Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fri, Aug 27, 2010: 1,000 Views and Zoo After Hours

Wow, 1,000 views since I put in a counter on this page! I have to admit, about 1/3 of those are probably mine as I often enjoy visiting my blog during lunch time at work to fondly remember my adventures and think of all the places I would rather be. :) Sometimes I wonder what function this blog actually serves other than a place for me to chronicle where I go like a travel diary, and it makes me happy when I see that the counter numbers have gone up since my last visit here. I like the idea that this place is interesting for someone other than myself.

Last night, B and I attended a charity event at the Denver Zoo whose proceeds will go toward purchasing new underwear for homeless children attending Denver public schools. I have never been to the zoo after hours and the mascot for the event was a little baby cartoon giraffe wearing a pair of underwear - how could I resist?

I insisted that we start at the lion area, since I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing those huge cats up close and in person. They were lounging around and sleeping, which isn't especially exceptional as they are cats.... One female, however, did open one eye slightly to check me out.
There is a flock of peacocks that roams around the zoo, and it's so fun seeing them hanging out in random animal areas. These two were relaxing with the elephants.
All I could think of when I saw this big sheep was Aries:
The elephants have to be one of my favorite animals in the zoo. I love how gentle and patient they are, both with themselves and with each other. It's always hard though to see such massive, powerful creatures confined to such a small space. It's sadder still to imagine what people do to them in the wild, and that this is one of the few places where they can be protected and safe. I often wish people weren't so horrible, and this was one of those times.
I wasn't able to see my favorite tiny monkeys, but there were some birds sharing their exhibit who were allowed to stay out for the night.
At one point, near one of the aviaries, we passed a flowering bush with bright pink flowers that were literally the size of a dinner plate. I found myself most fascinated by this flower bud, which looked like carefully folded silk wrapped onto a stem.
We passed the elephants again, who were leaning against each other in support as they dozed off for the night. I definitely felt a bit like an intruder walking around and disturbing the animals during what I'm sure is their favorite time of day (no people around!), but it was really special getting to see them with minimal crowds. The clouds turned to peach cotton candy overhead as we wandered around, glowing from the last rays of sunlight beaming through the mountains.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sat, Aug 7, 2010: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

There aren't many places anymore that someone can mention to me that I haven't been to, been near, or at least heard of in Colorado, but I recently came across an entry in a book that took me by surprise. The authors called Paint Mines Interpretive Park one of the best places in Colorado that very few people know about. Both interesting and infrequently visited - sounds like a place I would like!

