Seeking adventure and solitude. The idea that there are still private spaces to find and adventures to be had. These ideas have become a bit of a cliché with recent trends, but are still very much instilled in many people’s hearts and minds. Where this originated, I can’t honestly say. Perhaps childhood? Or is it an idea that we are born with? To seek that which is beyond what we currently are able to see.
My own refuge was sought when a friend of mine flew in from Texas to escape her current employment trap and start anew. This plan had begun to be put together some months ago when she saw that I was starting my own business. After reconnecting after many years, we found ourselves almost in the same position; searching for something new. After a few phone conversations and general text messages, it was set, Colorado adventures in October.
She arrived the first week of October where we decided the first day we would sit down and map out our adventures. This process took a mere 2 hours and our plans were in stone. We would first see the infamous Garden of the Gods, then head down to the Great Sand Dunes, and last the illustrious Maroon Bells, all in a weekend. We felt that by having a few destinations to anchor us, we could play the rest by ear. We would stay in Breckenridge the first night to make a solid loop and then stay just outside of Aspen the next night in a mysterious sounding place called El Jebel.
We set out early the next morning to get to Garden of the Gods to beat the heat and crowds of the very popular destination to observe the rock formations, uninhibited by tourists, loud children, or anything of the like. We got there around 8 AM, just after they had opened. The crowds were thin and the lighting fresh. We made our way around the “Garden” observing the different intricacies each rock formation had.
I was mostly impressed by its founder and their children by donating the land to the city, with a few specific requirements. "Where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park." These guidelines were set forth by his children and have been respected ever since. I find it fascinating that guidelines that were set out over 100 years ago are to this day enforced and respected. When some people have a hard time upholding similar agreement for more than a week.
We continued to explore the small park, taking pictures, and enjoying the crisp morning air. Soon we had completed the marked off circle and were back at our car. Just as we were approaching our car a small child ran swiftly in our direction, yelling at how excited they were and how “awesome!” this place was. I try to practice seeing things from a child’s eyes and it has allowed me to stay true to some of the values and goals that I had as a child. Though as aggressive as the adult world can be, I can still escape into the trusty woods or summit a mountain where I am able to have the physical capabilities of a 27-year-old adventurer and the mind of 9-year-old me.
Our next stop was the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I had not visited the Dunes since I had first moved to Colorado in 2015. Then I was exploring with a girl named Laura and every adventure was a novelty in my mind, ripe with uncertainty. This time I was still visiting the Dunes with a different girl named Laura, but I had much different perspective of the Dunes and what this place meant.
We had been driving through the Spanish Peaks for some time, awed by the vibrant reds and yellows before I began to get eager to stop driving and start exploring. I was nostalgic after remembering the first time I saw the oasis in the mountains with its rolling hills of sand, patches of yellow fauna, and the ominous view of Mount Zwischen and Mount Herard. The Dunes soon came in far off sight, looking like a small litter box at first, but soon it became clearer how towering the dunes were. Laura was awed, taking many pictures from the car, which I encouraged her to “just wait”.
After entering the park, memories of exploring with Laura and Jason began crossing my mind. Three hoodlums running around in nature’s sandbox without a care in the world. I remember specifically trekking from valley to valley, looking at the yellow patches of vegetation that existed in the dunes as if we had discovered a whole new world. Then, awed by the magnificent and almost alien-like vegetation and now returning in hopes of discovering a similar experience.
It also made me wonder what they were both doing now. Laura had eventually split to go to grad school in West Virginia and Jason went to work for the National Park Service in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. I somehow have managed to stay here in Colorado and have been graced with the opportunity to explore this wonderful area once again. I couldn’t determine if that was a good thing or not. To be in a relatively same position, 4 years later. I didn’t think too hard on it as I was here to enjoy this experience, not delve on its hypothetical implications.
Laura, Mac, and I gathered our gear and set out on the Dunes. The soft sand, succumbing to our every step. This made it a bit awkward to walk because it wasn’t quite like a beach where your feet slide to one side as you move over mostly flat land. You also would move backwards as you were walking up an incline. Despite the difficulty of it, we had fun trying to figure out the best routes, observing mysterious sand formations, and awing at the beauty of the place. Afterall, where else could you find sweeping views of desert plains, rolling sand dunes, forests patched with greens and yellows, and then towering mountain peaks?
We spent quite a bit of time exploring the vast dunes and taking in what we could of the majestic Eden. I began to look in our surrounding area and realized that we were the only people in the area. When we were approaching the Dunes you could see a handful of people exploring the Dunes, but now it was only us. Not a sound or sight of anything for what felt like miles. Never had I felt so isolated while inside of a National Park. We hadn’t even really walked that far from the main entrance.
