Thursday, October 12, 2017

Listening to fall in the La Sals

Another solo overnight in the La Sal Mountains of Utah. Once again on the Trans La Sal Trail, further north this time. Autumn is happening quickly in the high country. Leaves have changed dramatically in just a week.

Early in the day, I run into a herd of bikers where the Trans La Sal Trail shares tread with the Whole Enchalada Bike Trail. They laugh and chatter as I scurry quickly, leaping off the trail as they wizz by. Until I reach the next turn and am back on the empty hiking only trail. After they pass, I realize just how quiet it is up here. Except for the distant call of elk bugling.
Gently rustling aspen leaves.
Later in the afternoon, I take a detour on an old road. I see two hunters, apparently father and son. They move quietly and leave few footprints. I wonder if they heard the elk too.
Place of swirling winds.
Since moving back to Utah, I still haven't quite gotten used to the quiet here. Kentucky was a cacophony of grasshoppers, cicadas, and frogs. Loud, boisterous, surround-sound, full of life. Here in Utah, there is mostly silence, other than the elk and wind.
Silently fluttering field crescent (Phyciodes pulchella)
I'd been wondering all day where they are, but the echoing of the calls in the valleys makes them hard to locate. Looking downslope on my way to my chosen campsite reveals the answer. A big bull elk with his head tilted back, the sound emerging. Two females are in the meadow beside him. I'm pretty far away so I don't think they can they see me, but of course I don't approach. Though I wish I had my binoculars.
The strange call reminds me of whale, piercing, haunting, beautiful. What would it be like to have a voice like that that penetrates so far?

I climb as high as I can to watch the sunset. Wind gusts driving me back to the shelter of trees and my hidden hammock in the trees above the elk.
Peering into redrock country
Dancing light
Castle Valley
 In my hammock, I slip into my cozy down sleeping bag, down booties and down hat. It was risky camping this high given the forecast calls for freezing temperatures tonight. But for the sunset and the bugling all night, it is worth it.
Worth it.
Wind like a creature, like a freight train. The air is alive, wandering air. I can relate to this wind, always in motion, never managing to stay still. It gains force in the wee hours of the night. Snug, I enjoy being surround by its restless nature.
 In the morning, I find a side trail on my map and decide to check it out, following the narrow tread upwards. More bugling in the distance. Listening to myself breathing and thinking how out of shape I still feel, I round the corner and there they are: silky coats, muscles. Elk. My heart races. So close! A branch breaks under my boot and they bolt. Gone.
Trembling aspen
At the end of the side trail, there is a scree field so I continue across on rocks, listening to their hollow sounds under my feet. Trying to spot the pikas that sound their eep-alerts as I approach.
Wandering around on the rock
On my way back to the trailhead, I think about all these sounds, those of the creatures, the wind, and the human sounds. I've been reading this book called "Wild Soundscapes" (by Bernie Krause) that talks about how to study the health of an ecosystem using sounds and why it's important to study changes in soundscapes. Normally, I get preoccupied with visual things and scents, but out here, the natural sounds are just as engaging and unique. I hope they stay wild.

Date hiked: September 16-17, 2017


  1. Thanks for the info. You caught everyone's attention. ( ) I'll add this place to my list.

    Clever hammock hidey-hole too. Sometimes things work just right.

    1. Wow what good listeners. Wish I could command attention like that all the time on my programs- haha!

      Other mountains are certaily taller and more dramatic, but having the views of the redrock country is quite special. The La Sals are definitely list-worthy.

      There are more hammock hidey-holes than flat tent spots up here.

  2. Wondered what you have been up to. I often wonder about hunting , how they can kill such majestic creatures. I understand it if one has to eat (Sort of) but killing for spot ?
    I agree about listiening and how this is a

  3. good indicator (sorry pressed the publish button too early ) hope you are going well . Solo walking in remote places is older full but I still get the creeps when I come across some strangers who are not walkers .

  4. Oh dear am having a bad day typing wise . Early morning here in Scotland . Should have read ...remote places is wonderful ..... Auto correct I think.
    I'm in Scotland at present doing the tourist thing . Managed to do a good winter walk in Tasmania seven weeks ago but the weather got too much for us with major blizzard conditions depending on us and some of our group were not too well prepared . You can see some of the snow pics on my FB page If interested ...I think we are friends .

    1. I saw your incredible pictures of the snowstorm in Tasmania that you went through. What an adventure! Sure looks beautiful but don't envy that hard walking and cold.

  5. Yes! You're right. The elk calls remind me of whale songs. The elk were all around in AZ north of Flagstaff and bugling all night and I knew they sounded like something, but I couldn't think of what it was. (forehead slap) Whales!
    And, by the way, beautiful description of the wind. You captured it in words. Very nice.
    Happy Trails

    1. Hi there SlowBro! Really enjoyed reading about your AZ hike. Glad you got to hear the elk too. Sure is a sound like no other.

  6. I'm so glad you are taking time to blog again. This post is just wonderful. I'm with you visually, emotionally, senses alive. This is my kind of exploring.

    1. Thanks, Jan, for the encouragement. I admire that you do so much from the road. Writing about hiking makes me enjoy it more and gives meaning to the time outdoors. I'm hoping that this winter and spring I'll have more time for it.