Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Weds, May 27, 2009: Home (or Lack Thereof?)

For the first time since I moved to Colorado almost 2 years ago, I really feel like Colorado has become my home. I felt it when I returned from Moab, and more notably when I left the airspace above the state early this morning. Landing in Connecticut felt like returning to a beautiful green place with wide rivers, rolling hills, and towering deciduous trees. What it didn't feel like was returning home, and I think I am ok with that. Perhaps a different feeling will unfold in the days of these next two weeks, but at the moment it feels like a fun, familiar place to experience.

A man on my flight from Chicago to Connecticut had an L.L. Bean backpack with his initials monogrammed on it as his carry-on luggage. I haven't seen one of those in years... and laughed a little as I realized I left the land of REI and ended up in the land of L.L. Bean. The people on my flight to Connecticut were for the most part dressed very preppy and looked more like normal people than the Olympic athlete physique I've grown accustomed to seeing worn by Coloradans. I wonder if people out here do look and act different, or if that's just what I expected to see.

If home is where one's heart is, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm destined to be rootless. I have written before the idea that we all have a heart home, which we find in our soul mates, and a spirit home, which is the physical place on Earth where our spirits and bodies feel at home. I (obviously) haven't found my soul mate yet, and I'm not sure I've found my spirit home either. At this point, I think my heart is ringing with the ocean waves in Big Sur, nestled in the orange sands of Moab, braced against the steady wind atop a mountain peak in Colorado, expanding across the Wyoming plains, and lounging on a tree branch above a river in Connecticut. It's doing all of these things at once, and running around between them at the same time. It's crazy with anticipation and hope and fear and desire. I feel like my life is an open door and I can't wait to see what comes in. I think the anticipation, while delicious, is making me a bit loopy....

I heard it said once that when you're backpacking, your pack becomes your home. The point of the statement was to keep your backpack clean and at least somewhat organized, but the thing about it that I liked was the idea of carrying my home around with me everywhere in the world. As a human being, maybe there is no greater home for me than inside of my very own body, the home of my soul. In that case, I'm always home and always have been, but I think it's taken me a long time before I was able to feel entirely comfortable living within my own skin. My body is my root to this life; it's the only space on this Earth that will ever truly belong to me. I like the idea that my home is the very thing that carries me around.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thurs, May 21 through Mon, May 25, 2009: Moab!

Moab is one of the places I've wanted to visit since moving out here, but the right opportunity to visit the area hadn't come up until recently. Three of my friends and I began tossing around the idea a while ago, and this weekend we made it a reality!

Day 1: May 21, 2009
My last day of school for the year was the 20th, so I headed out on Thursday the 21st to see if I could get us a good camping spot before they were all gone. This seemed like a really busy weekend for the area - not only is it a long weekend, but there was a music festival just south of town and an art festival going on in the town center. I drove around for a couple of hours on Thursday evening searching for a campsite but most campgrounds were already full. My search brought me to the Sand Flats campground, which is just east of town and is the home of the Slickrock Bike Trail (which even I have heard of...). I found a spot!! The campsite was surrounded by bright orange sand and endless hills of slickrock, with views of the 12,000 foot peaks in the Manti-La Sal National Forest visible from the crests of the hills. I had been sick for the last couple of days of school and was still feeling pretty run down as I set up my tent and passed out shortly after the sunset. I hoped that a good night's sleep would help me out.

Day 2: May 22, 2009
I woke up to the sound of raindrops on my tent and a cold that hadn't loosened its grip on my body one bit. I offered a deal to my body: if I take it really easy today, can you please feel better so I can spend some fun days exploring this place?

I spent the day driving around the southeastern corner of Utah, circumnavigating Canyonlands and crossing the Colorado River through Glen Canyon (191 to 95 to 24). There were black storm clouds hanging low in the sky all around me, and as I drove I witnessed many places on the ground around me being struck by lightning.

