Tag Archives: Fort Collins

Why I Love Whitewater Rafting

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The raft meanders down the river, passing through sections that are both relatively calm, and sections that are quite rough.

In the calmer sections, the smell of the trees adjacent to the river bed activates memories in the brain, of other outdoor adventures. In these sections, the people in the boat laugh at ridiculous anecdotes, point out the unique natural features around them, and congratulate one another on navigating the raft through the most recent set of obstacles. The group camaraderie is alive, as we enjoy each other’s company.

In the rougher sections, the raft jolts, left and right, up and down, and spins around. It even occasionally spins in a full 360-degree circle due to water currents, eddies and rocks. Around every turn is a genuine feeling of adventure, the element of surprise, and even some level of danger. The water, the people, and the raft, are all in motion.

I love whitewater rafting because…

It is outdoors.

It is social.

It requires teamwork.

There is physical activity involved.

The canyons and valleys the rivers wind through are often breathtaking!

It is a fast-paced event. It is impossible to feel stagnant inside the raft.

It is one of the few activities left in this world that requires we separate from our phones and other portable devices.

It is wild, raw, and unpredictable. Yet, there is some degree of control, as we paddle, steer the boat, brace for impact of all kinds, and look out for one another in the roughest sections.

It feels like life when it is being operated correctly. Not over idealized, yet full of “life”. Surprises are expected, and responded to in a healthy manner with a smile. And, people are constantly improving in both skill and character.

Greyrock Mountain- An Ideal Hike for May

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For the majority of people who like to hike on weekends, or in their spare time, hiking anywhere in the American West in the month of May requires two additional considerations.

  1.  There is typically still a residual snowpack at higher elevations.  While this can vary quite a bit from year to year and even day to day, even on a warm, sunny day, those that don’t want to encounter slippery conditions or deep snow covering the trails should generally stick to lower elevations.  In Colorado, that generally means below 9500 feet in elevation.
  2. Although everyone’s body behaves differently, most people still respect the seasonality of the activities they take part in, hiking less frequently in winter than in summer.  Therefore, most people still need to, in some way, work up to the most challenging hikes they will take on later in the summer.

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Tucked away in the Poudre Canyon 15 miles West of Fort Collins, Colorado (which is an hour north of Denver), the Greyrock Trailhead starts at an elevation of roughly 5600 feet.

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The hike to the top of Greyrock Mountain, on the most direct path is 3.1 miles, with an elevation gain right around 2000 feet.  For those who spent their winters either sedentary or on unrelated activities, and maybe have done two or three hikes thus far in the spring, it is strenuous enough to help get the body back into summer mode.  And, topping out at 7600 feet, it remains well below the elevations where residual snowpack and large amounts of mud would still be present on a sunny day in May.

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Of course, many people are aware of these seasonal considerations.  Therefore, the area does get busier than usual, particularly if it is a nice day and/or on the weekend.

Still, there is plenty of quiet to be found on this appropriately named mountain, just not the level of solitude one would expect on, say, a remote backpacking trip.

On the 13th of May 2017, a dry day in which Fort Collins reached a high temperature of 85F (and was preceded by two dry days) nearly all of the trail was dry.  It was only in certain sections, close to streams, where mud would appear.  These sections got interesting, as groups of butterflies, both red and blue, would loop around the sky, periodically congregating in and around areas of standing water.

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The blue butterflies are actually extremely well camouflaged, only showing their color when the wings are flapped open.

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A closer look at the muddy surface reveals dozens of these butterflies nearly completely blended into the muddy surface, something many hikers don’t even notice!

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Roughly 2/3 of the way up, the first real scenic overlook is reached.  This is the point just before the two trails merge back together, at an elevation of roughly 7000 feet.

The final 600 feet of ascent looks, well, far more daunting than a typical 600 foot climb.  And, well, it is.  After a short flat area, following the scenic overlook, the trail begins to climb up a series of rocky areas, often referred to as “scrambles” by hikers.

These parts require some strategizing, both on the way up and on the way down.

The final section of the trail is the one area where it is possible to get lost.

On top of rocks, the trail passes by several lakes, where the sound of frogs can be heard, and is marked only by periodic signs 2-3 feet tall and the occasional standard rock pile (referred to as a Cairn).

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The summit is also just kind of a series of rocks, that need to be climbed over to reach the best lookout point.  Being at the top of Greyrock Mountain is somewhat of an unique experience.  In some ways, it feels just like being on top of the world, as noting in the immediate vicinity is at a higher elevation.

