Over the last two weeks, I have been on two really enjoyable trips. The first was a driving trip from Prescott to southwestern Colorado, about 15 miles north of Dolores. What an absolutely beautiful area — it was so green, and there was water everywhere!!
This trip was with a church youth group, consisting of 13 young men and six adult leaders. The trip included fishing, white-water rafting, a chuck wagon dinner, backpacking and camping overnight at Navajo Lake in the San Juan National Forest.
As we began our hike, the elevation at the trailhead was about 9,000 feet. We gained another 2,000 feet in elevation as we hiked. We intended to camp overnight at the lake where we could rest, relax, fish and then hike back down the next day. That was the plan.
About 30 minutes before reaching the lake, we began hearing thunder in the distance. Shortly after reaching the lake, the heavens opened! It rained, then it hailed, then it rained and hailed, and it didn’t stop. Lightning was crashing all around us, and within minutes we were flooded out. There wasn’t a dry place anywhere to set up camp.
Making matters worse, some of the boys did not have the required supplies that were on their packing list — warm clothes and rain gear. In a matter of minutes, we were in a precarious situation, and it was obvious we could not stay on top of the mountain. After a brief discussion, the decision was made to head back down the mountain — immediately.
The trip down was challenging with the weight of my pack and the trail conditions. There were times when I couldn’t even see my feet, as the water on the trail was so deep. The muddy, slippery conditions, with lightning crashing around us, made for a difficult, painful hike down.
Fortunately, we all made it down safely before it got dark, and we got back to our base camp outside of Dolores where we had access to warm, dry clothes, and a dry shelter. I was disappointed, as I had packed my spotting scope and tripod up the mountain in hopes of finding a specific target bird — a rosy finch. Well, that didn’t happen!
Four days after returning from my trip to Colorado, my wife and I flew to Nashville, Tennessee and drove to Pigeon Forge for a family reunion with our children and grandchildren. We spent a lot of time hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including hiking a segment of the Appalachian Trail. We accessed the AT at Newfound Gap, right on the North Carolina/Tennessee border.
When we arrived at the trailhead, the whole mountain was shrouded in dense clouds. Our hike to the Ice House Springs Shelter was three miles each way, and it was dark and gloomy, even though it was mid-morning. About 30 minutes before reaching the shelter, we began to hear the distance rumbling of thunder — a storm was brewing!
We reached the shelter, rested briefly and quickly started hiking out. We hadn’t been on the trail a minute when we started to get pelted with rain. Talk about déjà vu! Fortunately, the storm was not as intense as the storm I experienced in the Rockies, but the circumstances were very similar — thunder, lightning and rain.
The forest was so dark, it was hard to find and see birds. I saw a few species such as golden-crowned kinglet, black-throated blue warbler, blue-headed vireo, Carolina Chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch and dark-eyed juncos. I was so taken by the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains — it is absolutely gorgeous there.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.