Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thurs, July 30, 2009: Third Thwarted 14er Attempt....

Unwilling to allow the weather to tell us what we could and could not do, my friends and I returned to Kite Lake this morning intending to hike up Mt. Democrat.

Here is the Cameron-Bross saddle, covered with fresh snow from the storm yesterday: The view back to the valley, swirling with clouds:
Kite Lake:
Mt. Democrat peak:
Kite Lake, seen from higher up the trail:
There was a mine on the slopes of Mt. Democrat, and several old tumbled down mine buildings littered the area nearby:
The mine, marked by rusty colored rocks:
Mountain stream:
Yes, that is snow and wildflowers. On July 30th..... That just doesn't happen in New England!
One of these peaks is Mt. Bross, but I'm not sure which one!
Mt. Democrat peak. It looks fairly close, but we're not even at the Democrat-Cameron saddle yet.
View back down towards Alma. This was pretty much the only sunny view we had as the clouds moved in, but it was so beautiful!
Mt. Democrat peak, with snow and wildflowers:
We finally reached the Democrat-Cameron saddle, which sits at 13,400 feet. This is the view over the other side of the ridge. There was nothing nice about those clouds, which were quickly pouring around the peaks.
We left the saddle and headed up to Democrat's peak, and probably reached about 13,700 feet (about 1/3 or 1/2 mile from the top) when the sky opened up on us with a respectable amount of fury. Quarter inch balls of hail were whipped painfully against our faces, and the wind took on the frigid bite of winter. We all pulled on the remaining layers we had in our backpacks (I'm pretty sure I was wearing 4 shirts and 2 hats by this time, as well as 2 pairs of pants, wool socks, and gloves) and sought shelter behind a small outcropping of rocks. It seemed like we were ok with waiting out the hail, until thunder started rumbling just over Mt. Lincoln, which was just a (really, really strong) stone's throw away. I wasn't interested in climbing on an exposed mountain peak with thunder crashing just over my shoulder, and was relieved when all of our drive to be safe won out over our desire to reach the top.

Who knows what would have happened? Maybe if we'd waited out the hail, it would have stopped shortly and we would have been fine. Maybe we would have been blown off the mountain (which happened to me once as a kid on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Luckily my father caught me by the armpits so I merely dangled in the rushing air like a kite instead of flying off the edge...!). Or maybe we could have been struck by lightning, a thought that terrified me! I've heard so many stories about hiking 14ers that I've developed a strong respect for the wild power of nature at that height.

The hike back down was somewhat slower than it could have been, as we tried to avoid twisting ankles and slipping on the now slick rock surfaces. As we descended, the hail turned into tiny balls of snow which fell around us for the remainder of our hike.

I was amazed by the beauty of wildflowers in the grassy little valley bowl sheltered in the curve of the 4 mountains.
Mountain stream that we crossed several times:
While we didn't make it to the top, one of the most positive things that I'm taking away from this hike is that I *could* have made it to the top. Physically, I felt great!! My lungs were gasping for air and we had to stop quite a bit, but my muscles felt strong and my head felt clear. I've been sort of nervous about attempting a 14er because of stories about altitude sickness, fatigue, and dehydration, so I was really pleased that I didn't seem to be suffering from any of these at 13,700 feet. That knowledge makes me feel more confident in my body's ability to tackle another one. :)

I'm not sure where it came from, but this morning I woke up and found myself firmly rooted in my usual positive attitude. HOORAY!! I felt like myself again and found it easy to laugh and converse with my friends. There really is something so uplifting about believing in possibilities.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weds, July 29, 2009: Second Thwarted Attempt at a First Fourteener

Two friends and I headed down to Alma, Colorado to tackle the first 14,000 peak for 2 of us! We followed the directions in a 14er guidebook to a trail up Mt. Lincoln and found ourselves driving around in the middle of nowhere, unable to find the trailhead. Though it was later in the day than we wanted to start hiking, we drove over to the Kite Lake trailhead and began our ascent of Mt. Lincoln.

