Observe and Report

Some days hiking does not have to have a meaningful purpose.

Being outside, in the sunshine, feeling the breeze blowing by, white noise in my ears.

In search of wildflowers; missing them badly since moving away from the Gorge. An experiment in driving time verses mileage to find new ‘familiar’ stomping grounds. The Painted Hills I have been to several times, but always during high summer, filled with warm temperatures and dry grasses rustle above a baked landscape. Today, just stepping into spring, new green shoots mix amongst last years dried remains. Tiny, yellow ground hugging Lomatium; perhaps Henderson’s Desert Parsley, although Misters’ Henderson was not available for comment. Many, Yellow Bells, which makes me very happy to see a familiar face from my Gorge wildflower viewing. And also, pink Smooth Prairie Stars, just starting to bloom, as well.


I see my first swallows flash by, rising over the ridge and back down into the valley – spring!!! Were they Tree Swallows or Violet-Green Swallows? Sure. By the time I recognized them, down into shadows they dove. But that 5 seconds or 10 seconds was all I needed to be very happy and realize their swift (or swallow) fly-by was a huge harbinger of spring. I was even more aware that these long migrators could well be heading for Washington, or Canada, with perhaps a quick stop over by the creek, and early rising insects – yes, I saw those, as well – was all the fuel stop they needed before adding more miles northward. As I write this a day later, how far north might they be already? Simple pleasures.

Sometimes the hike is in the hiking. Grinding out mileage and elevation, climbing the next switchback, heading for the prominent prominence from which to view the surrounding areas. Other times, like today, it is about looking down, and then around, decompressing in breezy sunshine, becoming another bump on the landscape, quiet and unobtrusive, some climbing to be sure, but mostly finding a viewpoint from which to observe the spaces around me, letting the outdoors come to me, so to speak.

Today is much more the latter. Finding wildflowers and taking photos, connecting with the world at ground level. Sitting on a rock, letting the sun warm me, and breeze buzz me. A little writing, a little reading and a lot of looking left and right, up and down, listening, watching for whatever comes, or not, it is all fine, I am immersed in outdoors.

I do not have cable, and haven’t watched television in years, but I am pretty sure I would not watch the livestock channel, should such a station exist, in my spare time and yet I find my attention drawn to the cows that wander free-range, but mostly along the road the leads to this National Monument, down and across the valley. Black cattle, with orbiting tan colored calves, moving above, below and on the road. There is not a lot of wildlife, and so the cattle are the only movement on the landscape, plus there is the fascination of whether someone driving around a corner is going to plow into one, since the cows themselves are oblivious to anything not edible. Not today, though.

The reddish basalt cliffs of Sutton Mountain fill the skyline, and contrast nicely with the deep blue sky above. My goal for May wildflowers. I relax this day and visualize routes up through the gullies and cliffs to the top. A warmer day, a less relaxing day, but for now I am content reminding myself that every hike does not have to bag a peak, and that sometimes watching cows is okay.


Time passes, and the true magic of the Painted Hills is that they change in hue and form with each passing hour. Like swifts to a chimney, more people flock to the Monument as sunset approaches.


A few more photos and I am off, keen to drive over the Ochocos in daylight and enjoy the rare sparkles of water in the perennial streams and meadows along the road. A simple day, indeed.