There is a place where the Eagle River bends thought the valley formed millions of years ago by the Eagle Glacier, long since receded by the end of the ice age. This nonsensical turn is nothing more than just a 90° bend, and the river rolls happily over the rocks on its way out to the Cook Inlet. The forest of aspens and spruce trees end just beyond the rivers edge and move up the tree line to the mountains surrounding this area. The spot is known as Echo Bend, and while I didn’t test it, one can probably year their echo off the granite hillsides.
I came out here today, not with any intention of visiting “Echo Bend”; heck … if there wasn’t a crude sign on a tree out here I wouldn’t even know it’s name. The rain stopped overnight as predicted and we were promised at least a dry morning before an inch more rain to fall over the next few days. As much hiking as I have done, I really haven’t done a “successful” day hike – where I didn’t turn back for one reason or another along a good distance. I came out to the Eagle River Nature Center intent on conquering the “Easy” rated 7-mile loop of Dew Mound Trail.
Long story short, trail conquered; and my phone app said it was more 8-1/2 miles than 7 miles, but I did go off trail here and there (not 1-1/2 miles off, but still). I have been fighting something of late, maybe the long predicted summer cold, maybe the ‘what the heck, I have allergies now?’ allergies that I’ve been getting the last couple of years, maybe just the constant rain of the last week and the thought of another week of rain to come. Regardless, my sleeping patterns were way off, and when I woke at 4am this morning I knew that a hike of any type would be a fight. Let’s just say that when I started alerting unseen, non-existent bears of my presence I don’t know whether I was talking to “Bear” just to let them know I was here, or “Bear” was really my imaginary friend brought on crazies. It was a good hike though, highlighted by my cool new hiking (trekking) poles that definitely made the hike easier — now that I knew how to use them.
The real trouble with this trip was maybe my struggle for the last week. I have settled into a comfort zone where “Alaska” is not longer a concept and is now a constant. I headed out for a hike because that is what I do. I followed a path because that is what I do. I take pictures because that is what I do. What it made me do is almost miss Echo Bend. Maybe not walk by it … but really miss what I was seeing.
There is no way that pictures can do this place justice. The mountains deep in the woods remain untouched rising up towards the sky in sharp, steep slopes. Where the trees end, the grasses grow green and lush until the rocks win out. Along the peaks are the snows and glaciers that will never melt, never see enough sun to warm them away. They make the wet air above them form clouds billowing out and around them. They have their effect, however, as the river rushes by with a whiteness like filled with chalky silt or a touch of the ice still floating in them. The rocks are too rough to keep the water from continuing steady, so they churn and whiten with a gentle rush. In between the mountains and the river is a mass of tree and grass covered land that lays like a wall keeping the river from going just straight through. To this eye though, it was like a backdrop to present the different layers of color and texture. Water, green, rock, snow, sky.
Echo Bend laid itself out like a fantasy. Illusions of man-made images I have seen hundreds of times in paintings, on computers, in movies. For a short time, I almost brushed it off like it was all those other things and something that is so easy to get used to. But as I tried to capture it with the camera on my phone I wondered if I was really capturing anything that could do this justice.
That’s when I realized that nothing could. Echo Bend was a masterpiece of beauty. More than that, it was real.
In whatever state my head was, some four miles from my car and some four miles more to go; I struggled to accept that.
Then a voice in my head echoed back: “You are only a short drive away. Come back to this place, whenever you want, and see it again whenever you want.” Vacation is over, this is home now.