amazing. I have been able to tell that there is a Coopers Hawk sitting in the tree in back by the behavior of the song birds out front.  I have looked at the tracks of one of our dogs and known that she had been looking left with her head up. Very cool.

So who teaches this stuff?  Well, there are a few places out there. I found a man named Jon Young. Jon has been working in outdoor education and mentorship of wilderness skills for over 30 years. He was trained in his boy-hood by  Tom Brown jr. before Tom started his school. I was going to embark on a year-long distance mentorship with Jon.

Then my plans changed. I was given the opportunity to accompany Jon for two weeks in Africa.

The two weeks will be spent with the Naro Bushman of the Kalahari desert.

The Bushmen are the real experts in this field.

The Bushmen lives depend on knowing where the leopards are.  Where the snakes are, and how to trail game. The Bushmen are still living a subsistence life style keeping the old skills alive.

All the first nation people probably practiced these awareness skills. The Apache were renowned for their tracking ability and the ability to evade their enemies. Bird language was an indispensable part of this ability.

I feel so privileged to learn from both Jon and the Bushman, and going to Africa to boot.  I hope to be able to learn some of these skills that were so important to people for tens of thousands of years. I hope to be to pass these skills on to my students in the future. For now I’m on my way.

Expect an update when I get back.

Best wishes Jeff

If you want to lean more about my trip or these awareness skills please visit the following links:

My trip:

Jon Young:

Wilderness awareness:

Moving forward (Jeff)

It’s been months since we left the trail, and just as long since we last posted.
Since that time I have flown to Wyoming twice, to Vermont, and to Florida.
Nikki and I drove a horse to Texas, crossing the CDT back in Grants New Mexico.
We almost pulled in to eat at the same Mc Donald’s we walked in to how long ago?
Each time I flew over the west I would look down at the mountain ranges.
The Rubies, the Wasatch, the Uintas. Places I have not been.
I would plan routs in my mind, running ridges, looking in to cirques, I imagine the rock the soil. The smell of the sage the crackle and crunch of brown grass stems. I feel that if I could I would leap form the plane, land on a peak and start walking. North.. Always north. It is in-grained now, sun on my back at mid-day. North just feels right.

Flying over the Sierra Madre, on the approach to Denver, I look down and I see lakes and peaks that I know. Where Nikki and I spent a morning, walking slowly picking up the quartz crystal spars that littered the ground. The lake is white now covered with ice, snow.
So far the winter has been, well different. But most things are different than thru hiking. On the trail we always knew what was next. Right foot, left foot, the crunch of stone, the soft padding our feet on grass, sleep, eat, walk.

Back to the outside world. Auto insurance, vet bills, the truck broke down, more than one set of clothes We need jobs. We need a sponsor!
One of the strangest side effects of the trail has been my dreams. They have become so vivid and clear. I have a hard time watching a movie in the evenings. If I do, I know It will show up in my dreams. Not a big deal if it is Rango. But some sort of thriller! No thank you! I spend a lot of the night counting the lumps in the texture of the ceiling. Listening to the wind calling to me through the window.
My horse is better off though. I ride nearly every day. Derringer mirrors my emotions. Together we learn new things, and become more confident and settled.

Leaving the trail has brought perspective and clarity too. I know I want to know more. I want to be able to read stories in the tracks animals leave. To know about not just who they are, but where they are going, what they are thinking, to be able, if I want to trail them all day, for days and may be catch up. To reel in that string that is still attached to the foot than made the last print. I want to heighten my senses. To hear the birds when they are telling each other of the weasel in the shrubs, or if a hawk is coming. I want to share this knowledge with others. To teach in and about the fabulous outdoor world around us.
There is not a day I do not think about the trail and miss it a bit.. But even form this distance it is still guiding me forward shaping my future, and the future is exciting!
Right foot, left foot, sleep and eat!


End the 2011 CDT Adventure – Chief Joseph Pass, Montana


The word itself is as casual and smooth as a teenager on a date.

That is how I feel trying to write this blog post – stumblingly painful – not sure where to start, what to say or even entirely how I feel about it

We are off the trail.

Whew! There it is…

And yet there is so much more to it than that. A fantastic adventure that took 142 days, or 20 full weeks and 2 days is finished – finished but not over.

