Colorado - Rocky Mountain National Park

 
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I was waist deep in snow and panic was setting in. How had one step on seemingly sturdy snow caused my body to sink like it would in quicksand? How was I going to get out?

More on this later.

Because the sinking snow, and other adventures, is what made Colorado so exhilarating and remarkable.

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After landing in Denver and hitting up Denver Biscuit Company, my friend Diana and I headed to Red Rocks Ampitheatre, a rock structure I've had my eye on forever. While exploring the theater and taking a short hike around the grounds, Diana experienced her first plight of altitude sickness.

Because Colorado is so much higher in elevation than Wisconsin, our midwestern bodies were not used to the lower levels of oxygen. Red Rocks got Diana and my altitude sickness would come later.

Despite feeling crummy, we were in absolute awe of Red Rocks Ampitheatre. The rocks were unlike any I had seen before and had that innate ability to make me feel so, so small. And this was just the start of incredible rocks in Colorado.

After drinking water and taking it easy for a bit, we were back on the road. We made it to Estes Park, home of Rocky Mountain National Park. Our first stop: Alberta Falls.

We hiked to the falls and sat in its beauty. I wondered what it was like to feel like a waterfall, so powerful and strong? Do they know their strength? Are they humble about it? Or boastful? Was I silly to believe waterfalls had feelings at all?

I was lost in my thoughts. And then I got really sick.

As we were driving down the mountain, altitude sickness hit me like a rock - worse than motion sickness, but not quite as bad at the flu. It's one of those feelings that can't be explained until you've felt it. We decided that doing two hikes on our first day in Colorado wasn't our best idea ever, but neither of us was going to let this sickness get us down.

The next day, we headed to an extremely popular spot in the Rockies, Bear Lake.

We were surrounded by mountains and majesty. Our bodies felt better and the hike cleared our minds of any negativity. It was just us, the lake, and the mountains.

I love Wisconsin, but to me, there's nothing better than hiking mountains. The rocks and the trees and the trails come together to form this perfect, serene union. The hikes are difficult and exhausting in the best way. They remind me that if I push my body, I'm capable of so much more than I think.

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And so with the first lake down and the happiness of hiking in the mountains alive in our hearts, we continued on the trail. Next up was Nymph Lake. Scattered with lily pads, this lake was a green and blue fantasy. I, indeed, felt like a forest nymph, ready to leap from lily pad to lily pad in search of my lost hiking stick. It was magical.

After hiking up the mountain and seeing an incredible view of Nymph Lake from above, we traversed mountain streams, climbed a few rocks, ducked underneath some trees, and arrived at Dream Lake. To say it was akin to something out of a dream is a cliche to which I am adhering. 

But this dream was about to get better.

Because next was Emerald Lake, our final destination of the hike. 

Nestled right up against the mountain, full of wildlife and adventure, Emerald Lake was perfect. We stopped to eat our lunch, chat with other hikers, and enjoy the immense beauty before us.

I've hiked a few mountains before, but I've never seen something like Emerald Lake. The mountain water was so cool and clear and I wanted to drink it all in. Maybe, I thought, if I drank enough, I could become the lake and always have a mountain within walking distance. It was a spot I never wanted to leave.

But there were more trails to be hiked and more mountain to be explored.

The next day, we headed up on Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center to hike the Ute Trail. Because this is the highest visitor center in the National Park System and because we were both feeling a little light-headed from the drive up, we made sure to bring plenty of water and food.

The Ute Trail took us through grass, gravel, mud, and like I hinted at above, snow. At one point, each of us sank waist-deep into the powder. It was scary and I panicked. But luckily, we were able to hoist ourselves out and use creative techniques to avoid the snow on the journey back.

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We weren't sure how far to hike, and then we happened upon a small mountain lake. Here we stayed for about an hour, splashing around, napping, and talking about life. It was my favorite part of the trip - our little, personal lake.

Our final RMNP hike was our longest - 12 miles at Wild Basin. This was not an easy hike. It was long, hot, and we were discouraged that a large part of the hike was just getting to the trailhead. However, the sight of three waterfalls, Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls, made all of our hard work and sweat worth it.

It was one of those hikes I'll look back on and remember how hard my body worked and how good the pizza and Kit Kat at the final waterfall were.

Our last Colorado outing was to take the Estes Park Aerial Tramway to the top of the mountain. A small, red tram sans glass in the windows and only held up by a thick wire propels passengers up and down the mountain. For a moment I thought, "this is it, this is how I die." I was wrong, of course.

The view from the top was gorgeous. We could see the mountains and the entire town below. It was a fun way to end our trip, breathing in the mountain air and being reminded that even though this crazy journey of life doesn't always make sense, at least we didn't die on the tramway.

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There was this moment in Colorado where I was driving and turned around a large bend and right before my eyes was this grandiose mountain. I can't explain why it makes me feel so giddy or why the sight of it fills every last molecule of me with pure thrill, but it does. And it's weird, because when it comes down to it, a mountain is just a huge slab of rock. But seeing one and hiking in one and taking in the smell of pine and the taste of the air and the sight of the wild makes me the happiest. It's everything that makes me feel alive all at once and it's a moment I'll keep in my soul forever.

Despite getting sick, almost drowning in snow, black and blue toenails, and running out of water on our hardest hike, Colorado was everything I needed and wanted. It was magical, and I hope I can go back someday. I'm positive I belong in the mountains.

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