Bob's World Travels

On this page:

Siena September 24, 2016
Lucca September 21, 2016
Pisa September 19, 2016
Florence September 19, 2016
Uncompahgre Wilderness August 5, 2016
Wheeler Trail July 17, 2016
Powderhorn Wilderness July 8, 2016
South Crestone Lake June 26, 2016
Unity Pond June 24, 2016
Maine June 24, 2016


On Tuesday, August 23, I moved myself and my belongs south from Florence to Siena on a bus.  I knew the Florence bus station was tucked away somewhere near the train station, but I couldn't find it.  "Dove autostatione?," I asked several people. I got answers I couldn't understand.  Finally, a man took me a block to the bus station.  It was a nice bus ride through Tuscany.  The rolling hills, farmlands and villages flowed by me.  On several hills in the distance, there were ancient towns, with walls and towers. After I disembarked at the bus station in Siena, I couldn't find my hotel.  I walked the wrong way showing people the written address to ask directions without much success.  Finally, I found the hotel down a small, ancient side street. It was the Alma Domus Hotel which was a modern hotel in an old brick convent building still owned by the convent. From my room there was a wonderful view of the Siena Duomo on the hill above me.

Siena is full of brick buildings and has a particularly medieval feel.  The city thrived before 1348 when it was struck particularly hard by the black plague. Two centuries later, Florence conquered Siena and permitted no further development.  So in many ways, much of Siena is a city preserved in time. The great cathedral in Siena is a fully Gothic cathedral and is particularly spectacular. The front facade is fully elaborated with sculptures, and the rest of the building is striped with dark marble, but the cathedral was never fully finished.  There is a tall unfinished facade for the unfinished nave. I climbed the facade and was given a sweeping view of the city from the top. The Siena Duomo may be my favorite in terms of its interior, which was dark with black and white stripes. There is a beautiful bronze statue of John the Baptist by Donatello and a number of fine paintings. The Piccolomini Library is particularly striking with a brightly painted ceiling and a series of colorful and exquisite frescos by Pinturicchio.

I visited the flowing Piazza del Campo, the great civic space of Siena which is anchored by the Palazzo Pubblico with its tall clock tower. This is a fine space, but people were concentrated in the shady portion. There was a woman playing the tsymbaly in the Piazza and at another time near the Duomo.  The tsymbaly is a musical instrument similar to a hammer dulcimer.  I enjoyed the music and bought a CD from her. I finished the day eat dinner outside, near my hotel with a beautiful view of the Duomo on the hill, glowing in the evening sunlight.  I had a fine dinner, including Tuscan steak.


From Pisa, I took a short train trip to Lucca.  Lucca was a revelation.  Walking its regular Roman grid of narrow streets under old four to five story buildings and numerous towers and into lovely piazzas, you can believe it is an earlier age. The well-preserved old town is located within old fortification walls. The broad walls are topped by a broad path, creating a circumferential open-space around the town. I went into the beautiful San Martino cathedral.  I climbed to the top of the 145 foot high Torre dei Guinigi which is unusual because there are trees growing on top. I visited the lovely elliptical Piazzo del Mercato, also known as the Anfiteatro Romano because it was built on the site of a Roman amphitheater. I started to walk around the two mile long path on the shaded top of the wall, but left to get a meal.  I ate in a small piazza at an outdoor restaurant where most of the customers were Italian.


Monday, August 22 was another hot day, but this time I spent the morning in Pisa.  I took a short train ride from Florence to Pisa and walked some along the Arno River before walking north across the town to the Duomo.  The old buildings along the Arno are very attractive.  Otherwise, the town was not as interesting as Florence. I arrived at the Cathedral early so the crowds were light.  The Cathedral and Baptistery were begun in the eleventh and twelve centuries, while the leaning bell tower was a later addition, started in 1350. All the structures were placed in the wide open Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) so that they can easily be viewed together. The striped marble exteriors of the buildings are all beautifully designed and constructed. I went into the ticket office and found that the ticket to climb the leaning tower was expensive and that I would have to reserve a time later in the day to enter it.  So I did not climb the leaning tower. The interiors of the Baptistery and Cathedral were beautifully designed with pointed arches and large columns.  I was not so impressed, however, by much of the baroque era art inside. By the time I finished touring the interiors, the Camp dei Miracoli was full of people, and many of them were taking the standard photograph of someone "holding up" the leaning tower making it difficult to take pictures. I walked back south and stopped at a coffee bar near the train station with tables in the shade.  I consumed a cappuccino and cheese pastry and rested while I waited for the train.


