Our original intention was to head over to Rocky Mountain National Park once I finish with my horseback riding lesson on my second day in Colorado. Yet lunch and camera errands in Boulder brought on new surprises for the day. Spontaneously, we went to places that seemed hidden from the everyday travel recommendations and we indulged in the watching of dramatic clouds with what may be the southernmost glaciers in North America.
First, we drove to Roosevelet National Forest. This forest, named after President Theodore Roosevelt, was not on my bucket list. Heck, I didn’t even know it existed. One could easily claim that it is not what a first time visitor to the United States “should” spend her time on.
However, one of the perks of hanging out with locals – who happen to be wonderful relatives, who happen to have a car – is to make it to all those off the beaten path treasures.
The first thing I noticed was snow on the sideways of the road. It had snowed a few days before I arrived, leaving the first hints of winter for me to discover.
We parked by a lake surrounded by trees, with mountains in the backdrop.
The mountains were filled with trails of snow that seemed to hang on, not wanting to leave, just as I did not want to leave.
Above the mountains, the lake and the trees, the clouds distracted me. They were large, dramatic and seemed low, yet maybe it was the elevation of the area. The elevation in the forest is up to 10,000 feet (3048 meters).
As we turned to leave, we saw a guy sitting with his dog, both staring at the beauty.
We drove to another lake in the forest, where mountains seemed to hide. A rock sat beside the water. It was a place of peace.
This was not where the southernmost glaciers in North America await, and we only visited two small corners of the 813,799 acres (3293 square kilometers) that make up the forest, yet it was a visit worthwhile. If you have more time to dedicate to the forest, you can take various hikes, engage in mountain biking (on some of the trails), rafting and horseback riding. If you arrive at the forest from its southern border, Rocky Mountain National Park, and drive all the way up to the forest’s northern border, you will reach an additional border – that of Colorado with the state of Wyoming. And you know what you can see in Wyoming? Yellowstone, the world’s first national park and probably one of the most impressive ones. Certainly one of biggest travel dreams.
We didn’t head north, as we were due further south in New Mexico a few days later. Instead, we drove to visit the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
THIS is where the likely southernmost glaciers in North America await.
This kind of name is hard to miss. It seems to call you in for an adventure. It is a name rich in history and honor of culture. The park is named after Western Native American tribes, as Native American tribes were the first to discover this wilderness. They gathered and hunted in the area in summer months for perhaps thousands of years. Each one of the mountain peaks, rising up to 13,000 feet (3962 meters), is named after a specific tribe. Today, this park is the most discovered and visited wilderness in the country by a variety of cultures.
Yet miss it we almost did. As we planned my trip to southwest United States, the focus was Rocky Mountain National Park, for which I had cut away at potential days in New York City. As I searched the online world for what northern Colorado has to offer, I ran into this name and Googled it, to see pictures.
The photos resembled photos I saw of Rocky Mountain National Park. They resembled photos I saw of southern Argentina. It was my kind of view, the kind I spent so long daydreaming about.
Wanting to see as many relatives as possible in one trip, with relatives spread throughout the country, and wanting to experience as much as I can, I was sure we wouldn’t have time to visit this park. In the back of my mind, I was also concerned that after weeks of being in mountain-filled nature, I might want a change.
I did not want a change.
We walked into the 76,586 acres (310 square kilometers), which sit on the Continental Divide. West of this border, water systems drain into the Pacific Ocean. East of the border, they drain into the Atlantic Ocean. The divide goes all the way north to Yukon region in Canada and to Cape Prince of Wales in Alaska, and all the way south to Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), the most southern region in the world, shared by Argentina in Chile (check out photos from Tierra del Fuego’s southernmost city, Ushuaia, here). In the south, the Continental Divide seems to go along the Argentina-Chile border. In North America, an additional border divides water systems that go into the Atlantic Ocean from water systems that head to the Arctic Ocean.
The waters of the Indian Peaks Wilderness might not find themselves in the Arctic Ocean, yet they may spark similar fantasies in winter-loving visitors. Several dozens lakes, colored turquoise, lay inside the park, results of glaciers that shaped and re-shaped the area throughout thousands of years. Whether you see them or not during your visit, what’s left of these glaciers will share the air with you as you devour the wild nature with your eyes and your lens.
You can hike the trails, and if you’re fortunate, you might run into wildlife such as elk and deer. In winter, you can experience ski or walk on snow so deep, you’ll be required to rent snow shoes and learn the skill of walking with them. Having tried that at Argentina’s San Martin de Los Andes, I can attest to it being great fun.
In mid-October, we experienced the beginning of winter, when regular hiking shoes were still suffice. We walked on snow that was only then starting to melt, we paused to admire a lake and the mountains that embraced it all around. We left as the sun was starting to set, ending an unexpected day in a path less known and absolutely exciting.
Have you ever shared clouds with glaciers?