We drove from Boulder to Indian Peaks Wilderness area’s Brainard Lake; we intended to hike for a few hours then return on the Peak to Peak Highway to view the typically stunningly golden quaking aspen trees. Except: the entrance leading to the Lake was closed for the winter; there was snow on the ground, covering the trails and icing the roadway; the aspens were already stripped of their leaves. Although a few hearty walkers and horseback riders ventured through the snowy paths, we returned to the car and drove home.
I needed to shake out my legs; although still hurting from my half marathon race of several weeks before and impeding my movements, hiking seemed a good thing to do. Colorado’s Chautauqua National Park is minutes from our house with miles of trails yet to be explored, so I turned my attention south.
The Mesa Trail starts at the entrance to the Park as a wide strolling dirt road, past the cabins and the lower meadow, and south alongside and eventually into the Flatiron Mountains, craggy peaks often dotted with rock climbers. Runners and hikers have choices once they past the lower trails: to go to the trailhead about 6.7 miles ahead; to climb the several faces of the Flatirons; to follow alternative paths to McClintock Meadows, the NCAR, Woods Quarry (where benches have been carved from rock for lovers and friends to pause and consider the view toward the Plains), or a multitude of other trails, some clearly marked, others more isolated.
The afternoon sky was grey, with a pale sun occasionally brightening the shade and clouds portending rain. I walked quickly but stopping occasionally to take a picture of the changing shadows on the mountain edges, the wondrous light playing hide and seek with the crevices and peaks. A few walkers waved “hello” as they passed me coming and going; a man named “Skip” talked backwards to me as he slowed his jogging to give me directions (not that I’d asked); a few dogs lightly sniffed my legs on their journey with their owners.
Here, several thousand feet lower in elevation than our morning along the Peak to Peak Highway, a few trees showed their autumn colors, red berries contrasted with their grey branches, and the glowing green of the pine trees shouted “Look at us!” The mountains, though, were the reason for this walk: cathedral-like specters, I listened to the quiet, only a few birds twittering in the afternoon silence. I saw Skip again, who admonished me to savor the moment before heading back home. I did, smiling inside the entire walk back down the trail to the road.