Not over because I am still busy thinking about it, still trying to readjust from that way of life – which is really what a nearly five month trip becomes, more than an expedition but a way of life.

Roughly the last 300 miles of the trip, from Mac’s Inn, Idaho to Chief Joseph Pass Montana, my body began to say that it was done – worn out and beginning to truly break down.

We had 502 miles left to go.

1,940 miles already completed – scared and calloused onto our feet.

We were on the last state – Montana

So close and yet so far.

Jeff still had it in him to finish, but I didn’t have it in me to push myself that hard or for that much longer – a month at the fastest pace I could realistically manage, and more likely a month and a half.

So I “texted” in the cavalry. Mind you, before this thru-hike, I had honestly never “texted”, and so it took five months of hiking, being in town once a week or so, to discover the convenience of sending characters from small, remote towns with the ominous one-bar syndrome.

The cavalry, in the form of the “Road Warrior” sisters (my Mom and Aunt) arrived in Darby, Montana where our friends Wendy and Haven had generously driven us after picking us up from Darby and feeding trail-itis sized appetites, for which we are immensely and scrumptiously gratefully.

The last section of our hike, from Leadore, Idaho to Chief Joseph Pass, Montana started with a ride from Mike who ran the Leadore Inn – all four rooms – which had great hospitality, and a well-manicured and enjoyable courtyard where were shared stories and jokes with the five bow hunters also staying at the Inn. Mike drove us up, refusing offers to pay for gas, and dropped us off on the trail.

We hiked and camped in lodgepole monotony – the tree size and spacing looks mathematical, almost like an orchard gone awry.

Not the most inspiring or inviting forest.

But add a few pockets of deep spruce and a steep hillside, and you get bugling elk and the crashing, forest-thrashing after we startle them in the early morning.

The bow hunter who needed them on the other side of the fence (the Montana side, not Idaho where they were) is one of the few people we met in Leadore’s one restaurant and remarkably good-natured about us startling his quarry.
“I always have a good time hunting,” he grins, his grey stubble lightening the military haircut and bearing.

After more lodgepole uniformity, we reached Lemhi Pass where Lewis and Clark finally reached the headwaters of the Missouri. They called the pass (optimistically) “The Portage”, believing that their epic journey up the Missouri was going to end in a small portage over Lemhi pass and they would then jump in their canoes and paddle smoothly down the Columbia to the Pacific ocean.

A daunting range of snow-covered peaks awaited them on the other side.

I now have a glimmer of the feeling. The San Juans in Colorado gave a new perspective on what it felt like to be a traveler who looks out over the horizon and feels their heart sink.

Lemhi pass, with a few RV’s of hunters and a well-graded dirt road, is where Lewis first discovered the purple monkey flower, pressed it, and sent it back for the rest of “modern science” to see his discovery – Mimulus lewisii – Lewis’s Monkey flower.

We don’t see Lewis’s Monkey flower at Lemhi pass, but we do see it a day later, at the spring where we camp, and across several small streams running down through the smoke-filled cirques of a glacially scoured landscape. The hike up and over pass and into deep drainages is worth it for the view, even obscured as it is by the lingering effects of fire in Idaho.

The huckleberry bushes mimic fire themselves – flaming orange to a deep burnt red. Here and there, rich violet berries hide among the red foliage and a regal spruce grouse flushes and sits stupidly within striking distance.

The temptation for a little rich white meat almost overrules the observation that the “fool hens” are not particularly prolific – can’t imagine why.

This section we shared stories with “Loon”, a retired professor of forestry, ecology, and natural resources who has great stories to share, at  age 70 or 70 plus, and has been skipping around the trail since mid April.

Klaus – the dog who joined us for the last 300 miles – learned to recognize Loon (named for the bird and not the behavior) and hunters in camouflage as a reason to get excited and go bounding off for a greeting.

I was, I am, excited for the break to let things rest and heal. But I will miss the country unseen. I will miss the remote chance to see our fellow hikers, plowing dedicatedly Northward – Robert the closest, Stinger and Strem much farther in front. I can’t wait to hear about their journeys, and know it will be with a touch of regret that I can’t relate about the last 504 miles of country. But I can recall a lot of places we did see – a lot of unexpected, surprising, even magical country, many shared adventures with daunting beginnings.

