Category Archives: skylines

Hiking in the Front Range in Mid-April

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April can sometimes be a tough month.  It’s a hard month to plan too far ahead of time, as there is such a wide variety of weather conditions that one can experience in many parts of North America.  There have been instances, in April, where places like Nebraska have experienced both a tornado threat and snowfall within the same day!

This is especially true in Colorado.  Over the past five Aprils (2012-2016), Denver has received snowfall of an inch or more 11 times!  At higher elevations, April snowfall can be almost twice as frequent.  Yet, over the same five Aprils, Denver reached temperatures of 80F (26C) or above 6 times, and highs exceeded 70F (21C), on average, 9 days out of 30, or about 30% of the time.

A typical challenge in April is to find hikes at lower elevations as there is often still a significant snowpack higher up.  April 8th’s snowpack exceeded 40 inches at most places above 8000′ in elevation, despite the period of warmer weather April 5-7.

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Looking primarily at start and end elevation, and for a place I have yet to hike, I selected Deer Creek Canyon, a place, oddly enough I can ride my bicycle to in just under 90 minutes.

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And, much to my surprise the trailhead is actually located at Colorado’s Center of Population (according to the 2000 census).

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The quickest route from the trailhead to the top of Mount Plymouth is roughly 2.4 miles.  With an elevation gain of about 1200 feet, this particular hike would definitely fall into the “moderate” category for difficulty.

The other surprise was encountering not just a random structure, but an entire subdivision, roughly half a mile into the hike (taking the shortest route).

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The people who live here seem to have the life!  The houses are quite large, they have a spectacular view of some pretty interesting looking red rocks and rolling hills, and easy access to hiking trails.  Oh, and they live pretty much at Colorado’s center of population.  For a while, we discussed what it would be like to live in a place like this, and whether or not we would enjoy it.  Being fairly close to Denver, I bet these homes are quite expensive.  Yet, moving to a place like this would still entail giving up some urban conveniences.

 

I had hoped to avoid snowpack and mud, and for the most part we did.  Starting the hike at about 9:45 A.M., at least 2/3 of the hike was in the sun, and those parts of the trail were dry.  Toward the top, some ares with a little bit of mud, and even a bit of slush could be found in shaded areas.  Parts of the area had received close to a foot of snow several days prior, which, despite warmth thereafter, had not completely melted in areas above roughly 6800′ that are shaded from the sun most of the day.

Whether it be on the way up to the top of Plymouth Mountain, or on the return trip to the trailhead, I would certainly recommend following the remaining part of the loop on the Plymouth Trail.

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It was in this section of the loop where we found the best views of Denver’s skyline, and found some more interesting rocks to climb on.

We also veered off the main Plymouth Trail to follow The Meadowlark trail for the final 1.5 miles down to the trailhead.  This trail traverses through forests of short trees with minimal foliage.  I have encountered these trees before, always at roughly this elevation near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  It is a unique experience, to be surrounded by trees in all directions, but to still be nearly completely exposed to the sun.  I wonder what conditions make these particular trees grow here.

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And, rather than going by the subdivision again, this trail cuts a bit farther north.  In several places, the trail overlooks the canyon that was carved out by Deer Creek.  I have previously ridden this road on a bicycle.  From the vantage point of the road, it’s hard to to truly appreciate the extent to which the rugged terrain had been carved out by a relatively small creek.

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After a period of inactivity, it felt really good just to be outdoors and active, feeling the sun for hours on end, and smelling the rocks, trees, and dirt.  As a culture, we likely spend way too much time indoors and sedentary.  Something about it just feels a bit unnatural to me- always has.  The entire duration of the hike, I just felt grateful for Colorado, the opportunities and access to so many amazing places like this.

I often tell people who are looking to visit Colorado not to come in April, as well other parts of the year are more exciting.  But, one thing I realized is that, this particular hike, mostly in the sun, with a maximum elevation of 7274′, would likely be very hot in the middle of the summer.  I can only imagine what it would be like with temperatures exceeding 90F (32C).