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However, out on the horizon to the West and Southwest reveals mountains whose peaks dwarf this one by over 5,000 feet.

It feels like a metaphor for a certain life situation that nearly every human being will find themselves in at one point.  The mountain has been climbed, a goal has been achieved, and there is reason to celebrate… temporarily.  But, there is still a lot that must be done, and much higher aspirations.  It is finishing a degree and moving on to start a new job.  It is successfully navigating nine months of pregnancy now knowing that it is hard work to raise another human being.  It is knowing that one has achieved as much as is possible in a current endeavor, and that there is something more meaningful, a higher calling, awaiting that requires a pivot, a new strategy, and renewed effort.

 

Whitewater Rafting on the Poudre

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One of many things that makes June a phenomenal month, is that it is typically the best month of the year for whitewater rafting in Colorado.  Snowmelt from the higher mountain peaks combine with fairly frequent thunderstorms to create higher water levels and faster rapids along many of Colorado’s rivers.  And, while sometimes river flows associated with the spring snowmelt peak a bit earlier in the season, by mid-June somewhat warmer air and water temperatures makes for a more pleasant experience.

After weeks of training for, and then subsequently riding the Denver Century Ride on the June 14th, I figured that the following weekend, June 21st, would be an ideal time for some whitewater rafting.  Colorado offers a lot of great places to raft.  I hope to try as many of them as possible.  Based on the time constraints of all the people involved in this trip, as well as the quality of trips offered, I opted for rafting in Poudre Canyon, just to the west of Fort Collins, Colorado.  Here, along the Poudre River (technically Cache la Poudre River), average June streamflows produce many sections of class 3 and class 4 rapids.  Sometimes, higher water produces even rougher waters.  And, had we opted to raft a bit earlier in the season (late May/ early June), higher water would have actually prevented us from doing part of the journey we did on Saturday due to safety concerns.

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Friday night we camped at a place called Kelly Flats, slightly farther up the river from where our whitewater adventure would occur the following morning.  Because of how long the days are in June, we were able to work a full day on Friday, and still make it up the campground in time to set up our tents before it got dark.  YAY June!  Seriously, if I could find a way to not sleep for the entirety of June, and make up for it by sleeping extra hours in a lamer month, like December, I would do so in a heartbeat.

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Saturday’s rafting trip was a half day trip called “The Plunge”, through an outfitter called Mountain Whitewater Descents.  This is considered one of the more intense trips.  But, hey, go big or go home.

For this trip, we met at 8 A.M. to discuss safety, expectations, and technique.  There have been stories in the news about people getting seriously injured, or even killed, on this river this year.  Going with a guided tour like this one all but eliminates this risk.

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Then we get our equipment, wet suits, jackets, helmets, etc., and ride in a big school bus for about half an hour to our starting point.  Arriving a bit after 9, the trip itself, as in time in the raft on the river runs for 2.5 to 3 hours.

I do not have any pictures of my group rafting.  I did not feel like taking the risk of bringing either a camera or my phone onto the raft where they would probably fall out into the river.  Pictures and videos are taken of every group by Mountain Whitewater Descents.  And, while I found the trip itself to be more than worth the $70 per person we paid, obtaining the pictures of our group’s excursion ended up costing more money than I wanted to spend.  So, I selected a couple of pictures from Mountain Whitewater Descent’s photo gallery to capture the essence of the experience.

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The trip starts with a mile or so of easy rapids.  This is so that the group in the raft can get into a paddling rhythm, and get aquanited with the guide and her commands.  After the warm-up part, when we started into the rougher rapids (first class 3 and then class 4), I felt that our group had gotten into a really good rhythm while paddling.  The video we saw after the trip revealed to me that we were actually quite out of synch.

Still, I really enjoyed the group that I got to raft with on Saturday.  My group consisted of 10 people.  With each raft holding 8 people (including the guide), our group was split in two, with 5 members of our group being joined by two other people.  Of course, with two boats belonging to the same group, it is common for water wars, as pictured above, to break out between the boats during downtime.  The two young ladies that ended up riding with us in our raft were very good sports about not only our crazy discussions along the way, but ending up in the “crossfire” of our “water wars”.  Additionally, I felt like our guide did a wonderful job, and would definitely recommend this trip to anybody.

The oddest aspect of this excursion for me was that I was never scared.  NEVER.  NOT AT ALL.  And, our rafting guide told me that Saturday’s rapids were amongst the most intense rapids that they would legally be permitted to enter as a commercial recreation business.  I really just felt exhilarated.  I felt, well, alive.  And, this made me think of the oddest thing- billboards.

