Glory Days

Just now riding the sainted bike to nowhere through the Austrian Alps (nice!!) I thought about a similar landscape here in Colorado, a hike I loved. It was reachable, doable, beautiful, rewarding and little traveled. As I rode I thought about what was maybe the best experience (there is a LOT of competition for this) which was in February 1981. I had my first pair of cross-country skis, Karhu Whisper Bear Claws, fish-scale skis I bought from the Campmor catalog along with boots, three pin bindings, and poles. I’d had two lessons. I’d also bought a very simple ski rack I put on top of my 70 VW bug, just a couple of racks with a rubber strap to hold the skis down.

It was a perplexing but happy moment in my life. I’d just had a one-woman show of my paintings. Some confusing stuff was going on, as per natural for a woman in her late 20s, I think. Three men in the periphery, one of whom I would marry. I had not yet learned I would have a job in China.

I was doing linoleum cuts at the time. It was a great balance of things. Come home from work on Friday and cut the first color and print it, then cut the second and go to bed. Wake up, print the second color and, if there were a third, cut it. On that particular day, there was no third color and I found myself at loose ends. Outside my apartment (which was much like and the same age as my current house) was a foot of snow. I looked at my skis. I investigated my solitude and decided, “Fuck it. I want to be a back country skier when I grow up.”

I put on my ski clothes and strapped these skis — which were by no means back country skis — to the top of my car and took off for Boulder, then up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, then up a small road to Eldora and up THAT to the townsite of Hessie. There, when I could go no further, I parked my car. I got out, put on my skis, and headed up the trail. My objective was Lost Lake, two miles up, two miles back. The first part — almost the first mile — was a very sharp and rocky uphill, but there was a lot of snow on the trail. I ran into a couple of hikers but I don’t remember our conversation. I just climbed until I got to the corderoy road where things were a little easier, though still uphill, and the trail wider.

The lake — a glacial lake in a U-shaped valley — was mostly but not completely frozen. The cup of mountains was covered in snow. The old mine hanging on one face had snow on its roof. I looked around for a few minutes, but winter is not really the season for lingering beside a glacial lake and pondering the wonders of existence. It’s more for participating in the wonders of existence. I turned around and made my way down the hill, sometimes skiing, but often side-stepping the steeper, narrower parts. I ran into (not literally) the hikers who were astonished I was already on my way back.

It was wonderful, one of my earliest solitary adventures in wild country. I suspected that I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. Still, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to hear the objections and the lectures.

Today, after riding the bike to nowhere, I went online to see the hike. I was dismayed that it is now so popular that there are shuttles carrying people to the trailhead from Nederland and that campsites need to be reserved. I backpacked up there a few times when I had a longer journey in mind — up to Devil’s Thumb Pass (WOW!!!). It was so simple. Carry your stuff, park your stuff, hang food out of the reach of Bears away from camp and there you go. I looked at a map of the trail and recognized every turn. Then I read that it’s a year round trail, in winter for snow-showing and cross-country skiing though, one site writes, it’s very steep and challenging skiing for the first mile and half.

In my mind’s eye I can see my herringbones up the extremely steep and narrow first part of the trail. I thought it was fun because, you know what? It was fun. One lucky thing for me that day was the snow was a little wet making it a little grippy.

You can learn about the trail here

I was enchanted by that kind of skiing, skiing that took you somewhere and after I moved to Southern California I very very seldom missed a snowstorm in the Laguna Mountains. I think living in California made me really appreciate the miracle of snow. There was no way I could ever take it for granted since I couldn’t count on it falling more than two or three times a winter. When it fell, a LOT fell — usually between 18 inches and two feet; sometimes more. The snow was great, but, being in Southern California, it also melted fast. I could count on two or three days at most. I would call in sick from teaching if it snowed. Priorities, right? Once the good X and I were skiing to the top of Cuyamaca Peak (7000 feet, from the top you could see the Pacific Ocean) and encountered fresh tracks of a mountain lion — we turned back. Another time we skied to the top of Mt. Palomar to see the observatory in snow. The list is long and probably pretty boring, but it really all began for me that February day alone heading to Lost Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado.