I find random rock formations to be the beautiful child of the interactions between earth, air, and water. They fascinate me, possibly because we don't have much in the ancient Appalachians that resembles what can be seen out here in the West. This is Wilson Arch, from 191 south of Moab:Random rock formation in rainstorm:Beehive Rock:
These next two shots are of the canyons near Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, east of where the road crossed the Colorado River:
Here is the Colorado River in Glen Canyon:
Once I crossed the Colorado River, the land went upwards and out of the canyons. I found myself on some sort of high desert plateau, filled with beautiful colors and shapes.
I had been looking forward to experiencing the contrast of bright orange rocks against brilliant blue sky with my own eyes, but this was not the day that would happen. Instead, I was able to experience the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as land very close to me was struck by lightning. I was able to witness snaking canyons gleaming with wet rocks and saw flash flooding begin before my eyes.

My friends headed out that afternoon and called me when they were a couple of hours away. Despite taking it easy that day, I felt very sick and wished I could go home. They apologized and thanked me for keeping the campsite. I feel asleep in a medicine-induced fog to the sound of a downpour battering against my tent.

Day 3: May 23, 2009
My friends arrived sometime during the evening while I was asleep and were up for a while before I rolled out of the tent. Despite still feeling sick, I decided to see if I could last through the day. It's such a rare opportunity to be able to travel with other people and I wanted to take advantage of it if I could.

The day was cloudy and overcast but not rainy, which ended up being the perfect weather for our day. We headed over to Arches National Park and looked at the trail map. One friend pointed out the longest trail loop, labled "strenuous", and suggested we do that one. I was nervous about being able to make it all the way but decided to go for it. The brilliant colors of the desert were once again subdued by the clouds, but the landscape was breathtaking all the same.
There was a loop of the trail called the "Primitive Loop" because the trail was very rough. During several points along the hike, we had to do some climbing of slickrock, which is basically really smooth rock with not a lot to hold on to. One friend did really well by just running and jumping up the rock, but the rest of us were too short to do that.... There was nothing keeping us from slipping down the rock and onto the bottom of the canyon, which felt like 500 feet away thanks to this fact!We all made it without too much trouble and were able to go on our way with a sense of accomplishment.
While sitting and gazing at the Dark Arch down in the canyon, we noticed a bird sitting on top of the rocks to our left with its wings outstretched. I think it was airing its armpits....
My friend pointed out that this rock looked like lace, and I have to agree with her!
I was amazed by the range of colors we observed in cactus flowers: from yellow to bright fuchsia, peach to purple, and orangey-red. Up until this point I had only seen cactus flowers as a brilliant exception, not a rule. During this trip, I was able to see patches of bright colorful flowers interrupting the orange expanses of sand.

We returned to camp to find a massive wall of storm clouds was following us there. This picture was taken by my friend out the passenger window on the road up to the Sand Flats.
We were able to see a beautiful sunset that night from the top of the slickrock hills whose bases ran into the edges of our campsite.

Day 4: May 24
I was very grateful that my body felt well enough to complete our hike the day before, and asked it if we could go mountain biking today. We loaded up our bikes and headed over to Dead Horse Point State Park, where the woman in the rental shop suggested a good beginner trail for us to ride.
This was my first time on a trail and it was insane! My bike seemed to just want to keep going and going, and I glided and jumped off little rock ledges and rushed down and around hills. The uphills weren't too bad, and one friend taught me the "little bit he knows" about mountain biking which made it a lot easier (it wasn't really a little bit - he knows a lot more than me!). I did pretty well with one notable exception - I fell off my bike and onto a small patch of cacti. It was the only patch of cacti even visible on this stretch of the path, and I managed to land myself right in it. Yup, I'm that good. >.> (I've been picking the needles out for the past few days and I think I got the last one out last night...).
It was great to see the canyon from viewpoints that most people never travel to, but the bike ride was pretty hard on my body and my lungs were not pleased with me at all by the time we stopped.
We headed back to town and found the Moab Arts Festival set up on the town green. Exploration of the tents and admiration of the artwork around us lasted for about 10 minutes, at which point a massive storm blew in and blew most of the festival away - literally. Luckily the rain was fairly short-lived and we were able to mosey around the town for a few hours. Moab is small but I thought it was pretty neat. For some reason I could see myself living there if I ever wanted to.

