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Snow was falling leaving Sylvan Lake and the Crazy Horse monument which is easily seen on a clear day was barely visible. The roads of the Black Hills National Forest were unplowed and growing thicker by the minute. I didn’t have a good feeling about this next leg of the trek and tenseness set in.

A friend called to check in on the status of the hike and my safety. The conversation turned to Thanksgiving and I thought of the friends and family I’d miss on a favorite day of the year. Enjoying good food with friends and family provides connection and community not always occurring throughout the year. Instantly I felt overwhelmed thinking of all the people who have been a part of my life. I’m truly gifted to have some of the best friends in the world. I knew I would not only miss them on Thanksgiving but for an unknown period of time. Thoughts that I could or should have waited heading west until after Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Years or even the spring were swirling in my mind. Was this the best thing to do at this point in my life? With a bucket of doubts raining down turning back crossed my mind. A bad idea. I left when I did to minimize the winter weather I would encounter and waiting until the spring wasn’t an option. The time was now to move forward. I procrastinated to head west long enough. I regained composure and continued on the snow and ice covered roads.

Snow, Ice, Wind & 6% Downhill Grade“The Little Truck that Could” pulled hard up the mountains then engine braking down the steep 6% grades. No fun on snow and ice. We, the truck and I, were traveling at less than half the speed limit locked into 4WD. The line the truck took was fairly stable and we stayed on the road away from magnetic guardrails wanting to pull us in. I left finger impressions deeper than what was already on the steering wheel. True white knuckled driving. An hour later entering Deadwood I was craving a cheeseburger. (McDonald’s wasn’t an option.) As much I wanted a one more daylight miles were needed and there was a break in the weather. Finally on I-90 a better speed was obtainable making good miles. So I thought. More snow came then wind. Snow covered roads became ice. My hyper focus on the road was more than when I played the video game Asteroids in high school. I held on with a death grip and had to pry my fingers from the steering wheel to change hand positions. This was crazy, insane even. There were places where if I was blown off the highway there was no getting back to the road. Maybe I could get help from my brother Dave’s Navy helicopter team. My life’s belongings would sit at the bottom of one of these slopes forever. More thoughts of turning back consumed me. The weather wasn’t going to suddenly get better leaving South Dakota and crossing Wyoming. With these wild thoughts building an eagle suddenly flew across my path, wings spread wide, dangling legs and long talons. I couldn’t translate the sign this majestic bird was providing, but I was being guided by another raptor.

Iced Aero TrailerThe weather worsened and I knew the department of transportation would be closing the highway. I just needed to make the next exit in Gillette, Wyoming. Mentally wiped out and hungry I found a busy Mexican restaurant playing an extreme level of La Cucaracha three times normal speed. I would have won a taco eating contest that night and couldn’t leave fast enough even though the tequila menu looked tempting. I finished a much needed beer and found my place of rest. The snow sprayed from the rear tires to the trailer made an aerodynamic design I’m submitting to U-Haul for a patent. The following morning a weather advisory had me sequestered in the hotel where I tried to figure out what exactly was in pre-made waffle batter which made better sponges than a breakfast treat. I was surely not in Belgium!

Iced Over The Toyota is Ready to Press OnBack on the road at 10:00 AM snow was disappearing and I could relax into normal driving. My willpower broke down and treated myself to a double filet-o-fish and a small fry for lunch. I deserved it. The Toyota received a treat of high octane. I left Wyoming with a few mental scars from the previous day. Crossing into Montana the terrain began to change. Outlines of mountains near Bozeman were fading as darkness took over the sky. Cresting a mountain exposed the city lights of Butte which reminded me of pacing in the Wasatch 100. I welcomed seeing the city knowing my head would soon hit a pillow.

Clearing in MontanaMisting clouds broke early the next morning creating rainbows in the mountains. The “Little Truck That Could” pressed on and pulled the heavy load through the mountains of Montana and into virgin territory of Idaho. A state I’ve never been to before. I had to give the truck a name. Being strong, stocky and rugged, Tatonka would be fitting. Meaning buffalo in Lakota. We were gifted with warmer than normal weather and clear skies reducing the fear of sliding off the motorway. Idaho came and went with a long final decent into Washington through Spokane then into the high desert region of the state. Refueling in springlike temperatures felt good and odd. Was this the same month I was in a few states ago? No green was to be seen and as dusk set in I crossed the Columbia River into Oregon and decided to make the final push to Portland. Maybe I would be in time for Thanksgiving leftovers.

