September 27, 2019
"Nice Job, Pixies" — a Weird Day in the Woods
During mushroom season, which peaks in August hereabouts, there is a ridge in the Wet Mountains that M. (my wife) and I try to visit every week. It abuts an area that we named The Mushroom Store; unfortunately, that spot has been discovered, but we are willing to walk farther at 10,000 feet than some mushroom hunters are.
We have been visiting that area for more than ten years, so we have our landmarks: the "long meadow," the cow elk's skeleton, the "little gate," the "big gate," and so on.
The plan, as usual, was to walk downhill parallel the "long meadow," loop around to the south and back east to the crest of the gentle ridge, where we would hit a barbed-wire drift fence that we would then follow north to "the big gate," and from there it is a short walk to where M's Jeep Wrangler would be parked.
So we did that. We were going along according to plan, finding an occasional "good" mushroom, and I was feeling pretty about my deep-woods navigational skills. (Don't get cocky, kid!)
At some point, as we swung back toward the top of the ridge, I looked down to my left and instead of a glimpse of the "long meadow," there was a steep ravine there, so steep that fir trees barely clung to its sides. Where had it come from?
It was between us and the Jeep (I figured), but I did not want to go down into it and try to climb out again
I looked ahead — the top of the ridge was only maybe 200 yards away. M. looked at me and asked if I was lost. I said something noncommittal, but afterwards at home she said, "I can read you like a book. You were lost." (She will cheerfully admit to being a poor navigator herself, so she trusts me to do the job.)
That feeling you get, a punch in the stomach. Where am I? How did I get here?
On the ridge crest, I looked south. There was Little Sheep Mountain, a little closer than it should have been, and also a road that I recognized. I knew where I was — I just was not where I should have been.
"Nice job, pixies," I said aloud.
Since I was high enough up to get a signal, I pulled out the iPhone, turned on the GPS and loaded the Avenza Maps app with a county road map. Yep, there we were — the pulsing blue dot — about where I reckoned we were. Thus oriented, we walked down the other side until we hit a certain little dirt Forest Service road and followed it to the Jeep.
At home, there were mushrooms to be sliced and dried, and life otherwise got in the way. But after a couple of nights I opened Google Earth, where our mushroom sites are marked, and took a look. Everything seemed as it should have been, but I could not find that steep ravine.
OK, so Google Earth gives false ideas of slope. Next, I studied the topographic quad map for that area. I could not find the steep ravine there either.
In the old stories, you go through a portal into the fairy mound, and you eat and drink, and when you come out, a hundred years have passed. Or something like that.
We went back a couple of weeks later for one last foray. Maybe we should walk south and try to find that ravine, I suggested.
"Let's not, and say we did," M. responded.
I did not try to persuade her otherwise.