Category Archives: Unique Rock Formations

Testing Our Limits

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A good friend of mine once told me that nearly all people are capable of much more than what they believe they can do.  And that, in fact, when challenged, most would actually be surprised by what they are physically able to do once they have been pushed to their very limit.

When it comes to most activities, people generally tend to stop when tired.  After all, exhaustion is generally an unpleasant experience for most, and has the potential to make an activity no longer enjoyable.  However, from time to time, life issues some kind of challenge that forces us to give everything we have, way beyond what we had been wanting to give.  Most of us have experienced that unexpectedly challenging assignment in college that forced us to “pull an all nighter”, or had to tend to someone they truly care about at a time when completely exhausted.  It is at these moments, when we completely drain ourselves, that we figure out the true boundary of what we are capable of.  And, for physical activities, such as cycling, it is when our bodies actually physically begin to give out on us, that we truly understand what we are capable of doing.

Heading into a new season, I decided it was time to challenge myself.  Monday, I had an entire day available with no prior engagements, so I decided to take on a ride that would potentially test the limits of my endurance at its current state; A bike ride from Denver to Castle Rock, and back, in one day.

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The first 30 miles of this trek is on the Cherry Creek trail, from Denver to the suburb of Parker.  Most of this trail is relatively flat.  A gradual upslope, combined with a few uphill segments, takes a rider from Denver’s 5280′ in elevation to Parker’s 5900′.  This part of the journey was not too terribly challenging.  In fact, in this segment, my biggest challenge was finding water to refill my water bottle.  I had assumed, for some reason, since it was already the end of March, and that there have already been 12 days with high temperatures of 70 or above, that the water fountains around the suburbs would be turned on for the spring.  I was wrong, and was quite thirsty and relieved to see this sign, indicating that although the water fountain was not operational, that the bathroom had available water.  You would be surprised how many suburban park bathrooms do not have running water.

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To get from Parker to Castle Rock, one must follow a road called Crawfoot Valley Road.  The road is quite luxurious for cyclists, with a shoulder wide enough for roughly two bikes.  In fact, it is labelled a bike lane for some parts of this eight mile stretch of road.  The first three miles, headed southwest from Parker, however, is a bit of a climb, and a deceptive one.  The climb is nowhere near as steep as one in the mountains, and one only climbs 500-600 feet.  But, it is one of those frustrating climbs where the road winds around a bit, and, with each turn, a cyclist will wonder whether or not they are approaching the apex only to see another uphill segment gradually appear as they approach.

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Once this road levels off, facing southwest, the ride becomes almost surreal.  To the left of the road, one can see Pike’s Peak, standing there all by its lonesome.  To the right, the mountains of the Front Range, due west of Denver appear.  Riding sort of directly at these mountains, with the vantage point of being up at roughly 6500 feet in elevation, I cannot help but take a deep breath and marvel at how wondrous the world can be sometimes.

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After just over 40 miles of cycling, I arrived at Castle Rock.  When I got to Castle Rock, I decided to add on a mini-hike to my day of activity.  After all, I spent almost three hours getting here, why wouldn’t I head up to this little rock structure- my destination!

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This is a fairly short hike, with stair-step features that indicate that it was designed primarily for tourists, and not hard-core hikers.  So, I did not feel too bad about adding this hike to my already exhausting daily itinerary.

After all, the return trip to Denver would be much easier, after the initial climb out of town on Crawfoot Valley Road, the rest of the trip would be more or less downhill, descending, overall, from an elevation of 6200′ at Castle Rock back to 5280′ at Denver.

That turned out to be wrong.  As I approached Parker, a northerly wind developed, and, although the wind itself was not too terribly strong (10-12 mph range), the gusts began to pick up and become more frequent.  It was here, peddling into the wind, that an already challenging ride became one where I ended up testing the limits of what my body can do.

There are three levels of tired.  First, there is just general tiredness, where we just feel like stopping.  Many people do indeed stop at this point.  However, those who stop at this first level of tiredness generally do not develop any further endurance.  Level two tired is where we begin to ache, or feel some level of pain.  At this point, it is typically recommended that one stop.  This is the level of tiredness I had expected out of Monday’s ride.  However, the gusty winds on the return trip brought my level of tiredness to the third level, the level in which you simply cannot go anymore.

