Morning Sunshine: McPolin Farm Nature Trail

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I had the opportunity to attend a conference for my job in in Park City UT – a city near Salt Lake City that I’ve never had the opportunity to visit. I don’t really like work conferences. Long days holed up in an over-air-conditioned conference center make me feel tired and soul-less. I’m lucky if half of the presentations I attend have any merit to what I’m doing, but conferences are a necessary part of meeting people in my field and getting even a couple of new ideas from people outside my normal network. I planned to hike in the mornings before it all started to try to counteract my conference blues.

The first morning I was there I got up at sunrise and hiked up the mountain behind my hotel. It was a typical resort trail. A few parts were natural so I got a small taste of the high mountain desert landscape, but mostly the trail overlooked the grounds of the resort and the golf course. I felt unenlightened and eager to find something more intriguing the next day.

My shuttle driver Kevin showed me a trail that was in walking distance from the resort, but it had some nice views. It was a little blasé’ in that it followed the highway and was paved, but my time and transportation was limited. So, I set out on Thursday morning at sunrise donning my jacket and Vibram shoes to see what I could find. The walk from the resort led me past a touristy residential area before passing a cattle pasture. Black cows grazed in the early morning light among the Aspens and grasses. They looked at me from a distance as if to ask what I was doing out in this morning air. They didn’t seem at all interested in my answer.

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Just past the cattle, I caught the eye of a mule deer who seemed much more interested in my activities than the cows. His buddy ran off into the woods in a leaping, two-legged hopping fashion. But this deer stood there and locked into my gaze. “Good morning, Beautiful,” I said. We just looked at each other for awhile. I noticed that he had fuzzy, nubby antlers and was much larger than the deer I’ve typically seen in the eastern United States. I finally decided to head for the trail and walked away. My movement caused him to bound off as well.

The paved trail began at the end of the road. There was a Memorial there for Joshua. I tried to read the sign, but it was not legible. I couldn’t tell if it wasn’t meant to be read, or if the weather had worn down the print so that I couldn’t read it, but it was a rather substantial Memorial. I was curious as to what happened to him. I passed a few joggers who were very amicable. In the curve up ahead a pair of Sandhill Cranes and a juvenile were having their morning meal. Kevin told me they were always out there in that field. I was not disappointed.

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The trail was in a meadow that bordered a mountain. Another mountain rose up on the other side of the highway. In front of me was a white barn that Kevin told me was the most photographed item in Park City. I’ve seen prettier barns in Tennessee but maybe I just didn’t get the right vantage point on this one. The sun started to peek over the top of the mountain, and the light was really lovely. Cyclists pedaled by on the highway along with cars making their way into town. I found myself being grateful for the trail even though I wished it was less urban.

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I hadn’t walked too far when I saw a pile of mulch laying beside the trail. Beside the pile was a narrow little trail that was obviously being upgraded with the mulch. Further into the woods I saw what looked like little birdhouses, so I figured that the trail was for those who were maintaining the birdhouses. I decided to walk in anyway and see where the little trail led. The birdhouses were not birdhouses at all. They were signposts that talked about the Farm Trail and the flora and fauna in the area. Ironically, this beautiful little trail called McPolin Farm Nature Trail is sponsored by Wells Fargo, the Mountain Trails Foundation and the Park City Municipal Trails and Open Space organizations.

The trail continued to be narrow but meandered aimlessly up the side of the mountain. I traveled through a sagebrush meadow and then an Aspen forest. The signs told me about the Quaking Aspen trees whose leaves flutter with even the slightest wind. Apparently Quaking Aspen clone themselves in their root system becoming one massive organism but appearing to be many trees. The largest one is suspected to be over a million years old and is called Pando. It covers over 100 acres, and is the largest organism on earth. It is suspected to be over 1 million years old. You can read more about Pando here.

There was a pretty little creek that ran through the section, and I crossed over it several times. My Vibrams got soaking wet from the dew on the grasses that grew high close to the narrow walkway. My toes were freezing in the 50-degree morning air. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a variety of wildflowers in one walk. I couldn’t decide if this trail was all wild or if it had purposely been planted to showcase Utah’s vegetation. I sat on a bench at one point to say good morning to God and thank Her for this beautiful morning. The sun’s rays shone through the Aspen, and I knew that She was there. I even, for a brief second, had a vision of Jesus walking beside me enjoying the wildflowers in his hiking gear. And like the deer – He was just as quickly gone.

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The trail was a mile long, and I had apparently hiked it backwards. The entrance signpost explained that the Farm Trail had been put there so that I could experience what the natural farmland in that region looked like. The hike – and the trail – didn’t offer breathtaking views and heart-stopping natural magnificence. I was initially jealous as my brother and his family just spent a week or so in the midst of the magnificent Utah wilderness. But this trail’s peaceful, unassuming beauty touched me in just the way I needed yesterday. I walked back feeling refreshed and grateful that I got up early and made the effort.

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The mule deer was waiting for me on the way out. This time he startled me.  I didn’t notice him until he was only a few feet away from me looking out between two trees. As I walked past the cow pasture, two large cows were butting heads, and I tried to make a video because it was so funny. But, it didn’t turn out very well. They stayed head to head for several minutes until one pushed the other out of the corral. It made me laugh. I showed my picture of it to my boss later and told her we need to post that in her office so we can reference it when we’re butting heads about something.

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The hike yesterday put me in the right mood for a great conference day. I was relaxed and grounded. One of the signs on the trail reminded me that nothing in nature ever stays the same. The berries that are on the bush today will be eaten or will dry up and fall off tomorrow. The flowers that bloom today will die to make way for another bloom. The creek will be either dryer or wetter than the day before. I had the opportunity to see that sky, those flowers, those grasses and Aspens in that singular, unique moment. It – nor I – will ever be the same again. I am glad I was there to witness it.

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