Monday, June 29, 2009

Mon, June 29, 2009: A Brimming Cup

Friends invited me to join them at their property near Fairplay today, so I happily set out with the strangest set of directions I've encountered thus far in my life. Apparently the individuals who named the streets in the area weren't very creative, and every street had one of 2 names. The distinguishing feature of the names lay in the second half, indicating if it was a lane, circle, court, drive, or way. I think those were arbitrarily assigned as I couldn't discern any features that would entitle one narrow dirt path to be called a "lane", while another was called a "way".

Confident in my ability to correctly land myself in random locations, I made the journey through the tangled dirt roads solo, and was confused to end up somewhere that didn't match my friend's description even though I'd followed the directions to the letter. I waited in the place where the directions lead me for a while, then headed back out to the previous street to see if I'd missed something. On the way back, I randomly ran into my friends, who said they were lost as well. Together we caravaned to the correct place, and I felt lucky that I met up with them as I would have never found the place otherwise. Instead of turning around sad that I missed spending time with them, I was able to enjoy their company and their land for a few hours!

We took a walk around one edge of their property and passed this fairy tree:
(I walked past this place later and left them a gift!).

There is a massive rock formation on the edge of my friends' property, which we climbed as soon as lunch was over. The view from the top was absolutely amazing, and about 300 degrees of my 360 degree view were covered by mountains high enough to be bare and snow-covered.I love the vivid colors of the lichens out here:
It seems to me that wood in Colorado discentigrates more than it rots. Often, beautiful streaks of orange show through the weathered gray wood. I love that what was once a massive, powerful tree becomes a delicate tribute to beauty.
I always say that I'll never get tired of looking at the mountains. I still haven't. :) On my way back to the main road, the fields rushing past my windows were stained bright orange by indian paintbrush flowers:
I still contemplate my most recent breakup at times, trying to make sure that I process the lessons that were presented to me and learn the things that I need to learn from the experience. Today I thought about it a bit on the way home, and realized that for the first time the cup of my heart was so full of happiness that there wasn't room for anything else inside of it. I feel so loved and am so full of love that anything else just flows out of my glass and is soaked up by the earth. I am filled with excitement and anticipation and wonder as the gift of each day unfolds itself around me.
Hope is one of the most wonderful and sustaining gifts that I have ever received. I wish it on everyone.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fri, June 26 and Sat, June 27, 2009: Bear Peak and White Ranch Park (aka The Day That Made My Legs Cry)

Friday, June 26: Bear Peak, Boulder CO.

A friend and I headed up to Bear Peak, which is the highest peak near Boulder. I believe this is the hike one of my old roommates told me is a good beginner hike, which I think very much depends on one's definition of the word "beginner". Perhaps if I was pro at running up and down Mt. Washington every weekend then it would be an appropriate beginner hike for me, but it did seem like a pretty good place to practice for a 14er.

We came across a neat tree that had twisted itself into an arch - it was without the longevity of those in Utah but still just as beautiful! You can see the Flatirons through the arch:
We are apparently having a very wet year out here, which I have to believe since I can see the evidence of wildflowers and green life all around me! Most of it passed through while I was in Connecticut so I never actually witnessed it. It's so damp this year that we even saw some mushrooms!
And wildflowers, wildflowers everywhere: blue, pink, purple, magenta, yellow, white, rose, and everything in between. For most of our way up the mountain, we were constantly being greeted by the sight of colorful flowers in full bloom asking us to take notice.
At one point along the way, we stopped in an amazing rock-strewn section of forest that my friend pointed out has very strong earth energy. We spent some time talking about my current situation and the things that I have been "released" from in Colorado: my relationship, my job, and even my apartment (my lease is up at the end of July). I think one possible reason this release may be happening is so that I can choose whether I want to stay in Colorado or move on somewhere else. I shared my recent realization of the strong love I have for the state, the land here and the friends I have made. I expressed that my heart feels connected to Colorado, and I finally feel at home here. As I vocalized these thoughts in the most coherent way I have been able to thus far, my heart and mind felt clear. All of the fresh air and warm sunlight and strong earth were flowing through my body, fueling my soul like my blood fuels my organs. I felt like I was speaking my Truth, and was grateful to have someone there who honored that. Also, it's been way too long since someone has commented to me on the energy of a place, and it felt SO GOOD!!! I was like yes, you're speaking my language!

