On this morning, gravel grinds beneath my boots and cold, dry air blows in and out of my winter beard. I’m hiking up the hogback on a path I’ve never been on before, even though it is only a mile or so from my home in north Boulder, and I’ve driven past the trailhead a thousand times.
I stop and look up. The path looks like it flattens out on top and then disappears in a knot of wind-stunted trees. I walk toward them.
It’s not that I haven’t explored my corner of Colorado and the West before; I have, for years. I’ve solo backpacked the Indian Peaks Wilderness, led a group of Puerto Rican schoolteachers on an Outward Bound course in Leadville, dug and slept in snow caves at Brainard Lake and paddled the Green River in Utah with a raging Irish musician. It’s just that there really is that much more to do and see.
I scan the neighborhood below where I have lived for years but have never glimpsed from this angle. There it is, my house, a micro-dot among leafless trees, on the edge of all this space. Which is, of course, the reason I first came out West. The space. I found plenty of it, and I continue to find more, nearly every time I leave my front door.
I walk past twisted, burnt tree stumps, scarred in the fire late last summer. My thoughts return to those strange nights — watching this very hill glow and burn from my office window. The city told us to “prepare to evacuate”; helicopters flew over our roof, filling their buckets in the neighborhood lake and then ripping back toward the smoke column, slurry bombers overhead.
There is wildness and intensity in all this space. Yes, it makes for a pretty backdrop, with rock formations and plants and wildlife, but sometime it burns, and sometimes it is battered by crazy wind and blizzard. The grass is recovering nicely, I think, walking between house-sized boulders trimmed with moss and tufts of green at their bases.
Don’t get me wrong — I like to travel to strange, faraway places too (my wife and I took a 16-month honeymoon to Pakistan, India and Africa), but there’s something about making a micro-discovery in an area you thought you already knew that is clean and exciting.
This is how I travel. It is a simple formula: Get out. Go slow. Be curious. Talk to locals. Hire guides. Follow all the steps or just one. It works just as well in Nicaragua as it does in downtown Denver, rural Durango, or, on this morning, in my own backyard in Boulder. This simple, 3-mile loop is new to me today but it never will be again.
I step onto the ridge itself. There’s not much of a summit, per se, but there are a dozen perfect rocks on which to squat and squint. So that’s what I do, and I can see for miles.
Joshua Berman is the author of “Maya 2012: A Guide to Celebrations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize & Honduras.” He can be found on the Web at JoshuaBerman.net and on Twitter at @tranquilotravel.
This article originally appeared in The Denver Post on February 14, 2012.