Monday, August 17, 2015

An Aging Adventure Success

  Aging is an interesting thing. You wonder as time goes on if you’re capable of doing things that you really want to do and even things that you did once before.
  About twenty years ago, we went on a hike up to Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs here in Colorado. At the time, we went with my sister who was in really good shape, especially compared to me and she pretty much ran up the mountain with our then ten year old energetic daughter. Me? I dragged my out of shape self behind them. Way behind them.
  We’re currently planning a big move to be closer to our grandkids, so one of our hopes was that we’d see the magical place of Hanging Lake one more time. And not just because we’re moving, but mostly because we’re getting older and as arduous as that hike is and these old(er) knees of mine, it was now or never.
  Life gets rather busy and trying to get away proves to be a challenge most of the time. So we tend to do short trips on a pretty spontaneous moment. And with the internet, it makes it a lot easier to find where to go. It led us to a really great campground at the foot of Mt. Sopris to the south of Glenwood toward Aspen. Turned out to be a fantastic campground, which you just never know until you get there.
  We got set up by evening and relaxed to be ready for our big hike in the morning. That is key, well, the first key, to this particular hike. Before I go further, I want to mention the second key: and this is the most important key: TAKE PLENTY OF WATER! More on that later.
  We managed to get to the trailhead about 8:30 which was good. Only a few cars there and it has limited parking and with it being such a popular place, well, go early. It was a spectacular morning. Clear, bright, just a little cool like the mornings usually are in Colorado. I even had a sweatshirt on. Perfect.
  Now, when you’re excited to do something, you just don’t think about how difficult it might be. Excitement steps in and off you go. We were very prepared, which maybe comes from experience. Age equals wisdom? Well, I don’t know about that, but we at least were ready with supplies. We had two Camel Bak water backpacks, another backpack with granola bars and sandwiches, sunscreen, hats, good shoes!! Gotta have good shoes. Maybe that’s another age thing…

  The first quarter mile is on sidewalk to get to the actual trailhead. Strolling along next to the river, you can see parts of the highway, but it’s peaceful. There were lots of flowers blooming when we went too, so that just added to it. Ah, the blissful feelings of enjoying God’s creation.
Yes, that is the "trail"

 Down a ways you come to the big sign tucked under trees showing the actual trail head. Beyond that sign, rocks littering a “trail”, that goes up. And up. And…yep, you guessed it. Up. Now the hike is only a mile or so. But the elevation climb is a thousand feet. That’s a lot of up.
  As my opening paragraph stated, you wonder, can I really do this? Am I out of my mind? I’ve had two knee surgeries, could probably use another one with the way my knee tends to give out sometimes, but I was so determined to do this.
 We decided to take our time, unlike my sister who ran up mountains, that was not happening this time. We’d stop and…smell the…fresh mountain stream since there weren’t roses. We were early enough, we could take our time. We had nothing else to do or somewhere we needed to be that day. Perfect.
  So we took a deep breath and headed up the trail.
  You’d think by going slow, enjoying the sights around us, it wouldn’t be so bad. Wrong. Well, it wasn’t bad. It was strenuous. Very strenuous. And we just started. The trail is very rocky, so each step needs to be carefully planted or you’re going to twist an ankle. We even brought our walking sticks and I was very thankful to have it several times when it helped catch my unsteady step.
 Despite the serious expending of energy, it was amazing. There weren’t too many people on the trail yet and it was beautiful. The trail follows the stream that comes down the mountain, so there were a lot of spots to stop and take pictures. And those of you who know us, know we take a lot of photos. We stopped often for more water and after a while, needed a granola bar. 

  A few things that really stand out, besides the scenery, was people watching. And especially how very unprepared they were. We saw more than half the daring hikers go up with NO water. I’d never make it. That really is just plain foolish. As the day goes on, it gets hotter and hotter. Then top that off with a strenuous work out and you are about guaranteed to have a heat stroke. Saw a few dads carrying their toddlers up the mountain. I could barely carry myself. Then you have to love the ladies in dresses and pumps carrying their purses. Yep. Really? And no water of course.
  I love when you get talking to others on the trail and find out where they are from, switch off taking photos of each other by trading cameras. It’s all part of that stop and smell the roses thing. Find out what’s going on around you. Then the ones that are stopped, flushed and breathing heavy, we checked on a couple of them. Oh and wearing all black to absorb all that heat, also might not be the best idea.
  They were kind enough to put signs up at the quarter mile, half mile, then folks
"I still have that much farther to go? I shoot your sign
with my walking stick!"
coming down would tell you how much farther. But I really think the signs lie. I really do. I was so tired, so worn out, but I was NOT about to give up. We’d come that far, we couldn’t miss the reward.

