The Art of Exploration · a diary of day trips, natural places, and miscellaneous adventures

Mesa Trail

Published Sunday, September 24th, 2017 in Colorado · « ·

Today is the second day in a row of cool mist, light showers, and autumnal temperatures. I venture out mid-morning hoping to log a quick local hike before the trails turn too slop. I begin my hike at NCAR and trek northwards along the Mesa Trail—two miles out, two miles back. The colors of the foothills are gorgeous, the air damp, and the trail folk friendly.

In places, the ground is sodden. I slip and sink. I fear I’m both tearing up the trail and wrecking my shoes. Perhaps I should turn back. For a moment I consider doing so, but I press on, hoping the conditions will improve. They do—after another tenth of a mile, the path solidifies and gives way to rocks and hard-packed, damp dirt. I stomp the mud from my shoes and enjoy renewed traction.

A beautiful patch of wildflowers and banana yucca (Yucca baccata). Inspiration for my own garden.

I slow my pace to enjoy the views. If the weather turns this will be a short excursion so I take my time. A few flowers linger in places along the trailside, but the transition to autumn is clearly underway as revealed by the ochres and siennas of the grasses. There are no aspen in this area to signal the shift in season with their golden leaves.

Fog wafts up into the canyons and condenses on rocks, trees trunks, my jacket. The trail climbs up and down for a while before it flattens out atop Kohler Mesa. The route degenerates into a network of smaller paths and loops. One single-track leads down into Skunk Canyon, another to Enchanted Mesa. I stick to the main thoroughfare. Eventually, I come to Bluebell Road. The weather suddenly deteriorates so I turn around and head back. On the return hike, I turn on my video camera and record my journey in time-lapse mode.

I’ve been intrigued by time-lapse photography for a while, as it occupies an interesting place along the spectrum between photography and video. Additionally, time-lapse photography is used in life-logging, a form of journal keeping that records in great detail the diarist’s activities and actions throughout the day. Life-loggers use the data they gather to better understand their behaviors, optimize how they use their time, and create a detailed portrait of their everyday life. It’s all very scientific, but I’m uncertain it’s worth the effort. Nonetheless, I’m intrigued by the concept.

One life-logger whom I follow is Morris Villarroel, a professor of animal behavior at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Professor Villarroel records the details of his daily activities in a logbook and wears a camera clipped to the front of his shirt that takes a photo every thirty seconds throughout the day. In his blog, he often presents the photos he captures individually, in a mosaic, or compiled into a time-lapse video sequence. Although I do not intend to keep such a detailed photographic record of my days, I am intrigued by the idea of life-logging and the role of photography in studying one’s daily activities.

A small sampling of the more than 1300 time-lapse photos I recorded with my GoPro during my hike.

Professor Villarroel uses several tools to keep track of his days:

  • a log book where he jots down information about events as they happen
  • a narrative camera which, worn clipped to his shirt, snaps a photo automatically every 30 seconds throughout the day
  • a blog in which he presents his data and elucidates meaning

Although life-logging might sound eccentric, many people are already recording minute details of their days without fully acknowledging it—via Facebook feeds, FitBit bands, Twitter streams, Strava, blogs, and bullet journals.

This isn’t to say that life-logging is ground breaking. Many aspects of the practice can hardly be considered new. Annotating our days in one way or another has long been practiced by writers, scientists, artists, and explorers: Charles Darwin, Samuel Pepys, Mark Twain, Marie Currie, Meriwether Lewis. This latest incarnation of the practice merely adds technology to the diarist’s toolbox.

Inspecting my time-lapse photos en masse makes me realize how incredibly beautiful so many individual moments are. It’s a good reminder to notice and appreciate more of them.

My personal interest in life-logging is mostly just curiosity. I lack the discipline required to dive so deeply into personal record keeping. I’ll probably stick with the simpler aspects of life-logging: FitBits, GoPros, photographs, journals, this blog. Those tools are more than enough and enable me to keep a good record. One that I’m happy with.

Area Map

The Mesa Trail can be accessed from numerous trailheads. I like to park at NCAR and follow the Walter Orr Roberts Trail to the Mesa Trail connector.

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