This gem of a place became that much more special by supplying everything that you could ask for in an adventure. Remarkable views and the feeling of complete isolation. I cherished this feeling for as long as I could. Like the heat of a meal, I anticipated this feeling would eventually dissipate by the yell of a parent trying to get their child’s attention or the soft mumbles of a couple talking while they make a similar ascent. Yet, this feeling was never actually disturbed. Had we discovered some lost relic where you are able to disappear into the wild with every natural spectacle imaginable within reach?
I knew we would eventually have to leave this place and make our journey up to Breckenridge. A 3-hour journey that I was not exactly thrilled about. I spent the last few minutes trying to solidify my mental images of this wonderous place to sustain this feeling of inspiration. Though I wished that I could tell Laura to leave me and Mac out here for a few days and she could take the car to do whatever she wanted. I knew we had to leave. I gave Laura a subtle look, which she knew meant it was time to make our way back. A look back and we were headed back down to our car.
As we made our way back we continued to be dumbfounded by the beauty of the Dunes. We tapped into our inner child by jumping off the edges of tall dunes and acting like we were skiing down them. This made descending less arduous and provoked my imagination.
I created a mental image of a race of sorts between Laura, Mac, and I. Dunes Day, I decided to call it. Dunes Day was between me, a female opponent, and majestic white beast that were friendly competitors that somehow found themselves in a competition to gain ownership for the surrounding 200 acres. I’ve always known I was at home whenever my imagination is that of my childhood self. By accident I had stumbled upon a long-forgotten home. Bob Ross might call it a “happy accident”.
Somewhere down the line my imagination has been tangled up with knowledge of formulas, social cues, various skills, and logic. At home I’m my truest self and I am fortunate that I have many homes. The Great Sand Dunes have just been added to my list of wholesome real estate. Like that of a far away condo bought years ago, I feel the need to nurture my lost home.
As we drove away from the Dunes we sought out another gem called Zapata Falls. It was well-known due to it being highlighted on the Park’s map of things to do in the area. However, the drive up to Zapata Falls made me think of it as a place “where only the few dare venture”. We made the tedious drive up to the falls by dodging rocks both big and pointy. When we got to the top we found there to be about 5 other cars in the lot.
I couldn’t remember how far the hike was, but a poster at the trail entrance said short, so I decided it would probably be a mile at best. We began hiking towards the dunes and soon came upon a rock pile in the shape of an arrow. As if a deity of the mountain had placed it there to deter visitors from visiting this majestic hideaway. I first considered following the arrow as it appeared to point to a trail that veered right, but my intuition said that the falls were the opposite direction of the arrow.
I followed my gut and headed up the trail, despite the deity’s suggestion, and was glad I did. After a few more moments of hiking we were given grand views of the Dunes and Sangre de Cristo mountain range, with subtle sounds of the Falls. We continued up the trail and were soon met by a golden oasis. There was the charming sound of the falls that gave a crisp cool feeling in the air. The surrounding trees however were the real treat. The Falls themselves were tucked away behind the golden trees, acting as a deterrent for visitors to ignore the falls and focus on them. Laura and I decided to venture back a little way on the slippery rocks. We proceeded back a while, passing a young couple taking photographs of the river passing through the golden forest. Looking back at their perspective and remembering the view of the Falls, I suggested we find refuge under a tree and ignore the falls.
We hung around gazing at the sunlight peering through the golden leaves hanging on the trees. We were finally able to capture the essence of Autumn. Enjoying the subtle noise of water passing rock and wind blowing the leaves. Fall was here at Zapata Falls and we were grateful to have caught it.
On our drive to Breckenridge I reflected on the day’s experiences, as there were many. We had visited places that the general public is more than capable of accessing, yet I felt like I was embarking on areas that were previously unknown. This concept humbled me and made me grateful for the types of people I adventured with early on in my life. It is too often that I run into people that scoff at the idea of visiting a place where tourists are or that is easily accessible by the general public. These wonderous places were made accessible for a reason and that is to share the infinite beauty and nostalgia that they possess. It is entirely up to the person seeking the adventure to decide if they are embarking on an adventure or if they are a mere tourist.
I once read that “attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure”. After this trip I feel as though it is merely perspective. If you choose to view something in a negative light than it is not surprising that what it reflects back is likely negative. Additionally, I have tried to view things that may seem to have an almost certain outcome in a more open-minded way. Not by trying to think of other possibilities, but by being open to what the outcome may be when they actually happen.
I have started to try to actively perceive each day as a grand adventure I embark on by myself. Afterall, who doesn’t like a little solitude and adventure?