Sunday, August 4, 2013

Up and Around and Back Again! [NM & CO]

32 days. 32 crazy days full of adventure, of pushing limits, of exploring new places, of living life to the fullest. 32 days alongside my mister with no expectations other than to get in there. Our summer was cut in half because of grad school commitments, but we made up for that once we were able to hit the road.

We finished up a course in the History and Philosophy of Education on June 26 and were on the road by 9AM on the 27th. There was no holding us back. We had places to be (well, not really, but the idea of taking seven days to make it to Nebraska as opposed to one was too much to ask for) and sights that we wanted to see on our way there.

Our road trip began with a visit to Aztec Ruins National Monument in northern New Mexico. We learned that these ruins are neither of the Aztec persuasion, nor are they considered ruins by the Puebloan people or the Navajo who later inhabited the area. Rather, they are a home to the spirits of those who once lived there. Shortly thereafter we crossed the state line and said good-bye to New Mexico and hello to colorful Colorado.
Aztec Ruins National Monument

We buzzed through Durango and picked up a couple of things at the visitor center (and checked to make sure we weren't going to encounter any road closures due to fire) before heading north to Silverton. The sights were amazing - forests and water seem to be in abundance as soon as you leave New Mexico and we soaked it in. 

At one mountain pass we couldn't take it any longer and climbed out of the car to enjoy an overlook. That overlook led us to a trail, which led us to an exploration of trails leading up Engineer Mountain, through wildflowers taller than Chris, and eventually into afternoon thunderstorms. Having spent plenty of time in storms, we decided to turn around when we saw our first bolt of lightning in the distance and got in some trail running on our way back to the car.
Tarah Running
Chris Running (This one is especially great if you zoom in!)

We made it off of the mountain safely and then drove into Silverton. We wandered around town and checked out the train depot before heading into the national forest for some free camping. We ended day one of 32 with cans of beans and some bread followed by a sunset hike up to a high meadow lake. We crossed over rivers, found ourselves embraced in a warm red light that covered the mountain after the sun went down, and eventually found our way back to our trusty tent.
Red-tinted Skies in Colorado

The next morning we worked our way north on the million dollar highway between Silverton and Ouray. It was incredible (especially at 7AM when hardly anyone was on the road). We stopped at a small pullout before Ouray and were blessed with the sight of a majestic waterfall that we didn't even know that we had crossed over. A little further down the road we pulled over for good to try our hand at high altitude hiking on the Bear Creek National Scenic Trail.
Rim Hiking on Bear Creek Trail
Rock Hopping on Bear Creek Trail
We picked our way through shale fields as we made a quick ascent, and then we kept right on climbing. I pushed as hard as I could and still my feet did not want to leave the ground. As we wound our way along cliffside trails we were granted more views of the previously mentioned waterfall, the river that it came from, and the mountain streams that fed into that river. We passed old mining camps, rock hopped across some streams, encountered a porcupine eating lunch, and continued climbing until we lost the trail about a mile before coming out at Engineer Pass. Feeling exhausted, I did not have the energy to search for the trail and so we turned around and made our way down. Each step was remarkably easier than the previous and it felt like a weight was being lifted off of my shoulders (or lungs, rather). 
Grizzly Bear Mine (Bear Creek Trail)
After returning to the car we drove through Ouray and made our way further north to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We drove around the canyon rim and admired the beauty of nature. We paid for a night of camping in the park so that we could get an early start on a hike down into the canyon. The next morning we got our early start, but the descent freaked me out a little (okay, a lot), so we turned back and did a more moderate hike on top of the canyon before heading east toward Grand Junction and Colorado National Monument.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
We were unsure of what to expect of Colorado National Monument, but we were pleasantly surprised. From the forests of the Rocky Mountains we found ourselves thrust back into our desert landscape. The red rocks had me in awe, and then I realized that we live amongst the same types of formations. We hiked the old monument road, the serpent trail, which was once one of the curviest roads in the United States. We drove along the park road and observed a canyon that was vastly different from that which we had been at in the morning. Instead of dark striated rock, we had a painted desert of rich reds, golds, and oranges in front of us. Monuments reached for the sky and we roasted under the sun. That night we hiked to the base of one of the monuments and camped out under the stars (and a couple of climbers that had begun their ascent of the monument at dusk). With the exception of some noisy night hikers that came through the trail junction in the middle of the night, we had a peaceful desert sleep.
Our Camp Was Surrounded By Monuments
The following morning we drove east to Boulder where we got some much needed sibling time. We stayed with Sarah and James for a couple of nights and spent our time in town exploring trails, eating good food, and observing the oddities that exist on Pearl Street. We made it to Chataqua Municipal Park where we climbed Green Mountain (a goal of Chris's for the summer trip) and did a little more trail running.
Wildflowers Were Abundant 
Our Colorado visit ended with a trip to Red Rocks Amphitheater and Dinosaur Ridge. Both places were incredible for different reasons. We hiked around, took in the sights, and learned a little more about the geological and archeological history of the area. In the early afternoon we had to call our short stay to an end and we drove north into Nebraska where the next phase of our summer adventure took place.

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