It was the most difficult travel day of my life.  Before I left Denver International Airport on Thursday, I already had a flight delay, a cancellation, and another delay.  The United folks booked me on a direct Lufthanza flight from Denver to Frankfurt.  When I arrived at the Lufthanza, they told me the flight was canceled and United put me on a flight through Chicago. They assured me my luggage would go with me.  I arrived in Florence on Friday evening.  My luggage arrived on Sunday.

By the time I got to my hostel, it was nighttime on Friday. I asked the person at the desk where I could get something to eat and they directed me to the nearby central market.  After climbing the broken escalator, I found the second floor market where they were serving appetizing local food from open counters.  The place was extremely busy and I was too tired to deal with the crush, so I headed back towards the hostel.  I ducked into a small pizzeria, where a very nice woman served me a pizza and a beer.  She even helped me with a couple of words of Italian. This encouraged my delusion that Italians would be interested in helping me with their language.

On Saturday morning, I wanted to go by the tourist center near the hostel and train station to buy a Firenza pass.  This pass provided access to most of the places in Florence and allowed me to bypass the long lines. While I waited for the office to open, I went to a pharmacy to buy some toiletries which were in my lost bag, but they didn't have a comb.  Nearby, I discovered the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella which was a beautiful open plaza next to the patterned gothic church. There was a cigarette shop on the plaza, and I asked the shop keeper if he had any combs.  I had to pantomime combing my hair until he said the Italian word for comb, pettine. He opened a drawer full of combs and sold me one.

When the Santa Maria Novella church opened, I entered my first renaissance church, which was empty of people. The paintings in the church were overwhelming in scale, depth and color. The human faces were expressive and real.  I admired the paintings by Ghirlandaio and particularly, the strenuous movement portrayed by Filippino Lippi. I enjoyed the quiet meditative act of looking at this profound art in such a beautiful, quiet place.

From San Maria Novella, I walked to the Duomo, experiencing the ancient narrow streets for the first time. When I reached the Piazza Duomo, I was dwarfed by the buildings. With the monumental cathedral, campanile bell tower and bapistry, it took me some time to walk around the structures, certainly the most patterned and ornate I had experienced.  The enormous scale and grandeur of the buildings overwhelmed me with the high walls towering above me.  I found it difficult to get a sense of the whole, because I couldn't see or take a picture of the total complex from the tight piazza around it.

The Duomo is something experienced in parts.  I started by climbing the Campanile.  The bell tower is 278 feet tall and covered in white, green and pink Tuscan marble. It also is covered by many sculptures with a variety of themes. It was designed by the painter and architect Giotto and completed in 1359. I climbed the 414 stone steps through narrow corridors and around tight spirals.  From the top, there were broad views of Florence and of the rest of the Duomo including to the slightly higher great Dome.  I was thrilled by my first views across the ancient city with its red-tiled roofs.  After descending the stone steps, my legs hurt.

From the Campanile, I made my way through the narrow streets to the Galleria dell'Accademia.  It was furnace hot in the sun, so everyone stayed on the shady side where it was comfortable. Walking down a hallway in the Accademia, I spotted the premiere attraction.  Michelangelo was the superstar of Renaissance Florence and his David is the ultimate experience. David was originally displayed outside in the Piazza dell Signoria, next to the grand Palazzo Vehicco, the great old palace and town hall of old Florence, and a replica of the statue remains there today.  Much of the outdoor art of Florence has been moved indoors for protection. You spot David down the hall under a dome that lets natural light stream down on the masterpiece.

It is hard to understate the impact the statue has on you when you experience it in person. The statue is monumental and radiates strength.  Michelangelo managed to fully capture physical perfection.  It is not the complete nudity itself that impresses, since the nudity is essential in the portrayal of that perfection. Instead, the image is of a strong man, full of profound confidence.   Rennaissance Florentines had a great deal of pride for their independent republic, and David was the symbol of that independent strength. Amazingly, it took Michelangelo just eighteen months to complete this majestic artwork, which became a symbol of the new humanism. Like most people, I was surprised by the power of the work and spent much time admiring it from all angles.