I was able to travel a route I've never traveled before: through Kiowa, Elbert, and Peyton. The closer the prairie rolls to the Rocky Mountains, the hillier it becomes, and it was fun driving through this unique area of prairie surrounded by crests of green.
There is an area of the prairie that runs to the east between Colorado Springs and Denver called the Black Forest - which would be an odd thing to name an area of the prairie were it not for the miles and miles of pine trees covering the grassy hills. Ever since moving to Colorado, I have always felt that the Colorado Springs area is filled with a very powerful positive magic or energy, and that conservatives have flocked there to unconsciously or consciously consume or block that energy from nourishing the landscape. I think, however, that the energy is so ancient and so big and so plentiful that it manages to spill out of its container and wash over the land to the east, creating very special things in its wake. I think that the Black Forest is just one result of this beautiful energy's work in creating with the earth.
The sky..... Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons I moved out here was to see this sky and know what it's like to lose myself flying into endless blue.
I came to an overlook area just off the road and hiked in to see the view, which presented an amazing view of rock formations and colors running along a many-forked stream bed.
The sun was shining strong in the sky and many of the bright colors were washed out by the intense light.
At the main parking lot I was greeted by sunflowers, whose presence always makes me smile.
Heavy gray clouds were rolling in from the west, and were also building up out of the small white innocent clouds to the east. I looked up and out every chance I got, just to watch the slow movements of the clouds as they joined each other from across the sky.
What a dance in that sky....
The path started out pretty typical but quickly descended and began to follow a stream bed or wash of some sort. The earth was cracked and dusty with thirst but held the wavy lines of recent water movement across its surface.
The sky.... The prairie sky makes my heart soar and my body feel so, so connected to the ground.
I think these formations look like toes of the earth peeking out from under the hem of her grassy skirt.
Many of the areas along the stream bed were bordered by sharply carved walls of soil and rock, and it was strange to see these earthen walls jutting out of the grass.
There were many areas of parched ground along my hike, which strikes me as interesting since the prairie seems to get so much rain. The earth hardens and cracks, and the rain has nowhere to go but flow over its surface to the nearest ditch or gully. I sometimes wonder what the flora of the prairie would look like if the land were more receptive to water... but that's the prairie I guess. It's not really a soft land but a massive stretch of incredible contrasts.
I wondered during several points of my hike if I should really be walking around in a dry stream bed while there are thunderstorms piling up in the sky around me, but for whatever reason just didn't get that ominous feeling about the storm. Though I was logically concerned about forming some sort of escape strategy from the water, something told me not to worry about it.
The colors at first presented themselves to me as surprisingly bright low areas hidden among the grasses and hills...
...until I came to my first big rock formation. There were veins of bright orange running through the white stone like marble, and the rock itself was carved into delicate hoodoos.
I marveled that these rocks, just as amazing and beautiful as anything I've seen at Bryce or Arches, aren't very well visited or well known. Their anonymity was welcome though, and I was able to explore as much as I pleased without anyone interrupting the view.
Across the way I was able to see a formation that contained a lot more orange rock. I love the way the rocks repeat a conical pattern as they cross the hillside.
For a brief moment the sun came out and illuminated the formations, shining brilliantly against the white rocks. With the gray clouds building up heavy and thick around me, I took this brief period between clouds to just look around and soak in the beautiful colors of the rocks, the brilliant blue patch of sky, the green grass, and even the gray clouds. All of the colors were so beautiful and stimulating that I lost myself in the beauty of that moment.
The area around me still illuminated as the sun shone through a hole in the clouds, I turned toward the next area of my hike: a hillside built of more intricate and beautiful rock formations.
At this point, I wasn't sure if I should take the obviously-traveled packed-earth path to my left, or the stream wash to my right. Not wanting to miss something neat, I turned onto the less-traveled stream wash and headed into a maze of towering white hoodoos. I walked further and further in until the stream bed eventually dead-ended in a circle of hoodoos. Hoping to find a way out rather than backtracking the way I had come, I started climbing up and out of the dry stream bed by way of the white rocks. The rocks themselves reminded me of the gypsum sands of White Sands National Park because they seemed to be made of crumbly particles loosely held together, almost as though there was a crust of sorts on the outside. When I pressed my hands against the hoodoos, I pulled my palms away to see that large white sand and pebble particles had pressed themselves into my skin, leaving the hoodoo formation. Not wanting to cause further damage to these delicate rocks, I turned around and headed back out to the "real" path. I was, however, grateful for the beautiful detour that took me right into the ranks of these amazing and delicate structures.
Back on the beaten path, I was given a beautiful view of some of the most colorful formations at the park. The white hoodoo maze lay below me, and across the little valley were conical formations of pink rock.
To the north, the white hoodoos meandered along the dry stream bed.
Just south of the pink conical rocks were some white hoodoos with orange tops. I stood on the top of the hill for some time just taking in all the different colors and shapes of rock, and could understand how this place would have been very sacred to the people who found it. The rocks gave me the same reverent feeling that I experienced at White Sands, which made me wonder once again if they might be made of similar materials.
Although the storms threatened all around me, I had not felt a drop of rain, seen a lightning bolt, or heard the resonant rumble of thunder.
The path wound down into the stream valley once again, and I found myself on a little side trail that lead right into the heart of the most colorful rocks in the entire area. Yay! I wandered into them feeling awe at their beauty as the view around each curve was more amazing than the last.
I think my favorite area of the park was where the white and orange hoodoos met the conical formations of pink rock. The colors here were vibrant and rich, even with the sun subdued behind thick clouds.
The view back toward the hillside where I had been standing was amazing, and I hadn't realized how beautiful the rocks were just below me. It's funny how we can sometimes be so close to something and not even notice it's there.
I was able to get close to the rocks at the intersection of the orange hoodoos and pink conical rocks, and the colors were even better close-up. A feeling of reverence for the earth was with me throughout the entire hike, but walking around this area was one of the times it was the strongest.
These rocks reminded me of Neapolitan ice cream!
I was also able to walk into the orange and white hoodoo area, and the rocks looked so smooth and beautiful from up-close.
Near the orange and white hoodoos, I climbed a small hill and was rewarded with the most beautiful view...
The clouds began piling up with a much more serious tone than they had been earlier, so I headed back out onto the main path and made my way back to the car. I loved the view before me: heavy black clouds, sunny blue sky, and a darkened path illuminated by sunflowers.
The path took me up and out of the valley, and for the first time in a while I was able to see what the sky around me had been doing while I was busy with the earth. Wow - there were isolated pockets of rain around me everywhere I looked. The one to the west was more narrow....
...while the one to the northeast had a much broader base...
...and the one to the southeast seemed to be occurring in a fury of sunlight and dark, heavy clouds.
I was once again reminded of my feeling that a special energy spills out from the Colorado Springs valley into the prairie, and I couldn't help smiling as I realized that Paint Mines is further proof of this. :)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Weds, July 28, 2010: Toward Wyoming...

