Reflections on a Sunset Lake

National Parks are notorious for crowds of gawking tourists, and I always feel self-conscious about my own gawking and photo snapping. I like to get away from the check-off-all-the-sights rushed feeling of the famous parks. So though we visited Mesa Verde, we didn’t stay in the campground. By staying just a few miles away we avoided crowds at the popular national park, plus got the added bonuses of seeing some more of the character of the surrounding area and saving a few bucks. Mancos State Park, with its smooth lake and tranquil atmosphere, was a great place to camp. I would happily stay here again and spend more time hiking and fishing. Judging by the number of locals fishing along the banks, this is a great fishing spot, with  and especially with the mountains above and a deep reservoir below. It is very quiet here. When we stepped out of the car we froze to listen to the sound of the trees rustling—a sound we had both half-forgotten existed.

tranquil Mancos State Park
tranquil Mancos State Park

We went on a short sunset walk on Mule Deer trail, and, funnily enough, saw some mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). Mule deer resemble the white-tails we have in Texas except for a few key differences, chiefly larger ears for mule deer. The tell tail distinguishing feature is their rump and tail. Mule deer have a white rump with a black-tipped tail, while white tails have a large tail that displays the white underside when it is raised and the black top when it is lowered (pictures and details).  These mule deer probably come graze and browse beside the trail almost daily. But if we weren’t here at the right time of day, I doubt we would have seen the small herd. For deer, the “right” time of day is typically dusk and dawn. Rather than being nocturnal (active at night) or diurnal (active during the day), the deer are crepuscular, meaning active around twilight. This looks like perfect habitat for them. There are thick forests up the hill to hide in and take cover and then, where the creek empties into the lake, there are plenty of brushy deciduous plants and grasses to graze on.

Mule Deer

Interesting Grass

The grasses weren’t the only things blooming. There was no shortage of wildflower from irises to lupines to sunflowers. The blue-pod lupines (Lupinus polyhyllus) remind me so much of the blue bonnets back in Texas, probably because they are close cousins, in the same evolutionary family, separated by only a few thousand generations of evolution into different regions. Like the blue bonnet in Texas, which is toxic to sheep and causes birth defects in calves, the lupine is known to be toxic to livestock, but paints beautiful colors across the fields.

lovely lupine- toxic to livestock
lovely lupine- toxic to livestock

Delicate blue-violets seem to be a recurring color scheme here at the base of the mountains. Western Blue Flags, or Rocky mountain irises (Iris missouriensis) also blossomed along the trail. Toxicity seems to be another recurring theme. Some people suggest that this flower is also poisonous, because livestock avoid grazing on the leaves. Luckily, not everything out on our walk was showy, but toxic.

iris- probably toxic
iris- probably toxic

I recognized hop clover (Trifolium agrarium), a particularly good survival food for foraged salads because it is so abundant and rich in protein. This stuff is basically everywhere, all over America, growing happily along roadsides and lawns, and often up out of side-walks. You probably pass it on your way to the grocery store. It tastes a bit more bitter than your average spring mix, but a 5-10 minute boil makes it easy to digest.

edible hop clover
edible hop clover

Sunset Lake

The differences in scale between the flowers, the mountains, and the clouds blows my mind. But there is a deep underlying connection between them. All are part of the eternal flow of the ecological world. Everything is always changing. What I mean by that is probably best described by Tim Morton in The Ecological Thought. “If you read Darwin, the strongest thing you take away is a feeling of time-lapse. Each species is like a river; rivers join and part without much regard for boundaries. Rivers flow, so we can never talk about the “same” river, only river stages. A species is like that. Evolution is like that. Species and individual members of a species are like the flowing flames of flowers discovered in time-lapse animation.” (p. 43) If you watch a time-lapse of a flower opening, it appears to flow out of its stem, into a bud, into a blossom, then wither and fall.

Tiny Flower Sunset

Same goes for watching a time-lapse of mountains over millions of years. Mountains also rise out of the earth, almost like a wave, as plate movements or volcanic action birth them upward, and then, slowly, the mountains sink down again as they weather into ancient hills, becoming steadily more rolling as the earth that formed them spreads and disperses. Mountains, if you speed up their motion, would be like clouds, with droplets of earth being forced together, stacked up, sculpted, and pressured into the great heights of heaven, until the forces pulling them down are more powerful than those lifting them up and they rain down in a cascade of stone-drops. With the sun setting below a colossal cloud moving across the sky opposite the mountains and tiny flower under foot, I envisioned all of this flow, and was caught up in awe at what was around me. From the smallest and most fleeting wonders to those that last forever in our minds, but only a blink in earth time.

Ripple and Rock

As we walked back to our camp and twilight deepened the serenity of this place impressed itself on us. The lake was flat as glass, except for a single set of ripples, rising into ridges and then vanishing, caused by who knows what, perhaps a loon, slipping down through the water.

Looking Across the Lake Sunset

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