Dog-Friendly Cross-Country Skiing

Love dogs?  Love cross-country skiing?  Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge, Colorado allows you to combine both.  For a Christmas present, my wife bought me a 2-for-1 Groupon to go cross-country skiing at a number of nordic centers in the area.  As I was researching them I discovered that Gold Run allows dogs on one of their trails.  Off we went on a recent Saturday with our faithful companion Luna to try it out.

We thought that we might need to keep Luna on a leash and had been warned when we checked in at the lodge that moose frequent the area so we should do off-leash at our own risk.  However, as we drove up to the parking area for the Gold Run trails, we saw several dogs off-leash as their owners geared up.  So after gearing up ourselves, we headed out after them.

Luna was in heaven, criss-crossing the trail and bounding through the deep snow on either side.  She stayed within our sight though, and we never saw a moose or any other animal, except one squirrel in a tree.  The only time she was tempted to chase anything was when one skier surprised her coming fast downhill around a corner.  But she quickly obeyed our commands and stayed out of his way.  Of course, she played with the other dogs briefly when we passed them and had to be encouraged to keep moving.  But overall she did remarkably well.

The Peabody Placer trail at Gold Run started out gently enough and we made good progress in the groomed track, although Luna had to dutifully wait for us to catch up with her when we whistled.  We passed the abandoned Jessie Mill and after a mile or so, the track ended as the trail steepened and we were forced to herringbone for a long distance.  This was quite a workout but the prospect of getting to ski back down it kept us going.  It occurred to us later that Luna might have been able to help pull us up the hill had we leashed her up.  She was having so much fun that we didn’t think of it at the time.

With much effort we crested a hill and took a turnoff to the Jumbo Overlook.  The view was of the Blue River valley and although there are better vantage points in the area, it was a good place to rest for a few minutes before turning around.   We also briefly checked out the old Preston Town Site with it’s ramshackle log cabin remains.

Then came the opportunity to ski back down what we had worked so hard to ascend.  The narrow, steep part of the trail was a bit harrowing on nordic skis as we snow-plowed to keep from going too fast on the turns.  But Luna loved running along side of us as we glided down the straightaways.  It certainly was easier coming down than going up.  As we descended to the gentle part of the trail we were better able to see views of the Ten Mile Range that we had missed in our diligent climb up.

As we approached the parking area the trail became more crowded and we were glad to have started relatively early, leaving Denver at 7:30 AM.  We took Highway 285 on the way up, which was longer but avoided I-70 westbound ski traffic.  After getting in a couple of good hours of skiing in we left at 12:30 PM, with smooth sailing on eastbound I-70 all the way home.  Luna crashed contentedly in the car and although it seemed like a short outing, we were more tired than we thought.  But the drive and the uphill effort was well-worth it for the joy of introducing Luna to cross-country skiing.

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Categories: Colorado, Dogs, Skiing | Tags: , | Leave a comment

I Ski Loveland

The bumper stickers are ubiquitous in Denver:  “I Ski Loveland” with the “Love” replaced by a heart.  But despite living in Denver for several years and my wife being from there, we’ve never skied Loveland, having driven right by it a number  of times on our way to other resorts. Loveland Ski Area sits at the last westbound exit before the I-70 Eisenhower/Johnson Tunnels on the east side of the Continental Divide, 53 miles west of Denver.  For some reason our perception was that the real ski resorts are all on the other side of the Divide.  I thought it was limited to the few lifts visible on the south side of I-70, and didn’t realize that it wraps all the way around the tunnels.  I thought because it is so close to I-70 and Denver that it would be crowded.  But for the first time we decided to stop at Loveland this week for a ski day.

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Loveland has been a family-owned ski resort for over 60 years.  There are no slopeside hotels or condos, so it’s more of a local place.  With a base elevation of 10,800 feet and a top elevation of 13,100 feet on the Continental Divide, it’s no wonder that Loveland gets some of the best snow in Colorado. A separate beginner area at Loveland Valley looks like it would be a great place to learn but with 9 lifts serving 94 runs, there is something for everyone.  From wide, long groomed greens and blues to open intermediate bowls, to long, narrow, mogul-lined steeps, to double black diamond faces accessible by hiking or snow-cat, Loveland’s varied terrain was surprising.

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We started off taking the easy way down from the high-speed quad Chet’s Dream lift which serves runs of all abilities, then worked our way up to the Ptarmigan triple chair.  This lift serves great open groomed and ungrooomed green and blue runs and we spent a lot of time there.  We also enjoyed the runs off of nearby Lift 6 but as an old-school double, the ride on that lift is not as enjoyable.

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Throughout the morning we could hear the explosions of avalanche mitigation nearby, possibly above Loveland Pass, a reminder of the hazards of steep terrain and the recent snows two days before. We never felt in danger within the resort boundaries however. High winds were the biggest drawback to our visit, at least during the morning hours, although they settled quite nicely for a beautiful afternoon. But after several cold lift rides we were ready for an early lunch at the Ptarmigan Roost. This small warming lodge has a fantastic view and the deck would be a great place to hang out on warmer days.  The limited soup/chili/hot dog/sandwich menu was good and while overpriced for the portions, probably less than other corporately-owned resorts.  I assume a wider menu is available at the base lodge but the Ptarmigan Roost is hard to beat for a quick bite between runs.

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After lunch I ventured up to the Lift 9 summit which serves the expert only face-type terrain while my wife and daughters returned to the base and some more runs off Chet’s Dream.  The view from the top is indescribable, including the I-70 corridors east and west of the tunnel, 14ers Grays and Torrey’s Peaks, Keystone and Breckenridge resorts, and a sea of snow-covered mountains.  Below are panoramic shots looking west and east, respectively.

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And a 360 degree video (mute for wind noise).

I lingered at the top for the view even more than the apprehension of getting back down the steeps. Looking over the edge was truly daunting.  It wasn’t pretty but I stop-turned my way back down without breaking a leg or worse.

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From Lift 9 I worked my way over to Lift 4 and Lift 8, on the north side of the highway.  Here I had intermediate and expert terrain to myself with some powder remaining from the storm two days ago. There is a way back to the base other than working your way back on the lifts.  However a steep, narrow, mogul-lined run called “The Face” lies between Lift 8 and a tunnel under I-70. I mostly went down it sideways and if I did it again I would probably take off my skis and walk.  But it was worth it for a quick tour of the other lifts.

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Rejoining my wife and daughters, we returned to the Ptarmigan lift for some more sun-soaked runs.  All day on this Wednesday we never waited in a lift line of more than a  few people.  As a result we felt we had gotten plenty of skiing in by 3:00 and left for a dinner stop in Georgetown.   We had started that morning at 7:00 AM, to avoid Denver traffic which was bad again going home but I-70 traffic through the mountains was not an issue either way.  We were back home by 6:00 PM, enough time to end our day at home with a movie.

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Loveland may be more crowded on weekends but even then it seems Lifts 4 and 8 would be a haven due to their location away from the base.  I-70 traffic would of course be worse but Denver traffic would be better and at least there would be fewer miles of it to navigate and no tunnel or pass, unlike the resorts on the other side of the Divide.

So now we can say “I Ski Loveland” and I would venture to say that it won’t be long before we ski it again.

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Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake

Sometimes travel involves visiting places “because it’s there,” as the mountaineer George Mallory responded about the motivation to climb Mount Everest.  Although there is a vast difference between climbing the highest mountain on earth and visiting more common destinations, the sentiment can be similar in kind, if not in scale.  “We’re in the area so we might as well stop by X,” you say.  Historical and geological signs along the road indicate a “Point of Interest,” or billboards advertise roadside attractions such as Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, or the kind of landmarks seen on Route 66.  Good for a stop to get out of the car if you’re passing by, but hardly worth going out of the way to visit.  Even state and national parks sometimes fall into this category.  Interesting places to see, but mostly in the sense of checking a destination off your list “because it’s there.”