Back at the campsite, the sun sank peacefully behind the clouds as we lit a fire and made preparations for dinner. This was the only night that the rain held off long enough so that we could spend an evening relaxing around the campfire, and we took full advantage.

Day 5: May 25, 2009
My friend woke me up early this morning so that we could climb the hills and watch the sun rise over the mountains. (She had attempted to do this the previous morning as well, but I think all she got out of me was some grumbling and possibly an "mmkay." as she told me she'd let me sleep).
I think we woke up at about a quarter to 6, which is not my idea of a fun way to spend one of my first days of summer vacation... but once I got over my initial reluctance to get out of my sleeping bag, it was totally worth it.

I have never really been "into" the color orange, but for some reason when I moved out here I decided I wanted to use it as the accent color in my living room. Lately, the same shade of orange has been popping up over and over in my life: first in Big Sur as the color of poppies, then in Steamboat Springs as the color of last season's scrub oak leaves. In Moab, I was surrounded by orange in the sand, rocks, and even the flowers:
We returned to Arches after packing up our camp to "finish" the park (which we didn't even come close to doing!). This is the Delicate Arch:
I wanted to do the Delicate Arch trail and the rest of the group was ready to head home, so we parted ways and I was on my own again for the first time in days. It felt strange and I missed their company, but it was liberating as well. (I ended up not doing the Delicate Arch trail as it was noon, extremely hot, and I still wasn't feeling 100%. Something to do next time!).

We hadn't done Sand Dune or Broken Arch on the north end of the park, so I headed there next. I loved Sand Dune Arch, which is reached by passing through two massive rock fins. The sand was brilliant orange in the sunlight and dark burnt umber in the shadows. The rock walls looked like they had been washed in orange dye and were drying out in the sun. The arch was a little orange haven of shade and light:
This ended up being the only bright, sunny day of the entire trip, and my eyes reveled in the sight of the brilliant colors of the desert.
I was able to put into words for myself why I enjoy traveling alone: it's not that I don't like the company of others, but that when I travel alone I'm free to interact with nature in whatever way strikes me. On my way from the Sand Dune Arch to Broken Arch, I talked to the sky, the plants, the rocks, and felt like Nature was a presence existing in the landscape alongside me. When I'm with other people, I think it tends to put a distance between me and feeling this connection. I wish I knew how to not let this happen. Perhaps I just need to find people to travel with who think it's normal to talk to rocks, to put your forehead up against a tree's bark and feel its presence, to make up songs to sing to the sky. The best thing about Broken Arch is that nobody was there... nobody. I was able to spend some quality alone time with the arch, and my spirit connected with it in a way I hadn't experienced with anything else I interacted with on the trip.I was reluctant to leave until 2 young women came down the path, signaling an end to my solitude. I thanked the arch and headed down to the Windows Arches area at the southern end of the park.
I loved this next picture: the rock needle looks like an old man in a robe beckoning me to follow him...The rains streaked the rocks with their wetness and made their colors all the more interesting: Finally, just as I was getting ready to leave the park, the mountains cleared entirely and showed their forms fully for the first time since my arrival:I decided to take a new route home and selected one that would keep me in sight of the Manti-La Sal National Forest for as long as possible. Now that those beautiful peaks had come out, I wanted to keep them in my sight. My route (46 to 90 to 141) took me through unexpected canyons and, to my surprise, I actually descended down into Colorado! I'm not sure I've yet entered the state at a point where it's lower than the adjacent state. The rocks of the canyon which encompassed Paradox, Colorado had lost their bright orange hue and took on the brick red of Colorado soil:It was amazing to me how green Colorado seemed after coming from the desert, and I couldn't get enough of the low evergreens and sagebrush.

