First Day Hike

I’d kind of wanted to do a First Day Hike. I’ve done them before. But these days I seem to be fighting a molasses-esque inertia. A hike would be a good idea, but would also require planning and effort.

Well, social media struck again! A friend messaged me:

I enthusiastically agreed to tag along. (You’d think I wouldn’t have a life or any ambition without Facebook. And, sadly, in this age of the pandemic, it may not be far off the mark.)

I just hoped the hip that has been giving me trouble would hold out. (Spoiler alert: it was fine.) And I grumbled a bit at the 9:30am start time, given the likelihood of poor sleep on New Year’s Eve, on account of the stupid, loud fireworks. (Fireworks up to 50mg including “star and comet type color aerial shells without explosive charge for the purpose of making a noise” (emphasis mine) are legal for the general public here at Independence Day and New Year’s Eve. I suspect people go across the border to Wyoming to buy the larger, louder ones. It’s one of the things I loathe about living here.)

I re-remembered how to get to Cedar Canyon (I’ve written about hikes there in January 2012 and November 2015), and Bugman (my spouse) and I headed out with our cell phone cameras and backpacks with water, snacks, and clothing layers, arriving in the parking lot at 9:30 on the dot, after a slight delay caused by a car ahead of us having stopped in the middle of the road. (Maybe they saw the bighorn sheep?)

It’d be me, Bugman, Steve (my former editor when I wrote for the newspaper), and Irene (also a former newspaper reporter – she wrote about the hike here). Three recovering newspaper journalists and an entomologist. That’s got to be the start of some kind of joke, right?

We headed out on two-track for a ways before veering off towards a “game trail” Steve had discovered in satellite images — a human-navigable way to get up the steep incline to the top of the bluffs.

The “rock with a face” confirmed we were heading the right way.

It was not an easy hike up to the top. The air temperature was hovering around 34 degrees, but I shed my vest, hat, and mittens on the way up. The trail was on the shady side of the bluff and covered in the sort of snow that won’t give your feet any purchase. Piles of ponderosa pine needles underneath didn’t help with the traction. Yucca leaves stabbed through my pants.

The slope was steep enough in places that it felt more comfortable to scrabble upwards in a crawl. (I have more photos of this climb, but I was last in the climbing line, and I was taught as a journalist not to use pictures of people’s backsides.)

I forget what Steve was saying in this picture: “you’re almost there” or “what took you so long?” But I can read Irene’s expression: “do you believe this guy?”

Here’s a selfie with the view from where I was standing in the above photo. “Almost to the top!”

We stopped for a quick rest while scanning some rock-carved graffiti. Clearly it’s not a secret trail.

Group photo! You can see the shadow of the tree snag holding my phone. I tried to get a second shot at a different angle, but my phone fell out of the tree and started to tumble end-over-end down the slope. I’m glad it stopped tumbling! (Also glad I have a tough, waterproof phone case!)

So many strange and interesting pipy concretions! (Here’s all you’ll probably ever want to know about pipy concretions.)

Bugman strikes a pose with a deceased pine tree.

Here we go out onto my favorite part of this hike. This dry shelf, which had no trees or yucca (but did have piles of “sheep beans”), really captured my imagination with all the odd rock formations and colorful lichens.

I got kind of disoriented on this hike, and I’m not sure I could find this place again, but I’d like to try. I want to just hang out here.

In the photo below Scotts Bluff National Monument and the recognizable shape of Dome Rock are visible in the distance. (The Scottsbluff sugar factory, too, if you have really good zoom). The rocks scattered on the ground here looked to me like the fossilized bones of the earth, drawn to the surface by weathering.

Check out this ball mound of a plant that’s held this patch of earth together for probably decades. I feel like I should know what plant this is. Sandwort?

Those beautiful orange lichens! And that blue sky! A friend of mine once told me that the combination of blue and orange in art represents hope. One could sure feel hopeful being out in nature on a day like this.

Seriously, look at these rock shapes. One made me think of a seahorse. Another, an idol of some sort.

So interesting!

All along our path of travel on the top of the bluff we found bobcat tracks in the snow. At one point, the tracks did a crazy backwards twist alongside some rabbit tracks, and there were signs of some kind of action. Didn’t see any signs of a kill, though.

We did see some bighorn sheep down below in the valley. They didn’t seem too keen on being spied upon from above, and they took off running. Later, on our hike back along the ridgetop, we’d find some bighorn tracks superimposed on top of the tracks we made in the snow on the way out.

This is just the strangest thing up there on top of the bluff. A well-tied down cage, with the weathered polyester netting repaired with bits of camo-green polycord, two sides blocked at the bottom with pieces of plywood, that has clearly been there a long time. I couldn’t discern a door. If anyone can tell me what the heck it’s for, please comment!!

Time to head back, across the ups and downs of the bluff top, and then DOWN DOWN DOWN off the bluff, slipping and sliding on the snow and pine needles and colliding with yucca leaves. Luckily I never collided with a prickly pear patch, but I think some of them weaseled their way into Irene’s boots. I commented during the hike that, were I solo, I would have turned back long prior. I’m not in the best shape. My legs were getting weary-wobbly. I fell once and hyperextended my wrist, but the pain shook off in a minute or so.

My brain was getting weary-wobbly, too. I spotted a small piece of moss on the side of a tree as I descended and decided to name it Bob.

Bob Moss.

(As a friend later commented, Bob Moss must have been growing on a happy little tree.)

But despite all the weary-wobbliness, I made it! Some 8.5 miles on uneven, hilly terrain.

I went home, changed out of my wet socks and dirty pants, ate a bunch of food, and took a nap on the couch.

A great start to the year, grateful for health, nature’s beauty, and the socially-distanced companionship of fellow weirdos.

Copyright 2021 by Katie Bradshaw