Christmas Meadows

There’s a mountain range that’s as a particularly strong draw on me. It’s an ancient range with crumbling peaks standing guard over an immense expanse of forest. The final stretch of snow has been lifted off the road into a very small corner of these incredible mountains, and after a very brief shift at work: I took a drive.

I’m talking about the High Unitas of course. After passing through the small but developing town of Kamas, it’s immediately apparent you’re in for a ride.

The very first peak you see commands respect. One can only imagine what this range looked like before time eroded the seemingly impervious towers looming over the tree line.

Each lake grants you a view of a new peak.

Once you make it over the first pass it’s immediately apparent you could die here and have lived a good life; the only tragedy being you didn’t spend more time getting acquainted with this large expanse of wilderness.

Just as I thought about hiking through the peaks in the distance to get a better scope of the scene, a stark reminder reared its ugly head. No one’s thru-hiking this yet unless they want to deal with the likes of nasty cornices such as this.

I continued along Mirror Lake Scenic Byway until I made it through the thick of the dramatic High Uinta range and down into the lower forest where I saw a familiar sign: Christmas Meadows. One of the premier backpacking destinations of my childhood was just around the corner and it had been too long since I’d seen it last. As I turned down the dirt road I wondered if I could find our old campsite. My dog and I pushed on down the trail, leaping off here and there to get a lay of the land and find good resting-grounds by the river.

It’s not an arduous hike by any stretch of the imagination, but the calm green hills and white peaks in the distance make a person want to rest in the sun and listen to the river trickle by. Crickets and frogs came together to sing as the trees danced to the rhythm of the wind.

It’s a place where a Corgi can rest her old bones.

It’s a place that makes you wonder what kind of views lay just ahead.

After some soggy meadow walking we came to the bend in the river where I recall the campsite of my youth being. To my disappointment, it is no longer there. The old pine beetle infested trees of the high Unitas lost in great numbers surrounding the camp and had all collapsed where tents used to lay. The river – swollen with the spring runoff – concealed a sandy beach where the old family dog would spend her time frantically digging away for no particular reason. A new cluster of saplings concealed what used to be a clear view of the entire meadow.

Time changes everything, for better or for worse. It’s a reminder to not cling to the old, because sometimes the new can be far better.

Like a new campsite with a glorious view.

Time stood still in the meadow as we sat in the sun. Me staring at the mountains, my dog eating grass. I wished I had brought my backpacking gear, thinking I could squeeze in a quick overnight trip before work in the morning. I grew up in these mountains, I could spend the rest of my life in these mountains.

We slowly made our way out of the meadow in no particular rush, and drove away from Christmas Meadows. It was a day of perfection that can only be had in the company of good wilderness, and there’s no short supply of that here.

No short supply of it at all.

I recognize these places and peaks from the hours I spend obsessively looking at maps. I feel ready to get out for another extended mountain trip, I’m ready to walk again. From sunrise to sunset, in the rain and overbearing winds, the occasional unfortunate terrifying lightning storm. Through the bugs and the dust and the mice and the bears. The subtle smell of dry pine on the air brings it all together, it feels like home.

It came time to bid the High Unitas farewell, but the drive provided one more stunning view of this beautiful mountain state.

The Uinta Highline Trail has been a nagging thorn in my side for a very long time and I never get around to doing it. Maybe this year is as good as any.

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