It’s been almost a full year since I drove away from the Salt Lake City area to return to my former and current home in Phoenix, Arizona. During this year, I have longed for a return to “my mountains” and the canyons and trails that occupied so many of my weekends when I lived there….and while I haven’t actually made the drive or taken a flight to make it back up there yet, I have visited it often in my mind and through the medium of the hundreds and thousands of images that I made while I was there.
I just made a rough count of my photo library, and if it’s anywhere near correct, I went on hikes or exploratory excursions into the Wasatch Mountains at least 140 times during my 3.75 years of living in the Salt Lake area. I forgot (I don’t know how!!) my camera on one occasion, but it was with me on the other 99.21% of those hikes. And, of those 140 ventures into the mountains and canyons in my “back-yard,” I visited Little Cottonwood Canyon at least 27 times…sometimes hiking only the first half, other times just the second half, sometimes hiking to a specific spot on the winter stream to capture images of the magical ice patterns and formations, and on other occasions hiking from one end to the other and then exploring further into the area beyond what was considered part of the formal trail…further away from the tracks and traces of people, into what we might consider the “wilderness,” both figuratively and literally, as certain areas of this section of the Wasatch Mountains had been designated official Wilderness Areas by the federal government.
The western-most trail-head to Little Cottonwood Trail is located at the eastern-most end of the parking-lot for the Temple Quarry nature trail….and it was roughly a 15 minute drive from my home…. I visited the canyon during all seasons, as you can see from the three galleries…Spring and Summer in the first, Fall in the second, and magical Winter in the third.
Having lived in the urban desert of Arizona for more than 20 years before moving to Utah, it was amazing and wonderful to my mountain-loving soul to find myself is such an environment…every vista made my heart soar…and near every glance around made me want to capture its image for safekeeping against a day when I might not be able to view it again. And…it was a thrill to bring those photographs back home and look at them again on the computer…and then share them with you here on the blog….so you might recognize some, or many of these images.
And finally, the beauty and magic of Winter in the Wasatch Mountains…Little Cottonwood Canyon viewed from afar and from very close. While it was often incredibly cold, I enjoyed being out and in the canyon at this time of year. It was so captivating visually, that even with freezing fingers, I stayed out there for several hours at a time, slowly walking the trail, perching precariously over the ice-cold stream, and climbing over boulders in the forest and in some portions of the winter dry stream-bed (most of the water being captured upstream to be piped into town for drinking water).
While this post is for everyone to enjoy, I brought these images together specifically for one of my dear blog friends, George Weaver, at She Kept a Parrot and The Fuzzy Foto. Ever since George and I stumbled across each other’s blogs, shortly after I moved to Utah almost five years ago, she has been a constant blog companion, following me on hikes through the mountains and canyons, and admiring the treasures of photos that I brought home to share. At first, she said the mountains looked fearsome, but she came to love them and looked forward to seeing them week after week. George came to especially enjoy Little Cottonwood Canyon…and we have agreed that if we were ever to meet in the Hereafter, it was going to be on the trail in this little piece of mountain heaven.
Thank you for your encouragement and companionship, George….sending you peaceful thoughts and a warm embrace.
After only a fifteen-minute drive from my neighborhood, I was off on another adventure into the woods of Little Cottonwood Canyon. You might have seen similar images over the last couple of years, but it’s that time of year again when the cold and water combine to make some beautiful and natural art in the out-of-doors. You can click on any image from the gallery to be taken to the slide presentation that has larger renditions of each photograph.
The man squatted on his haunches for a minute or two before he knelt into the brown grass and heavy leaves of late fall that covered this part of the forest. His several decades spoke loudly in the rubbing of bone and cartilage in his knees and the sharpness of the pain in his feet. He looked over the top of his glasses at the trees and rocks beyond, removing the field of his vision from behind the shading of the lenses so he could see the trees’ remaining leaves in their natural color, even if they were blurred in shape and substance. He had walked and run and hiked the miles and hours into the forest, remained on the trail for most of the morning, but now he wandered off a bit as the day progressed and as he felt the need for a slower pace.
About a quarter to half a mile back down the trail he thought he had heard a scream. It wasn’t long and it wasn’t short, but a medium scream that climbed in intensity in its short life and in its rebounding off the rocks and slabs of the canyon walls. He thought it was a scream. It might have been only an echo, though…an echo of a scream. He stopped and listened for what more might come after that middling scream and wondered from where and why it might have come.
The canyon road was somewhere off to his left as he had climbed forward, but now it was behind him as he sat there, facing into the woods and listening to what might be there or not. His thighs were trembling in staying in the position, or holding the position that he had been in for what must have been three and four or more minutes now. He thought he had heard a scream and wondered at the closeness of the road and the cars in their passing. Was it a girl or woman on the roadway on her bike, or was it a younger boy whose agony or surprise was too great to allow him the control of a more manly scream and instead came out like a girl’s in its purity of emotion, or was it someone on the trail or deeper in the canyon’s woods?