The Accademia contained other great works of art including a number of sculptures by Michelangelo. From the Accademia, I walked to the San Lorenzo church which was the parrish chapel of the Medici family.  The highlight of this visit was the chapel with the tombs of the great Medici's from the renaissance designed by Michelangelo and adorned by his wonderful sculptures depicting Night, Day, Dawn and Dusk. Several of these figures are aligned or twisted in positions of muscular distortion portraying great energy.  These tombs are set in a room of classical order and simplicity, while in contrast, the large octagonal room housing the tombs of later Medici's is impressive and full of multi-colored stone and bright paintings but is somewhat gaudy compared with the older, Michelangelo room.

In the Michelangelo Room, I discovered the tomb of Lorenzo the Magnificent and his murdered younger brother, Giuliano. On Sunday, April 26, 1478, a growing conspiracy against the increasing political power of the Medici family erupted in violence at the great Duomo Cathedral beneath the relatively new Brunelleschi dome. Near the entry Giuliano was murdered, while near the High Alter, Lorenzo and his friends successfully fended off the attack with their swords. Lorenzo escaped with only a minor wound. Later the conspirators were caught and hanged.  An archbishop who helped lead the conspiracy was hanged in his robes out a window of the Palazzo della Signoria, now the Palazzo Vecchio. Lorenzo commissioned  a fresco to be painted by Botticelli on the side of the Palazzo of the conspirators with nooses around their necks. Later, the painting was destroyed as a part of the eventual peace treaty with Pope Sixtus IV who had backed the conspiracy.

Lorenzo was educated in the classics and in the new humanist philosophy and arts that had been so strongly supported by his grandfather Cosimo. Lorenzo was an intellectual and a poet and like the rest of his humanist circle was attracted to the philosophy of Plato. At the same time, like most intellectuals and artists of the high Renaissance, Lorenzo remained deeply religious. The Medici family held the leading banking house in Europe and this was the source of their wealth and power. However, Lorenzo showed little interest in learning the banking trade. Instead, he was interested in ruling Florence and making it the center of a new cultural awakening. He ruled by ensuring that his supporters were appointed to the key government councils. While he effectively dealt with matters of state, including the continuing relations and rivalries with the other Italian city states and with the pope, Lorenzo was at the same time deeply involved in philosophy, literature and the arts. Lorenzo had a practice of bringing promising young artists to live in the Palazzo Medici. It is amazing to believe that at different times, he may have had Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo at his dinner table, along with his collection of poets and philosophers.

From San Lorenzo, I walked by the Duomo and through the Piazza della Signoria to the Bargello.  The Bargello is a old town hall and prison, which now serves as a museum housing famous sculptures including Mercury by Giambologna, David by Donatello and Bacchus by Michelangelo.



I next walked to the lovely Piazza di Santa Croce, like the other great piazzas, it was surrounded by multi-story historic buildings and anchored by a lovely grand building, in this case by the ornate, gothic Santa Croce church. Inside the complex, I visited the domed Cappela de'Pazzi chapel, designed in the classical manner by Brunelleschi who also designed the Duomo, the dominant dome on Florence's great cathedral.  I admired the orderly geometry and color patterns of that place.

I walked to the Piazza dell Signoria, which was another well designed Piazza which once served as a center of civic life. This great piazza was anchored by the Palazzo Vecchio, the large brick City Hall with its tall clock tower.  I toured the palace which was full of art, including Victory by Michelangelo.  The large Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred) with its enormous paintings of the historic battle victories of Florence particularly impressed me.

In the evening, I finished my first full day in Florence with the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, near the Duomo, which contain the originals of much of the exterior art from the Duomo. It includes the original Gates of Paradise doors from the Baptistery.  The doors were created by Ghiberti after winning a competitiion in 1401.  It took him 21 years to finish the cast bronze door which are sculptured to display scenes from the life of Christ.  They are considered great early Renaissance art because of their use of perspective and life-like depictions. I was particularly impressed by Donatello's wooden sculpture,  Penitent Magdalene, which images a haggard and gaunt Mary Magdalene. The sculpture radiates a deep and soulful spirituality.

