Tuesday, September 29, 2009

9-25 and 9-26: Crystal River Camping and the Maroon Bells

Lately, I've been heading out on adventures with friends more and more frequently, and spending time on my own in the mountains less often. This is yet another adventure spent with a friend. It's nice to have company with me when I travel, but it continues to feel incomplete without a special person with whom to share my life.

My friend and I went camping at the BRB Crystal River Resort, a little campground in Carbondale situated just along the edge of the Crystal River. The land was far more modest than its name would lead one to think, though the campground did have hot showers and flush toilets which is more than I've come to expect!

In lieu of a campfire, we lay along the bank of the river and looked at the stars, which bubbled across the sky as the Milky Way flowed between them. I haven't seen the stars so clearly since my trip to tiny lake land in Nebraska, and the sight of them in combination with the soft rush of water filled my soul with peace.

Camping this weekend was a little experiment for me. The weather forecast predicted that it would get down into the mid 30's on Friday night, and I wanted to see if I felt comfortable sleeping in that temperature in my backpacking tent and mummy bag. I heaped layers of clothing over my body, pulled my hat down around my ears, and burrowed myself into my bag. Not only was I warm all night, but I grew so warm that I took off the hood of my sweatshirt. We didn't think to check the temperature until about 9am the next morning, but by that time it was still only 40 degrees. I would believe that it was in the mid 30's, if not colder, and I was so happy to learn that I was fine camping out in temperatures that cold. I didn't even cinch closed the opening of my mummy bag!

The next morning, after a leisurely time of breakfasting and drying out our camping gear (cold temperatures = more condensation!), we headed over to Aspen to catch the bus bound for the Maroon Bells. During this time of year buses run on the road between 9am and 5pm and cars aren't allowed, in an effort to keep traffic down and make the area accessible to more people. We waited at the ticket counter while some New Yorkers made a huge stink about some misleading information that they found on a website, and could only laugh in amazement as they argued until they were given free tickets for the bus. (They saved a grand total of $6 each...).

We were dropped off in an upper parking lot, and I could immediately see why people love these particular peaks. They look like nothing I've ever seen before. This was the view in front of me when I left the parking lot and headed onto the trail:Up to my right were these strange red peaks:
Maroon Lake sits in front of the Maroon Bells, and we arrived early enough in the day to catch the reflection of the mountains in the water. The surface of the lake was perfectly still and posed a strange contrast to the craze of tourist activity around us. (Yes, I do count myself as part of the tourist activity. :) ). Many of these pictures were taken looking right into the sun, and the day was strangely hazy for some reason (forest fires?). The sky in some photos looks cloudy, but in real life it was a flawless sapphire blue.
A second lake, Crater Lake, was reachable via a moderate 1.8 mile hike, and we decided to head that way for more mountain views and foliage. As usual, the mountains didn't disappoint.
I spent a lot of the hike joyfully bathed in aspen light.
There was even a smiley leaf!
Crater Lake was smaller than Maroon Lake, but every bit as beautiful. The side of the lake farthest from the mountains was littered with massive weathered tree trunks, which we realized had been carried down the surrounding mountainsides by avalanches and then blown across the lake by the strong winds that whipped through the valley.
Tired of tourists, we walked around to the far side of the lake to eat lunch and bask in the warm sunlight. My friend had visited the lake earlier in the summer and stated that it was much lower than it was then. Apparently the muddy area in the picture below is usually filled with water.
For some reason, my sense of aesthetics was delighted more by the walk back to Maroon Lake than the one up to Crater Lake. Maybe because it was all downhill. :)

