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Core Sample

Rolling thunder review

"There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story."

Linda Hogan

"The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself."

Henry Miller

It was all about the softly rumbling thunder and the way the light played across the clouds and the subtle percussion of the cones that dropped from the dominant blue spruce to plop on the ground in the clearing where the cabins yawned toward sundown. The dude ranch and the café and the saloon with its nightly festivities were nothing more than foreplay, a staging area for the next day’s south slope stroll.

You had to give the spruce a wide berth or get conked without warning by the seed bundles that, for a while, fell like raindrops or, just maybe, dropped like rainfalls. If you remained in the chair, however, with hat pulled down and boot heels crossed on the fire-ring and an open book across your chest, the falling cones weren’t much of an issue. Mostly, they just provided rhythm to the deepening daylight.

There’s something about getting out and communing with nature on its own terms but, when that’s not totally feasible, well, renting a cabin on the cusp of the wild ain’t a bad way to go either. To be sure, it’s mostly a pose, a contrivance as it were, to convince yourself and those you might include in the yarn, that a frontier of sorts remains in the offing.

The famous heart-shaped aspen grove across the river and up the hill behind the ranch had yet to turn yellow, but the annual event that draws the faithful to these parts shouldn’t be too far off. Not that the fall colors aren’t doing that thing they do in quite exquisite fashion in certain nooks all up and down that river valley that calls the north fork of the Duchesne home.

Looking down valley from points along the Hades Creek road affords an almost Zion Canyon-like vista though certainly not as impressive as the one from Angels Landing. But, then again, the south slope of the Uintas flaunts its own shtick and needn’t kneel to any landscape.

There is also still a bit of runoff to be had and, when coupled with the frequent recent rainfall, waterfalls along the way up to the Grandview Point trailhead are forming those cool cascades that are found mostly on forested mountainsides. And since the weather pattern has it raining almost daily, the entire drainage is about as well scrubbed as any you’ll find.

It’s also mushroom hunting season in them thar hills but on this particular trek into Grandaddy Basin only one showed its shiny face. That was far from the case when it came to "lichen," however. Give me a fungus involved with an alga any day of the week. Symbiotic relationships between complex organisms add that lusty component that is so oftentimes missing along alpine trails this time of year.

As an added bonus, a couple of hail showers were included in the itinerary to soothe the savage beast this year. Hail, when it arrives in the form of a summer shower, is, first of all, dry, and secondly, hypnotic. Mesmerizing, it is. It can flat space you out.

There you are, nestled in your slicker and ball-cap cocoon, while the little BB-sized buggers pelt your hiking self and the surrounding trail-side with a syncopated beat not unlike Joe Morello’s drum solo on "Take Five." Before you know it, you’re on autopilot and beside a lake you can’t quite identify and wonderin’ where you put that recent slice of time you’d brought along.

Maybe it wasn’t there in the first place. There is that relativity thing about time and up in Grandaddy country patience is, indeed, a virtue. Take the ongoing drainage adjustments between Rock Creek and the Duchesne River, for instance.

Back in the day, the well-watered area up around Mirror Lake that today flows into the Duchesne River was once the property of the Ancestral West Fork of Rock Creek. Then, it is surmised, the divide separating the two drainages got rubbed the wrong way due to a bit of glacial scouring and political gerrymandering and before you could say "Florida goes Republican," the Duchesne "captured" the runoff.

During the lakeside lunch stop, thunder continued to roll — still softly, never angrily — across the basin. A bug-tossin’ angler about a half-mile down the shoreline played a rather large trout with his fly-rod for a spell before releasing it back into the lake. The clouds continued playin’ their transcendental ways close to their vest and didn’t divulge any raindrop secrets until elevation was regained and they could cloak them once again in the trappings of "hail."

It became very obvious on the trek back to the trailhead that "hail" was the perfect manner in which to package falling water. When wearing it in the rain, the "slicker" in question was about as waterproof as untreated cotton when it came to deflecting moisture away from the person wearing it. But with hail, as long as it didn’t arrive with wind, wasn’t too large, and fell no more than a degree or two off vertical, well, then, no problemo!

The hail balls just bounced off the slicker and ball-cap to a most rapturous rhythm and, with only the briefest passage of time, the hiker once again became immersed in dreamscape. Before long the rhythm "morphed" into language and the living things along the trail slowed their journey in order to listen to the story. In the deep background, in joyous counterpoint, pine cones fell and thunder rolled and light played across an ice-filled cooler.


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