Sunday, June 24, 2012

6-21-12 Maroon Bells by Morning

Our first morning, I realized I had made a critical error in taking off my watch before crawling into the sleeping bag. Mummified, it is quite difficult to locate anything stowed under the cot without getting out and getting cold. I went back to sleep and roused again when it seemed first light was dawning. Scrabbling around, I found the watch, but it was still too dark in the tent to read it. I fumbled a bit with the buttons on the the side, having never needed the light before, and it finally glowed orange with "6:00". Wow, that was later than I thought. Time to get moving to get down to the Bells for sunrise pictures. 

The first order of any camping morning is getting shoes and jacket and high-tailing it over to the unport-o-holes. If you ever want to people-watch the craziest outfits, peep at the road going to the johns first thing in the morning in a campground. My ensemble consisted of snoopy pajama pants, my tiger ski hat (first one I could find in the bag), my heaviest plaid shirt sloppily off-buttoned over my sleep shirt, with my ski jacket on top and my untied hiking shoes over unmatched socks. 

Then you get back to the tent, cold and cursing your forgetfulness about stowing the next day's clothes in the bottom of your sleeping bag so they will be warmer. I pull on the freezing but matching layers: underwear, camisole tank, long sleeved cotton shirt, button-up flannel shirt...  About this time, Samantha rouses, makes her potty run, and asks, "what time is it?" At this point, I look down at my now visible watch and do a double take. It's 5:30. The button I must have mashed was lighting up the alarm screen to set. Ooops. Sam gets dressed and we take the dogs out where Mimi has emerged, getting ready to go with us to take pictures. 

I was curious about how much farther up the road the lake was from the campground and whether it was something we could walk. Our first drive answered that pretty quickly. It was still more than 3 miles to the end of the road, making it a six mile round trip trek from camp. No thanks. 

As we approached the lake there were two photographers set up with tripods waiting on the sun to make its dramatic entrance on the faces of the Bells. It was already flirting with the top half of the rocks, like an inverted show curtain, inching its ways towards the water. On the lake, a family of geese were swimming away from  us.

The Bells are the most photographed mountains in Colorado for good reason. Their composition is different from most 14-ers. Instead of granite and limestone, they are sedimentary mud hardened over millennia. To climb them is to fall, as the rock crumbles without warning from beneath your feet. This also gives the Bells their unique maroon color from the red clay muds that shaped them. 

The geese did not seem particularly impressed. They'd swum down the lake and over to the shore a little ways down before climbing out to peck at the grass. The two babies were adorable in their light gray downy goose feathers. Mom and Dad were always close by, watching anyone passing on the trail with a wary eye. 

Behind us, more red rock formations were catching the first rays of the morning sun, which  was threatening to explode over the ridge of the valley. They did not name this place Aspen without good reason. The stands are everywhere, thick and trembling in the morning breeze. I cannot imagine their glory when they have all gone golden in the fall. It makes me flirt with the idea of reserving the campground for the last weekend in September in the hopes the timing will be right. With this dry, early summer, odds are good September will be the show. (Big surprise: nothing available on any weekend.)

The sun has made its way under the tree line, opening up the view from the water as well. The lake was formed from glaciers and dammed up by a spectacular rock slide from the walls of the canyons. You can see clear to the bottom, every rock visible even when the wind ripples the top of the water. The line of shadow seems to recede very quickly at this point, rushing towards the glassy lake as though it could escape the heat of the morning sun. We are still bundled up in our many layers in the shade, where it is around 35°. 

Ta-da! We have sunrise. Turning around, you can see the shadows still lurking further up the valley, where our campground is still darkened.

 You find yourself aware that you've taken 100 shots of the same spot without a second thought. And you know, as you are taking them, there is simply no way any lens could ever do the place justice. I make a mental note to come back for a morning hike on Saturday with the dogs.

 We finally decide we should best be getting back to start breakfast. On the drive home we spotted marmots sunning themselves on rocks, but they would scuttle away when the car slowed. Around one curve was a lone deer making her way to the other side of the road. She stopped and stared at us stopped and watching her.

I think Mom's side of the car was the spot for marmot pictures, so I will have to procure her film to add to the collection. I did stop to take a picture of the sign. Marmots are ridiculously cute creatures, with their rounded faces like giant squirrels on steroids. If only they were more fond of photos...


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