Of Passes and Mountain Headwaters

There could be interesting names for this trek, perhaps “The Other Four Pass Loop”, or “The Williams Mountains Circuit”. But truly, this trip evolved from my desire to touch those remote parts of the Hunter Frying Pan Wilderness nestled in distant basins between the two drainages.
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I traversed four passes, though only half of those are named. Trails existed at the beginning and the end of the route, but in the middle, boulder hopping, elk tracks and trickles of streams shaped the way. There were people only within the first and last half-hours of travel, the other 47 and a half hours were solo, except for all the extraordinary life. IMG_0156
I started high, and climbed higher. Mountains extended in all directions with only nature visible in the foreground and beyond. The Williams Range formed the backbone of my journey, and while I would encircle the long ridge with its craggy peaks, I would also descend and ascend a diversity of deep valleys.
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Where water sprang from the ground or seeped from melting snow, slopes were alive with seductive fresh flowers, as though summer was just starting.
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Exposed higher meadows still held their fading glory, tinged with early fall golds and reds.
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After cresting the second pass, I dropped into a fork of upper Hunter Creek. Water flowed, fell and frolicked among pink flecked granite boulders, graced with verdant flowers and foliage. Almost dancing my way downvalley, I paused at a broad meadow edged by spruce trees, through which a calm creek meandered.
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The sky was growing darker and as moisture started to fall, I sheltered in the embrace of the nearby forest while snowflakes fluttered. It was as though I had stepped into a magical kingdom. As I resumed my wandering, I sensed vibrations, and on turning, watched a magnificent herd of deep brown elk with young, bound almost silently through the woodland. A path upslope beckoned and I followed keenly. It released me on a perfect knoll, at the head of the second river fork and upper basin.
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Here I would become immersed in the changing colors of evening playing on the mountain spine, highlighting its pinnacles and spires.
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Then later turning to a moonlit night sky.
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Crisp morning light articulated the third pass and its family of peaks that drew me on.
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From over 13,000 feet I soaked in views of mountain ranges from new perspectives.
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And met new friends who seemed a little shy.
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Too soon, I was as far away as I could be in this wilderness landscape. That signaled time to turn, to drop two thousand feet, then turn again and climb, through a stately Colorado mountain valley.
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Grateful for the expansiveness of this terrain that held me till the sun was low above the ridgelines, I stretched out on my sleeping pad and again observed the changing light.
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I marveled how this sweet blush of color turned each day, yet how seldom we pause to recognize such luminescence. At that moment, I was thankful to be so alive outside where rare shooting stars burst brightly across an inky sky.
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Seven Sisters Lakes

Over the past several years, a stepped cluster of lakes, the Seven Sisters, have captured my imagination and longing to explore.IMG_9928

Previous explorations had taken me up and over the gorges of tumbling creeks feeding the Frying Pan River. I rested at their lakes and scaled summits, looking across to the mysterious ridge that bounded the lake family comprising my missing puzzle piece.IMG_9858

The lakes are nestled in a remote mountain cirque within the Holy Cross Wilderness, just beyond the watershed of the Frying Pan River, and are perched at 11,000 to over 12,000 feet in elevation.IMG_9872

Others arrived at the trailhead access eager to summit 14,005 foot high Mount of the Holy Cross, or hike to a large lake at the head of the deep Fall Creek valley. IMG_9792

My goal was to go further and to spend a few days wandering the lakes and ridges of this other rugged basin hidden over passes and between larger valleys.IMG_9800

A well worn track led through Rocky Mountain Spruce forest with a lush groundcover floor. Soon I emerged to the beginning of a subalpine ecosystem.IMG_9789

The scenery was immediately exquisite, including rocky ledges, cascading falls and brilliant blooms.IMG_9841

Gaining the top of the Pass, I had views of the Gore Range to the east, and a glimpse of my destination to the west. IMG_9831

Keen to see more, I gained a slope south of the Pass and summitted Mt Whitney. Expansive mountain panoramas extended endlessly. Too soon, it was time to descend and seek a home for the night.IMG_9867

… With water; a delightful garden;IMG_9861

and friendly neighbors. IMG_9903

Morning light powerfully illuminated my surroundings. I couldn’t wait to adventure further.IMG_9850

My hope was to reach the uppermost of the Seven Sisters Lakes, then climb to the ridge above, although a snow cornice seemed to guard the final step.IMG_9930

