A Walk In A Wild Oregon Forest

This afternoon Chad and I found ourselves in a wild forest full of towering trees, a multitude of mushrooms, and glowing autumn leaves. And when I say we found ourselves there, I mean that we got back to some integral, essential part of who each of us are, and who we are as a couple. Not that these parts were lost, just too darn busy.

We decided to move from Northeast Utah to Southwest Oregon over the summer. This decision was motivated by various factors, including me losing a job, and it wasn’t a decision taken lightly. We loved our high desert haunts in Utah, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I sobbed like a baby when the reality of moving kicked in. I knew I would miss our special desert hiking spots, and indeed, I do.

So finding a hiking spot of our own in our new location was very important for us. Spending time in a wild place that is minimally touched by human intention is, for both of us, healing, rejuvenating, and exhilarating. Today we enjoyed those feelings as we walked through the forest under the incredible heights of douglas firs, hemlocks, western red cedars, and many other species of beautiful trees.

It is enlightening to see what nature does when left to its own devices. The trees that fall to the forest floor are allowed to remain there, decomposing, creating a delightfully spongy surface to walk on. We kept noticing pairs of trees growing side by side: one douglas fir and one hemlock, with each tree thriving as they grow closely side by side.

The past several months have been exceptionally busy for both of us. Moving is a major feat that comes with several different varieties of stress to deal with, not to mention all the unpacking and getting settled in. Chad is adjusting to a new job, and I am starting up a new business. Our new life in a new community has been full of warm social interactions and exciting cultural opportunities. Yet, life isn’t quite in balance until we have our wild places. And now we do.

Harley hikes Sheep Creek Canyon

We spent a weekend in the Flaming Gorge area recently and took a drive to one of my favorite places in this part of the state, the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Area, also known as Sheep Creek Canyon Loop. Chad took me here on one of my first visits to Utah and I was awed by the fascinating geology. So I was looking forward to returning – this time under a beautiful blue sky and bringing our dogs along with us.

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The geological loop is one you can enjoy entirely from your car should you choose to. In winter part of the loop is usually closed due to unsafe conditions. So when we reached the gate and could drive no further, we got out, found a nice spot near some conifers, had a picnic and sat, enjoying the scenery.

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I loved the variety of textures and colors offered by the geology in the canyon and kept looking in amazement when I’d notice something new: striations, cliffs, landslides, jagged peaks, diagonal layers, pinnacles. This area is a visual feast.

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After our meal, we decided to hike up the road that was closed off. I thought to myself that we’d have to see how far Harley could go, and might have to cut the hike short if he seemed like he was struggling.

Harley is our elderly dog. He’s 13 or 14 and has been having a few issues lately because of his advanced age, yet he remains amazingly sweet, patient and good-natured. He still jumps excitedly when it’s meal time and often bounces eagerly along on our daily walks, but there have been times lately when he looks up at me with his big sad eyes and lets me know he’s too tired to go on those walks.

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On this walk, Harley surprised us all. Not only did he have plenty of energy, he took the lead, and I had to keep adjusting my pace to keep up with him. He strode along the road looking like he knew exactly where he was going – and was in a bit of a hurry to get there! He only got sidetracked to munch on patches of snow a few times. Chad and I kept laughing at what an amazing job Harley was doing hiking with us, making this one of those special memories we’ll always cherish.

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The views along the road were amazing, and Chad, who usually likes to bushwhack off-trail, was as happy as I was that we decided to hike along the road instead of in a dense thicket of saplings.

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Leo and Charlie obviously had a great time too. They had noses to the wind the whole time, no doubt taking in an exciting array of wild aromas.

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By the time we made it back to the car, the clouds had started rolling in, covering the beautiful blue sky, and we were all well-exercised and feeling good. The dogs snoozed happily in the back seat as we made our way back towards Red Canyon Lodge, although sadly, we did not encounter any yaks along the way.

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Ouray Badlands

Badlands, so-called because you supposedly can’t grow anything on them, are characterized by their eroded, bare-looking, rounded slopes showing a lot of colorful striations. I’ve been intrigued with them since learning about them at work, enchanted by aerial views of land forms I couldn’t quite figure out but was eager to get a closer look at.

