Global Pandemic Pages: Magical Rock Garden

Wondering upwards

When living in the midst of the mountains and a pandemic, weekends become explore days. After six weeks of connecting to the world almost entirely by internet, my partner in crime and I have settled into a routine that appears to be working: Happy Hour Hiking after Zooming through work. We head out after 5PM not only so we can keep our day jobs, but also to avoid the unrelenting UV rays that burn and sap at 9,000 feet. Departures after 5PM still mean three hours of daylight–plenty of time for high altitude fun and necessary movement.

View of the mountains from across the valley

Weekends equal adventure time; we are weekend warriors incarnate. Most weekdays we venture out for two and a half to five miles and gain 500 feet in elevation. For this Saturday’s jaunt, which doubled as a celebration of finishing my first semester of library science school, we decided to go big: 7 miles and over 1500ft of climbing. This is an out-and-back trail a handful of miles from home. We were not going to go against Governor Polis’s safer-at-home policy. Alas, the Texas and New Mexico plates at the north trailhead meant not everyone was adhering to state policies. We had our bandanas with us, so we headed out at 2PM.

Conifers and grass tufts on the upper part of the trail. Hiking partner in blue.

The first couple of miles the trail is flanked by scrub oak with no canopy. The climb felt straight uphill. We have been averaging 22-32 minutes a hiking mile, and somehow today was no different even though it seemed steeper, relentless. After the first two miles, the flora changed to aspen and conifer and huge boulders that remind me of the glacier detritus of my New England childhood.


Just as the trail seemed to flatten out, a side trail riddled with rocks appeared. My friend invited, “This looks pretty cool, Trace, and is probably worth checking out.” After navigating 50 steep feet of loose rock, we encountered a magical rock playground.

Boulders this way and that, striated, moss-strewn, lichen-covered. It was like a McDonald’s playground for adults with natural elements. We immediately began with what we had come for: senior photos.

Tree-leaning pose

We snacked, marveled, frolicked, rested, breathed. The pandemic has really taught me to take one day at a time and be fully present. The magical mystery rock garden provided the perfect setting for that.

Perfect overlook into the neighboring county

We explored the outcropping and cave nearby, as pictured in the first photo of this post.

Cave resting

There’s something deliciously juvenile about being away all day, exploring, not watching the time, not glued to a screen, letting curiosity be our wayfinder. Destination: novelty and adventure.

Global Pandemic Pages: Snowboarding an Empty Mountain in Southern Colorado

It’s been just over a week since a friend of mine and I headed to the hills to hunker down right before the global pandemic was about to change our daily lives. For(alongtime)ever. After a couple days of high winds, teener temps, and cabin fever, I struck out to snowshoe up and snowboard down the abandoned ski area next to my place.

Chillin’ at the turnaround point

After last weekend’s debacle of Denver Front Range skiers crowding into SUVs then crowding closed ski areas or nearby mountain passes (with no avalanche mitigation), I was glad to be alone. Mine is a wee little hill, but it provides the necessary social distancing I have preferred most of my adult life.

Spotty coverage

It snowed a few inches the night before. Conditions were variable.

Country and western

This was not the maiden voyage of snowshoe up, snowboard down. I’d done it once before. All I needed were good fitting snowboard boots and a backpack with sunscreen, water, helmet and goggles, and bungee cords for the transition from country to western. Shoutout to High Society in Aspen. After two decades of snowboarding, this one is my favorite.

Late season obstacles exist

A winter’s worth of snow crunched beneath my snowshoes, but two to three inches of freshies had fallen the night before.

Bluebird Day

By early afternoon it had warmed up to the high ’20s. I traded in my hat hair for a helmet.

Nature’s bench

My goal was the top of Chair 4, but a dry log beckoned me and a patch of dry grass persuaded me. Triathletes call this transition; I call it a rest stop.

Soaking in the surroundings
Don the helmet, kids

Alone on an easy blue run, still wearing a helmet. Call me paranoid. Or cautious. Late season obstacles existed, and I didn’t know where or what they were. Too many head injuries to risk. I hear ERs might be crowded right now.

Good to go

After adjusting some bungee cords and catching my breath, I enjoyed my 74 seconds of freedom on the run formerly known as Francisco’s Revenge. Then a quick hike home and back to the casa.

View from my sunny balcony
Snow things

Total jaunt time: 75 minutes. Total downhill time: 74 seconds. Total bliss. I’ll take it.


Skiing and Boarding on the Cheap in Colorado Part 3

Eldora: Wednesday, January 13

One of the cheapest ways to hit the slopes in Colorado is to go with a school group. As a teacher (even part-time), this option is still available to me.

The school outing at Eldora was set for Wednesday, January 13. For kids the price was an unbelievable $14(!) and for us adults it was a reasonable $31.50.

Eldora is not along the I-70 corridor, which is where Vail, Breckenridge, Copper, and my beloved Loveland are. Eldora is located NW of Boulder, just outside the funky little mountain town of Nederland. The drive there takes you through picturesque Boulder Canyon, with its ribbons of pine and mountain streams alongside it. There’s even the Ski N Ride, the bus that runs during the season from Boulder to Eldora.

We got to the parking lot at 9:30AM, tracked down our lift tickets, and beelined for the easy, green slopes. That’s right. Even though my partner in crime for the day (the art teacher) has been skiing since he was five, this was a group outing and the bulk of the group was starting at the beginning, on the green.

As long as there’s enough slope to a run, I don’t mind the greens. Easy terrain allows me to practice my turning techniques, giving me time to think about the weight and edge transfer in my turns. After a couple of rides up the triple EZ chair and a couple of runs down Bunnyfair, our group of six headed for bluer pastures, courtesy of the Cannondale lift.

