Tag Archives: Wildlife

A Weekend in Nature 90 Minutes from Denver

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One mistake I witness quite often is people constantly turning their getaways into some form of challenge of their own. There is probably nobody more guilty of this than me; always seeking the far away destination, wanting to climb the tallest mountain, cycle over 100 miles a day.

Challenging ourselves is important. We all build character by challenging ourselves, especially outside of work. However, we also all sometimes need a break that is a genuine break, not stressing ourselves to get to a faraway destination with no spare time, exhausting ourselves physically, creating an alternate form of stress- “vacation stress”.

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Summer in Colorado began with an extreme drought, large wildfires all over the state, and restrictions on fires in nearly every county.

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Fire restrictions across Colorado July 28, 2018

With some rainfall in the mountains, in the past week, some counties in Central Colorado began to lift these fire bans, permitting fires at campsites.

One of the problems we have here in the United States is limitations related to time. According to Project Time Off, an organization whose mission is to remove the stigma around taking time off from work, the average American takes less than 20 days of vacation per year, and Americans collectively forfeit over 200 million days off due to concern for how they will be perceived at the office. Therefore, it is not all that common for Americans to feel the need to maximize their vacation time, utilizing every precious hour.

This stigma will not go away overnight. Most likely change will be gradual, and considerations related to time limitation will still be a factor in the coming decades. However, given our recent mental health challenges, and recent research pointing to the psychological benefits of being in nature, trips like these are probably more important than ever.

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Georgia Pas is one of several areas about a 90 minute drive from Denver, right in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, with dispersed camping, meaning camping without the amenities of a campground.

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These camping areas are nearly always within a short drive of the kinds of places where the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains can be seen in all of their majesty. Georgia Pass, less traveled than mountain passes along paved roads, like Hoosier Pass and Guanella Pass, offers the same panoramic views but with less people.

It also, based on this one trip, feels like a place with more wildlife.

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However, sometimes the camping experience is not about the feeling of being on top of the world on a mountain pass, or overlooking a photogenic lake, as is commonly shown on the cover of travel magazines. Sometimes, camping is about being in a strangely calming place like this, with trees, bushes, other random vegetation, and a creek moving fresh mountain water along to a gentle rythm.

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There is something about this specific scene, deep in the forest, surrounded by nature. It feels in a way, like the exact opposite of stress. There is no hurry here, nobody is causing unnecessary anxiety, and the only abrupt changes in plans occur when a thunderstorm pops up unexpectedly.

There is, however, work. Camping isn’t just sitting around the fire. The fire must be started and maintained. Meals must be cooked. Tents need to be set up, and dishes washed manually. It isn’t a resort vacation. In fact, while camping, far more work goes into filling the basic human needs of food, water, and shelter than it does back in the city, even on the most stressful day.

There are ways to relax that require little to no work. Watching television only requires owning a television and selecting a program. Laying at a beach only requires finding a way to get to the beach. Yet, sitting around a campfire with loved ones, looking at the stars and watching the full moon rise between alpine trees, then waking up to the alpenglow hitting the tops of the trees, somehow actually feels far more relaxing than just laying around at home or nearby.

Or maybe it is about getting away from all of the things that are currently creating anxiety in our lives, which include TV (mostly the news), our phones, work, and, competitiveness in general. This takes work. It takes work to get away from life’s pressures. However, it is good for us, regardless of our situations, to occasionally escape our stress sources, without substituting them with “vacation stress”. Unfortunately, many of us in the United States still find ourselves in situations where we feel our time away is so precious, taking part in activities that create this “vacation stress” is the only way to get meaningful experience out of the limited time we have to vacation.

Moose at Rocky Mountain National Park

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We humans seem to have some kind of fascination with moose. There must be something about that animal. Several years ago I was on a weekend ski trip in Breckenridge. The condo our group stayed in had a moose theme. Every decoration .. moose. The pictures hung on the wall. The design on the pillows. Even the back of the couches. It was impossible to rotate my head more than 15 degrees without seeing six new images of moose, in one form or another.

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It is nearly impossible to drive around Colorado, or anywhere in the West, without eventually seeing cars with decals like this one.

