June 10, 2012

Water: The Lifeblood of Colorado

 

Water is such a simple thing that we think so little of back east, but water in Colorado is one of the most precious commodities. It is scarce. It has rained for only four days of our three-week stay here. The air is dry, like the middle of winter back east. Water is rationed in the city, and the number of animals allowed on land in the mountains is rationed because of how much they drink.

The sun feels great in the cool mountain air as we hike through the forests, but the dryness of the land is a constant reminder of the dangers of fires. We passed many hillsides that had burned, and there is always a danger that a fire will come too close to a house.

Dream Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Water is the life of the land, but a lot of the water comes from the snowpack of the winter melting. Lakes and streams bloom across the landscape in the spring as the icy waters from the snow make their way to the sea. We have visited many places along the path of the water to the ocean, and I have taught Jason about much of the landscape of Colorado.

Fishing

One of the things that has been different for Jason here is how we get food sometimes. Since I was little, I have been fishing up here to catch Rainbow Trout for dinner. Jason had never been fishing, so my grandmother and I took him to a stocked pond to teach him the ropes. We used simple hooks and worms with bobbers and caught a 15 inch and a 16 inch Rainbow Trout.

At our next fishing experience, we tried using lures. Jason wondered how a piece of metal with a hook on it would catch a fish, but as we pulled it through the water we saw that it looked like a small fish. We didn’t catch anything that day since we were fishing at midday and not using barbed hooks, but we did catch a great opportunity to learn how to fly fish.

For our third fishing outing, we were invited by Kirk Deeter, a fly fishing expert for Field and Stream, to learn to fly fish. We met him near his home at a lake on a ranch where my grandmother used to live. He was kind enough to bring all of the equipment we needed, including several flies that he had tied himself. Neither of us had been fly fishing before, so he carefully explained the basics to us.

Kirk Deeter teaching Jason how to fly fish. Photo courtesy of Elk Creek Photography.

We spent the evening fishing on and off through the rain. All together we caught one fish since they were reluctant to come to the surface and eat with the weird weather patterns we were having that day. Even though we didn’t have perfect weather for fishing, we saw a beautiful rainbow and had a great time learning to cast and let our fly land naturally on the water without splashing too much.

White Water Rafting

Last Monday, we went rafting down the Arkansas River in a section just south of Buena Vista called Brown’s Canyon. To get there, we needed to drive two hours southwest. The drive took us through some of the geological variety of Colorado. Jason was awestruck by the view from Kenosha Pass of South Park – an expansive mostly flat valley 10,000 feet above sea level. After driving through the winding mountain roads, he was never expecting it.

 

After several more ridges of mountains, we came to Buena Vista with Mount Princeton rising over 5,000 feet above the Arkansas Valley floor in front of us. We drove north and passed Yale and Harvard to reach our rafting outfitter. Once we got there, we got suited up with splash jackets for the 50ºF water and prepared for the river with a safety talk.

 

 

 

We got into the river in a calm stretch of water, but most of the river was far from calm. Jason and I screamed with joy as we went over some of the rapids. Each turn of the river brought us a new surprise and a new plunge through the time-weathered rocks. During the brief breaks along our 13-mile journey, we looked for wildlife and admired the beauty and solitude of the canyon.

 

At the end of the day, we checked into a hotel facing Mount Princeton to take nice hot showers and prepare ourselves for the next day of our adventure.

Great Sand Dunes

On Tuesday morning, we drove south from Buena Vista towards Alamosa to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. Yes, gigantic sand dunes in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. At first glance, the dunes are a dry and desolate place. However, it is water that holds the dunes together. Half a foot under the sand that has blown in with the wind from across the valley, there is moist sand that holds the dunes together like a giant sand castle.

We hiked for a couple hours barefoot across the giant sand dunes. Whenever our feet got hot, we would bury our feet in the sand like the native kangaroo rats to reach the moist layer of the dunes. Every step forward required the energy of two steps since the sand moved so much. Finally we finished the climb 650 feet up to the top of High Dune. From there, the valley and the mountains stretched out before us.

 

Going down was much easier, and Jason ran down some of the steep slopes. We took one last mile long hike to a waterfall and back, and then we began our four-hour trek home.

In that one day, Jason drove 300 miles. Some of it was along straight roads through the valleys and some of it led us through the mountains. Along the way we saw typical signs like “Elk next 40 miles” and “Antelope next 10 miles,” but though we did see elk, antelope, and deer to the side of the road, we didn’t see a sign for the only animal that did cross our path. As we were came around a curve and down a hill, I saw something dash in front of a car coming towards us. A baby bunny narrowly escaped another car’s tires and came running into our lane. Jason put on the brakes, but we couldn’t stop. We went past where the rabbit was only to learn looking back that the baby bunny had safely returned to the yellow lines. It nonchalantly hopped off the road as we breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that in the mountains, you never know what the next turn will bring. It’s just good to always be prepared and on your toes, ready for the next adventure.

Today we are leaving for Jason’s home in Dalian, China. We have a long journey ahead of us. We fly from Denver to Los Angeles to Seoul to Dalian over the course of 24 hours. I’m so excited and I can’t wait to meet Jason’s family and see his home in China. I’ll add pictures to this once we’re settled in, but for now, I need to pack. Stay tuned for our travels in China.

posted in Helen Hutchens

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5 Comments

  1. Hi, Helen & Jason,
    I’m enjoying your escapades! Especially the beautiful photos, since I don’t like heights and will
    definitely not go there myself. I did like CO at ground level, however, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
    Have a wonderful time in China and thanks for visiting us at the yard sale.
    Carol

    says carol shane
    June 10, 2012 at 6:58 pm
  2. You guys sure have covered a lot of ground – literally! I’m looking forward to hearing about Jason’s impressions of this leg of your adventure. Now onto city life for the country girl – please keep us posted. This is going to be good!

    says Janine A. Block
    June 15, 2012 at 9:53 am
  3. You wrote this just before the fires erupted across Colorado. Fires are one other aspect of water in Colorado that you didn’t mention although I know you saw fire-scarred areas both fresh and renewed.

    says Beth Katz
    June 28, 2012 at 11:24 am
  4. I was up in Colorado doing some fly fishing. It’s so beautiful up there. I had to cut my trip short because I forgot to bring my fly fishing materials. It was a great experience though.

    says Chris
    July 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm
  5. Colorado will always be my very favorite place to visit, hands down!

    says Lilah James
    January 15, 2013 at 8:03 pm
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