A path less traveled - At least during 2020
It's dark when I leave my house, though Denver is never truly dark. Street lights eat shadows, bleaching sidewalks and the edges of night, hiding all but the almost full moon. But it's early, most of the world around me asleep. The air is crisp and fresh, the way only spring air can be, streaming off mountains still capped with snow. This routine that would have felt so normal three months ago, getting in the car to leave early for a nature adventure, now feels as though I'm escaping- and like a prisoner breaking free I'm more rushed in my movements. I packed the night before, water for the drive and hike (since stores won't be easily accessible), a few coats since dawn still has a bite, my backpack with camera gear, all get loaded into the car before another soul can see that I have left the comfort of my condo. I'm on the road and down the street chasing the sunrise threatening to pop up at the edges of the horizon.
On a typical weekend I might be gone all day, finding one thing to explore after another, but with trails mostly closed, and roadside restrooms not yet open, I'm aware of human necessities that will eventually crop up. I plan a morning get away that I hope will satiate my curious nature for at least a week or so. I can feel summer calling softly from the future and I know it won't be long before I will want to strap a backpack on and head out into the enchanting canyons of the mountains. I hope those options will be available.
But I have today, this morning, and driving away from the city towards something new and unknown adds a peace I haven't felt in the last few weeks. Muir was right, nature is calling and I must go.
The first rays of day appear before I'm fully to my destination and I kick myself for not waking even earlier. My goal had been to catch sunrise amongst hoodoos and with dust already on my boots. It's not until the wind picks up that I realize my fortune might be a slightly raised temperature having arrived later than planned. May in Colorado is still spring, and spring above a mile can be a treacherous mistress. It's 37 degrees when I pull into the empty lot, the wind howling across the plains.
I think that's what is so magical about places like this, from where I'm standing it doesn't actually look like much. It's apparent, by the field of wind turbines standing like centuries guarding this sacred space, that it's common to have gusts along here. Their giant blades turn through low hanging clouds threatening rain that will never fall. I layer and brave the air in my face. It's less than a mile before I realize I'm above where I need to go. The first hoodoos I see appear below me, stark white against the dirt hills around them. There are only a few popping out from the cliff as if some avant garde photographer had started to turn a photo black and white and then abandoned the project before it was finished. It's the first glimpse down the rabbit hole of this awesome setting.
I turn a corner and I'm transported into another world, on another planet, in another time. Bright pinks and yellows smear white hoodoos that now stand much taller than I am. They line either side of me, climbing up hillsides, snaked with old river beds that disappear into their cavernous spaces. I follow one until it swallows me whole, dusty footprints marking those that have come before. I hear the wind still but inside the protection of this 9000 year old earth I feel almost warm. I climb carefully, making sure not to disrupt the rock that has stood the test of time, placing my feet only where I'm sure I can't do damage. The morning ticks away around me, I'm oblivious to it's passing. It's hours later before I emerge from this other world and start to make my way back to the car.
Froze fingers futz with my camera, pushing straps and lenses into my hiking bag, when I spot it. Buried deep in a native succulent two huge moths cling to branches to ride out the wind. Over half the size of my hand, they look so soft it's hard not to reach out and pet them. I once read that insects carry wisdom, bees move from flower to flower collecting information, moths travel through nature learning it's secret ways. Seeing these two huddled together, I wonder what they've learned, what they could teach me if I had the time to listen. As the gusts pick up I move on, my fingers begging for my car heater, and my bladder reminding me of all the water I had packed.
It was a good day.