Stranger on the Trail


The Tarryall Mountains

He yelled at us to stop, seemingly from out of nowhere. I was startled by the sound, but frightened when I saw the ragged looking man standing only 50 feet to our side, but thankfully across a dry gully. I was leading a group of 9 teenage backpackers down the trail, headed back to our Base Camp facility after a week out in the Lost Creek Wilderness. We’d be back in less than an hour except for whatever was about to happen. The lone man was probably in his 40s, unkempt, and had a Pit Bull by his side.

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Crevasses on the Ruth


The Vastness of a Glacier

Since I outweighed Quentin by 60 or so pounds, I was confident I could hold him if he were to break through the ice and fall into a crevasse.

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Naked Backpacking



We were backpacking on the Big Island of Hawaii along the Mulawai Trail. The first night out, we camped in Waipio Canyon. Then, the next day we headed toward Waimanu Canyon and stopped for the night to camp on a rustic camping platform provided by the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife. The shelter was conveniently located on a mountaintop within a day’s walking distance of the trailhead and was a welcome sight after our long and hot climb through the jungle and up the Z Switchbacks. We reached the elevated platform in the middle of the afternoon, and since there was still plenty of daylight left and we were all physically drained, everyone picked a spot and stretched out on the shaded and relatively clean plywood for a quick nap. As I dozed off, I thought contentedly of gentle breezes, juicy Lilikoi fruit, and thick clouds. Josh and I were the guides for the group of 8 teenage boys, a fact that would eventually come into play. But for the moment, we all just slept.

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A Place Worth Going

Relaxing after a long bushwhack
Soaking in the Backcountry

We called it the “Valley of the Dinosaurs,” mostly because of the humongous rock formations scattered all around. They dominated the remote high valley in Colorado’s Tarryall Mountains with their sheer size. And they breathed a strange sort of life into the area that had convinced me early on that the whole place was somehow on the move. I could never pick out any one thing that caused me to think that—it was more like a general, overwhelming, and deep gut feeling that had me convinced. I was consumed by the place’s pure and simple beauty and sensed the place was more alive than me from the first time I blundered into it. Through the years, I took every opportunity to return. And while the physical cost of getting there was never cheap- without fail, it was always worth it.

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Jake Fowler, The Major

mountain landscape
The Mountains

“It were a good adventure,”
He said as he sat,
Then he straightened the snakeskin,
That banded his hat.

He guzzled a jar of whiskey,
But spilled some on his coat.
His manner was sure,
Though he drank like a goat.

The outside was gray,
And the tavern was cold.
Except near the stove,
Where the story was told.

There was a moment of silence,
As he stared into the gloom.
Then, he started the story,
His words filling the room.

“These days, most of us is livin’ here in Kentucky.

We knowed each other from Big Bone Lick,
Where we wandered and hunted by day,
Then come here in the evenin’,
To drink and have a say.

We weren’t none of us borned here.

We ain’t the settling down type.
But’d just ended up here in the East Bend,
After decidin’ our days of roamin’
Might finally’a seen their end.

After years a trappin’ Beaver,
Livin’ rough, and scoutin’ new.
We’d done trapped out the Bone Lick,
So, the coop we thought to flew.

So, we decided to spend our days what’s left
Roamin’ wild with those we knowed.
To head out west and to a place
Where none of us had ever goed.

And since we was so inclined, that’s what we did.

It were true we had our beaver dreams,
And thoughts of riches colored gold.
But it were mostly cause we wanted free,
And to forget that we was old.

They was 20 of us,
Trappers and hunters all.
Some was Indeans, some was Frenchmen,
Some was short, and others tall.

Some was black, some was white,
Some was big, and others small.
But all was hardened by the land,
And I did trust ‘em, one and all.

So, we cross’t the river at Rabbit Hash, and the journey then commenced.

It were the fall of 1821,
When we struck out on our own.
Headin’ west toward old Santa Fe,
Crossin’ country still unknown.

They was times we rode our horses,
On beaten trails of dirt and rock.
But they was times we walked for miles afoot.
And got too tired to talk.

We follered cricks and rivers,
The Verdigris, the Arkansaw, and others with no name.
And after weeks of hills and meadows,
To the mountains we done came.

Our days was filt with movin’,
Huntin’ game, and lookin’ west.
Then we stopped beneath the Spanish Peaks,
To set a camp and rest.

I’d never seen such.

We’d heard tales of lotsa mountains,
Full of beaver, elk, and deer.
Way out yonder ‘crosst the prairie,
Many miles away from here.

From far away the mountains seemed
To be a wall of rock and ice.
But once up close we was pleased to see.
It were country mighty nice.

They was glades and hollers
Cricks, and trees.
Elk and bear,
And lotsa honey bees.

Eventially, we cross’t the mountains
And come to Taos then Sante Fe.
Up to then, they wasn’t many folks,
As we moved along our way.

Except we run’t acrosst some Spaniards
Traded with Ietans, Cheyennes, and Arapahos.
Was guarded by the Kioways,
And had to worry with some Crows.

They was a fandango for us in Santa Fe,
We drank our fill and had a feast.
Then we turned around and headed back
To all awaitin’ in the east.

We headed back with a good bit of meat,
Not many pelts, but lots of tales.
Of scary faces, unfound places,
And all manner of travails.

After 18 months of livin’ wild,
We cross’t the river and was home.
Brim full of life, despite the strife,
And with no more mind to roam.

Yessir, it were a good adventure.”