And every fall I train, my act of faith on the Sainted Bike to Nowhere that this year will bring snow and I will seize the day, maybe not like that but who knows?

Featured photo: Self-portrait from back in the day. Linoleum cuts in the foreground; skis in the background. I’d turned my bedroom into a studio and slept on a daybed/sofa in my living room. Again, priorities.

Here’s my wolf/husky Ariel in the snow in the Lagunas in 2004.

The Next Stage

Big news in the back-of-beyond. There’s a stagecoach coming to town or something, no, wait, it’s already IN town. It’s leaving town and going to Del Norte, if everything goes as many hope and plan. I don’t know the whole story, but it looks like I might be writing it. I’m pondering that. The story has been offered to me, but I don’t know yet what the story is — at first I thought it was the fancy dinner being held next month at the local historical hotel, but after not sleeping on it (I am tired of this not sleeping thing, really, really, really and literally tired of it) I’m thinking the fancy dinner isn’t the story. It’s part of the story. The story would be the actual acquisition of the stagecoach, with, maybe the process involved in getting it. I dunno yet.

Yesterday I told the esteemed psychologist/philosopher, Mr. Fromm, I had other work to do and had to put down Escape from Freedom for a bit (whew), and I researched the stagecoach. I learned that it was mistakenly painted red when it was thought all the stagecoaches built by the company painted their coaches red, but then it was learned that the stagecoach wasn’t a big one. It’s a small one, a “mud wagon,” designed to navigate narrow roads through the mountains. Mud wagons were painted yellow ochre. The small ones weighed a couple tons unloaded. Its main job was to connect mining towns. At the end of its “life,” it was connecting towns in Northern New Mexico and the San Luis Valley; once remote and underserved by public transportation, always remote and underserved by public transportation.

There were a lot of stage lines back in the day, diminishing as the railroad came to various parts of the nation. As I read about this particular line, I thought about a meme I saw on Facebook not long ago where there was a horse harnessed to a wagon and words below the photo saying, “One upon a time our vehicles were propelled by engines that avoided hazards” or something like that. Horse drawn vehicles still exist on the roads of the San Luis Valley.

Amish buggy following an Amish wagon, both loaded with women, kids and groceries. I was kind of far away and took this through a dirty windshield.

Horse drawn vehicles are slower than cars, but they get there. They have different problems, but considering how many millennia people relied on them… OH well. My reading told me that the stage went about 15 miles/hour and at what distance they had to change horses. That’s pretty much the distance between towns along my street, US Hwy 160. I found a great, contemporary picture of the big stage in action.

This isn’t the Mud Wagon that’ll be rolling into Del Norte, but the big stage. This lithograph appears to show a stage in California with Mt. Shasta in the background. It’s loaded down with passengers with the Chinese riding on top. It cost $250 to cross the west from Kansas to California. The $250 included baggage.

Featured photo: Poor little Teddy trying so hard to get comfortable.

The Whole World under My Feet

Predictions are for yet another La Niña winter, dry, again, instead of wet. I really, really, really hope the scientists are wrong because while my friends were here, and I discovered Elephant Rocks, I also discovered (at Elephant Rocks) a spot to Langlauf where I would not worry about going by myself.

I was thinking about the San Luis Valley (“You DO that, Martha?”) last night and I realized I found a place to live that comprises all the places I’ve lived and/or loved except the PRC. Elephant Rocks completed the assemblage. It is Mission Trails Regional Park. As we drove slowly along the loop trail, the rock formations pulled on my heart strings, “THIS, Martha, THIS!” Along the river is a tiny pocket of Nebraska forest along the Missouri. The valley itself seems to hold up a lost shard of the vast sky of South Central Montana. There’s even a little bit of beach out there in the Sand Dunes, and all of it is in Colorado, my old home. To make it even better, there are things that have been completely new that I’ve gotten to meet and learn about in these 8 years.