Early the next morning, I spent time back and Duomo taking pictures of the sculptural details on the exterior of the great cathedral.  The building is so large and the details so numerous that you could hardly see all of artistic items. I next was one of the first to enter the Uffizi when it opened. The Uffizi had originally been built as government offices.  Later, it was converted to house the Medici collection of art becoming one of the world's great galleries. The Medici family and dynasty sponsored the glories of the Renaissance, produced popes and autocrats and a great queen of France, but by the early 18th century the glories of the family in Florence had nearly disappeared. Anna Maria Luisa was the last of the line who died in Florence in 1742 unmarried and childless.  However, in death, she perhaps performed the greatest act of the family. After her death it was found that she had left a will leaving the great Medici collection of art, jewels, libraries and other valuables to the City of Florence where they reside today. The highlights of the gallery are the high renaissance pieces.  The great paintings of Botticelli, including Primavera and the Birth of Venus, amazed me. In addition, I admired Uccelo's Battle of San Romano, one of my favorites, with its bright colors, the bold lines of the lances cross horizontally and vertically  and its bulbous horses and figures, almost cartoon-like.

From the Uffizi, I walked to the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge built across the River Arno in 1345. It was covered by two buildings with mostly jewelry shops on the first floor. Across the bridge I entered the Oltrarno portion of the old city on the south side of the river, and walked a short distance to the Palazzo Pitti. This palace became the home of the Medici family in 1560 during the rule of the autocratic Duke Cosimo de Medici. Cosimo oversaw the completion of grand gardens next to the palace which are now known as the Boboli Gardens.  I passed through the palace and climbed through the rather open and stark gardens up to the highpoint in the Forte di Belvedere, where there were sweeping views of old Florence.  There was also a showing of contemporary metal sculptures by Jan Fabre, called Spiritual Guards.

From the Fort, I walked on a back street to the Bardini Gardens which were much more intimate and heavily vegetated than the Boboli Gardens and, like the Fort, had broad views of the city. I left the Bardini Gardens and walked along Via di San Leonardo which was a back lane with stone walls on either side and no sidewalk.  This was a residential street with some of the more expensive homes in Florence.  As I descended the hill, I spotted a sign on a building which stated that the composer Tchaikovsky had spent time in that particular villa.  I continued to Viale Galileo Galilei and descended that road towards the Arno until I found a rough path up to San Mintato al Monte, which was another beautiful church with views back over Florence.  I went in the church and sat in the cool, dark interior while they played organ music, enjoying the peaceful serenity of the place.  I left when priests began to celebrate mass.

Across the Viale Galileo, I found a pedestrian pathway which descended steeply down into the Oltrarno.  I was hungry and just inside the gate through the old city wall, I found a nice restaurant with a garden eating area.  It was cool in the garden with a breeze, and I ate pears sprinkled with local cheese and honey, followed by pasta with tomato sauce and chunks of wild boar, which are apparently common in Tuscany.  After crossing the Arno, I visited the Galileo Museum, which was full of old scientific instruments including some telescopes and other equipment owned by Galileo.  Galileo was born in Pisa and lived for some time in Florence.  Galileo has been called the father of science, but he was a man of his times.  Galileo's father was a famous Lute player and composer and Galileo was apparently an accomplished Lute player himself.  It was not unusual for the intellectuals of the time to embrace all fields of learning, including science, philosophy and the arts. The great renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo, did not separate art from science and spent time studying anatomy, mechanics and architecture.

I spent my last afternoon in Florence by touring the great Duomo Cathedral.  First, I climbed to the top of Brunelleschi's dome. The dome was the largest of its time.  Brunelleschi studied the Dome of the Pantheon in Rome and used construction methods from that structure, along with others he devised, to build this dome without scaffolding.  The dome is the defining skyline feature of Florence and from its top there were more grand views of the city. The ceiling of the dome is covered by Vasari's fresco, Last Judgement, including scenes of the agonies of hell. As we climbed into the dome, we got close to the those paintings which were terrifying. I enjoyed time down in the Cathedral with its classical geometry and fine paintings.

