Hiking with Rubies

It is good to walk. Even if you have somewhere to go.

Richard Paul Evans in The Walk

I began my road trip early this month, hoping to find some degree of peace and relaxation after a difficult spring and summer due to a major transition in my life. I always seem to seek this solace somewhere far from home, a place where I believe healing will occur and I will figure it all out, a place where the natural world will remind me that whatever may be wrong, there is still much that is just as it should be.

Consequently I chose to drive and camp rather than to backpack. I envisioned finding campsites near trailheads, spending a few nights in various isolated mountain ranges in Nevada, day hiking, and relaxing in camp at the end of the day, then moving on to the next mountain range in Nevada that called to me.

I have driven across Nevada many times en route to Arizona when I go there in the spring and fall. It is a long lonely drive, offering a spectacular experience of the Great Basin, up and over one mountain range after another, like traversing the surface of a wrinkled prune. I wanted to learn more about this place where the rivers run dry and sink into the earth. I wanted to do more than just drive across it, and I wanted to hike and climb to some of those tall peaks that rise above the sagebrush basins.

I drove up the scenic highway to Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains, first on my list of ranges I wanted to explore. Many years earlier I had come across an article in Backpacker magazine about trails that were still uncrowded. Perhaps it was the sparkling image of red gemstones that got my attention. More likely it was the promise of solitude, always a draw for this solo hiker. I drove into Thomas Canyon Campground after a last grocery stop in Elko, pleased that it was only a little after noon and confident that I would be able to find the perfect campsite so early in the day. I did what I always do when I am seeking a beautiful place to spend a few nights. I drove around all three loops, hoping to find the perfect spot for an old woman with a tent. Every single site was either already occupied or reserved. My trip was not getting off to a great start.

A week later I returned with a hastily scrawled confirmation number on a hotel notepad and drove into campsite number twenty-two. It had a long driveway surrounded by thick brush, so it was nicely private, and the heavy thicket even muffled the sounds of nearby campers. My return followed a week of heavy rains across the entire state of Nevada with flash floods occurring in many places, roads closed, and warnings for more of the same. Since I had rain gear and a dependable tent, I ignored the warnings. I just wanted to hike in the Ruby Mountains.

The next morning I got up, enjoyed my usual pot of tea, then drove the short distance to the end of the road and the trailhead. I was surprised to find the parking lot full, cars lined up along the road, many hikers like myself making their way up the Ruby Crest Trail towards Liberty Pass. The area had the look of overuse with side trails bypassing the switchbacks and frequent patches of bare ground used by campers. I was disappointed that the isolated quality promised by the Backpacker article seemed to be a thing of the past. The article was about twenty years old. It seems the Rubies have been discovered. I tried to assuage my disappointment by lifting my gaze above the crowded trail to the mountaintops which rise 11,000 feet and have been scoured smooth by glaciers. The trail was crowded but spectacular. There was the reason all these people had come to the Ruby Mountains to hike. It was my reason too.

The rain started about the time I approached the first of two small lakes below the pass, a splattering of big drops at first, then quickly turning into a downpour. I donned my rain gear, covered my pack, and then sat down under a spreading juniper and began eating my lunch while I contemplated what to do next. More hikers walked by. None of them seemed to be wearing rain gear.

The claps of thunder began to sound. Near where I sat a woman with a toddler on her back was standing under a tree shouting to anyone who walked by, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” I thought of offering various helpful suggestions, but she seemed uninterested in rational advice. Fortunately the toddler sat quietly in her carrier, seemingly unconcerned about the rain or her mother’s hysteria.

This was turning out to be not such a great hike. I was getting wet and cold, and the lightning strikes above me made further ascent unsafe. I returned to the trailhead, where many other hikers were getting back into their vehicles and leaving the thunderstorm behind.

I had only driven down the road about a mile when it became bare and dry. The thunderstorm had occurred at the north end of the canyon, and by the time I got back to the campground, patches of sunlight were occurring between the clouds. My well hidden campsite was far more quiet than the trail had been, and I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun and reading a book about mountain gorillas in Uganda.

At some point a hummingbird appeared and started to circle my head, closer with each revolution so that I felt the wind from its wings and heard its faint chirping. Finally it connected with my shiny red earring, a click of its beak next to my face. This was the magic I had sought. It was a faint clicking sound, the whir of its wings, the presence of something wild and beautiful next to my face. And it was there for me in that crowded campground, a ruby throated hummingbird.

Published by Colleen Drake

Colleen Drake (AKA Teacup) has over sixty years of hiking exerience (yes, I'm really old) and has seen some pretty big changes over those many years. Join her on the Solitude Trail & share some of these adventures while exploring with her the value of solitude in the wilderness.

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