More pictures of the Maroon Bells:
This is the view of Maroon Lake that presented itself to us as we hiked back from Crater Lake. Wow. There are moments that still take my breath away, even after living here for 2 years. The moment of this view was one of them.
And the aspens. Beautiful shifting golden light, brilliant even in the shadows, and the sound of those thick waxy leaves rustling against each other at the slightest suggestion of a breeze.
This particular little grove was so fun: tiny yellow plants just growing up from the ground, reaching up to meet the crowns of the grown trees, but somehow nothing growing in between to shelter the strong, smooth trunks.
Upon our return to Maroon Lake, we noticed that we could no longer see the reflection of the peaks in the water. My friend suggested that I take a picture of the peaks through a sunglasses lens, and the photo below is the result of this experiment:
I thanked the earth for such a beautiful day, and we headed off down Route 82 through Independence Pass. I traveled this route in the opposite direction the first autumn I was in Colorado, but wasn't able to see much due to the random snowstorm that met me at the top of the pass. This time though, the sky was clear for miles and miles, and I was able to see exactly just how precarious our situation was: balanced between the narrow road and a drop of hundreds of feet.
We arrived in the Twin Lakes area just south of Leadville, with the sun still shining its heart out in the depths of a flawless sky. Here's another sunglasses experiment photo of Twin Lakes:
I've had a few people tease me about the things I've done with people whom I call "friends", and are they really just friends? The answer? Yes. Do I wish the answer were different? Yes, but not with any of the people whom I currently consider to be friends of mine. The funniest part about this line of questioning to me is that many of the adventures I've had with friends have been with female friends. :) Funny that people assume they are male!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weds, Sept 23, 2009: Professional, Personal, and Physical: Growing Like a Sponge Capsule in Warm Water

The events of the past 3 years of my life have dramatically changed and shaped me in ways I never imagined possible before experiencing such chaos and upheaval. Moving to Colorado, going through multiple difficult break-ups, losing my job, losing my cat, moving on a regular basis - all are things that were very hard to experience. In the past two days especially, I feel that I am seeing the results of the lessons I have learned, things I have gained, and ways I have grown from the difficult times in my life.

During the work day today, I was talking to a few colleagues about a student who has been puzzling us all year. While having these discussions, I realized that I was experiencing one of the few confident moments that I've been privileged to enjoy since beginning my career as a school psychologist. I am a person who places a great deal of value in experience over education (though ultimately I feel that both are important), so I can be very hard on myself for lacking the experience to be able to help teachers, families, and students in the ways I wish I could. Though I'm certainly no expert with 2 1/4 years of experience under my belt, I am starting to feel a lot more confident in the knowledge that I have gained thus far, as well as my own abilities to perceive individuals and situations. I often have a lot of anxiety around work, so starting to feel more relaxed and confident in this environment is HUGE for me!

Yesterday, during a meeting with some colleagues at the other school where I work, the social worker and I were with two teachers who were filling out some paperwork for a student who requires behavior interventions. When we reached the section asking us to name a goal for the student to work towards, both the social worker and I voiced the same goal at the same time. This year is providing me with the first opportunity to work in the same school as another mental health professional, and it's been another confidence booster to feel that I am doing my job "right" - or, at least, in a similar manner to the way she does her job.

In addition to this new found sense of professional competence, I have been feeling a deep, calm sense of satisfaction for the personal changes I have gone through in the past 3 years. Tonight I had a discussion with a friend around some sensitive topics, and at one point I became emotional about the situation. In years past, I'm not sure I would have even allowed myself to show how it affected me, let alone feel comfortable enough to talk about it - but that's what I did tonight. I told her that the situation made me feel vulnerable and embarrassed, and discussed why this was the case. She was supportive and reassuring and reacted kindly to my words, which was very helpful in easing the situation. I do recognize though that we were able to work through it in a fairly short amount of time at least partly due to the fact that I was able to name my feelings and be honest about them. Instead of becoming an issue between us, the situation was diffused and resolved, and I felt relieved afterward. Wow. To be honest, I'm still kind of amazed by myself for being able to express my feelings and make myself open to her, despite feeling vulnerable and embarassed. This is something that I've been working on for my entire life, and I feel very proud that perhaps I'm finally starting to "get it". I think I've finally hit a place inside of me where I'm comfortable enough with myself that I no longer fear being rejected because of my emotions. What a great feeling that is, and what a nice place to be coming from.

