I vividly recall the first time that I rode along Trail Ridge Road. My husband Mike had business in Denver and asked me to come with him. I was enrolled in a course at the University of Houston and had a great deal of studying to do, but realized that I would be able to complete my reading assignments and write my paper while Mike was taking care of his own work. Our moms agreed to watch our two little girls and we were soon flying away on an unexpected vacation.
I spent most of the first day inside our hotel room enjoying room service and quiet as I dutifully completed assignments for the course I was taking. By mid afternoon I had accomplished more than I would have if I had stayed at home. Mike burst into the room with a big grin and announced that he too had finished his work for the day and told me to get ready to go to Rocky Mountain National Park. We excitedly dressed for the outing and were soon barreling down the road toward the mountains.
If was late spring, almost summer, and we were dressed more appropriately for the warm days of Houston, Texas in May. We didn’t really think about the difference in temperatures on a mountain, nor even that the roads there might be closed because of snow. Luckily Trail Ridge Road had just reopened a couple of days before, so we would be able to traverse its length without trouble. Nonetheless what had been a sunny day in Denver had change to an overcast and somewhat foggy and bitterly cold environment inside the park.
I remember a point along our journey to the top of Trail Ridge Road when the scenes became so breathtaking that I actually found myself crying tears of emotional joy at the very thought that anything could be so beautiful. I oohed and awed over and over again as we passed vistas unlike anything I had ever before seen. Because of the dreary weather and the time of day it seemed as though we were the only two people on the mountain, rarely passing another human being. I fell madly in love with the place and felt a spiritual connection with the mountains that would remain with me for the rest of my days.
I’ve been back to repeat that journey so many times that I have lost count. When I am not there I long to be so. I’ve hiked along the trails and walked leisurely along the periphery. These days my age and my bad knees keep me mostly riding in my car, but no matter how I get there, I love those mountains like no other place on this earth. The connection I feel with them is visceral, almost haunting. There are spots that bring me to tears every single time. I feel the glory of our planet there and somehow I hear the voices of all the people who have walked there. I’ve seen those mountains in the changing seasons, the different times of day, under varying weather conditions. Each iteration is magnificent and a soothing force on my heart.
The final destination of our recent vacation was Rocky Mountain National Park. We retraced our steps over the hallowed ground that we had traveled so many times. It was not as quiet as our first encounter because July is high tourist season, but because of the pandemic we had to have a reservation to enter the park. There were fewer cars moving along the roads, and so it felt as though nature had somewhat reclaimed its dominion over the place. I actually enjoyed it even more than I had in recent years.
We had traveled to the park last fall and wanted to see what the fires that came after our visit had done to the area near Grand Lake where we had delighted in the beauty of groves of multicolored aspen trees. Sadly we found that huge swaths of land had burned. Still there was great hope in the tiny patches of green that were sprouting from the desolation. It will be years before the area returns to its former glory, but the restoration process has begun. The mountains will heal just as they have always done. I plan to return to watch as the process unfolds.
We spent all of our time in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was why we had detoured before returning home, and what we had come to see. I felt refreshed and ready to return to the realities and challenges of the world after seeing my favorite sights one more time. I suspect that if I am lucky I will return many more times before my traveling days are done.
I suppose that everyone has a favorite place. Some people like the ocean. Others enjoy exciting cities or recreations. I would be incredibly content to spend all of my vacations in those mountains. All I would really need is a porch and a chair and a good view of the peaks along with an occasional drive along Trail Ridge Road. The steadfastness of the mountains is enough for me. It’s been said that the Rocky Mountains are “the marrow’ of the world. That is what they are for me, the heart of what soothes my soul. They are a place that calls to me over and over again, and each time I hear that cadence in my mind, I know that I must go.