I did a little research into these amazing rocks and learned this: “The Elephant Rocks managed by the San Luis Valley Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), located in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado near Penitente Canyon Recreation Area. The Elephant Rocks area is a unique area that was once habitat for the Columbian mammoths that lived in the San Luis Valley during the Pleistocene Epoch. The giants once walked here. Local legend has it that these giant creatures left their mark on the rocks, leaving ‘rubs’ smooth surfaces 8-10 feet above the average man.”

I can’t think of much that is cooler than Langlauf in a mammoth world. Thanks to Southern California, my standards for snow are pretty low.

Elephant Rock

The significant features of the area are attributed the largest pyroclastic eruption in the world. The eroded ash forms the elephant- shaped boulders. It is part of the San Juan volcanic field and the La Garita caldera. The rocks resulting from this eruption were unusually uniform in composition. This would imply that the ash cooled as a single unit. This unit is known as the Fish Canyon Tuff. Many sections of the Fish Canyon Tuff are over 4,000 feet thick.

The area at Elephant Rocks is mainly grassland with scattered massive boulders laid out. It is also habitat to the rock loving Neoparrya (a relative of carrots) which flourishes in igneous outcrops or sedimentary rocks from volcanic eruptions. The Neoparrya is native to the San Luis Valley and is known to exist only here and in the Wet Mountain Valley regions. The Fish Canyon Tuff makes up the Elephant Rocks and gradually erodes over time to provide the proper soil chemistry and growth conditions in order for this plant to thrive. The recreation area is 378 acres with an elevation of 7,900 feet managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The area has cold temperatures and very little precipitation. (Source)

Photo: Lois Maxwell

Meandering Zoomorphic Post

It’s amazing how many things go all zoomorphic when I’m out with the dogs. Usually they look like loose dogs. Broken fences are big in this area, but a bush in the right light can turn into a cattle dog (Bear’s Nemesis). When I see one of these animals, I focus tightly on it, approach slowly, tighten the leash. So far it’s always been a trick of the light and pretty soon the broken fence or the bush return to their original forms. I try to save face in front of myself at that point, “Oh I knew it was a fence,” but the truth is that, for a few minutes, I wasn’t sure.

The clouds move around a lot out there, changing the light constantly, and I have been out there when loose farm dogs were having a romp so I’m not completely (only partially) out of my mind. I’m not making any claims about the percentage I’m out of my mind, but I feel pretty safe with “not completely.”

After foundering about a grand tour of some distant place and struggling with the combined problems involved, I got inspired. There’s an 11 mile bike trail — paved — The Mineral Belt Trail — that goes all around the town of Leadville, CO. Yes, I know it’s not Pompeii or the temple at Delphi but it’s only two hours away from Monte Vista (advantage #1) and there are really beautiful Airbnbs up there for very reasonable prices. Leadville is an old mining town with a very colorful history. One of the first “grown up” books I read as a kid was The Golden Fury.

The Golden Fury is a historical novel, absolutely NOT great art, but I’ve since read worse. It’s set in Leadville during the hey-day of silver mining with wonderful descriptions of the town during those late 19th century days.

Leadville sits at 10,000 feet/3000 m. When silver crashed, the town crashed. Some of those stories are great. I’ve been there; it’s not an unknown place to me. It’s a beautiful town that clearly had a lot of money back in its day with lovely 19th century buildings everywhere.

It’s surrounded by the highest mountains in Colorado. Surrounding the town are old mines, some of which have good stories, most famous is the Matchless Mine. Anyway, this bike trail goes past a lot of this stuff with signs that give the history.

The elevation change on the trail is only 200 feet. Since I live at 7600 feet it would be a little bit of a challenge, but not like going there from San Diego or even Denver. And, I figure, I don’t have to do the whole thing. I can follow the advice of the mullah in the film Lawrence of Arabia, who told Lawrence to recite only so much of the Koran as came easily to him. I have the advantage, too (don’t tell me if it’s not an advantage. I need advantages right now, ha ha) of “training” on a stationary bike. You can’t “coast” on those things. You ALWAYS pedal.

Not far from Leadville is Camp Hale where the 10th Mountain Division trained for WW II. They fought in Italy in the Italian mountains, crossing into Austria. Many of those soldiers returned and started the ski “industry” in Colorado. Their story is fascinating.

