These are the endless summer days with warmth and light to spend countless hours in the forest. I've been exhausting myself, in a wonderful way, enjoying daylight that seems to stretch on forever. Yesterday evening, we hiked under artfully cloud-filled skies with the sun just above the Continental Divide. I love sunset light on K's chocolate fur.R joined his sister up on the boulder, and the duo looked regal in the setting sunlight.
The clouds over the Divide glowed like fiery spaceships.
First thing this morning, we rolled out into a world that's changing day-by-day. The green leaves have darkened as they've matured. R led us through an aspen grove...
...and above the trees.
Today, K was not to be outdone. Match THIS, little brother, she seemed to say as she teetered atop the stump where they both posed yesterday! R didn't even try.
After an entertaining ride with my best furry friends, I headed out to explore the vast wilderness around my house. It was a day for finding the "unknown unknown", using a phrase coined by Donald Rumsfeld (not a hero of mine) - meaning that I found something that I didn't even know existed. Such vast forests surround me that large spaces are blank slates in my mind. Today, I discovered a trail that I hadn't been searching for, and it is singletrack that goes a very long way.
I started my solo ride on a "known known" trail, and saw that a small tree (that I've never been able to identify) had burst into blossom in the past week.
The delicate blossoms reached toward the sky.
Then, as I rode along, I noticed a side path that looked vaguely like a trail. A bunch of trees had fallen across its start but I decided to explore it. Beyond the fallen trees, I entered a lush and wet aspen grove. And, I spotted my very first "sunken bear tracks". I've read that in key bear sites, like near scent trees, bears use a stiff-legged walk that causes their paws to sink deeply into soft soil. Then, every bear that walks that path uses a similar gait and places their paws EXACTLY into the previously sunken tracks. I couldn't get a photo where the sunken tracks showed up but they were clear deep tracks on this faint path.
The sunken bear tracks led past a big cave with a yawning opening that I could have easily gone through. I didn't.
Soon, the faint path became a very clear trail that I followed for mile after mile and down thousands of feet. As I negotiated it, the ambiance turned creepy for about a mile where I first found a remote camp that appeared to have been someone's illegal home. They left behind backpacks, clothing, running shoes, kitchenware, garbage, a huge tent, and a baby carriage...
I was pretty freaked out and afraid to investigate further. I honestly thought that a dead body might be among the debris because the camp was left almost completely intact - as if its owner had suddenly fled or ceased to exist. However, since talking with a friend this afternoon, I learned that the remains of this camp have littered the forest for at least a year. So, next time, I'll get up enough nerve to try to figure out the scene.
Shortly after that creepiness, I climbed up and past a mine shaft that disappeared like a bottomless tunnel into the earth. I called it "Oh My" mine.
On the berm above this shaft, the biggest snake that I've ever seen in our forests lay stationary. He was at least 3' long and 2-3" in diameter. Being clueless about snakes, I wasn't sure if he might be a rattler... so I gave him a wide berth, which wasn't easy while also avoiding falling into the mine shaft. Since arriving home, I've learned that he is a Bull Snake and not venomous. Whew.
Then, the creepiness ended, and I enjoyed a wild ride down the mountain. As I sank in elevation, I began to realize that the trail wasn't going anywhere that I'd be able to get home from easily, and I hadn't seen a trail intersection in many miles. So, I stopped, turned around, and started the snail-paced climb back up the mountain. I was moving slowly enough that I noticed a light blue small butterfly flutter onto this Groundsel. The underside of his wings were speckled gray. I think that he was a "Common Blue" (Icaricia icarioides), a name that doesn't appropriately describe his brilliant beauty.
And, I spotted one of my favorite flowers that flourishes in pine forests, the impossibly delicate Fairy Slipper, an orchid.
After pedaling and crawling up a very long climb with sweat dripping off my chin, I arrived home, content and exhilarated. I'd found an "unknown unknown", a trail that I never knew existed, and it's within a few miles of my house. I'll be back.