Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 7: Ft. Collins to Moab

Miles Driven: 1500 ???? (exact reading yet to be taken)
Hikes Completed: 1, at Hanging Lake(I’m not counting the “walks” while camping)
Highest Gas Price Paid: $4.28 (Grand Junction, Colorado)
Most Stunning Drive to Date: the 47 miles between I-70 and Moab, on 128
Favorite Soundtrack For Heading Into the Mountains: Springsteen’s latest, Magic

I hopped out of bed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to get to the desert. I was contemplating a hike in my old high school stomping grounds (literally, across the street) in Evergreen, Colorado. But as I drove, I felt a nice flow, and decided not to stop. I had forgotten how stupidly steep the grade is coming up out of Denver and towards Genosee, and then again at Loveland. Often, I forget about Colorado in the summer. As a kid, summer always annoyed me because I wanted to be snowboarding, so I took it for granted and spent the whole time thinking about winter in my head. As an adult though, Colorado is beautiful in the summer, and today was a nice day to drive.

I was taken by just how many trees were blighted by the beetles. There were whole mountainsides affected, the trees brown and decaying as they stood. From about Frisco to Glenwood, it was really noticable, then it eased up a bit. Both my sister-in-law and my best friend kept telling me I should stop in Glenwood on my way and hike Hanging Lake. I remembered the pictures my mom took when she hiked it like 20 years ago. It was pretty, but didn’t strike me as anything overly special. Still, I hit it before noon and decided to give it a go.

What no one told me was the freakin’ hike is about 1000 vertical feet over 1 mile. Translation: it’s pretty much straight up. Lots of stone stairs and hand railings as you climb up the side of a mountain with a long waterfall (creek spilling vertically downward?) to your side. My sea-level loving self was huffing and puffing, but then I’d get passed by kids in jeans and old people with walking sticks, and once, by a two year old. Jeez... When I hit the half-mile mark (meaning only halfway there), I thought I might keel over and die. Despite damping at a high altitude, I was nowhere near acclimated, and I was silently cursing those who suggested the hike without giving me the crucial piece of info.

And then, after it all, I got to the top an hour later. And there, after all that work, what had looked like a normal lake in pictures more than half my life ago, was a stunningly clear lake. Aptly named Hanging Lake, it rests at the top of the mountain, pools up, and then begins to flow down the side in a series of waterfalls (or, downward moving creeks, whatever--). The water was blessedly cool and a clear green. And then I got it.

After nearly killing my right knee on the descent, I packed my sweaty little self back into my Mazda and again headed west on 70.

My brother had suggested a bunch of Moab things, one of which was to drive 128 south from 70 instead of taking 191. And man, was I happy I did. Immediately off 70, the road opened up into a wide valley of dusty colors. Then, it got even better.

128 follows the Colorado River, and eventually, it opened into a wide swath making me feel like I was in the best roadtrip movie ever. Huge sandstone and red rock cliffs towered around me, and the lazy Colorado moved somewhat slowly beside me. I drove slowly, pulling over often to take photos. It was the best drive I think I have ever taken in my life.

And now, I am sitting in the AC in a one-room cabin in a pitch black campground, with an almost-full moon riding high in the sky. Oh, and I am having a beer... simple, but it doesn’t get much better.

No comments: