There is something so magical about standing in the middle of a giant Sunflower forest. The Sunflowers I planted this spring are in full bloom, and I am amazed at how tall some of them are. One of the tallest ones I measured, stood 9 feet 7 inches. Will be harvesting the seed heads in late August, which should help feed some of our feathered friends in the fall. We had such a great crop this year, I plan on saving a few seeds for next year!
Gardening is good for the soul! Sometimes I am never more content and happy than just sitting in my garden, enjoying the peace and quiet while watching the flower's grow. The worries of this world just seem to melt way when you surround yourself in nature's beauty.
The following pics are from a recent 10 day camping trip to the beautiful backcountry of the San Juan National Forest in Colorado. Our timing could not have been better, because not long after our trip, the whole forest was closed because of a wildfire just north of Durango!
Don had been telling me about this area for years, as it was always one of his favorite spots to go camping because it is so isolated, and still has that pristine wilderness feel to it. Don knew I would love the area because I absolutely live for exploring places that are no where near established hiking trails.
Took us nearly a day and a half of hiking off-trail to get to our campsite. I am such a slow hiker, and Don is so patient to put up with my frequent rest breaks! Don estimated it was a little over 4.5 miles as the crow flies from the trail head near Kennebec Pass. Once we started cutting cross country, we saw no one for the rest of our trip, as most thru hikers stick to the Junction Creek loop portion of the Colorado Trail.
At a little over 13,000 feet, I would rate the route we took as moderately difficult as we climbed over 2 fairly steep ridges to get to the secluded little mountain meadow. We let Rocket and Cricket off leash after about ½ mile in because there was a zero chance we would run across other hikers.
Last view of the La Plata mountain range and Kennebec Pass before heading over the first ridge into the back country.
The following is a picture of the area where we pitched our tent on the first night before hiking further into the back country.
Lots of wildflowers were in full bloom, including this delicate looking specimen of Love-in-a-Mist (nigella). Absolutely love the fennel-like foliage!
Although not as big as Scottish Thistle, there is just something majestic about Bull Thistle with its purple crown!
Little Breezy totally tuckered out after our first day of hiking!
On our 2nd day, it didn't take us long to pack up camp, before heading out on the final stretch to our destination, which we have given the nickname of Bear Meadow, for reasons explained below. We finally reached the meadow at just past 1:30, and Don’s description of the area did not disappoint.
It was one of those rare places that takes your breath away upon discovery. There was a perfect ledge to pitch camp just above a stream, with awesome views of the meadow below. It reminded me a little bit of our camping spot at Aspen Creek, except more bears and not so many chipmunks!
As we prepared to cross the first riverbed, I had sat down on the bank to put on my webbed deck slippers to keep my boots and socks from getting soaked. Suddenly Don grabs my shoulder and says, “Honey, you might want to wait before you take your boots off…..look! ”
I had to stand up before I saw what he was pointing at - a fairly large Black Bear grazing in the meadow. Suddenly Rocket’s big booming bark broke the silence as she finally spotted the bear, alerting the other dogs to it’s presence. Total chaos was averted as Don immediately grabbed Cricket and Rocket and put them on the leash splitter to keep them from running off after the bear. With both of them pulling it took all of Don's strength to hold onto the leash.
The bear looked in our direction, sniffed the air, and then slowly made his way up over the pass just left of the ledge where we set up camp. We watched and waited several minutes before crossing the meadow just to make sure the bear didn’t come back! Very exciting!
We had another bear sighting the 2nd week during a short day hike exploring the area to the east of camp. Just a fleeting glimpse of it disappearing into a thick grove of pines. I don't think it was the same one we had spotted in the meadow, because it looked smaller - probably a 2 year old cub. Also, at different times during our stay, Rocket would alert to something uphill from camp, and we figured that it may have been a bear scoping us out, as I did find some fresh bear scat near the top of the hill.
We set up our tent on the ledge just above the meadow, which was perfectly protected from the winds. During our stay, we had great weather, with just a couple of days of a very light drizzle.
Don bet me a steak dinner that he had spotted a yellow bellied sapsucker going up and down the trunk of a pine tree near camp, and I didn’t agree with him because the head coloration was wrong. I wasn’t sure what it was, as I had never seen one before, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a yellow bellied sapsucker, because they normally have more red on the top of their head.
So Don got out one of his bird guides, and before he told me what it was, he smiled and asked me if I would settle for a chicken dinner. Turned out it was a rare Williamson's sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) which is on the endangered species list.
One of the best things about hiking in the backcountry is that blissful feeling, knowing you are miles away from civilization. No other place I would rather be than exploring the wilderness! Life is good!
Monsoon season (July-September) is definitely my favorite time of year to go camping in Arizona. Characterized by intense afternoon thunderstorms that leave the thick pine forests of the White Mountains cool with the fragrant scent of pine in the clean air. Its a great relief from the dry dusty summer heat, and mornings are usually sunny and bright, with the formation of massive cumulus thunderheads over the mountains in the afternoons.
Rain bursts can dump enormous amounts of water in a relatively short time, and can cause flash floods in lower elevations of the state. During monsoon season, Arizona experiences a second spring, that turns everything green and causes an explosion of wildflowers in the mountains and desert. Fire restrictions are normally lifted this time of year, which means campers can once again enjoy sitting around a campfire at night.
Since we do a lot of tent camping, we normally cover and protect our tent with an extra tarp during the rainy season. It really does make a big difference, and helps to keep things dry inside the tent. I have yet to find a waterproof tent that was totally resistant to the hard pounding of rain and hail.
The last time we visited Bambi Ridge, a wicked thunderstorm rolled in and it rained for almost 24 hours straight. The area around our campfire was flooded and it took a couple of days for things to begin to dry out.
Poor little Bindi hated getting her feet wet, so she found a nice large flat stump to lay on.
Mornings were bright and sunny!
While we were sitting around camp enjoying the peace and solitude of the pine forest, we heard a couple of loud but muffled cracks from the the leaning tree on the left. Since the ground was saturated, I was a little worried that it was eventually going to uproot itself and fall. I was very careful not to sit underneath it or even tie our dogs out in the fall zone, just in case......
The following is a short video of the stream which always developed near camp after heavy rainfall. It was so nice and relaxing listening to the tinkling of running water while sitting in camp.
The following photos show the emergence and growth of new plant life on the ridge - little gifts of the monsoon rains.
It was a delight to find wild Iris growing along the stream that passed by our camp!
This is probably one of my favorite photos of this trip - It shows a baby pine tree which is just emerging from the soil and is still capped by it's seed hull, dwarfed for the time by the lowly mushroom.
Since I took so many photos on this trip, I am going to break it up into several posts. Next up: Bear Watch at Bambi Ridge!