Just outside of Portland, fatigued almost to the point being delirious, mixed thoughts and emotions arose while I wondered about this new beginning and if this was the right thing to do. I was here and it was time to move forward. Arriving in Portland my Tatonka - High Desert Rest Areacousin’s family and aunt welcomed me to a warm hello and much needed plate of Thanksgiving dinner.

I was with family for Thanksgiving, thankful for making the 3,500 miles safely and ready to begin a lot of new.

A grateful thank you to Christine, Jill and Bob who were virtual passengers throughout the trek.

Thank you! Peace – Greg

“You have to accept whatever comes, and the only important thing is that you meet it with the best you have to give.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

“There is unknowing until you’re in the throes of your decision.”               – G. Chokas Cross Country Trek With Numbered Stops A special thanks to all of my family and friends who have been with me through this journey west: Mom, Dad, Jamie, Lyn, Danielle, Gram Roy, Jane, Dennis, Christine, Jill, Bob & Catherine, Sue, Phil, Jenn, Keith, Alan & Kim, Stacey, Mike, Rich, Carl & Maggie, Lynne, Vicki, Peter, Reuben and family, Pam, Elisa, Suwan, Kathee, Pat, Bob, Rick, Brooke, Rick 3, Eric, Donna, and to those I haven’t been in touch with for years who have sent messages. If you’re not listed you’re not forgotten!

The silent morning broke to conversing crows. Waking to their caw is welcome over any man made noise. The day was to be one of reprieve from windy highways to hike in the Black Hills re-energizing my legs and my being. The destination was Harney Peak(7,242 feet). The highest peak in South Dakota. A sacred area where the famous Oglala Lakota Medicine and Holy Man, Black Elk, received a great vision.

Crazy Horse Memorial MonumentIn route to the trailhead I could see the distant Crazy Horse Monument standing 563 ft. tall staring into the eastern rising sun. I knew I’d return later. Missing the trail parking area I was soon at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. A monument I had little interest seeing. The presidential faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln chiseled into sacred land of the Lakota’s after the broken Treaty of Fort Laramie is considered a disrespectful undertaking. The Black Hills were “given” to the Indians who originally resided in the area. When gold was found by trespassing settlers the land was retaken resulting in the Great Sioux War of 1876.

Mt. RushmoreNot wanting to stay long I was allowed to enter the memorial for trail information and a few photographs. Although an impressive sculpture, history and common sense told me this was in the wrong place. I left for the trailhead and noticing the parking area was no place for the truck and trailer Crazy Horse Monument became the next stop.

Construction on the monument began in 1948 by Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Chief Standing Bear of the Oglala Lakota people asked Korczak because he and other chiefs wanted the white man to know that Native Americans also have great heroes. There is some controversy by certain Native American Groups of defacing a mountain but the work continues supported by most. In addition to the monument there are currently seven buildings including the well planned Indian Museum of North America. I watched an introductory video of the construction, perused the buildings and took a guided tour for a closer look at the monument. Impressive is an Crazy Horse Memorial Monumentunderstatement. The exhibits are meticulous and seeing people from native tribes working in the museum providing historic information was good. I highly recommend visiting the monument which is supported only by private funding.

The day worked out well since making the hike on the difficult northern route would have added to the previous day’s exhaustion. The following morning I broke camp at 4:30AM and left the site at 5:30. An 8-point buck bid farewell strolling in front of the truck to see his bedded mate a few yards away. Off I went through the hills to find the southern route.

Black Hills National ForestI’m not sure if the morning caffeine didn’t kick in but I couldn’t find the trail head. The icy road became steep and I engaged the truck into 4WD crawling upwards with areas of no guardrails only to find no trailhead. I drove down the unprotected side of the road to a dirt road encountering a locked gate. Reversing the trailer wasn’t an easy task. It took numerous attempts to back out onto a thankfully rarely used road this time of year. To give the destination another try I went back to where I was sure the trailhead was then down again. With no luck I stopped in the town of Custer with disappointment. Looking at the map a final time and not easily deterred I drove the seven miles up the dangerous road again to finally find the trailhead at Sylvan Lake.