Anyway it’s a goal, something to work toward (unless I can go to CH) and think about in these very strange and often lonely times. The town newspaper has gone totally “red” which indicates that emotions are running higher in this otherwise slow and placid little burg. This week featured a full page “Op Ed” that stopped short of pushing Q-Anon theories. All because two weeks ago a woman wrote a letter to the editor asking people to support President Biden and mentioned all the things he’s (as if he were the government) gotten right. That turned the spigot of right-wing BS wide open. I cancelled my subscription and wrote a letter explaining why (which I didn’t send).

It’s not that I think people should all think like I do; it’s that I think it’s important to get along with our neighbors. Our only REAL voice is at the ballot box, meantime we have more in common than we have things that set us apart. WHAT we focus on makes a huge difference in the quality of our daily lives and our communities, but I know that I am still (and will always be) “That woman who moved here from California.” And California? We won’t even mention the Commie evils practiced in that place.

Penitente Canyon

This morning Facebook regaled me with photos from my first jaunt to Penitente Canyon. I’ve been back a couple of times since, but these photos made me want to return.

I’m not a climber but this is a premiere climbing destination in Colorado. It’s also a spot where native Americans were able to trap food in the canyon. The pictograph seems to depict exactly that.

There are pictographs in several spots, but so far I’ve only seen one. I need to go back.

Oh, and this bizarre marker which made me lose all confidence in the trail. Apparently these are common signs here in Colorado. I think Europe has a better system. I mean, what does this MEAN??? It actually removes meaning…

Blue Sky Day

Yesterday my friend Lois and I headed up CO 149 toward Creede with the idea of going to North Clear Creek Falls. We didn’t make it all the way since I saw Bella was running low on gas and there were no gas stations for, well, the duration. We turned around but maybe the goal of the journey had been met. Mountain views, turning aspen, and conversation. On the way back down we saw a small group of bighorn sheep.

I had a place in mind for lunch, but when we got there, we learned from the family who runs the place — Cottonwood Cove — they weren’t serving food. We had a little chat about the past two years and their business. They did have ice cream so we had ice cream for lunch. Not the worst lunch I’ve ever had. Lois did a little shopping. They told me about a little girl’s grave they had found on their property — a grave marker from 1880. “I wonder what she died of?” said one of kids.

“Could be anything back then,” I said. “Measles, diphtheria, it wasn’t easy to survive back then.” I know, I know, I’m a ray of sunshine everywhere I go.

Once back in Del Norte, at the gas station, Bella’s needs were satisfied, and I decided to take Lois to the Middle Frisco Creek Trail. I figured we’d looked AT aspen, we should get together WITH some aspen. It’s a beautiful trail and it was a nice — if short — hike. The trail itself goes 6 miles to a glacial lake. We started WAY too late to do that, and if I WERE to do it, it would be a 12 hour RT. I’m able, but I’m slow. It seems that the days of covering 12 miles in 3 hours are somewhere in the not-all-that-dim-but-still-distant past.

This trail is basically behind the mountains I see to the west of The Refuge. We ran into an exhausted hunter who — with his buddies — had gotten an elk, three Mennonite girls in dresses and hiking boots hiking with their Australian shepherd, and a couple of young earnest people with two happy dogs.

The featured photo is by Lois Maxwell, a pretty pond on our way up to the waterfall.

Women in Early Climbing —

how did climbing shape your life?

High Clip from The Dihedral invited me to write a blog post for her series, Women in Early Climbing. I struggled because I’m not a climber. I told High Clip, “I don’t think I can write this, you see, I’m not a climber.”

She said, “I think you are.” She said I had a climber’s mentality. I returned to the problem and then I saw the long-term effect of my early climbing life on everything that happened afterward and the person I became, am, now. I hope you enjoy it!

Women in Early Climbing —


In just a few weeks — assuming school DOES start in various parts of the country — my street should quiet down again. Some. There will still be a lot of potato and cattle truck traffic, but… I heard the other day that more people are moving here, up in the area of Crestone and South Fork.

