I woke up early yesterday morning. Not that this is entirely unusual, but it is somewhat irregular to see me out of bed before 9:00 AM on a Saturday morning.
Getting out of bed was complicated by trying to slide away from Brooke, who had wrapped her arm and leg around me. Normally, I would be more than willing to cuddle, and normally, Brooke would protest enough at me trying to get out of bed before she was willing to let me, but I had a specific goal in mind, and she was still in the middle of a pretty bad flu and didn’t notice me getting up.
The idea for what I was going to do had come to me a few days before. I was getting a bit stir crazy from being out of class for a couple of weeks, so I decided that I wanted to get up into the canyons to do some snowshoeing. Part of this can be attributed to plain old cabin fever, and part of it can be chalked up to the strange phenomena of increased physical activity among Americans shortly after the first of the year. But I would not be totally honest if I didn’t admit that my recent Teddy Roosevelt kick didn’t have something to do with a desire to lead a more strenuous life.
This inclination was magnified tenfold by the inversion. For those of you who have never spent a winter in the Salt Lake Valley, an inversion is when a cap of cold, high pressure air traps all of the warm air inside the valley, forming a bubble that rapidly fills up with fog, dust, car exhaust and industrial pollution. It can last for weeks, blotting out first the view of the mountains, then the view of the city, and finally obscuring in the sun. Breathing becomes more difficult, especially for people who are sick, and everybody, even perennial snow haters, start waiting and praying for the next storm to come clean out the air.
I had decided that I had to get out of it. We originally planned on Thursday, but Brooke wasn’t feeling well enough, so we postponed the trip until Saturday. Unfortunately, it was clear by Friday night that she wouldn’t feel well enough the next day, so I decided that I would go on my own. Clearly, I needed to go somewhere close by, with enough other people so that it wouldn’t be dangerous to go by myself. After doing some reading I decided to go to Mill Creek Canyon.
So, at long last I ate a good breakfast, made sure that Brooke was all set up comfortably with everything that she might want near at hand, and set out for the trail! I was wearing my new scarf, thermal underwear, a cozy sweater, and my trusty hiking hat, and my mp3 player with an audiobook about TR. I packed my emergency kit that I got from my dad when I was 12, including a first aid kit, two sets of flint and steel, two compasses, two signal mirrors, three pocket knives, band-aids, smelling salts, water purification tablets, other miscellaneous items, and a new sheet with Morse Code signals and Trigonometry conversions (yes, there is a practical use of trigonometry in an emergency, you can calculate short and intermediate distances with a compass. Trust me, I’m enough of a nerd to know).
Mill Creek Canyon is only about a 15 minute drive, and easily accessed from the freeway. All of the sudden I was passing all of the old Cub Scout camps at the mouth of the canyon that I had gone to as a young boy. I couldn’t help but feel 5 years younger just being in their vicinity.
I drove a way up the canyon, and finally found a parking place that advertised a ski trail. I carried my snowshoes up to the snow and put them on and crossed the bridge leading to the promised area.
At first, I was pretty disappointed. I felt like I was in a playground. The snow was packed, and the ground was level. However, I started to look around and realized that it was pretty cool. I decided to head left, and broke a new trail next to that which was used by cross country skiers and people on sleds.The creek that gives the canyon is name runs right through this area, and it was so pretty to look at! The water pooled up behind small waterfalls and ice dams, making several small pools in a row, and the white snow made the water almost look black.
In addition to being beautiful to watch, the creek was very nice to listen to. There were several small waterfalls, and some of these had frozen over on top, producing a very different kind of water fall sound, and some cool photos.
Another thing that was great to look at was the snow on the trees. If you look closely, you can even see some blue sky in one of the pictures! I was pretty excited to see that, given that I hadn’t seen blue skies for at least a week!
I did get to the end of the area, and the fence came down towards the river. There was one set of snowshoes going past the fence, so I decided to follow it. Probably not the smartest thing, but boy was it fun. I hiked along the side of the river, and then saw a hill rising at about a 45 degree angle. I decided that it needed to be conquered, and with much huffing and puffing and kicking I made it to the top! I still don’t know how I got up there, and it was even harder to get back down without sliding down.
Next I headed back, and noticed that I could go to the right after passing the original bridge I came across. I started going up from that side up a hill. At a bend in the trail I paused to use Brooke’s Tree Guide to identify and check off a Blue Spruce and take some pictures. Looking across the canyon I noticed that the south side (where I was) had lots of beautiful evergreens (mostly spruces, although there was some Juniper), while the north side of the canyon had lots of seasonal trees that didn’t have leaves in the winter.
One thing about Mill Creek Canyon is that dogs are allowed in the area (the streams from other canyons are used for drinking water, so, as you can imagine, dogs wouldn’t be a good idea). There were lots of dogs, I’d guess that at least half of the people I saw had dogs with them, from little yappers to dogs that probably weigh more than Brooke. There was lots of yellow snow and piles of brown bombs on the side of the trail, and at first I was pretty disgusted by it all, but gradually my opinion mellowed as I saw how happy some of the dogs were.