Packed for Camp and the RoadConditions were full on winter with hard packed snow. Fresh covering snow provided enough to see deer and coyote tracks who are smart enough to use a man made trail when humans are nowhere to be found. The backpack had more than needed in case of an emergency in those conditions. With the heavy load and being behind schedule I had to make good time to Harney Peak 3.5 miles out. The trail was moderate taking a few hours to reach the sacred area Black Elk would have his vision quests. The fire tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) in the 1938, an organization my grandfather Chokas was part of in Connecticut. Winds were gusting up to 60 MPH and I ate as much and quickly as possible in the tower to refuel for the Harney Peak Lookout Towerreturn. After a few minutes of personal thoughts and prayer I kept a brisk pace to stay warm and cut time knowing long roads were ahead of me. Fresh coyote and deer tracks were in my inbound tracks. I wasn’t alone and it felt good to have unseen company watching me in the forest.

Hungry FriendsReturning to the truck at 1:30PM a change of clothes was made and I was ready to drive down the unprotected side of the steep, winding, icy hill for the last time. Similar to leaving the campsite I was shown out by deer.

I slowly regained strength and awareness for the trek back to I-90W. The stress of not finding the trailhead, driving the icy roads and maintaining a fast pace on the trail was draining. With snow falling and more mountains for the truck to climb and descend it would make for a long day and stressful driving…

Up next…White knuckled driving and thoughts of turning back.

Peace – Greg

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mohandas Gandhi

This post is dedicated to Hazel Birdsong, the strong mother of my friend Bob. Here’s to you Hazel. All good medicine for your health and happiness! Aho.

I was now driving in a direction untraveled in almost two months, due east. The time in Bozeman was fulfilling seeing the city and experiencing the surrounding areas in the mountains and forests. The land is beautiful and is an outdoors mecca with many natural resources to admire and enjoy for adventure. Horseback riding is on the agenda for the next trip.

Devils Tower / Bear LodgeDriving six hours in the direction of the sun I noticed signage for Devils Tower(5,114 ft), or the Lakota name Bear Lodge, America’s first national monument and place of sacredness to many Native American nations. Approaching from a distance I saw the massive protrusion which the vertical columns became defined as I drew closer. I stopped before the park and wondered how this object came to be with nothing similar or taller in the vast surrounding area. There is no definitive scientific explanation how this structure was formed about 200 million years ago. I entered the park and walked around the igneous intrusion continuing to be in amazed Devil's Tower - Wyomingby its size and formation. There were two climbers making an ascent and although a climber, I thought it to be sacrilegious to climb something so sacred to the Native Americans. Would it be OK for people to climb the Statue of Liberty or the presidential faces of Mt. Rushmore? Almost completing the walk around the monument I noticed small cloths that look like little ghosts tied to tree branches. These were prayer ties and prayer bundles. At the time I visited I only knew them to be an offering and have since learned the small swatches contain Prayer Ties and Prayer Bundlesa pinch of tobacco and before being tied closed a prayer is made or an intention set then are tied to a branch. Tobacco is used for prayer, to show respect, to heal, and give spiritual protection. The cured leaves are unprocessed unlike cigarette tobacco which contains poisonous additives never to be used for ceremonies. Prayer ties are an important part of offerings for vision quest and sun dance ceremonies where many are tied together. Prayer bundles are larger than prayer ties and are offered individually. Colors are important signifying the four directions, east/yellow, south/red, and west/black, north/white. Colors of the directions may vary depending on the tribal nation. Some nations include the directions of above (sky)/blue, below (mother earth)/green and within (our spirit)/purple or gold. With nothing in hand I made a silent offering to “Bear Lodge” giving thanks for this icon and prayed for safe travels. Respect SignI continued for a short stop into the visitor’s center to learn more of the site then carried on to Badlands, or as the Lakota named the area, “Maka Sica,” meaning “land bad”, wanting to arrive before dark.