The Piazza del Duomo is one of the largest public spaces in Florence but is experienced as tighter, smaller places because of the Cathedral in the center with its high walls.  This Piazza is accessed by narrow streets so that it is almost always a surprise when the enormous buildings suddenly appear. I enjoyed an outdoor dinner in one of the spaces below those walls as the sun set and the lights came on; surely one of the best spots in the world to relax and have a quiet meal.


Uncompahgre Wilderness

On July 26, three of us started a backpack into the Uncompahgre Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.  We started by hiking south on the Middle Fork Trail in the valley of the Middle Fork of the Cimarron River.  We were a group of three, Dave Callais, Cheryl Ames and myself, all trip leaders with the Colorado Mountain Club.  Dave has hiked the full Colorado trail and is a hiking instructor with the club.  It was great being with such experienced backcountry travelers.  Both knew the names (and Latin names) of the flowers and with this group, I would not get lost. Cheryl had begun studying butterflies, which were plentiful.

We began hiking on a level trail through a healthy evergreen forest with many types of flowers.  The trail eventually began to ascend more steeply into the upper basin of the valley. We hiked through dense, wild gardens full of chiming blue bells, geraniums, white bistort, fireweed, purple elephant heads, and various yellow flowers, including yellow monkey flowers in the wet spots. In one meadow, we found the tall corn lilies with their stalks of tiny white flowers.

Above us, the western ridge was carved with castle towers and spires and with peaks such as Dunsinane Mountain and Precipice Peak.  The interesting skylines are the results of deposits and intrusions of volcanic materials from major eruptions in the area which occurred some 30 million years ago.  We were astounded by the colorful natural gardens and by the dramatic and enormous stone sculptures.

We camped in a stand of trees at the top of the valley near tree line. I spent the afternoon sitting on a knoll in front of camp among purple penstemons, multi-colored paintbrush and lovely columbines, taking pictures and reading the Name of the Rose, a murder mystery set in a medieval monastery in the mountains of Italy in winter.  To save weight, I had torn Eco's book in half and only brought the portion which I hadn't read. The afternoon was sunny and warm with occasional clouds passing over.

In the morning, we awoke early to cloudless skies and crystalline clear, dry weather. Above us, sharp Coxscombe Peak and the deeply eroded cliffs shone in the early morning  sunlight. We started our next hike climbing steeply through the treeless alpine terrain in the direction of the peak, which stood above us at an altitude of 13,656 feet above sea level. The slopes were decorated with white stands of bittercress, along with columbines, paintbrush, purple sky pilot and other flowers.

On this climb, I was mostly in the lead, up the first steep climb and the second climb, to what I thought was our high pass.  Instead, as the tail leveled, I found that there was to be a third climb. We stopped for a long break after the second climb, next to a pond, where we could see the narrow Wetterhorn through a gap in the mountains, at a height of 14,000 feet. We climbed on to the top of the pass where we could see a vast array of the San Juan mountains.  I love these climbs to views where there are no signs of human existence, but instead, only wilderness in view. Beyond the various mountains, we believed we could see the high peaks, Mount Sneffels and Mount Wilson.

From the pass, we descended steeply into the remote Wetterhorn Basin.  The only trails into this large basin come into it over one of four high passes. We made camp in a stand of trees, again near tree line, and the sharply triangular Wetterhorn Peak, a volcanic intrusion, towered over the basin and our camp.

Early the next morning, we climbed over a pass just to the west of Wetterhorn Peak and then descended into an enormous alpine basin just below the sharp peak. We had to explore to find the faint trail down and had to work our way down a steep, sloping meadow. We stopped at a small pond and admired the views of the peak and of the mountains beyond the basin.  By the pond, we found the trail down into the lower basin.  A black wall, several hundred feet tall, kept us from descending by a direct route. Instead, we descended on a trail traversing a vertical slope.  The trail was narrow and highly eroded with a long drop on the left side. We descended very deliberately, concentrating on each step, and sometimes holding onto the rocks on the right side of the trail to keep our balance. A harassing horsefly bit me twice as I struggled to keep my balance, adding to the excitement. When we got down into the meadows below, we noticed that there were two thin waterfalls dropping white down the black wall below the peak.