Many of us reserve the summer months, particularly June through September, for activities that require more travel, more planning, and more certainty.  In April, it is less worthwhile to plan more major activities, as conditions are so variable.  Thus, April is the ideal time for activities that are closer to home and more moderate in nature.  It is a time to embrace some amount of uncertainty, and think on the fly.

In pervious years, I became frustrated with Colorado in April, contemplating leaving for this period of time that is uncertain and commonly fails to deliver.  But, with uncertainty comes the excitement of the unknown, and the possibilities for new opportunities.  In life, we need a balance, between the planned and the unplanned, between familiar and the unfamiliar, and between the distant and the local.  April, and the changing of the seasons in general, ensures that we continue to calibrate this balance.

When You Don’t Appreciate What You Have

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It’s Memorial Day, and there is a lot on my mind.  Part of me feels like I “should be” doing something way more substantial this weekend, as it is one of three big weekends that define summer here in the United States.  I can’t stop thinking about all of the sales and shopping going on this weekend.  And, then, of course, I end up thinking about the ACTUAL meaning of the holiday; remembering those who have died fighting for my country.  Many people in the military, or closely associated with someone in the military, lament what this holiday has become, all about grilling in the park, going to stores, partying, etc.

I “stayed home” this weekend, which for my standards (as an antsy person) means I stayed within the Denver-Boulder-Castle Rock area.  I needed to take it easy.  My next two months are packed with activities.  Also, most places I would go would have been particularly crowded this weekend.

Confluence Park is a mere three miles from my home, and right in the middle of Downtown Denver.  In fact, when I worked in Lower Downtown (LoDo), I was able to walk here from my office on lunch hours.  I ended up being here at a very unique time of year.  The river that runs through the center of town, the South Platte, has its origins in the higher terrain of the Central Rocky Mountains.  Above 10,000 feet, snow continues to fall, and temperatures remain chilly through much of Spring.  By this time of year, that snow is melting rapidly, swelling rivers like this one with rapidly moving, cold water.  It seems like the water levels reach their highest sometime around Memorial Day.

I sat in Confluence Park with my feet in the water for roughly half an hour.  I moved around from time to time, from rock to rock, feeling the sensation of the rapid stream flow in varying patterns, with different bumps, and eddies at different spots along the river.  I even stood on top of a mini-water fall for a bit.

I thought about all of the people, running around from store to store, looking for something new today.  I even thought of myself, and how I am always looking for new places to travel, new experiences, etc.

I even thought of the other activities I took part in this weekend.

Saturday’s brewery tour by bicycle.

Sunday’s hike up Green Mountain, to a place where one can see multiple 14,000 foot peaks in one direction and Denver’s skyline in the other.

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None of these activities required traveling a long distance, or buying any fancy equipment. A basic bike, a basic pair of sneakers will due.

Sometimes it seems like we spend way too much time looking for something new, and not enough time appreciating what we already have.  After all, whether it be a place to view the skyline from above (something I did not have when I lived in Chicago), or a year old pair of shoes, everything we have was once new, was once exciting, and was once a thing we were happy to obtain.  Are we still happy to have it?  Are we still enjoying it?

Some of us have more than others.  But, no matter how much or how little any one of us has, the one thing each and every one of us has is ourselves.  We have our bodies, and what we are capable of doing.  We have our minds, the things we think of, the way we reason, etc.  And, we have our spirits, our attitudes, what makes us excited for life, what makes us empathize with one another, and what makes us stand up for what we believe in when necessary.  This is definitely something we should all learn to appreciate.  If we all spent more time appreciating ourselves, maybe we would have a more positive outlook, and a more positive impact on the world around us.

A Visit to Albuquerque

People like to break things up into neat little groups.  It is a technique people use in order to try to simplify a world that, in reality, is quite complicated.  In the United States, we take our cities, and break them out into various groupings.  We place cities in groups based on their region, their size, and sometimes even by culture.  I am as guilty as anyone of doing this.  But, every once in a while, we find ourselves in a place that reminds us that we need to respect two basic tenants of humanity, which apply both to the Cities we visit, as an entity, as well as to each and every one of us individually.

