Our National Parks: The Joy of Getting Away to the Snowy Mountains
Relaxing in the High Country
The Joy of Getting Away to the Mountains
When it's mid-July and the city heat rises to the upper nineties, it's time to get away to the mountains. Whether you are going for only a day or on an overnight camping trip, the power of the mountains is cleansing. They clean out worries about finances, needed house repairs, up-coming weekend company, neighbors' barking dogs, noisy newspaper boys delivering the daily post in a deliberately noisy new car loaded with glass-packed mufflers.
No, to remain in the city all day stewing over problems in ninety-degree heat verges on insanity. What we do is load up our faithful 1996 Rav with backpacks containing food and water and drive uphill to Rocky Mountain National Park just an hour and a half from downtown Denver. Once in the Park, we proceed on up to Trail Ridge Road above 12,000 feet to breathe in fresh and cool air and look across at the roof of the world with the very snowy Never Summer Mountains looming to the west.
We descend a bit to Fall River Pass, park our car, shoulder our packs and pick up the trail just across the road that heads off into the tundra (see above photo). We're in no hurry to get to a given destination like some jet headed for Islamabad. No, we just amble along the trail and look across at Specimen Mountain rising a thousand feet higher. Once we're about a mile away, we take a breather and stretch out along the trail to relax and enjoy the view while sipping on some water and looking through binoculars.
When the mountain air has begun to seep through our nervous system, we get up and amble along until we have descended to the upper limits of tree line. Here it is fun to observe marmots hopping from rock to rock and rosy finches flicking through the air. We love to get down on our hands and knees to smell the delicate scent of patches of alpine forget-me-not flowers,so delicate and light sky-blue. We then pick a route up through the miniature windblown trees to a higher tundra mound overlooking Forest Canyon far below. We might see red-tailed hawks or even a golden eagle circling in the sky. We can smell the fragrance of the spruce forests rising up to us in thermal bands of warmth.
Time for lunch perhaps three miles from the nearest human being. We could go farther, but this spot has much to offer. Here we try to concenterate on the grasses of the tundra, on the elk sedges and tiny Parry primroses at our feet. We can see in the distance a herd of elk grazing on meadow grasses five hundred feet below. Ravens squawk above us as a few thunderheads begin to develop over Mount Ida that rises to almost 13,000 feet. As thunder rumbles, we get up to hoof back to Fall River Pass where it has begun to sleet. There's a distinct chill in the air. Lightning forks the sky as we descend to our city that we can once again enjoy.
Once or twice or thrice during the hot summer months, we throw our thirty-five pound backpacks loaded with pup tents, sleeping bags, food and water and head for the hills. There's one spot in the Jefferson County Park system that we nearly always choose. It has a parking lot that overlooks the entire metro-Denver area 2000 feet below. Here is where we shoulder our packs and begin walking along a trail. Even though we are weighted down like turtles, we enjoy the bracing evening air. The campground is only a mile away, but very few people take the trouble to backpack in because the campground has no water and has only a primitive privy.
We usually choose a night that will have a rising full moon. After we arrive, set up our tents and light a wood fire under a grill, we get out Italian sausages, peppers, onions, and squash and fry up a nice dinner. But before having our dinner graced with a half-litre of wine, we slice some fresh tomatoes, scoop out an avacado, add a squirt of terriyaki sauce onto our salads. With full stomacks, we are ready to walk out into the meadow in darkening skies to set up our cameras on tripods for the chalky-orange moon that is about to rise over the prairies beyond Denver. Talk about putting a city in perspective! What a job the full moon does. We are ready for a good night's rest in our tents below a sky full of stars.
To this day, we still make pilgrimages to Fall River Pass and the tundra trail across the road to the south. It offers a kind of continuity to our lives.
The image of my wife sitting by the trail in the Colorado Rockies serves as the book cover for my Amazon Kindle book "Mountains on my Mind."