Situated just to the west of Rocky Mountain National Park and extending much further south is a huge chunk of National Forest land. Its hard to tell where Arapahoe national forest begins and Roosevelt national forest ends but they are intertwined together. If you have ever skied in Colorado there is a good chance you have set foot in ANF because numerous ski resorts operate lifts within the national forest boundary. We were both incredibly sore after multiple days of hiking so we decided to drive a bit on forestry roads and see how far we could get.
We did not make it very far on the forestry roads. A rainy spring season had washed out quite a few of the dirt roads and we were met with closed signs at every corner we turned. We decided to park at the base of a ridge and hike up to get a better view. The hike proved to be very tiring but incredibly worth it. We started at about 8500 ft elevation and ended above 9000 ft elevation. The air was quite thin.
The landscape lower to the basin is mostly shrub and grasslands. Most of the shrubs in the photo are about my height or slightly taller (5’7”) and the grasses were around knee height. The larger shrubs were each home to a nest of humming birds. They made their presence immediately known by alerting us loudly that we were in their territory. When it was clear that we weren’t leaving, they began a series of kamakaze esque dive bombs in our direction. We would look up to try to get a glimpse at the noise rushing towards us, only to see a flaming red dot with a beak attached zooming at top speed towards our eyeballs. At the very last moment the hummingbird would swerve around, zoom back to the nest, and perch on a branch. It would then huff and puff at our general direction letting us know that he meant business and that was a freebie.
At some point along the trail, the landscape changes you become immersed in a forest of young Trembling Aspen trees. It feels like entering a fantasy world. The grass, a rich green color plump from the spring snow melt and long summer days, grows up touching the grey bark of the Aspen trees. The landscape doesn’t seem real.
At the top of the ridge, we stopped at a hunting camp and took in the sights. The wind was fresh and crisp blowing in from the Rocky Mountains. Though we saw very few birds aside from hummingbirds, the air was full of songs.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed the hikes I did in Rocky Mountain National Park this short hike somehow felt different. We were completely alone on the top of a ridge looking down on the resorts. The sounds were new and interesting. The air smelled sweet and fresh, a scent I have never experienced before. The wind was fresh on my face as if someone had opened a massive refrigerator somewhere behind a mountain. The landscape was unique but harsh. The ground seemed to be exploding with life, just released from a winter prison and allowed to breathe for the first time. This place was different than any other, and I felt that there simply wasn’t enough time to even begin to absorb all of it. Many people say that they go to the mountains and become mesmerized by them. I can understand the allure. They are massive and daunting, just walking is exhausting and slow. You begin to feel small, and realize your place in the world as just one tiny organism in the giant universe. At the same time you feel important, as if it is somehow your duty to make sure places like this are here forever.