Each City, just like every one of us, has a distinct and unique individual identity.  In this identity, we see reflections of factors such as its geographic location, its history, and some of its specific influences, such as specific personalities and prominent industries.  We also see some specific quirks that cannot be easily explained just by looking at what we observe elsewhere.  It is the same way with each and every one of us.  When we are being true to ourselves, our behavior patterns manifest in a similar unique manner, a manner that can only be described as attributed to our unique person.  I feel it every time any one of my friends responds to anything I do or say by simply saying “That’s so Steve”.

Also embedded in the character of any City I have ever visited are reflections of natural law, or the universal truths that bind us all together.

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Albuquerque reminded me of both of these two basic facts.  Albuquerque has a unique heritage.  It has similar beginnings as Santa Fe, and even has an Old Town Square that reflects these beginnings.

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However, much of the city was built in a much more sun-belt style car-centric manner.  It is one of the most storied towns along historic U.S. route 66.  Route 66 embodies multiple eras of U.S. history, including the mass migration to California during the Great Depression, and later the first decade after the second World War, when the American road trip first became accessible to a large swath of the American people; the middle class.

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Route 66 connected Chicago to Los Angeles from the late 1920s through the end of the 1970s.  While the route covers a large distance, traversing many different parts of the country, it is the Southwest, New Mexico and Arizona, that is often most commonly pictured when people imagine that classic road trip on route 66.  While the exact location of the route 66 town in Disney’s Cars is not disclosed, the imagery in the movie clearly points to a southwestern location.

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Albuquerque celebrates its pivotal position along route 66 by both preserving some of the places that were legendary stops for travelers along this highway.

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As well as creating restorations that recreate the experience of being at a travel stop along the old highway, much the same way old west towns recreate the American West during the 1800s.

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Route 66 is even the subject of a major controversy in town.  A proposed Bus Rapid Transit project, called Albuquerque Rapid Transit, would more or less follow the path of historic route 66 through town.  Residents of a hip area of town adjacent to the University of New Mexico called Nob Hill appear united in opposition to the project.  Some of the signs I saw opposing the Albuquerque Rapid Transit referenced protecting the heritage of route 66.  However, I wonder if this opposition is motivated by route 66 preservation, or the desire to avoid any changes to the neighborhood.

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Regardless of whether the people are motivated by the desire to preserve route 66 in its historic format, or preserve their neighborhood the way it currently is, on display here is one aspect of humanity that appears consistent across all cultures.  When people are enjoying their current situation, they generally do not desire change, and, in many cases, will fiercely oppose it.  This has been the case for me, personally, at various stages in my own life, and is also evident in a lot of the behaviors I observe in others when they react to changes in the workplace or their favorite social media outlet.

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It also appears to be basic human nature to seek out a broader view of the world from time to time.  It is the reason people go to the top of the world’s tallest building, hike Mount Rainier, or sit and gaze down at Los Angeles from the Hollywood sign.  Albuquerque’s answer to this is the Sandia Peak Tramway.

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This tramway takes passengers on a 15-minute ride from a base elevation of 6559 feet (already significantly higher than the center of town), to a peak of 10,378 feet. Here, visitors to the area can see unique rock formations.

 

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Learn about the unique biomes that can be found in the mountainous terrain (Breckenridge has a similar exhibit, but uses an actual garden).

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And, can get a view overlooking this city that actually covers a much broader area than just the Albuquerque city limits.  In fact, Sandia Peak is so high that it is quite difficult to make out individual buildings or even neighborhoods in town!

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The culture is unique as well, seeming to combine so many aspects of the West and Southwest.

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Along the Rio Grande River, which cuts through the center of town, a bike trail, as well as numerous parks provide the urban outdoor space that Westerners seem to value so much.  Whereas, in many other cities I have visited and lived in, living in close proximity to a park is desirable, but kind of a bonus, it feels as if people here in the West view being near a park as a prerequisite, a necessity of life itself!