To nowhere!Using the worlds biggest GPS (my laptop) I followed the red arrow while the orange setting sun was providing spectacular colors against the multi-layered eroded clay buttes on the outskirts of the park. I was further away than I thought as light was fading quickly. Having too much faith in the GPS I followed a right turn down a dirt road literally to the middle of nowhere. I reluctantly followed the GPS arrow and road driving slowly with thoughts of trespassing rolling through my mind. This was the first time on the trip an uncomfortable nervousness set in on what I could stumble upon. My heart was racing, beating faster and harder as I approached the crest of a small hill. I noticed the end point of the destination was just ahead. Being lost in daylight is one thing but in the dark on an abandoned dirt road approaching Pine Ridge Reservation where the Wounded Knee Massacre still scars Native Americans was unnerving. Not living near poverty stricken Native American communities caused from past European and government invasion I didn’t know what could transpire. Making the crest I saw nothing except the final rays of the day’s sun. My heart started to return to a normal rhythm and I went from fear to wondering, wondering where I was and where the park entrance could be. I stopped where the GPS said I arrived and stepped out of the truck. There was nothing except what looked like a stone foundation. I reentered the truck and made way back to the main road continuing in the eastward direction. A half hour later I came upon the interior entrance of the park at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and Cedar Pass Campground. “Home” at last!

Camp 1I was exhausted and hungry and found an open tent site in the massive camp area full of simple tents and over the top forty plus foot “campers”. Setting up the tent was quick since by now I could almost erect it blindfolded. A meal was prepared, quickly ingested and my head laid to rest tired from the driving, site seeing and expended nervous energy.

The next morning was time to move my legs after a day of driving. I perused the visitor’s center and watched a short video detailing the park and its natural creation millions of years ago then set out for some trekking. I hiked the flat Medicine Root, Castle, and Fossil Exhibit trails winding around layered formations giving the feel of being on the red planet Mars. After heavy rains a layer of ground is washed away sometimes Lower jaw Fossilexposing ancient articles. If you’re lucky as I was you could stumble upon dinosaur fossils. The park service asks that these fossils remain where found, the area marked and the service notified for a paleontologist to investigate. Completing loops and out and backs I drove through the park heading to the western Sage Creek Primitive Campground with no electricity or running water for solitude and trekking.

Grazing CloserA herd of buffalo were slowly grazing their way toward my direction while setting camp. Not wanting to be surrounded and trapped I grabbed light hiking gear and water and set out to investigate unmarked trails. I encountered prairie dog colonies which kept popping up from there boroughs “barking” their mouse barks then disappearing back into them. I now understood the silly prairie dog game found at traveling Praire Dogcarnivals. This area had scattered barren patches where buffalo would cool off by rolling in the dirt. In one patch was a prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). Looking and thinking the snake must have been slow to have a 2,000lb. muscular animal roll on it the snake suddenly coiled back not content with my presence. After observing for a few minutes it slithered away and I carried on the path taking me through dry riverbeds, flat lands and high grass until the sound of a rattle made me jump up and over 4 feet in the air. This wasn’t a cute little prairie rattlesnake this one was two Prairie Rattlesnake #1feet long and very agitated that it was almost stepped on. Being struck by a rattler in these wilderness areas would most likely not be a survivable situation. We were both, ahem, rattled by this encounter. I took a few pictures and headed back to camp to enjoy the rest of the evening and see if the buffalo left my tent standing or any surprises.

All was well and only a few sites were occupied as night fell. With no lights an infinite amount of stars could be seen in the planetarium sky. My eyes took in layer after layer of the dark atmosphere as stars and shooting stars appeared exponentially. During very early morning hours the buffalo came in again surrounding the area eating and grunting. In a stampede I would have been flattened, but all was Finding His Pathsafe while grazing. This area was home for a few days hiking the trails, taking in the views and wildlife only encountering one more snake. Knowing this was the last Midwestern national park I would be at before continuing east was slightly unsettling, but I enjoyed each minute of all of them. Bear Lodge and Badlands Packed and ready to go....Again!were two more great stops and there was much appreciation before packing up preparing for continued travel to…