After my recent discovery that I am the slowest hiker of all time, I wasn't surprised to learn how long it took us to reach the top of Bear Peak. (to be fair, we stopped and chatted many times so it wasn't entirely due to my slowness! :) ). The last little bit of the hike took us over sharp boulders and demanded that we scramble over rocks while dark clouds rolled in and lightning slashed the atmosphere into shreds.
Up, look around for a minute, and back down to treeline as fast as we could safely go so that the hungry fingers of the storm wouldn't mistake us as its lunch. We had time to eat and work our way back down the very rocky side of the mountain before the sky opened up on us. It was very humbling to feel the incredible weight of the thunder as it crashed over our heads, and the fear that shot through my backbone to the ends of my hairs at every flash of lightning. The very center of the storm seemed to stay about 1/2 mile away from us (I was counting the time between lightning and thunder...), which was somewhat reassuring to my logic but had no effect on my animal instincts telling me to find a cave in which to hide!

The storm swept over us, leaving us soaked and muddy but unharmed, and I loved the feeling of exhilaration that stayed with me even after it was off entertaining itself with the prairie. On the way home, I heard tornado warnings on the radio for several nearby counties, including Denver. Intense!

* * * *

Friday, June 26 to Saturday, June 27: White Ranch Park Camping!

A friend (different friend) and I headed up to White Ranch Park shortly after I returned from my Bear Peak hike, for an evening in the great outdoors! This is my new favorite place to camp near my home: it's free, there are super clean bathrooms, and they give you free perfectly seasoned firewood! We built a gigantic fire and spent the evening chatting and relaxing, and were given the gift of a most beautiful pink and purple sunset. The weather was gentle as a lamb after its earlier tantrum that afternoon, but as the evening progressed the wind began to make its presence known.

We headed off to our tents to escape the wind (it kept throwing sparks at us which wasn't very nice!), and I loved hearing the progression of each individual gust as it blew through the trees around my tent. First on my right, then in front of me, then off to the left as it swept away towards the prairie.

This morning I woke up to a beautiful sunny day, which my friend had already been enjoying for several hours. She reported that she had visited some of the other campsites and came across a deer in the path that eyed her with great interest, then followed her as she turned and walked in the opposite direction from it. I thought this was awesome and wished I could have experienced it. Shortly after, I was lucky enough to be close to two deer as they trotted out of the woods and through the meadows near our site:
The campsites were lush and green and there were colorful wildflowers everywhere! From many of the sites, you could see the tall buildings of Downtown Denver, which are in the far right of this picture (last night, we enjoyed some amazing views of the city lights!).
I have always loved daisies, especially oxeye daisies which grow wild all over Connecticut. I think the altitude is too high in Colorado for them to thrive here, but there are other types of daisies that seem to like the sandy soil and relentless sunshine, and I appreciated the sight of them with all of my heart:
It's been a wonderful couple of days spent out in nature, which makes me miss living outside but also strengthens my motivation to get outside more often!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mon, June 22, 2009: Strawberries and Roses

My birthday (which is today) falls right in the middle of my favorite time of year: late spring and early summer. Temperatures are generally warm without being too hot, the grass is still green, and everything seems to be in bloom. It's such a fertile time of year, and it seems that around my birthday is when all the fresh fruits and vegetables really start rolling in.