I didn't expect the mountains to remain so bright and visible so far into Colorado, but they did and I sang to their image in my rearview mirror as I wound through the canyons (my voice finally felt well enough to sing!)
I remain somewhat mystified by Moab and its designation as a desert, when 4 out of the 5 days I spent there were filled with torrential downpours and steady rainfalls. It was so humid that by the 3rd day, my hair had formed itself into loose curls and my sleeping bag felt perpetually damp. Perhaps I had simply experienced their entire annual rainfall in those 4 days. There was so much to do there and so much that we didn't see, and I look forward to going back someday to spend some more time exploring that beautiful little corner of this country. The things that we did see feel burned into my memory because of their massiveness, their tinyness, the delicacy of their being standing in stark contrast to the unforgiving nature of the desert. It was neat to experience the exploration of a place alongside friends, to hear their thoughts and bounce my thoughts off them, to eat meals with dining companions, to walk to the bathroom in the rain and laugh at our wet bodies together (the bathroom at our campsite didn't have a roof...). Being home feels strange: my apartment seems massive and the sound of the rain on the roof last night seemed so far away....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 16, 2009: Hiking and Listening

Yesterday, my friends and I headed over to White Ranch Park to take our first hike with our backpacking gear. We took a fairly short hike (5 1/2 miles) but were pleased that we were able to do it!

I think the last time I saw cactus flowers was at Garden of the Gods the first summer I lived in Colorado. Those flowers were bright lemon yellow, while these were a vibrant rosy pink and equally unexpected (I saw them in the middle of a field of grass and pine needles. I love the strangeness of grass and pinecones in the background).
In Colorado, spring seems to be heralded not by the opening of leaves but in the transformation of the hillsides to a soft emerald green.That night, we all headed to see Iron and Wine and Flight of the Conchords at Red Rocks. (This seems to be concert week for me; I just saw Keane at the Ogden on Wednesday and loved their performance!) After a day of hiking with weight on my back, my legs were not psyched about climbing all those stairs!! The show was fantastic and it felt wonderful to spend time laughing with friends.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Weds, May 13, 2009: Thoughts from a Mid-May Mind

A friend of mine from Canada recently informed me that I should run away with him to Vegas and marry him so that he can use my US Citizenship to take a promotion at work. I'm not sure which institution should be examined here: Canada, citizenship, employment, marriage....

Rain in Colorado is fairly uncommon, and I've definitely never hiked or even walked much in it. This past week I hiked in the rain twice, was soaked through twice, and was eternally thankful for the nice warm shower, tea, and pj's that awaited me at home.

I continue to feel hurt and sad about the 3 months past break-up, but at least I don't cry about it anymore. I wonder if I will ever stop feeling so angry about it. I also feel oddly liberated, something light and free is inside of me, something dark and hard has dissolved and is moving freely. The process of releasing myself from the overwhelming emotions that accompanied the break-up feels similar to the one I went through when I first moved to Colorado: I can feel beautiful moments in my life releasing the bands that were clenched tightly around my chest and stomach. I can still feel a couple in there but look forward to immersing myself in people and activities that will inspire them to be free.

When I saw the dowser in February, she informed me that my one who is coming in June has something to do with wind or water. The random young woman who walked up to my friend in the mall informed him that my one has something to do with the wind and flying. If he is the wind, is that why I love Wyoming? Why I always want to fly over the mountains on the wind and skim the treetops? Why I am absolutely fascinated by tornadoes and hurricanes? Why I love watching the leaves dance from the trees in fall, or why the sound of the wind brushing its fingers through the trees fulfills something in my soul? I wrote a while back that the last kiss I had received was the wind blowing my hair against my lips. This is still true - and now makes me break into a delicious smile to think that it's him.

When I think of the wonderful things that I have learned about friendship and letting people in over these past few months, I am able to see even more how lucky and blessed I am to have such amazing people in my life. I've never been so comfortable making myself vulnerable and open to so many people.

