Farewell, Front Range

View from the top of the Royal Arch trail, looking toward Boulder and the Flatirons
View from the top of the Royal Arch trail, looking toward Boulder and the Flatirons

After many years of planning, saving and sacrificing, my husband Dave and I are finally making a big move to Ridgway, Colorado after Memorial Day weekend. We are looking forward to growing a large garden, tending chickens and meeting new friends and neighbors in our new, small community.

I’m also looking forward to starting a new chapter of contemplative hiking on many mind-blowing beautiful trails in the San Juan mountains near Ouray, Telluride and Ridgway.

There was one trail near Boulder that I hadn’t hiked but had wanted to for many years – The Royal Arch trail at Chautauqua. I attempted to scale the trail in February but it was simply too icy and treacherous for my liking, despite wearing ice spikes and having poles. This is a trail that’s much better attempted when conditions are dry.

The Royal Arch trail has a reputation of being a butt-kicker and for good reason – it boasts 1,200 feet of elevation gain in just under a couple of miles. It goes up—straight up—for most of the way, and often you’re stair-stepping on big rocks and having to pull yourself up to keep from stumbling backwards. This is “no country for old men”, or old anyone with a heart condition. Fortunately I’m in good shape and not too old yet, so I made it up in good time with lots of breaks to catch my breath. I would say that you should expect to reach your max heart rate for at least 60 consecutive minutes, which is not something you want to be doing every day.

The view at the top makes it worthwhile. On the north side, you see the flatirons, and to the east is the vast expanse of flatland that stretches all the way out to Erie, Firestone, Broomfield. Above you is a giant arch that rivals anything you see at Arches in Moab, but without the sandstone or the searing heat of the desert.

View of NCAR from the Royal Arch
View of NCAR from the Royal Arch

I was feeling unusually sentimental on this particular hike. I remembered all the trails I had worn out in the last fifteen years and ones that I’ll likely never step foot on again. Life is a series of endings and beginnings, some profound and some almost unnoticed.

Recently my mother died (one of those profound endings) and I remembered the time we took her “hiking” up the hill from the Chautauqua Ranger station. It made me wistful, because she had a hard time up that hill, but she was always willing to try new things and trusted me to show her the way, even though later it turned out it was beyond what was comfortable for her, physically. She loved being out in nature, appreciated beauty. The longest hike we took with her was around Monarch Lake near Grand Lake – almost 5 miles of mostly flat terrain. She really liked that.

Maybe we tend to forget these precious memories after dealing with the traumatic memories of a loved one’s last few days, but they appear later in quiet moments. Our minds get quiet and relaxed and we see all the tiny but wonderful moments we’ve forgotten.

And so it might be with my life here on the Front Range. Right now I’m very preoccupied with our move and what’s to come. In time, however, as I walk along some trail high up in the mountains of southwest Colorado, I might remember a certain colorful hike in May, an exceptionally delicious meal at some restaurant in Boulder, a romantic walk at dusk somewhere downtown Denver. I’ll remember the good times when my daughter Skye was still a little kid and when we worked hard on our backyard garden and when we built snow forts after a crazy blizzard. These memories will poke their heads out when I’m feeling sentimental or lonely or reflective.

So farewell, Front Range. It’s been a deeply satisfying relationship of 22 years. I’ve written books about you and I’ve been elevated by your beauty. I’ve also been bored with you and frustrated at how crammed and developed you’ve become. Even though I’ve fallen in love with a new place, you’ll always be my first love. The Front Range is where I found my gifts and discovered the person I was always meant to be.