Minnesota, Chicago? (I’ll explain!) and Allegheny National Forest…

Greg

“Sacred sites and areas are protection for all people — the four colors for man — and these sites are in all areas of the earth in the four directions.” – Traditional Circle of Elders, Northern Cheyenne

Note: Being at Badlands and Yellowstone increased my awareness of areas where Native Americans lived with the land and their history which I continue to expand personal knowledge today. Interest has pulled me to experience a few Native ceremonies and ways. The history I’ve read written by Natives and non-Natives has been interesting and disturbing. Much more occurred than was taught during early school years. I ask you to consider watching this 15 minute Ted Talk which details pieces of current times and past history. Also, I highly recommend reading Black Elk Speaks to learn more about Native American ceremonies and ways and Black Elk’s visions. Wopila. – Thanks in Lakota.

Already there…

South EntranceThe drive to Yellowstone National Park from Lizard Creek campground was over before I knew it and the unknown little critter in back of the truck didn’t have time to catch any sleep or eat more Reese’s. (See Grand Teton post.) Yellowstone is the first national park in the world created in 1872. Putting land aside to preserve national treasures is important, but I’m torn with the loss of land the Native American tribes of the Shoshone, Bannock, Nez Perce, Flathead, Crow, Blackfoot, and Cheyenne called home. As protocol I went to the visitor’s center, collected maps and spoke with  Grazing Bisonrangers to make the best use of my time in the park. You could stay for weeks or months since the 3,500 square mile park has countless different areas to explore with varying landscapes and attractions including wildlife, geysers, hot springs, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake and plenty more. Next time I’m bringing my fishing gear!

Courtesy of the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery CenterChoosing Madison campground in the northwest location of the park placed me in areas of personal interest. After setting camp I actually made my way out of the park to visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana since I have a passion for wolves. The wolf is an animal that keeps coming into my life without physically being present since it’s no longer a native species in New England. They’ve come as different types of gifts without asking or telling Mexican Grey Wolf-hybrid Saxonof my interest. Seeing them for the first time in the center touched my soul with their great presence. The only wolf I’ve been in contact with was a Mexican Gray Wolf-hybrid, Saxon, from the SOLO Wilderness Medicine School who moved with a purpose and unfortunately passed a few years ago. There are two wolf  packs at the center that could not survive in the wild after being bred in captivity. Not being many visitors I had uninterrupted time to observe them resting, playing and feeding. Watching the hierarchy is an incredible site and I Wolves at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Centerrecommend the documentary Wolves filmed in Yellowstone to understand their family and community structure. They are the most amazing animal I’ve watched because the way the pack “works”. I did spend time watching the grizzlies as I find bears entertaining and they sure were at feeding time. Feeling very content by closing time of the center I returned to the park to end a great day.

Old FaithfulI covered many miles the following day waking early driving to geysers and hot springs and of course seeing Old Faithful. The morning mood was eerie with a foggy sunrise from steam rising from hot springs with the morning sun giving the steam an orange glow. The ground in these areas was warm to hot with times of a light sulfur smell and my surprise was the clarity of the spring water. I waited patiently to see Old Faithful erupt which she does every 91 minutes, but after doing this millions of times I think she was a little tired for the morning effort. After a walk around the area Hot Spring to see the many springs and geysers I went to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The yellowish, whitish cliffs were different than I’ve seen at the White Cliffs of Dover in England. Yellowstone River carved its way through the canyon and the geothermal activity caused the colorful tint. Beautiful as it was I thought one day I’ll make it the real Grand Canyon! After lunch (some of you knowing myNortheastern Mountains staple of Ramen noodles and tuna) I drove to the northeastern entrance of the park seeing a combination of plains and mountains, passing pronghorn and bison as I reached the exit. Viewing open areas with a few hundred bison provided images of what the landscape looked like when over 50 million roamed the prairies. U.S. Dept. of Wildlife Rick Wilcox, Head of the wolf project in YellowstoneNoticing a crowd on a hillside when returning to camp I pulled over to see what the commotion was. People with spotting scopes were viewing wolves and I met Rick McIntyre, a wildlife-biology Ph.D. who heads the Yellowstone Wolf Project and a contributor to the first book on wolves I’ve read, The Company of Wolves. We had a short conversation and with daylight waning he invited me to return the next morning when wolves would be more active. I gladly accepted.