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Two years ago, when I rode my bike through the White Mountains of Central New Hampshire, I saw advertisements for numerous “Moose Tours”, in the town of Lincoln, NH. These tours involve a bunch of people crowding in a van of some sorts and heading out into the wilderness to look for moose. A subsequent Google search revealed page after page of companies offering moose tours. There are a lot in New Hampshire, some in Maine, a bunch in Canada. There are even “Moose Safaris” in Norway and Sweden!

Added altogether, there has to be at least hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who earn a livelihood helping tourists see moose!

I woke up on a mid-summer Saturday morning without a real plan. I wanted to go by instinct, as I’ve been trying to avoid overtaking things lately. That instinct told me to head to Grand Lake, a place I had actually not been to before.

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Grand Lake is perhaps best known for having Colorado’s largest naturally occurring lake, however, the town itself is pretty interesting too.

Just West of Rocky Mountain National Park, it attracts a lot of visitors and tourists, not unlike Estes Park, the more well known town east of the park. Compared with Estes, it is a little bit quieter, and the buildings also have somewhat of a more western feel.

It is also apparently near the part of Rocky Mountain National Park where visitors are most likely to find moose. I had no idea when I decided to hit up the Green Mountain Trail, the first major trailhead one encounters after entering the National Park from the West.

I just knew I wanted to be out in nature, and have a break from my pursuits back in Denver. I knew there was some sort of healing power in being immersed in a place like this.

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I wasn’t even tracking my progress along the trail. I wasn’t thinking about where I was, where I was headed, or what I was hoping to see. I was just there, in the moment, in the deep evergreen forests of the Upper Colorado River valley, apparently headed for a meadow, when a woman walked up to me and told me that there was a family of moose 200 feet past the next trail junction, in the meadow, where moose are typically expected to be spotted.

I must admit, that although I do not count myself as one of those moose obsessed people, when I heard this, I got extremely excited- almost giddy. It was a feeling that is hard to explain. It felt almost like the excitement that comes over someone’s entire body when they suddenly hear their favorite song, or that their secret crush asked about them, or that their best friend got them tickets to see their favorite performer. It’s that suddenly bubbly feeling that often comes more frequently from anticipation than an actual event.

They first appeared in the distance, walking up toward big meadow. Two other families were watching them, in awe.

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It is never a good idea to get too close to moose. They are dangerous and powerful. This was about as close as I wanted to get.

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Even from somewhat of a protected distance, it was still an amazing experience. We watched them gradually walk downstream along the Tonahutu Creek in this wide open meadow. I am really not sure if they saw us at all. I imagine they did, but serious did not care. It is as if the moose are the ones that have perfected the art of not caring about the judgements of those around them.

I am actually nearly 100% certain that had there not been a bunch of humans taking pictures of them and watching them slowly walk by, they would not be acting any differently. Maybe I deeply respect that about them. If only more of us humans can learn to stop relying on the approval and attention of others.

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What is it about these creatures that capture so many of our imaginations? There are, after all, plenty of large mammals to be spotted on this planet. What makes the moose worthy of hundreds of tour companies in Eastern North America, decals on countless SUVs, and an entire section of nearly every Western themed home decoration store.

It is probably that the quest to spot a moose has all of the ingredients that any other worthwhile life quest could have. As is the case with learning a new skill like car repair, finding the right date for a school dance, or finding a rare collectable, it is a challenge, a deep one, but an obtainable one. This is important because if a challenge seems impossible, it would not be taken on by too many people. People who do not believe in the existence of BigFoot are not going to go searching for it.

There is also something amazing about the end result. This is important because there has to be some sort of reward that makes the challenge worth pursuing. I do not see a market for a 1,000 piece puzzle that is pure white, with no color, picture, or design. The end result would be nothing. Moose are something.

They are also unique, at least in the realm of the experiences the average human being has throughout their lives, but unique in a non-threatening way. Finding a moose in an open meadow is the right kind of unique. It is a unique people can relate to based on their own experiences, having likely seen something somewhat similar, like a horse, or some of the animals at the zoo. It is not too far out there for one to relate to.

So, in a way, seeing a moose after trying and failing a bunch of times, is a metaphor for obtaining the things we most cherish in this life. We have to work for it. There is some amount of reliance on luck. The reward is something amazing and unique, but also tangible, obtainable, and relatable. Now I understand why so many people love these creatures.

