elementary explorations

It’s quite possible that I’ve lost several pounds in the past few days simply by sweating. Everyone has this sort of uneasy look on their face when we talk weather; if it’s 95 now, in May, what’ll it be come July? I’m quickly moving from a more, bed-at-two-rise-at-nine kind of schedule to a start-hiking-by-eight kind of schedule. Like all desert critters, we avoid the heat of the day.

Photo May 25, 11 49 31 AM
The bottom of Ute Canyon

Both Jackie and I were off Saturday, and we woke up at 6:30, blearily made coffee together, and set up a shuttle to one-way hike the Ute Canyon trail. It’s only 7.5 miles one-way, but it includes climbing 1700′ in about two miles, which is a grand way to start a morning. It irks me, the views of the cities that you get from everywhere high in the monument, but diving into the canyons makes you feel like you’re really in the middle of nowhere. So we scampered around, haphazardly identifying wildflowers, stopping frequently to eat snacks, and nearly stepping on lizards at every turn. (Sometimes the trail feels like a lizard mosh pit that we giants are unfortunately crashing.) There was even – hurrah! – water at the bottom. If Jackie hadn’t been there, resigning me to a bit of decorum, I probably would’ve sat in it.

Resurrection moss is this truly great thing. Everywhere, you find lumpy, crusty, hard blobs of dark gray moss. From a distance of five feet (so, anyone who’s standing up and looking down) it’s indistinguishable from a lichen-covered rock. But these little guys are just waiting. Come a flash flood (easily imitated with a splash from a Nalgene), they literally flourish in seconds. I watched these blobs grow leaves – perfect, tiny, bright green leaves – in seconds. It’s the craziest thing. Adhered to a rock, they hold on and wait, everything they need tucked deep inside – and when the rain comes, they’re ready. I can kind of identify with that vivifying at the presence of water.

Photo May 19, 7 21 16 PM
An opportunist juniper

There’s really all kinds of life here: lizards and bugs, grouses and swifts, owls and turkey vultures, wildflowers in every color, a bajillion types of cactus including the spineless hedgehog, pinon and juniper and sage.

I explored more on Sunday, my first day of work on-my-own, when I was enlisted to drive the truck over to the east side and hike around chatting with people. First day out of training, and there they were, trusting me with this pick-up on the switch-backing monument road. I felt sort of burglar-like creeping into the office at 7:30 am, before anyone else was there, to grab the keys, but was immediately elated when I got into the truck, as I have this weird and inexplicable affinity for pick-ups. Plus it’s cool to be a ranger driving a Ranger.

Photo May 26, 1 48 57 PM
MY PICK-UP TRUCK. Well, sort of mine.

I hiked with Joel, one of the LEs in his late-forties, on Serpent’s Trail, Echo Canyon, and No Thoroughfare, slowly saturating my uniform in sweat. I talked to 131 people. One hundred and thirty-one people. Rove numbers for Isle Royale were usually like, 24. I was chatting with locals, being a role model for young girls (“Look, kids! The park ranger is a girl!”), b.s-ing my way through bird identification, probably making people nervous with how damp my uniform was. And, let’s not forget, being paid to hike along trails hung over with red rock canyon walls, strewn with lizards, alongside occasional shallow ponds thick with tadpoles.

After a brisk shower (our shower is usually brisk – it runs in a regular pattern of five minutes of pleasantly warm water followed by five minutes of ice cold water, no matter what), I met Jackie at the monument entrance and we drove to a fellow ranger’s baby shower/barbecue in town, in a sprawling, sunny backyard. There were guys playing guitar and upright bass, an endless supply of popsicles, and a broad smattering of interesting people. We met an old British lady who rock climbs, and a guy gave me his number written on a diaper, which is a personal first. I felt cheered by the presence of so many interesting, friendly people. Just like water, good people are always out there, easily found with a moment of searching.

OH – and I saw my first bighorn sheep today. I was alerted to them by the massive traffic jam on Rim Rock Road. They were eating. And sheepy.

Today, then, marks the start of my normal two-day weekend (Mondays and Tuesdays.) I hiked this morning in Devil’s Canyon with Joel and his very large dog, and I’m going to head up Black Ridge now, so I bid you adieu. Just check these out first:

Photo May 25, 12 02 40 PM
A surprising oak at the bottom of Ute
Photo May 25, 9 52 30 AM
Devil’s Canyon trail, in the neighboring BLM managed area
Photo May 26, 12 17 16 PM
The rather lush bottom of No Thoroughfare Canyon
Photo May 25, 11 37 41 AM
This is a very big rock.

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