My rather impromptu Colorado visit landed me in Rocky Mountain National Park once again, a few days shy from a year after my first go-round. Back then, I trod eagerly through many sections of the park, exploring multiple lakes, ecosystems, and wildlife via a wide variety of hiking trails. As I once again stood within the alpine climate – 12,000 feet above sea level – I took deep breaths and let the happy memories of the previous year rush in.
Heading down the east side of the mountain range, my friend and I had one main agenda: hike trails with water. This turned out to be a rather easy goal, since so many streams, rivers, and waterfalls undulate throughout the park.
Day 1 was a hefty 8-mile hike to Fern Lake, passing by some gorgeous cascading rivers and a not-too-shabby waterfall on the way.
Day 2, after more camping, boasted one of the best waterfalls in the park: Ouzel Falls. While only 5 miles round-trip, my poor feet were screaming to be let out of my hiking boots. A lazy summer in flip-flops had apparently spoiled them to laborious trekking.
While my life has taken on a rather consistent rhythm now that I’m back home and off the road, I appreciate the fact that I can still have miniature adventures in the outdoors. Life’s too short to stay indoors. 🙂
“A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose.” – Peace Pilgrim
I couldn’t resist fitting in one more outdoor trip before heading back into full time teaching. All 47 parks had been successfully checked off the list, but I jumped at the opportunity to revisit the Rockies. Re-branded as the Park Pilgrim*, I hopped on a plane sans Clarence, ready to have some rugged adventures with a Denverite friend.
First stop: a primitive hot spring located pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I took a hefty 2-mile hike down to an rocky outcropping where natural hot spring water mixes with the Colorado River. I was not aware that this was a popular stopping point for rafting trips until I heard jubilant shouting halfway down the mountainside. There were a few too many people for my liking, but it was fun watching people awkwardly cliff dive from 40 feet up.
During my first go-round in Rocky Mountain National Park, I didn’t spend any time on the west side. Nestled neatly in between mountains, the gorgeous night sky made the cold camping experience worth it. I felt snug in my friend’s little tent, but I have to admit I pined for Clarence the teardrop trailer most of the night. Bugling elk lulled me into a fitful sleep; I awoke in the morning to a small herd gently chomping on foliage within 15 feet of my tent.
For every 1,000 feet my car climbed up the winding road, the temperature dropped more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Pretty soon the pine trees began to wane and were replaced by heaps of snow that had still not melted from the previous winter. I was officially in the tundra.
When most people think of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, they imagine sharp peaks jutting into the sky and elaborate forests dotting the landscape. Those views are plentiful and greatly appreciated, but there is something magical about entering a brand new ecosystem in the “land above the trees”.
Yellow-bellied marmots hang out by the side of the road, greeting park-goers at pullovers. Dwarfed plants cover the ground, strong when it comes to the elements, but fragile when it relates to human interference. This truly is a land of extremes. I shivered, despite my layers, grateful for the strong sun, but cursing the wind that whipped around.
The beauty was unlike anything I had ever encountered. There was something so raw and achingly real about it. The tundra has permanently embedded powerful images into my memory and officially captured my imagination.