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On this particular Sunday afternoon, a parade of classic cars rolled through Old Town Square, showing off their classic appeal, and the hard work each and every car owner put into maintaining their vehicle’s shine.

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That evening, on the West side of downtown, another group of people are gathered, also showing off their vehicles, and, almost downright partying.

When I think of all the cars revving their engines up at night, all I can say is, “That’s so Albuquerque”.  One could speculate what mix of cultural influences, old Spanish, sunbelt, Western, Hispanic, etc. lead to Albuquerque being the way it is today.  But it is more than that.  The same can be said about any other place one would visit.  That is why we travel, not just when we need to go somewhere for business, or when we wish to visit people that live in another place, but also when we desire an experience we simply cannot have in our respective hometowns.

NYC- Sort of Home

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Few places have as high of a profile as New York City.  Few places inspire as much thought and discussion, and, in North America, there are few places that are portrayed as frequently in popular culture.  New York is one of those places that everybody has a reaction to.  Some are in awe of it, see it as some kind of magical place where excitement looms around every corner and dreams come true every day.  Some see it as intimidating.  Others resent the influence it has on our culture.

At 8.5 Million, New York is by far the largest City in the United States of America.  This is less than 3 percent of the National Population, but it’s influence expands far beyond its borders.  Every day, millions of Americans living nowhere near New York read two major New York publications, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  Across the country people look to New York for the latest in business, music, fashion trends, musicals, and more.  And, one would be hard pressed to find anyone in North America that does not recognize Time Square at first glance.

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Countless shows and movies are set in New York.  At Washington Square Park, it is easy to imagine running into Billy on The Street, the cast of Impractical Jokers, or one of the many other shows that often uses this park as a backdrop for crazy antics.

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At Rockefeller Plaza, I imagine being in the cast of 30 Rock, or one of the shows that is actually filmed here.

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Yet, what I actually encounter here at Rockefeller Plaza is people in suits waiting in line for a salad, and tourists paying far too much money to skate on an ice rink that is far smaller than one would expect.

Day to day life here appears to be some kind of a tradeoff.  There are tons of fun places to go, and things to do!  I was only in New York for several days, and this was two weeks ago (I am behind on blogs- life gets in the way sometimes), but I am still thinking of all of the great food I had while here.

 

It must be amazing to have access to the best of pretty much everything the world has to offer right outside your door.

What intimidates me most about the idea of living in New York City (I say idea because I have no specific plans to move) is the work culture.  While the experience one has in any job is more related to the particular industry and particular organization in which they chose to work, geographic location does seem to play a part, and, from what I hear, employers in New York expect a lot from their employees.  I actually imagine working at a major corporation in New York City as all of the things I hate about the standard working environment; strict hierarchy, lack of caring, people stepping all over each other, feeling disconnected and like just a cog in a machine, dialed up to 11.

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Yet, as I walked around New York City, I realized the first thing I would miss is the friendliness.  I do not live in the Midwest or the South, the parts of the country known as being the friendliest of all.  But, in Colorado, I feel as if I can smile at strangers, and even strike up conversations with random people as I walk around my neighborhood, go to the store, or go about my life in any other normal way.  Here, not so much.

What would the average American feel if they were to move to New York City?  What would I feel?  Would I fall in love with the cultural institutions, concerts, shows, restaurants, and bars open until 6?  Or would I see a City full of people who appear to have had the life sucked out of them by their professions, hurrying from meeting to meeting, yet accomplishing nothing.

New York, despite being like no other palce on this continent, is a city of contrasts.  Here, in this City, at any given time, there are people having their lives made, and people having their lives ruined!  The City is congested.  Yet, one can get around the city quite quickly via subway.

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It makes every other system of public transit I have ever ridden (with the possible exception of Washington D.C.) seem slow and frustrating.

I walk down 14th Street.  The sidewalks are just as crowded as I remember them.  People are as eager to shove those who dare to walk slowly out of the way.  It is the fast paced, driven New York of every stereotype.

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For blocks, the only vegetation one can see is roped off to avoid overuse and destruction.  Yet, a few blocks away, one can find a quiet street, and almost find tranquility.

