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Archive for the ‘Landscapes’ Category

I figure I’ve hiked Boulder’s Mt. Sanitas trail somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 times during the 19 years I’ve lived in the Boulder area. I know there are many people who have hiked it a whole lot more than I have, whose counts are in the thousands and who regularly scale mountains 10 times as high — but I have to marvel a little bit about why I’ve kept going back over the years.

Each time it is a thigh-trembling, heart-hammering, oxygen-gulping experience. Often there is cursing.

Truth be told, the last three years have seen only two or three of those treks (something about having a kid, starting your own business, getting old…blah blah blah). So when I headed up two weeks ago — on one of those shining, 50-degree days we’ve been having this winter — it was like reuniting with an old friend.

Mountain Sanitas, Boulder, CO

Self portrait on Mt. Sanitas. Tired but happy.

I was reminded of everything I love and hate about the trail at once. I always choose the Western route up — it’s steeper, but shorter. Before long, I start to sound like a asthmatic bulldog. But just when I’m barely managing to place one pathetic, plodding step after the other, I’ll spot a welcoming little turnout, with that heartening view of Boulder sprawling out below. Or sometimes a flatter, more forgiving part of the path emerges. I catch my breath and start anew, thinking, “I might actually make it to the top today!” Only to be passed by an 80-year-old jogging up the damn thing. And the whole cycle starts again.

Mt. Sanitas, hikers, Boulder, CO

Fellow hikers often include small children, dogs and elderly folks — all of whom are usually bounding past me.

Until I get to the top. And then it’s just pure endorphins. I actually have to restrain myself from hugging all those other sweaty, smiling people perched on the rocky outcroppings, sucking down water and drinking in the views.

On the way down, my legs always feel like jello for the first five minutes, and I think, am I going to be the first person in Boulder history to have to be air-lifted off Mt. Sanitas? But then, miraculously, my legs get used to the pounding, downhill motion, and by the time I reach my car, I’m positively giddy and pretty sure I could do it all over again, right then and there.

Mt. Sanitas, Boulder, CO

So on this hike two weeks ago, I promised myself I’d make time to come back more often. In fact, I headed back yesterday, just before the snow storm moved in. It was much colder — and tougher — than the previous time. But in the end, I found myself sending up a little thank you to the clouds for holding off just long enough for me to make it to the top and back, one more time.

Bird on Mt. Sanitas, Boulder, CO

This robin seemed to be assessing the air as a winter storm moved in.

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I used to live on Twin Lakes, in North Boulder. On summer days, we would often wake up in the morning to the “shhhhhhh” of hot air balloons passing by our condo — sometimes near enough to say “good morning” to the bright-eyed folks dangling beneath the balloon in the basket.

Ever since, I have wanted to ride in one of those balloons.

Nearly 10 years later, I got my chance. A coworker invited me up for a ride with Fair Winds Hot Air Balloon Flights, and I jumped at the chance. Despite the fact that we had to be at the launch site at 5:45am. And despite the fact that Trent, my coworker, was a self-confessed acrophobe and this was his plan for “getting over” his fear of heights.

When we arrived at the launch site, in a field just west of Twin Lakes, there was a little table set up with pastries, coffee and juice. Families and couples milled around, alternatively smiling with anticipation and yawning. Jeff, the owner of Fair Winds, greeted all of us, had us sign release froms and divided us up among three crews on three separate balloons. He soon had several of us helping unfurl and inflate the balloons.

Our cheery pilot, Jeff

Before I knew it, we were all climbing in and lifting off the ground. To my surprise, my stomach did a little flip. I looked over at Trent, who had his eyes closed and was taking deep breaths. But then, as we lifted up higher and could look out over the trees and around at the other balloons rising (there were six or seven others), it was such a peaceful and beautiful scene that any twinge of fear I had subsided. Trent seemed to be having the same experience, now with his eyes open. The balloon floated up so gently that there was nothing to give me pause besides the breathtaking scenery.

Then we came upon the sight that I will never forget: the mirror-like Twin Lakes below, reflecting the two balloons at eye level in front of us, the sunlight filtering in behind the balloons from the East and lighting everything aglow. One of the balloons, a bright red one, dipped its basket into the water.

After that, we rapidly gained altitude, and the views expanded in all directions. Beneath us was all of Boulder Valley, the still-snowy mountains beyond and the Front Range to our east.


Jeff, one of the nicest and most exuberant people I have met, would give little exclamations of “yay!” and “all right!” as we ascended. He is masterful enough as captain that he can rotate the balloon to give each passenger a good look at the view they request.

We glided over farms, houses, mansions (lots of mansions), cows, prairie dog holes, Walden Ponds and the adjacent water treatment facilities, and several  little (and not-so-little) bodies of water that I didn’t know existed. I was shocked at how lush and green the lanscape was — not the mid-summer Colorado I thought I knew.

Up high, it was warm in the sun and next to the flame, and at times, we each fell silent to reflect on the views. Jeff noted that, looking out over the foothills and mountains, he sometimes imagines what it must have been like for early explorers who travelled by horse or wagon to come upon all this remarkable beauty. And from up high, it felt like we were discovering it anew ourselves.

Eventually, we drifted down south of Empire Road in Louisville, near the Colorado Tech Center. We had a fairly smooth landing, thanks to the chase crew who met us there and guided us in. Trent looked glad to be on solid ground again, but exhaled and said, “That was so much easier than I thought it would be.” I gave him a congratulatory pat on the back.

We all helped pack up and then were carted back to the launch site in a nice, big van. Everyone was giddy and talkative. Back in the liftoff field, we gathered round for goodie bags and a send off from Jeff and the crews. Looking around at the happy faces, it was clear everyone had a great time. I left grinning ear to ear, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.

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Needing to put our feet to the earth and breathe some fresh air, my sister and I set out for a hike on Saturday. We hadn’t been to the Settlers’ Park trailhead since this summer, and we thought it might be fairly sunny and mud free (it was!).

We hiked up to the Red Rocks, which always reminds me of the New Year’s Eve when we climbed up here, found a perch on one of the fins and watched the celebrations and fireworks below — one of the best New Year’s ever.

We continued on the Anemone Trail, overlooking Canyon Road. There were only a few other people out on Saturday, but they were enjoying the sun and warm rocks as much as we were:

Settlers' Park and Red Rocks, Boulder, Colorado

Settlers' Park and Red Rocks, Boulder, Colorado

Thank you, Old Man Winter, for throwing us a warm and sunny Saturday!

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Have you ever crested the hill between Louisville and Boulder, while heading west on the turnpike, and admired that little pale yellow house off to the left, across the highway from the Davidson Mesa lookout?

House on hill between Boulder and Louisville, Colorado

It is surrounded by gently rolling hills and valleys and just so happens to overlook the most spectacular view of the Flatirons in all of Boulder County.

I always wonder who this house belongs to. It’s so unassuming. It hasn’t changed a bit in years, as far as I can tell.

Sometimes on warm summer days, the doors and windows are flung open and you can see straight in the front door through the back door to blue sky on the other side. What must the breeze feel like up there, coming down off the foothills and in through the windows?

Can you imagine the sunsets they must see from their kitchen window?

According to City of Boulder maps, it looks like it is located on open space, so perhaps the city owns the house and no one really lives there. If you know this to be true, please don’t tell me.

I’d rather go on believing there’s someone there, cherishing their perch above our beautiful city.

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