Hiking in the Sky
My husband Brad and I just got back from our annual summer trip. I've been talking about going out to Colorado for years now, and we were finally able to make it happen. My college roommate Brooke lives in a town just outside of Boulder, Colorado. It was so much fun to visit with Brooke and her family, and she took us to some of her favorite places in the city and in the mountains.
I'd never been to Colorado before. Brad had been there once back in high school for band tour, but he didn't get to go up in the mountains on that trip. I was really excited for all the gorgeous scenery I'd heard so much about, and for opportunities to photograph the Rocky Mountains!
The first afternoon, Brooke took us hiking in the foothills of Boulder. I hadn't thought of Colorado as a desert until we saw small cacti and yucca plants growing along the dry, dusty hiking trails, but the air out there is definitely dry... especially compared to the humidity we can get here in Indiana. From the trails up in the foothills we could see wild sunflowers, the flatirons, and pretty much the entire city of Boulder.
The second day we got up early and Brooke drove us up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Hiking in the mountains is best in the mornings because of thunderstorms that tend to form in the afternoons. We drove through the town of Estes Park, then up Trail Ridge Road (the highest altitude paved road in America!) to the Alpine Visitor's Center, which sits at 11,798 feet above sea level.
From the Visitor's Center parking lot a staircase leads up to the top of a hill. The hill looks innocent enough. The incline isn't steep, and the steps are wide and low. But at such a high altitude, there is only about 65% as much oxygen in the air as there is at sea level. After just a few steps I was out of breath as if I'd been running a marathon. We had to stop halfway up the stairs for a brief rest, but eventually we made it to the top! The lookout point at the top of the hill has an elevation of 12,005 feet, and the view was amazing.
Across the parking lot from the Visitor's Center is a trail that goes out across the mountains. It's a relatively easy hike, staying pretty flat without gaining much elevation, so we decided to do some light mountain hiking. Again, the view was amazing. It almost felt like I was in Lord of the Rings with all the scenery that surrounded us.
Even walking along this little trail I noticed the thin air. When the trail was level or sloping downhill it wasn't so bad, but it took so much effort to walk up even the slightest incline. I had to take some breaks to "admire the scenery." Fortunately Brad and I didn't get any actual altitude sickness. We kept drinking plenty of water throughout the day, which is one of the most important things when you're up in the mountains breathing the dry, thin air.
Up so high the clouds across the valley are at eye level, and their shadows move quickly across the tundra. We were up above the tree line. The trees that did attempt to grow up there grew short and flat, looking more like bushes than trees because of the shortage of oxygen. It was quiet up there, almost silent. Even though the wind was constant, there were no leaves to catch it, and there were no birds or insects chirping. The only animals we saw up there were marmots, which are like fat prairie dogs.
We left the mountains before the storms came in, and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the little town of Estes Park, and the next day seeing the sights in Boulder. We toured the Celestial Seasonings tea factory, went to a museum of Western art, and walked up and down Pearl Street.
Other trip highlights included watching She's the Man at Brooke's house (because Brad had never seen it... shocking, I know), drinking fancy wine and eating fancy cheese with Brooke and her parents, delicious homemade meals, watching YouTube and listening to pop music in the kitchen, and Friday night dinner at a local restaurant and walking around the block party afterwards.
I'm so glad we could make this trip happen. The mountains are breathtaking (sometimes literally). It was an awesome experience to stand two miles above sea level, face to face with the mountains and clouds, as if we were hiking through the sky.