The story finished, he sat back in his chair,
And silence filled the room.
He took a deep breath, then let out a laugh,
As sunshine broke the gloom.

Audio Version:

The Colorado Mountains



Backcountry afternoon
Wind River Range, Wyoming

Happy trails
And happy snails.
Happy whales
And happy tales.

Happy days
And happy craze.
Happy phrase
And happy stays.

Happy times
And happy chimes.
Happy climbs
And happy rhymes.

Happy sight
And happy night.
Happy light
And happy mite.

Happy spots
And happy dots.
Happy oughts
And happy thoughts.

Happy trail
And happy snail.
Happy whale
And happy tale.

Happy places
And happy faces.
Happy races
And happy spaces.

Happy talks
And happy walks.
Happy hawks
And happy squawks.

Happy sounds
And happy towns.
Happy bounds
And happy grounds.

Happy sights
And happy nights.
Happy lights
And happy mites.

Happy time
And happy chime.
Happy climb
And happy rhyme.

Happy songs
And happy throngs.
Happy Kongs
And happy wrongs.

Happy theres
And happy bears.
Happy wheres
And happy pairs.

Happy words
And happy nerds.
Happy birds
And happy herds.

Happy talk
And happy walk.
Happy hawk
And happy squawk.

Happy spot
And happy dot.
Happy ought
And happy thought.

Happy sappy
And happy yappy.
Happy snappy
And happy happy.

Audio Version:

Trail Supper

The Long Way


A Nice Place to Sit

Let’s take the long way back,
And cross the river ‘round the bend.
If our feet get wet,
We can dry ‘em in the wind.

There’s a trail down there
That no one knows about.
And it leads to a fishin’ hole
That’s full of big ‘ole trout.

Since we’ve got our poles,
We can wet a line.
If you don’t have any flies,
You can use some of mine.

Once we’ve had our fill of that
We’ll head into the trees,
To a big red rock
With a view that’ll bring ya’ to your knees.

From there, we’ll keep goin’
‘Till we reach the Highline Trail.
We’ll follow it across the meadow
Where I once got caught by hail.

Just on past that meadow, there’s a gully
Full of berries of some unknown type.
I don’t know much about ‘em,
‘Cept they taste good and should be ripe.

We’ll fill our bellies there
And when we’ve had our fill,
Head into some Aspens
And move on up the hill.

Our path will pass
By old cabins and mines.
And once up high,
There are Bristlecone Pines.

There’s a good sittin’ spot at the top,
Where we can take a break.
No doubt we’ll need to rest when we get there,
Since our legs will surely ache.

Then, we’ll walk along the treeline,
With the treetops down below.
Huge mountains fill that skyline
And the wildflowers steal the show.

As we walk along the tundra,
The lack of noise will astound.
There may be wind, or planes, or talk,
But the silence is profound.

Soon, we’ll reach the spot
Where the trail begins to drop
After passing through black timber,
We’ll reach the valley where we’ll stop.

Another river fills that valley,
And we’ll round another bend.
We’ll wade into the stream
And take the long way once again.

Audio Version:

Base Camp area trails
Passing through the Aspens

Monster Shadows


Where monsters lurk

Cast your shadow,
Moonlight bright.
Wake the moment,
Stir the night.

Treetops sparkle,
With muted light.
Boulders hiding,
On my right.

Something scampers,
Taking flight.
It’s small and quick,
With stripes of white.

Night sounds near,
But out of sight.
Do I run,
Or stand and fight?

A distant shriek,
Causes fright.
But nothing gets me,
And I’m all right.

Back to the campfire,
Flickering bright.
Its guarding sphere,
A realm of light.

Flames mostly yellow,
A few are white.
At first, I stare
But then look right.

What is that there,
Beyond my sight?
Out in the darkness,
Of the night.

Unseen monsters,
I think to fight.
And once again,
I ponder flight.

Then magically,
There’s no more fright.
The monsters flee
It’s first daylight.

Audio Version: 

The forest at night



Islands in the sea of life,
Respites to the strife.
Lean on back against a tree,
Daydream of what might be.

See the forests, touch the rocks,
Feel the dirt and watch a fox.
Drink a raindrop, hug the trees,
And savor every gentle breeze.

Walk the path, stay on the trail,
Don’t let the bumps your life derail.
Should a river block your way
Wade in and cross it, you’ll be okay

When a whirlwind grabs and sends
Your moments into dizzy spins.
Find your footing, breathe in deep,
You can count on nature, your soul to keep.

Audio Version:

On top of Bullseye

Good Senses

Looking into the Copper Canyon backcountry

Starry nights
And faraway lights.
Where storm clouds go
And a wild lightning show.

Above the peak
And the end of the trail.
Crossing a log
And staying out of the bog.

Warm days in winter
And fields full of color.
Snowfall in summer
And a distant drummer.

Intriguingly perched boulders
And birds flying south.
The movements of herds
And undefined words.

Second winds found
And hills lit by the sun.
Uncharted miles
And grandeur that smiles.

Mysterious corners
And faces in logs.
Waves rolling in
And time without end.

Branches all tangled
And stickers that stick.
Why campfires smoke
And cause you to choke.

The bacon that’s cooking
And ants that don’t bite.
Dust Devils on the horizon
And moments that wizen.

Unknown new roads
And scratching an itch.
At the top of the climb
And the future time.

Life fills up your mind
And lights up your path.
So, free your spirit to wander,
There’s so much to ponder.

Audio Version:

A campfire to smell
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