Saturday, June 27, 2009

Colorado Vacation

I went on a four-day trip to Colorado last weekend with my friend Doug and had a great time. Our nature experiences were not as good as our fine dining experiences, but they were interesting!

The first day we drove right on up Mount Evans, the highest paved road in the US, or in other words, as high as you can drive in the US. We were good until about 11,000 feet, and then I started feeling short of breath and a pressure in my chest. At Summit Lake, 12,00+ feet, Doug started feeling dizzy and then he went rapidly down. At the shooting pain in his head, he stopped the car in the road and said he had to turn around. I took over the wheel, dizzy but functional, since we only had one mile to go! So it was we made it to 14,200 feet feeling surreal and dizzy and wondering how it was that everyone else up there seemed fine. It is especially humbling as you're going up and see all the cyclists pounding their way up the mountain. And old people.

At the summit people are drinking lattes and chatting, and there's this little cabin that looks like theater scenery, and a little snow, so that the actual peak with two mountain goats hanging out looked like a scene from Heidi in a play we were all waiting to watch. Yes, it was as surreal as the photo. And stunning. Of course I thought I could pass out at any moment. It might have been different than I'm remembering it!

That said, people should stay below 12,000 feet.

On the way down we stopped at the Bristlecone Pine station. You see, we were also almost out of gas. A ranger brought us some gas, and while we waited I went for a little walk. There's a grove of bristlecone pine trees there, which I didn't know about beforehand. Bristlecone pines are amazing trees that only at or just below the treeline. In the US, they are found in small groves in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. They grow excruciatingly slowly, so a medium-size tree could be hundreds of years old. A full-grown tree could be as old as 2,000 years. The oldest, in the Methuselah grove in California, are 10,000 years old. They twist as they grow, to get out of the full brunt of the elements, and their bark is twisted and stripped. Only parts of the tree, in some cases, have remaining living bark. The tree looks like it's dying but it's actually surviving as only it can.

I know about bristlecone pines because I've been to the largest forest of them in the US, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the Inyo National Forest in California, on a camping trip (in another life) with Michael and Valerie Cohen. Michael wrote a book on the trees, and Valerie does beautiful watercolors of them. And to be in the desolate places where they live makes one believe that even the moon could support life.

In Rocky Mountain National Park the next day and feeling much better, we did a hike-- great on the way up, but hail and cold rain and storm on the way down, which would have been exciting if it weren't so unpleasant!

We did see this lovely elk and his partner by the side of the road!

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