Right around the time we first figured out that we would be moving to Colorado, billboards like this one starting popping up around Chicago.  These billboards are designed to get tourists to come to Colorado, with “Come to Life” being the slogan.

Suddenly this became the only State tourism slogan that made sense to me.  I have seen a lot of state tourism slogans.

Some of them are nearly completely nonsensical.

Pure Michigan; What does that even mean?  Do I want something to be pure?  What makes Michigan Pure?

Great Faces, Great Places, South Dakota; I don’t even think Mount Rushmore is South Dakota’s best attribute.

Some of them don’t deliver what they promise.

Wisconsin, You’re Among Friends; Wisconsin has been a non-stop political fight for a decade or so.  And if you are in Madison, they are not friendly about it.

New Jersey and You, Perfect Together; If you think the odor of landfills and refineries, a strange combination of old money suburbs and random ghettos, and the desire to go to any extent possible to avoid making a left hand turn is my ideal match, then I have an expletive for you.

But, Colorado’s slogan, “Come to Life”, which originally sounded like complete nonsense to me, suddenly made sense, as the opportunities provided by Colorado simply made me feel alive.

 

 

Fort Collins; Another Vibrant Colorado City

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I have never met anyone that told me they hated Fort Collins.  Not everyone knows a lot about the town.  But of the people who have been there or lived there, I have yet to hear a single overwhelmingly negative impression, the way I have about so many other towns.

Colorado is a state that is very divided both politically and culturally.  The political divide is close to even, thus Colorado’s status as a “swing state”.  Representing the extremes of the spectrum, Boulder and Colorado Springs are both very polarizing.  Many people hate one or both of these towns simply due to what they represent politically.  Not only do Fort Collins and Laramier County sit generally near the middle of the spectrum politically, but they are also not known for being particularly politically active the way Boulder and Colorado Springs are.

Other towns are polarizing or controversial for other reasons.  The casino town of Blackhawk not only leaves a bad impression on those that do not approve of gambling, but also ignited the ire of the bicycling community when it chose to ban bicycles from the entire town in 2010 (this ban was overturned by the State Supreme Court).  I have to admit that as much as I love Vail and Vail ski resort, I am quite disturbed by the town’s decision to close down the only affordable hotel in town to make way for a new extended stay hotel, which will most definitely be fancier and pricier.  Large towns like New York are loved by many, but also hated by many who resent the level of stress they cause, the amount of power they wield, and the amount of attention they receive.

The sun shined bright and the temperatures were quite pleasant this January day.  It was the kind of day when you can really notice the character of a city.  On a cold or rainy day, it may be hard to feel the true energy of a town, as it is often subdued by such conditions.  Walking around Fort Collins’ central area today, the true energy of the city was on full display.

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Over the past decade or so I have become quite accustomed to living in vibrant places like this, where people can be found walking around, conversing, conducting business, and going about their days.  It feel like home, and it feels like the way our society was meant to operate.  If I were to find myself living in a town without this type of energy, it would definitely feel like something is missing.  However, that is just a personal preference.  I am sure a lot of people live satisfying, fulfilling lives in sprawled out suburbs, or even decaying towns with a lot of abandoned storefronts.  They probably do not share my addiction to the energy.  If anything, they are in a better situation than I am, as their choices of places they could live and thrive are much less limited than mine.

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Like Boulder, Fort Collins has a pedestrian mall with a lot of random street performers, particularly on a nice day like today.   The street performances here seem more varied than the ones in the average American city.  I saw the standard guitar performer, but there is also an outdoor public piano, and many more random acts like dance routines and hula-hoppers.  This pedestrian mall, called “Old Town Fort Collins” is significantly shorter than Boulder’s Pearle Street, but is still large enough and offers enough variety for it to be considered interesting.

Walking around here made me realize what makes Fort Collins special.  Not only is it not controversial, the way many other places are, but it still manages to be interesting and unique.  In actuality, there are plenty of places that do not ignite strong negative feelings.  When was the last time anyone fumed at the arrogance of Grand Island, Nebraska?  Or the rude partisans of Peoria, Illinois?  What sets Fort Collins apart is that it is still a fun and unique place to live, while also remaining non-controversial.

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As a town along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, many outdoor activities can be found right outside of town, the same way such activities can be found in any of the towns that line the front range from Fort Collins south to Colorado Springs.