A Moderate Hike at Reynolds Park

IMG_6790I became interested in the weather at a young age, in part, because its impact on all of our lives is quite evident, almost every day.  While the weather has an impact on nearly all aspects of our lives, it has the greatest impact on many of the activities we take part in for enjoyment and fulfillment.  Activities such as hiking, playing on a friendly softball team, or having a family picnic in the park take place outdoors, and require a certain type of weather conditions, otherwise they are either not possible or not enjoyable.  For many, including me, activities like these make up an essential part of life, an essential part of feeling “alive”, and an essential part of the human experience.

The weather also behaves in a sort-of predictable but sort-of not predictable manner.  From sheer observation, we can recognize certain patterns in how the weather behaves.  But, there are always some surprises, some deviations, something to keep us on our toes.  If we always knew what exactly what weather conditions to expect, some aspects of life would be easier to plan, but the weather would be far less interesting.

In Colorado, each season presents a different set of considerations.  In winter, we watch the snowpack grow, as well as when and where storms that make travel perilous hit.  In spring, we watch as the snowpack melts and the runoff produces both rapids, and potential floods.   In the summer, an issue for some in places close to Denver, Fort Collins, Pueblo, etc. is the heat.  Mid-summer in particular can get quite hot in these locations, with most days reaching highs in excess of 90 degrees.  Those looking to avoid this heat can do one of two things; wake up early or travel to a higher elevation.

I needed a calmer weekend.  The summer had been active, and I still have to expend some energy in order to make a living.  I am not extremely lucky or extremely wealthy.  But, I am hardly one to sit inside all weekend in the middle of the summer.

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Luckily, there are places one can get to from Denver in roughly an hour, sometimes less, that offer moderate intensity hikes at a high enough elevation to escape some of summer’s heat.  One such place is Reynold’s Park, close to Conifer, where we were able to find a set of trails that offer a six-and-a-half-mile loop, with a vertical climb of just over 1000 feet.  This hike is described as “moderate” in difficulty (as opposed to the hanging lake trail, with a similar vertical climb that is described as “strenuous”), and I would certainly agree with the assessment.

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We took the loop in the counterclockwise direction, using the Raven’s Roost Trail to connect to the Eagle’s Nest Trail.  I am actually glad we decided to take this loop in this direction.

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We spent roughly an hour getting to the summit, and were fortunately enough to be shielded from the sun for part of the time, due to both sections of denser forest, and partial cloud cover that afternoon.

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However, hiking the loop in this direction, we actually saved the best for last.  After “summiting”, there was a section of the hike that was generally flat, and also densely packed with pine trees.

I guess we “descended” a little bit, meaning 150 feet or so into the valley of a small creek.  When we popped out of that valley, we actually encountered the best view of all, as a clearer (from trees) section of the trail gave us clear views of some of the more interesting rock formations in the distance, including “cathedral rock” in the background of this photo.

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As we descended, I thought to myself about how sometimes I do get disappointed when I do not “save the best for last”.  What a letdown it is indeed when the best part of any hike happens within the first 45 minutes!  In fact, every time I eat a meal there is always a battle going on in my head.  I genuinely want to save the best for last, meaning, saving my favorite parts of the meal for the end.  But, I also do not want to get full on the other stuff, and not have enough room for what I enjoy the most.  This is what makes collecting the proper food at Indian Lunch Buffets a particularly daunting task.  Anyone going to one should know their appetite.  In fact, I suggest only going when there is a robust appetite, particularly for those with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

I’ve been trying to, of late, capture some better pictures of wildlife.  While I haven’t necessarily been out in search of it recently, I have been trying to keep my eyes out for it, as opposed to just looking for waterfalls, unique rock formations, summits and the like as I typically do.  The previous week, in Glenwood, I took this photograph of a chipmunk eating a little cracker (also posted in my previous entry).

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At Reynolds Park, I got a chance to take this amazing close up photo of a butterfly in the parking lot after the hike.

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In fact, this particular butterfly chose to land on a yellow colored post and sit there with its wings out, color coding herself in a manner that almost felt like it was purposeful, as if the butterfly somehow thought there was a possibility it would get famous from this photo; possibly ending up as the July photo in a 2017 Butterflies of Colorado calendar that people will see at the mall, or at Barnes and Noble.

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Add to that the craziest sap discharge I have ever seen (okay, trees really aren’t wild but you get the picture), and, well I was pretty successful in trying to expand my photo-taking to new horizons.

In a divine sort of sense, sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons for changes in seasons, changes in weather patterns and such is to ensure that people are forced to go to different places, try different things, and have some kind of a variety in their lives and activities.  It is easy to do the same thing over and over again, but it is also the least satisfying way to live.  But, sometimes we need a push.  Whether that be some sort of tough situation at work, an unwelcome new presence in our community, a terrible breakup or anything else, sometimes the silver lining in all of it is getting involved in something new, something more satisfying than what was before.  While 95 degree temperatures and exhaustion are certainly less extreme than any of these situations, I know it helps push people towards variety and is giving at least some other people a chance to select a more moderate activity while taking time to appreciate nature, have a nice chat with friends, or, in my case, both.

July 2015 Bicycle Journey Day 3: Yellowstone’s Grant Village to Jackson, Wyoming

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What a difference a day makes!  After the most exhausting bicycling day of my life, day 3 seemed like a breeze.  Everything seemed different, even in subtle ways.  Whereas on day 2 I felt like I had to struggle, even on the flatter portions of the ride, certain segments of this day seemed to breeze by.  It was almost as if there was some kind of invisible force that had been holding me back on the previous day, but now was helping me along.

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We left the Grant Village campground having done none of the activities that are typically associated with camping (other than putting up and tearing down a tent).  We did not set up a fire.  We did not cook anything.  We did not even spend a significant amount of time at the campsite other than sleeping. The next morning, we got some breakfast, and headed South, towards Grand Teton National Park.

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The day started with a climb, albeit a very small one, and one that event felt easier than a similar sized climb would have felt the previous day.  Only four miles into the ride, we crossed the Continental Divide, and immediately started headed downhill.  The next eight miles flew by as we reached our last major stop in Yellowstone National Park; Lewis Falls.

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I feel like I got a fairly exhaustive tour of Yellowstone’s waterfalls.  And, while I had seen several waterfalls while in Yellowstone, each one was different in characteristics.  Undine Falls, which I saw yesterday, was skinny and tall.  Lewis Falls is much wider, with a smaller drop.  It is shaped much more like Niagara.  At this point in my journey, 12 miles in, I was energized!  I felt almost as if I could have handled anything on that day.  In fact, I am 100% sure that I had more energy at that point in the day than I would have had I been resting over the last several days.  There is just something about getting through a really rough day of riding, and then riding downhill.

Until this trip, most of my riding had consisted of day trips.  Before moving to Colorado, those trips were pretty much about how many miles I traveled, as Illinois is flat.  Since then, I have begun to tackle some climbs.  In each of these rides, there is a similar theme, I go up, and then I go down.  There is a climb, and it is followed by a “reward”, a chance to go fast.  This almost felt like a way more stretched out version of this.  I spent an entire day pretty much climbing.  The previous day was my climb, and this day of primarily descending was my reward.  Therefore, the feeling of guilt that usually passes over me when I descend without having climbed first did not manifest.  The whole time I knew that I had earned this day of rapid riding through the exhaustion I had endured on the prior day.

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By the time we left Yellowstone National Park, we had already descended a significant amount.  That descent was interrupted by the days only climb, in the 6 mile space that separates Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  This is a strange place.  Although you are technically in neither National Park, signs posted along the road remind motorists that National Park speed limits and enforcement are still in effect.  Also, there is no official entrance into Grand Teton National Park from the north, at least not along US-89.  It is pretty much assumed that all motorists (and I guess cyclists too) had already paid to get into Yellowstone and do not need to pay again.

After climbing for a little bit, there is a rapid descent towards Lake Jackson, and the heart of the Grand Tetons.

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This lake is gigantic, and one of the defining features of the National Park.  And, as one travels farther, into the heart of the Park, one can sometimes get some of the most stunning views of the Tetons from the other side of the lake.

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The Grand Tetons are the most photographed location in Wyoming.  The primary reason they are so photogenic is that this particular mountain range not only has a prominence (how much higher in elevation the peaks are from the area around them) of over 7,000 feet, but there are no foothills to obstruct one’s view of the mountains.