This was our initial motivation to visit the Great Salt Lake.  I can’t say we were expecting much, but we felt like it was something we should do.  So we made our way from Salt Lake City north to Antelope Island State Park.  Driving over the six mile causeway to the island did not really offer any sights to change that impression, since the water was low and more of a marsh than a lake.  The marina at the north end of the island looked abandoned, with its docks resting on dry ground.

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However, as we drove around to the visitor’s center, we gained our first glimpse of the enormity of the lake to the west.  Perhaps that approach to the lake, along with the desert geography of much of Utah increased the impact of that first view.   The Great Salt Lake is the largest U.S. lake in terms of surface area that is not part of the Great Lakes region and the eighth largest terminal lake in the world.  Arriving at the same time as a busload of students from Germany, we learned at the visitor’s center that the lake is fed by several rivers from the Wasatch mountains and the Salt Lake valley, but has no outlet.  The water evaporates in the dry air and leaves behind salt and other minerals.  It is far saltier than the ocean, so that brine shrimp, gnats, and the birds that feed on them are the only signs of life in “America’s Dead Sea.”

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On Antelope Island however, along with the namesake pronghorn and other animals, bison were introduced in 1893 and still range freely.  We saw a number of them from the visitor’s center and along the roadways.  Stopping at the Buffalo Point trail, we climbed the steep but short trail just over a half mile to an overlook.  In summer this would probably be extremely hot, but on this fair October day it was comfortable.  At the top we enjoyed 360 degree views of the vast lake to the west, the rest of Antelope Island to the south, and hazy mountains in the distance all around.  For several minutes we had the overlook to ourselves and the sense of isolation and silence was profound.  It was otherworldly.  We’ve had similar experiences in the Grand Canyon and Badlands National Park, along with other wilderness areas, but for some reason we were not expecting it here.

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We passed other visitors on the trail back down and drove to the Bridger Bay beach area, where the busload of German students and another busload of Chinese tourists and other visitors reduced the sense of isolation.  The beach was still so vast that there was plenty of room for everyone to have their space, yet most congregated in one spot along the shore.  A Chinese woman asked to take a picture of my wife and daughters with her camera and another man agreed to take our family picture with our camera.  Everyone seemed enchanted, from old people gingerly sticking their toes in the water to young children wading and playing in the sand.  Maybe the same instincts that caused the birds to flock and the gnats to swarm together affected the people from around the globe as they experienced this strange landscape and eerily still lake.  There’s a lesson there somewhere.

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We only had time for a few hours at Antelope Island and we could have spent more.  We would have loved to climb Frary Peak, the highest point on the island at 6,596 feet, but we had our dog with us and the 3.2 mile trail does not allow dogs.  If we felt isolated on the north end of the island, a couple of miles from the visitor’s center and the causeway connecting the island to the mainland, I can only imagine what it would be like further south on the island, away from any signs of civilization.  So we checked Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake off on our list, but we all felt that it was more than just a stop because we happened to be in the area.  Although Salt Lake City has many attractions worthy of visiting in the city and the mountains to the east, we would highly recommend a trip to the west to see this highly unusual place.  Because it’s there and because it’s fascinating.

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Salt Lake City Sights

A few random pictures from our walking tour of downtown Salt Lake City:

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And a climb up Ensign Peak overlooking the city:

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It’s easy to see why Brigham Young said “This is the Place!” when he looked down on this valley.  It seems like an oasis in the middle of harsh mountains and desert and a very nice place to live.

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Guardsman Pass Utah*

* How we inadvertently drove one of Utah’s most scenic and dangerous roads and lived to tell about it.

As my family can attest, I’ve made a lot of navigation miscalculations in our travels over the years.  I enjoy looking at maps and discovering what I call “shortcuts” or “scenic routes” and my family calls “taking the long way” or “getting lost.”  Most of the time it just takes us in a roundabout way or through some sketchy parts of a city.  But a recent miscalculation turned out to be one of our more interesting adventures.

