A Late Summer Getaway

As we hoist our heavy packs onto our backs, the last vestiges of clouds dissipate. The sky gradually returns to its proverbial azure hue, after being obscured by smoke and haze. The presence or threat of wildfires in the American West, and the bans on open fires and flames that characterized much of our Colorado summer, have been lifted, and we jump at the chance to escape for a short stint. Rain at our planned destination delayed our departure by two days, but now we thank those showers for having cleared the air, and for having created the piney, fresh fragrance that envelops us in the forest.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Our goal is to reach the Lakes of the Clouds in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. After driving 100 miles southwest from Colorado Springs, we reach our trail, where wind whooshes through conifer boughs, and aspen leaves dance in the breeze. Most are still green, but a few are turning, harbingers of approaching autumn. The rocky path takes us higher and higher, to three alpine lakes nestled in a wide mountain basin, at an elevation of approximately 11,600 feet. After five miles and roughly 2,500 elevation gain, we set up our tent.

     We have longed for Colorado’s tundra, famous for its wildflowers. Our years-long drought has lessened their bounty, and we are here late in the season, but some colorful blossoms still enliven the scenery. The lichens and shrubs that cling to the rocky slopes are already assuming their autumnal, rust-colored sheen, and drape the mountainsides in velveteen blankets.

Even though this is wilderness, animals are habituated to human visitors, as the lakes are popular not only among hikers, but also anglers. A female deer appears out of nowhere and munches grasses close to our tent, seemingly unafraid; a well-fed ground squirrel watches us filter water from a lake; chipmunks forage through our camp, in search of dropped morsels of food. We listen to the chatter of squirrels in the trees, and to the high-pitched calls of marmots and pikas in the surrounding rocky crags.

Few people have made the trek this week in late August, and the campsites are scattered enough to enjoy a sense of solitude. The languid hum of insects and the chirping of birds accompany us through the daytime and complement the constant background music provided by a waterfall cascading down a cliff face within earshot of our site. At night, we see the pinpricks of myriad stars, fewer when the moon vies for attention, more once it goes to sleep. Other than short excursions into our environs, we laze – read, write, follow the arc of the sun across the firmament. Stretched out on our backs we observe the celestial dance of the clouds: tendrils of vapor approaching, linking hands, letting go, drifting apart. Like high-altitude lizards we luxuriate in the warmth, and revel in the colors of late summer, grateful for glimpses of nature’s benevolent face.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/ein-ausflug-im-spatsommer/

49 thoughts on “A Late Summer Getaway

    • Herzlichen Dank und liebe Grüße zurück. Ich liebe sie einfach alle, diese Tiere, die in abgelegenen Gegenden ihr Leben fristen. Anscheinend ist Sonnenbaden unter Murmeltieren sehr beliebt, denn an warmen Tagen erwischt man sie oft in dieser Position. 😊

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      • 🙂 Ja, das kann ich sehr gut nachvollziehen, dass Du alle diese Tiere magst. Tiere sind wunder-voll :-). Murmeltier, genau, so ist die deutsche Übersetzung, die mir nicht einfallen wollte. 🙂 Du hast sie sehr schön sonnenbadend fotografiert. Ganz toll.

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  1. Really beautiful Tanja! So interesting to see your wildflowers in their natural state. Asters look really nice growing in the woodland. Mountain gentian made me gasp, we’d be fussing over them in a rock garden and you just need to take a hike! 😉

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  2. What a pleasure to read the breathtaking picture you paint, the scent of late flowers, the sound of nature’s own orchestra, and on top of that all the cute animals. It felt like walking in your shoes, and reminded me of our own hikes in the Swedish mountains up north. 🙂

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    • Es ist mir auch aufgefallen, daß die Farbe der Murmeltiere sehr variieren kann. Aber egal wann und wo und in welchen Tönen gehören diese Tiere zu meinen absoluten Lieblingen. Und die Blumen machen mich einfach immer froh.
      Herzlichen Dank liebe Andrea, und bis bald.
      Tanja

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  3. I am envious of your trips, Tanja. Thank you for capturing the splendor of Colorado late summer. We are greatly looking forward to a week there next year again. Cheers!

    PS – Pika! Our favorite of the lagomorphs.

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    • During our trip we commented on the fact that we had all these experiences in one small area of Colorado. One could spend a lifetime and still only explore one fraction of this state. We feel very lucky.
      I love pikas, too. Thank you for showing me the errors of my spelling!
      Best,
      Tanja

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  4. Mit den Tieren hast du mich ja wieder, lach 🙂 So niedlich!!! Und eine schöne Landschaft. Wilde Astern hab ich noch nie gesehen. Und alles hast du so zauberhaft poetisch beschrieben. Wunderbarer Beitrag, liebe Tanja! LG, Almuth

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    • Yes, draughts and associated wildfires in many western states. And now the East Coast is bracing for record-breaking rains. Everything seems out of balance, and one almost feels guilty for simply wanting to enjoy what is still left of nature’s beauty.

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  5. What a wonderful hike and I just love that little ground squirrel – so cute. It must be a real treat to be able to have flora and fauna around you in the wilderness, although one wouldn’t like the small critters to get too dependent on human scraps 🙂

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    • Thank you, Vicki. Being out-of-doors makes me feel alive, and nothing else compares.
      I agree that we shouldn’t feed wild animals (and most of the time abide ny that conviction), but I understand why people do it. To have the opportunity to watch an animal from a close distance can be profound, and I often think that the interaction might trigger an appreciation for nature that might translate into interest in conservation. Maybe that’s naive, but one can always hope!

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