Monday, November 29, 2021

Hiking at Different Elevations: 7,000+ Feet Different!

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond

Photos by Jory Westberry | The Teton Mountains in Jackson Hole, WY, imagine the sunset photos as the sun sets behind them.

This moose is probably 2 years old judging by the size of his paddles (horns).

Hiking is a darn sight easier in Florida because most of it is pretty level, yet it could be boggy with some hills thrown in, depending on whether you are in the southern or northern part of the state, possible snake sightings, panthers, and critters that aren’t particularly welcomelike gators, wild pigs, bears and more. Luckily, they are seldom seen.  

Some insects are seldom seen, ironically called “NoSeeUms” that when you search the site of the tiny pinprick of pain, there’s a minuscule dot that is so annoying, you have to stab it with your finger to end the misery. They are also referred to as Biting Midges, Biting Gnats, Punkies, or Sand Flies; maybe it’s a regional nickname? The places they are the most prevalent are coastal areas—hmm, that would be right where we live you may have noticed! 

The insects that are the peskiest, of course, are the mosquitoes that seem to have highly sophisticated radar for the faintest whiff of human blood. And they are persistent little buggers, as we know. The thing that sets mosquitoes in Florida apart is that they are stealthy and fast. You might hear the tiny whine, but before you can locate the little bugger, it’s too late and soon you will be scratching, slapping and maybe cussing and wishing you had applied some repellent. It’s funny though, no matter how many slapping experiences you have like this, there’s always a repeat performance.  

Compare the hiking in the mountains starting at around 7000+ feet in the Wind RiverHoback or Teton Ranges. You’ll note quickly that the trails with their inclines and elevations are always going up until you come back down. The mosquitoes are also different. They’re smallslow and you can practically catch them in the air with your hand, unless it’s dark of course, in which case, good luck.

Sunset over one of many lakes in Yellowstone National Park.

 As you stop to smell the pine trees, admire the sparkling waterfalls and streamswildflowers that make your heart sing and breathe the clean, crisp air, your lungs labor for oxygen, which is in short supply at that altitude.  

What can be done about the shortness of breath? Take few days to acclimate to the thinner atmosphere and let your lungs adjust from sea level to over a mile high. My cousin (who thought he was pretty tough) and his wife planned a camping trip to the Wind River Mountains several summers ago. They drove from Florida, arrived with backpacks and all the camping equipment and were raring to go and spend several days hiking in the higher elevations. Imagine our shock when they were back the next day and had a bad case of altitude sickness, with the headaches and nausea that define it. The funny part was that he blamed it on his wife, even though we could tell by his pale color that he was the one stricken! 

Sunset in tropical Naples rarely disappoints.

Other things to watch for in the mountains are the varieties of wildlife including deer, moose, elk, bear, coyotes and sometimes Big Horn sheep and, depending where you are, you may also see some buffalo, aka bison. I was lucky enough to see a pair of Mountain Lions crossing a meadow once, but that was the first and last time. There are all kinds of smaller animals including beaver, muskrats, badgers, raccoons, skunks, chipmunks and all the birds you can see and hear while in the forests and hiking. From the screech of the Sandhill Crane to the honking of Canada geese to the teensy whirring sounds of the hummingbirds’ wings as they use their tiny straw-like beaks to suck the nectar from flowers or strategically placed feeders while aloftAlong with the previously mentioned birds in both places, there are many, many bald eagles and osprey in both states, who knew? 

Two spellbinding joys of both Florida and Wyoming are the sunrises and sunsets. 

Both states have expansive skies and the variety and colors that one can capture with the eye or camera are incredibly memorable. I’m betting that most of you reading this have scores of those events documented in slides from bygone years, photos or digital pics on your phone that bring back beautiful memories. I sure didn’t see many gorgeous sunrises or sunsets in New Jersey or New York—probably because of the smog. 

Traveling and discovering the treasures contained in our 50 states is a rewarding endeavorYou feel like an explorer, a prospector, a land surveyor, a cartographer and a child. A child? Why? Do you remember the joy of seeing something for the first time and the awe that filled your eyes and mind; a unique flower, a strange insect, an eclipse? Those are moments that fill the crannies of our grey matter. 

There are several people I know that have made it their mission to not only visit all 50 states, but to visit all the National Parks and then the State Parks. Wow, that’s a concerted effort! What’s gained is a compendium of memories and appreciation for the beautiful areas of our country and the treasured national parks, protected for all to wander and absorb a special sense of serenity. 


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