Tag Archives: Hiking

Many Ways to Get Outside

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As autumn approaches I cannot help but be concerned. With each passing year, there is greater and greater evidence that the lives we live in our present day culture are out of balance. Obesity rates continue to increase. Anxiety, stress, and similar mental health related concerns suddenly seem to be everywhere. Perhaps most alarmingly, opioid addiction has recently skyrocketed. It is now estimated that in the United States about 100 deaths per day can be attributed to opioids. Heck, even the fact that 90% of Americans consume caffeine, a far less risky drug, everyday is certainly a sign that something is off. For what reason are so many people dependent on caffeine, a stimulant, just to conduct a typical day’s activities?

The conclusion I have come to is that most of us spend too much time in the following three states..

  • Alone
  • Indoors
  • Seated

Many people spend most of their time in all three states. A lot of service sector jobs require that workers spend nearly all of their time at a desk, in front of a computer, alone. Outside of work, Americans now spend an average of about five hours per day watching TV, and are spending more and more time on their mobile devices. It’s no wonder 70% of the US population does not meet its daily recommended intake of Vitamin D. Vitamin D has but one natural source, the sun.

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Luckily, there are many ways to get outside! When many people think of the outdoors, they think about camping trips, long excursions into the wilderness, and other things that are far far away and require large amounts of time and planning. It is easy for those living in a major city to think of the outdoors as something only available during those special times, usually only several times a year, when their schedule permits.

However, it appears as if spending time outdoors is more important than many people realize. It may even be the answer to some of our society’s currently problems. This entry from MyWildEarth, a blog from the other side of the world that encourages adventure, outlines all of the health benefits, both physical and mental, of spending time outdoors.

In one weekend, I was able to identify several ways in which to get outside that do not require large amounts of time or advanced planning. And, as this photo suggests, these activities can be social as well.

A moderate difficulty 30-50 mile bike ride is an activity that can be fit into a weekend morning, and shared with others. For many, it does not require driving at all, just hop on a bike straight from home!

Many people are able to drive a short distance to somewhere that autumn is going to show its true beauty. The leaves on the trees here in Colorado turn a bit earlier than they do in most other places. In the coming weeks, there will be great weekends for viewing spectacular fall colors in the Upper Midwest, New England, and eventually places like the Mid-Atlantic, the Smoky Mountains and parts of the Southeast.

For those whose time is extremely limited, there are ways to get outside without even leaving the city or town in which one lives. Gardening is an outdoor activity that can be done on one’s property or in a community garden. As an added health bonus, the fresh vegetables can be used to produce fantastic meals that are both healthy and conducive to social events. Also, nearly everyone should have access to a local park a short distance from home. This will more important in the coming months, as the days get shorter, the weather less consistent, and the opportunities to get that vital time outdoors become more limited.

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I write about a lot of adventures on this blog. Each entry is not just a description about the places I go and things I do, but also a personal narrative.

I had a recent discussion with some good friends about the digital era, social media, and the manner in which we conduct ourselves online. To many, it feels as if people post about their adventures primarily in order to show off and seek attention. It is my hope that the narratives on this site make it about more than just that.

It is my hope that by sharing these stories with others, more are encouraged to seek activities that improve our health; mentally, physically, and spiritually.

We need to interact with others, and do so in a manner that is meaningful. Our bodies need movement, and they need sun. We also need time away from the digital world. Many did get that time during the summer, on trips, at summer camp, etc. Now that all the kids are back at school and the days are getting shorter, it is imperative that we look for opportunities to get outside. Luckily, even without traveling too far from home, there are a lot of wonderful options for all of us.

Hell’s Hole: A Lesser Known Hike for a Busy Weekend

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It would be hard to find a day, or an event, that brings about more mixed emotions for me than Labor Day….

I love the fact that Americans get a holiday, the first Monday of every September. I hate the fact that so many Americans get so little time away from the office and their other daily responsibilities that Labor Day weekend represents a rare opportunity for travel, leisure, etc. As a result, roads, recreations areas, National Parks, and tourist attractions are very busy the entire weekend!

The history of the holiday is complex and contested. It started as a celebration of the Labor Movement, whose original purpose was to stand up for fair treatment of workers in the wake of industrialization. Leaving out some more controversial opinions, let’s just say I appreciate the fact that there is a Labor Movement and a lot of what it has done, but I do not always appreciate every manner in which it manifests.

Over the years, the workforce changed, and the holiday kind of morphed. Today, the holiday is less about parades celebrating the American worker, and more about recreation, parties, events, travel, and outdoor adventure. It also serves as the unofficial end of Summer. Yet another mixed emotion. I love seeing people get out and enjoy the world. But, I am bummed that Summer is ending.

The crowds also necessitate some outside the box thinking. The National Parks will be crowded. So will many highways, and other high-profile destinations. With the weather typically being pleasant, the three-day weekend ends up being a good opportunity to visit some lower-profile destinations, particularly for those of us that are fortunate enough to get more than three opportunities (Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day) for summer adventure and exploration.

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Mount Evans itself is a fairly high profile destination. Just over an hour’s drive from central Denver, it can be reached by driving up the highest paved road in North America. People also commonly hike or even cycle to the top of the 14,264 foot peak.

The Mount Evans Wilderness is a 116 square mile are surrounding the mountain, with rugged terrain, many other peaks, and numerous other trails to hike and backpack.

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Hell’s Hole (I have no idea why they call it that) is a trail that stretches a little over 4 miles (estimate vary depending on source, a common issue for hikes in Colorado) just to the West of Mount Evans.

Starting at an elevation just over 9500 feet, the trail climbs a total of roughly 2000 feet, making it moderate in difficulty- overall. However, that difficulty is not spread evenly throughout the hike. Most of the climb occurs in the first two miles, as the trail ascends, first through a forest of mainly Aspen trees, then into a dense forest of Pines. Near the top, the trees begin to thin, and Mount Evans, the giant 14,000 foot peak periodically appears through the trees.

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At a moderate pace, one should reach the end of the trail in roughly two hours, with the second half of the trek begin more gentle in slope. The gentler slop still manages to top out close to the “tree line”.

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Although the final mile and a half of trail offers periodic glimpses at the mountains in all directions, it is only the last quarter of a mile of the trail that is truly wide open. To get the full experience, I would seriously recommend hiking the entire length of the trail, which totals roughly nine miles round trip.

For some reason, it took until the second half of the hike, the descent back to the trailhead to notice any signs that summer was indeed coming to an end. An unseasonably hot day, reminiscent of mid-July, temperatures in parts of the Denver metro area hit 100F, and even weather stations near 10,000 feet in elevation peaked out above 80F. The entirety of the hike felt no different than mid-summer.

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Yet, hints of fall appeared, and were suddenly noticeable when the ascent was complete. Shades of yellow began to appear in the shrubs that often dominate the landscape just above the treeline.

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Further down, gold colors even began to periodically appear in the Aspens closer to the trailhead.

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People often think of Labor Day as summer’s farewell, summer making one last appearance before ending. Of course, the weather does not always line up that way, and it is quite possible that many more hot days are still yet to come.

Emotionally, and sociologically, a lot more can be controlled. Most children have already returned to school. Those still on summer break will be back in the classroom shortly. Anyone on summer schedules or summer dress codes will return to normal within a week. For those in the most traditional types of corporate structures, the next holiday may not be coming until Thanksgiving (late November).

On the descent, we spent some time discussing topics related to work, finding purpose in life, and other topics that were less about travel and adventure and more about life at “home”. It was almost as if the weather, the physical appearance of everything around me, as well as the general mood, was lining up to serve the purpose Labor Day serves in the 21st Century; a farewell to summer before a new season takes hold.

For many, this new season represents a return to some form of structure, but could also represent new opportunities to learn, achieve, and reach the next level. In life, we all need breaks, time to do that in which we enjoy. We also need time to work, and get things done and serve other human beings. While our current society may not have found the right balance, that does not mean we need to shun work altogether, and not embrace the season that is to come.

Get Lost in the Rockies

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“Dispersed Camping” is a concept that is often foreign to those living in large metropolitan areas. It is camping without a campground. There are no numbered spots. There are no amenities such as outlets, washrooms, and an office that sells water and wood. It’s just people plopping their tents down wherever they can. It is the purest, and most rugged form of camping.

Colorado has an almost limitless supply of places where people can literally just find a spot and set up camp.

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Spots for dispersed camping are usually found in National Forests, which cover nearly half the state. Specific details about which spots allow dispersed camping can be hard to find online, as each section of the National Forest system maps out their area differently. However, every section of National Forest has a significant amount of area where one can just set up camp. Many of these spots even have fire pits already set up by previous campers!

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During periods of heightened fire danger, it is common to for counties to issue fire bans or fire restrictions to limit the risk of wildfires. With fire being a major component of the camping experience, the status of these fire restrictions should be considered when planning any summertime mountain adventure that involves camping.

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Colorado map of county fire restrictions as of July 14, 2017

There is, perhaps, no better place to start a Rocky Mountain adventure than Leadville, Colorado, which sits at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet in the central part of Lake County, a county where there happened to not be a fire ban in mid-July 2017.

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Spawned from the mid-19th Century Gold rush, and rich with old west history, the town, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, is tucked away between mountains that rise several thousand feet higher in every direction.

This includes the Sawatch Range to the immidiate West and South, where Colorado’s two tallest peaks; Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, sit.

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Only five miles to the west of town is Turquoise Lake.

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Expansive, beautiful, and protected by steep hills and dense forests, the lake stretches west, into the Mount Massive Wilderness, where densely packed trees and rugged terrain create a feeling of seclusion and wonder.

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Wandering through the wilderness, trees partially conceal the tall mountain peaks. Like a well made movie preview, they reveal some, but not all, of what lays ahead for anyone wandering through the woods, whether on trail or off.

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Around every curve, the wilderness reveals what had been hidden between the trees.

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Streams reveal the source of the water that drains into Turqouise Lake below.

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Flowers of all colors pop out, tickling multiple senses, making the experience more vivid, more full.

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After roughly 90 minutes of hiking on the Highline Trail, which starts only a few miles west of Turquoise Lake, the trail climbs above the forest.

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Just below 12,00 feet, the trees disappear. Mountain ranges, are once again seen in every direction. The ground is surprisingly green grass, making the scene reminiscent of The Sound of Music.

At these elevations, with an atmosphere roughly 30% less thick than it is at sea level, the sun commands somewhat of a decieving presence, particularly in the months of June and July.

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Less deterred by the atmosphere, direct sunlight at these elevations can create an almost tropical feeling of warmth at temperatures that barely top out above 60F (16C), temperatures where some at sea level, under cloudy skies, would still be wearing jackets.

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Wandering through the dense pine forests that make up the Mount Massive wilderness, especially as daytime gradually faded into evening, it is easy to imagine being truly lost in the Rocky Mountains.

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Away from day-to-day life, hustle, drama and the like, I could not help but worry about the future. As soon as I got to the west side of Turquoise Lake (away from town) all cell signals disappeared. How long will this be the case? Are they working on connecting the whole world with Wi-Fi? If so, where will people go, to escape? To not be tempted to check their work email? Or see what was posted on social media?

The way I see it, people give up the conveniences of modern life to go on trips like this one for three reasons:

  1. Despite the fact that there is more physical labor (setting up tents, cooking, etc.), it is less stressful. There are a ton of modern life concerns that disappear in the woods (social status, money, etc.).
  2. It feels much less structured. Sure, there are patterns, but there is no calendar with a list of meetings, tasks, things to do. There are no set eating hours and itineraries.
  3. It feels more human. This is quite possibly the most significant one of all. Work and the digital age has a somewhat robotic of feel to it. We are expected to perform. We are often asked to follow sets of procedures. Emotions are not supposed to be shown. There are even places where people are expected to refrain from laughing and too much “socializing”.

If we ever get to the point where there is no place on Earth without data, WiFi, or some kind of connection to our normal stresses and responsibilities, I sure hope we have found another way in which to periodically disconnect. Or, at the very least, that most people’s attitudes about things such as mental health days, and expectations regarding work availability and how we set our priorities in life, will have changed.

 

 

An After Work Hike to Royal Arch

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June is a month with tons of opportunities, if for no other reason than the amount of daylight many places in the Northern Hemisphere receive. The long days and late sunsets make a lot of activities possible for people who work traditional hours. It is only in and around this time of year that those working “normal working hours” (I want to make clear that I in no way advocate traditional working hours), have enough daylight for hikes, as we’ll as many other outdoor activities, on weekdays after work.

 

Royal Arch is a fairly strenuous three and a half mile (round trip) hike that originates at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado. Located at the Southwest edge of town, these trails are very popular, and Chautauqua Park can be quite busy at certain times of year. Although a high number of people reach this trailhead by bike or on foot (this is Boulder after all), parking is quite limited. One should not expect to find a parking spot in the lot by the trailhead any time conditions are ideal for hiking. This includes both weekend days, as well as on weeknights like this one.

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For a unique experience, I arrived at the trailhead at roughly 6:45 P.M. This is later than I would recommend arriving for anyone that desires to hike this trail at a moderate pace and finish before it gets dark, even at this time of year.

At this time of the evening, shortly after starting the hike, the sun had already descended behind the mountains to the west. Alpenglow could still be seen, hitting the top of the long flat diagonal rocks that are often referred to as the “Flatirons”.

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Hiking mainly after 7 P.M. also put most of the hike in the shade, as the sun was already behind the mountain peaks to the west. This made the hike more comfortable, as the temperature was in the upper 80s, a normal level for this time of year, before the hike.

Most of the trail is fairly strenuous, with a consistent climb. This changes at Sentinel Pass, which is within about a half a mile of the end of the trail.

Many hikes are said to have “false summits”; places where the trail appears to be reaching a summit, which is usually the final destination of a hike. Sentinel Pass, in a way, is both a false summit and a real summit.

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It is actually a summit! However, it is not the end of the trail. The trail continues. There is a short but steep descent right after Sentinel Pass. The descent is followed by another steep uphill section, where, after another 15 minutes or so of hiking, Royal Arch is reached.

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It ended up taking me just under an hour to reach Royal Arch. For a hike of 1.7 miles with 1600’ of net vertical, and some areas that are quite strenuous, this is a relatively quick pace.

After resting and enjoying the view for a mere 10 minutes at the top, I was still barely able to make it back down to the trailhead before darkness fell upon the area.

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This is why I would recommend for most people to either arrive earlier (which shouldn’t be an issue for most work schedules), or bring a headlamp. Even in the week following the summer solstice, with some of the latest sunsets of the year, there are limitations to what can be done after working a typical 9-to-5-ish day.

One of life’s major challenges is making the most of whatever opportunities come our way. June, and its lengthy days, represents an opportunity to simply get outside more and get more exposure to sunshine.

For a variety of reasons it appears that the modern digital, sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll on us. It feels as if every five to ten years, some new set of dietary recommendations come out. Either a new set of foods become the secret, magic ticket to a healthier life. Or, some different type of food suddenly becomes the new “boogeyman”, and is suddenly to blame for all these widespread health problems.

I am not a health expert. However, based on my observations and reasoning, it appears that many of our health problems are related to two things; many people being way too sedentary, and, primarily in the United States, some ridiculous portion sizes. There also appears to be some merit behind staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.

Our bodies were meant to move. It’s been shown that sitting for even a couple of hours at a time can actually lead to negative health impacts, including the supply of oxygen being cut off from our brains. The predominant form of employment in 2017 is still 7-10 hours per day sitting in front of a computer. This cannot possibly be good for our minds or our bodies.

There has also been countless articles published recently regarding the connection between happiness and exposure to sunshine. Not only were we not meant to spend well over half of our waking hours seated, we also were not meant to spend nearly as much time indoors.

In our current culture, it is really hard to avoid having to perform a lot of work that requires being seated in front of a computer. Heck, writing this, I am, in fact, seated in front of a computer. This does not mean we cannot seek out and take advantage of opportunities, whenever we can, to be outdoors, be in motion,  and/ or be social (separate topic), as much as we can.

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On the descent, I spent half the time talking to random people. The other half, I was lost in my own thoughts. I imagined myself in various scenarios, settings I could see myself in, places I would be, people I would talk to, etc. All the scenarios I imagined involved me encouraging others. I encouraged others to believe in themselves, to have confidence, to stand up to naysayers, and to make the most of their lives. Part of that involves taking part in activities that enrich our lives. So, I encourage everyone to take advantage of summer, particularly this first part of summer, and the opportunities it affords us by checking out places like Royal Arch for evening hikes.

 

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.

 

Moab- An Active Destination

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Some trips are restful, while others are more active.  There are some destinations that lend themselves to more restful trips; cottages in the woods near quaint towns, tropical beaches, and resorts.  Moab, is a place where it is nearly impossible to imagine anything other than an active itinerary, with a variety of activities, and a lot of places to see.  Situated in East Central Utah, several hours from the nearest major city, this popular tourist destination is surrounded by too much natural beauty to picture anyone coming here and spending large amounts of time sitting in one place.

First of all, Moab is surrounded by two National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands.

Both National Parks are, as National Parks tend to be, filled with tons of natural beauty and unique places.  At both National Parks, while it is possible to see a lot of interesting natural features without straying too far from the road, the best features at both parks require hiking.

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Getting to the signature feature of Arches National Park, Delicate Arch, requires a 1.5 mile hike from the Delicate Arch Trailhead.  Interestingly enough, this trail starts near the historic Wolfe Ranch, and traverses by some other unique features including some Ute Indian Rock art.

It is also quite difficult to imagine making a trip to Arches National Park and not viewing some of the other arches (Yes, it’s Arches National Park, not Arch National Park).  There is a section of the park known as Devil’s Garden, with somewhat of a network of trails taking visitors to all kinds of other arches.

The most famous of these arches is Landscape Arch, a long and wide arch whose name provides a clear recommendation as to how to orient any photograph of this particular feature (for those familiar with landscape vs. portrait  ).

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To get to most of the remaining arches requires a bit of a steep climb, which starts pretty much right after Landscape Arch.

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The hiking in the entire Moab area, not just at Arches National Park, is considerably different from the typical hiking experience.  Much of the hiking I’ve experienced, is on trails covered in dirt, gravel, and sometimes small to medium sized rocks at places such as the top of Quandry Peak.  All around Moab, I found myself on surfaces such as this one, on top of solid rock, sometimes for nearly the entire duration of the trail.  Traversing these trails required me to use my upper body more, and even do a little bit of jumping, from one rock to another.

At the top of this Mesa, there are arches with multiple partitions, arches people can hike under, and even one arch with an opening that lends itself to laying inside it to soak up the sun, the surroundings, and the experience!

The entire loop, including all the side trips in the trail network, is a total of 7.2 miles.  So, if a visitor desires to see all of these features, as well as Delicate Arch, a total of 10.2 miles of hiking is required.

And some people decide to add even more activities to their day.  In a shaded off-shoot of the Devil’s Garden Trail, I witnessed a sizable group of people playing a game of Frisbee, using the walls of this tiny canyon to make trick shots.

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Since immersing oneself in the here and now, and contributing to the local culture of a place creates a more enriching travel experience, I decided to play my part.

First, I decided to bring my own arches into the park..

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Disclaimer: I did properly dispose of that cup

Then, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided it was time that we started making our own arches, contributing to the park’s plethora of natural beauty.

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Canyonlands National Park is even bigger than Arches, broken up into three sections by the Colorado and Green rivers, whose confluence is right in the center of the park.  Without any bridges connecting over either river, and with the entrances to each section over an hour apart, it is all but impossible to visit more than one section in a day.

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The most common image of Canyonlands National Park is an almost Grand Canyon-like overlook into a deep river valley, sometimes with one of the two isolated mountain ranges in the background.  However, at the scenic overlooks in the parks’ Island In The Sky region, it is actually quite difficult to see the rivers themselves.  The canyons that make up Canyonlands National Park are quite expansive, with multiple tiers.  To see these canyons from the best vantage points requires a bit of hiking.  The hike to the Confluence Overlook (an overlook of the confluence between the Green and Colorado Rivers) is 10 miles round trip, something that could require the better part of a day!

Canyons are not the only interesting feature to Canyonlands National Park.  Being only roughly 20 miles away from Arches (as the crow flies), Canyonlands has some arches of its’ own.  The most interesting one is an arch called Mesa Arch, where one can see both the peaks of the nearby La Sal Mountain range, and actually another arch by looking through the arch at the right angle!

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And some features are random, like Upheaval Dome.

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Scientists still do not know whether or not this particular salt deposit is a remanat of a meteorite that would have theoretically collided with the earth roughly 20 million years ago.

The two National Parks are not even close to all that Moab has to offer, all of which is “active” in one way or another.  Dead Horse Point State Park, located between the two National Parks, is a place where one can hike to one of Moab’s most picturesque locations: Goose Neck.

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The entire region, regardless of what any spot is named, or whether it contains a state or federal distinction, is rich with abundant natural beauty, and places to hike, bike, jeep, climb, or even just explore.

Anyone driving into Moab from the East (from Colorado), would be well advised to take the additional time it takes to follow the windy State Highway 128 through Professor Valley, essentially following the Colorado River into town.

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We set up camp at a place called Hunter Canyon.

Twenty minutes from town, Hunter Canyon is a place where each part of the day, from sunrise to sunset, lights up a different rock formation.  It felt almost as if nature was putting on a show, with lighting, stage props, and characters coming on and off the stage for different scenes.

I also saw bike trails nearly everywhere I went.  Moab is known as a mecca for mountain biking, an activity we did not get around to (is is… really… impossible to do EVERYTHING in Moab without something like two weeks).  But, with trails like these, Moab is also a phenomenal place for road biking.

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And, everywhere I went red rock formations, each one distinct from the next, would pop up, in and out of view.

It was next to impossible not to imagine these rock formations as something else.  While driving around, I would often point out to the rest of the group what each individual rock formation looked like, or what I perceived it to look like.  Some, I said looked like specific animals, some looked like people, others, still, looked like various specific objects, such as hammers, cooking utensils, or even a turkey wishbone (by the way, the following image is an arch, residing in neither National Park, they really are everywhere)!

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And, what amazed me was how often others in my group would actually see the exact same thing when they look at a rock formation and say, yes, I also saw an octopus.  This means that either my imagination is quite accurate, or, I have managed to surround myself only with similar minded people.  Both are very much a possibility!

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But, the analogy I came to in my head most frequently, throughout the trip, is between the rock formations and the ruins of an ancient city.  Every time I saw a structure such as this one, I would imagine what is would be like if, for some unknown reason, there actually was a civilization here, many thousands of years ago.  And each one of these rock formation was actually the remnant of an ancient skyscraper, or even a larger building like Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, weathered down by thousands of years of natural erosion.  I imagined what this ancient city would have been like, in an Atlantis-like scene that would play through my mind.

Since Samantha Brown’s presentation at last month’s Travel and Adventure Show, I had been trying to live in the here and now, and experience the current culture of a place, as she had advised.

For me, this included another new activity (for me)- Jeeping!

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And, I got to experience some crazy roads and some crazy places.

But, as I find in many of my travels, there is no way to truly avoid thinking about the past, and imagining another setting.  A video at the Canyonlands Visitors Center explained the actual process in which these rocks came to be formed, which took place over the course of 200 million years, back to a time when much of Utah and Colorado were near sea level, with some sections underwater and others above.  In fact, that is part of the reason why there is so much small scale variance in the color of the rocks throughout this region.

Everywhere I went, everywhere I looked, there were echoes of the past, both real and imaginary, and both ancient and more recent.

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The experience of visiting Moab for a long weekend is as jam-packed as I have made this aritcle.  Around every corner, something new, something exciting, and something unique.  While there are some travel destinations, like Miami, one can make as active or as restful as they would desire, Moab is one destination that requires one to be active, at least in some way, to truly experience.  To come to Moab, and not wander, not explore, not do a little bit of hiking, biking, or jeeping, one would miss out on so much of what is around every corner in this region.

 

 

 

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.