After a sleepless night at the lodge, I was determined to wear myself out today to earn a good night’s rest before leaving Pagosa Springs tomorrow for Santa Fe. I had half a waffle at the lodge, joined at the table by a lady who was in town for a Shaklee conference. Like my female dinner companions from Thursday evening, she waxed on about how yesterday was her first visit to the hot springs and how wonderful it was to bound from pool to pool, cool off with a dip in the river, and then jump back into a warm pool. I’m more enthusiastic about hiking than swimming or wading, so I’ll save a dip in the hot springs for a future trip.
I then headed north on Piedra Road toward the mountains. After many miles of gravel road I reached the Williams Creek trailhead at the very end of Forest Road 640, mine being the fifth auto in the lot. This Saturday I would see almost as many hikers, and definitely more horses, as I encountered at Piedra Falls two days earlier. I’ll describe the trek out away from the trailhead, using shots from both the morning journey out and the afternoon return as needed for better light.
The trail started out with a steep rise which made me thankful for my trekking poles. For a long time I could hear but not see Williams Creek gurgling far below to the east, beyond which one great peak or another would show in breaks in the tree cover again and again. Eventually the trail popped out along the edge of jagged eroded bluffs on the western side of Williams Creek with a heavily eroded side creek channel.
Part of this hike had been described as a visit to a “walled garden” and soon I saw what they meant, as mountains to the west and a long hill to the east channeled me down a treelined path strewn with wildflowers. Amidst towering birch trees were many examples of larkspur, Queen Anne’s lace, and more. Sadly many of the pines were dead or dying – a gentleman along the trail would tell me there is a fungus killing them off, leaving dead pines with hanging mosslike filaments.
Then ahead I could see an opening into a great mountain meadow. Surrounded by trees and mountains and strewn with wildflowers, it was a tremendous sight. I actually scampered along the trail, much like Dorothy Gale and Friends amidst the poppy fields on their way to Oz. Instead of poppies, I was enchanted by buttercups and bluebells. The trail wound on to a stand of tall plants with long green leaves and spikes of white flowers, and beyond them was a long line of birch tree mountain sentinels. I met several hikers in the meadow, including the fellow who knew about the tree fungus and said his daughter was out here last August and the entire lower part of the meadow was a vast field of daisies.
The trail then reentered the forest and wound its way down to Williams Creek at the three mile mark. There was no easy path across the creek without getting my feet soaked, so this seemed the right spot to have a snack and then reverse course back out across the meadow to a trail junction I had passed earlier.
I encountered four horses with three riders on my way back, no surprise given the many times I had dodged horse presents along the trail. Then I turned down the Indian Creek trail to enjoy some yellow beauties and wild roses. After half a mile, this trail also led across Williams Creek. This time there were more logs and rocks to make a dry crossing, but instead I fully extended one of my trekking poles so I could plunge it into the creek bed for balance, set the all-too-short timer on the camera, and dashed out onto a log for a self-portrait.
My leisurely pace on the way out meant that this seven-mile hike would take me 3.5 hours plus another two hours of round-trip car time from Pagosa Springs. The usual afternoon storm clouds were building, so it was time to go. That was when I had my iPod moment of the trip.
Since I purchased my first iPod, the miracle device that allowed me to take my music library with me everywhere, each of my big summer trips has brought an audiovisual moment that I will always remember. It happens when the sound in my ears perfectly matches my feeling of joyful release at the majesty of nature that I am experiencing. The first time was when I was out on Mount Rainier in Washington for the first time, sliding across the snow in short sleeves and tennis shoes. The iPod was on shuffle play and the boisterously silly MMMBop by Hanson came on and had me capering about the snow like a madman. The most recent iPod moment had been last summer when I listened to the incomparable Rufus Fears telling me the story of Goethe’s The Sufferings of Young Werther as I glided through a misty coastal forest at Cascade Head.
Today I had two successive iPod moments. I had started the hike listening to some horribly boring lectures on archaeological theory, which I had happily abandoned for some Agatha Christie short stories about the mysterious Mr. Quin. But for my return journey today I hit shuffle and as I bounded through the birch trees I was inspired by Yoko Kanno’s orchestral stylings for Call Me Call Me by Steve Conte. I was no doubt grinning like an idiot all through the piece, only to then find my trekking poles scissoring along at high speed as I bounded downhill to Golden Earring’s fabulous Radar Love. I don’t expect it to make any sense to anyone else, but now whenever I hear those songs I’ll be back on the trail at Williams Creek.
My playful mood coming down from that natural high left me gathering pine cones at one point on the return, creating my own little pine cone forest in a tree stump beside the trail. It beats graffiti. I also stopped to take a close look at the whorls amidst the remains of a large dead tree, and finally popped out at the trailhead to find that five autos had now become two horse trailers and nine autos.
My car hurtled out from under the lowering clouds towards sunny Pagosa Springs, with sprinkles wetting the gravel road as I passed a picturesque lake. I made my third visit to JJ’s Restaurant beside the San Juan River, having my third delicious meal there. While it had been in the 60s and 70s during my mountain hike, it was 86 down in Pagosa Springs. But that did not deter me on this final day to hike. I hiked two miles up and along the western slope of Reservoir Hill above Pagosa Springs, finding a cabin used for festival registrations and a number of antenna towers. I zoomed in for the view of the San Juan River winding through downtown and one last view of a mountain peak in the distance, complete with guy wires.
Nine miles of hiking was enough for the day, thank you, so I headed back to the lodge to edit and post the photos, and since my lunch was large and late, I’ll head to McDonald’s for a salad for dinner.
Tomorrow I venture south to Santa Fe, New Mexico and the next day is a long slog from there to Oklahoma City. So tomorrow’s Day 7 will be my last post from July Escape 2010.