The route was along firm granite rock interspersed with bright alpine flowers. It led towards the summit until I reached the snowy rim. Being highly respectful of white slippery slopes, I sat on a warm rock and ate lunch. Refreshed, I resumed my quest and discovered a way to the top. At last the puzzle was complete as looked back upon the lakes and ridges where my desire was born.IMG_9880

Happily, my rambling continued. I felt wonder and joy as I encountered grand vistas to delicate details of this wild landscape.IMG_9960 IMG_9946

I experienced another sunset with fiery clouds, a sickle moon rose as comets sped across the dark night sky, and the cycle completed in the pink dawn of another day.IMG_9927

June in the Elks

In the Rocky Mountains, June is an exceptional month that holds the longest day and heralds summer’s start.

IMG_9059Mystical light of a solstice sunset on Mt Sopris.

IMG_9048 As the full strawberry moon rises.

IMG_9064 Romance above and between husband and wife, Paul and Barbara.

IMG_1856Late evening lavender reflections at the Maroon Bells.

IMG_1865Multi-dimensional imaginings of light.

IMG_9109The fleeting magic of change as once bare branches bulge and burst in viridescent greens that daily deepen into full summer foliage.

IMG_9084Brilliant blue lupines and scarlet Paintbrush are illuminated at sunrise and frame distant Mt Sopris.

IMG_9086Still snowy bowls near Capitol Peak as seen from Haystack Mountain.

IMG_9162And looking back from the opposite side on East Creek Pass.

IMG_1919Delicate Columbines bloom early in the understory beneath white-trunked Aspen trees, on American Lake Trail

IMG_9082A Seedhead twirls and shimmers like the full moon.

IMG_8982 Golden Mules Ear Daisies grace Mt Sopris from the west side en route to Lake Ridge Lakes.

IMG_8996A well camouflaged yellow spider feeds on a flower.

New Works – Summer 2016

Bucksbaum Campus Phase 2 – In progress June, 2016
Aspen Music Festival and School, Castle Creek, Aspen

40BWORKS serves as the Landscape Architect for Phase 2 of the Bucksbaum Campus of the Aspen Music Festival and School, designed by Harry Teague, Architects. Phase 2 involved the construction of a composition of new buildings around the significant large ponds. The entire central area of the Campus is primarily a pedestrian environment.
IMG_9135 While the buildings are complete, planting on Campus is still in progress. Here, freshly-placed sod gleams.
IMG_9129 Ever-changing reflections in the ponds create another dimension of experience (during construction).
IMG_9149 Planting in Phase 1 is taking hold, restoring the wild natural feel of the riparian environment surrounding Castle Creek as it runs through Campus.
IMG_9125 It’s exciting to see wildflowers like this Firecracker Penstemon, and Rosy Paintbrush (not shown) blooming in the Campus specific wildflower mix, sown in Phase 1.

Pitkin County Library, Aspen – Opening Celebration, June 19

I worked on the Pitkin County Library Expansion project when I was at Design Workshop. I led a phase of planning approvals, landscape conceptual and schematic design and design development. The construction drawing and observation phase was completed by Design Workshop.
IMG_9009 It was a rewarding experience to attend the opening celebration and congratulate board members, library and county staff, and consultants. All worked with dedication to evolve the early vision into a constructed reality for the entire community and visitors.
IMG_9012 The library expansion opens on to a public plaza, merging indoor with outdoor space. In particular, the children’s room has a small sunken garden amphitheater for outdoor reading and activities.
IMG_9018 Patrons, board members and the community are excited to explore this new facility for the 22nd century!
IMG_9021 The roof reading garden features great views over the public plaza and towards the town and mountains.

