We live at the crease of the Front Range, where the Colorado Eastern Plains meet the Southern Rocky Mountains of Central Colorado and Southeastern Wyoming, elevation approximately 5,400’. The Boulder Flatirons and Flagstaff Mountain fill our southern-facing sightline from our living room (with the famous Boulder smoke stack looming straight and tall). Yet, when we travel west to the 9,000’-11,000’ mountains and meadows of more central Colorado, I feel truly in my element.
The mountains sing to me, almost a poetic ode that could have been written by John Muir or Walt Whitman. The sun shines brighter, the air is cleaner, the blue of the sky deepens, the forests thicken, the quiet is magnified.
This weekend’s hike above Steamboat Springs reminded me of all that I cherish about being in the mountains. It wasn’t a difficult hike, about 1,300’ elevation gain during the first mile (beginning at about 6,800’), then smoothing to a fairly level trail through high grassy meadows, fern forests, bursting wildflowers, and quaking Aspen trees. Mad Creek roared below the trail, crashing over boulders and fallen logs, rushing along narrow canyons, churning in the aftermath of a very snowy winter.
My stride was easy, the slightly-cool air turning warm as we reached the open meadows high above the creek. We peered inside a barn built in 1905 (renovated in the early 2000’s) with the cross-hatch log fences marking a long-ago summer grazing land for cattle. I would have liked to have been a shepherd, spending my summers high above the Yampa River valley, with endless views and only the mooing of cattle and birdsong my companions. I can only imagine the brightness of the night sky, being able to touch the stars in the deep darkness of the mountain meadows, no ambient light to distort or dim their shining.
We passed evergreens and oak trees at the lower elevation of the trail. I was surprised as the trail took us through thick, bright green, luscious ferns, nearly hiding our way. The contrast with the tall, stately, white-barked Aspen trees, caught my attention. I wished I were a naturalist, to be able to understand the flora and fauna at the different elevations, the effects of the weather, the geology, the ancient glaciers. Yet, I was able to appreciate the beauty even with my lack of deeper knowledge.
The profusion of wildflowers was a delight; the late snows this year meant glorious colors and varieties, from daisies, to Indian Paintbrush, to columbine, buttercups, skunk cabbage, and more. By mid-morning the butterflies and bees were flitting from one flower to another, protected from pesticides or other manmade destruction. Only us hikers (hopefully walking lightly on the trails) shared the meadows with them.
I tried to capture with my mind’s eye the beauty of the Mad Creek Trail hike; my photographs will help remind me of those few hours; these words will trigger why I must go to the mountains even though many will say, “But, you live in the mountains!” Not these mountains, not the ones that soar above the earth, quiet and serene.