There are 3 14-ers that are "easily" reached from Kite Lake - Mt. Democrat, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Bross, as well as one peak, Mt. Cameron, that doesn't technically count as a 14er since the saddle connecting it to Mt. Lincoln doesn't drop far enough. The view from the parking lot was amazing, and I loved being surrounded by the rocky strength of the mountains. This shows part of our anticipated route up Mt. Lincoln:We started walking up the route to Mt. Lincoln, but before we could get too far a cold rain opened up on the valley. Some low hanging clouds moved in quickly, shrouding the peaks in a ghost white vapor. A passing hiker informed us that it only got worse as you ascended the mountain, and at the top we would be met by gale force winds and snow. We called it quits, and hope to return tomorrow to try again!

Throughout the trip, my friends were laughing and talking and making a merry time of it, and I found myself unable to join in. It wasn't that I lacked a desire to join, but that I wasn't able to find anything they were saying funny. I was able to recognize their humor in my brain and appreciate it in a cognitive way, but it didn't touch my spirit or my funny bone, and I sat in the back of the car wondering what the heck is wrong with me.

I have been taking note lately of the people that I see and their levels of happiness, though I didn't realize I had been doing this until I thought about it in the car. What I am looking for is their joy, because I feel like I have lost mine.

Throughout my life, I have been a happy and thankful person who embraces life and appreciates what I have been given. Lately, I find this a difficult thing to do, which greatly saddens me. Sometimes I feel like the dried up shell of a person with some shriveled kernels tumbling around inside. I have experienced some wonderful things lately, such as the return of my lost cat Magnolia, and while I am infinitely relieved to have her back I am unable to feel joyful about it. Things in my life just aren't touching my heart, which really scares me.

I want to work through this and make it right, to find my heart again and open it up to celebrations of life. I'm just not sure how.

((ps - I just got back from dance class a couple of hours after writing this. Class made me smile and laugh without even trying, and lit up an empty place inside of me. I suspect that this is due both to my love of dance and the lovely people in my class. Possibly also due to my outfit being complimented. :) )).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fri, July 24, 2009: She's Home!

After two stressful, sleepless, crazy days of searching, my cat is finally home. :)

My friend and I were wandering around my apartment complex, calling for her and shaking a bag of treats. My friend shined her light around the tall grass that covered the hillside we were crossing, and suddenly stopped to point out two glowing eyes on the hillside. I couldn't see them, so I advanced blindly and relied on whatever she was seeing. As we got close enough to determine that it was Magnolia, I dropped everything in my hands and lunged for her. (Ok, probably not the best move but at this point I was freaking out and just wanted to hold her in my arms!!). She scurried away and I shouted for my friend to grab the flashlight (yes... I dropped that too...). The cat was quickly illuminated again in the brush, and I scooped her up and held her close until we were safely in the house.

Were it not for the particular set of circumstances that life played out this evening, I might not be laying next to my furry little "roommate" right now while she washes the dirt from the past 2 days from her body. I think that I'm still in shock that she's really here and safe, but at the same time feel a wonderfully deep gratitude for her presence.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sun, July 19, 2009: Soul Connections and Devils Head

My life has been very rich lately, and I feel very deeply that I made the right decision in renewing my lease in Golden. Whatever direction life is going to take me in next, it's going to start here.

Two friends who are traveling around the country in their motor home have finally arrived in Colorado! I feel a strong spiritual connection with these friends, and though we often go for half a year or more without seeing each other, it always feels right to me when we are together. Being around them makes me feel more like myself, more awake and alive, and helps me to center myself around my spirit and my true priorities. A good part of the reason why they have this effect on me is that they are so grounded and centered in themselves. Another is that they constantly inspire me. :)

Experiencing how deeply this connection affects me makes me all that much more determined to continue seeking out my One and refuse to settle for anything less. I've been in relationships with men who are kind, who make me laugh and treat me well, but nothing that affects me in a spiritual manner similar to the effect my friends have on me. Settling, even for someone who is a wonderful person, is still settling, and I don't see myself being happy in that type of relationship. Feeling that connection with them makes me want to feel it with my One more than ever, because I imagine it would only be stronger and more transcendent than what I experience with my friends. It's as if the reintroduction of a spiritual connection into my life has brought with it a layer of awareness that I didn't even notice had been missing, but now that it's there I see how much I have wished for it. I want to continue finding people with whom I have a spiritual connection so that this color will fill my world with brilliance.