Cedar Mesa 2016

At the start, I was unsure of the exact nature of this excursion. Later, having experienced it, I realized that my solo backpacking trip was all that I desired, and more.
IMG_8430 Based on a framework plan to hike deep into a Cedar Mesa canyon and its tributaries, I had freedom to explore and to immerse myself in the sensual nature of the diverse desert landscape.
IMG_8421 A solo trip into the backcountry is a rare experience of both dispossession, and at the same time, the most wonderful self-indulgence and richness. Everyday comforts and conveniences are cast away, connections with family and friends are on hold, and the internet is (hopefully) inaccessible. Taking the minimum essential for survival, it’s necessary to work hard at simple tasks like preparing a place to sleep or finding clean water to drink.
IMG_8486 This opens a doorway to such treasure; that of the natural world around us. Senses awaken – vision infuses with color and light, nostrils sniff the damp of a pool, ears attune to animal song. Existing solo, but never alone; intimately alive and connected with mother earth.
IMG_8542 Amongst a myriad of felt sensations are the sun’s warm caress and the canyon’s deeply cooling shadows; a light breeze fluttering leaves or a strong wind calling loudly; a watery pool attracting a toad, a snake and a lizard; evening song of frogs, crickets and bats; smells of dry sage and damp mossy springs, and the glow of golden evening light or soft pink moonshine on rock. IMG_8427 I sensed the timelessness of this place, where people of the past ran across the slick rock I walked on, and where they communed with spirits through spirals and ghost hands on stone.
IMG_8428 At night, I pitched my tent in a place that felt just right; in the morning, I discovered age-old art, and I knew that others had felt at home here too. Eagles soared and stars cycled above in the sky, as they had done centuries before in this mystical life-giving place.
IMG_8448 I learnt that survival is not about “what’s out there to get me”, but about how I manage myself. At the end of a long day of exploring, I was looking forward to camp. Upon arriving, I took off my wet shoes and set down my backpack. Then I noticed something missing – my tent! Reluctant to don my soggy sand-soaked sneakers, wearing flip flops, I set off through the scrub and river landscape to find my missing shelter. Short-cutting across the creek, I felt the sudden, eager grab of quicksand. My leg jerked back up, but my flip flop remained trapped below! Dropping to hands and knees, I dug frantically in the watery mud, imagining laughter resonating from the looming canyon walls. Eventually, without the flip flop, I returned to camp, wincing across prickly ground. But, still determined, I put on the soggy sneakers, and went again in search of my tent. I think the canyon spirits pitied me, for not long after, in the middle of a clearing, I found my blue tent bag. Beneath a darkening sky, I returned humbly to camp.
IMG_8419 I learnt life lessons in the canyons including to be open to surprises; to be persistent; step back to gain clarity, and consider from many angles.
IMG_8424 Be patient. Inhabit a place and it will grow. The longer you stay, the more will be revealed. Where you saw only a rock with a shady overhang, there will be a small dark door to a hidden granary. A craggy rock face will soften to hold a smooth panel marked with a red man, green hands or a white antelope.
IMG_8496 Release expectations, hold anticipation
IMG_8492 I followed the meandering river, walking in huge arcs, looping back upon myself. I ran up the slick rock canyon sides and circled down again. I stood atop a narrow promontory between two river bends, trying to understand the form, feeling the shape, the way that water moved in an intricate dance with rock; water carving rock, rock guiding water.
IMG_8512 I understood better the timeless spirals etched in ancient rock and knew that the desert winds would propel me back to this mystical mesa again.
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Southeast Alaska Sketches

Creating these artworks connected me to the wild areas in Southeast Alaska where I sketched. I plan to share them through notecards and at art shows. I hope they bring you inspiration too!

From Shelikof Beach Cabin, Kruzhof Island
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On Starrigavan Beach, Baranof Island
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Misty Evening, Totem Park, Sitka
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Anan Bay, Southeast Alaska
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Mt Edgecumbe from Gavan Hill
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Sitka – My Second Full Moon

I’ve seen my second full moon rise over the snowcapped peaks of Sitka. Etched in the clouds, a streak of golden light swelled to a shimmering globe.
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Through the dense tall tree trunks, I’ve glimpsed the silhouette of a small Sitka deer, as he startled and disappeared. In my ridgetop tent, I’ve been woken by a clucking ptarmigan, with snowy white plumage, a handsome black head and red beak. Through the night, the landscape glowed in shades of silvery gray.
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As the red blush moon sinks into the sea, fresh light brings focus to the day.
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In May, my second month, the forest understory shows off its green plumage like a peacock’s emerald tail. I walk among carpets of starry mosses, colorful lichens and sun sparkling leaf sprays. In soft moist bogs, tentative stalks burst into bold skunk cabbage soldiers. Like the spring forest, I sense a deeper layer, a growing connection to this landscape.
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A magical place is the promontory of Totem Park, where forest meets ocean. Tentacles of water ebb and flow rustling pebbled beaches, discarding ribbons of red-brown seaweed, broken white clamshells and white-washed wood.
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Where the Indian River estuary joins the sea, there is a wealth of sound and activity. A merganzer duck family paddles around a floating log, watched by bald eagles perched on tree tops high above. I hear multitudes of birds’ sound – calling, screeching, wings flapping, and sometimes just a whir as they pass by.
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The aliveness of this place enraptures me. I pause mid-stride while running, watching as an eagle swoops or a sunray lights the water gold. From stillness in sketching, I step out to tidal pools where orange-tentacled seastars stretch and scrawny crabs scurry.

