Above the smoke in the San Juans

I woke up Saturday morning in my high desert home. And what did I see? Well, not much.

Due to the fires in California, the Air Quality Index (AQI) ended up as 169. Or somehow, a foggy New England ocean day rolled into Moab. But instead of fog, a caustic wave of smoke enshrouded the valley.

Though my original plans did not take in any local hiking, a bit sobering to be in potentially unhealthy air.

In addition to checking the NOAA weather for both possible hiking and driving conditions and Inciweb for area fires, my planning now involves looking at the AQI (More info on those resources with something I’ll post soon).

My place of choice in the San Juan mountains had moderate conditions and, based on experience, I suspect most of the smoke would be in the valleys and not the ridges.

When I started up the trail, it looked like my hunch proved correct. If a bit smokier than I’d have liked.


As I mentioned from my last trip, August does feel like the “Sunday of Summer” in the high country. Subtle signs of autumn become apparent.

But the last bit of wildflowers did not disappoint.

Sphinx moth?

And all the recent monsoon rains did bring out some particularly picturesque-looking mushrooms.

The smoke cleared a bit as I gained elevation and started to make my through to the treeline.

Joan and I hiked this stretch of the San Juans previously. Though not as dramatic as other places, the well-maintained trails, steady but not overly steep elevation gain and the alpine landscape make an enjoyable weekend hike when you want to stretch your legs, enjoy views, and just simply hike.

The favored place to camp seemed like a lake based on tents scattered around it around 5 PM or so when I hiked by it.

While I enjoy the aesthetics of lakes, I don’t enjoy camping near them for various reasons. And the amount of people at the same point certainly makes my lake avoidance a factor as well.

I left the lake behind and climbed up along the dramatic ridge.

I hiked at the “smoke line” while above treeline on this ridge.

Other visitors seemed to enjoy the early evening light as well.

I found a flat place along the ridge and nestled in the trees—a perfect night to cowboy camp.  When I woke up in the middle of the night, I did not see any smoke. I saw the night sky above, clear and distinct. I knew the morning held promise.

The morning had a bit of autumnal chill in the air with a bit of wind. For the first time in months, I hiked while wearing a fleece and gloves. Though the morning warmed up, I loved the cool feeling after a sweltering summer.

The hike back eventually meandered along a creek with more late-season wildflowers.

And butterflies.

I soon made my way back to the truck, brewed up a cuppa joe, and made my way back to Moab.

And next trip? I’ll be joined by my favorite trip partner again.


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2 years ago

Hi Paul! That could very well be a hummingbird moth; rarely seen if it is.

So you eschewed lake camping for cowboy camping on a ridge, something I sometimes do if the lake isn’t all cliffed out; however, I like to be within reasonable proximity of water for an easy carry of a couple of liters for cooking. How far to your ridge and how much water did you pack?

Thanks for the IQAir link, I find the forecast feature quite helpful!