I finally got a much closer look when we went to Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, a place known for its wetlands and migratory birds, to hike on the badlandy hills there. (Yes, badlandy is a word. At least it is now.) It was a steep and rugged climb getting to the top of the hills, but once we were there it was just magical.

Soon after we arrived at the top Chad picked up a piece of something I assumed was a rock, had me look at it, and told me it was a piece of fossilized turtle shell. I’m enough of a nerd that fossils in the wild really bowl me over – in this case I was in disbelief. As we looked, we kept finding more and more pieces of turtle shell. We took photos but left the fossils there, as you should if you find fossils on public land. I still find it just amazing that we were able to go hiking on ground that was probably under water millions of years ago, and discover traces of the former inhabitants, just lying on the ground. Moments like these really help put things into perspective for me.

Walking on the ridges and running up and down the slopes of the hills was a ton of fun. Hiking on terrain like this just might be one of my favorite things to do. The vistas are beautiful, the ground is beautiful, and those hills are actually not as barren as they look. We saw plenty of plants growing here and there.

The only thing that marred the experience for me was that beyond the edge of the refuge, the horizon was littered with the tell-tale shapes of oil wells. Alas, the refuge is literally surrounded by them. That is what drives the economy in this neck of the woods. I can’t help dreaming of an alternative though, where eco-tourism is the force that gives people their paychecks instead of the polluting, depleting oil and gas industry. I imagine some of you out there may think I’m exaggerating, always harping on environmental issues. But I think whatever your stance on the environment, for someone who is an outsider to this region of the country, it is just shocking to see how much of the landscape is marked by oil and gas. Which is one of the reasons Chad and I want to show you the beautiful landscapes that need protection from the spread of industry.

We will return to Ouray for more hikes, no doubt, but I will always have a lump in my throat as we drive past the oil wells to get there.

Yellow Flower Desert Pinnacle

When Chad and I need a quick hike, this is our new favorite location, the place we call Yellow Flower Desert. We discovered this area, just off of one of our major highways, several months ago and were enchanted at how quickly we were able to get to fun hiking terrain. When we went this time, we spotted a location in the distance that we wanted to checkout. As we approached, I thought it looked like a cool natural amphitheater, albeit, with a pinnacle in the middle of it. Chad was drawn to the pinnacle. So we set out towards this spot, and weren’t disappointed when we got there.

 

 

The pinnacle and sides of the amphitheater were about the height of a 3-story building, we figured. It felt like a very special place to both of us. Sometimes you just find one of those places in nature that seems to have a healing energy to it. We both did some yoga poses near the pinnacle, but my favorite pose was simply sitting near it, soaking up some positive earth energy.

The day after this hike I flew back to NC to spend some time with my family, which created such an interesting contrast – being alone in the peaceful desert one day and the next, back in the busy sprawl of Charlotte. Being familiar with different locations is, I think, similar to being familiar with different languages. Both give you a broader perspective of the world. I’m so lucky to be able to learn something of the language of the desert.

Yellow Flower Desert

It’s really amazing how spending some time outside can make you feel so good. Spending time outside in an amazing new location is even more invigorating, refreshing and revitalizing.

We decided to take a late afternoon hike the other day and couldn’t quite find the right place. One place we tried was surrounded by massive power lines, another place led straight to a cell phone tower, and yet another was polluted by the constant racket of an oil well. We kept looking.

We finally found a place that looked pretty decent and decided to give it a go. Chad let me lead the way, and I have to say, I did a good job. We had fun walking over badland-like hills, taking pictures of all the yellow flowers everywhere, and discovering all the vegetation that had come to life in the desert.

It was just that time of day where the lighting makes everything look magical: golden hour. And then we came to a stunning overlook that opened out onto wild open land. It was so exciting that I had to do a little dance. Having grown up in the thick temperate forests of the SE United States, I am still thrilled by the exoticness of the wide open desert. The expansiveness seems to lift your entire being up into the air, and make you feel that you can fly.

You can tell by the number of photos we took that we were enchanted. The extreme close-ups are mostly mine and the beautifully composed landscapes are mostly Chad – especially the clouds. Chad is a specialist in cloud portraiture!

Discovering this place was exhilarating too because it was just off the road, was an easy hike and was very rewarding for very little effort. What a sweet interlude from spring into summer.