We drove hours and hours away from home to find ourselves on top of a huge, flat-topped, cliff-edged mountain in Utah. A bit strange that we would do that, since there's a huge, flat-topped, cliff-edged mountain right on the edge of our town in Western Colorado. Like our local mountain, this one was sprinkled with small lakes stirred into a mix of forest and prairie-like meadows, and generally rocky and rough all over.
We found our first camp on a bright evening and strolled with the dogs over clumpy tundra grass to a small, shallow lake half bridged with stepping-stones, the high-water mark scored with white pollen on the dark rocks. Frilly freshwater shrimp in water that was also busy with underwater larvae and beetles. The air was vibrant with mosquitoes. The blue sky and white clouds faded toward darkness and we warmed away the night's chill by a fire, then slept under a quarter moon, the light filtered by the mosquito mesh of our tent.
Most of the next day we were busily doing almost nothing. We strolled. We lounged. We read. We napped. We looked at passing birds with our binoculars. And we slapped a lot of mosquitoes.
The mosquitoes were not nearly as vigorous during the warm part of the day. But at 11,000 feet, the warm part of the day had a pleasant chill to it if we stepped out of the sun or a passing cloud blocked the warm sunlight from above. I slapped one particular mosquito and noticed that its dead body seemed to be exuding two tiny droplets of blood. My blood? I looked closer and then closer yet. (Did you know that binoculars turned backwards make something not unlike a microscope?)
The tiny red spheres clinging to the sides of the mosquitoes were not my (sacred) blood. But were instead the plump bodies of tiny red mites. Egad! Fascinated, I called Trina over and showed her the scene. Her reaction: "Ha! I hope those mites make the little suckers ITCH!" Then, with tweezers to help, we photographed them (backwards, through the binoculars) and witnessed one of the red mites fleeing its now-dead host.
Afternoon clouds began to build into thunderheads. We moved our camp from our exposed plain to a scooped pocket of a meadow beneath low cliffs by another small lake surrounded by thicker forest. And then embarked upon another Stroll of Discovery.
We found tiny wild strawberries, sun-dried fungi, and an abundance of wildflowers. The dogs failed to notice a bird's nest hidden beneath a pine bough on the ground. But they did manage to corner a marmot in its own mid-meadow rocky lair, and then became confused by the marmot's whistle and their own barks echoing off the surrounding forest.
As afternoon slid toward evening, the sky broke into a patchwork of darkened gunmetal blue clouds and shimmering sunlight. But the weather held. We saddled up our bikes and rode down a jeep road and onto a piece of trail we'd seen on the map. We didn't know what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised by the rough texture of the narrow trail.
Definitely not a made-for-biking trail. Filled with both embedded, loose, and generally, awkward babyhead rocks. (Trail-smothering rocks up to the size of, well, a baby head.) Lots of stopper rocks. (Able to bring a front wheel to a sudden and unexpected stop.) And even some hippo-head rocks. (Apt to knock one off one's bike and stomp one to death.) So the trail-flow we found was of our own making. And the challenge of finding it was enough to make us grimace and grin.
We swooped and scuffed and rolled along the grassy edges of lakes, through pine needle forest, up short punchy climbs, past wildflowers. The trail vanished and reappeared occasionally. The rocks steadily grew into boulders that squeezed the trail so tightly we could no longer ride. We were walking our bikes over and through a boulder-filled forest, but could see empty space beyond the trees.
We left our bikes and hopped boulders out onto the rim of cliff that defined the upper tier of the mountain. A blue storm was passing to the north of us. Sunlight showered weakly onto our airy perch. Below us was another layer of mountain that slid downward toward bare-stone steps of rock desert plateaus that disappeared into a hazy horizon.
Then we left the view behind and turned and churned our way back toward darkness and our dinner at the truck. The night wind blew in lightning flashes, rumbles of thunder and spattered rain on our tent.