  As we neared the destination, there started to be more areas of water coming off the mountain draining down from this high mountain lake. It’s fairly heavily wooded all the way, and the water comes down a very mossy area and is fairyland’isk. It was amazing. The sound of the running
water over the rocks, spilling and cascading, lighting up the green that practically glowed in the broken sunshine.
  Just when you think you can’t possibly get more tired, then you face the stairs. Stairs!! Well, if you can call uneven rocks stairs. Up you go for I don’t know how many more feet. Almost there. I can do this. I
can. I hope. Please don’t give out on me, knees.
  This mountain top staircase is pretty narrow, so when some would come down, sharing the space can get tricky. But there always seem to be better manners on the trail. Well, most of the time. Then there’s this big tree you have to skirt around. Then you get to the top and as you round the corner, there it is. An emerald lake literally appearing as though it is hanging off the mountain. Hence the name.

  You stand in awe. It really is remarkable. A wooden walkway takes you out over the water. The lake is calm, emerald green. Spreading about 150 feet across with crystal clear water. Trout can be seen swimming around looking for a snack. Long
ago fallen trees lay under the reflection of the sky. Along the far side are water falls of every size. Rushing maybe twenty-five feet over the top. Falling into the lake sending mist and drops up into the air. We took a seat on the bench as if in a grand cathedral looking over to the “altar” of beauty. More exhausted people filed by us. Just moments before wondering if they could go on. But now, now with this scene bolstering their next steps, they push on.

 As you wander along this wooden pathway, you can get a glimpse of the even taller waterfall up beyond these. WE MUST GO ON. That’s the problem with Colorado. Just one more hill, one more curve. We just need to see a little further.

  So after a sandwich, some more water, some fruit for sugar, we headed to the next trail. Up. Again. Ugh. But we made it. That whole high five thing is really over done, but this was just cause for giving each other a high five. We did it! In our late 50’s, totally out of shape, older and more tired, we – did – it! It was quite a feeling. At the top of the top, you can walk behind the master waterfall. The cool mist coating your
I love getting behind a waterfall.
overheated, worn out body. Soon you are drenched and loving every drop of it. Ahhhhh…! Watching the other faces, we all looked like kids at Christmas. You turn into a kid. Wanting to go play in the water. The *ahem* cold mountain water. Refreshing. We hung out up there, taking more and more photos. Enjoying. Relishing the beauty. Delighting in the fact that we accomplished something huge.
Look around more than the obvious. This is what
it looks like behind the falls. Cool rocks that were eaten away.
  Not wanting to completely leave, we made our way down the trail back to the
benches to just soak in all of the scene in hopes of burning it into our brains so that someday when we need an escape, we could close our eyes and pull it up again on the backs of our eyelids and just breathe. We sat there watching more and more people file by. A group of high school choir members gathered on the far side of the lake. Apparently they all sat together and had a short Bible study which was totally cool. We had fun talking to some of them on the way down. Cuz’ we just wanted to chat. It wasn’t that we were tired and needed to rest for a minute… noooooo.
  Thinking that it would be easier to go down the mountain was total disillusionment on my part. Anybody with bad knees is already shaking their head. Bad knees going downhill is just miserable. And sure enough, it was for me. But again, we just took our time. Honored the unspoken rule of yielding to uphill traffic. Gladly. Pulling our bodies off to the side of the trail so those struggling to make it to the top could get by. The problem was, those inexperienced or out of state hikers, had no idea what that meant. We had so many push past us to go down, even though others coming up clearly needed to get by. Oh well, what can you do.
  Again, so glad I had my long walking stick to lean on as I went from rock to rock. It took a long time. But, we had more time than money that day.
A lot of rocks to go down on.
The last stretch was that steep and very rocky area to the sidewalk below. In the total bright sunshine, with several people just starting out. I can’t imagine just starting at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. HOT. It had to be about 90 degrees. And again, there were ladies in pumps and families with no water. I think there needs to be a water station at the bottom with huge warning signs to take plenty of water with you on this hike. Uff da!!
The river! We're almost down! We did it!!
We made it down to the sidewalk completely spent. Completely satisfied. Completely thrilled to have accomplished a bucket list one-last-time event. Check.   