Referring to Wyoming in my previous blog posting made me realize how much I have missed the state, and how long it's been since I last visited. I decided to take my last day before work to take a trip to one of my favorite areas in the world, via one of my favorite routes in the world. I headed up I-70 to Rt. 40, then branched off onto Rt. 125 just past Granby, CO. Aaaahhh... I left the world behind me as I entered the forest, the only traveler on the road.

Sometimes the most beautiful flowers are just off the road in the disturbed areas between trees. Here I could faintly see a distant mountain peak, can you see it just beyond the road? :)
125 runs near Rocky Mountain National Park for some distance, and I was continually looking toward the park at the changing horizon of imposing mountain silhouettes.
Though I have traveled this route several times since arriving in Colorado, I think this is the first time I fully appreciated the damage done by the pine beetles when they passed through the area.
In past trips, the trees seemed a beautiful brick red color, the color of the seasoned needles still clinging to the trees. This time, the needles seemed to have dropped, and the trees were a beautiful secret silver that misted the landscape.
While the sky to the north was blue with large cottony clouds, the sky to the south and west was filled with ever-graying clouds piling up in masses.
Route 125 is one of my absolute favorite places in Colorado. The road flows through so much peaceful beauty like a lazy river upon whose surface I was floating.
Along the way, among the misty gray of the pines, I was able to see some new growth thriving in their skeletal shadows.
Often times in my travels around the state, I find a view that is heartbreakingly blocked by pieces of nature. In this case it was trees, and my heart hurt for an interrupted view.
I was able to see some conical structures made of tree trunks, the remains of the beetle damaged pines. I wonder if they are planning on burning them, or if this is a faster way of allowing them to decompose...?
Once again, I found an area of stunning wildflowers just along the side of the road. This time, the air was fragrant and I was so happy to just stand among them for several minutes, enjoying being present.
One of my favorite colors of Colorado is the silvery green of sagebrush.
While admiring the mountains I was able to catch a glimpse of a deer, as she caught one of me.
I wish that I could share with you just how powerfully beautiful the mountains really are. No picture or video can truly capture what it feels like to look up toward something that is 8,000 feet taller than you, something so amazingly massive that it's imposing even from miles and miles away. I wish that I could translate that feeling into pictures or words but so often find myself dissatisfied. I wish that you could see the way that clouds trace shadows across mountain faces, or how the colors fade and blend as they rise to the sky. I wish that you could see how soft they look despite being so hard. As a child, I always thought that in death our spirits are free to fly without our bodies. I always had both waking images and dreams of flying over the surfaces of mountains, running my fingers through the trees like soft locks of hair. I knew the rushing sound of the wind flying behind me as we passed over peaks and through canyons, and the experience of all of this made me certain that there is more for each of us than just the time we spend on this Earth this turn of the wheel. Looking at the mountains in Colorado sometimes makes my heart ache for flying, and my fingers long for the rushing of cool leaves against them.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a rancher, just to breathe fresh air and work outside with plants and animals all day.
As was inevitable, the storm caught up with me in a big way, and I found myself caught in the middle of looming darkness with electric streaks raining down on the land around me. I made it to Walden but recalculated my decision to go to Wyoming and decided to head home instead. There was something about that storm that made me understand why animals hide in bad weather.
In Walden I turned onto Route 14, which echoes the Poudre River as it descends towards Ft. Collins. The sky was dark around me and the river was fierce, pounding loudly against its banks through the canyon.

While I absolutely loved Crested Butte for its beauty and the way that it fits my idea of "Colorado", there is just something about the Walden area that catches my heart every time. Roads, rivers, and mountains meander, storms rage, and I am always able to lose myself in peaceful, awe-inspiring beauty.