On a weekend visit to Salt Lake City, we planned for a day in the mountains.  I had read about the scenic drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon and great hiking destinations there.  Ultimately we wanted to end up in Park City and the initial route I plotted on Googlemaps looked like this:

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I thought this would make a nice loop through Big Cottonwood Canyon to Park City, returning to Salt Lake City on I-80.  There were only two problems with this plan.

  1. The sign at the beginning of Big Cottonwood Canyon said no dogs allowed in the canyon due to wildlife.  Since we had our dog with us, this ruled out hiking in the canyon.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed a beautiful drive up the canyon to the ski resorts Solitude and Brighton, going from fall conditions in the Salt Lake valley to early winter conditions with some snow at the ski resorts.  From there it looked like a short, easy drive to Park City, at least judging from the initial map I consulted.
  2. What I thought was a short, easy drive to Park City was actually a steep, narrow, twisting mountain road over Guardsman Pass, which is listed on the dangerousroads.org website with an elevation of 9,717 feet and an average grade of 7.1%.  Although the road is less treacherous because of paving in the past few years, in spite of its name it still lacks guardrails next to a number of sheer drop-offs.

This is what Guardsman Pass looks like more zoomed in on Googlemaps:

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As the zoomed in map shows, the road actually passes above the highest lifts at Park City Mountain, and through the middle of the Deer Valley ski resort, passing under a lift and even a tunnel under a ski run as it descends past countless luxury condos into the town of Park City.  The map does not show the sheer drop-offs or how beautiful the road actually was.

Unfortunately, we did not stop or take any pictures since we never got out of the car to hike and were not expecting that kind of drive.  Only after the fact did I realize that we had inadvertently driven one of Utah’s most scenic and dangerous roads.  I also discovered that we were not alone, as some truck drivers had made a similar mistake trying to bypass construction on I-80 earlier in the summer.  At least we were not pulling a 40 foot trailer!

After an enjoyable lunch in Park City, we continued on to visit the Utah Olympic Park and take a short hike with a view of the Canyons ski area.  Here are some of the few pictures I took that day; I wish I had more of Guardsman Pass.

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Together with our drive past the other ski resorts and through the Deer Valley resort, this outing made us want to return for a ski vacation in the future.  If we return to Guardsman Pass again it will be on purpose, we’ll stop and take more pictures, and maybe we’ll be on skis!

 

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State Signs

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On our recent trip to return our daughters and their belongings to college and visit family, we decided to stop at all the state signs with our dog, this being her first real road trip.  My wife put together this collage of our trip through the Midwest.  Sorry Wisconsin, your sign on I-94 from Minnesota was impossible to access.  Technically the Illinois and Missouri signs were at welcome centers and not true state line signs, although I guess Missouri and Wisconsin have an excuse in that the state line is in the middle of the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers, respectively.

Having traveled over 3,000 miles through nine different states, several impressions remain in our minds.  1.) 3,000 miles is a lot of driving and sleeping in a different town every night is disorienting.  It makes us want to buy an RV so we can take our bed with us.  2.) There is a lot of corn in the Midwest.  Much of it must be consumed for ethanol, corn-syrup, and other uses, because otherwise it would look like we have as many recipes for corn as Bubba had for shrimp in Forrest Gump.  3.) Every state has it’s share of bad drivers.  It never ceases to amaze me that 80 mph is not fast enough for some people who insist on tailgating you impatiently as you pass a slower-moving semi-truck.  Yes, we should all avoid loitering in the left lane, but I don’t feel any particular obligation to concede the left lane to those who think everyone else has to get out of their way so they can exceed an 75-80 mph speed limit.  And we’re talking pickup trucks and minivans, not sports cars.  4.) It seems to me that many states are in need of some serious branding help, based on our informal sampling of state signs.

