Re-visiting the Rim of the Paunsaugunt

Our last hike before heading north was an excursion along the western rim on the Paunsaugunt. If it isn’t obvious by now I am completely enamored by the collision of color and form where dark green conifer, pale meadow, cerulean sky, and the pinks and orange hues of rock intersect. To walk along the edge of the limestone just beyond the trees with thousands of feet of air beneath me and endless sky beyond me is something that I do not tire of. How such healthy forest can suddenly, improbably terminate in sheer two thousand foot drop offs, dissolving into spires and pinnacles is not a geological mystery – the uplifts and other tectonic activity 140 – 50 million years ago are well recorded – but it continues to amaze me every time. I love each of the elements independently – the stately spruce and fir, undulating high country meadows, dramatically-carved limestone, and limitless vistas and space – but together they are nothing short of magic, perfection, wonder.

We walked a combination of forest road and what I think was an ATV trail to where we ultimately emerged from the thick stand of fir trees onto the barren orange limestone. Despite our intent to walk a section of the rim we hadn’t seen before we realized that one of our previous explorations had overlapped where we were now after recognizing some of the formations but no matter: it’s an impressive stretch that will always be worth repeating. Once we got our bearings we walked south towards new ground alternating between rock and forest when the former became too unstable to safely cross.

Though the fir and spruce and pine are relegated to the flatter ground where their roots can safely entangle the soil, the hardy bristlecone pine dares to extend onto the rocky slopes tenuously occupying any crevice in which it can extend its roots. Many of the bristlecones here are young – surely a product of continuous erosion at the edge of the cliffs – but within this forest there are clusters that been alive well over a thousand years, doggedly surviving the ridiculously poor soil, brutal winds, and freeze-thaw cycles that have succeeded in detering all other forms of life. To say the bristlecone pine is an incredible tree is an understatement; here, clinging to plunging limestone slopes and hoodoos since fractured from the cliffs, it is worthy of more than a moment’s notice.

When our time tracing the edge of the plateau ended we retreated to dirt, walking amongst the trees until we intersected with an old ATV trail that led us back to a road, and then our truck. It was a perfect few days and was everything I’d been looking forward to.