Last weekend we went to IL for a very short business trip.
We stuffed a lot of work and visiting with friends into two short days, and caught a couple of shows from local bands.
I also caught COVID.
Thanks Illinois. So I’ve been banished to the project house to quarantine until the rest of the family can get tested and we’re hoping J gets to start her 1st day of school on time. I had a couple of rough days but then started feeling vastly better if not 100%.Unfortunately work must go on and I needed stuff from Home Depot so I arranged a trip with curbside pickup in Avon.
The drive to Avon is beautiful and I’m always making mental notes about places to explore on my drives around the state. There’s an old mining town along the way called Gilman that has an intriguing hand built trestle that carries a pipeline across the Eagle river. I’d been meaning to check out this area for a while and since I had lots of daylight left and no schedule, I decided to turn down the dirt road on my way home and just see if there were any awesome views to be had. The town itself is off limits, fenced off and a definite no go, no trespassing area. Nasty pollution from the mine, and now a US Govt Superfund site.
This area is incredibly beautiful and I was feeling well enough that maybe a short walk would do me good. I followed the road which soon started switchbacking up the mountainside in the trees. A ‘Recent Bear Activity in Area’ sign catches my eye. Noted. Occasional glimpses of Battle mountain thru the trees gave me hope for an overlook where I could stop and take pics or walk around. The road became rougher as I climbed and narrow enough that I had to pull over and negotiate passage with other vehicles coming down. No worries. Standard Operating Procedure in the mountains. About 15 minutes into my drive at a hairpin turn I spot a parking area and some signage that indicates a hiking trail nearby. I have no idea what it is or where it goes but it seems a great spot to take a short walk. I stuff the trusty Subie into a tight parking spot and step out to read the signs.
Cross Creek Trailhead #2006, Holy Cross Wilderness Area.
I’m familiar with the Mount of the Holy Cross, it’s a very famous 14er named for it’s snow packed cross shaped couloirs that can be seen for miles. It’s been on my list of places to check out for years.
Alrighty then, let’s take a walk. I intend to go out for no more than 10 or 15 minutes as I’m still no where near fully recovered from COVID but I feel a little exercise might do me good. The downside, I am breaking my own rule of never going anywhere in the mountains without a backpack, water and extra clothes. It pays to be prepared here, or it can cost you big time. I strap my bear deterrent on a belt loop (Jangly key chain) and head out.
I make a mental note of the trails overall direction, West/SW. I’m hiking into the sun. Easy to remember should I become disoriented I can put the sun to my back and at least head the correct general direction. I also notice I have cell service and shoot my wife a message telling her where I am and what I’m doing. She asks if I’m OK… LOL. I tell her I’ll message her when I’m back.
I set off down the trail thru the trees and immediately emerge into the sunlight, and an amazing view just 2 minutes from the car. Wildflowers abound, an expansive view across the valley in front of me and I realize I’m standing in the middle of a massive berry field. Tens of thousand of berry bushes spread out before me and I understand why the bears like it here. I want to try try some but after grabbing a handful I’m not certain what they are and being a vague red color gives me pause as the mnemonic goes thru my head:
White and yellow, kill a fellow.
Purple and blue, good for you.
Red… could be good, could be dead.
I have a feeling these are Blueberries but not taking any chances. (later research confirms, they were almost certainly a type of blueberry that are reddish in color in the high country and safe to eat).
I continue down the trail and in another minute emerge over a short ridge to an incredible scene. I can now see up and down the valley. Hundreds of parallel striations of exposed granite cover the hillside across the gorge forming dozens of narrow canyons, and I can hear Cross Creek roaring down the valley hundreds of feet below. There is a large rock knob in front of me and I leave the trail to get a better view. As I begin bushwhacking my way up I stop frequently to identify my exit point and note my direction. DON’T GET LOST. The creek gets louder and I am now fully engulfed in my little hike.
I enjoy the view from the rock and decide to let this carry on for awhile. I want to at least make it to the creek.
I return the way I came and continue on. Soon the trail turns into a narrow canyon and becomes dark, rocky and climbing. I am sweating now and realize I feel great. It’s almost silent in the canyon and my senses tune in to my surroundings. While I prefer to hike with a partner for many reasons, solo hiking has a very different feel that I deeply enjoy. There’s no one to help should anything go wrong, and because of this I always feel a heightened sense of awareness when alone in unfamiliar territory. No fear at all, but a very powerful monitoring of my surroundings and a deep situational awareness. This hike is turning spiritual, and without realizing it, I begin composing these notes in my head. I haven’t written anything in months and am surprised at how the words begin to flow thru my brain effortlessly as I mentally document the experience. I soon emerge from the little canyon and once again am rewarded with expansive views and can hear and see the creek getting closer.
My reverie is broken by voices. Hikers ahead. I step well off the trail as I don’t want to share any cooties with passers by. A small group emerges with a large dog leading the way. The dog notices me first even though I’m standing perfectly still. His ears go up and he growls and then a short bark. I laugh out loud at his defense mechanism and the hikers see me. He’s defending his people but I’m no threat and I have no worries that he’ll bite me. Just doing his job. Someone in the group admonishes him for his reaction and I see his ears drop and tail droop a bit. Emergency over and he gives me a quick sniff as he passes.
I regain the trail and my heartrate increases as I hear the creek nearing. I have a true love for mountain streams. Something about the white noise, the cascading crystal clear water over rock, the musical tinkle thru dripping fern and bough, it’s just magical to me.
A couple more hikers approach and I ask, “any awesome views ahead?” He replies “There’s a bridge over the creek about 30 minutes up and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s totally worth the effort.”
I stop to think about this. I’m 30 minutes in and have no water, but it’s extremely pleasant temperature wise and I’m only working hard enough to enjoy this. Decision made. I’m going to the bridge. Two hours of pleasant strolling shouldn’t put me in any danger as long as I don’t get lost or injured and the number of cars at the trailhead means I will likely pass many more people. I keep my pace brisk but careful. No rolled ankles today please. A couple minutes later two women emerge red-faced, wide eyed and clearly excited.
I step off the trail and one exclaims to me “There are two moose on the trail not 5 minutes ahead!”
“Wow, that’s awesome!” I reply.
“It’s really exciting if you’re from Florida!” she says.
I chuckle. “It’s awesome if you’re from Colorado too!”.
Now my senses go on high alert. I’m dying to see the Moose but I don’t want to surprise them, and I don’t want them to surprise me either. I round the corner and suddenly the sound of the creek overwhelms all other senses. The water cuts thru solid rock and pours down two channels in spectacular fashion.
Thousand of wildflowers brush the trails edge, and butterflies flit about in their bizarre flight patterns, Descending and overlapping spirals of color and course, that remind me of the spirograph drawing kit I played with as a kid. I wonder if there’s an equation to map their wanderings? Silliness.
A large hill rises against the edge of the meadow and anchors the scene. The bright sun feels amazing after the shadow of the forest creek and again I remind myself that I’m basically in church. I near the meadow edge and a sign appears: Hikers cross ahead, Horses turn here.
OK. Something significant ahead. A few dozen yards into the trees and I spot the bridge over the creek. Water rushes down the mountain above thru a large rocky canyon, and massive house sized boulders surround. A huge tree has been halved, laid side by side, and handrails added to create this backcountry bridge. As I climb the bridge, a light rain begins to fall in blazing sunlight, shooting billions of light beams in every direction.
This is heaven.
I cross and descend to the creek and spend a few moments exploring the little passageways thru the rocks and just enjoying the moment. The rain picks up a beat and I know I’m at my end. I have no jacket and hypothermia is always a possibility even in seemingly warm weather.
Time to head back.
I cross the bridge and look back one last time, savoring the opportunity, the utter glory of this place, this creation. A small smile crosses my eyes, and I commit to the return journey, still on alert for the moose. Unfortunately, our paths do not cross today. Next time maybe. An hour later and I’m back at the car. My 10 minute walk took three hours and thirty minutes. It was the best time spent this week by far.
Back in the car and I let my wife know I’m safe and heading back.
The sun begins it’s slow descent as I cross Tennessee pass and the continental divide, and I’m back in the headwaters of the Arkansas River Valley.
As I emerge into my home valley clouds cover the sun and filter colored light across the entire valley, a fitting CODA to my little shopping trip and hiking adventure. Purple Mountain Majesty, Indeed.
“Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
Oh, if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.”