I usually get a kick out of a good scare, but as Halloween approached this week, I read an email from a friend about something that I believe is scarier than it needs to be. It takes place in prison and involves terrified women inmates. I suppose it makes sense that prison might be a scary place, but these women are frightened about what will happen to them when they get out.
Karen Levi-Lausa is the heart and soul behind a Colorado nonprofit program called Words Beyond Bars, which takes literature and literary discussion into prisons. I’ve participated in a couple of the book discussions with male prisoners at the Sterling Correctional Facility, and I’ve seen what a transformative effect it has in the lives of long-term inmates who are eager to learn, grow, and connect. Recently, Karen took a similar program into the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, and the experience she briefly relayed to me in her email was heartbreaking. I asked her permission to reprint just a portion of her message here:
For those of you I don’t run into regularly, online or in person, I have news: after nearly 16 years in Colorado, and nearly 30 years away from California, I’m returning to my home state. It will still be a new home for me, because this time I won’t be living in Los Angeles but in the oceanside community of Ventura. I’ll tell you more about that when I’ve stopped packing and unpacking, selling my house and buying a new one…but that’s not what I wanted to talk about now. I just wanted you to understand why I’ve written the following farewell tribute to Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an organization I have treasured during my time in Denver, and one of the big reasons I almost decided not to leave:
The sharing economy is increasing opportunities for travelers who want to explore what the world has to offer, with less damage to their pocketbook and the environment. A woman who works for a new car-sharing program called RelayRides has asked me to share one of my favorite “hidden gems” in Denver so she can give customers ideas about fun stuff to do in my city. The RelayRides concept is similar to Airbnb or other budget vacation rentals in which people briefly rent out their homes while they’re away. With RelayRides, when you travel to another city you can rent your car to someone who’s coming to your city, and then rent a car from someone in the city you’re going to.
My twin passions for travel and stories are no longer about escape. Instead, they have taught me a lot about finding something to appreciate every day, wherever I am. Every place I travel is somebody else’s home, so it stands to reason that my home should have its own wonders. Every story I read or movie I watch carries me into a deeper appreciation of life, so it stands to reason that by more deeply appreciating my daily life I can create my own story. I live in Denver, Colorado, where I don’t have to travel far to enjoy an experience for which others do travel far.
When life gets so busy, whether with necessary tasks or the pursuit of our dreams, that it feels as if we have no time, I believe it’s even more critical to carve out moments to connect with nature. I’m sometimes tempted to ignore the call of the outdoors and keep writing about whatever inspiring idea has me in its grip, or to keep doing all the things others expect of me until I’m depleted, or to crash in front of the TV because its easier to passively take in someone else’s story after a hard day. Mostly those things tempt me because I convince myself that enjoying nature will require me to spend a lot of time planning or preparing, or to spend all day far from the city. Not true.
Autumn is my favorite time to head into Colorado’s high country. Though wildflowers depart, quivering gold Aspen leaves arrive. The trails are quieter, air cooler, lightning gone. Late last September, my husband, Dale, and I drove up gorgeous Guanella Pass to hike Mount Bierstadt. Though I usually covet the showy palette of spring wildflowers, the rich rose-gold of sun on plants and rocks was a revelation.
Another revelation: how much I huffed and puffed on this, my second, visit to what’s supposed to be Colorado’s easiest Fourteener. If you’ve never hiked a 14,000-foot peak before, Bierstadt is a great introduction. But don’t let the word “easiest” fool you. It’s still high altitude, which means less oxygen and more work. It’s only about seven miles, but clear your whole day, pack a lunch, and bring plenty of warm layers. Even when it’s hot at the bottom, it’s always shockingly cold at the top – with winds as fierce as the teeth of Sawtooth Ridge, which links Bierstadt to Mount Evans. (If you’re a daring hiker, you can scramble across the ridge and bag two peaks in one day.)