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There really is nothing like experiencing the Tetons, at a nice comfortable pace of 15-20 miles per hour, from the seat of a bicycle, up and down some gentile rolling hills, as the afternoon progresses. As was the case in Yellowstone, I decided not to push myself and hurry through the park.  Only this time, on a day that had been mostly downhill, it felt way more comfortable.  I wasn’t climbing up a major pass, putting my legs through all of that exhaustion.  I was just gliding kinda.

The final part of the trip into Jackson took me on a bike trail, where I encountered the last wildlife of my journey, a coyote.

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In the end, I once again rode over 80 mies on the final day of my journey.  However, the last part of the ride felt quite a bit different for me on day 3 as it had on day 2.  At some point, I came to the realization that on my final day’s ride, it wasn’t the energy I had left in my legs that was limiting the number of miles I felt like I could do, it was other intangibles.  It was how my butt felt about getting back on the seat.  It was how many times my right fingers had been used to shift gears, as well as the amount of weight I had placed on my forearms in general over the course of many hours on the seat.  In this case, I wonder if the strategy of biking a bit faster, but taking more frequent stops to get up and off the seat may be a better strategy for handling these long distance rides.

The last five miles of my ride, on the trail, headed into Jackson were counted off by little markers in the trail; white lines labelled 5.0, 4.5, 4.0 and so on, counting off the distance from Jackson at the end of the trail.  These markers countered down, pretty much, the end of my trip.  So while I was excited to make it all the way into Jackson, and really anxious to take a shower and have a coca-cola, it still felt bittersweet to me, knowing that this bicycle trip that I had been anticipating for so long was quickly coming to an end.

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Two days earlier, at Chico Hot Springs, I had refrained from eating chicken wings, as I was unsure if the choice would negatively impact my bike ride the next day.  Now, with no more bike riding ahead of me, it was time to finally fulfill that craving.  So, after showering and changing, we went to a place called Local, right in downtown Jackson, and, yes, I had my wings.  Oh, and they were amazing.  One thing I learned the first time I attempted bike travel, ten years ago, was that wings always taste better on a bike journey.

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That evening, we stayed at the Anvil Motel downtown, and watched the 4th of July firework show.  As I watched the fireworks light up the night sky, I thought to myself about how I had celebrated our Nation’s independence by traveling through some of the most beautiful places in the country.  I cannot think of a better way to honor The United States of America than that.

The only regret I really had was that the haziness of the day had seriously impacted the images I had taken of the Grand Tetons.  This regret was remedied, as we spent another day in Jackson before headed home, and got to see some more sights, including different images of the Tetons, under different weather conditions, both Sunday and Monday, as well as the iconic images that one encounters in the famous Mormon Row settlement to the east of the National Park.

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By completing this journey, I feel like I have entered a whole new league when it comes to bike riding, and bike travel.  Before this trip, I could only speculate as to what rides I would one day love to take on.  I could only respond to people’s own bicycle travel stories with statements such as “wow, that seems incredible”, or “good job”.  I was not truly belonging to the group.  Now, with this trip behind me, I have finally earned the right to consider myself a bike traveler.  I have earned the right to actually chime in with my own anecdotes, about biking long distances, road conditions, places to go, pannier setup, and all sorts of other topics bicycle tourists typically discuss.  I have reached the pros- sort of.

And, because of this experience, Montana and Wyoming now have a special place in my heart, something that someone born on Long Island, New York would never have expected.  I almost feel like Teddy Roosevelt this weekend, New Yorker in attitude and mannerisms through and through, but lover of the West, lover of America’s beauty and lover of the National Parks.

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As I rode home Monday, July 6th, it suddenly occurred to me how little I missed my regular life.  I think I missed some of the people and some of the socializing.  But I really didn’t miss the kind of stuff that many would assume.  I had yet to watch a single minute of television, and had yet to use the internet for anything other than looking up the weather and writing a blog entry on this site.  I certainly had not looked at the news or anything.  I definitely did not miss either TV or the internet at all.  As of the time of writing this blog, July 9th, my TV total for the month of July still does not exceed one single hour.  And, the odd thing is, I also knew that if I needed to get back on that bike again and ride more distance, I was more than capable of it.  Maybe that is the way I truly know I have reached a whole new level with regards to bicycling.

The Lifeblood of the West

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The Colorado River is often referred to as the “Lifeblood of the West“.  Recent estimates place the number of people dependent on water from the Colorado River at close to 30 million.  This is a number that is likely expanding, and expanding fairly rapidly, given that water diverted from the Colorado River supplies water to some rapidly growing metropolitan areas, including Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City.  Most of the areas dependent on the Colorado River for water supply are deserts that receive precipitation irregularly.  These cities would not have been able to grow into the large cities they are today without this water source.  Without it, our country, and it’s population distribution would be quite different.  It made an entire region the powerhouse it is becoming today.  The importance of this particular river to the United States would be hard to over-estimate.

It is also one of the most iconic rivers in the United States.  Along it’s course, it carved out some of the most scenic canyons in the world.  This includes the Grand Canyon, a location iconic enough to make it into Arizona’s state motto and attract five million tourists a year.  The Colorado River not only conjures up images of all of these iconic canyons, but also images of rafters, kayakers, and other water sports enthusiasts.  And, of course, one of the most iconic images of the Colorado River is the Hoover Dam, over 700 feet tall, one of many dams that supplies both water and power to the Southwestern United States.

This gigantic cascading of water has it’s origins in Rocky Mountain National Park, near the Continental Divide.  The headwaters are not accessible by road.  A several mile hike is required in order to reach the headwaters of this iconic river.

This particular hike was not especially physically challenging.  Nearly every hiking guide rates this hike as “easy”, as opposed to “moderate”, “strenuous”, or Long’s Peak, which needs a category of it’s own.  Being a trail that follows a river valley, it is not surprising that the hike is easy, as steep grades are not common along river valleys.  This is why many trails follow rivers.  In the pre-automobile days following a river was often the safest and most direct route for fur traders, settlers, etc.  The automobile came along and made travel quite a bit easier, but many of today’s roads still follow these trails.

One interesting exception is Trail Ridge Road, the road I took to get to the Colorado River Trail.  This road traverses Rocky Mountain National Park, but it climbs to a peak elevation of over 12,000 ft. along a ridge in the north central part of the park, as opposed to following one of the river valleys like many other roads do.  It is also the route of U.S. highway 34, a route that proceeds eastward through Estes Park, and then towards Loveland, CO via the Big Thompson canyon.  The road follows a trail through a river valley east of Estes Park, but not west of town.  I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915, after the automobile had already been invented.  So, the people who planned the park could plan around visitors with cars.  Had it been established earlier, like Yellowstone, would the road follow one of the river valleys to the north or to the south, as opposed to it’s route up Trail Ridge?  Historical what-ifs are always fun to ponder, but never verifiable.  At least we know that as things actually are, visitors to the park can enjoy a scenic drive up Trail Ridge Road from mid-late May through the end of September.

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Whenever a trail follows a river, there is an enhanced risk that the particular trail will be muddy.  The last couple of weeks have been rainier in North Central Colorado, and therefore, it was no real surprise to me that there were many places along this trail where the entire trail was covered with standing water, requiring hikers to either wade through it, or walk around it.  Anytime hiking, or bicycling along a dirt trail next to a river, one should prepare for such conditions after rainy days or rainy periods.

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I was expecting humble beginnings, and even considering titling this blog entry as such, but that is simply not true.  A mile or two into the trail, which is only a couple of miles from the source of the river, it already looks quite a bit wider than many rivers in this region.  Although the Colorado River gets a lot of additional force, and water flow, farther downstream, when it is joined by large tributaries, particularly the Gunnison, Green, and San Juan Rivers, seeing the river here it almost seems like this particular river stands out against every other river, creek or stream that flows off of the continental divide in this region.  Like that one child in grade school already reading at high school levels with a curious mind and appetite for learning, it seems destined for greatness at this early stage.

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One interesting thing about this particular trail is that it passes through a ghost town.  3.5 miles from the trailhead, is a place called Lulu City.  In my DeLorme Colorado Atlas, it receives some fairly large lettering, so I was expecting the ruins of a town of sorts, similar to what you see on the Plains, or in the Rust Belt when you drive through a town that has been abandoned.  However, it was nothing like that.  All that is there is this sign, stating that a town of 200 people existed here for a total of five years.  Only five years!  I wonder what the story of this place is, and why it even warranted this major mention both in my atlas and on the Rocky Mountain National Park trail maps and signs.

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After another mile or so of not too strenuous hiking, I arrived at the headwaters of the Colorado River.  The hike took less than two hours, and that was after going out last night and getting about three hours of sleep, so I was not exactly in top condition today.  Anyone wanting to view the Colorado River’s headwaters should actually stress the drive there more than the hike.  From Estes Park it is at least a half hour drive as the road traverses the park up and down a windy road.  Usually, it will take longer, as travel through the park slows down at nearly every scenic overlook, as well as anytime wildlife is seen and people stop to take pictures.

And of course, I can now forever say that I have walked across the Colorado River.  And I really walked across it, as opposed to when I walked across it on the bridge at the top of the Hoover Dam seven years ago.  That does not count.  But, when I get to the Grand Canyon, Moab, or any other place where the Colorado River has carved out an iconic scene, I will know that I have actually traversed across this very river with the assistance of nothing other than two logs, probably placed in the river earlier this year by someone with the same wacky idea and reasoning that I had today.

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Oh yeah, and I cannot claim the higher ground with regards to everyone stopping to take pictures of wildlife and causing delays getting across the park.  This was only the second time I have ever seen moose, and this bighorn picture could not be passed up.  Five and a half hours of driving, and three and a half hours of hiking later, I can at least take solace that I rode my bike 39 miles yesterday and therefore did not really need a lot of exercise today.

Camping in the Badlands

Today, June 2nd, started with a bang. Following our friends Jason and Allison, after only about 5 minutes of driving, suddenly a large black structure came flying off their vehicle. At first glance, the structure looked like a tire, and I became concerned that they had lost a tire. But, they continued, seemingly unaffected, so I assumed they had just run over an old tire, or old piece of rubber of some kind that was on the road. Either way, they wanted to stop to check things, which turned out to be unexpectedly beneficial. We stopped, still on some county road nowhere near the interstate, and concluded nothing was wrong with their vehicle.

After returning to the car, I suddenly see Allison running back to us with the kind of look on her face that made me think that something could have been wrong. It turns out that I had confused the sad look with the amazed look. Outside their car, sitting on some county road in South-Central (Minnesota that is), they had spotted a baby fox. This baby fox was quite cute. It actually made me think of dogs. It seemed in no way alarmed by our presence- and just presented itself to us, the same way a pet dog would. Had the fox of 60,000 years ago done the same to our forefathers, could the fox have become the pet of choice for humans rather than the evolved wolf (dog)?

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The remainder of the drive across Minnesota on I-90 was uneventful. A lot of windmills, that is it. Our first stop off on our journey to the Badlands was in Sioux Falls, SD. I’ve been to this town before. In fact, whenever I see this town, I think to myself that if I were to ever run a city, this is what it would look like, mainly on the count of how many signs that say “CASINO” one encounters here. Of course, they are mainly for places that throw in a slot machine or two, not full-fledged casinos with table games and all, but you still see them. And it makes you think this town is a gambling haven. We encounter a couple of other peculiarities in Sioux Falls. First, the gas station we filled up at had the following “Free Dandelion” sign. I not sure if that was supposed to be a joke or for real. Then, we saw something peculiar from a civil engineering standpoint, an interstate highway, 229, that actually turns into a dirt road (after its’ junction with I-90). From the point of view of someone who did not even know dirt roads still existed until college, but then became all too familiar with them on storm chases. I still think of dirt roads as not belonging in areas near “civilization”.

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To break up the drive, we stop at the Mitchell Corn Palace, in Mitchell, which is just over an hour farther down I-90. For over 100 years, they have been building a succession of buildings that are actually made out of corn. Since corn does not last too long, roughly once a year they reconstruct the building with a different theme. The whole practice is rather ridiculous if you think about it. It becomes even more ridiculous when you see that the town’s city hall is actually attached to this building! Imagine being able to say you get to go to a castle every day because you are the mayor of the seventh largest town in South Dakota. Talk about the life.

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My party thankfully avoids making all of the corn related puns one could make when visiting a ridiculous exhibit like this. I won’t repeat any of them, but I am sure you have thought of at least four by now. I did enjoy getting my picture taken with “Cornelious”, and buying a corn dog at the concession stand.