Professional... personal... and I can't leave out physical. I've never seen myself as an athletic person at all, and in Connecticut only dreamed of doing the things that I have made part of my life here in Colorado. I've experienced so many "firsts" out here: hiking my first 14er, completing my first backpacking trip, embarking on my first mountain bike ride, taking my first snowshoeing trek.... I've done a lot of things lately, especially this summer, that I've always admired other people for doing, and it's amazing to me that I'm the one doing them now. I feel great happiness when I look back at the wonderful things that I've done, and this happiness is experienced tenfold knowing how much I enjoyed my experiences as I had them. Even while screaming in fear on my bike or trudging through the rain burdened by my backpack, I was happy and proud to be accomplishing some difficult things that I set out to do.

Of course, there are still many things about me that aren't (and never will be) perfect, and I have lots to continue working on as I enjoy my time in this life. I like evolving, and I won't rob myself of that experience by pretending that I'm perfect. :) I do, however, enjoy the wonderful feeling of satisfaction that has resulted from some of these interactions with others in the past couple of days. I enjoy being proud of the ways that I have grown.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sun, Sept 20, 2009: Old Crystal Mill

The Old Crystal Mill in Crystal, CO is reportedly the most photographed site in the state. I've seen pictures of the mill standing high on a cliff above a turquoise green pool, surrounded by vibrant yellow aspens, and it never fails to fascinate me. Visiting the old mill has been a goal of mine since moving out here, but was another hike that I didn't want to attempt alone. I was able to recruit a friend to go with me this weekend, and couldn't wait to see the mill and its supporting cast of aspens. Mill, HO!

The hike begins in the tiny town of Marble, from which the marble composing the Lincoln Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was mined. Marble is seated in a little valley nestled between two mountain ranges. The colors of the aspens sweeping up the mountain slopes, reaching towards the blue gray peaks, were beautiful and vibrant against the cloudy sky.
We passed a big group of people near the beginning of the 4x4 road, and realized we landed ourselves in the middle of a huge race. Our intention was to ride our bikes to the mill, but my desire to do so faded somewhere in the middle of the 1.5 mile uphill that we faced just outside of town. I felt pretty ridiculous huffing and puffing as I pushed my bike up the hill, coming face-to-face with the runners of the race as they pounded down towards the finish line. All I could think of is that earlier, those same people had run up the hill that I was having difficulty walking up. Seeing the look on my face, my friend eventually asked if I'd be game for hiding our bikes in the woods, an offer which I gratefully accepted.

Free of our two wheeled burdens (no offense, Trevor!), our hike became much more carefree and fun. We dodged runners, 4 wheelers, dirt bikes, mountain bikers, 4wd vehicles... pretty much everything except other hikers. The clouds released their monopoly on atmospheric water, and as it rained down on us several runners joked with us about what a great day for a hike we had picked. Honestly, I thought it was a great day. It was so peaceful walking along with the sky misting on my face, admiring the fall colors against the strange green of the Crystal River.

This is Lizard Lake:
The aspens seem to turn in clusters, with some still green while others are already completely bare.
Throughout the hike, there seemed to be mountains all around us that were invisible due to the opaque barrier of clouds enveloping us.

The Crystal River was so green - it was bizarre! I don't think I've ever seen water this color in my life.
We were gifted with sunny skies for about 30 minutes, and I loved seeing how much brighter the fall colors looked when touched by sunlight.
... Then the rain returned, and with it the stately subdued lines of aspens.
Wet and ready for a break, we finally arrived at the mill. The water was just as green as I'd imagined it, and the aspens just as yellow (well, some of them. :) ).
After I was satisfied that I must have captured at least one decent photograph, our talk turned to the ghost town of Crystal, which I had read was only 0.2 miles past the mill. I wanted to explore the town, but we were both wet and hungry and wondering what our next course of action should be. Suddenly, there was a massive flash of lightning followed shortly afterward by a booming thunderclap, causing me to jump out of my skin and attempt to climb my friend - though I'm not at all sure why I felt this would save me from am impending death by lightning. We moved under a pine tree to avoid the rain while we talked, and it was there that a man stopped and asked us if we wanted a ride back to the car. I didn't want to leave the ghost town unexplored since we were so close to it, but also didn't feel like walking 5 1/2 miles back in the rain. We accepted his offer.