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In summary, in New York I feel both at home and in a foreign country at the same time.  With how similar it is to the rest of the county in some respects, and how different it is in other respects, I imagine many Americans would feel the same way.  I guess that is why some people would love to call this place home, while others would be frightened by the very idea of it.

Where New England Begins

 

Everyone has this idea in their head of the ideal place to live.  For some, it is right in the middle of something; the middle of the big city where everything is happening, the middle of the woods, or somewhere else one can truly immerse themselves in the kinds of activities they enjoy most.  For others, it is places like this, places that are kind of on the edge of two worlds, that combine easy access to several types of amenities.

Greenwich, Connecticut is literally the first town across the border from New York State.  Since the people of New York, and the people of New England have a mutual preference to not include New York in the region known as “New England”, this is the exact place where one enters New England.

But, how much does one really feel like they are in New England when here?  The town is clearly a suburb of New York City.  There is no unincorporated area that separates Greenwich from the adjacent suburbs that are part of New York State.  With an express train, one can be at Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan in around 40 minutes.

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The town does have a New England-like charm.  One needs only travel, by foot, several minutes away from Greenwich Ave. (the town’s main street), and the train station, before they enter an area of windy roads, dense trees and quaint houses one often associates with New England.

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It has a charming downtown, as well as a “Commons” outside their City Hall, which is something I have come to associate with New England, as I had not seen areas like this referred to as a “Commons” in other regions of the country.

Perhaps one of Greenwich’s greatest attributes is the beach in an area referred to as “Old Greenwich”.

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One of the largest beaches in the area, and one of the few that permits dogs, it attracts a significant  number of people, even on a dreary day in January.

Once again, here at the waterfront, one can see where this town sits geographically.  Even on a cloudy day, at the end of the Peninsula that extends southward into the Long Island Sound, one can see both the rocky shores that pop up the along the shores of New England, extending all the way from here to Maine, but can also see the skyline of New York City.

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Around town, I got that same hybrid-like vibe.  The pace of life is definitely different from New York City.  In New York City, people appear to have some kind of sense of urgency in everything they do.  I tell people who have never lived in New York to imagine the second or third most stressful day of their past year and assume that every person around them is having that kind of day.  In the short amount of time I spent in Greenwich, I did not sense nearly that level of urgency in the people around me.

Greenwich’s New York-like and New England-like characteristics are overshadowed by one characteristic that seems to define everything here; wealth!

Dealerships selling expensive cars, even Bentleys, line U.S. highway 1 coming into town.  The beachfronts are lined with large, multi-million dollar homes, and downtown is lined with shops selling expensive designer brands.

Gucci, Louie, Michael Kors…  I do not even know the name of all of them.  Frankly, I do not even care.  I can never picture, even if one day I become this wealthy, choosing to spend my money that way.  The only reason I know the names I do know is that they pop up in popular song lyrics, particularly rap music.  While sometimes I can get extremely annoyed by designer brands, particularly if I am EVER pressured into making a purchase, I cannot help but have some kind of odd admiration for the people that managed to market them, and, convince people to spend the amount of money they do on such products.

The people who create and market designer products have a keen understanding of human psychology (albeit, they could have used it for a better purpose).  Anytime anyone spends money (and sometimes time) on something, they want to know what they are getting.  It is the same dynamic that takes place when we ask our friend regarding their experience with a specific doctor, or a real estate agent.  We do not know what we are getting.  Through brands, we create trust.  “I know Subarus won’t break down on me”.  Or, “I trust the Cohen brothers to make a good film.”  So, we buy the product.  Those that created these designer brands managed to create a reputation so powerful that millions of people worldwide purchase this product when they could easily purchase something similar for a fraction of the price!

The two main things that stop people from living in that “ideal place” in their heads are job availability and money (which are closely related).  The fact that people with this amount of additional money chose to live here speaks volumes to Greenwich’s appeal as a place that combines the best of both worlds.  People who live here seem to have the best of both worlds; easy access to New York City, the city with more amenities than any other in the country, and fairly easy access to outdoor activities.  Friends that moved here from Manhattan tell me that the move has reduced the travel time to nearly all outdoor activities (hiking, skiing, the beach) by 30-60 minutes.  While it’s easy to come here and be envious of the fortunes here, it is also quite easy to see, even from someone who might have a different “ideal place” in mind, why people chose to live here.

