On The Page: The Western San Juan Mountains

Not having internet at home has been excellent for diving into some deeper reading material. I recently dived into The Western San Juan Mountains: Their Geology, Ecology, and Human History. Edited by a professor of geology at Colorado’s Fort Lewis College, The Western San Juan Mountains has three sections exploring each of the topics mentioned in its subitites. Each section is divided into chapters written by experts in their fields (most authors hold doctorates).

The Western San Juans

While the book isn’t necessarily written for an academic audience, it is detailed and uses a significant amount of technical language (particularly noticeable in the geological section). The chapters all conclude with a reference section. These reference sections pose an immense threat to my book buying ban but that’s a personal issue of mine. I found it more than readable but for some readers it might be a sort of dense slog.

The geological section was probably the most condensed broad sweeping geological overview of the San Juans (or at least their western portion) that I’ve read so far. I definitely want to do more to make this all fit into an organized schema in my mind but knowing more about the deep history of my home mountains makes me really happy.

The biological section was detailed (and contains one chapter that will probably make an appearance as a reading in my biology class next fall) and as someone inimately aquainted—ahem, scratched to bits—with the “mid” elevation horrors of Gambel oak (more commonly known as “scrub oak”), I found it interesting if not particularly groundbreaking. The human history section was more adequately covered by Exploring The San Juan Triangle, recently reviewed on this blog.

The Western San Juan Mountains, published by University Press of Colorado, is probably only of interest to big old nerds like me. Since this is my blog, I’m assuming that at least some of you fall in my camp and, in that case, you might really enjoy this book before a visit to the region. Each of the sections could be read separately which means that it can be fit into a busy life before a trip. Theoretically, each chapter stands alone but I think they made a lot more sense when grouped with the other chapters in their section.

Swan Creek Hiking & Salmon Spawning

One of my favorite phone calls of 2014 was one from my nephew, Andrew. I was just getting down from the mountains and had a message on my phone, “Hi, Aunty Beth. I was wondering if you could come over so we can go hiking.” I called him back and reminded him that I live in Colorado which is far away so I couldn’t come over today. He was very understanding and matter of factly said, “Okay, then we’ll go hiking next time you’re here, right?”

Andrew and I almost had conflicting travel schedules and only overlapped in Tacoma for one day so I was sure to follow up on my promise and get him outside. Andrew’s hiking requirements go as follows: “We get in the Jeep, drive to the woods, and hike.” (I found this out when I tried to convince four year old Drew that a walk in the neighborhood counted as a hike… he was not impressed.) Luckily for me, my mom lives near an awesome green space: Swan Creek Park.

Beth and Andrew

I’ve taken Andrew hiking here several times now and he loves it. Its big enough and the woods are dense enough that it really feels like hiking even if you are a 5 minute drive from downtown Tacoma. This time, when we got out of the car, there were signs announcing that the annual salmon run was happening. I was skeptical about there being much to see until we made it to the creek—the smell of dead fish was unmistakable.

Andrew inspecting dead salmon

Andrew was totally fascinated with the dead fish (“Aunty Beth, all of their eyes are gone!!”) and almost as excited with the few live fish still working their way upstream. I mentally changed gears: I was pretty sure we weren’t going to actually go hiking that day but instead would spend the whole time watching the fish and learning about them.

Watching salmon swim upriver

Much to my surprise, after wandering back and forth in the same area of the creek, Andrew was still interested in going for a hike. As a matter of fact, after hearing that he’d already walked a mile according to the GPS on my phone, he declared he was going to hike five miles.

Andrew

The trail was just muddy enough to be exciting but the sun was shining—an absolutely perfect day to be out in nature.

Trees

image

I’m so excited that he’s getting older. Even after learning about the salmon, he was still excited to learn about ferns and how they can help soothe stinging nettles.

Andrew.

We learned that this is in fact a plant, not an animal, and that it is called lichen:

Andrew and lichen

We saw big stumps that showed evidence of springboard logging and talked about that. We even learned the importance of silly selfies:

Beth and Andrew

We didn’t make it five miles but to my surprise, we did three miles—no crying, no whining, and all fun.

Andrew

Andrew even had so much fun that he was sure to tell his brother Junior that next time he just has to come hiking with Aunty Beth.

Andrew