Wyoming and South Dakota earn stars for the color if not the size or shape of their signs, but to be fair these were on a rural two-lane highway.  Minnesota has a large and distinctive state-shaped sign, although we had to wade through calf-high grass to get to it.  We completely missed the true Illinois state sign amidst all the toll-road signs (and boy do the Illinois toll-roads nickel and dime you to death!).  The Illinois and Missouri welcome centers were less than inspiring compared to other states we’ve visited.  Oklahoma’s sign is just OK (sorry, had to do it).  The Kansas sign was not on a major highway, but could still take a lesson from Wyoming and South Dakota.  And our home state of Colorado has a thematic sign and slogan that is memorable, but you have to use your imagination to find the colorful part on I-70 and a number of other eastern entrances to the state.

Which state do you think has the best welcome signs?  Which state’s signs need some branding help?  Do you think most states are missing out on the chance to put their best foot forward to people entering their state?

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A Massive Undertaking

With a name like Mount Massive, how could it be any different?  14ers.com lists three possible routes up the second-highest mountain in Colorado.  The “standard” East Slopes route gains 4,500 feet of elevation in over 7 miles one way.  We chose the Southwest Slopes route from the Halfmoon Creek trailhead which cut the one way distance to under 4 miles.  We thought the Southwest Slopes route sounded easier.  But we still had to gain nearly 4,000 feet in elevation over those 4 miles.  There is no easy way to climb Mount Massive.

Just getting to the Halfmoon Creek trailhead involved passing the easily-accessed, more crowded main Mount Massive trailhead a few miles west of Leadville and navigating two miles of suspension-jarring four-wheel-drive road, including one particularly nasty steep culvert.  A pair of matching orange Subarus were parked just below this point as a testimony to the difficulty of the obstacle.  The vehicle ahead of us had to back up and take several runs at it, but our good old Trooper handled it just fine on the first try.

Arriving at the trailhead by 7:00 AM with our hiking dog Luna, our ROTC daughter stopped to pay her respects at a memorial to the crew of an Army helicopter that crashed in the area. Then we enjoyed a gentle walk through the forest along Halfmoon Creek for just over a mile, until the trail forked steeply to the right toward Mount Massive.  From this point the well-defined but rocky trail switch-backed up the southwest slope at an elevation ascent rate of over 1,000 feet per mile as opposed to around 600 feet per mile for the longer east slope.

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Although it was like climbing thousands of quad-busting stair-steps, one benefit of this steeper route was that all the way up we enjoyed a magnificent view of Mount Elbert, the state’s highest by just a few feet over Massive, and fifth-highest LaPlata Peak rising up to the south, along with a number of nearby 13ers in the Sawatch range.  Visibility wasn’t great due to smoke from distant forest fires in Colorado and elsewhere, but to the west we could see hazy views of Capitol Peak, Maroon Bells, and other 14ers in the Elk range.  That is, when we weren’t focused on one step after another on the strenuous climb, stopping every 30-40 yards to catch our breath–at least for the two senior members of our family hiking party.

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Because there was little variation in the degree of incline or terrain, the bulk of the trail was one long test of mental and physical endurance.  One brief diversion from the exertion partway up the slope involved a group of mountain goats including kids.  They eyed Luna suspiciously from above and she eyed them back, but we were trespassing on their stomping grounds, and not nearly as efficiently as these sure-footed high-country natives.

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Although they only rarely showed themselves, scurrying from rock to rock, we were serenaded almost constantly during this part of the hike by other high-country native pikas and marmots.  Our musically-gifted daughter assessed their high-pitched chirps to be in the key of Eb, which I was able to confirm with a tuning app on my phone.

 

Due to the frequent afternoon thunderstorms in the Colorado mountains, most experienced climbers observe the summit-by-noon rule of thumb.  Our slow progress made this increasingly unlikely as we were passed by other hikers already on their way down, with no-one else behind us coming up, but the weather remained fair.  My wife and I acknowledged that if we weren’t trying to keep up with our daughters, we probably would have turned back.  Since the weather was good, our daughters were patient, and we had Luna to help pull us up the steps, like the recurring refrain from the journals of the intrepid explorers Lewis and Clark, “We continued on.”

