photography, travel, writing

Exploring my Backyard

“I wasn’t lost, I just didn’t know where I was for a few weeks.” – Jim Bridger

 

A lot of places feel like my “backyard” at this point. But none more so than this massive and idyllic parcel of the Rocky Mountains (any more detail than that, and I shall have to kill you) that we return to every year. 

There’s a well-known valley in the area that I’ve been exploring for nearly 20 years now. Much like the surrounding mountain terrain, it would take a lifetime to really get to know it. “I’ve got the rest of mine,” I think to myself, “so what the hell.”

All of the dirt roads and where they go, when they’re passable, where the wildlife hide, and the fish too. What’s just over this ridge or that forest. The CDT zig zags and criss crosses the divide through here. I’m going to have to hike it all someday. For now, I tackle sections.

I have made my life’s goal to learn and know these mountains intimately. So each year, I focus on a few different sections. Some you can drive, others, only walk. Ellen had to leave town for a long weekend, so I took the opportunity to take the dogs and go explore.

It’s still too early to get very high up hiking… late season snow has the high country buried still. So we loaded up the new (to me) truck and headed deep into the wild.

On the way out of our current home (where we are parked for a few weeks), the pastures give way to massive hills, which yield to snow capped peaks.

Exploring one of my new favorite lakes to fish, I found a very old cabin. Probably a cow camp from decades past.

Sometimes, an image presents itself in black and white. The hills surrounding my fishing hole.

The locals. Seen everywhere around here. Until hunting season, and then they become elusive, as if to know.

One of my favorite dirt roads of all time. This old route connects three mountain ranges and two wonderful mountain towns. But it is very rough, remote, and impassable until right about now. Sometimes even later.

This pass is a historic route used by native peoples, as well as early trappers and mountain men. It was treacherous for all who traversed it, as it is remote, high elevation, full of grizzlies and wolves, and the weather is quite unpredictable.

I watched this raptor for what seemed like hours. Turned out to just be 10 minutes. At first I thought it was a falcon, but once I zoomed in, I realized it was a beautiful northern harrier.

On a hike to a potential fishing hole, I startled this old girl. A cow moose peaking over the willows at what was most certainly the first human she likely encountered this year.

But for the wildlife, it is a haven of relatively pristine wild land. Used by humans for hunting, fishing, recreation, grazing, and forestry, the amount of land seems to support the needs of all.

Up at the top. From this pass, one can see at least four mountain ranges. The views are just remarkable.

Another distinct range as viewed from the top.

If you look closely, you might see a very distinct looking and familiar mountain range off in the distance. Almost looks like clouds!

It is quite awe inspiring to be able to view at least four different mountain ranges from the top of the pass, and at various spots along the way. Even more than this, it is one of only two places in the whole of North America where three of the continent’s seven major watersheds interlock. One drop of water here can end up either in the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific, or the Gulf of California.

Yet another range.

And the same from a different spot further down.

The beauty of the trees this time of year is second only to fall.

One of the lakes up top.

The pups and I spent the weekend way out off the grid, hiking, fishing, and exploring the unending and perilous dirt roads of the high pass. It was a time of getting a little (actually, a lot) mud on the tires, and enjoying the feeling of being wild again.

My favorite mountains, waiting patiently for me in the distance from near the top of the pass.

Bare aspens ready for the new buds to sprout. Any day now for these.

Back home after a long weekend of adventures. Right out my front door. It’s good to be home.

After a decent bit of time exploring one of the many different sections of our backyard, I am always humbled and amazed at the vastness. The sheer size of all that I need to explore is daunting, but ultimately exciting. If this is what I get to die doing, count me blessed and happy.

— Andrew

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All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2022 If you like the images and sentiment of the article, please consider joining me on one of several photography workshops. For more info, please visit www.andrewslaton.com/workshops

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