This trip has made me understand why many a hiker has claimed, “thru-hiking ruined my life.” There is something nearly unexplainable about traveling for so long, in such a fashion that resonates on a different level – becoming an identity, like a pilgrim or a wanderer, roamer, or nomad. People who say, “I am a thru-hiker”, might be identifying what they are doing, walking thousands of miles, or they might be identifying themselves like “I am a Raider’s fan” or “I am a politician” or “I am a runner”

An identity, born from thousands of footfall, numerous blisters and cold, hungry nights, tremendous sunrises and layers of craggy peaks overlapping in the mind.

I have so many memories – smells, sights, tastes that linger on my tongue – that I find it hard to try and write a summary of the trip. Soon I will try, but for now, places, people, wildlife and landscapes swirl too rapidly in my head to try and sort them out into paragraphs.

The uniformity of a Lodgepole forestTalus in the morning

Talus in the morning

Lemhi Pass - Lewis and Clark's "Portage"

Even the dog is grinning - or is that panting?

The ritual burning of the map. No going back.

Tolkien's talking trees? Alas, just easy cheese faces.

Spruce Grouse tempting us for fresh meat - and looking rather regal.

Fall creeping into the Rockies

Lewis's Monkey Flower

CDT hiker - Loon

My morning buddy

Beautiful rivers on this section

Flaming huckleberry bushes

We wore the dog out too...

Hitching for the last time on the trip (won't miss that part)

Jeff visits a retired friend from Three Peaks Ranch (yes- the mule is the friend, as are the people who care for her)

Wendy and Haven generously feeding the trail appetites (Haven represented by the wine glass in the corner =)

Sagebrush country ( finally )

Nothing really delays an expected departure like food poisoning.
I have never been so violently sick so quickly.
So we stayed an extra day in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and watched ridiculous TV shows and I pretended that eating food almost sounded good…but not really.
The trail was a peaceful, welcome break from the bustle and noise of town and hotels. And just to make sure we didn’t forget this was still Colorado, there was plenty of snow drifts – consolidated and compacted by rain making them easy travel, but lots of drifts none-the-less.
The sky on our second day of travel reflected my mood – blanketing gray fog with drizzling rain that increased to a thundering downpour by the late afternoon.
We cowered.
Which made the sunshine and unbelievable wildflowers of the next morning’s high alpine ridge-run one of my favorite sections of Colorado.
I am wishing for Ed Abby prose, something to convey the starkness of the alpine ridge – scraped bare – balded by the severity of the elements up here.
With tufts of brilliant color, patches of glory in alpine sunflower yellow, bluebell blue, bistort white, sky pilot purple. Blended and clashing all at the same time.








And the rocks…oh the rocks.
Ridges of quartz, blocks of stone standing out against the blue sky like icebergs on the ocean.
A black, crystalline matrix of micas, sparkling in the sun.
And crystals!
Fully, formed, crystalline structures, making glassy rainbows when held in the sunlight.
Between the “ohhh”ing and “awe”ing, and the click of the camera shutter…
yeah, half-a-mile-an-hour pace
Side trip for trying to follow a big horn sheep ewe – even less progress,
When we finally convinced ourselves to leave the ridge, descend back into the verdant depths of the trees, we made much better progress.
Ran into the Auzzies at stopping time, two Australian Outward Bound Instructors who are hiking the trail in style – making friends along the way, taking side trips for rafting adventures, eating fresh corn roasted on a fire.





They flagged down another thru-hiker, Robert, who started well after most of us and has been eating up ground.
Thirty, a perennial student and hard-working laborer, he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail several years ago, and is now tackling the CDT.
We play hop scotch with Robert, he passes us and we pass him, into hills of pink granite – scrapped low and polished by glaciers.
Water brings brown, lady slipper orchids, tiny, spidery miterwort flowers, shrubs of mountain ash and fields of thimbleberry. Thimbleberry galore – later in the season the berry picking will be fabulous.
The open lips of trumpeted purple monkey flowers invite in the bees like a landing strip.
And the blisters begin. But we cross the state line, sign and everything.
Whoop Whoop!




