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 a 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.
If you haven’t already submitted your guess for the “jelly bean” contest, you have one more day! The winner will be announced tomorrow evening.
Yellowstone has a lot going on under the surface, which makes for some interesting scenes happening above ground for the visitor’s viewing pleasure. Geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and vents demonstrate how our Earth is a dynamic planet that is constantly changing. These geothermal features are fun to photograph and gaze upon, yet the science portion of Yellowstone really captured my attention.
So let me share a couple tidbits with you:
A large portion of the park is actually located in a caldera, or a collapsed volcano.
Magma that is relatively close to the Earth’s surface provides the heat needed to create the thermal wonders mentioned above
Since tectonic plates keep moving, Yellowstone is an evolving park that won’t look the same in a couple years as it does today
There are more than 10,000 geothermal features found in Yellowstone (I probably only saw about 40)
Mud pots are my favorite. They look like a witches’ cauldron bubbling with a thick oozy liquid. Watching Old Faithful erupt was enjoyable, but I also marveled at Steamboat Geyser, another popular site in the park.
When the wind blew just right, the heat from the springs would provide a much-needed respite from the cold.
The dictionary defines grandness as: impressive in size or appearance; characterized by splendor and magnificence.
Grand Teton national park truly lives up to its name. The mountain range is certainly impressive, and I had to pull over multiple times in order to simply admire the magnificent view.
The main park road runs along the east side of the range, so depending on where you stop to hike, you can get a different feel for these splendid mountains. Some perspectives show you the awe-inspiring sharp peaks while others reward you with a softer view and beautiful lake reflection.
I’ve enjoyed waking up early, breathing in the crisp autumn air, and listening to the bugling elk as I traipse through the forest. By the time the sun begins to warm up the earth, I have already covered miles. I return to my car invigorated and energized for the day. My reward? A cup of coffee and a grand view.
Choosing to leave my job, my stuff, my home, and my community was not an easy decision. By far the biggest fear I had going into this national park adventure, however, was that Iwouldn’t like it. Yep. I was extremely apprehensive that I would be one week into my travels and absolutely hate being on the road. Or that I would be miserable, stuck with the same sense of listlessness I had while residing in Northern Virginia.
I’ve never been happier!
Getting out of my comfort zone was just the remedy for a healthy life “reset”. Completely flipping my daily routine was a perfect treatment for that sense of monotony I had felt. Yet it took courage and grit to move forward into the unknown; I had no guarantees that contentment would follow.
Sure, I miss my loved ones like crazy, but each day I am filled with gratitude that I decided to take this risk and travel around the U.S.
Life is too short to live squished into our bubbles of complacency.
“I’m sure that after all the national parks you’ve been to, this is underwhelming.”
“You’ve been to all these incredible places – what are you doing here?”
People I run into seem to believe that my senses have become dulled towards appreciating beautiful things in a “lesser” setting. Sure, I’ve gazed upon the Appalachians, snorkeled in picturesque waters, and watched the sun set over Colorado mesas. Yet despite all of the big nature moments I’ve experienced, I still thoroughly enjoy the simple things about being outside. Whether it’s feeling a cool breeze as a respite from the hot sun, or exploring a strange rock outcropping, I am not in the habit of comparing my natural encounters or rating my perspectives. If anything, visiting so many national parks has piqued my curiosity and honed my ability to pick out the most alluring views. I have learned to treasure beauty, regardless of the place or form.
Denver is a great example. This city is surrounded by a great outdoor playground. During my stay, I hiked in some local parks, marveling at the uniqueness of the area and its relative solitude despite its proximity to hundreds of thousands of people. My 2-day break from camping was ideal: I had all the amenities of a city, yet the ability to escape into nature for hours. My gracious Denver hosts, J.C. and Renae, are fellow nature-lovers and explorers. In fact, J.C. is a traveler/blogger who focuses on helping sojourners travel safely. I was able to gather some pro tips about staying safe while on the road.
In a couple days I’ll say goodbye to Colorado. The views have been spectacular, the people have been gregarious, and the beauty (big and small) has been absolutely extraordinary.