Last night, I rang in the first sunset of the summer on Lookout Mountain. The falling light sank quietly behind the mountains as its brilliance touched the edges of the clouds along the horizon. Silvery gold at first, they deepened into a warm rose gold which I admired while savoring a handful of strawberries. For me, strawberries epitomize the taste of summer, especially if eaten fresh and still warm from the sun. (During this time, I didn't even think to wear bug spray and was bitten by zero bugs, since they all live down at Chatfield, remember? I do really love that about Colorado!).

To celebrate my birthday, I headed into Denver to see the Botanical Gardens, which for some reason I hadn't visited yet. I couldn't think of a better birthday activity than to immerse myself in the company of beautiful plants for a few hours.

There is a large greenhouse area attached to the main visitor's building that reminded me a lot of the Arboretum that my father and I visited at Smith College in Northampton, MA. The size of the plants in this one dwarfed anything in the Arboretum by far, and I couldn't stop myself from staring up at the domed ceiling with my mouth open.
Weird alien eyeball palm with tubes coming out of it:
One corner of the gardens was cultivated to look like a Japanese garden. I admired the shapes of the little pine trees that lined the pathways and the pond, and laughed when I found out they are Ponderosa Pines (which are very common in Colorado) and not some exotic Asian species.
If I looked to the north, the high rise apartment buildings surrounding Cheeseman Park were in my view, but for the most part they were easily overlooked as I lost myself in the plants. This section of the gardens featured plants native to the mesas and prairie, the "dry" areas of Colorado.
I saw my first "wild" columbine yesterday while on a hike in Evergreen, and was pleased to see them flourishing all over the gardens:
While exploring the gardens, I saw "real" trees: birches, maples, willows, and oaks bigger than any I've ever seen in Colorado. I also saw things I never thought I would see in Colorado: wisteria vines, the biggest crab apple tree I've seen in my life, and peony blossoms as big as my hand. The garden was arranged so that you could hear running water from everywhere within it, and the sound made me feel refreshed under the hot solstice sun.

My favorite part of the garden hands-down was the rose section. There were trellises and walkways, and it seemed designed to look like a Greek garden. I love Greek art and architecture, so the combination of that plus my birth flower made for the perfect place to stop and relax for a while.
Roses are always in bloom on my birthday, and growing up I always felt surrounded by their beauty. My parents grew them in our yard, and we used to visit Elizabeth Park in West Hartford every summer, which houses nationally renowned roses. I loved sticking my nose into their blossoms and sending their scent coursing through my blood. Roses aren't as common in Colorado as they seem to be in Connecticut, so I didn't expect to find them in the gardens. It was the perfect birthday gift to find myself surrounded by their full blossoms and sweet scent.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fri, June 19, 2009: Chatfield State Park

A friend and I biked down to and around Chatfield State Park, home of what I think is the largest body of water around Denver: Chatfield Reservoir. That being said, I can't think of a good reason why I hadn't visited it yet, but yesterday was definitely the perfect day for it! The mid-afternoon rain storms that have been rolling through here every day held off yesterday, and we rode under brilliant blue skies with a handfull of small clouds moseying from the mountains to the prairie.

In several areas of the ride, we were in and out of cottonwood shadows, kicking up the fluffy collections of cotton as we passed. They floated down from the trees and hung as if suspended in the still air, and I felt like I was in some sort of 80 degree winter wonderland with snow. At one point, we took a little side route and ended up dead-ending in the middle of a swampy area. I then learned that all of the mosquitoes in the state of Colorado live at Chatfield Reservoir. I haven't gotten more than a couple of bug bites in the 2 years that I've lived out here, but I got 2 from the mosquitoes while we stood there and talked about where to go next. Aah! I'd forgotten how itchy they are!!

The sunset that greeted us when we returned to our cars was breathtaking. I have never seen so many memorable sunsets as I have since moving out here. The play of the brilliant sunlight as it melts into the clouds and mountains is so beautiful that it makes my heart ache.

