by Mike Rosso
One Saturday this past month found me sitting on the banks of Upper Waterdog Lake, on the north side of Monarch Pass. It’s a steep but short hike to the lake, which resides at about 11,500 feet, and it is one of my favorite spots to relax and enjoy nature.
Earlier that day, I had driven over the pass from Gunnison after attending the keynote speech at the Headwaters Conference the previous night. The speaker was Gary Snyder, and the venue was Taylor Auditorium at Western State Colorado University. Nearly 500 were in attendance to hear the Beat Generation poet and environmental activist. The 84-year-old did not disappoint.
The theme of this year’s conference was “The Working Wild,” and Snyder was enlisting themes from his book of essays, “The Practice of the Wild,” in an effort to define the terms wild, wildness, wilderness and nature.
Sitting at the lake that sunny fall morning, I was considering his talk and taking stock of the stillness around me, the quiet beauty of the lake and the reflections of the surrounding peaks on its surface. Other than a small encampment of backpackers, I was the only one up there for most of the morning.
Though the lake is natural, not a man-made reservoir, it would not be considered “wilderness.” First, there is evidence of multiple fire rings on its banks, as well as footpaths around it. Up high on the ridge are some power lines disrupting the natural view, but for the most part, the lake is mostly untouched by humans. The fir and spruce surrounding the banks have been there for centuries – the towering cliffs around the lake for millions of years. This is truly a wild spot and completely devoid of anything motorized or artificial.
Such a setting does much to soothe my soul and quiet the incessant brain chatter. It makes me grateful to live in a region so rich with public lands and hiking opportunities. Soon, a young couple arrived at the lake. I had met them earlier near the trailhead, and they’d been unsure of how to get here. I told them they were heading in the right direction, but to also make sure and hike the extra distance to the upper lake, the one we were now standing next to. They lived in Denver and were celebrating their recent engagement by exploring around Monarch Pass. I was glad they made it up here and so were they. It makes me smile to see young people enjoying the backcountry, and as I was later descending from the lower lake, I ran into several families with their little ones hiking up the steep trail. The first up was a young father with an infant strapped to his chest, and I couldn’t help but notice the look of wonderment (and drool) on that baby’s face. That look, and the beauty of our surroundings, defined the word “nature” for me right then and there.
Since our last issue, our community has suffered several more significant losses. One was our friend and contributor, Mark Kneeskern, who wrote a column for us called “Tales from the Road.” We’re paying tribute to him beginning on page 30. Another friend who passed unexpectedly was a local horsewoman named Diana Koss, a longtime local and genuinely great spirit. Lastly, the community saw the departure of Dr. Wendell Hutchinson, one of the true pioneers of Chaffee County. We hope to write about this fascinating man in our next issue.