Jeff’s new shoes do not hold up to the task at hand. In typical Jeff stoic fashion, he hikes, uncomplainingly the 24 miles to the road-head on ridiculously huge blisters underneath the calluses on the pads of his feet. We catch up to Robert on the hike in, and swap stories as we head for the road where we are trying to hitch, late in the evening, on a remote highway road into Encampment.
Hitching into towns is necessary. There are too many miles to walk on this trail, too much ground to cover, to spend it pounding dangerously narrow asphalt strips into town to get food.
It is my least favorite part of the trail – I find it a demoralizing gamble, that – so far – has also lead me to meet a handful of incredibly generous, really interesting people.
So when we kept pushing hard to make the road, late in the evening because we heard one – one – car coming from a way off, my hopes were about as low as my sugar level.
They had seen us many hours ago, back when we crossed a dirt road.
Great folks, and our first, first-car hitch.
To Encampment, which had a great campground, a packed restaurant, very friendly folks, mosquito spraying where the plane shook the ground at six in the morning, and not much else – our kind of town.





The second day out of Encampment, where the aspen stands run into the sagebrush filled with improbably decadebt white sego lillies, the flamboyantly pink and leafless bitter-root flowers, and blue grouse pretending to be rocks feet away from our clicking cameras, we met Flaxseed.
He’s hiked the Appalian trail twice, did the New Mexico section last year – a Vietnam vet with random stories, interesting navigational tactics, dedication and drive.
Not a fan of the desert, which we hike out into.
Not an intimidatingly snow-capped, dog-toothed peak in sight. Miles of desert stretch out as far as we can see, interrupted by square mesa tops or foot-tall sagebrush or cows.
And the antelope…speed-goats everywhere.
They flash their white butts in alarm – and stare at our silver, sun-blocking umbrella’s in fascination.
It is the other-worldly alarm snort, like vibrating metal through a long thin pipe. They are unconciously graceful in their over-hasty depature…as if anything in this landscape could touch them without an engine or a rifle.
Lightening storms in the distance light up the sky for hours, and gentle sounds of elk mewing filter in among the harsh bellows of the angus.
Clouds break the monotony of heat-waves on baked clay, but the torential downpour blowing sideways and we are cowering on our packs under umbrellas.
And wishing for rain on the day we hike in.
Forget still air, this desert is stagnating.
Umbrella love – three square feet of shade in the land of midget brocolli, limping into Rawlins and yet, after this many months on the trail, still finding good conversation.












True grit.

“Wow, what the heck is that!” Nikki says as we were hiking out of encampment. What it was, was a 4 pound lump of Iron pyrite in what looked like a metamorphic shale matrix. Green-ish and shining. So of course where does it go for the next 80 miles. Into the pack. It sure makes me wonder why we even bother with trying to cut our pack weights when both Nikki and I are toting around several pounds of stone each section. Or maybe that is why we do – so we can put some of the great rocks we find into our packs. What’s an extra 4 pounds any how?
The real problem is that I love stone. I love the shapes and textures. Love the grand walls and boulders. I love the micro crystalline structure. This, of course, in not helped at all by hiking through the what? The Rocky mountains! On what is also a very large rock spinning is space. So lets just say there is a lot of stone around to look at and fill the already too heavy packs with.


Sandstone, though may be my favorite. I am infatuated with the colors and textures. The way the wind has sculpted the bare exposures into huacos and arches. The way it breaks and cracks in knife clean line. And the colors. The colors that are the results of 10s of thousand of yeas of deposition of one mineral or an other.
This hike as been a great and wondrous trip thought time . In the Gila in New Mexico we trod though cooled rhyoilite, an extrusive rock like granite.


The Malpais – where if you sat long enough you could almost still feel the heat from the cooling pumice, the blooming hedgehog cati serving as a reminder of the flames that could have come from the lava tubes.

Only a few foot-pounding miles further we encounter sand dunes cemented into nearly immovable cliffs by calcite bonds, but still bending to the wind and water forming aches and domes. As we climbed the seemingly never ending ridges and valleys of colorado we were into great granite spires shaped by glaciers.


Now, as we cross the red desert, we are walking on the ocean floor of a the great cretaceous seaway that put most of Wyoming under water. So we tread on madison limestone and marine siltstone where we hope to find fossils.

Besides just the travel through the world of stone we have found many signs of how stone has shaped the people, and people have shaped the stone. There is something very powerful to find a stone tool, a point a knife a scraper, in probably the same place it was left and in nearly perfect and usable condition. Leave a steel nice knife out for ten thousand years and see what shape it is in.
It all ways makes me wonder the story of each lithic we find. Was this point used, or broken while being made. Did the people eat well, or miss the shot?

