Post Register 7-11-13


It has been 20 years since I discovered what would become the location for our annual family camp. It was a gorgeous place, certainly not unknown, but it still had a wild flavor that was palpable. Over the years, it hadn’t seemed to change much, but then change can be a subtle character.

After a four year hiatus, we returned to that special area last week. As I rounded the corner and looked up the drainage, I was still awestruck at its beauty, just like the first time I saw it. Almost 20 miles back, I had left cell phone coverage and as I entered the canyon, I shed the rest of my worldly cares and looked forward to almost a week with my grandkids.

On the surface, it was still the same wonderful place. The distant peaks glowed in the waning sunlight and the lush green riparian bottoms snaked through the sagebrush flats. Copper-tinted scree slopes, completely devoid of vegetation, added color and contrast.

A new sign on the road was the harbinger of change. Our favorite camping spot, a quarter mile upstream of the fee campground, afforded us a grand tent door view of Hyndman Peak. But the sign informed us that although the road was still open to motorized traffic, camping from a motorized vehicle was now prohibited. We pitched our tents below the campground in another great spot, but it didn’t feel quite right.

Like years past, the first day we played around in camp. I taught my grandsons how to throw a tomahawk; we took a nature walk, and listened to the afternoon rain caress the tent.

As in years past, the next day we drove into nearby Copper Basin. We were stunned by the transformed landscape. Swaths of beetle-killed whitebark pines, those charismatic denizens of alpine country, carpeted the slopes up to the scree and boulder treeline. These trees were hundreds of years old, so for me, and even for my grandkids, these tiny insects, fueled by climate change, had changed the face of the landscape forever.

On another day, we visited Green Lake. At one time, a little navigation was required to find the lake. Today, signs take out all the guesswork. Once at the lake, my grandson discovered that someone had recently painted a memorial to some beloved grandparents on rocks at waters’ edge. I have seen this on public land in two other places and while I understand the motivation, to me it is just graffiti. It’s a sacrilege in a place struggling to retain its wild nature.

We shared Green Lake with 25 other people that day where in years past we almost always had it to ourselves. In fact, the number of visitors has climbed so high, the lake is now stocked with catchable rainbow trout to fill the demand.

The pages of life turn slowly, but inexorably. My eldest son was barely a teenager the first time we visited Green Lake. On that day, I could not fathom that I would return someday with his four children to this same place.  But there I was, wondering what changes the next 20 years would bring.

The rocks and the mountains don’t change much in 20 years, but the increasing human footprint can dramatically alter the sense of place.