Saturday, May 11, 2019

Early season in the La Sals

Spring stirs up a deep, irrational longing in me for a return to the mountains. As much as I love the red-rocks and canyon-country. I’ve been desperate for the sweet vanilla scent of ponderosa and the softness of pine needles.
The La Sals
For my solo backpacking trip this weekend, I stay in the foothills. Starting from a trailhead less than 10 miles from home. The high country is still blanketed in snow. Jeep roads take me to a singletrack path that I’ve never been to before.
Looking down at the red rocks of canyonlands
North-facing slopes are still patchy even this low.
Just like salmon are imprinted on their natal waters, I must have been imprinted on ponderosa pines growing up in Oregon. A strong sense of home washes over me when I stink my nose into their bark and inhale.

I love finding groves of Douglas-firs too. There is just a narrow range that they are found in the La Sals now. But I like to think about how they were everywhere here during the Ice Age, when the giant camels, ground sloths, and mammoths were roaming around southeast Utah.

Butterflies are everywhere! It seems like hundreds are darting about. I stop and gaze. How mesmerizing to see so many! It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
Flocks of painted ladies
The only checkered whites that slowed down enough to photograph were the ones that were otherwise engaged.
Satyr comma
I am thrilled to find another trailhead for a singletrack that veers up a canyon. Not on any of my maps. The La Sals are like this. So many trails, both marked and unsigned, not on the 40-lats or Trails Illustrated maps, or any of my Gaia GPS layers. So I follow them to see where they go, and make the appropriate corrections with my sharpie. I’ve grown to love this about the La Sals, this gift of exploration that they provide.
Delighted to find a new trail
Until I get up above 8500 feet and the trail disappears under the snow and I can’t tell where to look. Just another reason to come back later!
Back at a lower elevation, I set up the tarp in a spot where I know I will get too much wind but where the views are breathtaking. There is so much time to watch the clouds move and to feel the soft pine needles under me. I love how time feels so expansive on nights when I am alone in the mountains.
A sweet spot.
In the middle of the night, the springtime winds batter me and steal my warmth. But it doesn’t matter. It’s not that cold. And I just roll with the winds and they seem more like a familiar friend then a problem, after all these years. Just part of springtime in Utah.
Simpson's hedgehog cactus, which is only found at higher elevations
Larkspur, one of the few flowers out this early.


  1. I thought this blog G rated. ;-) The Ponderosa of the Bend area always pleasures my eyes. I suppose because there's so few nearer Portland. I'm headed to NY soon and google keeps routing me through the canyon lands. lol Yosemite and Glacier are both snowed in still!

    1. Sounds like you might just have to come to canyon country on your way. If you do head through Moab, please give me a shout! Weather is perfect here right now. :)

  2. Thanks for tcmauer (Hayduke Trail guy). Mostly I've skimmed through his posts, but today he did it:

    "I might say 'good day' to the water and receive my answer in a series of bubbling utterances. The water and I became friends. The desert is so full of surprises. Water and I crossed meadow and field until I rested my pack on its shore one day and said, 'Alright, then.' Without a shrug or glance it carried itself away, content to leave me to my own business. Soundlessly, we parted."

    Much like the cats at "Good Affinity", where I eat three days a week.

    The dying old cat with weeping sores that could hardly move was happily skittering all over today and came to me for attention the way a kitten would to its mother, though painted blue.

    Someone treated it with something, and it was clean as well. I gently pinched it just ahead of its tail and there was nothing there. Both of its sides met in the middle with only skin between. It's only moving bones and fur. And my hand came away blue. But its whole self vibrated with a strong purr, and it wouldn't leave me.

    I might try sneaking it treats.

    Even old dying cats appreciate being appreciated.

    I see you've adapted to tarps. Interesting. Sweetpea and Beardoh managed to finish the Mogollon Rim Trail with hammocks. All of you are smarter than I am, but maybe I still have time to try again. We'll see.

    You're from the Pacific Northwest. I think Paul is from the Northeast, both agreeable places with water and trees in abundance, and you are both fascinated by deserts.

    I'm from the desert and fascinated by rain and forests. People from the northern plains tend to enlist in the Navy. Several of my uncles did. I almost did too. People seem to like the opposite of what they know. Odd. Reassuring.

    I decided to look up "vern takes a hike" on a whim. I did a bit of back-and-forth with her around 2010 while she was on the PCT and I was still on Twitter.

    At about the time that she got to the Oregon/Washington border she quit posting for a while, and I dropped it, but it seems that she finished the PCT.

    And later the PNT, after bicycling from Los Angeles to Glacier National Park. And broke her back at some point, and probably did more things that I will ever be able to imagine.

    It's possible that you might enjoy some of her Instagram posts (doesn't look like she's ever done the old-fashioned blog thing, but see

    I thought that "Julie A. Hotz" was a clever pseudonym, but one of her posts mentions her father, Ed Hotz (and I also came across several other people with that last name while looking her up), so maybe she really is "Julie A. Hotz".

    Either way so very cool.

    Great photographer too.

    Sometimes I wish I wasn't a bot.