An Overlook of the City

Starting sometime between the ages of 3 and 7, we are all asked the same question;  What do you want to be when you grow up?  Sometime between the day we are first asked this question and the first time we purchase an alcoholic beverage legally, we all answer this question.  Some of us, inspired by an event, a hero, or something we are really interested in, figure this out at a young age.  Meanwhile, others answer this question later on, after a year or two in college with an “undeclared” major.

Whether we answer this question at the age of 5 or 20, we all determine “what we want to be” believing that we have some kind of final answer to this question.  One of the biggest surprises that we all encounter in the adult world is that “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question that we never stop answering.  Sure, some of us may spend up to a few years at a time in a sort of steady-state, remaining in one place.  But, eventually, inevitably, some form of change, or opportunity for a change, will come our way, requiring us to revisit the question.

I actually learned this fact years ago, when I was actually given two different options for where to take my career by a former boss.  So, the fact that I am currently approaching a crossroads that may take me down a different career path, to a different location, or both, does not come as a complete shocker to me.  While not surprised, there is still plenty to think about, and sometimes the best thinking is done in another setting.

A common scene in the movies (and on TV) is for one of the main characters to absorb recent events and ponder what they are to do next while overlooking their city’s skyline.  This is a scene I reenacted somewhat accidentally today when I discovered the best view of the Denver skyline I have seen to date from a place called Mount Galbraith.

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Mount Galbraith is located just to the west of the town of Golden, Colorado.  With a peak at only 7,260 feet, hiking to the top is not challenging.  The vertical climb from the parking lot probably does not even reach 1,000 feet.  For someone looking to hike in Colorado with no prior hiking experience, this may be a good choice.  Unlike other trails near Golden, there is no mountain biking permitted on these trails, and the trails are significantly less crowded than any of the trails near Boulder.

I do not know why I came to this park today.  I had a lot on my mind today, and needed to get away from the distractions that often disrupt my thought process; in particular YouTube, the internet, and the Olympics.  So, I pretty much just got in the car and started to drive with no plan whatsoever.  Before I knew it, I was approaching Golden, and I had remembered seeing a sign for some kind of hiking trail on the way to Golden Gate Canyon State Park.  Knowing that in the month of February it is always safer to stay at lower elevations (this is due to both wind and snow pack), I decided at the last minute to stop.

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I also made my Siberian Husky come along for the ride, but she seemed to enjoy it.  This is probably the closest I will ever come to getting a picture of my dog overlooking a city skyline, something that I think makes for a neat picture.  In fact, I think Dogs Overlooking Skylines would make for an awesome calender.  12 different cities, 12 different dog breeds.  If someone made it, I would buy one for sure!

Today I followed my instinct, and I did what countless movie and TV characters have done; find a good view of the city skyline and ponder what is going on in my life.  I’m guessing most people feel that when they come to a place like this they are taking a step back from life, and looking at what is going on from above.  It almost feels as if we are taking a big-picture omnipresent view of day-to-day life when we observe from a place like this.  While on a typical day, we are looking at one particular block, one building, or even one desk.  Coming to a place like this, the entire city, as well as many places around it, all come into view.  It is natural for this view to prompt anyone to look at the big picture.

And, it is time to apply this big picture view to that age old question.  What do you want to be when you grow up?  Or, for those of us that are already grown up, we can more simply say, what do you want to be?  Whenever anyone asks or answers this question, it seems like the discussion always revolves 100% around jobs and careers.  But, there is more to who someone is than their career.  Maybe you want to be the person your friends can depend on?  Maybe you want to travel and have some interesting experiences?  Or maybe you just want to have a balanced life?  When it comes to “what you want to be”, ambitions like these are a valid part of the discussion and should not be ignored.