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Fort Collins may be best known as the headquarters of New Belgium Brewing, known for it’s signature beer fat tire.  New Belgium employs a unique business model, and has been quite successful.  At New Belgium, every employee is a part owner of the company.  The benefits and beer are great as well, and they are also known for their support of bicycling as a form of transportation.  While I did not visit New Belgium on this particular trip, the values of this company appear to be reflected throughout the town.

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Fort Collins has one of the best networks of bike lanes and trails in the United States.  Even in this well-to-do neighborhood just west of downtown, a wide bike lane can be found.

Fort Collins is the northernmost town along Colorado’s front range.  To the south is a series of population centers that include Colorado’s largest; Denver and Colorado Springs.  To the north, it is quite empty.  Fort Collins is on the edge of our society.  It manages to be an interesting and vibrant place without the controversy and/or polarization that often accompanies this.  Big enough to feel energetic, but small enough not to be overwhelming to many, Fort Collins is truly a unique place worth checking out.

Horsetooth Reservoir; A Great Place for Water Sports, and Your Dog

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About ten minutes west of the town of Fort Collins, Colorado sits the Horsetooth Reservoir, a six and a half mile long, but fairly narrow lake at the edge of the foothills.  It was created in 1949 when the Bureau of Reclamation put up four dams in the area, as part of a larger project called the Colorado-Big Thompson project.  The intention of the project is to stabilize the supply of drinking water for the cities along the Front Range from Fort Collins down to Pueblo.  They do this by diverting water from the Western Slope (on the other side of the Continental Divide) to the Eastern Slope.  Thus, they effectively take water that would have flowed down the Colorado River to the Pacific Ocean via the Gulf of California.  It is interesting that some people here complain that the Hoover Dam takes significant amounts of water out of the Colorado River when we here on the Front Range in Colorado are also benefiting from water taken from the very same river.

Similar to places like Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the creation of a lake, originally intended as a reservoir to stabilize the supply of drinking water, ended up serving a secondary purpose; providing a spot for water recreation.  In the West, and especially in the Southwest, naturally occurring lakes are fairly rare.  They tend to be smaller and at higher altitudes than their Midwest counterparts.  The naturally occurring lakes I can remember seeing in Colorado are lakes like Fern Lake and Lawn Lake up over 10,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park.  With these lakes tougher to get to and smaller, these reservoirs have become a focal point for boating and other water related recreation areas in the region.

Yesterday was a perfect day along Colorado’s Front Range.  Temperatures topped out in the upper 80s to near 90 in most places from Fort Collins to Denver, and no thunderstorms occurred, not even in the foothills.  Afternoon thunderstorms typically occur in the region at this time of year, but yesterday all of the storms occurred West of the Continental Divide.  I guess that is good news for recreation enthusiasts in the populated part of the state of Colorado, but days like yesterday probably illustrate why it was necessary to divert water resources from Colorado’s Western slope to Colorado’s Eastern slope.

Yesterday I got the rare opportunity to join with a few people for some jet skiing on the Horsetooth Reservoir.  I do not own my own jet ski, and I haven’t ridden one for over five years.  But, I remember it being quite fun, and I knew there was no chance of storms in the forecast.  So, it ended up being a nearly perfect activity for a day like yesterday.  Also, since we traveled a significant distance away from Denver, and went on a Wednesday, there was significantly more open space then there would have had we gone to a place near town like Cherry Creek Reservoir on a weekend day.

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Naturally, I got too carried away with the activity to think to get any pictures of myself on the jet skis.  I only got pictures of others.  This should be a testament to just how enjoyable the activity is.

As an added bonus, I got to bring my Siberian Husky; Juno.  Being a cold weather dog, she naturally wanted to get into the water as quickly as possible.  However, being a non-water dog, she spent a large part of the day just on shore, in the shade, periodically going into the water.  She still seemed to have a lot of fun here, in fact, enough to get her completely worn out.  If my husky enjoyed the experience this much, I can only imagine how enjoyable it would be for a retriever to come here for the day.

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The water temperature here yesterday was perfect!  It was in that range where the water is cool enough to feel refreshing, but warm enough that it was comfortable to get in from the very beginning.  This contrasts with some pools I have gone in earlier this summer where the water felt quite cold at the beginning, before gradually getting used to it.  I was concerned that the water here would be even colder than that, but it wasn’t!

Overall, Horsetooth Reservoir was worth the $7 entry fee.  I am not sure how much more crowded it is on the weekends.  However, given the fact that this year’s weather in Colorado appears to have been fairly typical, I would expect most years to feature water temperatures in the same general range as yesterday’s, making Horsetooth Reservoir a wonderful place to go for both water sports, and dogs.