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Finally cresting the summit ridge, we found ourselves still a good half mile from the true summit with some false summits and class 2 scrambling necessary to traverse the broad ridge.  Maybe it was because the goal was in sight, but this part seemed easier than the long grind up the southwest slope.  Despite its name, the true summit of Mount Massive is an otherwise unimposing pile of rocks on the long ridge.  Joining the dozen or so other hikers at the summit, most of whom had ascended the East Slopes route, we gladly put down our packs and enjoyed a well-deserved rest and lunch.  Having carried her own weight and some of ours as we took turns letting her pull us up the mountain, Luna ate her lunch and then promptly fell asleep with her head in her bowl.

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As the saying goes, climbing a mountain is only half the journey, so we reluctantly started back down.  Usually we are able to descend a mountain in about half the time it takes to ascend, but this was not true on the steep southwest slope as we had to constantly check our speed to avoid slipping on loose rocks.  In addition, the altitude began to show its effects on me with a bit of nausea which went away once we returned to treeline.  Luna continued on faithfully, though she again fell asleep when we took an extended break.  This hike clearly took a lot out of all of us.

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Fortunately the weather continued to be fantastic and we were better able to enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains since we were facing that direction, although we still had to watch our steps.  We also got a closer look at some of the mountain goats who were grazing right beside the trail as we descended.  Returning to the trailhead about 6:00 PM, we retraced the four-wheel-drive road, easier but still slow going down, and stopped for a long-overdue pizza dinner in Leadville, while Luna slept peacefully in the back of the Trooper.

 

Our family has climbed seven 14ers together and six more as individuals, along with other challenging hikes of up to 4,500 feet elevation change and twelve miles round trip.  All of us agreed that Massive was the hardest hike we have done.  If the weather had not been great all day we wouldn’t have made it.  Or at least the two senior members of our party wouldn’t have made it.  All of us were dog-tired at the end of the day, not just Luna.  All of us were glad we did it.  Certainly there are harder, more technical 14er climbs, including Capitol Peak and Maroon Bells, but with a name like Massive, we wouldn’t expect anything less than a massive undertaking.   Along with it though, came massive views, massive beauty, massive animal habitats, and massive family memories.

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“It is high and magnificent; the whole earth rejoices to see it! Mount Zion, the holy mountain, is the city of the great King!” — Psalm 48:2 (NLT)

Categories: Colorado, Hiking | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Shelf Lake Hike

Sometimes the destination of a hike alone is worth all the effort to get there.  And sometimes the hike itself is as good or better than the destination.  Our recent Shelf Lake hike fits in the latter category.  Turning off the paved Guanella Pass Road early on a Saturday morning, nearly three miles of rocky, bumpy, rutted, muddy road made just getting to the trailhead an adventure.  The road is not 4WD and there were even standard RV trailers in the camping spots all along the way, but I wouldn’t take anything without high ground clearance on that road.

When we finally arrived at the trailhead a mile of steep, rocky trail started off the hike, allowing for some excellent views right away.  Although the trail levels out along a tree-shaded creek, it remains rocky the whole way as it gradually ascends a hanging valley up to the lake.  This made for slow-going, but when the trees finally gave way to timberline, the valley exploded with wildflowers, including bunches of columbine.  Now stopping to take pictures made for slow-going.  There’s no way to fully capture the abundance of color, but in places it looked like a carpet of many colors.

We enjoyed that part of the hike so much, when we ascended the final steep section of trail up to the lake we were a bit disappointed.  Maybe the effort of the road and the hike affected our perception, but while Shelf Lake is still and clear and surrounded by mountain walls, we didn’t see it as anything spectacular.  Apparently from talking to some fishermen it has an abundance of fish, but it’s not among the most scenic of Colorado mountain lakes.  Still, it made for a nice place to eat lunch and enjoy another beautiful day in the mountains.

The day was unusually hot even at 11,000+ feet and I ran out of water on the way back.  The trail was listed as moderate on Alltrails.com  with 6.8 miles distance and 2,125 feet of elevation gain, but a new trailhead makes it longer than that and because the elevation is mostly gained in steep sections at the beginning and end of the hike, it seems more difficult.  Along with the rough road to get there, this means we often had the trail to ourselves even on a busy Saturday, so that was nice.  The wildflowers were just as pretty on the way down as on the way up, and that made the drive and the hike worthwhile in our book.

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“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” — Luke 12:27

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The Best Place On Earth, Reflections

People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.” — St. Augustine

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With all due respect to St. Augustine, traveling to see natural wonders always causes me to reflect.  I spend months researching and planning and anticipating and then when I come home, the same amount of time remembering and reliving and reflecting.  Part of this is the travel bug I inherited from my parents, who would often plan our next trip as we were returning home from the current one.  Back in the days of film photography they would relive trips by sharing them with friends and family through narrated slide shows after the film was developed.  I suppose this blog has become a sort of digital narrated slide show.  It’s as much for me to relive and reflect on the trip as for anyone else.

There are millions of beautiful places in the world, but some take on iconic status in our minds because we see others’ pictures and associate these unique places with cultural values and individual preferences.  Our expectations are incredibly high yet the reality goes beyond our ability to imagine.  Being there is so much more vivid than a picture that it almost seems surreal.  We can’t believe we are actually there.  And yet we will never forget the first time we saw these sights with our own eyes.  My list includes the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, and Waikiki Beach; yours may be different and still there are many commonalities in what we perceive as scenic beauty.

And now Moraine Lake joins my list as the most representative of several iconic Canadian Rockies lakes.  The colors are so stunning, the waters so still, and the reflections of the mountains so perfect they are beyond comprehension.  Words are inadequate to describe the perceptions they invoke, but it’s almost like another world where the properties governing light and color are different.  My sense is that I have entered the presence of greatness and I am filled with humility that this privilege has been granted to me.  I feel as though I have walked through the door of a great cathedral and if I speak I must keep my voice down in reverence.  More often than not, “ooh,” “aah,” or a deep sigh is the only response.

Of course, not everyone has this reaction; many seem to treat these sublime sights as nothing more than a background for their selfies.  In my opinion, social media and the over-abundance of tour buses in the Canadian Rockies and elsewhere exploits that tendency, but we’re all guilty to some degree.  We all want pictures of those iconic sights to document “I was there.”  In former times perhaps carvings in rocks or trees served the same purpose and some are not above that even today.  All too often the I seems more important than the there.  But the fact that we are drawn to such places of consummate beauty surely says something deeper about the relationship between the I and the there.

Why are there such beautiful places in the world and why are we so drawn to them?  Why is there such a thing as beauty that seems to transcend individual preference and culture?  My ability to grasp and communicate these ideas is inadequate, so I keep coming back to a collection of quotes from more profound thinkers:

“We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves.” — C.S. Lewis

“Never lose an opportunity for seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!” — John Muir

We are all starved for the glory of God, not self. No one goes to the Grand Canyon to increase self-esteem. Why do we go? Because there is greater healing for the soul in beholding splendor than there is in beholding self.” –– John Piper

These beautiful places, as magnificent as they may be, are only dim reflections of a greater reality.  The best places on earth are mere shadows of another world that is infinitely better.  Again, C.S. Lewis:

“These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” 

The Scriptures are full of references to the glory of God in this world as I often share on this blog, and yet they also point to a new heaven and a new earth.

 “For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.” — Isaiah 65:17

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” — II Peter 3:13

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” — Revelation 21:1-4

As we make our lists to see these remarkable sights and wonder at the beauty of the natural world, let us emphasize what we see there more than ourselves.  But let us not pass by ourselves and our ability to see through the beautiful places to another world.  Let us reflect on how the beauty of this world points to another There that is beyond anything we can imagine.  And make sure that we are on the list to see that Beautiful Place.