I have been dreaming often lately of my exes, and wonder if my subconscious is trying to resolve any leftover feelings I have about the relationships. I don't remember all of the encounters, but it's been going on for a couple of months now - sometimes they are calm conversations, sometimes they're crazy arguments, and sometimes we're just doing something together. It's strange having the men who have influenced me and my views on love parading through my sleeping mind, but I hope I can make peace with them.

My chest feels heavy, but my stomach feels like a big sphere bubble with a butterfly fluttering in it. I can feel its movements in that blessedly empty space and it feels like being excited. Life IS exciting, and I am living every moment like there's a possibility right around the corner, an opportunity hiding in a conversation with a random person, like there's something meaningful about putting my spirit out into the universe and asking it to show me what it's got in store. And there is.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sun, May 10, 2009: Waterton Canyon

Waterton Canyon is a little notch in the foothills through which the South Platte River runs. My friends have invited me to bike with them through the canyon several times, but I have always had other plans - until today! I headed up with a friend for my first non-pavement bike ride ever.

I only wiped out once, and somehow managed to do it before we even got to the path.... My first Trevor wipe-out! My shin has some scrapes on it which I am wearing proudly like battle wounds (which is amusing to me and probably to my friend, who cracked up on his way back to help me and swore he was laughing with me...!). As we rode up the canyon, my leg muscles were protesting loudly. I told them to stop being wimpy and figured I was probably tired from the hike I took last night (I joined a group who was doing a moonlit hike. Instead of moonlight, the trail was illuminated by light pollution bouncing off the rain clouds which shortly opened up on us. I was completely soaked by the time I returned to my car, but it was a fun adventure!). I figured that perhaps biking on a dirt surface is harder than on a paved road - until I realized that we had just ridden our bikes uphill non-stop since we left the parking lot. It wasn't too steep, just relentless. I forgave my legs for protesting and decided they're not wimpy after all.

We stopped to check out the dam near the end of the canyon, somewhere near where the Colorado Trail hooks up with the dirt road. The water coming out of the wall flowed like pearly steam, and I had a hard time believing it was water at all. (I have no idea who the bikers are in this picture. Thanks for being in my picture, bikers!)

As we headed back past the dam, we flew downhill until we came to a bend in the river where my friend wanted to fish for a bit. A narrow path lead us through the trees most of the way, and we settled down beside the river. On the way down to the bank we passed an apple tree with blossoms popping out all over its branches.

The little river clearing where we sat was like some sort of river Eden. A beaver had cleared some of the brush along the water, and we could see its teeth marks in the tree stumps it left behind. I could see the first shoots of horsetail ferns and flowers taking a stand in the rocky soil, and rose hips from last season were still clinging to their slender thorny stems. Velvety green moss rested in rock crevices and green grass covered a small clearing just beyond where I sat. I would love to return to that place this summer to see the small apples growing on that beautiful tree and smell the roses as I lay on the shore.

The ride back was ridiculously fun as it was all downhill, and my legs said "thank you thank you" to gravity as it pulled me along. Trevor the Vampire Mountain Bike finally drew blood!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Weds, May 6, 2009: 157 Things From My Brain

(This is a random stream of consciousness that I wrote on the back of several envelopes while doing my laundry earlier today.)

#1: JUST KIDDING! Not really 157.

#2: Why is it so easy for men to say they want to stay friends? I mean come on - it's nice that your feelings run that shallow, but mine don't. Neither do my friends' - so quit breakin hearts already.

#3: I now know the Napoleon Dynamite dance; it was taught to us for the Talent Show tomorrow. Apparently I just need Canned Heat to become the new cool thing like Thriller was last year and I'll be all set.

#4: I haven't done laundry for a month. I am now frightened by how many clothes I own....

#5: My friend said I'll stop stepping in s--t if I look where I'm walking. I liked this sentence and taped it on my mirror. A week later I sliced my right heel open on a piece of glass at a belly dance performance. This past weekend I bruised the arch of the same foot on a rock at the hot springs. I can't recall ever injuring my feet like this before... but at least I'm not dating anyone who doesn't return my feelings! It must be working.

#6: One more month....