Stories are told in the sky, amongst full purple clouds, fine mists or petulant rain. The ever-changing light of endless days beckons with magical messages.
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At day’s end, animals and people come together clad in raven feather cloaks, drumming, swaying, singing earth’s song,
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Sitka – First Impressions

It only happens once, the time I first discover a place. When I feel naively open, like soft pink petals of blossoming salmonberry and all is fresh like the new leaf green of its foliage. My senses are alert as I deeply inhale salt smelling air and catch shrill seagull sounds in the sky. The differences from my home in Colorado are stark.

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South East Alaska is a land by sea, islands among sea, lakes on land. Colored in shades of grays, greens, and sometimes blues; ancient, ever-changing.

There is no clear order, no neatly layered bottom rooted in deep soil, nor tree trunks pointing up straight to a clean top line of sky. Instead, massive spruce and hemlock rest across the forest floor, their upturned shallow-wide roots a living green wall supporting brilliant green lichens, mosses and ferns.

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Base twisted roots entwine, pairing massive trunks as families of trees. I wonder where does one begin, another end? There is not death, instead rebirth, regeneration, the fallen becoming grounds for fresh new growth. The forest is verdant, deep, alluring. Spirits of ancestors whisper.

The sea feels expansive with mysterious edges where land and water meet, punctuated with coves, rippling waves, big black boulders, coastal curves and crevices.

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Water pools and laps among small dark pebbles, falls cascade straight down towering dark cliffs, white froth bounces playfully over gray smooth worn rock. Creeks so clear that pebbles shine below, the surface glimmers in cyan blues.

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This landscape doesn’t hold still to be captured (on paper), it paints itself, in watercolor, always fluid.

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The sky is not a flat blue backdrop. It is part of land and sea, alive with flocks of calling seagulls, with white-headed black-bodied eagles that spiral and soar the thermals, with multitudes of wings that shimmer in the light. The sky holds water in many forms – fat puffy clouds, mysterious sweeping mists, fogs draping snow-capped peaks and silhouetting forests. Water vapor always moving evoking ever changing panoramas, bonding to earth with falling rain. A spiral of life like the ancient petroglyphs inscribed on rock.

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Sitka is my moody muse. She dulls me with her endless greys then pierces me with unexpected searing shards of light. The sun emerges as a magical gift. It transforms earth and sky. Energy abounds, changes to evening’s pink and orange frolic, and lingers long in night’s deep blue twilight.

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A place evocative, where hundred year old trees hold knowledge of times past, sculpted totems tell stories and voices of ancestors are still heard. In town, the round Russian church, rectangular bishops house and elegant once-college campus speak of the more refined.

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A place where people-time pauses – small shops that still sell everything from milkshakes and toys, to hard candy, kettles and tea cloths.

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There are many stories to unfold.

Spreading the Art Works

The chilly days and long nights of winter provide time for reflection on the exuberance of summer. After an amazing season of outdoor adventures, a contemplative mood brought on by falling snowflakes and cloudy skies allowed me time to collect my memories. Through my sketches I could relive those magical moments in the remote backcountry. So I gathered my artwork and literally packaged the pieces in the form of notecards. I hoped to share my inspiration with others and promote earthwise awareness.

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My earthwise approach to production of the cards included working with a local Basalt print shop for proofs and final production of the cards, using recycled paper and envelopes, and laying out the cards to maximize the printable area with no waste. I was careful to avoid the use of plastic for packaging. Instead, the card sets were attractively tied with natural twine or raffia.

The holiday season provided a great opportunity to participate in community events and share my work. My first public opportunity was when “High Alpine Falls” sketched in pencil and pastel, was selected to be shown in the Wyly Community Art Center Open, a celebration of local artists held during December in Basalt.

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Next, the Wyly Artisans Market presented a friendly venue to display and sell my arty notecards. The first night was a whirl of activity as kids ran about creating holiday ornaments while adults mingled and chatted. Saturday and Sunday were more peaceful, providing opportunities to chat with visitors to the market and other artisans.