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South Dakota is pretty dull to drive across until you reach the Missouri River Valley, at the town of Chamberlin. At that point it becomes sort of interesting, but it does not become exciting all at once, the way it happens in Colorado where you suddenly see the mountains in the distance and one of the dullest most barren areas suddenly becomes a playground of infinite adventure possibilities. This transition starts with the Missouri River Valley, and then with some other river valleys that carve out of the land, as is typical in the high plains. Either way, it feels like we are in the West again.

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The other gradual transition across the state of South Dakota today was in the weather. Upon entering the state, the weather was similar to the weather we left behind in Iowa/Minnesota. It was chilly for this time of year last night, and we woke up to temperatures near 50 degrees and a thick deck of strato-cumulus clouds. As we transitioned across the state, the strato-cumulus clouds gradually waned, until there were suddenly quite few clouds in the sky. It also significantly warmed across the state, and by the time we arrived at Badlands National Park, it was a comfortable 70-72 degrees with good sun.

Indeed we were in the west. The distance we can see, the dryness, the scenery, everything felt a lot more west than Midwest. I switched I to what I am referring to as “Western mode”, which basically means being more prepared for dehydration and drinking more water. As soon as we arrived at Badlands National Park, we found a couple of really neat scenic overlooks, and then an area with some minor hiking trails. Today’s hike only lasted some thirty minutes and was more of a goofy/exploratory hike. By this, I mean there was no serious burn, no real workout. But we did some goofy things, climb a few rock structures, and went off trail. I even threw a few rocks around to see if I could throw them over some of the gorges. Hikes like this can be fun, even if they don’t build anything.

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After hiking we went to our campsite, which was actually within the grounds of the park. This is my first time camping at a National Park! As a result of this, we have the minor inconvenience of not being allowed to have a campfire. But, the bigger inconvenience on this day is the wind. The high plains is known to be a windy place. Sometime in the afternoon, a Southeast wind of around 15 miles per hour, with major gusts, developed. I think for a while sustained winds may have reached 20. The main issue with this has been that it keeps blowing into my tent, and knocking the rods that hold it up out of place. I wonder if I have a sturdy enough tent. They have to make sturdier ones, but, are they tougher to carry? What is truly the best tent to have for hiking, or bicycle touring? Maybe, having the tent be less effective when camping in the wind is just a fact of life. This, of course is somewhat disturbing to me, as Colorado can get windy at higher elevation.

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Isn’t it strange how experience often leads us to more questions? I have some camping experience for sure, but to too much. I had never really thought of the odds and ins of these types of situations. I just know that I want the tent to be big enough and comfortable, that is all. Now, I am suddenly in a quandary of thought about a number of factors such as a tent’s weight, it’s reliability, durability, and, of course, how many people it can hold. It’s been said before that for every new question answered, two more are created. I really hope this is not right numerically, as we will never create a closed system of equations if this is the case. But, I do se the reality in answers leading to new questions. So do experiences. In a way, this is the rhythm of life. We meet people, try things, and create experiences. This leads to new inquiry, new ideas, and new methods. Which, leads to new experiences, activities, and people. The cycle goes on and on. The same is true of work, leisure, pretty much any area of life. Getting into this rhythm will create a life that will continue to perform, be motivated, and advance.

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After a visit to the visitors center where we determine a good hike for tomorrow, and a brief incident that involves me actually breaking our pants, our day ends with an evening presentation at the amphitheater about the black footed ferret, and then some star gazing with some heavy duty telescopes available at the park. This activity was an unexpected possibility at Badlands National Park. I learned about why this area is called the “Badlands”, and a lot about the history of the black footed ferret as well as the prairie dog. Then, we got to look at Saturn in this telescope, which was really quite awesome. Their telescope was so advanced that you could see the ring formations around Saturn, as well as some of its moons.

Overall, it was a very productive day. It is hard to believe that so much of it was spent on a fairly boring road. Tomorrow will involve less driving and more activities, which I look forward to. But, today’s activities were so diverse and the day was so full that I hope I can absorb them all, as well as the frenzy of thought they all put me in, in time to enjoy tomorrow’s to their fullest.