The Cannondale lift promised more blue terrain like Jolly Jug, La Belle Dame, and runs that connected to the Indian Peaks lift, including Hornblower and Corona Traverse. Jolly Jug was great: wide, open terrain with few beyond our group crowding the run.

In fact, I have never seen a ski mountain with so few people on it. Here it was, another beautiful day in Colorado: clear blue skies, shining sun, glistening snow, comfortable skiing temps, and there were maybe hundreds of people on the hill.

The art teacher and I headed over to the Indian Peaks lift, which served more difficult terrain. I was having such a good day I was contemplating doing some blacks over at the Corona lift. I was feeling good, making smoother turns that I had in years, feeling confident about the runs in front of me, and overall just really enjoying the day. We got separated on Indian Peaks after a delightfully fun and uncrowded run from Hornblower to Lower Ambush. As it was early afternoon, the runs in the shade were getting iced up.

I separated from my teacher friend and ended up on the Lower Diamond Back run instead of the Lower Ambush Run. Snow here was more granular, and trees with broken limbs and patches of dirt were new obstacles. In my effort to avoid the trees and control my speed, I spun out of control, curled up into a ball, and rolled down the hill.

Icy shavings clung to my left side. I sat there in the icy shade for a minute or so, collected my breath, and headed back down to the base. After twenty minutes of hydrating and resting, I headed back up Cannondale for the comfort of Jolly Jug. When even that was too much for my lungs, burning things, and overall exhausted body, I made for the EZ lift, where I had started the beautiful day of playing in the Colorado Rockies. No blacks for me that day.

I made some technically correct turns and called it a day after four solid hours of snowboarding.

Lift ticket $31.50 with school group

Parking FREE

Skiing and Boarding on the Cheap in Colorado Part 2

Loveland: January 8, 2010

We’d been watching the weather all week, and this first week of January brought unusually cruel and cold weather: negatives and single digits. Low Denver temps usually means even lower temps in the high-country, but B and I had been planning all week to take advantage of Colorado Gems’ two-for-one discount at Loveland. We’d sent email and face-to-face feelers out to possibly interested parties. I’m not sure if the possibility of biting cold skiing conditions kept any takers from taking, but in the end it was just me, B, and her graduate school colleague, Nick.

Nick was pretending to work from home, a common form of Colorado hooky. As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, B and I are graced with unorthodox schedules, making weekday mountain play no problem.

I decided to overdress and overpack for the trip. Hereditarily speaking I have poor circulation, and I am almost always the first person to get cold on the mountain, especially my little piggies. Four layers on the top and three layers on the bottom would do the trick, I figured.

For the bottom bottom layer I donned an old pair of Patagonia tights, which I also wear under my riding skorts for late fall and early spring mountain biking. I went against all layering principles and donned a pair of trusty cotton underwear (the kind with patterned flowers) for layer number two. The thing with cotton is, once it’s wet, you’re cold. I knew there wouldn’t be much powder left, as it hadn’t snowed in almost a week. Little powder means little risk of wet undieswear. I topped off the bottom layers with my flashy new(ish) Patagonia snowboarding pants, which I love for their zippers up the side and hate for their lack of usable pockets.

For the top, I donned a Patagonia camisole and ditched the close-fitting wool cycling jersey for a more loose-fitting purple polyester baselayer. Loose layers are key in keeping warm. Next I donned one of those fleece shirts that one sees in all the skiing magazines – the layer just under the parka, which completed the quad.

I added a helmet and a under-the-helmet beanie, liner gloves and snowboarding gloves, my thickest wool socks, and a neck warmer. And goggles. Always goggles.

We got a bit of a late start as I was the one driving and had not exactly finished unloading (or washing) my car from my Christmas surfing trip to Baja. Plus, B had indicated she was in no rush to hit first chair in single digits.

We hit the lifts two hours after opening, and the bitter cold we had so feared had charitably warmed up to the teens. We started our day on Chair 1, which is how I usually start my days at Loveland.

As with any sport, I like to warm up slowly. In mountain biking, I’d rather start the ride with a forty-minute non-stop climb so my legs and lungs have time to adjust. In snowboarding, I like to ease the thighs into the day. Although I am an intermediate snowboarder, I only am so because I muscle my way down to the mountain. My thighs hate me for it.

So going slowly, I headed for extreme skier’s left at the top of Chair 1, ambling my way down the Cat Walk and taking my last blue option at Richard’s Run. The corduroy was scratched up a bit, but groomed trails hold little attraction for me anyway. I hadn’t been on a hill since our Thanksgiving weekend outing at Wolf Creek, so I was a little nervous.

I handled the blue well and waited for B and Nick, who took the steeper Waterfall trail down. After more than a few minutes, B arrived, shaking her head at our miscommunication. Nick was already up the mountain. And so we headed up Chair 2, the only chairlift I know of where one can load mid-mountain. The ride up is a bit long, and we carved our way to the warming hut where our chairmate Ben had started a fire hours earlier. We wended our way down the Drifter run, which drops you off almost directly at Chair 6.

Chair 6’s runs take their cue possibly from the nearby gambling towns of Central City and Blackhawk with runs named Keno, North, South, and (regular) Blackjack, and Roulette. There were patches of powder in the Blackjacks, and we kept returning for more.

We made a one-time trip to Chair 4, which serves steeper terrain. Because it is early season and snowfall has been tapering off, the edges of the bowls were roped off and there was nothing left but moguls.

Moguls are not my thing. One run and I’m done. Which I was.

Lift ticket $29.50 with the Colorado Gems Card

Two grilled cheese sandwiches and a day old brownie: $9.00

Parking: FREE

Gotta love Loveland.