Colorado Trail Segment 3 – Winter Solitude

It’s cold and there is fresh snow on the ground, but it’s Colorado, so the sun is shining and it’s a perfect day for a hike.  There’s too much snow for the mountain bikers and not enough for the snowshoers so I get the trail all to myself.  That’s exactly how I like it.

With my faithful companion, Fluffy Dog, I set out on the trail to finally finish Section 3 of the Colorado Trail.  The trail starts at the Little Scraggy Trailhead and rolls through ponderosa pine forests.  It winds around the sides of hills and up and down drainages until its terminus at Rolling Creek.

Rocky peaks, composed of well worn rubble dominate the landscape.  The lower reaches are strewn with boulders wearing blankets of snow.  Remnants of ancient peaks, they are reminders that the mountains are no more eternal than we are, just longer lived.  Now and then, there is a a glimpse of the snow capped mountains through the trees.

The cloudless sky is a shade of brilliant blue that I’ve only ever seen in winter.  The sun throws long shadows, even at midday and it’s low angled rays glide over the snow making it sparkle like precious gems.  The stark white of the snow contrasts sharply with the conifers making the green needles and the red bark of the ponderosas appear deeply saturated.  Here and there the trees let loose a silvery cascade of snow dust.  I stop and watch the show until a nearby tree decided to loose it’s cold, shimmery gifts upon my head.

The going is slower than usual because of the snow, but I don’t mind.  There is something extra special about hiking after a fresh snowfall.  With the crystalline carpet muffling the rustling of the trees and brush, the silence overwhelms the senses.  Even the streams are quiet.  No babbling brooks chattering on their course, there is only a muted glug, glug as the water makes it’s way under the ice.  Punctuating the silence are the sounds of mountain song birds, clearer and brighter than what you hear in summer, and a lone woodpecker is tap, tap, tapping in search of grubs.

And, oh the happy puppy dog!  He’s unfettered to frolic freely in the snow.  He’s bounding through the forest after who knows what.  Oh look, he found a deer leg.  Hope the critter that left it isn’t still around.

It takes some route finding to find my way through the forest with the trail obscured by snow, but the path is well worn and the depressions left by thousands of footsteps are not too hard to follow.  I make my way through this cold, white Eden contemplating all and nothing.  The landscape is beautiful and silent and the peace it brings my soul is unmeasured.  I leave this place and return to the bustle of “real life” but it lingers in my mind and I am restless and anxious to return to the woods to find that peace again.

Happy Trails,

Katie

 

 

Welcome to the Isla!