Lately I have been feeling lonely, which is not an emotion that I often experience. I am generally content spending time on my own and find enjoyment in my own company. Men who I consider to be friends have recently asked me to date them, but I'm just not interested in them in that way. One idea I have been using lately to help me understand relationships is that there are 4 basic types of connections that people feel for each other: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. I have found the first 3 in varying degrees with men in Colorado, but I have yet to find a man with whom I feel spiritually connected - both in terms of having similar spiritual views and feeling a soul connection as "mirror flames". Before the arrival of my traveling friends, I began to ask myself why I didn't just settle down with some nice man and give up my quest of finding my One. Now that my world is again colored by the presence of a spiritual connection, I can see that settling isn't even a possibility I'm willing to consider - though the fact I even had those thoughts speaks volumes to how deeply I feel my solitude.

Regardless of the fact that I haven't connected with my One, this summer has been very busy, and new experiences and travels have made me feel alive inside (but even this aliveness seems dull compared to the vibrancy of spiritual connection...). Recently I have gone out to lunch with friends, shopped at the Boulder Farmer's Market, watched a midnight showing of the new Harry Potter movie, and dressed as Winter for the Moonlight Classic bike ride in Denver, among other things. I love exploring life. :)

My most recent travel adventure was a hike up to the Devils Head fire tower, which is located sort of near Deckers, CO.

One of my favorite features of this area are the massive smooth boulders strewn everywhere across the landscape:
The hike to the top of the peak was a steady uphill, which was thankfully short as my legs were already feeling like jelly due to my bike ride the night before (the Moonlight Classic goes late into the night; I think I was on my bike until about 1:15 am riding around the city...). The fire tower was reached by climbing a set of stairs perched along a narrow ridge of rock, both sides of which dropped down farther than I wanted to consider (being afraid of heights and all). There are 143 stairs, which seem like a lot more when you're climbing them!

The 360 degree view of the mountains all around us was completely worth facing the fear. This view is towards Pike's Peak to the south:
On clear days, which we had, the view expands for 100 miles or more. This view is towards the west:
By this point, I have made many comments about the circularity of my experiences in Colorado, especially the places that I continue to visit at the same times of year. The previous blog that I posted details my journeys around Cheeseman Reservoir last July. I traveled on a small dirt road that took me alongside a beautiful rocky ridge in the middle of an area ravaged by a forest fire (which I learned was the Hayman Fire of 2002, the largest and one of the most destructive in Colorado's recorded history). If you look at the middle ground of the picture above, you can see the beautiful rocky ridge from the eastern side (the other road trip took me along the west side). My friend who I hiked with was teasing me, saying that things are circular because I'm making them so. The funny thing is, *he* suggested the location for this hiking trip!

My cousin recently sent me a news link telling the story of one Colorado couple whose property has been invaded by ladybugs. One tree on their land was a reddish brown color due to the volume of ladybugs resting on its trunk. I didn't observe anything of that magnitude, but there were several places around the fire tower where ladybugs covered the rock surfaces. The brownish color along the crack in this rock is due to hundreds of ladybugs resting there.
At the top of the tower, I received a card initiating me into the Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels. Sweet!
I've been cleaning out my house lately, trying to get rid of things that no longer serve me. I have felt overwhelmed by my things for some time now, but finally feel like I have my living room back. When I originally set up my apartment I tried following some of the principles of Feng Shui, and I continue to try to work with them as I revitalize my living environment. One of the most important changes that can be made to encourage new relationships is cleaning out the home to physically make space for another person to occupy it, just as a person's spirit must be ready to make room for a soul connection. My home feels much more spacious and relaxed than it did even a week ago!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fri, July 10 to Sun, July 12, 2009: Alvarado, Sand Dunes, and Aliens

My 2 year Colorado anniversary passed yesterday without me even acknowledging it! Happy Anniversary, me!