Working to each level of tiredness achieves a different goal.  An activity that stops at level 1 tiredness maximizes our enjoyment of an activity.  An activity that stops at level 2 tiredness is most beneficial to our fitness.  When we push to level 3 tiredness, we achieve personal accomplishments, the kind that make us feel as if we are achieving something with our activities.

The key is, for almost anyone involved in any kind of physical activity, to find a balance between working to each of the three levels, as they feed off of each other.  The original, and ultimate purpose of any activity should be to have fun, but, for most, an activity become even more enjoyable when we improve, take on new challenges, and accomplish new things.  Much like a skier that starts out on the green slopes, moves up to the blues, then blacks, and finally extreme terrain, I am looking to take my bike out longer distances, and to places that were previously unreachable.  However, in order to plan out how to test my own personal limits, I first have to know where those limits are.  So, as much as I can be pissed off that this ride ended up being more difficult than expected due to the wind, the wind allowed me to actually measure my personal limit, so I can start the process of improving.

Places of Questionable Significance

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In 1983, an incredibly drunk Ozzy Osborne made the mistake of deciding to relieve himself on the Alamo, a building of historical significance.  He was arrested (Isn’t public urination usually just a ticket?), and scorned by many, primarily due to the fact that the Alamo is an important symbol of pride amongst Texans.  However, to Ozzy, a British rock star, the building probably did not mean too terribly much.  While a sober Ozzy (if that existed in 1983) would probably have realized the building is significant due to the presence of tourists, he probably would not have felt the same affinity or pride when standing in front of the Alamo.

With the exception of a few wide eyed hippies that believe that every place is significant, and a few hard core cynics, that fail to see the significance in any place (or anything), the significance of most places is dependent on the person and the culture.  There is no better of an example of a place like this than Four Corners, U.S.A.

Four Corners is unique due to the fact that it is the only place in the United States where four states all border one another.  If one wanted to stand in five different states at one time, it would not be possible.  If one wanted to stand in four different states at once, there is only one place where it can be done; Four Corners Monument.

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The primary reason people visit this particular monument is to take silly pictures like this one.  Assuming the location of the four-state border is correctly marked (some question that is in the right place), in this picture I am in four states at once.

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However, in the absence of state borders, this particular spot would really actually be quite insignificant.  There is no natural demarcation point, or significant change in scenery.  Even on the Colorado side, the wide open landscape, periodic mesas, and sagebrush screams Arizona much more than Colorado.  This Arizona-like feel persists for over thirty miles into Colorado until the San Juan Mountains start to show up on the horizon somewhere east of Cortez.

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The significance of this place is further muddled by the fact that this point is not the border of four different jurisdictions.  The monument is actually on an Indian Reservation.  Thus, you do not even get the standard differences in policies and sales tax that usually accompany state borders.  An equal number of souvenir stands exists on all four sides of the monument.  I am not sure whether or not marijuana is legal on this particular reservation, but the policy is the same on all sides.  I did not observe all of the pot heads clustered in the Colorado quadrant of this monument.

In the absence of state borders (and people obsessed with exact points of latitude and longitude), the most significant site in this region is a rock formation a dozen or so miles away called Shiprock, which has cultural and religious significance to the Navajo people who have inhabited the region since well before the Spanish arrived.

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From a completely neutral standpoint, the rock formation definitely seems to stand out way more than any other feature in the area, which is mainly small mesas and creeks.  But that does not mean the wide open space where the monument should lack significance to all people.

For most likely a variety of neurological, sociological, and historical reasons, Western Culture associates wide open spaces like this one with freedom.  It’s the wild.  It’s the untamed.  It’s the place where you can yell as loud as you want, shoot any kind of weapon you want, and start a fight without anyone to break it up.  There is nobody to tell you where you can (and can’t) hike, climb, tie a rope to an arch or mesa to swing from it, or even try to catapult small rodents.  It’s the last refuge of people seeking to escape every single one of society’s restrictions and limitations.