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Enjoying the surf, sand and sun at North Beach on Isla Mujeres.
The last time I traveled to Mexico, I was 18 years old (yes, that was a loooong time ago).  I traversed the border with my college boyfriend at San Diego to have some drinks and take in the sights of Tijuana.  My short visit did not really leave the best impression.  The things that stick in my brain from that adventure are the extreme poverty, destitute children selling chiclets, places advertising donkey sex shows and street after street of hawkers selling crappy tourist merchandise for “almost free.”  Almost free was way beyond my college budget, so I didn’t bring anything home and even tequila bars were a stretch.  This time, a little more luxury and a quiet beach town was on the agenda.
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Our first sunset on the beach at Playa Lancheros.
Our parents, those adventurous folks who inspire us to be the itinerants that we are, wanted a family vacation to bring together our far flung siblings and nieces.  As our parents are aging, and we are realizing  that the time we have left with them is shorter than the time we’ve already had, it has become a priority in our lives to spend more time with them.  On Marybeths suggestion, we choose Isla Mujeres, a cute caribbean island just off the coast of Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula.  She had been there a couple of times previously with friends and knew it would be just thing for a family get together.
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The island is awash in tropical colors.
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This bike is so rusty, it’s a wonder that it’s still rideable.
My prep work for this trip consisted of trying to fit back in my swimming suit after half a winters worth of putting on winter weight and finding my passport and towel.  In general, we relied on Marybeth to get most of the plans together (which she did), but also, this part of Mexico is so practiced at catering to tourists, particularly American tourists, little preparation is needed.  Which is the problem.  Isla is a a cute little place, with lovely beaches, good food and plenty of sun, but it hardly feels like you’ve left the country.  It’s a little difficult to wax poetic about a place that’s not very different from the Florida coast where we grew up.  I actually like a little struggle with the my travel and I enjoy getting pushed out of my comfort zones.  That’s possible here, but you have to try really hard and with poolside drinks just waiting for you it’s difficult to get the motivation.
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Two iguanas basking on the rocks at Punta Sur.
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One of the many large steel artworks in the sculpture garden at Punta Sur.
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The ruins of Ixchels temple on Punta Sur.
This part of Mexico is, however, a great place for family and for newby international travelers.  It’s easy to get around the island.  Most of our transportation was provided via rented golf carts, though we used the ubiquitous (and cheap) taxis on a number of occasions.  Zipping around the Isla on golf carts is great fun.  Just keep an eye out for one-way roads and the many speed bumps peppered over the island roads.  Take some time to just explore the island, it would be pretty hard to get truly lost.  Do go visit the Ixchel temple at Punta Sur.  It’s a lovely spot.  Take the short trail down and around the cliffs, but watch your step wherever you see wet pathways (I almost ended up a mermaid after slipping on on some of it).
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While all the food we had on the Isla was phenomenal, the gold star goes to a tiny, humble restaurant called El Charco for the best Flautas I’ve ever had!
English is widely spoken by those working in the tourist trades and most restaurants have menus in English and Spanish.  On the topic of food, you would have to work pretty hard to find a bad restaurant here.  Everywhere we ate was good, a few fantastic.  Fresh seafood and fresh pressed juices are not to be missed.  Many of the restaurants along the coastlines are co-ops run by fishermen who bring their fresh catches in daily.  Living in landlocked Colorado, truly good, fresh seafood is a luxury commodity in which I rarely indulge.  On the Isla however, seafoods are cheap and plentiful so I ate to my hearts content!
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Mayan Temple at Chichen Itza, miraculously devoid of crowds.
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If you were a fitting sacrafice in ancient Mayan culture…this is where you would die.
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These columns were roofed with wood in ancient time to provide shade for Mayan pilgrims.
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Swimming in Cenote Saamal.
We booked a driver with Carm Tours and Transfers and spent a day traveling to Chichen Itza.  We got to Chichen Itza early in the day, well ahead of the crowds and heat of the day, so we were able to enjoy the park in relative peace.  The ruins are truly impressive and well worth the long drive.   After we had our fill of the park, our driver took us to Selva Maya Hacienda for a great lunch followed by swimming in the adjacent Cenote Saamal.  Devoid of surface rivers, the Yucatan Peninsula has vast underground waterways.  In some areas, the ground above the water gives way and forms cenotes.  Bringing life sustaining water to the inhabitants of the peninsula, cenotes are magical places and swimming in a cenote is an experience not to be missed.
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Marybeth and I logging dive time.

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I was thrilled to have my first chance to go diving in over 20 years.  I was PADI certified when I was 16 years old and for a couple years before going away to college, I spent quite a few weekends on dive trips in caverns and springs around Florida.  It’s been a long, diveless time between then and now, so after a short “refresher” course, I was ready to go.  Diving is a lot like riding a bike, what you need to know comes back to you pretty quick.  Marybeth and I did two reef dives with the Squalo Adventures dive company.  The water was clear and calm and we were treated to the wonders of the reefs including lots of fishes, lobsters, sea urchins, and even a stingray.
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Yours truly, relaxing at North Beach.
Beaches and beach clubs are the highlight of any coastal Mexico vacation.  Take your pick of venues and rent a chair or cabana to spend a relaxing day in the sand and sun.   There are the usual vendors hawking goods on the beach, but they are rarely pushy and will move on with simple “No gracias.”  Most of the beach clubs have waiters ready to bring you whatever food or drink you might like right to your cabana, or you can sip a Mojito in the shade in one of the many beachside bars.
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A bittersweet sunset.  It’s time to go home.
After nearly 10 days of surf and sun, coastal vibes and sumptuous seafood, it was time to go home.  We are already dreaming and planning a return to Mexico.  It’s a large, diverse and welcoming country and we want to sample it all!
Happy Trails!
Katie