 

 

Categories: Best Place On Earth, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Best Place On Earth, Day 4

We didn’t intend to save the best for last on this trip; it just happened because of the rain earlier in the week.  Thursday was originally supposed to be a leisurely day to follow up on sites we might have missed and maybe pick up a few souvenirs on the way to the airport.  But since our flight wasn’t until 6 PM and we had changed our schedule to accommodate the rain, we made plans to arise extra early and visit Moraine Lake.

We had heard that the Moraine Lake parking lot fills up early and knew that the park service often closes the road in the peak parts of the day.  So we were packed and ready to leave the condo by 5:30 AM.  As I took suitcases to the car this scene awaited me:

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The drive through the Kootenay Valley was equally inspiring and we arrived at the Moraine Lake Road turnoff by 7 AM.  Winding up through the trees, we saw cars stopped ahead with phone cameras held out the window.  A bear jam.  We had been hoping for a bear sighting and finally on the last day we saw one.  Sort of.  He was in the bushes and we could see black moving around, but never really got a good look or a good picture.  Oh well, Moraine Lake awaited.

And then another traffic jam.  About 75 cars were lined up between us and the Moraine Lake parking lot, all waiting for precious spots.  Like the previous day on the Icefield Parkway, the view was tremendous.

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So sunroof open, we turned off the car and waited, moving up a few car lengths every few minutes.  Fortunately we were only about a half a mile from the lake so we took turns walking up to see it and take pictures, thinking that might be our only chance.  Moraine Lake on a perfectly blue sky day–no wonder so many people were there to see the same thing.  Again the Artist, now studies in blue.

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Eventually we worked our way closer to the parking lot and Cindy suggested since we had waited that long, we might as well wait for a space and get our picture there together.  Good call.

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All told we waited two hours for a parking space to get that picture.  Totally worth it.  Out of all we had seen in the Canadian Rockies, Moraine Lake was the best.  We may forget the rain and traffic jams and hundreds of tourists crowding for the same shot, but we’ll remember that picture perfect scene.

As with every other gorgeous Canadian Rockies lake, we could have stayed there all day, but we opted to give up our long-awaited parking space and headed back to Banff.  Banff was unusually uncrowded this time–probably because everyone was out seeing the sights on this gorgeous day. A bit more souvenir shopping and we still had time to wander over the Bow River bridge to the Cascades of Time garden.  Cindy had wanted to stop here on Monday, but I was in too much of a hurry to get to the Banff Springs Hotel.  Again, good call.  The gardens are an Eden, with Mount Rundle, Mount Norquay, and all the rest providing a backdrop.  A marvelous combination of human artistry and divine Artistry.

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It was a perfect way to round out our trip, a reminder that flowers can brighten any spot in the world, even our own backyard.  After seeing all of the hanging baskets and window boxes overflowing with petunias in Banff, we bought a flat of them the day after we got home.

We saw some of the most exquisite sights in the Canadian Rockies and we just barely scratched the surface. We would love to return and spend more time there.  But we also gained an appreciation for the ordinary, common beautiful things around us that we can see every day.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” 
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Canadian Rockies may very well be The Best Place On Earth.  But we can make the best of our little corner of the world too.  Even in the Cascades of Time garden we spotted a few weeds, just like in our yard.  There are traffic jams and crowds in Banff like anywhere else in the world.  We need to be reminded to make the most of rainy days and to relax and enjoy the view wherever we are.  To appreciate the grandest mountain and the most delicate flower.  The rushing waterfall and the babbling brook.  The time spent gazing at a profoundly beautiful lake and time spent talking with loved ones.   And to see the hand of the Artist who is over all and through all and in all.

“For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind And declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness And treads on the high places of the earth, The LORD God of hosts is His name.” — Amos 4:13

 

Categories: Best Place On Earth, National Parks, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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