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Jewels of the Desert

By Ann Driggers

Through a deep gorge cut into the great slab of dark rock, a ribbon of cobalt blue meanders in and out of pools of cerulean green. At first sight the crystal clear and sparkling waters of the Gunnison River seem to be an apparition. If it weren't for its documentation on the map before my very eyes I would believe there was some deception afoot.

We follow a hot and dusty trail rolling across the wrinkles of the high desert, threading through stands of pinyon and juniper and parks of sagebrush, switchbacking down and down. A smattering of desert flowers are blooming despite the dry winter and spring.

The beauty of these blooms and the improbability of their existance in these barren lands never cease to amaze me. As does the apparent river we are descending towards. Finally we reach the floor of the gorge and find the oasis to be real. Along the rivers edge a riparian habitat flourishes and its ice cold waters harbor trout of legendary proportions.  

While gusty winds result in more tangles than bites for Chad, I relish digging my toes into the sandy beaches and lying under the shade of a cottonwood tree.

After several hours of simply enjoying this special place, we turn back and upwards. While the 1,200 foot ascent requires a slower pace, it affords us the opportunity to find a few more floral gems. The sego lilies in particular appear so contradictory to their surrounding environment, their elegant chalice of petals delicately attached to long slender stalks, punch through the grey rocky and cracked earth and bow to the hot desert breeze.

The sun sinks into the western horizon of the Uncompahgre Plateau, casting a hazy glow over the dusty valley of the lower Gunnison River wending its way towards a rendez-vous with the much murkier and larger Colorado.

And in the eastern sky the Super Moon rises quickly, sprinkling the desert with silver light, yet another jewel in the desert.

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