There’s something about the American West that speaks to all of our hearts. Its mystique and unruliness calls to our national values of independence and self-determination. Some hear it in the thundering tides of the Pacific Ocean, others in the endless solitude of the Great Plains. My father hears it in the reverberating song of the Rocky Mountains, where my great-grandparents rebuilt an old miner’s cabin to be a vacation home, and where my grandmother spent every summer of her childhood. So year after year we travel from our home in Texas to the northern border of Colorado, where the Cache Le Poudre River rushes through Wyoming, heading south.
It’s a fourteen hour drive; first west on Interstate 44, then north on Interstate 25. Our first and only stop at anything besides a gas station comes about twelve hours into the trip when we reach Perkins Restaurant in Fort Collins, Colorado. My father has been visiting this restaurant once a year for the past forty-five years, and still orders the same chocolate malt and chicken-fried steak he used to eat at lunches with his grandmother. After finishing this long awaited and much appreciated meal, we jump back in the truck and hurry on for the remaining two hours of the trip.
These last forty-four miles along Poudre Canyon Highway consist of serpentine, often frightening, curves. We spend the next week traveling up and down this highway. We hike, have picnics in the woods, and experience the same feelings of freedom that my great-grandparents experienced sixty years ago. Because of the combined efforts of the U.S. government and the state of Colorado most of the land in and around this picturesque canyon is protected as either a state or national forest. Consequently, the Poudre Canyon has remained virtually unchanged for the past half-century.
One of the best examples of this can be seen in Roosevelt National Forest, just off the Poudre Canyon Highway. Here you’re led up a series of dirt roads through dense, soaring forests of Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. At the end of these roads you may find a small wooded glade, or a quiet reservoir completely void of motorboats and obnoxious R.V.s. Meandering through the million acres that makeup Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grasslands, one completely forgets the century we live in.
This can be treacherous, however, as the tremendous views may inspire you to take on a hike that’s slightly more than you can manage. This was exactly the case when my father decided that he and I should tackle the Blue Lakes Trail. About three miles into our trek we realized that we had underestimated the steepness and length of the trail. Though the view at top was spectacular, by the time we reached it we were too winded and dehydrated to enjoy it.
However, the highlight of our most recent trip came when we took a shorter drive into Rocky Mountain National Park and visited Long Draw Reservoir. Although I did my share of nail-biting as my father maneuvered his truck around the road’s sharp curves, when we reached the lake at the end of the road we were rewarded with a late August snow. The contrast of the deep green trees and the cobalt water against the fresh snow made for one of the most breathtaking views we’d ever seen.
As William Blake said “Great things happen when men and mountains meet”, and for my father and I this was the truth. The grandeur of the northern Colorado landscape reinvigorated us with an appreciation for things untamed and places yet unsettled.
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