One of the permanent changes wrought by the virus is the ability to work at home. I can just imagine droves of people from points south, east and west coming up here to live permanently where they had always just spent the summer. I’m not crazy about this — none of us are except maybe real estate sales people. Our little corner of Heaven doesn’t have things those people are used to and I’m pretty sure we don’t want them.

As long as I’ve lived here there’s been litigation over development of our local ski area, Wolf Creek. People who live here don’t want that. I don’t want that. I live on a US highway which in normal times is only mildly annoying in summer, but if a ski area were developed up there? I can imagine traffic all year and possibly losing my house to eminent domain.

The mountains don’t need the inevitable additional foot and bike traffic, either. Mountain communities in Colorado with larger human populations — both seasonal and year round — are struggling to protect elk and other wild animal habitat without abridging the “freedom” that has always characterized the Colorado mountain experience.

There’s also the reality that from every direction a person can reach here only by going over a high mountain pass. We don’t have a real airport. There’s a one-runway airport in Alamosa. When I moved here, Frontier flew into Alamosa, but it’s pulled out. Now there is only Boutique Air, and it is there because the airport was designated an “essential airport.” There is no other way out of this valley except driving yourself, taking the weekly shuttle to Salida, on horseback, walking or on bike. It can happen that EVERY PASS IS CLOSED in winter. 😉

I don’t have any control over what will happen in the next few years to those mountains or even the parcels west of town that are slated for development (BIG HOUSES! NO WATER! RATTLESNAKES!) or the innumerable permanent social changes that will result from this strange year.

Refugees, Again

Bear and I went to check out the crowds at the Wildlife Refuge. The Crane Tourists are still flocking to the Big Empty in their SUVs, one from out of state, but not by much. New Mexico. I noticed an elderly man walking on the little path through the small wetlands designed as a hiking trail to observe small birds. He shuffled slowly along and my heart went out to him. “Good on you,” I thought. “It’s going to take you a while to get around that, but you’re going to love it.” Later he drove by, a huge smile on his face, waving at me. Waves mean a lot right now.

It’s a good time to look for small birds. The Redwing Blackbirds are back with their squeaking screen door calls. Lots of Mountain Bluebirds. Bear and I stopped to watch the bluebirds hunt many times. They hovered over the grass like tiny hawks, then dove.

I wish I had something other than my phone, but it’s also not fun to walk with a big camera…

It seemed to me that there were more cranes than there have been or maybe it was only that the air was mostly calm which really helps them find food. They were in several new spots, not that far from the road — though far from my phone camera.

The changing light over the Sangre de Cristos stopped me in my tracks more than once. Bear was cool with that because she thinks I caught a scent and she begins scanning the ground with her nose. When she finds nothing there, she just leans against me and waits until I’ve savored to my heart’s content. Stopping to watch the light over the mountains also revealed the beautiful sounds of a wind-free day in the Big Empty. For a long while no Crane Tourists passed and I listened to the symphony of cranes, geese, red-winged blackbirds, an occasional blue bird call, the meadow-larks and, in the distance, the braying of a donkey.

On the way to the Refuge I passed a small farm. In the yard was a livestock guardian dog sleeping, one eye open. He was working. There was also a couple of very tiny calves. I love that so much. I respect and honor those dogs so much. From living with one, I understand something about their patient, optimistic dedication to their job and their true wish to do well. I wanted to take a photo on my way back, but when I reached the house, there was a kid on a four-wheel, a kid about 8 years old, wanting to cross the street. I waved and he waved back. I drove slowly by, and looked over at the dog. In the hour since I’d passed, there had been another calf, black and white, shaky legs. I thought about life (since I do that a LOT) and how some of the most wondrous things are like that, a momentary flicker of unself-conscious, unadorned beauty.

“I love this, Martha.”
“Me too, Bear. Thanks for coming with me.”

Mohammed’s radio had no messages for me on my way home today, so I’ll give you this beautiful song that makes my heart sing.

The mountains in the featured photo are the Sangre de Cristos. The whole time we were out, storms moved over and away from them. Wow.