* * * *

I headed down to Alvarado Campground near Westcliffe, CO, to meet up with some friends for a fun camping weekend! The campground was situated at the edge of the trees that skirt the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, and our view out into the valley was of rolling hills building into mountains, culminating at Pike's Peak to the northeast. I absolutely loved the landscape of this area, with hills and mountains that seemed somewhat scattered around the high plains.
We spent Friday evening setting up camp and relaxing (and me devouring a book I was close to finishing), and decided to go for a hike the next day to Comanche Lake.

The hike started steep and stayed steep, and we climbed switchback after switchback towards treeline. Our group of 4 adults included one baby and 2 dogs, and we realized partway into the hike that we didn't have enough water to make it all the way up. We hiked as far as we could while still having fun, and turned around when we'd had enough. I learned a new lesson about camping in Colorado: bring many water bottles!! Here is the view from the highest point we reached:
I was so bummed that we didn't make it to the lake, since I still haven't done a hike to a mountain lake and would really like to do so! I was tempted to borrow my friends' dog and complete the hike with her, but I didn't want to kill her from dehydration so vetoed that idea. :)

This gave us an afternoon free of activities. I was trying to figure out how to juggle everything I wanted to do while in this area of the state, and decided that since our hike ended early I would head to Bishop Castle that afternoon. The other 2 women I was camping with were there with their family and husbands so I figured they wouldn't be free to join me, but their husbands agreed to hold down camp while we went off on a castle adventure!

Bishop Castle is a work in progress which its creator claims is a "tribute to all working poor". Jim Bishop dropped out of school at the age of 15 and purchased several acres in the woods on which he began constructing his masterpiece. There were all sorts of anti-government signs perched around the property on which Jim outlined the various ways the government had tried to stick it to him.

We crossed the moat-in-progress and I was awed by my first view of the castle's facade:
I can't believe that one person was able to create such a massive, beautiful structure with his own 2 hands!

One man who was walking around the castle in a red shirt seemed to be a friend of Jim's, and made some comments about the creation of the castle. He said that Jim is a welder and did all of the metal work on the structure. I loved the graceful shapes of metal throughout the castle, especially along the ceiling of the main ballroom:
Detail of stained glass windows in the main ballroom:
There were 3 large towers adorning the structure. One was the "short" tower and was connected to the globe observation tower by a delicate staircase. The globe observation tower was the 2nd tallest, but was overshadowed by the bell tower, pictured here:
All of the metal surfaces of the castle (which was pretty much like every surface except the ballroom floor...) were made of some sort of metal mesh. The result of this is that when I looked down, I could see straight through the floor to the ground however many feet it was below me. I was terrified! After admiring the ballroom, we headed to the bell tower. As we walked along the balcony that lead to the tower, I stuck to the edge of the castle like a bad paint job, clinging to the rocks that protruded from the wall like a life line. We reached the tower, which had enough wooden planks across the floor to give me a feeling of momentary security! A thick rope hung down, which rang a massive bell when pulled. A glance up towards the top of the tower revealed a never-ending spiral of see-through metal steps with no railing. I decided to conquer my fears and head up, while my friends stayed below. (I wondered why they would stay while I went, since I'm the one who is afraid of heights, and realized maybe it's because I expected it to be terrifying. I'm not sure either of them realized how scared they would be once they ascended into the castle. I fully expected to be scared and to have to face that fear).

I climbed onto the highest platform in the little metal structure that sat atop the main stone body of the tower. I'm sure my face was white and I know my legs had transformed into some gelatinous substance, but as I clung to the highest point around me I felt like I was free.

I descended without paying too much attention to the levels of stairs I could see below me, and we headed over to the globe observation tower!
Again, my friends decided not to ascend to the highest level, so I enjoyed the view on my own. The floor of the globe isn't attached to the circular structure, so it rocked and shook whenever people walked on it. This was unsettling at first, until I fell into its rhythm like growing accustomed to the rocking of a boat on the water.

