I have had altitude sickness twice in my life – once on my attempt to summit Kilimanjaro, and again in Nam Tso Lake in Tibet. I liken it to sea sickness, in that I would do just about anything to make it stop. As best I can describe, it feels like your brain is suddenly two sizes larger than your skull, and my gray matter might begin protruding from the eyeballs at any given moment. Each move must be made in slo-mo, otherwise everything pounds and pulsates with every step. Call me paranoid, but it is not an experience I wish to repeat. So when Box Canyon Mark says “Acclimatize dear flat-land Lassie…Acclimatize!,” I listen. Particularly when acclimatization involves immersing myself in a field of gorgeous wildflowers!
It’s a Sunday afternoon, and Bobbie is working weekends at the Bear Creek Gift Shop (where one can find an impressive display of her talent in watercolor paintings, I might add.) Mark offers to break out “Petroleous Rex,” for a Sunday drive. “Pet Rex,” as he is fondly referred to, is a big white V10 behemoth; part 4WD tank, part Abominable Snowman.
Mark offers a run up Camp Bird Mine Road to Yankee Boy Basin, an easy 4WD ramble that will land us in a field of living Technicolor. It will be a good test to see how we function at 13,000 ft, without wasting a perfectly good hiking day, only to find oxygen alludes us. I liken this to the climbers regimen of “Climb high, sleep low.”
The beauty of this outing is that it will get us “high,” without having to do a lot of climbing. In fact, Mark tells us if the altitude is too much, we can do as all the other throngs of 4WD tourists do, and see the wildflowers out our window in a drive-by viewing. (That whirring sound you hear is Edward Abbey, spinning in his desert grave.)
Debbie and I are the only takers, as the mere mention of “four wheel” sends Gayle grabbing for the door handle. We are a little bit alike in that way, but all it takes to assuage my fears is the promise of wildflowers, and I will “suck it up, Princess” for the chance to experience the high alpine garden.
Camp Bird Mine Road is a steep, sinuous gravel road carved beneath some impressive rock outcroppings and high canyon walls. The sheer drop-offs could easily land you on the tops of the tallest tree spires. This road also serves as Mark’s routine bike path. 😉
The ongoing attraction in Yankee Boy Basin is Twin Falls, locally known as “Coors Falls.” If you remember the old “Rocky Mountain Spring Water” photos from early ad campaigns, you will note the likeness.
But for about two weeks out of the year, Twin Falls’ ongoing gig is upstaged by a riotous display of color so brilliant and intoxicating, it’s hard to resist the urge to just lie down like Dorothy in the field of poppies on her way to the Emerald City. We stroll, we meander, we oooh and aaaah, we observe the intricacies, and we take a hundred photos.
Once we have had our fill of deep magenta, royal purples, flame orange, indigo blues, goldenrod, lavenders, and burnt sienna, Mark suggests we take a run up Governor’s Basin to visit his favorite ridge, Saint Sophia. The four wheeling gets a little more challenging, as Pet Rex lurches and lumbers over ruts, boulders, and hairpin curves so severe that he has to back up and reposition to make the switchbacks.
We climb up a short snowbank to get a better look at the ridge, a dramatically sculpted row of giant-sized, dentil crown molding decorating the rim over Governor’s Basin below.
As we turn to head back down, Mark asks if we have ever tried glissading , or simulating a downhill run on the slopes, sans skis! Wait…something seems wrong with this premise. Aren’t the lugs on the bottom of my hiking boots supposed to prevent gliding down the slippery slope, carving parallel tracks in the snow? Mark instructs, “Just pump your feet!” A couple of pumps later, and the only thing I am pumping is the clumps of snow out of my shorts! I think my adaptation to glissading may require a little longer than my acclimatization to altitude!