But the one set of regulations that one can really never escape is the ones that exist only inside their own heads.  I often refer to these as the “invisible chain”.  And by this, I am referring to all of the anxiety, fear, and self-consciousness that often stop us from doing what we feel we should be doing.  It stops us from telling people what we really think.  It stops us from talking to that interesting and attractive stranger on the train.  It stops us from dancing when fun music comes on.  In some ways, it stops us from living.  And, millions of Americans are in the process of destroying their livers trying to reclaim it.  In these pictures of the free, wild, and untamed west, there are typically very few people, or buildings to indicate the presence of people.  There is nobody to judge you, and nobody to make you feel self-conscious about what you chose to wear, say, and do.  The fact that this is where we go to seek freedom indicates where we, as a people, believe most of our restrictions come from.

Therefore, if one could overcome this “invisible chain”, the restrictions placed upon us would be limited only to those officially legislated by some kind of governing body and effectively enforced by law enforcement personnel.  The few lucky individuals that manage this are able to find this greater level of freedom in places like London, Hong Kong, or New York City; places that provide the interaction with other human being that we all crave.

We often see the desire for community and human interaction as pulling us in one direction, while the desire for freedom and individuality pulling us in the opposite direction.  As an extrovert, I often struggle with the fear that asserting my individuality and refusing to conform, will cost me in the social realm.  Reflecting upon all of this in the wide open spaces of the desert southwest, I re-realized that being an individual and reducing that fear actually helps in the social realm.  Negative responses from those that fear non-conformity are more than outweighed by positive responses by those that appreciate authenticity and variety in nearly all circumstances.  The key is to understand that we all have freedom of choice, and not to allow any of the hate to translate into hatred towards others.  This applies even the people that have ridiculed me and caused me hurt.  They have the freedom say what they want.  The only way to truly overcome that ridicule is not to ridicule them back, or “defeat” them in an argument.  It is to not be affected by that ridicule and continue to be the way you are despite anything they say.

This is one of several lessons, I re-learned on this trip.  These re-realizations make this place significant to me, even if the official reason for the significance of any of these places is questionable.  Everyone has a different experience here, and it is completely understandable for someone to come to Four Corners, find out it is on a reservation, buy nothing at the souvenir stands, and leave seeing the place as pointless.  For me, however, this is where I got my mind off some of life’s frustrations, and got back on the path to becoming a better person.

A Bike Ride to Roxborough State Park

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The primary reason I love cycling as much as I do is that I am able to go places a significant distance away completely under my own power.  For many years I have enjoyed commuting to work (now only 1.5 miles but formerly 6 miles), running errands, visiting specific places, and getting myself to and from specific events by bicycle.  I feel the benefits are two-fold.  There is the obvious money savings on fuel (and/or parking/ transit).  In addition to the monetary savings, I find the exercise and time outdoors to have a been a great value to my health, both mentally and physically, over the years.

Roxborough State Park is about 30 miles South of central Denver.  It is a place I had never really thought about visiting up until a few weeks ago when I was looking for new interesting places to ride my bike to, and wanted a ride that would be roughly two hours each way.  In Denver, it is possible to cover a good amount of distance quite quickly using the metro area’s bike trails, which bypass traffic signals, as well as most terrain features that would normally slow a cyclist down.

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The Platte River trail can be followed from Denver southward to it’s terminus at the C-470 trail, about 16 miles south of downtown.  The Platte River trail is quite flat, as it tracks right along the river.  However, the C-470 trail, which roughly follows the highway (which is the Metro area’s outer loop), contains a lot more rolling hills.  After several miles on the C-470 trail, I arrived at Chattfield State Park, a reservoir, and popular boating destination on the southern fringe of the metro area.

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A couple of years ago, this was the destination of a couple of rides I had done.  Last year, I did a ride to Waterton Canyon, the starting point of the Colorado Trail, a place I also rode by on my way to Roxborough State Park.  It is somewhat encouraging to actually see my continued progress as a cyclist right in front of me.  However, it also made me realize that there is one disturbing parallel between cycling (or any activity of this nature) and drug addiction; as the more I ride my bicycle, the farther and more intense of a ride I need to do to feel “satisfied”.  This is beginning to feel eerily similar to the gradual increase in tolerance a regular drinker experiences, or the ever increasing doses many drug addicts demand over time.