I ended up going up the Bowman Fork Trail trail after hiking the 1/4 mile up from the road (in the summer you can drive). I have no idea how far up the trail I made it, but I’m thinking that I went at least two miles judging from the comparison to how long it took me to get back from the trailhead.
Along the way I took some pictures and had fun contemplating, occasionally talking to myself, and observing the trees and birds.I had just finished my audiobook, and with nobody around I had to find a way to keep myself engaged. Luckily decades of walking by myself to school have made me quite good at this. One of the things that occurred to me as I was walking was a new view (at least for me) of the Parable of the 10 Virgins. We often focus on how the foolish five didn’t have enough oil, and the wise five could not share with them. While I think that this is the main point (that we have to become spiritually self-sufficient), I thought about how easy it is to share fire, but how difficult it is to share fuel. The wise would probably have been more than willing to offer a light, when they couldn’t offer the oil. A modern analogy might run along these lines: I’d be happy to give you a jump start, but I kind of need my car battery for myself.
As I was contemplating, I was trying to decide how this fits in with the saying “you can’t live forever off borrowed light” that seems to derive from this parable. Off course all of our light is “borrowed” in some sense, since, as Paul says, “how shall they hear without a preacher?” so I decided that the responsibility we have is to feed the flame, not necessarily to kindle it, which can be done by others (provided we have prepared ourselves for that too).
My doctrinal revelry was broken when I turned around a corner and found that the path was blocked by a group of tress that had fallen across the path! There were pine needles scattered everywhere, and I was wondering if that meant that I would have to turn back. Then I saw that there were some tracks going under the branches, and that the trees were firmly braced on either side, so I decided to continue on.
Just after I passed these trees, a family that had been behind me caught up to me in a clearing where I had stopped to eat a snack. It was a young couple with a baby on a backpack and a big yellow lab. The dog was very excited, running about twenty years in front of it’s family, turning around and running back, and then turning and repeating the process. Seeing how excited that dog was made me change my mind about dogs in the canyon being gross, and made me happy for them.
A ways past the clearing I came on a very beautiful area of the forest and stopped to enjoy the smell of the pine and the feel of the cold air on my face. Thinking about how much Brooke would have enjoyed this, I decided that I missed her and that I had been gone long enough (about four hours at this point) and I wouldn’t want to be out so long that I didn’t enjoy the return trip! So, I started my decent.
Now, strictly speaking, my snowshoes weren’t exactly necessary on the trail I was on. It was hard enough packed that it would have made easy going in a good pair of boots. In fact, on some of the five or six narrow bridges that cross the stream on the way up the trail they proved to be more of a hindrance than a help. But, on the way down I was very glad to have them, especially the grips on the bottom of the shoes. I think that there were several places where I would definitely have only been able to descend by a combination of slipping and sliding if I didn’t have them with me.
On my way back I noticed a pink plastic sippy cup at the point where the trees had fallen over the trail. I assumed it belonged to the little girl that I had seen with her family earlier, and I was tempted to turn around and try and take it to them. However, I decided to just leave it on top of one of the trees in the middle of the road and hope that they found it. I saw them again at the bottom of the trail and I asked if that was theirs and if they had found it, and they had.
I also noticed some really cool ice crystals on the bottom of a log. Although I took several pictures, only one really turned out cool.
Finally, as I neared the end of the trail I turned around a corner and got a great view of the canyon walls. It was breathtaking and only wish that the picture I took could do it justice.
But, once I got to another bend I saw something that made my heart sink. Looking to the left I could see back into the valley and the cloud of dense smog that was lingering there. I almost wanted to head back up the mountain at the sight of it!
Instead I sat down, finished off my lunch, and went down to the beginning of the trail, snapping one last picture of the snowy landscape before I left.
Now, for all of my life that I have lived in Salt Lake City, I have heard unhappy transplants and sycophantic locals complain about how boring the city is, and how there is nothing to do. Lately I’ve grown sick enough of hearing complaints that I’ve started asking people what they would like to do for fun that they can’t do here. Usually they can’t come up with an answer, or the answer doesn't make much sense to me, like wishing that we had multiple pro basketball teams (who does?), or have clubs that celebrities frequent (do you seriously think that they’ll want to hang out with you? And why on earth would you want to hang out with them?). Sometimes there is an answer that I can respect- go to the beach (and no, the Great Salt Lake doesn’t really count. I really do feel the lack of a beach, though not as keenly as Brooke. Maybe we could just figure out a way to split California, Nevada, and Western Utah into a new continent so that we can get to the Pacific easier?)
Anyway, now I have an answer for all of these naysayers who just want to hate on my hometown: go up into the canyon! Yes, you can go year-round, and yes, it’s only a short trip. Even if it’s just for an hour or two, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it [Provided that the fresh air doesn’t make you pass out].
Finally, I made it back to the car, chatting with some snowshoers and skiers who were just arriving and wanted to know what it was like up there. I took off my gear, counting out the three dollars to pay to the man in the exit booth, and started to head back. It was just starting to snow as I left.