The man happened to be one of only 3 land owners in the town of Crystal, and chatted with us the entire ride back while his cute little Jack Russell gazed adoringly at him from the passenger's seat. While I dripped and thawed in the back seat, he told us about the 7 mile loop that goes around the base of Sheep Mountain, the road that borders the White River National Forest land (from which wildflowers can be seen in the summer), and Treasure Mountain (the 13,528 peak hidden behind clouds that was just on the other side of the Crystal River).

While I didn't set out on this hike hoping for an encounter with a knowledgeable resident (we all remember what happened last time I did that...), I must admit I was excited that it happened. I love hearing people talk about this state, because so many of them love it so passionately that it lights up my fire all over again. I want to hike from Aspen to Marble. I want to drive on that road and see those wildflowers. I want to know what the Crystal River looks like from the top of Treasure Mountain. A person could live in Colorado their entire life and never see all that there is to see - even if it's a life full of travel and exploration. When I think of all that I still want to see in this state, I find myself easily overwhelmed by how much I have yet to do. I find myself in love with every new piece that I explore and every new adventure that shapes me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sat, Sept 19, 2009: Kenosha and Boreas in Yellow

Some friends and I made plans to hike a 14er today, but plans fell through and I found myself with the first free day I've had all to myself since I started working over a month ago. I remembered being told last year that Kenosha Pass was beautiful in the fall, and decided to head that way to see what the day would bring me.

I left my house feeling angry about some things that have happened with several groups of friends in the past week, and told myself that my intentions for this trip were to shake that anger and to lose myself in beauty.

When I arrived at Kenosha Pass and the entrance to the Colorado Trail, I was greeted by literally hundreds of cars parked anywhere offering a car's length of space alongside the road. This is why:
I managed to land myself in the midst of a yellow sea of beauty. The colors seeped out from the mountainsides and washed over the land all around me. The Colorado Trail was a tunnel of brilliant yellow, and I felt my spirit lifted by the sun, the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind, and the tangy smells of autumn in Colorado.
On one side of the trail the woods opened up into a large aspen grove, to which I walked and settled myself down in the tall grass under the trees. I've wanted to do this ever since moving to Colorado, and this afternoon I finally had the chance. Mmmmm.... aspen light.... It washed my soul clean as it splashed over me in a harmony of light and shadows.
Further down the trail is a clearing populated by a wooden bench, tall grasses, and trees. The view was breathtaking.
On my way back, there were a few mighty peals of thunder and a bank of thick, gray clouds came rolling in. Despite the sky's momentary lapse into gloom, the aspens remained sunny and bright though somewhat more subdued.
On the way back to my car, I stopped to admire the autumn colors against the strange vibrant rocks of the sunlit mountains in the distance.
I headed south through Jefferson to Boreas Pass, a road which I filed away in my memory as a place that would likely be beautiful in the fall. It didn't disappoint! I was excited to see a patch of orange aspens mixed in with the yellows and greens that blanketed the mountains.
Mt. Silverheels:
Pretty much the only place I've ever noticed red foliage during autumn in Colorado is on ground cover:
Boreas Pass swept me over the mountains and deposited me in Breckenridge.
I haven't had this much time to myself since starting work, and it was so wonderful and refreshing! When I rejoined reality in Breckenridge, I realized that I was still upset about some of the things that had been going on with my friends. I called one friend, explained that I was upset, and asked her what was going on. She explained the situation and reassured me, and suddenly none of the other things I was upset about bothered me anymore. I love having friends with whom I am able to be straightforward, and am so grateful to be relieved of the heavy weight of anger on my heart. Today healed me, and I still feel like I'm flying.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sun, Sept 13, 2009: The Leaves, They Are A Changin...

... and the ones that haven't done so yet are bursting through the seams of green summer leaves with their autumn vibrance.

I'm still practicing my panoramas... not perfect, but I still think they're beautiful. :)

From the Evergreen side of Rt. 105:Echo Lake:
From the Idaho Springs side of Rt. 105:
I haven't experienced an afternoon of Philippe, the road, and Colorado for quite some time now. It was wonderful. :)

Sat, Sept 12, 2009: Scottish Fest, Leaves, and Snow

The first September I lived in Colorado, I ended up needing to get my brakes fixed during the weekend of the Scottish Irish Festival in Estes Park. Last year, I didn't attend the festival because I didn't want to go alone. This year, I invited all of my friends to join me weeks in advance... and none of them were able to come. So I said "forget this!" and headed up on my own.

