Bears Did Not Eat Us
We went camping this weekend. And despite going outside, we escaped the woods with no bear sightings, maulings or mastication. The rain that had been threatening worked out perfectly in our favor and I feel mentally much better for getting away from everything. Deer spotted on the trip: four. I also have a bunch of pretty pictures, video of the dog’s first camping trip and a sketch of the reservoir I did Saturday. I know you’re all terribly jealous of my trek into the woods, so I will allow you to live vicariously through Thrack and I through pictures. The sketch will have to wait, since I’m not done fiddling with my pastels yet, but I plan to scan it in eventually.
I love camping, having spend most of my summer vacations either visiting relatives in California or up in the woods with my parents. (Partly because we liked the outdoors/solitude and partly because it’s a very cheap way to spend one’s vacation time. But between the time drain of now being a responsible grownup™ and Thrack not being a fan of outside, we don’t go very often. I needed my escape, and since the last big camping weekend of the year is this upcoming weekend (we beat out the crowd and went to Currant Creek Reservoir. For her part, Midna spent most of the weekend determinedly trying to catch and eat bugs; she is bad at this but left undeterred and thankfully unstung by bugs.
We ended up leaving Salt Lake a lot later than we’d planned Friday, and by the time we got up to the unpaved section of the road, it was dark, with plenty of stars winking overhead. Setting up camp in the dark is not my favorite way to go, but thankfully our tent is a quick and easy set-up, so it wasn’t too bad. Midna had never been camping before and was very unsure about the tent at first. We set a small fire, and I had a fire cooked polish sausage for dinner, while Thrack stuck to whiskey from a flask. (Yes really.)
The next morning, we had a nice breakfast of campstove pancakes, scrambled eggs and partially blackened bacon. The dog, in keeping with recently discovered weirdness about eating while traveling, refused to eat her kibble no matter the inducement. We let her have the most blackened parts of the bacon rather than throwing them out, and packed up to visit the lake. I took along one of my small sketchpads and some pencils in case I found a comfy spot to sit and draw.
Thrack wandered around the lake and played with the dog while I doodled the glaciated curves and the red sandstone cirque high above the reservoir. With all the mayflies and other assorted bugs around, the surface of the water teemed with fishy nibbles and the occasional splash when a fish jumped. The sky was blue with the occasional cloud and while it was a little warm in the sun, a breeze or sitting in the shade was heavenly, especially after the summer temperatures and weeks of dismal air quality we’ve been having in Salt Lake.
Thrack was able to record a few short videos of the dog as she tried to both smell all the things and eat bugs when possible. She’s gotten so much better about water that she actually got in the water a few inches deep; Thrack hypothesizes that because it was standing water it wasn’t as scary as normal water. I don’t know, she’s previously displayed horror at the prospect of wet grass. She’s weird.
Currant Creek is basically a better, smaller version of Strawberry Reservoir. I’m not a big fan of boating, or troll fishing, but if I was I would definitely choose this over Strawberry. It’s far less crowded, is a little higher, and has more actual trees instead of quite so much sagebrush. Plus you can drive higher into the mountains and leave behind the sage altogether for high alpine woods, streams, ponds and meadows that make you feel like you’re on top of the world.
I chose one of the unpaved (but well maintained) roads that turned North more or less at random, and we were off on one of my favorite parts of going to the mountains: playing the “I wonder where this goes” game. I can’t wait until I have a truck and can camp a little more rough (and enjoy the solitude and quiet*) as well as opening more options for indulging my love of exploration.
At the higher altitude, we left the sagebrush behind and were surrounded by aromatic meadows, pines, firs and quaking aspen. Large puffy clouds began coming over from the West; it always seems as though the clouds look cleaner and brighter white in the wilderness. You go higher and higher, seeing the odd patch of summer snow not far above you and roll the windows down to smell green and dirt and the untamed wild. But going up the winding road made me sad too. The amount of damage done by infestations of bark beetles is just staggering. I remember what the stands of trees are supposed to look like and then when I get there, it’s nothing like when I was a kid.
I had always thought that the problem was not a change in the forest’s vulnerability to the bark beetles, but that the bark beetles themselves were non-native and as such the trees here had little defense against them. I knew that the dryer a year was, the more vulnerable the conifers were to the fungus the beetles carry, but it turns out that the recent problem isn’t necessarily one of invading species, but is actually a reflection of climate change which has accelerated in my lifetime combined with decades of fire suppression. Thankfully this was a cold and wet year, but longstanding drought patterns (that are likely to become more pronounced) mean that this is a sight that will not improve anytime soon. It makes me incredibly sad.
Clouds began to roll in more heavily once we reached a flower filled meadow next to a pond. A nice simple lunch in the shade was interrupted by a couple mosquitoes (thankfully squashed) as we looked over the flowers covered in buzzing bees. I love to see wild versions of hybridized flowers you can buy at the garden center; lupines and columbine are some of my favorites. And this area had very intense purple columbine scattered among yellow, pink, white and blue blossoms. And although I couldn’t see any, I definitely smelled wild mint somewhere in the mix.
Lunching at the pond gave our car a chance to cool off (not sure how much altitude we’d gained precisely, but after a couple hours of driving ever upwards, well over a thousand additional feet seems likely). As we were packing everything back up, it began to sprinkle delicately.
The spotty rain we drove through on the way down actually made the drive more pleasant. It kept the temperature low and reduced or eliminated the dust kicked up by passing vehicles too busy to slow down and enjoy what was around them.
It was dry enough when we got back to camp, but we ended up packing up a bunch of stuff before (and a little during!) an hour-long rainy spell. I love the sound of rain beating on the rain-fly overhead; it was cool and nice and sexy. Thankfully while there was a major storm, it swung North of us, and we got only the one shower. It cleared up, dried off and we had a beautiful clear evening where I watched a shooting stars and satellites overhead; later on, the real show started when massive amounts of cloud-to-cloud lightning for the distant storm lit up the sky.
We were able to see the lovely scenery that was dark on the way in as we drove back down. It alternated between pretty alpine areas with Current Creek meandering below to redrock formations that look more like you’d see in the Southern part of the state. I also spotted a few large predatory birds wheeling overhead, but the one I caught wheeling around overhead is very tiny in the photograph.
We drove back to Salt Lake via a different canyon, taking the Southern path past Deer Creek Reservoir to Orem instead of driving back past Park City. Even with all the crazy lane shifts and construction on I-15, the fact that it was Sunday kept the roads pretty clear. Midna was super happy to be home, and the bird, well, is there a way to silence parrots?
*I don’t hate large, maintained campgrounds per se, but it’s much harder to get the isolation and wilderness fix when you’re packed in so tightly. Particularly at a campground like this one, which was mostly people in campers and a couple of which had fucking generators they ran most of the night. I have a generalized contempt for people who can’t be bothered to camp in tent unless I see that they have some legitimate physical impairment that makes tent-camping inconvenient or if it’s very, very cold and late/early in the season. But these were all just lazy fucking assholes who didn’t seem to care that the people around them may want peace and quiet. No, they had to play music around the evening’s camp and keep the generator running after they had gone to bed. FYI, you assholes, that’s not camping.