#7: I applied to a job a week ago and received a rejection letter in the mail today. I don't think the mail even works that fast - they must have sent the letter before I even applied.

#8: This weekend I'm going biking with a friend. I want to know what to do if I come across a downed tree branch, a ditch, and/or a rabid raccoon. Do I just jump over stuff and hope I make it?

#9: The hills are turning green like the tide coming in - I didn't even realize it was there until it crept up and started licking my toes.

#10: TV made the switch to digital, and I'd been doing such a good job of ignoring those pesky conversion warnings that I went to watch Lost one week and all I saw was cosmic background radiation from the Big Bang fizzing across my screen. I finally got my converter box coupon today. I'm going to actually have more than 5 TV channels I think... weird. I wonder if PBS will come in so I can add "NOVA" to my short list.

#11: The laundry room at my apartment complex has giant Nerds gumballs. I think I am single-handedly keeping the company in business. I freaking love those gumballs. Even though they are hard and don't taste good after like a minute.

#12: I speak to my cat incessantly, as loudly as if I were speaking to another person in my apartment. I used to care if the neighbors heard me. Then I realized I really don't care at all. I also realized that the couple who I thought moved into the place next door didn't, and it's still vacant. This allows me to continue my fantasy that my one will move in next door. How sweet would it be to wake up in his bed and stumble over to my house to get ready for work? No bags packed, nothing forgotten. Convenience at its finest. Or perhaps I should just look forward to living with him someday... haven't lived with a guy for a while. I am left to conclude that this fact and the fact that I talk to my cat have absolutely nothing in common. Nothing.

#13: Still no job...

#14: I'm going to get my butt handed to me on a tennis racket by a rocket scientist. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Perhaps I will enjoy it more if I wear striped knee socks.

#15: I am learning how to speak cat sign language. I know the difference between holding the tail at 65 rather than 70 degrees, I read shifts in weight, facial expressions, refusal to look me in the eye... that last one means I'm being absurd. I get that one a lot when I sing songs and shake my butt at her.

#16: Having 17 kids ask me if I will eat lunch with them makes me feel like a rock star. Until I realize they just like it when they finish lunch early and I let them play tag.

#17: Ooh it's almost the 1 year anniversary of my move! I still absolutely adore my apartment, though it's a bit more cramped now that Trevor has moved in. No offense, Trevor. :)

#18: I want to travel by hot air balloon across Africa. Or at least, across Africa for a start...

#19: I find myself wanting to take up the flute or recorder again, since they're more conducive to campfire music than a piano. Ooh or a pan pipe! That would rule!

#20: I don't understand why people who consider themselves adventurous like dogs and think cats are lame. Know what? I can spontaneously take off for 2 weeks and leave my cat home alone. She will be fine. I'd love to see you try that with your dog...!

Oh also ps by the way, someones should see Wolverine and Star Trek with me this weekend! Kthxbai.

Ok that was 157.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fri, May 1 and Sat, May 2, 2009: Steamboat Hot Springs Mud Hike

I headed up with some friends to Steamboat Springs on Friday afternoon with hopes of hiking and soaking in hot springs. We spent Friday night wandering around a town that was closed for "mud season" (which I think can be either spring or fall, too warm for snow but still kinda wet and cold). There was a chocolate shop open (YAY!) and a couple of places had live music, but I think most of the group was pretty tired and wanted to turn in early.

The next morning, we woke up to a steady rain out our window, which did nothing to quiet the sinuous bop croaks of the little frogs in the pond just beyond the parking lot. We had ample warning for several days that it might rain and everyone said they still wanted to go, but I was afraid that people in the group might change their minds once they were faced with the reality of the rain. I was delighted that nobody did! We headed out for a rain hike to Strawberry Park hot springs. (Apparently you can also drive there, but a) hiking is way cooler, and b) you need 4wd or they heavily fine you if you get stuck. This restriction was lifted on May 1 I think, but it still didn't sound like a very good idea...).