Ever since my backpacking trip last weekend and the realization that the trip was exponentially enhanced through enjoying the company of my friends, I have actually felt lonely! Loneliness is not a feeling that I have often, because I truly enjoy and feel comfortable in solitude. But I love people too, and not having them around for this past week has been kind of sad. I've been around people non-stop for the past 3 weeks: first at Moab, then with my family, and finally during the backpacking trip. I think the feeling is strengthened by the fact that I'm off from work for the summer, so I don't even see people at work. While feeling lonely is a different experience for me, I think it's a good thing: my heart is telling me that it wants people around. :)

There is no doubt in my mind that the experiences in my life right now can best be represented by the Death card in the Tarot deck. Death is the card of change, rebirth, the ending of old things and new beginnings. The relationship I was in ended, my job ended, my lease is coming to an end at the end of July... and I'm finding myself wondering what to do with it all. I think more than anything else, my heart has shown me in the past couple of months how much I love Colorado, with a strength and passion that surprised me. My worry is that this feeling is more my hesitance to change than my soul suggesting what is for the highest good. But when I think about my friends, my apartment, the mountains and the prairie, my little town of Golden... and the things that I love about all of them... this place just feels like home in my heart. I don't know if it will always feel that way, but it does right now, very deeply.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thurs, June 18, 2009: My Golden Home

Tonight after my dance class, I walked a couple of blocks downtown to get some iced herbal tea, then meandered back towards Clear Creek for some good quality time with the water. I sat in one of my favorite little spots and watched the water explode like angry glass as it slid over rocks and crashed into rapids. I couldn't hear a sound over the thunder it created, and I admired the shapes it was carving into the massive rocks it flowed around. White flakes of cottonwood fluff drifted around me in the air, falling like warm snowflakes that melted into the surface of the water. I watched kayakers drift past me and somehow ended up surrounded by a SWAT team sent out by the fire department to rescue a kayak stranded in the middle of the creek (I'm not sure if it actually had a person in it or not...).

If you sit along the creek on the western side of Washington Avenue, there is nothing between you and the foothills except some trees, and you can see the hills very clearly in the space created by the creek. I love knowing that if I wanted to, I could follow that creek all the way up into the mountains.

I could see a wall of heavy black clouds rolling in from the foothills and I headed up Lookout Mountain for a better view of the storm. All the way up, I could see sheets of rain pouring down in the distance and lightning reaching down towards the mountains as the clouds grew closer. Now as I sit in my peaceful apartment, the lightning and thunder are right above me, and each flash illuminates the view of the canyon to the north. (As a side note, my cat apparently LOVES thunderstorms, and sits at the window glued to the view most of the times that it rains. If I sit and watch with her, she could stay there for hours).

I've said it once and I'll say it a million times: I love Golden. :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tues, June 16, 2009: Crane Assembly Complete!

Today I took a break from submitting resumes (which gets pretty overwhelming after a while...) and headed into the mountains to find a branch suitable for suspending my cranes. I found one! :) The branch is mounted in the corner of my bedroom and the cranes are lightly hanging from all of its little pieces. (everything looks kind of weird and double in this photograph due to shadows created by my camera flash).It's way bigger than I ever imagined it would be, but I love it!
I hope that it brings a smile to my face every morning when I wake up, because having reasons to smile upon waking is good!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fri, June 12 to Sun, June 14, 2009: Conundrum Hot Springs Backpacking Trip

A group of friends and I started talking about backpacking a few months ago, and this weekend we finally took our first trip to Conundrum Hot Springs. The hike is near Aspen, so we camped at Difficult Campground outside of town on Friday night to be close to the trailhead on Saturday morning. After a brief "scenic detour" (we got caught up in conversation and passed our exit, and didn't realize it until we were near Grand Junction...), we arrived at our campsite to the sound of loud rushing water coming from the trees just beyond the clearing. I figured we were camping near the river that one of our group members mentioned runs by the campground, and drifted blissfully off to sleep while lulled by its music.