Up Close BisonHeading to the spotting site predawn I wasn’t expecting traffic caused by roaming bison. At a hefty 2,000 lbs. and unpredictable bison can use their head as a battering ram making for an interesting story to tell your insurance agent. By no choice I “let” Black, grey Wolfthem roam and slowly drove by. A half dozen early risers from within and outside the park go to this location to spot the Junction Butte wolf pack. The newly met friends offered their scopes and seeing a black wolf, a color variant of the gray wolf, for the first time was a special sight. Pictures through the scope were the best that could be done at the ½ mile distance with my camera and decided to post one for your viewing. Just as special was seeing a grizzly enter the field the Camp Mascotwolf pack was in. The two species went about their business like passing acquaintances which was an exciting moment to witness what could transpire. I stayed until noon returning to break camp chatting with the campground hosts who made suggestions for places to visit while traveling to Montana and South Dakota. Their recommendations were The Black Hills, Devils Tower and Badlands, two of which I visited during near future travels (and writing about in upcoming posts). For now I was making my out of the park into Gardiner, Montana to have a fresh cup of coffee for the journey to Bozeman, Montana, a place I’ve heard much about.

Up next, Montana mountains and a Belgian treat….

– Greg

“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.” – Rudyard Kipling

Native American thoughts and words on the wolf:

Learning wisdom, Instinct Linked with Intelligence, Social and Family Values, Outwitting, Steadfastness, Skill in Protection of Self and Family, Taking Advantage of Change, Intuition, Guardianship, Ritual, Loyalty, Pathfinder, Psychic Energy, Teacher, Careful Study, Cunning, Ability to Pass by Dangers Invisibly, Spiritual Guidance in Dreams and Meditations, Success, Perseverance, Stability

Please consider the Adopt a Wolf Program from the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.

Coyote CantinaReturning to Boulder I was seeing the same landscape for the third time passing Great Sand Dunes National Park, Collegiate Peaks and the eclectic looking Coyote Café. I decided to forgo the café and stop at Hog Heaven, a great barbeque restaurant a short distance up the road. Eating there on a previous trip my taste buds were ready for ribs, jalapeno cornbread, beans and bread pudding. The heavy food would last me a long while.

Mountaineering Museum, Golden, CO

I detoured to Golden, CO, home of the Coors Brewing Company but more importantly (for myself anyway), the home of the Bradford Washburn Mountaineering Museum dedicated to the climbers, technology, culture and spirit of mountaineering. Mountaineering caught my interest ten years ago and has brought challenging climbs ever since. The museum displays exhibits on climate, science, cultures and the humanities as they relate to mountains. Bradford Washburn was an American explorer, mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer who A Bradford Washburn photograph of Mt. Huntington’s Incredible North Face. Alaska, April 2, 1978established the Boston Museum of Science. He and his wife, Barbara, the first woman to summit Mt. McKinley (Denali), lead incredible lives  spending much time in Alaska pioneering the use of aerial photography of mountains and glaciers.

After looking at exhibits and early clothing and gear mountaineers used it’s easy to realize today’s mountaineers are spoiled by high tech gear allowing many to go beyond their capability where some will never leave mountaintops such as Mt. Everest. Having good gear is necessary, but experience and common sense keeps you alive!

Roosevelt National ForestRoosevelt National Forest was an hour and a half drive, the end following the same mountainous route I rode the bike on making me think how crazy, but accomplishing the ride was. I signed in at the park, selected a camp site and set out to get in a quick evening hike. Taking that time before sunset was a nice way to ground myself after an exhausting day of driving and sightseeing. Finishing the Hog Heaven leftovers I was ready for a good night’s sleep before continuing on to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Elk Outside of Estes ParkNo time was wasted breaking camp in the morning for the short one hour drive to Estes Park, CO where elk can overrun the town during the rut (breeding season). Being a few weeks early the town was elk free but many were roaming just on the outskirts. I entered the park with a seasonal Interagency Annual Pass then studied a map to see the lay of the land to best make my way through the park the next few days. “Home” was at three different campgrounds, Longs Peak the first few nights, Aspenglen the next, and lastly Timber Creek.