The hike started south of the parking lot and the beginning of the trail lead us through a giant wet farm field. The entire Steamboat valley was so green and wet that it reminded us of Ireland! (or for me, my imaginary idea of Ireland!) The rain had settled down since early that morning though, and we walked through a light mist.

The colors were beautiful: ghostly white clusters of skeletal aspens popped out against the gray-brown hillsides, and clusters of bright orange oak leaves reminded me of patches of orange poppies in the California meadows.

There was a stream beside us running out of its mind, stuffed to the brim with snow melt and rain. It was beautiful and humbling to walk next to its powerful presence.

A rusting printing press sat downstream in a little meadow below 2 dilapidated log cabins. We decided this was one settler's attempt at a Strawberry Springs Daily Chronicle, which was cut short when one year's flood waters washed the machine away.

We walked among scrub oaks and evergreens for most of the hike, but towards the end it opened up into this little field of aspen. I love the sharp contrast between their bark and everything else around them.

Just beyond the aspen field, several members of our group began wondering if we had taken a wrong turn somewhere as the hike was beginning to feel longer than it should for them. Luckily, we didn't have too long to wonder as we soon came upon this sign:

I was SO reassured when I learned from this sign that ther pies massa watsu!!

My friend and I ran up to the bathroom and I found myself facing a fantastic onyx wall that ran all the way up to the ceiling and partitioned off 2 sections of the bathroom house. It was so beautiful with the light shining through it.

My friend and I forgot to bring towels, so the gate keeper had us walk up to the gatehouse with him to rent them. We chatted on the way up, and he asked us if we hiked in. We said yes... and when we got to the gatehouse he said we could have the towels for free since we hiked! Ok, so maybe the towels were only $1.00, but that's my first free hiking prize and I fully enjoyed the moment!

There were many little stone huts built into the hillsides right next to the stream that paralleled the hot spring pools. I loved how difficult it was to tell where the structures ended and where the earth began.

We changed in one of the little massage huts and I completely amused myself by stomping around in my bikini and hiking boots while the others finished changing. I may or may not have also amused the massage therapist who was in the hut with us....

I had never been near a hot spring before, with the exception of my Yellowstone trip last fall. This hot spring looked far more appealing than anything I saw there! The water ran down from a small stream on the hillside and was channeled through a few small, extra hot pools before it descended to the pools of more "moderate" temperature (which were still hot!!).

The chipmunks at the springs were relentless and invited themselves to climb into people's hiking boots, purses, backpacks - anything they thought might contain food. At one point, one was sitting on my friend's backpack and I commenced in a shooing routine that was 0% effective. The chipmunk literally stood still as a little stump while I waved my hand 2 inches away from it. I picked up my friend's towel and shooed it away with that over my hand, and had to progress to the point of actually touching the animal before it would move. I'm not sure I've ever touched a wild animal like that before so that was kinda cool. :) Then it decided to poop on my friend's towel... an act of vengeance against the towel that cramped its style?

I attempted to climb right away into the warmest pool, but didn't get much farther than my ankles before I was hopping back and forth with what felt like a pained look on my face. I migrated to the next cooler pool and climbed right in - it was like bath water! The pools had soft, sandy bottoms and tons of stairs and ledges to sit on. After a couple of minutes I headed back over to the hot pool and climbed right in. It. Was. Heaven. Every inch of my body and mind completely relaxed into the most perfect, warm hug that I have ever received from water.

It began raining again while we soaked in the springs, and the cold rain drops felt amazing on my hot face. It continued to pour for our entire hike back, which was fine by me at the beginning since I was so warm from the hot springs I thought I'd never lose that feeling! By the time we reached the farm meadow at the end though, my legs were pretty wet and cold (still need to get good rain pants for hiking...). We laughed our way back through town as we attempted to dodge raindrops between the place where we stopped for dinner, the candy shop where we filled up for the ride home, and my car. (as a side note, Philippe hit his 100,000 mile anniversary on this trip!! Hooray Philippe!). I liked traveling with this group of people because of how easygoing everyone was, and how willing we all were to enjoy whatever nature presented us with that day.