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There was a fairly long line of cars at the entrance to this park.  Luckily, I was able to bypass this line, saving me both roughly 20 minutes of time, as well as the $7 entrance fee to the park.

The road from the entrance to the visitor center, basically the last two miles of the ride, was not all that fun.  It was gravel and bumpy for much of the way.  I felt uncomfortable going over 13 miles per hour.  However, the park rangers were quite pleased that I did not try to use my bicycle on any of the trails, as they do not permit bicycles on the trails.

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At the visitor center, I realized that one of the main attractions of this particular park is the wildlife.  Showing people the fur and bones of dead animals seems like a somewhat sick way of presenting what the park had to offer to it’s visitors, but it was really neat to actually feel the fur of a black bear for the first time in my life!

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The rock formations at Roxborough State Park were actually quite similar to what I saw at Garden of the Gods.  In fact, it is easy to see how the same geological processes created the rock formations that run up and down the edge of the front range, including the Garden of the Gods, the place, as well as places like Red Rocks.

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The park is also set up quite similar to Garden of the Gods.  Both places make it easy for the average non-outdoorsy tourist to attain a good view of the park.  Here, the Fountain Valley Overlook, a mere half mile from the parking lot with only a slight grade, provides views like the one at the top of this entry to those with no interest whatsoever of getting any exercise.  The park also offers somewhat more strenuous hiking.  Carpenter Peak is roughly 1000 feet higher in elevation than the visitor center.

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I meandered around the park a bit, but decided not to do the more strenuous hike as to preserve my energy for bicycling.  The only wildlife I encountered were these three deer, which is not particularly out of the ordinary.  However, I did encounter them at a much closer distance than I typically do.

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For much of my time at Roxborough State Park, I was intrigued by these relatively short trees I encountered all over the park.  These tress are quite different than the ones I typically see around Colorado.  I later read, on the way out of the park, that there are some unique species of trees, as well as insects and animals, that live here due to the micro-climates created by the wind patterns that these rock formations create.  In fact, Roxborough State Park is considered a destination not only for it’s rock formations, but also for it’s unique wildlife.

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While marveling at the beauty of the park, and considering how awesome it might be to live in one of those houses that overlooks the place, the weather caught me off guard.  Prior to this ride, I looked at the forecast for Denver, which called for a threat of rain after 3 P.M.  However, 30 miles farther south (and closer to the Palmer Divide), and roughly 1,000 feet higher in elevation, any threat of thunderstorms is naturally going to come earlier in the day.  Right around noon, I noticed a few raindrops, and suddenly noticed the clouds beginning to build overhead.

My bike ride home ended up being a race against mother nature, which I barely won, partially by blatantly ignoring the 15 mile per hour speed limits posted along the trail through South Suburban Littleton.  With a little bit of help from the wind at times, I was able to make the 28 mile ride from Roxborough State Park in 100 minutes, returning home by 1:45 P.M.  As someone who typically pays close attention to the weather, and understands weather patterns quite well, this was a somewhat embarrassing oversight on my part.  However, I do feel a sense of accomplishment in making the return ride so quickly.  And, once again, I was reminded of what I love most about cycling; being able to travel a good amount of distance, and even see my own progress on a map, all under my own power.

Maxwell Falls; The distance between reality and expectation

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Often times in life, the reality of a situation turns out significantly different than the expectation.  In fact, this has been one of the biggest challenges that I have had to deal with.  Like many in my generation, I grew up in a time of prosperity and high hopes for the future, and was told by parents, teachers, etc. about the rewarding life that awaits those that generally do the right thing.  While nearly every person who reaches adulthood has to come to terms with the fact that the world is unfair and that sometimes the wrong people get their way, those in our generation, particularly since the 2008 crash, have had to come to terms with a world where opportunities are fewer and harder to come by than what we had initially prepared for.

I went to Maxwell Falls, near Evergreen, CO, expecting two things that did not materialize.  Most hikes in Colorado are an uphill climb from a trail-head to a specific destination (a summit, lake, natural feature).  I had become so accustomed to this standard formula, that it had never occurred to me that this hike could be any different.