When we woke up the next morning, the sky was blue and tall aspens towered over us:Most of us were warm overnight, except for one woman who brought a summer tent. When I woke up and looked around for the source of the beautiful water music, I laughed: we were camped next to a small stream that was about 2 feet wide! It was lovely but not quite what I expected.

The drive to the trailhead was beautiful, and I loved having the freedom to look around at the scenery and not concentrate on the road (one of my friends drove). I felt a mixture of nervousness and excitement as we got our gear together and left the car, but our first view of the hike completely sucked me in:
This meadow was covered with white and yellow wildflowers, and it seemed to span forever between the mountains. Everywhere I looked, I saw something beautiful.I liked this little sign for announcing our location:
We kept walking by little groups of these tiny blue butterflies. Our passage disturbed them and caused them to take flight, making us look like we were walking in shimmering blue clouds.
I love groups of aspen trees and would say they are among my favorite things about Colorado. Our hike took us in and out of little forest areas filled with aspens and pines, and beyond these lay massive stretches of sunny green meadows.
Many of the aspens were bright spring green, and some of them had a coppery tint to their leaves which I found interesting. All of them had tiny leaves, as though they were just beginning to emerge:
We were under the impression that we would have to tackle 3 stream crossings. I'm not sure what horribly unreliable source gave us that idea, but at this point we were under the assumption that it was true. Here is our first little creek crossing, which was a piece of cake! As you know if you've read any of my other postings, I have an idea of Colorado that there is no water here, so I assumed that the rest of the crossings would be fairly similar to this one.
The farther we progressed, the more beautiful the scenery became:
I saw this little patch of snow in the shade of some pine trees and was excited. Snow! In June!
I was surprised to come across a stream crossing that was fairly substantial. Thankfully someone made a nice bridge for hikers to use:
Along the sides of the valley were many beautiful waterfalls fed by snowmelt tumbling down the mountains:
Several of the hillsides were cloaked in fallen trees that had been flattened by avalanches:
One of my old roommates told me that this valley is a moraine, where a glacier once lifted massive rocks and deposited them miles from their point of origin. We passed through several meadows strewn with random, massive gray boulders. One of my friends pointed out that they looked like animals grazing in a field, and I love her analogy!
The hike was approximately 8 miles long each way, but even in such a relatively short distance, the plant life around us changed dramatically as we climbed higher and higher into the valley. At one point, we were standing under pine trees covered with skeletal, dead arms on the lower parts of their trunks. The trees in this picture look to me like they are celebrating the life of their fallen tree brother, whose spirit is present in the sunbeam shining into the center of the group:
We came to another large creek crossing, and this time the log bridge had been half washed away at one point. The result for us was that it only took us halfway across the water. We quickly learned that getting our feet wet is to be expected on this hike, kind of like those rides at amusement parks with signs guaranteeing that you will absolutely, positively get soaked on this ride. When bridges weren't present, we used the half submerged rocks, the barely submerged rocks, and sometimes just walked right through the water. It was absolutely freezing, but by this point our crossings were still fairly shallow and none of us were very wet.
The views of the mountains around us were always changing and showing us new massive snowy peaks:
After several stream crossings we came to a swampy area. I was surprised to learn that Colorado even has enough water to sustain a swamp, and could see the surface of the water being fractured into tiny expanding circles by the little flies living there.
As usual, I had to stop to admire the plant life. I don't know the name of these flowers, but they only grew at the higher elevations of the hike.I was surprised when we came across a section of forest with a good amount of snow still on the ground. The trail continued through the snowbanks, so we did too.
We then came to the biggest crossing of the trip:
My friend found a sign that said "ford" with an arrow indicating where we should ford the river. (yes, by this point I was thinking of it as a river!). A little ways downstream was a long tree trunk that someone had placed across the water, but it was narrow and there was nothing to hold on to for balance. The other 3 women in our party had water shoes and were able to make it across. I attempted it in bare feet but was only able to get about halfway before I felt unsafe and had to turn around. The rocks were extremely slippery and I was unable to keep my balance since my feet were numb from the freezing cold water. One of my friends crossed the river again and held my hand to help me balance my way across the log bridge. She saved me from being stranded! I will never again say that there is no water in Colorado...

