This week, along with the loss of evening daylight due to the time change, the weather has shifted abruptly from crisp to downright chilly. Winter has arrived.
Yet the La Sal Mountains, from down here in the Moab valley, appear snow-free. Pink sunsets make the peaks seem warm and inviting. I piece together a route using singletracks and 4WD roads that will take me to through heart of the La Sals and down around the foothills in a broad loop.
I get a later start but for a good reason. Breakfast with someone I've known from the hiking community and finally get to meet in real life. It feels like hanging out with an old friend and lifts my spirits. Then we say goodbye and I drive off alone in another direction.
|A turnoff just before the deep ford that is unwise to cross in my low-clearance honda civic becomes my trailhead. I cross the ford on foot and start hiking up the road through ponderosa pine and oak scrub.|
|The forest gradually gives way to aspen and fir as I climb.|
|Northern leopard frog|
|At higher elevations, there is an icy layer over small flowing streams even at mid-day. So much for turning over rocks to look for mayflies here.|
|A small black bear is sighted crossing the scree field. When will she settle into her den to hibernate for the winter?|
|Gentle switchbacks and good tread.|
|The trail gives way to alpine meadow, dormant for the winter. The alpine plants already gone to seed. I hear one pika eeping in the talus slope below. I hope he's got a good stockpile of grass all prepared.|
|Tukuhnikivatz apparently means “The Place where the Sun Sets Last” in the language of the Ute. But this is the dark side, where the winter wind rages and the first snow of the season clings. It is bonechillingly cold up here.|
|Looking into canyoncountry, to all the places I've explored and have yet to go. In the other direction, I can see all the way to the Henry's, to Bears Ears, to Sleeping Ute. Past and future, the landscapes that I hope to connect and understand.|
|Dry grasses illuminated.|
|Glowing Mt. Peale.|
|Finally I am glowing too. And grateful for lungs and legs that can take me up here.|
|In fading light, I try to make it as low as I can to camp.|
|Night is filled with the magical sounds of bugling elk and spectacular stars.|
|The next morning, I am grateful to find this so I don't have to dig a hole in the frozen ground.|
I tell them about the bear which sparks their interest. "Weren't you scared sleeping with bears around? Don't you know there are more bears here than anywhere else in Utah?" they ask.
I can't tell for sure but it sort of feels like they think I'm an idiot who doesn't know what I'm doing. But when they ask where I'm originally from I tell them I used to live in Montana and how these bears are tiny compared to grizzles up there. Then I turn and walk away. Back onto singletrack trail where I won't see anyone for the rest of my trip.
Really, I'm glad that the hunters are out here. The truth is that I slept soundly because I know the animals are skittish because there are hunters roaming about (plus I hung all my food and smellables in a tree far from my camp so they wouldn't be interested in me anyway). The bear I saw was in an area far away from trails and roads. These are not habituiated bears (as far as I can tell) and I am grateful for that. It keeps us all safe.
Much further down the mountain, my footsteps startle another creature. A herd of cows on the Pole Canyon Trail hear me coming and start a stampeed down the trail in front of me. I follow in their dust and dung and they rush ahead. We repeat this pattern for (I'm not exaggerating) 20 minutes until they finally veer off trail at a large clearing.
|Following behind the cows.|