It was a cold, rainy day, which almost deterred me - until I told myself that if I can't handle attending a festival on a cold, rainy day, then I really have no right to go to a Scottish festival at all!

I wandered around for hours, watching bagpipers, athletes, dancers, and browsing the wares of various vendors. I saw a caber toss competition for the first time in my life, and loved being part of the loud, rowdy crowd that cheered the athletes on.
The dynamic of the players while facing inward in a circle reminded me of the energy experienced by tribal style belly dancers. Tribal style dancers perform for each other first, and the audience second. Dancing is about sharing energy and enjoyment with the woman in the troupe. I wonder if the bagpipers stand in a circle for the same reason: to share the joy of their music with each other.

I left the festival and took the back way through the mountains home to Golden. As the road ascended, the cold rain turned into wet snow, and I watched in amazement as I experienced the first snowfall of the season. The air was so cold that the snow accumulated in small amounts on tree branches and in small sheltered areas of rock faces.

The leaves... they've started changing. The trees that aren't quite ready yet are bursting with the promise of golden fulfillment in the coming weeks.
It was cloudy and rained all day, which seems to happen with some regularity this time of year.
"Oh, it's good Scottish weather, madam. The rain is falling straight down. Well, slightly to the side like." -William Wallace in Braveheart.

Fri, Sept 11, 2009: Cherry Creek Reservoir

Friday finally arrived, and I headed down to Wheel Park in Aurora, CO for a bike ride that would lead a friend and I through the Cherry Creek Reservoir. The first wild animal that greeted us was a male mule deer grazing on top of a hill:Our next stop was the beach, where we saw a heron studying the water before deciding to take off over the water:
The path brought us to another beach, which presented the largest waterfront area I think I've ever seen in Colorado!
At one point, we went through an area filled with whooping prairie dogs, warning their family network of our presence in their territory.
We came across a narrow dirt path that lead us on a slight downhill through fields of tall weeds and wildflowers. As I bumped along, a wide grin dominated my face and my body was filled with the rush of pure enjoyment.

The sunset snuck up on us, and I didn't even notice its beauty until I randomly turned my head around and saw its beautiful tangerine glow radiating from the small space between the gray clouds and gray mountains.
I reluctantly turned away from the sunset (mostly in response to the "come ON!" vibe my friend was sending out...), and we headed down to an area of the trail that traversed a low, grassy field area. There were several small groups of mule deer out grazing in the fading light, and every time I saw the soft brown outline of one standing in the grass, I was instantly riveted in place. Each group watched me with curiosity, but the animals seemed confident in their knowledge that if I suddenly decided to pose a threat, they could easily plow me over with their sturdy bodies. Posing a threat was the farthest thing from my mind, and I think they sensed this.

Each time I stopped, my friend's "come ON!" vibe amplified, which prodded me along until I locked eyes with a huge male deer. His antlers were outlined against the trees like sudden branches sprouting from the tops of the grasses. My friend kept riding around the corner, so he was hidden from my view behind a small screen of cattails and reeds. The deer studied me with his head turned and one bottomless eye fixed on my intruding form. He straightened his head so that his solid rack of antlers faced directly towards me... and walked in my direction. At this point, I was frozen in place by respect and awe, and I don't think I could have moved even if I wanted to (though had he started charging me, I would have tried!).

The deer reached a point about 20 feet away from me, then turned his head to the side and began grazing again. I wondered if I should be afraid of him until he looked at me and wagged his tail back and forth in a very dog-like gesture of greeting. This made me smile and my fears of him melted away. I've never been that close to such a massive wild animal before, and the experience was breathtaking. (It lasted until a seemingly grumpy young woman ran down the path with her dog, causing the deer to leap into the tall marsh grasses).

I don't think I've seen so many wild animals in such a short period of time in all my life! I've certainly never been so close to them, and I loved the feeling of another animal trusting me and approaching me.