Here is the entire castle, complete with the bell tower so tall it doesn't even fit in the picture, balconies around the ballroom, and a fire breathing dragon adorning the facade! (Yes, it actually breathes fire though not while we were there).
We spent another evening relaxing at camp, watching the lights come on in the houses spread across the low hills to the east. I mapped out my route through the mountains for the next morning (Mosca Pass Rd./ Creek Pass Rd.) and headed to bed early to escape from my own incessant sneezing.

The drive through the mountains the next morning was so beautiful! Once I cleared the main mountains in the area where we camped, this spiny ridge was visible to the south:
My drive took me west through a land of hills and trees, the mountain peaks obscured by closer landforms. It seemed to me that little mountains were scattered around the soft prairie hills, not clustered together in solid lines as they usually are. The landscape seemed whimsical and I couldn't stop smiling as I ducked in and out of shady tree tunnels. Stunted oaks grew along the roadsides in contorted poses, and I was reminded of the shapes of apple trees back in Connecticut. This area really touched my heart and I am grateful for the privelage of having visited it!

My route opened back up into the prairie-mountain landscape I am familiar with on the western side of the Sangre de Cristos - meaning the prairie washes eastward like a grassy ocean until it suddenly collides with the massive rock faces erupting 6,000 feet into the sky. Nestled against the wildly overgrown monuments is Great Sand Dunes National Park, home of the tallest sand dunes in North America.
I attempted to visit the dunes my first summer in Colorado, but was deterred by a massive thunderstorm that decided to arrive at the same time as me. This time, I was greeted by a vast deep blue sky, and the only clouds were far away on the western horizon. It was about 10:30am by the time I started my wandering, but it was already so hot that I could feel the sticky heat radiating up from the sand.

There is a small creek that runs along the edge of the dunes, and I found it funny that I had to cross water to enter the desolate territory of the sand.

Visitors are allowed to wander wherever they please on the dunes, since any effort to create permanent trails is made futile by the shifting nature of the sand. I love being able to wander wherever I please! I began slowly ascending the dunes, sliding 3/4 of a step back for every 1 I attempted to take, all the while admiring the stark beauty of the dunes around me. I ended up making it about 1/2 way to the top before deciding that it was way too hot for me to keep going! There are very few situations I have encountered since moving to Colorado in which I have felt physically unsafe, but this was one of them. I was so, so hot, and it scared me that if something happened to me there was nobody to help me or take care of me. This saddened me and prompted a question to the universe: "Where the heck is my travel companion?"

The highest point I reached was the narrow ridge of a dune that dropped sharply below me on both sides. This picture doesn't show perspective very well, but this is the view of the drop in front of me:
My trip back down the dunes was so fun, since I basically slid down and took the sand along for the ride. :)

Some funny jellyfish clouds started forming to the east, debating whether or not to turn into storm clouds.
They didn't, but a well-formed wall of storm clouds did decide to roll in to the north of the dunes:
(I pieced this together, please forgive my imperfect Photoshop skills!)
I emptied my shoes upon reaching my car and left a pile of about 3 pounds of sand in the parking lot!

Sitting in the shade of my car with the AC blasting me in the face, my mouth busy consuming my lunch, I felt much better and no longer in danger of passing out. I drove away happily and looked forward to the next sight I hoped to encounter on my journey home: The UFO Watchtower!!

There was a huge arrow pointing me towards the site along Rt. 17 in Hooper, CO. I drove up to find a small, dome shaped structure with a metal platform running above it and a strange collection of stuff in front of it. The owner pulled up in a golf cart with her dogs and we chatted about UFO experiences while I looked at the collection of pictures and newspaper articles posted around the room.

There were fun aliens all over the property:
She said many psychics who have visited the place told her that there are 2 vortexes in front of the museum. She turned this area into a "garden" where people can leave objects so that their energy can be part of the vortex.
The "garden" is a fun collection of random things dug up from people's cars, from hubcaps to pens to items of clothing that the alien statues wear.
There are an unusually high number of UFO sightings in this valley, and she said people have many ideas as to why this is. Some suggest the spiritual nature of the valley, while others think it might be due to the number of hot springs in the area. It would be fun to head back there and join them on the observation deck some evening!