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The beginning part of the hike was rather uneventful.  The climb was fairly moderate, and the trail would occasionally descend slightly to cross over creeks.  This is kind of typical across Colorado, especially in places like Rocky Mountain National Park.  However, about a mile and a half, maybe two miles into the trail, we reached an unexpected junction.

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After a short section where the climb was more rigorous, I was surprised not only to find a spot where five separate trails seemed to merge together, but also find out (from talking to people) that none of these “forks” in the trail actually represented a part of the loop I had been expecting to encounter.  The sign pointed to which way to follow the trail, which also, shockingly took us on a fairly rapid descent.  This is not what I had become accustomed to, nor was it what I had expected.

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The descent was fairly lengthy too.  It almost felt like we had descended halfway back to the trailhead’s elevation!  It was there we finally encountered the loop we had anticipated.

Facing unexpected junctions, getting routing advice from strangers on the way, and anticipating landmarks that take longer to reach than anticipated made me think of Lewis and Clark.  On their expedition they would seek advice from many of the Native American tribes they encountered along the way.  They also encountered a few river junctions that made them pause and investigate which way to go.  They came into their journey with little information about features such as Great Falls, and the Rocky Mountains.  All they knew going into the mission was that these features existed, and they had a general idea of where they were.  Both of these featured proved more challenging to pass through than expected.  However, despite these unexpected challenges, they were still successful in their mission, and are still commemorated over 200 years later!

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The falls themselves also did not quite meet the expectations.  The expectations I had about a waterfall hike largely came from hiking Brandywyn Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as viewing other falls in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.  In all of those situations, the trail would either arrive right at a scenic view of the falls, or a spur coming off the main trail would take hikers right up the falls.  At Maxwell Falls, it was tough to find a really good view of the falls.  We ended up crossing the river and making a somewhat dangerous scramble to a remote rock to see the falls from a somewhat different vantage point.

It was still really neat to see the true power of water falling, even from a short distance, and to actually watch the residual spring ice melting right in front of our eyes.  But, it was still far from what I had been expecting from my previous waterfall hiking experience.

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Despite not getting the picturesque view of the waterfalls, this hike offered some other neat features that I had not necessarily anticipated.  After climbing up the Cliff Loop, we encountered views of the mountains that were much more splendid than I had imagined.  It actually reminded me what I had been missing.  Prior to this hike, I had not gone on a hike for several months.  A couple of months ago, I started a new job in Denver, and had been focusing on making that job, as well as my life in Denver in general, work.  I love to travel, have new experiences, and explore new places.  But, unfortunately, for a while, my life’s demands had taken me elsewhere.

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In addition to the splendid views at the higher points on the trail, which did turn out to be a series of ups and downs, we also encountered one of the most unique rock formations I have ever seen.  This rock, I refer to as “Troll Rock”, as it looks quite like a troll.  It was quite amazing, and was the subject of wonder for quite some time about what unique combination of all of the processes of nature could have lead to this particular rock shape.

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The end of the day saw the sun come out, and the temperature rise.  This was an unfortunate turn of event for my Husky, who is built for colder conditions.

One of the things that still amazes me quite a bit about life itself is how often the specific experiences we have at a specific time actually mirror what is going on in our lives, or in society, on a much larger scale.  Today I expected a hike where I would climb up to a waterfall, be taken right up to that waterfall, and then make the ascent back to my car.  Instead, I got periodic climbs and descents throughout the duration of the hike, and awkward scramble around strange rocks to largely overlook a waterfall, but also unexpectedly encountered wonderful views at the top and unique rock formations.

In life, I expected to do well at school, generally stay out of trouble, and find a fulfilling job in my field of study.  Instead, I found a world where the seemingly well deserving nice people end up reporting to control freaks that often find sinister ways to get ahead, opportunities do not always present themselves, and many of the specific jobs I had originally hoped for have some expected downsides to them.  So, now, I am trying to make something completely different work, and thus far it is largely working out!  It appears that sometimes the path to fulfillment is not the expected one, and the reasons we end up enjoying the things we enjoy are not things we had previously considered.  Maybe what our generation as a whole needs to do is let go of what we had hoped for out of this world and remain open to finding fulfillment in a completely new way.