My sense of awe and excitement regarding the state of Colorado already was more than a quarter century strong when I set out on a hike to Blue Lake last Wednesday.
The trek in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area reset my respect factor in stunning fashion. In particular, a segment of twenty minutes or so amounted to sensory overload.
The clock began when reaching a lake that still was two-thirds covered by ice. Some melting around shore allowed for Blue Lake’s coloring to reflect off the submerged side of a massive ice block.
The steep surrounding terrain still held snow as well, thereby maintaining a winter-like setting in the middle of July.
I climbed aboard a large boulder and sat cross-legged, taking in the vista and inhaling the crisp, fresh air.
The experience alone would’ve sufficed for a satisfying day. But there was more in store for me.
First, a sustained gust of wind came down from the ridge above that held Mount Toll and Paiute Peak and swept across the lake. I literally had to dig both of my hands into a crevice in the rock to keep from getting pushed back.
A few minutes later, after the wind had subsided, I heard a loud crash. High above me, a rock slide had ensued. Rocks the size of beach balls, likely loosened by the melting snow, careened down toward the holding basin below. The gap between the sights and resulting sounds created a slow-motion effect for the whole scene.
Slack-jawed, I shook my head and thought: “What next?”
The question has been revisited countless times since my annual hiking visits to the state began in 1993. The roots of such feelings reach back further to my first visits as a fledging sportswriter with the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune. I was covering the University of Missouri football team in the early 1980s, which then was part of the Big Eight Conference. So was the University of Colorado.
A road trip to Boulder was a coveted excursion. The Rocky Mountains were a welcome break from the plains below. On one such trip, my boss and I, with then-Mizzou quarterbacks coach Jim Donnan’s son in tow, visited Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Indian Peaks are just south of RMNP. While the area is a fraction of the park’s size, it attracts a fraction of the crowds as well. Furthermore, the Indian Peaks don’t pale in terms of beauty. They are a good place to begin exploring Colorado because they are a Whitman Sampler of what the state offers.
Here are the selling points:
Location: The Indian Peaks are only about 60 miles from Denver. The Brainard Lake recreation area is a good starting point. The route there is as picturesque as the destination. You pass through Nederland, a quaint mountain town. You also can route your way through the casinos of Central City and Black Hawk.
Wildlife: I’ve never NOT seen a moose on my three visits to the area. On this trip, I saw six in three days. The aforementioned Blue Lake hike featured an up-close viewing of two cows on the descent. They were enjoying lunch among the foliage along the trail.
These majestic creatures make for great viewing and seem less threatening than buffalo. I write that with some reservations, however. Several years ago, a bull emerged from the bushes to race my rental car as I was driving to a trailhead in the faint, early morning light. Must’ve interrupted something.
Hiking: The trip to Blue Lake presented no difficulties, other than traversing the lingering snowfields. Conversely, the trip to Shoshoni Peak the previous day involved nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain. There was a hike to Pawnee Pass, followed by a scramble along a rocky ridge to a spiral staircase of rock leading to the tower-like summit.
The difference in the two hikes reflects the range of experience available.
No matter what you do or where you go, be prepared to be stunned.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org