When we are out we are in a landscape that has changed little in the last 10 thousand years. Some times I am not sure where or when I am.


Dusty trails…mostly

Leaving the comfort of trail angel Whiffer’s hospitality was difficult.
Too well fed and rested and I find myself losing sight of the trail
Or maybe that is because of the snow
Obscuring this crazy path forward in soft , slush drifts.
We follow in Stinger and Strem’s tracks, although we have semi officially parted ways since they are heading into Creede, CO to pick up supplies and we have decided to carry ten days worth of food to try and meet Jeff’s dad in Salida, CO so we can hike a section of trail together
Our fellow hikers do q lot of the effort punching into the crust that almost holds before
Jeff votes to take an alternate, river valley route which. proves to not only be mostly snow free but also reveals to trail runners. The one we are passed by is a twenty something man training for the Colorado Trail 100
The what?
Oh , you know, a measly 100 miles run at nearly 13,000 feet.
We are super impressed – he seem impressed we are trying to hike essentially from Mexico to Canada
I try not to think of how few days it would take him to run it…
Too demoralizing
Herd of elk with nearly one calf to every adult
Little legs flailing through the snowfields but moving with alacrity up a sixty-degree hillside
I huff and puff
We camp on a pass overlooking a chilly alpine lake
Sheered, cracking cliffs cling to the remains of orange evening





Rock solid shoes in the morning – I mean frozen into complete immobility
This is saying something, since we had frozen shoes every morning on the last hitch, but these things…
I hike in crocs and plastic bags for the morning
Jeff squeezes his feet into his shoes with plastic bags, but his hiking socks resemble wooden paddles
We cross one snowfield that sends Jeff on the fast
Real fast
Route down…I make it a few steps farther ( in my semi frozen shoes at this point) and slide the same way
The valley is filled with elk
They appear out of the willows like apparitions – how on earth could they have been hiding in there
One males practices his bugle
But not the full trumpet…it isn't fall yet after-all
Elk gamble about in the meadow, a few chasing each other in wild circles while around them the adults placidly eat
One elk kicks up his heels and bucks
I make a mental note never to try and ride that…
Just before the grueling climb to the pass at 13,100 and-a-smidge feet are mining claims
Olds abandoned timbers,
Yellowed tailings piles, rotten log homes and one rusted metal heating oil container that a marmot sits proudly atop
My hot spot – he whistles at us
Sometime during the day I see dust
Actually dust
Little eddies under Jeff's feet blow it about in tantalizing clouds
Never been so happy to see dust
And the open trail that it brings, whole expanses of walking without post-holing or kicking steps into steep, snowy sidehills or trying to navigate when there is no visible trail for many, many white miles
We bypass the "friends of Colorado" trail yurt, which looks amazing with a deck, door, and great windows but it is too early in the day
Camp amidst willows for firewood and windbreak




Get a good start in the morning, cruising along a good clip
Stop for a break just before we cross the paved road at a small day use campground and get completely absorbed watching gray jays
A whole family of them, possibly two families
The juveniles are adult sized but have darker, zorro-like masks and beg their parents incessantly when not distracted by trying to catch ants or eat the small crumbs we toss down at our feet
They fly so close their winds ruffle our hair
One lands on Jeff’s leg
They are constantly processing, weighing the degree of danger over the importance of eating that crumb
Two robins try to fly in, and the family goes into a raucous uproar
We reluctantly leave…could have sat their all day watching bird behavior
And climb the 1,500 feet to the top of snow mesa
An olive-sided flycatcher taunts us with his high, clear whistling call
“free beer…quick, free beer”
“corona with lime” Jeff and I call back as the hot sun beats down on us in our sweaty ascent
It feels great to be hot, after so much chilly travel – feels like summer finely
But that makes the free beer call even more taunting, even for us
Once up top, snow mesa is beautiful travel – flat and mostly snow-free
On all the peaks that ring the mesa people have built rock cairns
They look like sentinels, standing guard from every high point one can see
Stinger and Strem catch us just after our lunch break, which means Jeff wins the bet
We make tentative plans to try and camp with them that night, but between photographing the new flowers: shockingly blue, miniature alpine forget-me-nots, pink and cushioned moss campion, a new cinquefoil and groundsel which we will probably never identify because there are so many with such minute differences…
Well between that, eating the mildly spinachy bluebell leaves we fall behind, catch up, fall behind, but finally call it a day with another 1,000 plus feet of hill climb before the pass.
We wish Stinger and Strem good luck, hopefully we see them again on the trail soon, and listen to the screaming
I mean dying-a-violent death animal screams of marmot squabbles as they fight amongst the rocks
Who knew?