   Yep. It was a good day. God has created some pretty amazing areas that are far off the beaten path. If you are able, get out there and find them. This world is an amazing and beautiful place. Discover what’s around that corner! And sometimes, your age and your physical limitations can be overridden. Go for it!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bucket List Adventure into Change

   Making a bucket list seems to be a popular thing these days. I have my own like most people do, and as a couple, my hubby and I share quite a few of those items. One of them was experiencing Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado. I’d been there as a child, memories had faded into sketchy images, but Ron had never seen it. We had to go. Before any changes happen in our lives.
   Our life journey seems to be headed for Texas in the near future. Living too far away from our only child and her family is not working for us anymore. With two grandkids now, we are just too far away. Change is hard though. And the older one gets, the harder those changes are emotionally, practically and logistically. But to attain what one desires the most, change is usually inevitable.
   So back in June of this year, we decided to just pack up the camper and head down to the southwestern reaches of our state while we were still here. We had a few days, it probably wouldn't be enough, but let’s just do it. We like to be rather spontaneous with our adventures.

   Being spontaneous is great, but when your vehicle is feeling older than I do, pulling a camper over mountain passes takes a longggggggg time. But hey, it’s Colorado. It’s mountains. It’s God’s creation surrounding you. As the old poem of my childhood days says, “Take time to see”.  I did. Right out my side window for many miles.



   We finally made it about eight hours later. Found the campground, settled in and enjoyed relaxing for the rest of the evening.

   The next morning, packed up a picnic lunch, snacks for the day and we were off on an adventure of discovery. Of a life led by people long ago who took up residence in the dangerous cliffs of the area.

  Now, one stops to think, why did they want to live there? What possessed them to climb the steep terrain and start assembling rocks, making bricks out of mud using precious water to form and stack them into walls to create rooms? To take your family into parts unknown and live what had to be a very challenging lifestyle involving incredibly hard work.

   But that’s what life is most of the time. It’s work. We all face challenges from the winds of change almost on a daily basis.
   Growing up, the historical name I learned for the inhabitants of the dwellings has now somehow become politically incorrect. I’m going to be on a soapbox for a moment, so bear with me. I learned back in the day when my family visited this site that the Anasazi Indians took up residence in the cliffs. Now it is apparently an insult to this civilization to refer to them by that name.
   According to, the name Anasazi derives from the Navajo as “ancestors of enemies”. It may have first been applied to the ancient Pueblo ruins in the Mesa Verde region c.1889 by rancher and trader Richard Wetherill, who began exploration of the sites in the area. Since modern man considers this an insult, being referred to as an enemy, they now must be referred to as Ancient Puebloans. That’s harder to say than Anasazi. But all forest service literature, signage in the park, and language used by the rangers has adjusted to the change. Enemies are real, and whether they were an enemy to someone or not, really?  Changing history.

   As our journey took us into the park, fires from years back had left a very stark landscape on top of the mesa. Skeletal trees stand as a remembrance of what was once a forest, now only gray sentinels waiting to succumb to enough age that the wind would knock them down only to slowly rot back into the earth.

   The winding road took us along the rim of the canyon in areas. At our first glimpse of a ruin far below we were amazed at what we saw. We had earlier made our reservation to join the Ranger-led trek down into what is known as The Balcony House. Having really bad knees, I was a bit concerned about being able to make this hike. I was pleasantly surprised – no thrilled – that I did it! Being in shape at this age takes a bit more work than it used to, and in shape is NOT a term we use for our lives. But I felt much like Rocky Balboa on the top of those stairs when we finished the hike. I think I might have actually done a little happy dance.
   Our hike began on a trail leading through the pinion pines; our group of tourists led by a very informative and capable Ranger. It’s fun to take time to get to know them and how they came to their job. When we first moved to Colorado, I had dreamed of becoming a forest ranger. Even looked into the job but realized it was not a lifestyle that would work for our family.
 As we walked along, headed down metal stairs down to a paved path, I couldn’t help but think back to the people that made their life there over 700 years ago. They didn’t have the luxury of these developed paths.
   I touched the rock wall next to the trail wondering how many of these ancient people had touched
this very wall. What was their life like? Did they complain about the heat? The work to survive? Or did they just do what they had to do knowing there was little choice? I lean toward the latter. They were a lot tougher than any of us are today, no doubt.
   The tour led to a tall, double-wide ladder that took us up into the Balcony House. What a climb. Sure was glad the heat of the day hadn’t arrived yet.