HomeLongs Peak is a tent only campground having platforms at each site. No RVs in this area means no running generators which owners are required to turn off at night. After constructing the tent and purchasing firewood I drove to nearby vistas, taking a hike and returning a few hours later for dinner, a fire and journaling. This was the first campfire of the trip surprisingly enough. Nights were cooler being at a higher elevation (9,500 ft.) than at Roosevelt N.F. making the fire great to get warm before slipping into the sleeping bag.

Grazing Bull Elk

Deciding to see as much of the park as possible I opted out of back country camping moving campgrounds to appreciate more vistas and see more wildlife. Aspenglen campground was the next stop a few mornings later to reserve a tent site before the possibility of a full campground with late season vacationers. Elk were expanding roaming areas as each day of the mating season came closer bringing a massive majestic bull elk close to the road that was undeterred by a train of vehicles.

Elk Grazing in Campground

Final camp was the barren Timber Creek in the southwest corner of the park having almost no trees due to the mountain pine beetle killing tens of thousands of pines. This area of the park was quiet and I met a few friendly travelers, Leroy and his dad out for father and son bonding, two recent college grads on a bike tour of the Midwest and a wildlife photographer. Rising early on a quiet starry morning I walked along a watershed hoping to see wildlife and was fortunate to see moose, deer and elk.

Tom and His Father Leroy

Meeting good people and seeing wildlife was a perfect way to end the stay in Rocky Mountain National Park. I savored a burger and fries just outside the park before the next destination of Grand Teton National Park.

 – Greg

“In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks.” – John Muir

The tour continues…

For the second time in two years I was in the beautiful little city just east of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder, Colorado. A good friend Pam moved to Boulder from Connecticut more than a few years ago and is responsible for getting me on an upgraded 1989 Trek and introducing me to winter on Mt. Washington. I’ve been hooked since. The nice friend she is she sent me on a crazy bike ride outside of Boulder, details to come.

Eldorado Canyon outside of BoulderThere are incredible place to hike outside of Boulder and I chose Eldorado Canyon State Park spending a day trip in and around the canyon logging about 12 miles on the trails. It felt great to be back in the wilderness after the long drives and stops from Asheville. During the stay I went further into the back country to Arapaho National Forest then mildly “attacked” two 14,000 footers, Grays(14,278 ft) and Torreys(14,275 ft) Peaks, probably two of the easiest 14,000 footers to hike. I could feel the thinner air at about 13,000 feet needing a few short rests and noticed recovery was quick. The trip to Arapahoe N.F. was a long day trek through semiGrays and Torreys Peaks mountainous areas to a few crystal clear ponds. Making a late start this particular day made for dicey conditions when summiting one peak. Peaks should be summited by 1:00 or you face the changing weather coming in early afternoon. Summiting on a bare mountain peak during thunder and lightning strikes is a harrowing experience.

Indian Mountains in Roosevelt National ParkI rode the Trek once on this journey and it was an epic ride Pam mapped out. Knowing it would be in the hills made me step up for the challenge. Long story short, the 60 mile ride was MOUNTAINOUS (short video end of post)! This is an average ride for the super fit who live in Boulder, a training Mecca for world class athletes because of the elevation, good climate and terrain. A few highlights of the ride were stopping in the small mountain town of Jamestown, population 250 and going in to the Jamestown Mercantile for a great IOU malt. I continued through the town gaining elevation until reaching Brainard Lake of Roosevelt National Forest. Destination success! I cruised a few short roads of the park before heading back to Boulder burning the brakes offRiver in Roosevelt National Forest of the bike from the steep down hills that could have you going over 60 mph. The following day I returned to the Mercantile (in my truck this time) to square up my IOU, have a beer and listen to a great “Newgrass” band. The welcoming comfort of the rustic local gathering place made for an enjoyable restful evening.

Collegiate PeaksWith friends arriving to fill Pam’s home and wanting to return to New Mexico to hike/climb Wheeler Peak (13,167 ft.), the highest point in the state, I made the return 300 mile drive. Seven hours later, passing Collegiate Peaks, I was back in New Mexico finding a great location to set up camp just outside the small quaint town of Arroy Secco next to Carson National Forest. After the long drive I was looking forward to spending the night in my tent and sleeping bag.

