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An accidental daytrip lost in the Rocky Mountains

By Jane HaglJanuary 19, 2017

Rocky Mountains 2
Rocky Mountains 2 Jane Hagl

No cell reception, no GPS, no map, and no one knew where I was. In hindsight, it wasn’t the brightest idea. But the view was worth it.

The serene mountainside was dotted with trees changing colors mixed in with dark evergreens. Distant fourteeners were already capped in white snow early in the fall. I had driven deep into the Rocky Mountains on rough back roads.

I hadn’t planned on driving into the mountains that day. I planned an intermediate nine-mile hike through Sugarite Canyon in the northeast corner of New Mexico.

 

As the gravel turned into a washboard road, the summer-charred mountainside eventually gave way to a thick forest...The dwellings smaller than my living room, chiseled from nearby rock, were all that remained of long ago dreams.

Give me city streets, highways and neighborhood short-cuts— I’ll get you where you need to be without any maps or GPS. Navigating country roads and small towns with little signage is a different story. Which is why I had missed my exit to the canyon and twenty minutes later a “Welcome to Colorado” sign greeted me.

Crap turned in carpe diem once I noticed the animal crossing signs dotting the various picturesque roads that winded into the hidden valleys. I was already more than 100 miles from where I was staying. When was the next time I was going to be that free to explore? With only the compass on my car’s dashboard and knowing home was southeast of where I was going, I followed the less traveled path.

The Ludlow Massacre memorial site — a tribute to an attack on coal miners and their families— was the last marked spot I saw.  As the gravel turned into a washboard road, the summer-charred mountainside eventually gave way to a thick forest. For a stretch of land, perfectly preserved homes left over from late 19th-century mining rushes were lodged into the mountainside. The dwellings smaller than my living room, chiseled from nearby rock, were all that remained of long ago dreams.

My breath gets shallower as I ascended further up. Partly because there was less oxygen in the air, but mostly my lungs and senses were struggling with the clean, unfiltered nature of nature. I kept stopping and getting out of the car to make sure everything was real and not just a figment of my imagination.  

Rocky Mountains 1
Rocky Mountains 1Jane Hagl

A true sign of knowing you’re in the middle of nowhere is when the telephone poles disappear from the landscape. Hidden hunting lodges at the end of private driveways and small farms nestled between the base of mountains and small ponds replaced historic dwellings. The road’s twists and turns became sharper then slowed into meandering route before twisting and turning again. Occasionally no trespassing, for sale and hunting prohibited signs appear in the scenery. I avoided those roads, but followed the paths that seemed to lead to two large twin snow-capped mountains in the far distance.

 

I kept stopping and getting out of the car to make sure everything was real and not just a figment of my imagination.  

It was getting later into the afternoon. I still had no idea where I was. I had taken a heavily wooded smaller side road into a national park. The gravel was getting larger and the path up the mountain steeper and narrower. A fall off of the side meant a severe injury or death. Chances were nobody would notice me missing for a few days. My friends knew I was in the middle of nowhere with terrible cell reception for a few weeks. For some reason, I didn’t panic.  All I thought about was wishing I could turn and tell someone how unbelievable life is outside of the everyday reality. And maybe a little about how I need to develop a healthy dose of fear.

It’s funny to think a year and a half ago I told people “I don’t do outside.”

Sitting atop a mid-sized mountain somewhere in the middle of Colorado alone, serenity is the only option. A day spent completely disconnected from the hustle and bustle is better than wine.

Finding the route back wasn’t a difficult as I thought it would be. I made sure to always be going south and once I found a bigger road, I figured I’d find the more specific route back. I took a turn early and then took another flustered turn as I began to notice the fuel gauge drop. The evergreens supplanted the white birch trees. Then the dark charring of trees left over from wildfires and homesteads began appearing. The valleys turned into canyons with rusty reds, deep purples, and bright blues embedded into the layers of sedimentary rock. It was a different scenic route, but the telephone poles began appearing, pointing me home.