   I’m a bit of a news/information hound. I guess that comes with being a writer. So I hung on every word the Ranger spoke. I found the stories fascinating since I love history. Most of it, of course, is guess work on the part of modern people trying to figure out how and why this civilization did what the evidence left behind. But isn’t that the fun of history?
   Learning how these structures were built was just as fascinating. In some areas, the stump of one of
Over 750 years old!
the supporting timbers could still be seen. A 750 year old log! Think about that. The method of building these was genius. Considering the tools, or lack thereof, available to them.
   Having a young, almost walking grandson now, made me think about the momma’s back then. Looking at the overhang of their dwelling, how on earth did they keep their toddlers from darting toward the edge? I just couldn’t spend a lot of time on that thought line. Those were the bravest women I can imagine.
A window into the past!
   After wandering around the ruins, asking questions, taking advantage of photo ops (and if you know us personally, you know we came out of there with a lot of photos), the adventure continued in the ONLY way out of the Balcony House. Think thin folks!!


  Whether the occupants designed this structure for protection from their own enemies or just had no other choice for a second way out, or perhaps when those that came along in the 1800’s to save the ruins back in the days of discovery, found themselves cut short of ledge so a tiny passageway was the only escape for touring through, I don’t know. The park service had attached metal grates to block passage for those that are not with a tour to protect the ruins (and make a few more bucks). But there was definitely little choice in our leaving the ruin. That’s what I love about adventure. One never knows what that next step will be.
   We squeezed our bodies through the escape only to find ourselves looking up another wooden ladder leading to an odd little path of steps carved out of the stone. Past more metal fencing and gates, we made our way to the top.

Yep. It was as unnerving as it looks.

   Did I mention the views from these cliff dwellings? As they say, location, location.
   We spent the day exploring more by car, hikes and a tram/bus ride that became one of the most harrowing rides of my life it seemed as this double vehicle bounced and swerved around the curves of the designated tour route. Okay, I’ve been on worse, but the seats made you slide all over the place enhancing the reactions from the road.
 Dropping our group and Ranger at the trailhead to hike down into the Long House, we gathered around to hear more facts and history as they determined it to be. Again, I worried how my knee would do. I’ve come to believe that the excitement of an adventure helps me to just ignore the concerns. This was again a fascinating tour. Learning about the lives of the people. How they gathered food, water, seeing the type of tools they made from rock and bone. How they adapted to life in these elements. Building the structures that meant their survival.
   How they changed to the environment they now lived in.

The residents would pull these weeds out
to access the water. No sense sharing
with weeds.
   Water is an essential source for survival and they had unique ways to collect that. Rock down there is porous sandstone, so when it rained or snow would melt, it would just percolate down through the sandstone, hit a layer of shale and emerge through the cracks at the back of their alcove on bedrock. They carved little channels leading to larger catch basins to collect the spring water enabling them to ladle it out for drinking and cooking. Clever. Survival.

  We did one more major hike that day down a self-guided tour of Step House. Worth your time. Interesting view into the past and how they lived.

     As I stood in some of these alcoves taking time to think, to imagine, to listen for the voices of the past whispering on the wind to try to hear what their daily struggles must have been. I was awed by the tenacity of these ancient people. It truly was a mesmerizing adventure. If you allowed it to be. It was a test of ability. A test of determination. A test of…change. Doing something different. To push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of doing.

Look around for surprises.

One of about 125 wild horses in the park

   Now we are facing major changes in our lives with the hoped for move to Texas to be with our family. The Anasaz….excuse me… The Ancient Puebloans had to move. Whatever their reasons, whether drought chased them to a more fertile area, or an enemy drove them off, or too many rocks fell on their heads, or they just died off completely; we’ll never know for sure. But we know why there is a need for change in our lives. I just WANT to move -near my kids.

   Aging makes you rethink many priorities in your life. Not that we’re THAT old, but we are starting down the back side of this journey if you consider 50 the half-way point. Things come along sometimes in life that you aren't expecting. Life can be happening in other places that you aren’t a part of. Things that you’re missing out on that you begin to realize are far more important than the place you love to live just because of scenery and adventures. Well, that and good friends and a church family. We both want and need the adventures of grandparenthood and we aren’t willing to settle for just an occasional few days a few times a year. Life is way too short. 

   So, we don’t know what our next adventure in life will be completely. We have an idea. We have a goal. We have a hope and a dream. Stay tuned for what reality will come. If I know God, which I do in my finite ability, He is going to have something really incredible for us. He did nearly 30 years ago when He set us out on an adventure with a full U-Haul truck towing a ’63 Chevy with a five year old child, a small dog, two cats, and no jobs. We headed west and it was the best thing we could have ever done for our family.
   Now it’s time to change to a new journey to new adventures. To a new life, with new friends, to new beginnings. With grandbabies!!!
   To change.
   Change is hard, seemingly impossible decisions need to be made, adjustments have to happen, but like the cliff dwellers of old, you do what you’ve got to do. What you need to do. To make life better.
   Change. The journey continues.
Ron and I in The Balcony House

More ladders

Wall art