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The notecards were grouped in three themes: Colorado Mountains ’14; Southeast Utah Desert; and the Grand Canyon. I created a set of notecards for each theme that included four designs. The sets included eight cards featuring two copies of each design.

Mountain Set Key 1

Canyon Cycles

Spirals and circles, meticulously chiseled into desert red-rock walls hundreds of years ago, perhaps represented cycles in the lives of the ancestral Puebloans, as they have meaning in the cycles of our lives today. My season of living outside started in early spring amongst warm desert rock and now, in late fall, the cycle is complete.

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Three years ago, I made a three-day backpack into lower Salt Creek canyon, in the Needles district of Canyonlands, camping beneath a crescent arch under a full moon. I hiked up-canyon a ways, then turned to visit angel arch. From that time, I was drawn to discover more about the upper section of Salt Creek canyon, where I heard there was limited camping and plentiful evidence of ancient people from the past.

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The circle came around this fall, as my friend, Dina, and I descended a thousand feet from the canyon rim off Beef Basin Road into upper Salt Creek. It was a long day of backpacking – 12 miles downcanyon to our camp. We passed through forests of bulrushes, glimpsed hints of ancient habitations, and were surprised by seductive waterfalls. We marveled at a boundless gnarled rock landscape striped in pink and white like a scene from the Nutcracker.

Our camp was beneath a large homely cottonwood tree in the dense riparian bottomlands of Salt Creek, the lush vegetation being a special feature of this desert canyon. It was dusk when we pitched the tent and started to cook, later to learn that these shorter fall days would foster several more nights of setting up camp by headlamp while watching glittering stars emerge beyond.

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In the morning, our camp was in deep shadow, but as the sky brightened light shimmered on the ridge behind, enticing us up, over and into a whole new world of spires, pinnacles and fantasy creatures hued in a spectrum of crimson through cream.

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Mesmerized, we sat quietly meditating on the richness of the ever changing sunrise light. The theme of circles repeated in curved and rounded rocks with conical heads and mushroom tops, smoothed over centuries by water drops. At last, with a mind map of sights(and sites) to be seen, we embarked on our return up canyon and further exploring.

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After investigating our first ledge of extended stone structures and pictographs, we stopped at a layered waterfall known as upper jump, our senses titillated by water droplets, cherished in the dry desert.

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Highly decorative pictographs were among the wonders of the canyon. This panel is called Four Faces.

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The American Man pictograph is painted on the side of a deep alcove that was perhaps once enclosed by carefully stacked stone walls.

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We were intrigued by several granaries in front of which grew an extensive vine that on closer inspection revealed small round squash. We read that this squash plant(or its ancestor) was originally planted and tended by past canyon dwellers over 700 years ago!

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Brilliant fall colors illuminated the already prismacolor canyon. These yellow-leafed cottonwood trees grew on the creek bank and shimmered behind a field of gray sage.

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Too soon, the sun was setting and we were picking up our pace to reach our next camp under a beautiful starlit sky.

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Not far from camp, in early morning light, Kirk’s cabin reminded us of the area’s cowboy heritage, and farming that occurred in this canyon about hundred years ago.

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Our third and fourth days in the canyon included further wandering and exploring. We discovered side trails to ruins, of which the Big Ruin was impressive for the extent of structures in excellent condition that were located high on a ledge above a steep cliff face.

We considered the National Park Service management of this ecologically and culturally sensitive area. In our world of increasingly invasive manmade impacts, it is satisfying to be in an area where roads have become overgrown tracks, trails are narrow with spiky shrubs whipping at a hiker’s calves, and willow branches meet over backpackers’ heads. The desert and its delicate cryptobiotic crust are protected with spiny spiky vegetation that discourages off-trail wandering. I loved the juicy red prickly pear fruit, although the delicacy left its legacy of fine thorns lingering in my finger tips.

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Our last night’s camp was outside the Park’s boundaries, beside a shrubby tributary canyon. At a micro-scale, we observed small insects crawling over dry seed pods that waved on the sandy canyon floor. From the top of a slickrock scramble, we admired larger scale views of the intricate canyon maze.

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On day four, we climbed out of the canyon, circling back to the beginning of our hike. Now we saw in the expansive views, layers of meaning integrated in the twisting and turning shelves of rock below. They were filled with magical color, ancient art and vegetable plants started over 700 years ago!

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