Double RainbowThe first morning I woke to a double rainbow. There’s no video with me hallucinating or trying to understand the meaning of it. (Some of you will know what I’m speaking about.) Having the small town nearby for good coffee, natural foods and the famous Taos Cow ice cream parlor was a bonus.

Returning to camp one evening after surveying the area was a large van with six men of Mexican decent at the adjoining campsite. I thought this was going to be a long sleepless night because of the number of men and music. I made assumptions I shouldn’t. While pulling a few items from the truck one of the men respectfully told me they were staying to cook dinner and return to a local motel for the night and asked me to join them. I felt empty and didn’t know what to say with a feeling of shame that came over me for making judgments. I couldn’t say no to the offer from this generous man and company would be good. I grabbed something to drink to not go empty handed. Approaching the group I sensed I was not welcomed by all and now I was being judged and was going to eat their food! Did I do the right thing accepting the offer!? A few of the men spoke English and we had a spirited conversation about where home is and what it’s like being on the road for extended time. The mood lightened, but a few men weren’t completely welcoming which I accepted and understood.

Mixed Meat Mexican DinnerOverhanging the fire was a cast iron kettle filled with pork, beef, cut up hot dogs, jalapeños, all combined with a red chili sauce. I followed their lead grabbing a tortilla and filling it with the spicy meat mixture. I have to say it was pretty tasteful and satisfying. We ate and traded stories for a while before they broke camp. When leaving the man, who I took as the group leader, offered the rest of the food otherwise it was going to waste since they had no way to store it. The kindness was humbling and not having to cook dinner the next night was fine by me.

Onto Wheeler Peak…

Not being a skier I didn’t know the Taos ski area is a great place and is highly recommended from reviews I’ve read. The resort was closed, but the parking area was open for hikers who want to roam the trails or summit Wheeler Peak.

Wheeler PeakA few miles on the trail I approached a few people from the New Mexico Mountaineers making the climb to the summit. They were a fit spunky group of retirees with an average age of late sixties who travel and hike mid west and western mountains. After a lively conversation and a few pictures I continued on to the summit passing big horn sheep and little furry creatures. The summit had a great view and I carried along a ridge to the boarder of the 17,361 acre Taos Pueblo Native American property. This sacred land with a view of the sacred Blue Lake was not to be trespassed or photographed(the lake). On the decent I was able to view more big horn sheep and returned to a truck covered with snow from the changing mountain weather. The rest of the Mexican mixed meat dinner tasted great. Probably anything would have at that point.

Taos Pueblo Indian ReservationThe following day I visited the 1,000 year old Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation. Very few acres are available for non-natives to see and explore which was disappointing but understandable since they should have more land than they were given. (after it was taken away, but I digress). I toured the reservation where some Indians live and have shops as part of their homes. A few highlights were a Native man drumming and singing, Fry Breadmiscellaneous jewelry and craft shops and fry bread for lunch. Rest was a good part of this day and visits to shops and long talks with owners made for interesting conversation on how some visitors have expectations of a movie style Indian life.

Returning to camp early evening I prepared dinner and spent time journaling before a good nights sleep. Travel the next day would be passing through Boulder, back to Roosevelt National Forest then onto Rocky Mountain National Park. The trek back to New Mexico was well worth it.

– Greg

“No individual or group can block another individual’s path or change it against what fits his nature and his purpose.”   

– Rolling Thunder, Cherokee

Ronald Bradley Mack

Ronald Bradley Mack

This post is dedicated to my friend Ronald “Ron” Bradley Mack who passed recently. A favorite place of Ron’s was Boulder, CO where he studied at the Rocky Mountain Healing Arts Institute. Ron was a healer using The Bradley Technique energy work he developed and evolved over the 30 years of his practice. He performed his healing work in his home, the historic Melville House Bed & Breakfast in New Bedford, MA, where he was the proprietor.

Ron was a friend and mentor who put me on the path of the journey I walk today. Peace to you Ron!

Ron's favorite evening place

Ron enjoying his front garden

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