Such was the case during my early September South Dakota trip. Cheeking the local hiking reports from my parent's computer, I stumbled across some recent photos of SW Washington's Indian Heaven Wilderness.
|Fall huckleberry leaves|
Those images blew me away. Taken during a rainy, foggy day, the intensity and hue of the leaves were outstanding - deep reds and vibrant yellows. Oh no, the fall colors were starting already! And I was four states away. Upon returning home, I knew exactly where I was going.
|Roger contemplates a lake|
Back home, the following Sunday morning, Roger and I pointed my Subaru towards the woods north and east of Carson, WA, destination Indian Heaven Wilderness. Known for it's plentiful huckleberry fields in the late summer, this beautiful area of high lakes and alpine meadows also sports gorgeous displays of fall color.
Debating over which of the many paths into this wilderness to choose, I finally settled on the Thomas Lake trail because a.) it was the closest trailhead and b.) it was the shortest distance (which hopefully meant more fall color bang for the buck).
|Another lovely lake|
Even though it's the closest, it's still a long drive to the Thomas Lake Trailhead. After an hour and a half of winding Forest Service Roads, my hubby and I arrived at the parking area. To our surprise, it was nearly full. I squeezed my car in one of the very last spots. Must be a lot of leaf peepers out today!
|My hubby looking for fish|
But.....hikers weren't the only folks here. My hubby and I hadn't traveled far down the trail when we ran into a couple of men bow hunting for deer. Apparently the season had just opened.
|Yellow huckleberry leaves|
Roger used to bow hunt, so he struck up a conversation with the men. After leaving the first group of hunters, we ran into more. We also passed a large number of overnight campers returning to the trailhead. Due to it's relatively flat, short trails, the Indian Heaven Wilderness is a popular backpacking destination.
|One the few green areas yet to turn|
The nice thing about this trail was you didn't travel very far before arriving at the first of many lovely lakes. Thomas and Dee Lakes were a mere 3/4 mile from the parking area. Although shrunken in size from the hot, dry summer, both water bodies sported golden leaves around their shorelines.
Our day's destination was Blue Lake, a 3-ish mile jaunt from the trailhead. After the first lakes, we climbed a small hill and passed by Brader and Naha Lakes. We stopped for a snack beside a tiny, unnamed lake with an impressive display of fall color lining its shores. Bright reds and oranges reflected in the calm waters resembled a Monet painting.
The color in its nearby woods wasn't too shabby either!
From the "Monet lake," Roger and I continued on, following the narrow, often deeply rutted path. This area gets lots of hiker traffic, and all this love has rapidly deteriorated many trails.
Beyond our snack spot, the huckleberry bushes really started to ramp up their colors. Deep reds, dazzling oranges, and bright yellows all lit up the forest in a brilliant display of autumn finery. Instead of being stuck with monotones, it always amazes me that the same huckleberry leaves can turn into three different colors.
Roger and I passed by several small lakes, rimmed by some of the most outstanding fall colors yet. One was lined with blazing golden foliage.
|More beautiful lakes|
While another sported technicolor bands around its perimeter.
I was enjoying myself so much photographing all the dazzling colors, that I didn't even realize we'd missed our trail at the junction. I meandered behind Roger, taking frequent camera breaks, and it never dawned on me that it was taking an awful long time to reach Blue Lake.
|Bright red huckleberry leaves|
We trekked through an area where the trail was a faint line through a lovely meadow. Again, I didn't think much of it (it had been a couple of years since I'd hiked here) until we arrived at Junction Lake. Uh-oh.....this wasn't our destination.....we'd accidentally wandered 2 miles in the opposite direction!
Fortunately, Indian Heaven is easy to navigate. I whipped out my map and determined we'd accidentally taken an old abandoned trail. From our current location we could either retrace our steps, or take the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) two miles and rendezvous with Blue Lake. Although the PCT option would add a couple miles to our day, this loop sounded much more interesting. We decided to go for it.
|Yet another lovely trail|
The PCT is a nice, wide, well graded trail. After meandering through the rutted, sometimes faint, earlier path this seemed like a superhighway. The fall colors weren't as good here, however, so Roger and I put our heads down and motored through the two miles between Junction and Blue Lake.
After that amazingly colorful abandoned trail, the PCT was sort of blase. I didn't take a lot of photo stops here. But that was probably a good thing, as it was approaching mid-afternoon and we now had extra miles to travel.
Finally Roger spotted a patch of blue between the trees. Yahoo! Blue Lake at last! This lake got its name due to its distinctive aquamarine color. I tried in vain to capture a bit of it on my memory card, but this was the best I could do.
From Blue Lake, it was an easy jaunt back to the trailhead. We passed by the trail junction where we'd gone astray, and realized our mistake. But I was now glad for the mishap. The best colors of the day had been along that trail.
|Blue Lake at last|
My favorite way to end a hike is to indulge in beer and pizza at one of the many fabulous Gorge breweries. And on our way home, that's exactly what Roger and I did.
With the high elevation fall colors now in full swing, it was time to change my focus from summer flowers to autumn glory. And as you'll see in future posts, there's lots more to come!
Stats: 9 miles, 800 feet elevation gain.
Sharing with: Our Beautiful World and Weekend Reflections