Covering a distance of approximately four miles, the Burl Friends trail begins at the La Sal Pass trailhead and ends farther down on the La Sal Pass Road. On my first hike on this trail in early June, I managed to walk 1.5 miles down to Beaver Lake. Then, underneath a protective canopy of firs and spruce, a payload of snow eagerly swallowed me up. Since I had no desire to spend the majority of my day wallowing and post holing through it, this was as far as I was willing to go.
What a difference a few weeks can make. Now the snow has dramatically melted and I’m back to complete the rest of the trail. This time around, I’m easily strolling along on dry ground through aspens and meadows, a combination that goes together like peanut butter and jelly. You seldom find one without the other.
Burl Friends seems like an odd name until you realize it refers to all the burls (the knotted wood) found on the older aspens. Cold tolerant and fast growing (two to five feet per year) aspens are widely distributed over much of western North America.
Their heart-shaped leaves are uniquely attached to a flexible, lengthwise stem. This anatomy provides them the freedom of movement to rustle in the slightest breeze, a charming characteristic referred to as “quaking.” The shortening of daylight signals the chlorophyll to fade. This triggers the brilliant yellow pigments called carotenoids to break through giving us the dazzling golden colors that we find so mesmerizing in the fall.
To access the Beaver Lake trailhead, drive south from Moab on Highway 191 approximately 22 miles and turn left at the sign for the town of La Sal on to Highway 46. Then drive another 13 miles and take a left onto the Upper Two Mile graveled dirt road. With one rock-based stream crossing, it is suitable for most two-wheel-drive vehicles, although I wouldn’t recommend a Prius.
In two more miles make another left turn for the La Sal Pass Road and drive six more miles to the sign on the right for Beaver Lake. A short road takes you to the edge of the lake where there are convenient places to park. At this spot the massive bulk of Mt. Peale smacks me in the face with its tremendous bulk - a prominent landmark named after Albert Charles Peale, who was a geologist on the Hayden Survey team in 1875. At 12,721 feet in elevation, this gigantic, rounded formation is the highest peak in the La Sal Mountains.
At the lake I go left to start the unsigned access that connects up with the Burl Friends trail. Gunmetal-blue dragonflies helicopter across this marshy pond in rhythm with the water-loving grass and willows that softly sway with the breeze. Steller’s jays squeaky-call to each other while violet-green swallows swoop and dip in and out of the picture.
A few steps farther, I am engrossed in a splish-splash of bright colors: the waltz of yarrow, showy lavender daisies, sneezeweed, Indian paintbrush, yellow daisies and fireweed. All of them dressed up like young girls attending their Senior Prom.
I’m still on the edge of the lake when I stumble upon four dusky (formerly blue) grouse. One flushes a short distance. The other three hold tight. I stay still, as well, to see what will happen. Gradually all four regroup to feed, while keeping a close eye on me. Stealthily I move in. They just keep munching away. Amazingly I’m just a stone’s throw away when I walk by these nonchalant birds.
A short distance later, I reach a sign and take a right to continue downhill. Then, in and out of the woods I go, where wooden bridges and trickling streams are symbolic of this part of the trail. Along the way I savor the stirring flutter-leaf action of the aspens. Recent rain has turned the meadows in to a lush paradise, and I relish the cooling color of these green pastures.
The farther I go, the wider and more distant the views become - either I’m looking over at the sharp contours of South Mountain or way down into the valley that contains Old La Sal’s scattered ranches and homes.
The day is warm. Half-way, I settle in for lunch under the shade of a small gathering of firs next to a sweet-talking creek. Ah, the tranquility as I tune in to the friendly, buzzy chatter of house wrens. The tiny gray juncos chatter amongst themselves. Then with the habitual flash of their white-edged tail feathers, they move on.
Dark, lionesque clouds steamroller in and I welcome the sharp, cooling edge of a hefty breeze. Now the aspen leaves are moving to the beat of a fast jitterbug. Even the broad shoulders of the firs are violently shuffling up and down. This blast, however, doesn’t last. Before long, the zephyr has passed.
Late afternoon, I’ve reached the end of the trail. Now I’m tired, thirsty and hungry. So when my husband greets me with some munchies and an ice-cold beer, I gratefully plop down to enjoy it!
Turn around, June has whizzed on by. Turn around again, July has disappeared, too. In the blink of an eye our alpine summer has come and gone. There is, however, some time left before winter sets in. Depending on weather patterns, roads can still be passable through October, sometimes even into early November. So get on up there to enjoy it while you can.
My season as a writer for Hiking Happenings is also coming to an end. The time has come to say good-bye. I’ve been penning these articles (126 of them) for over ten years. This will be my last publication. You can find all of them on the Internet at www.moabhappenings.com, by scrolling down to the hiking archives.
I’ve enjoyed this creative process that has helped me grow as a writer. Now, however, my mind is blowing in the wind to move on to different projects.
I appreciate the positive feedback from my many readers. Your support has often kept me moving forward to write about another trail every month. I want to express my appreciation to Theresa King for giving me this opportunity to share my hiking experiences with the public. It has also been a pleasure working with Steve Budelier and Susan Baffico. To all three of you, your patience, understanding and enthusiasm have been invaluable.