He tried to look past the clearing and through the near-winter bare trees toward where the base of the mountain had to be, those hundred or more yards in front of him. The man stood again and turned to look back down the grassy trail that he had followed to the clearing. He could still make out the larger and more often traveled dirt trail that ran this side of the rocky gorge that held the stream, but just barely, because of the rise of the ground and the vegetation that was in his way as he had gone this direction and that in following the more faint trail up and into the woods, the forested forever that ran up the canyon and brushed and hugged the side of the mountain that rose slowly and then thrust itself upward in a granite face with its contours and shadings from the light and the clouds and the darker woods beneath.
The man was still outside the clearing, down-trail of it by a dozen yards or more, but he could see that it had been used as a camp-site at some time in the past. He saw what appeared to be a tarp, curled and crumpled into a loose ball that had been blown and dragged by the wind and caught in the leaves and branches that lay in their forms across the wood’s floor. Pine needles and cones and fist and thumb-sized leaves were wrapped in the blueness of the tarp and faded it and caused it to almost bleed into the colors of the forest, so numerous they were in their covering of it.
The man looked behind him again and listened for the stream. He listened for the breeze in the trees and the stronger wind that might be up in the higher branches of the pines, that charging flow of air and breath that rides through the pine needles and cones and tight branches and sings among the heights and sometimes talks in a whisper tone of things seen and past and gone.
A truck was downshifted and rode the lower gears as it descended the canyon road, as it caught itself in a tighter turn and the gears of the transmission whined higher in their efforts to slow the weighted bulk of the truck. A bird lighted on a branch above him and hopped closer toward the berries on the higher branches, tentative steps and hops; he looked around and down and back as he climbed toward his prize.
The man turned around again and saw what might still be a sleeping bag at the far side of the clearing. There were leaves and dirt on it and he noticed…his abdominal muscles clamped down and a rush of adrenaline burst through his body…he was immediately scared and angry and his heart raced while sweat streamed down from his forehead and into his eyes…he wiped them furiously and looked again at the sleeping bag and saw strands of red-brown hair, clumps of it, tangled and matted and caught in the leaves and sticks, caught in the zipper of the bag and his heart was pounding in his chest and images flashed in his mind, he bent on his knees and leaned into the ground with his face into the grass now….no….
Someone else’s scent was on her neck, a blast of it came to him now as his animal mind listened to what might be around him, moving in his physical world as he raced into a past that had crumbled into ruins in years back and then….go away. Footsteps and echoes and tears in his eyes and fallen leaves in a warm desert air with a late sun shining into the night…she lied. The forest floor beneath him spoke of a present and he heard cars on the canyon roadway passing…rich earth, wet, decaying leaves pursuing their beauty and regeneration….cells breaking down again…thoughts coursing through his mind, bursting like unexpected thunder pounding into his consciousness…a pressure grew in his chest and made his shoulder hurt as he breathed deeply of the wet forest.
He leaned back, near upright, and tasted the salt of tears and thought of her beneath him, half smile and half pain in her closed eyes, holding his hips against hers and he saw shadows moving, pill bottles scattered on the floor and bed….capsules in a fold of the pillowcase and curtains moving with a breeze…. “Mommy!” came from the other room…. The pressure in his chest, numb shoulder, and tingling fingers brought him back…again the anger, fear, and cold. The man licked his lips and looked at the sleeping bag, he sought the hair again…leaves torn from their branches, bark shredded, splayed angrily against past thoughts…another motorcycle passed on the canyon road….
Sometimes we misplace our dreams, lose them, or forget that we hid them away…and sometimes they’re taken from us whole, from the first thoughts that spawned them to the final beat of the heart that sustained them….
***This is a work of fiction that was inspired by the finding of a long-abandoned campsite in the forested area of Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, USA. Any resemblance of actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
If you are a newer visitor to this blog, you might not have seen the earlier posts that I shared on White Pine Lake…and if you have been visiting for a while, you might remember them – White Pine Lake in September, Toward White Pine Lake, and White Pine Lake Reflections. If you’re interested, you can click on each of the highlighted names to be taken back to the other posts, or you can scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the “White Pine Lake” category and find all of them together.
Because I’ve already shared much of what I know about the place and various photos that show you what it looks like getting to the lake, I’ll just share a few additional images that I made a couple of weeks ago. I will also add that each trip to the lake, once each year for the past three, has been a treasure…. I would suggest that there’s some kind of magic up there that infuses the heart with peace and the mind with wonder and amazement…but it’s not really magic…it’s a bit of mountain air and solitude and a mightily concentrated dose of Mother Nature shot straight into your veins………OK, so maybe it is magic, anyway……
I hope you enjoy this batch of Wasatch Mountain wonderfulness.
Snow is beautiful…and so is this…from June, 2010, Little Cottonwood Canyon trail…maybe you’ll enjoy a glimpse of Summer while you’re still in your Winter, wherever you are….