Tuesday, May 2, 2017

La Sal Ramblings

Frozen ground and snow in the first stretch of trail. The air smells like the High Sierra in California or the Swan Range in Montana in late May. There’s the same crunch of my microspikes. The same grey-brown dirt still flat from the recently-retreating snow, sparse sprouts barely poking through the duff. The feel of higher altitude forcing me to slow down. At least some things are familiar.
Frozen/ thawing
Looking at the view from this high place out onto canyoncountry is like nothing I’ve seen in California or Montana, or anywhere else for that matter. The red rocks surrounding these La Sal Mountains are such a contrast. ISKY, Arches, the Needles, Hidden Valley and Moab, my familiar haunts these past three months— all spread out in clear view.
Redrock in the distance
On the side trip to Brumley Arch
Brumley Arch
The trail. It keeps disappearing under the snow. Where are you, trail? I backtrack, looking for cut logs. Above treeline, I look at the curve of the topography and imagine where the trail should go. Until I cease caring anymore and follow my own lines of curiosity.
Rambling on rocks
Down low near the springs, Milbert's tortiseshell are flitting about everywhere.
Little sprouts shooting up.  It’s frustrating, not knowing what it will all become. Back in Montana, back in Georgia, even further back in Maryland, I’d be able to recognize most plants just by the sprouts. Here, everything is a mystery that I may never solve.

Why am I’m spending so much time trying to learn the plants here anyway? I’m leaving in two weeks for my summer job.

Finally something recognizable. A blue bell! This I know from Georgia. Seeing it reminds how long it took in my previous homes to piece together an understanding of the local flora. Multiple seasons studying plants, excursions with the native plant society, hikes dedicated to finding plants at different times. Of course I can’t gain that depth of knowledge instantly. I shouldn’t feel so frustrated when the names get overwhelming and I feel like I’m lost in a sea of Latin and start to get a case of the I’m-not-smart-enoughs.
After setting up camp in the lee of a hill, low to be out of the wind, I climb up to a high spot. The La Sals glow with the fading light. I wonder what the high peaks will be like in another month, when I am far away. What if I never get up there? What if this is my last day ever in the La Sals. But maybe I will get another job here next season. I sent in my application last week. But who knows what will happen.
What will this look like when the snow melts?
Hoping this isn't my last sunset in the La Sals
Being up high provides much needed perspective. It makes me feel like I can see where I’ve come from. I see myself at 17, falling in love with the wide-open high desert starkness of Eastern Oregon during a summer field botany course at the Malheur Field Station. Visiting Arches and the La Sals in my early 20’s with my then-husband. A photo from that trip to the La Sals was the background photo on my computer all through grad school. A view of mountains when I was stuck in the lab. All these years later, being so filled with gratitude for keeping on a path that finally twisted and turned and led me here.
Photo from my first trip to the La Sals so many years ago.
The next morning before dawn, I pack up swiftly and climb high. Pulling my sleeping bag around me against the biting cold as I watch and wait. It’s not typical for me to not be on the move in the morning, but I long to stay in place here, even if just for an hour.
Watching the sunrise
In the crisp thin air, the important things are clear. I am grateful for the challenges of a new place that allow me to keep growing. Having a job that is meaningful and allows me to live in a stunningly beautiful place is such a priority for me that I can compromise on other things to make it happen. I know that I carry around within me everything I need to be happy wherever I go— the capacity to learn and to make connections. I am glad to have a heart that is open and allows me to feel so much even though it also hurts so much to leave. This is what is is to be alive— raw, intense, and vulnerable. Perched on a rock on the mesa below a snowcapped peaks pummeled by wind surrounded by fields of snow and mud. Cocconed in the warmth of my sleeping bag with belly full of instant oatmeal and peanut butter, creating enough heat to last until the sunlight touches me again.
First morning light on the La Sals
More Information
La Sal Mountains are the second highest range in Utah with 14 peaks over 12k feet. The Squaw Springs Trail #038 and Boren Mesa Trail #537 both lead from the Squaw Spring Trailhead and are part of the Trans-La Sal Trail. I explored to La Sal Pass to the south and then to Oowah Lake to the north on this solo backpacking trip.

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