Photo- horse shoes so old the tree has grown over them…

Start the morning bypassing the trail that would take us a little over a thousand feet to reach the summit of San Luis at 14,014. It would have been fun, but we are on a deadline and there is plenty of climbing involved in this day.
The saddle below San Luis is riddled with rock gardens of tiny, tenacious high-alpine plants: pink mats of dwarf clover with improbably delicate blue forget-me-nots, white phlox, and occasional sky pilot dancing behind a diminutive rock shelter
Our path down the drainage is slightly impeded by clear cutting debris
From the beavers – a fat, waddling rodent who travels 150 yards or more up an incredibly steep embankment to collect aspen, which are clearly a favorite
Jeff and I muse on the causality rate for such a risky endeavor
Their cascading pools, hundreds of them, continue as we cruise downward
The old, dammed side channels making new, fertile meadows while the tended dams slow the rivers destructive push
Camp tiredly, but contentedly a little above the emerging mosquitos.





Now we are into heat
Real, summer, sweat running down my skin in rivulets heat
Maybe it is because my body’s thermostat can’t keep up with our hiking pace
Two days ago it was very, solidly frozen shoes
Cruzer travel as we call it, gradual trail with good tread or old two-track forest service roads
Blisters begin to reemerge proportional to the increase in heat and in miles
Suspend motion to watch a Swainson’s hawk dive-bomb a raven, and then get bombed continually in return by a kestrel
Run into three hikers who are section hiking Colorado’s thru-trail, The CT.
One lone guy and the two women, all very nice, all sharing our enthusiasm at being outside, lucky enough to get to see this section of country on a glorious summer day
I bequeath the very nice set of hedge trimmer I found and didn’t have the heart to leave and let rust to a cheerful fisherman, out for the day with his buddy on their quads.
I am equally enthusiastic not to carry the heavy metal but to have found someone who might put them to good use.
Twenty one miles later we enjoy some trail magic – sodas in a cooler left there for hikers by a generous soul named Burnfoot.
The sugary syrup has never tasted so good – the gesture greatly appreciated.



Horrid nights sleep – miserably cold from overheating early in the night hiding from the hord
Mosquitos. The lack of snow had to have a downside
Other than that travel is smooth, easy to make more miles
Tired feet again but great to be moving
Don’t stop moving the skeeters will find you
Hike some with Paranoid, aka Greg, formerly in computers, most recently earning enough money to hike driving eighteen wheelers
Continuos stands of lodgepole pine forest – looks a lot like Wyoming
Densely overgrown forest with the increasingly rampant beetle damage to match
A tinderbox…a beautiful tinderbox to be sure full of tiny wartleberry shrubs and patches of golden pea in full regalia
Spent twenty minutes in near immobility watching a long-tailed weasel trying to work up the courage to haul his entire ground squirrel, heavier than he is, off to safer eating.
We get close enough to watch him breath – rapid, twitchy breathing to match his alert, spastic movements
So cute, as long as you are not a ground squirrel
The ruby-crowned kinglets are finally signing a song very close to the one we are used to up North – warbling warm up culminating in a high, trill ” a king, a king, a king, a king!”





Aspen stands lit by a meadow of blooming golden peas
Yellow light filtering in from all direction – the peas seem to radiate from the ground up
A vermillion morning
Climbing over snow drifts again
Nothing like before, but after miles of open travel…
Go away snow
Hiking through a rocky mountain evening
Walking the sunset as it splits across the divide
Delicate pink alpine primrose scattered across the rocky soil




In the morning, hiking last four miles to Monarch pass, moths fall from the sky
Literally they are dropping from the trees – plunging to the ground and then using their crytic coloration to hide among ground debris
We satiate addictions of ours at the Monarch Pass store
Coffee and natural history books
The singing sisters (twins) traveling with their 93 year-old mother very generously give us a ride to Salida
A motor home like I used to travel in – a twenty minute drive into nostalgia