Hiking in Sweetwater Colorado and in the Vail Valley

Often times, I think that I live in one of the most beautiful and pristine places on earth.

The more I travel around the world, the more I come to appreciate untouched natural beauty, in which people operate as guardians of the land, and do not exploit every part of it.
These kinds of places are becoming rare around the world.

Our home in Sweetwater, Colorado, is located in one such beautiful place.

When hearing about the State of Colorado, most people think about first-rate ski resorts and high alpine landscapes.

It is true that Colorado is home to fabulous ski resorts like Vail, Aspen, Beaver Creek, Snowmass, Winter Park, Steamboat, Crested Butte, Telluride, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Copper Mountain, to name just a few.

Each ski resort is fabulous in its own way, and each offers a different ski experience, based on the terrain, the elevation, the snowfall, the resort management and the quaint towns that surround it.

The majestic Rocky Mountain belt, which runs through the heart of Colorado, offers many high mountain peaks, tranquil lakes and lush forests.

Colorado has natural beauty that extends beyond being the playground of America or a winter wonderland; it has so much to offer during the summer months as well.

Noticing the irony that we have hiked in some fantastic places around the world but have not yet explored our own back yard, which offers some amazing hiking trails, we vowed to hike three times per week now.

In preparation for our trip to Bhutan and Sikkim, we have decided to hike often in our area and to let our bodies get adjusted to hiking in high altitudes.

The first hike we intended to do, was a hike up Beaver Creek mountain to Beaver Lake.

It is a hike that climbs vertically from the Beaver Creek village to a high lake at ten thousand feet (3048 meters).

We drove to the gates of the Beaver Creek village, where the guard shook his head and said that all the parking lots were full.

Beaver Creek was celebrating Octoberfest, and the mountain was full of people.

We decided to go to hike in Vail instead.
We drove to Vail, only to find the parking lots there also full to capacity, with people parking up and down Frontage road, which is always a sign that there is a large overflow of cars.

We stopped at the information center to pick up a hiking map, and heard that on that very day, Vail was hosting a Farmer’s Market, a Jazz Fest, a Food Fest, and the weird one…. Rubber duck races…

We decided to hike the North Vail Trail, which starts in West Vail and did not require us to park at Vail mountain.

It was a beautiful hike into a forest of Aspens.

The first thing that I saw at the beginning of the trail, was a big brown bear.
He looked at me in the eye, and then ran away.

We proceeded with caution after that, but could not spot him again.
We swore to put on our bags the bear-bells that we had bought.
Bears are not aggressive unless startled and made to feel threatened.
If they are alerted to humans approaching, they will stay out of the path.

The very next day, on Labor Day, we decided to go for another hike, this time right in our own neighborhood of Sweetwater.

People from all over the valley come to our area, the Sweetwater area, for cycling on winding empty roads, for rafting, for camping and to hike the National Forest which stretches over the high country of the Flat Tops Wilderness.

We drove down our road to Sweetwater Lake, and parked at the campground.
From there we climbed above the lake and found the Ute Trail that took us deep into the mountains.

At first we walked through a pine and spruce forest, fragrant with the scents of pine needles, forest mushrooms and rotting leaves.

The path was also lined with horse droppings, since this path is often used by riders on horses going on day trips to enjoy the wilderness.

The path diverged and we took the Creek Crossing Trail, which took us into a beautiful forest of tall Aspens.
The light was filtering through the Aspens, and the place felt like a magical forest, with wild berries, rose hips, birds and colorful leaves.

The Aspens are unique tree specimens, with almost a white bark and markings on the bark that look like human eyes, which felt like the Spirit of the trees was looking out over the forest.

A sharp climb up took us to a big rock formation with an old Ute Indian cave.

Not far from the entrance we could see old petroglyphs, estimated to have been drawn 150-200 years ago.

Part of the entrance to the cave was lined with graffiti, and even some of the old petroglyphs were pained over by graffiti, which made me momentarily sad… I guess people enjoy writing their names on places they have visited… Maybe it makes them feel like they’ve left something of themselves behind…

The weather, which was rainy and stormy when we started the hike, turned into a lovely afternoon’s sunshine.
Our return path was bathed in golden light.

I reflected about how nourishing it is to commune with Nature.
How restorative it is to my soul and how rejuvenating it is to my moods.

Now that we are home, I have been spending my days in the studio, while trying to balance my day with long stretches of time devoted to reading.

But without going out into the Wilderness, I find that my mood tends to sink down.
After some time spent walking around the forest and listening to the sounds of the forest, the whistling wind, the rustle of the leaves, the hum of small creatures breathing and running around, the birds and the sounds of running water, I feel whole again.

Miracles are a reminder that the world around us is full of Grace, and full of God’s Love and Light.

Miracles remind us that the world that we believe is real, is nothing but a creation of our ego mind….a collective illusion.

If we step out of our human drama, and take the time to commune with Nature, the silence and the beauty of it all restores us back to sanity.

It has been proven again and again.
Inner city kids from rough schools come to spend the summer down our road at a Nature summer camp.

They learn to ride horses, to kayak, to go on rafting trips on the Colorado river, to camp outdoors, to cook camp food, and to sing and talk for their entertainment, instead of watching TV.

They come with hardened hearts and a lot of convictions about the hardships of life, and they leave knowing an inner peace that they have never known before.

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Sweetwater Lake, where the hike starts.

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The clouds were getting darker…

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And… It did start to rain hard and thunder was all around us, so I put on my rain gear.

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The path dove into a pine and spruce forest.

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At this point, we entered an old Aspen forest with tall Aspens towering high over forty feet.

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We climbed a steep path to see the Ute Indians Cave, which has petroglyphs that are estimated to be 150-200 years old.

The petroglyphs drawings are done with mineral paint made from ochre and ash.
They depict wildlife like deer, bison, buffalo, horses with riders, trees and people.

The cave is long, and even has a few drop offs.
Since we did not bring a flashlight with us, we could not explore the depth of it at this time.
It is VERY dark inside, but it did not smell musty.

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The forest was breathtaking….

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On our way back, the late afternoon sun was out, bathing the landscape in golden rays.

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On the short drive back home, we stopped to take some photos of our community.

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Yes…this is NOT a joke sign…we do have mountain lions and big bears all over the area.

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