Since I was in the area, I decided to explore the half of Crestone that I missed while visiting my first summer here. The sky was still mostly clear, and the peaks behind the town were exposed and beautiful:
A storm heavy with rain rolled in shortly after I left Crestone, and accompanied me all the way back to Golden. Near the end of my trip, a mosquito materialized out of nowhere in my car and bit my leg! Apparently mosquitoes do live other places in Colorado, especially this year since it's been so wet (or so people say... still less rain than CT!). I actually had to wear bug spray on our hike to Comanche Lake, but I still think it's pretty great to only get one bug bite on a camping trip.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mon, July 6, 2009: Cascade Falls

As you can see, I landed myself at Monarch Lake again today. I seem to be spending quite a bit of time there this year! A friend and I were hoping to visit Mt. Bierstadt today (which is supposedly one of the "easy" 14ers that might be appropriate to attempt as a first 14er). We left ridiculously early in the morning and made it all the way to Georgetown, only to be greeted by a flashing sign declaring that Guanella Pass would be closing for construction. What my brain read was, "continue quickly so that you can make it before they barricade the road!!", but we were greeted a short distance up the pass by a woman telling us we were 3 minutes too late.

Hmm... apparently Bierstadt wasn't going to happen today. Instead, we decided to head to Monarch Lake which I have been looking forward to seeing in all of its green splendor! My previous visits have been for snowshoeing trips, which were beautiful and breathtaking in their own right, but not particularly green. :)

One exception to the lack of green during the winter is the strange stringy moss that seems to cling to the lower branches of one particular type of pine tree. When I imagined it during the summer, I thought it would be a lush emerald green and show signs of rapid new growth. Instead, it looked almost yellow as it clung to the dead branches, put to shame by the vibrant deep greens thriving around it.
I have a deep affinity for Aster flowers, and felt joy at the sight of their dew-laden heads turning to welcome the morning sun:
We hiked in for several miles and came across what seemed to be a substantial waterfall. The spray from its tumbling waters felt delicious on my skin, and the sound of so many water droplets colliding was music to my ears.
We met a couple near the waterfall who informed us that the real falls were another 45 minutes down the trail. My friend didn't believe them (other possibilities are that he didn't want to believe them, or was giving me a hard time by pretending not to believe them...), but I did and asked if we could keep walking for a while.

One of my favorite things about the woods that I grew up in has always been the way the light filters in through the trees. If they're spaced apart in such a way that just the right amount of light can penetrate the forest floor, the effect is magical. In Colorado, the trees don't block the light as much as they do in Connecticut, so I am frequently shown the gift of sunlight filling the woods with its brilliant, golden presence. This is one of the ways in which I feel Colorado so passionately in my heart.
There were wild columbine flowers everywhere along this hike! They still look so exotic to me, and finding them growing in the woods gives me a thrill.
Indian paintbrush flowers were plentiful as well, lending their vibrant color to the patches of yellow, white, purple, blue, pink, and green that wove together to form the forest floor.
When we reached the "real" waterfall, there was no mistaking that we had found it. Water droplets leaped down the rocks in two stages, marking their frantic passage with loud, pounding music as they collided and collected.
We sat in the small grassy area that faced the falls, relaxing into the rush as a fine mist rose to cool our skins. The music of water has so many voices to love.

Many rocks along the path wore faces of soft green moss: some happy, some relaxed, some fretting over unknown worries. I absolutely loved the fantastic character that they brought to the woods, and wished I could have learned their stories. Perhaps that's an adventure for another day. :)
On our return trip, we were assaulted by icy hail balls thrown down at us by a sky disturbed by great rumbles of thunder. It's a very bizarre experience to transition from hot relentless sunshine to arctic blasts of air and balls of ice clinging to one's clothing in the span of an hour. I'll say one thing for the experience though: it made me feel wide awake. My tired body and tired brain instantly switched over to survival mode and left no room for me to experience anything but my existence and the elements. To live on the pinhead of that intense focus, even only for a short time, is an incredible occasion.