After the crossing, we sat among some pines while people dried their feet and put their boots back on. While looking at the trees, I realized that they were two different shades of green. The bottom dead branches were covered with hanging ghostly green green moss, while the tops of the trees were a healthy and vibrant pine green.
At some point while we were hiking through the snow in the woods, it began to rain. We put on whatever rain gear we brought with us, and some of the women ended up looking like turtles with their big ponchos draped over their backpacks. We climbed... and climbed... and climbed... and it felt like all 3,000 feet of ascent were covered in those last few miles. The hike was mentally straining as we had to think carefully about every single step we took, so that we wouldn't break through the snow crust and end up thigh deep in the snowdrift.

We passed a couple who was heading down the mountain and asked them how much farther we had to go. They said we were about a mile away from the campsites, and the mile was steep and snowy. One woman in the group gave us a little pep talk, saying that if we have a "zone" to go to, now was the time to do it so we could push through to the end. And we did!

It turned out that the campsites near the springs were all taken, so we took a small site a bit downhill from the pools. There was one tiny flat area for tents, and the rest of the site was buried in snowdrifts. As we checked out the site, we discovered that the small flat area was situated right on the edge of a ravine with a steep drop about 50 feet down to the river. It was either that or pitch our tents on the snow. We chose to be next to the ravine instead. We pitched our tents, made dinner in rain that had by that time turned to snow, and assessed our energy levels. We decided that we were way too wiped out to do the hot springs that evening, so we would check them out the next morning instead. I gratefully climbed into my sleeping bag and let the waves of sleep take me over.

At some point that night, I woke up to adjust my pillow and reached for my friend's foot instead. I squeezed it a couple of times before I was able to figure out what it was, and then had a moment of worry that she would kick me in the face for tickling her. I think it was at that point when I started feeling a fear of my tent being perched at the edge of a cliff. I asked the earth below me to be strong and not crumble me into the water, but it was still pretty freaky! I remember having nightmares about the big river crossing that I had difficulty with earlier in the day. My friend who shared my tent told me that I chuckled in my sleep. Apparently it was a strange night.

The next morning, I stepped out of the tent and was still amazed by how close we were to the edge. This picture doesn't do a very good job of showing perspective, but the bright foreground is between our tent and the edge of the ravine. After that, the sheer walls dropped about 50 feet to the water: We all woke fairly early and were excited to hit up the hot springs before heading back down! We crossed a wide, shallow path of snowmelt and I wondered why all of our crossings couldn't be like this:
The sun was bright and warm, and we had beautiful clear views of the snow covered rocky peaks around us. There was one large stream crossing, but someone had built a wonderfully sturdy log bridge across it (thank you!).
My friend took this picture of the springs as she was approaching it. There were 2 pools: one upper pool that felt like bath water (my friend said the temperature averages 102 degrees) and one cooler pool created by the runoff of the warmer one. The warmer pool is on the right. For some reason I remember there being only one pool....
We lounged around in the warm water, which wasn't as warm as we would have liked but was fun all the same! The views around the pool were beautiful, and it was amazing to experience them while relaxing in our bathing suits with snow covering the hillsides next to us.
The pool was occupied by several groups, and I was surprised to see how many people were having the same experience as us that weekend. It felt so relaxing to sit in the water with nothing to do except loosen all of my muscles and look at the scenery. I wanted to stay in the pool all day, or at least for a few hours, but luckily there were some practical voices in the group who suggested we should finish packing up and head out.

The most difficult part of our hike was in the morning this time, instead of at the end, and this was reassuring to me as we set off into the snow:
I had a fun slide down one of the snowdrifts on my bottom! This was not on purpose... but it was fun. :)

I don't think I've ever been this close to the mountains in my life (aside from driving through them), and I was constantly amazed by how massive and close they appeared.
At one point during our hike, we crossed an area where rocks had slid all the way down a mountainside and into a meadow:
It's funny to me that I took notice of different things on the way back than on the way up. In this area, I was amazed by how tall and straight the pines grew:
We eventually reached the big crossing that had been in my nightmares several hours earlier. I knew that I had to just get over it and do it, so I stepped onto the log and made my way across! This picture of my friend crossing doesn't capture the side of the stream closest to me, which was very deep and quick, and would have made for a pretty bad fall:
With that out of the way, I felt relieved and happy with myself for overcoming the biggest obstacle of our hike: my own fear.

The rain rolled in as we were crossing the biggest boulder field:
My friend helped me to cover my pack, and as we were working the sky opened up and began to hail on us!

I learned that I am the "slow and steady" hiker of the group. Throughout the trip, people were at times hiking with me or hiking with whomever was leading the party. It seemed to go in waves: first one person, then the other, then the other, but always with me at the end. I felt a little bit bad about this, as if I were holding the others up, and sometimes it seemed like they were leaving me behind. A couple of times, I took this personally and let it bother me, but I wish I hadn't. It was peaceful being behind the group, and was nice to feel like I had the place all to myself. I was surprised during this trip to realize that I felt completely happy being in the company of my friends, and their presence greatly enhanced the experience for me. During some of the stream crossings, we would hold out our hands to each other or suggest the easiest route to cross the water, and these little ways of supporting each other made a huge difference to me! Being a single woman sometimes makes me feel like I'm struggling through the challenges of life alone, and it was really reassuring to have the physical presence of my friends around me as we struggled through the puzzles of this hike together.

I'm not sure where my brain was as we were hiking in, because I completely don't remember seeing this abandoned little cabin. I was surprised when looking through my pictures this morning to realize that I had photographed it unknowingly on the way in, because it was standing in front of several groups of aspens that I liked. But I didn't once intentionally photograph the cabin. Brain, where were you?
We crossed back through the small patches of forest and the long, rolling meadows, to a place where the earth turned brick red and covered the bottoms of our pants and boots with red mud.
The hail and rain lessened as we hiked, and the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds. As soon as the sun hit my skin, I instantly became so warm that I had to shed several layers. Shortly afterwards, the two women who were in the lead were stopped in the middle of a meadow. They told us that we had reached the parking lot. I didn't believe them until I took a couple more steps and saw the bright paint of cars peeking out through a thin veil of aspens. We were done!!

One of the woman in our party informed us that this was actually considered an intermediate level backpacking hike, and we had taken it on as our first ever backpacking trip. I'm glad that we didn't know what level it was or allow it to intimidate us, because we were able to step up to the challenge and have a fun and successful trip!

The drive back to Denver was wonderful, and as one woman pointed out she was able to enjoy the scenery so much more since she didn't have to do anything to see it. We passed one of my favorite views on the way out of Aspen, Mt. Sopris:
It feels strange being done with this trip, since we spent so much time working ourselves up and preparing for it. I'm proud of us for taking on such a big challenge and having fun with it! Making the journey up the valley inspired me to continue to work on my strength and endurance, so that each time I go for a trip perhaps it will be a little easier. I feel like for much of the hike, I was in such an internal place of working that I missed a lot of what was going on around me. I felt incredibly present and in tune with my body, which was a great feeling! I think what I would like to work towards is maintaining this state of awareness while also being able to consciously connect with the people and environment around me. I did make these connections frequently throughout the trip, but at times they were missing (such as when I didn't see the log cabin... I'm still amazed at how I could have missed that!).

One of my friends found an article stating that 2,000 people make the trip up to the hot springs every year. I love that I am in the company of a small group of people who will share this experience this year.

The riddles were solved. Thank you for such a beautiful, fun, and safe trip.