We crossed the basin and climbed over a large grassy knoll and descended into the Matterhorn Creek Valley. We crossed the valley on an old jeep trail and started climbing the Ridge Stock Driveway trail which crosses much of the wilderness area. We crossed the creek to find a campsite in the grass and flowers, just above tree line.  The site was interesting with a small stream sliding down a dry, eroded landscape with 13,589 foot Matterhorn Peak high above the site at the top of the valley. While we were in camp, a shepard on horseback, with a pack mule, drove a large herd of sheep by our camp with three border collies and a large white Great Pyrenees.  It was early afternoon, warm and sunny with puffy clouds rushing over, so we had time to explore the area on our own.  I also bathed some in the cold stream and spent time relaxing.

On our final morning, we hiked over a marvelous pass. Near the top, we were under the Matterhorn Peak with a clear view of the Wetterhorn Peak behind it. As I crested the pass, I was surprised by enormous Uncompahgre Peak looming above us.  This was not a sharp blade of a mountain like the other peaks we had hiked under.  Instead, this was a monumental structure, an impressive rock, as full as any you might find.  A month ago, I was in the Powderhorn Wilderness, many miles away, but on the high mesas of the wilderness, distant Uncompahgre dominated the scenery. I climbed to the 14,300 foot top of this peak in 2010. On this miraculous pass with no name, we were surrounded by the three highest peaks of the area.

While the others rested on the pass, I dropped my pack and climbed onto a ridge above where I could see into the El Paso Creek basin to the south. From the pass, we descended into the East Fork basin. Down at tree line, we stopped at a small derelict shed.  While the others explored, I sat, entranced, watching the cloud shadows race across the alpine meadows.

It was a long hike down the East Fork valley. The ridges above were carved into peaks, spires, and hoodoos with a number of tall, thin waterfalls. We passed through striking stands of the deep purple larkspurs.  The rest of the hike was an increasingly hot slog up and down, bothered by biting flies.  We looked for a final campsite but could not find any flat spots; so we decided to hike the full twelve miles to the trailhead.  At the trailhead, as is our custom, we retrieved the beer we had stashed in the stream four days before and toasted the completion of our trip.

Because of the constantly changing landscape, the unique geology, and the incredible flowers, Uncompahgre is my new favorite wilderness area, rising above Maroon Bells/Snowmass, Mount Zirkel, Lost Creek and Dolly Sods in West Virginia. It may have just been the wonderful weather, with the whole backcountry shining in the bright sunlight. Nevertheless, the beauty of this vast, open landscape is still glowing in my memory.



Wheeler Trail

Yesterday, I went on a club hike led by Denise Snow, who led my trip to Switzerland and is leading my trip to the Dolomites this year. We hiked from the Spruce Creek trail head outside of Breckenridge and connected to the Wheeler National Recreation Trail to hike over to Copper Mountain Ski Resort.  It was a beautiful high route over two passes, each at 12,400 feet.  It was sunny all day but extremely windy on the second pass.  We caught a free bus from Copper to Frisco to retrieve our cars.

Powderhorn Wilderness

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I led a group backpack into the Powderhorn Wilderness area, said to be the largest expanse of alpine tundra in the lower forty-eight states, an area of beautiful lakes and high, flat mesas, without the typical Colorado peaks. We started hiking through softly foggy forests under overcast skies. We hiked over a ridge and into a large meadow, with the wind blowing the fog across the enormous space, clearing the view as we watched. After hiking through more forest and past two  small, mirror-surfaced ponds, we came to an open stream valley where the sun briefly shone and we rested.

Next, we hiked the short distance to the Lower Powderhorn Lake.  It too reflected with a mirror surface and was in a basin surrounded by wide, vertical walls. From the lower lake it was a short hike to our campsite next to the larger Upper Powderhorn Lake, where we set up our camp in a broad open area with trees all round and plentiful flat spots for our tents. This basin was surrounded by the continuous high walls of the Calf Creek Plateau above us.

In the afternoon, it rained off and on and I napped in my tent. Later, the skies cleared a bit and the grouped wanted to explore. We climbed up a grassy slope, several hundred feet, out of the lake basin and onto the high mesa above, where we had a complete view of the basin and both lakes. We spotted a large stone cairn a half a mile away on the mesa, a bit above us.  We climbed to the cairn and found it to be approximately ten feet tall with walls extending from either side.  It was not located on a trail and we speculated about who built it.  Perhaps, it was built by shepherds.

On the top of the mesa, it had become foggy, and on the way down the grassy slope an intense downpour struck us. By the time we reached camp, we were soaked.

The next morning it was still overcast. We climbed again up the grassy slope to the top of the plateau. From the top, we could see the black shape of a moose grazing below next to the lower lake. We hiked on the mesa top above the cliffs on the edge of the basin and south onto the Calf Creek Plateau, which was an enormous expanse of flat, rocky tundra. We spotted an elk watching us in the distance from where we had come. High on the plateau, we found outstanding views of the Uncompahgre Massif with the distinctive Uncompahgre Peak dominating the scenery. After hiking for a mile and a half, we came to the edge of a ridge where we could see Devil's Lake in the distance several hundred feet below us, situated in the sweeping, treeless landscape of the open tundra.  We climbed down to the lake, although the trail was soon lost in the grass and marshland below.  At the lake, I told the group we could not linger because of the gathering dark clouds above us.

On a previous trip, a morning storm had caught a group I was leading high on the open Mesa.  We hurried to a ravine and crouched, spread out in the gully, as the thunder and lightning and heavy rain passed over head.  I did not want this group to have that experience.

We struggled to find the trail again up through the boulders to the top of the plateau.  We scrambled straight up until we finally found the trail near the top.  When we got back to the plateau, the clouds broke some and we took our time across the Mesa. I got behind the group and when I caught up with them above the grassy slope we were to descend to the lake, they pointed out the iron black clouds behind me.  Thunder boomed and on the way down a deluge of hail and rain caught us, and back at camp, the ground was white, covered with hail stones. In the evening, the clouds broke for a beautiful evening.


The second morning, we awoke to clear, deep blue skies, so typical of high country mornings. Hiking back to the trailhead, we rounded a bend on the lower lake and saw the female moose in front of us. We quietly observed and took pictures, but the moose spotted us and began to look at us with apparent concern. I was not sure what to do but felt on instinct that the best thing would be to continue walking quietly by the animal on the trail, in order to quickly get out of its area.  So we walked on, perhaps getting too close, but quickly leaving her behind.  As we continued, she moved to a more distant, safer location.

The rest of the hike was sunny and lovely. The six people I was with were experienced and highly competent backpackers, and with no problems whatsoever, it was a pleasure hiking with this group. Back in the first meadow, I spotted some rocks on a high point above, so we dropped our packs and walked the short distance across the meadow to that place. On the rocks, a vast expanse of landscape opened in front of us to the west, north and east with the Uncompahgre Massif to the west, the West Elks Mountains to the north, and the La Garita Mountains back across the meadow to the south.  In this enormous, sweeping view, we could see no signs of human existence.

South Crestone Lake

Yesterday, I hiked with a group to beautiful South Crestone Lake in the Sangre de Cristo wilderness area. It's been hot and the plentiful snow has melted.  Finally, we are in the high country.

Unity Pond

Unity Pond was as smooth as glass. Sitting on the Lake in the kayak, looking back at the shore, the reflection of the sky and the trees oscillated  vertically, broken into bubbles of color moving toward me.  I paddled out around some rocks extending slightly above the lake surface. Four herons stood on the rocks. As I paddled towards the far shore, I could see a solitary loon floating, dark colored with a white neck.  I considered paddling to the far shore but the kayak was flat-bottomed and slow, and as I paddled, the other shore did not seem to get closer.  Back by the rocks, an osprey flew over and the herons took flight with their folded necks. As I approached the near shore, I floated through a collection of small lily pads with just two spherical, yellow blossoms.  In the afternoon, the wind picked up and the water became dark and broken.


We had a wonderful four days on Unity Pond in Maine with Lucy and Benjamin, Sarah and John, Joni and Matt, and Tom and Joan.

Newer posts
Older posts