It was midweek, and my shoulders were tight and brow furrowed from concentrating too hard in front of a computer. Why does grading season always happen when wildflowers are blooming? I needed a hike, maybe even a nap in the warm sunshine. I headed to a spectacular destination, Goshawk Ridge, just a few miles south of town. What treasures would it serve up early in the season?
From the trailhead on County Road 67, I headed up the gravel road. A brilliant sun and brisk cool wind fueled piles of fluffy white atop the ridges:
At the first fork in the trail I took a right, which means I headed around the loop counterclockwise. (The OSMP map is here.) Go the other way, and eventually you will head downhill facing spectacular views of the plains. But I liked this direction because it led soon onto the single-track Goshawk Ridge Trail. And right away there was my favorite—the pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens ssp. multifida):
I adore pasqueflowers—their lavender tint, their broad-fleshed petals, so audacious in a climate that serves up snow and ice during their season of blooming. They hold the chill a millimeter away with the coat of tiny hairs covering tender surfaces. Pasqueflowers put all their efforts into the bloom first, saving the leaves for later.
I greedily snapped photos of the first ones visible. And the next. Pasqueflowers usually come in ones and twos:
But only a few steps into the upward-sloping meadow, and soon there were hundreds, maybe thousands of pasqueflowers—too many to count—spaced a foot apart as far as the eye could see. If you love pasqueflowers, head out to this trail. Now.
I was near the crest of the trail, and a glance backward showed a glorious view:
Have I mentioned the billowing clouds in a sky of startling blue?
My favorite words about clouds come from the writer Amy Leach in an essay on the dance between Earth and Moon. Clouds, those “tiny flighty molecules,” can float overhead only because our planet has a solid, dense center holding them captive:
For these bouncing shimmying molecules are Earth’s genius, and they are harder to keep than moons. Cloudland has a core of adamant.
I will never again look at clouds without remembering the sustaining center, the “core of adamant.”
At the crest it was time to succumb to tiredness and sun-warmth and sink into a pile of pine needles. I had just closed my eyes and was starting to drift when I heard a small thump, a quick rustle like Victorian skirts, and then a gurgling coo that I didn’t recognize. Someone was near. I opened my eyes to find a wild turkey browsing on the trail just a few feet away. Three more turkeys moved like a search-and-rescue team across the meadow, foraging five feet apart in a ramrod-straight line. I watched until they disappeared into the trees.
More dozing, and then the air suddenly cooled. I hurried to my feet. There was still another mile and a half to hike, and the sun was disappearing. The rest of the trail beckoned:
I couldn’t resist some lance-leaved chiming bells (Mertensia lanceolata) in a nest of twirling grass:
And the first patch of golden banner (Thermopsis montana) blazing yellow in the sideways light of the sinking sun. Golden banner is toxic to most animals, except caterpillars:
The final highlight of the hike was the wall of ripple rock, where sandstone still wears the undulations of water, a tangible reminder that here lies the edge of a primordial sea:
My half-day of vacation was over. It was time to head back to town for dinner. A chilly, gusting wind blew across the path as I headed to the car. But I was breathing deeply again, shoulders looser and forehead cleared of furrows. Tomorrow would be another day of grading in front of the computer. Perhaps I could take a piece of today along.