Land, Water and People: The art of strolling

The pullout at the Crater Lake trailhead was full, so I drove on, turned around at a wide spot and drove back past the trailhead to another parking area near Elwood Cabin. Not a problem, as I sometimes start from this spot on purpose. The hike through the forest to connect higher up on the trail is beautiful.

A few small puffy clouds dotted the sky, but the grasses, sedges, wildflowers and willows were still dripping wet from the previous day’s rain. My plan was to hike up to the Continental Divide near Long Trek Mountain to catch the beautiful alpine views, but that was only a mile and half walk, so there was no need to hurry.

I crossed the road and headed up the slope in a direction that would eventually intersect with the Crater Lake Trail. Blue fringed gentians bloomed among the grass in a small meadow; a sure sign that we were in the second half of summer. A little further up a small, shallow pond surrounded by dead spruce trees reflected the white clouds and blue sky.

I continued to slowly stroll through the trees and found myself at the edge of a wet meadow filled with pink elephant head, purple asters, and a smattering of bluebells. It was too beautiful to just walk by in pursuit of the wide views of the high country, so I stopped and pulled out my camera, close-up lens and tripod.

One of the joys of macro photography is there is always something to photograph. It’s easy to get lost in the close-up world of colors, textures and lines. I set up my tripod low to hold the camera near ground level to photograph the well-named elephant head flowers. I then waited for a white cloud to shade the sun and provide even lighting before taking a few photographs. Then it was off to the asters… and then the bluebells… and then intimate landscape shots of the meadow.

Forty-five minutes later I came up for air and continued to slowly make my way towards the Crater Lake Trail. “Slowly” is the key word here as the colorful wildflowers, hiding mushrooms, and constant birdsong demanded savoring.

Eventually, I reached the trail and then picked up my pace a bit to hike up to the divide. Many of the wildflowers above tree line had faded or gone to seed, but there were still plenty of pale yellow western paintbrush dotting the tundra. The views of the mountains in the Weminuche Wilderness to the north and the South San Juan Wilderness to the south were spectacular… as always. 

The clouds were building over the mountains, but I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy a leisurely lunch in the sun sitting at the base of Long Trek Mountain. The clouds began to join together and darken to the west. Soon the first round of thunder rolled through the peaks providing me with all the motivation I needed to hike back down below tree line.

Once I reached the trees, my hiking slowed back down to a stroll. Tall, yellow arrowleaf senecio blanketed the moist forest floor. A grey, barkless spruce laid on the ground extending a curved, multi-pronged branch into the flowers. I pulled out my camera as it began to drizzle, composed… focused… click.

Mike Blakeman is the public affairs officer for the Rio Grande National Forest. He spends much of his free time scrambling around the mountains with a camera in his hand.