Driving to Bierstadt is easy. Take I-70 to the Georgetown exit and follow signs through town for Guanella Pass Road. Take that road 11.8 miles up from town. You’ll see parking lots on both sides of the road. The trail starts on the east (left) side. The drive alone is worth it, as you’ll see at the beginning of this short video of the trail:
Nederland boasts some of Colorado’s prettiest hikes, with waterways, wildflowers (or fall colors), and views of the Continental Divide. Around this time last year, my husband Dale and I hiked the three-mile round trip to Lost Lake – more like four miles since part of the road leading to Hessie Trailhead was under water, forcing us to park the car below that and hoof it. Hessie is busy on weekends, but since Dale has Mondays off and I set my own schedule, we hike on Mondays so we can enjoy some solitude. If weekends are your only option, I suggest waiting until after Labor Day. Even if it’s still a bit busy, the scenery is worth it, as you can see in the video below.
If you head to Hessie from Denver, take U.S. Highway 36 West to Boulder, turn left on Canyon Blvd/Colorado 119, and drive through the canyon to Nederland. At Nederland’s traffic circle, take Highway 72 north through town for about half a mile, and turn right on County Road 130. Pass the turnoff for the Eldora Ski Resort and drive through the town of Eldora to a dirt road. About three-quarters of a mile down that road, you’ll see the area where most people park for the walk to the trailhead. From there, here’s what your hike will look like…if it’s really windy:
Every year I think I’m going to stop discovering more hiking trails near Denver, and every year proves me wrong. Late last summer I discovered the Eldorado Canyon Trail in Eldorado Canyon State Park. This gem lies tucked away just past the Old West resort town of Eldorado Springs, five miles southwest of Boulder. The trail is about 8.5 miles roundtrip, but rumbling thunderheads warned my husband, Dale, and me to turn around early. We stopped at the ridge overlooking Walker Ranch and the distant Continental Divide, making the trip feel complete at a pleasant 5 miles.
Eldorado Canyon is also a great place for rock climbing, fishing, picnicking, or just listening to the peaceful rush of South Boulder Creek. To get to Eldorado Canyon from Denver, take I-25 to Highway 36 toward Boulder. Exit at Louisville-Superior, turn left at the light, and follow the signs for Eldorado Springs/Highway 170. Highway 170 will take you about 7.4 miles to the town of Eldorado Springs, where it becomes a dirt road that dead-ends at the park. The visitor’s center is one mile past the entrance, and you’ll find the trailhead there. Parking costs $8. Here’s a brief look at the creek and the trail, which are separate, but both worth a visit:
After spending several weeks out of town this summer, and adding a few new activities to my life – such as learning Tai Chi, and writing part two of my novel – I’ve been keeping my hikes relatively low-key this season. I’ve been focused on trails that are closer to Denver and less strenuous – though still challenging. That’s what recently took me to the Beaver Brook Trail and Chavez Loop, a hike that offers the feel of peaceful backcountry just a half-hour from the city. This hike through Clear Creek Canyon features plenty of my favorite natural feature: flowing water. It’s about 4 miles, with enough steep spots to work out the body and enough flowers to soothe the soul. If you want a quick getaway that leaves you plenty of time to have fun in town – maybe catch a farmers’ market before or a movie after – this is a perfect hike for you.
It’s really easy to get to the Beaver Brook Trailhead: just head west on I-70 for about 20 miles, get off at the Chief Hosa exit, turn right, and immediately turn right again onto the bumpy dirt road. That’s Stapleton Drive. Follow that road for about a mile to the trailhead. The hike starts at the short Braille Nature Center Trail, which has a guide rope and Braille interpretive signs for the blind. That leads to the Beaver Brook Trail, which meets the Chavez Loop. For the sighted, here’s a preview of what it all looks like:
To me, late September means it’s time to hit Colorado’s high country to see the Aspen turn the Rocky Mountains into shimmering gold. I love to drive the Peak-to-Peak Highway to see the show, and that makes a hike at Mount Audubon convenient. I’ve hiked this particular thirteener before (for non-Coloradans, that just means a peak over 13,000 feet). But the first time I didn’t have a video camera, so I thought I’d treat you to a brief video of my second visit.
If you want to visit Mount Audubon and throw in a good fall-foliage drive on the way, I recommend taking Coal Creek Canyon Road to Nederland, then taking the Peak-to-Peak Highway to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. You’ll need to pay $9 for a pass. The hike starts at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. It’s about 8 miles round trip, but relatively easy as high-altitude hikes go, and the views of the Continental Divide are a spectacular reward for the effort. If you’d like a bit more information, check out my post on Indian Summer at Indian Peaks. But if you just want to see what makes this hike worth it, check out this video: