Throughout this summer I have been working away for the two exhibitions I participated in June and July. Though I love the feeling of working like a madman for a show, I spent many days longing for the beauty and allure of the wilderness. For good reason too. It was summer. The perfect time to escape the city for a week away from the human being and its vast egocentric display of development. I had work to do however, so the mountains and I had to wait for the creative circle to run its course. After two successful shows, it was time to see the city of Albuquerque off and embark on the kind of adventure that does not include pavement, street lights, motor vehicles, and the most wretched of all… Super marts.
Since it was late summer, the cool and lush Eden of the Colorado Rockies overshadowed the allure of Utah’s many mysterious canyons. Our destination would be the Weminuche wilderness, named after the native people who inhabited this place. It is Colorado’s largest wilderness area nestled the middle of the San Juan mountains. Home to a few 14ers and numerous 13ers as well as a bountiful biological ecosystem that includes numerous deer, big horn sheep, black bears, and a wide variety large raptors.
Day one we left Burque and headed northwest through Farmington, Aztec and eventually hit Durango. From there we went west to Vallecito Reservoir. We arrived at around 6 pm, cooked burritos for the next few days and put on our packs. We made it in about a mile past the official wilderness sign (3 miles in) and set up camp. Spending the evening suckin on smoke, beer, and pure water from the Los Pinos River. Dali went wild chasing ducks while I baptized my head in the mountain waters. Reborn once again, I began to investigate the brightly colored fungi, ferns, and the many plants of this forested alpine paradise. The landscape was a spectrum of forest green framed by dark grey browns of the volcanic rocks and the lighter granite peaks. Living as visitors in densely packed forests interspersed with meadows, and catching glimpses of Pine, aspen, and mixed conifers rising to alpine peaks nearly 14,000 feet in the air. A bit more smoke, some food, and a good night rest await. The journey really begins at the next awakening.
Over the next few days we hiked another 12 miles. Some of which was very intense uphill ground winding on endless switchbacks going straight up, mixed with sloped crossings of ridge after ridge. The beauty of the place however, far surpassed the strenuous climb up to the next juncture. Emerald Lake! Atop the last ridge crossing was yet another less steep uphill. At the top of the mountain was two very sizable pristine mountain lakes framed by another set of peaks towering into the air. The lakes, abundant with many species of freshwater trout, begin at the banks clear and reflect the red brown color of the rocks below. Once the water reaches a couple of feet deep it transitions into a bright emerald green that slowly fades into a deep blue green where the water is deepest. Little Emerald is about a half mile long in each direction and emerald lake is about two long, but only a half mile across. The abundance of the lake and the meadows that follow the pine river up to the next mountain peaks make it easy to spot wildlife of all types. Lots of deer, marmots, a few elk, eagles, hawks, and potentially some big horn sheep. In the valley and headwaters that feed the emerald lakes the land is lush. A perfect home for the wild at heart and in manifest.
This land is the kind of stories of old, paintings of the west, and naturalist writers. A testament to what the American west used to be, Pristine and untouched. Aside form the trail, there is very few signs of the human footprint. Solitude with abundance during day and dark skies with trillions of stars at night. It is truly amazing to look at the sky without light pollution, which hides at least 80 percent of the stars in larger towns and upwards of 90 percent in cities. It is truly amazing to me that the majority of the population has very little connection with these vast and wonderful celestial beings. Talk about an ego crisis. Looking at the sky, bright with thousands upon thousands of other suns and galaxies existing thousands of light years away, the layers of ego fall like cooked layers of an onion. A true map of the past. Here and now. Best of all, it is real! Its not on a tv screen, or a backdrop, or some digitally enhanced scene too mathematically stale to be a real place. It is the reality of life on earth. A peek into a past not so far away from now. A reason to rethink the current state of affairs in global and national politics. Ahhh…. The stars. My brothers of wisdom. Peal this modern day ego and send it down the pine river to the Los Pinos and eventually down the San Juan to the Colorado and out to the pacific ocean. That is if it can get through all the dams that have made the river nearly run dry as it approaches the delta in California.
After reflections of a night with the stars it was up the pine river, crossing even steeper passes and sometimes having to rely on one arm to stabilize the ascend up past 12,500 feet. The forests become more interspersed and the alpine meadows begin to dominate the landscape. The rising peaks are the headwaters for this canyon and small, but beautiful waterfalls riddle the landscape. The birds seem to like it up here, especially eagles and hawks which most likely find the near by fishing and marmot hunting to be exceptional. After crossing high mountain streams and climbing another thousand feet through sometimes steep and rocky terrain, we find ourselves below another waterfall. The ridge seems to end above it. Weaving through another set of rocky switchbacks, my body longing for the promise of yet another high mountain lake, we ascend up the rock to meet the small valley. At the top of the rocks lies Moon Lake. A higher section of Eden characterized by the sparse and small twisty trunks of the Engelmann Spruce that extend at the most about 20 ft into the air (much smaller than the forests just 500 ft below). The temperature is much cooler and one can see the trees gradually become smaller and sparser as they rise to the next ridge close above moon lake. Above that the trees lose their hold and the bare granite rocks rise out of the green vegetation of earths highest meadow. Framed almost perfectly in center between two smaller peaks is Mount Oso rising to 13,690 feet characterized by its stark likeness to a bear head. Im sure there are Osos that visit Mt. OSO.
Moon Lake is a much smaller lake that wraps around a shallow ridge which provides 360 degree spectacular views of the mountains just traversed and more sharp Rockies up the pass to the southwest. Here you can see how far the climb was. On the opposite view is Mt. Oso and you can see the saddle that extant over Half Moon Lake and over the pass to rock lake and eventually to the flint creek trail. This was our planned route, but our supply of food is low. We made a grand mistake of forgetting granola, crackers, and potatoes. We had plenty of protein with beans, nuts, cheese, and a few fresh veggies, but we had been running very low on the quick carbs that provide quick energy and full stomachs. Our bodies felt a little under nourished, and the sight of low amounts of food made us decide that two to three more nights would be risky. We decided to enjoy the pure splendor of Moon Lake for the rest of the evening and well into noon the next day. Watching the birds below the high ridge fly from tree to tree chasing marmots, and having coffee with groups of deer makes you wonder why we traded it all for the stale comfort of McDonalds and Wall mart.
At around noon we departed from the majestic alpine wonderland and headed back down the same steep slopes we climbed. After passing the first 7 miles with relative ease, we decided to do the rest. There seemed to be enough light. Soon however, the relentless pounding of rocks beneath our gracefully falling bodies straining against the natural process of gravity took its toll and all of us had passed our fill. The faster paced fading of light was another concern as we were still about 4 miles from the truck. Adrenaline and promise of nutrients and a cigarette somehow fueled us to keep going long after we had reached our point of near exhaustion. At a little after nine, after hiking a good hour and a half in the dusk and dark, we made it to the truck. The sudden quench of water later made us throw it up less than a half hour later. On an empty stomach we made our way to camping and replenished our bellies. All of this totally and completely worth it to spend a full 5 days away from all unnecessary annoyances and dramatic behavior created by the festering population of the contemporary human. Possibly the strangest and most fucked up animal on the planet. A renewed realization of what heavenly realities could exist and furthermore, for the sake of humanity and the earth itself, should exist.