Saturday, February 6, 2016

Lessons I Learned While Hiking Through The Narrows

Hiking the Narrows: A Refresher Course on Life 
By: J. Foster 
As a recreational hiker and nature-enthusiast I frequently read outdoorsy magazines and enjoy researching cool, earthy places. For the past several years I have had Zion National Park’s hike, the Narrows, at the top of my to-do list. After seeing a picture of two hikers trekking through the high-walled canyon, I was immediately compelled to follow in their soaking, wet footsteps.  
Several months ago, my hiking buddy and I began planning an epic road trip from Denver, CO to Mt. Carmel, UT with the Narrows as the ultimate goal. We took the southern route going down through southwest Colorado and up through southeastern Utah. We saw many attractions along the way but my spirit was most fulfilled accomplishing this bottom-up, half-day hike.   
After preparing our dry bags and finalizing our footwear choices for the hike, we entered Zion National Park. We parked at the Visitor Center and waited for the park shuttle to transport us to the Temple of Sinawava, the last stop on the line. This stop is where the Riverwalk Trail begins, a paved trail shrouded in lush habitation that follows the Virgin River and eventually leads into a deep, narrow canyon; thus the Narrows hike begins.  
We arrived at the trailhead at 10:30a.m, an hour and a half later than we intended but it did not deter us. Eight hours later, at 6:30pm, we arrived back where we started. Those eight hours of hiking over rocks and small boulders through a steady river flow taught me a lot about myself. It also reaffirmed several key lessons about life. Here are some reflections from our trip. 
*The processes of life are all around us.  
At the very start of our hike, just after the first bend in the river, we started to smell an alarmingly foul smell. I started having conversations with myself about how over-used such trails and parks have become, chalking up the odor to people not packing out their human waste. However, as I looked down and to the left, inside one of the first carved out openings that set back from the water there were maggots on the bottom of the rock wall. As we all know, maggots symbolize death so as Rebekah and I looked to see what was decaying, we quickly saw the remains of a dead, rotting deer.  I imagine that the poor thing must have wandered into the canyon and got swept away by a flash flood, coming to rest where we now stood. Of course, this was not the most pleasant way to start out our adventure but later on in the day this experience took on new meaning; almost as clear as an Aesop fable.  
Throughout the hike we were surrounded constantly by three elements: rock, sand, and water. The entire canyon was a visual reminder of process, change, and the power of water: the way the canyon walls curved and were carved, the way some rocks were smooth and others porous (Rebekah’s favorite word) from water’s presence. What is life but time and pressure? What is life but the processes of  burgeoning and decaying?  
At the very end of our awesome journey, as we walked with sore hips and tight quads back to the shuttle we came across a large deer, feeding on the bushes about six feet away from us. This lone deer noticed us and continued to feed on leaves, letting us watch. It was a striking end to the day…beginning the trek with death at our feet and ending the day with life and nourishment. The cycles of life are all around us.  
As we rode the shuttle 40 minutes back to the Visitor Center, I couldn’t help but overhear the people next to us on the bus chatting. A lady who looked in her early forties, who was from Michigan, was talking with a woman in her sixties about all of the National Parks they have seen and hikes they still want to do. When the subject of retirement came up, the younger woman stated, “I think you just have to do it now. We aren’t promised retirement. You never know how much time you have.” 
*New Adventures Create Opportunities to Conquer Self-doubt 
As eager and excited as I was to participate in this uniquely beautiful and slightly challenging hike, I had moments of wondering if I was overestimating my abilities. Of course, taking a self-assessment is wise when undertaking such adventures but sometimes our inner critic can often judge too harshly.  
During the hike there were moments when my anxiety reared its head. Moments when a three feet width of river suddenly started to cause me panic (even hours into the hike, after already trekking through rushing portions of the same current). At times the dialogue in my head began asking such questions as: Am I going to fall? Can I make it? But I reminded myself that not only can I do this but, in fact, have been doing it for a few hours now.  
I remember reading some of the writings of Chris McCandless in my favorite book Into The Wild where he says, 
”…And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head.” 
I took a deep breath and cautiously but with determination put one foot in front of the other, giving a silent middle finger to the voices of self-doubt. The feeling of accomplishment I felt as we walked out of the Narrows will stick with me the rest of my life.  
*Adventures Are Better When Shared 
Continuing the theme of Chris McCandless writings, he wrote in his journal toward the end of his life: “happiness is only real when shared.” And I must concur. 
I’ve always been an independent person (mostly) and I have done solo hikes and solo trips before. But there is something about having a friend or fellow traveler along that makes the moments richer and altogether more fun. I mean, every few minutes while hiking the Narrrows we had to stop and just say out loud, “Whoa! Look at the beauty” or some variation thereof. I imagine if either of us had been hiking solo people would of thought us mad, as we stopped to proclaim the beauty so exuberantly before us.  
But seriously, the laughs, the talks, and the shared experiences add to the enjoyment of the journey. And such is life….But even more, there will always be another soul with flesh on somewhere on this spinning globe that will know exactly what I mean when I say: remember when?  
*One Hike: Two Different Experiences 
The half-day, bottom up hike is one where you can only hike so far before you have to turn around and head back the same way you came (unless you have a special permit). On the way up the Narrows the sun was shining mostly directly down upon us. The canyon was bright and sunbeams danced all around us. On the return hike, the sun was less direct and the canyon became less illuminated. Thus, the canyons own natural colors became more visible. The river became more greenish-blue. Instead of sunbeams dancing it was now shadows that danced before us. Both directions were beautiful. Both directions offered different experiences; something I wasn’t expecting.  
I am reminded that sometimes I miss things the first time around.  
Sometimes I misjudge people. Sometimes I turn off my mind before the ride is over. Or I close my eyes before the real performance begins. If I had kept my eyes down on the return hike, thinking that I had seen it all before, I would have missed out on the canyons true beauty. 
 I must remember to keep my eyes open. And to remember that the elements of surprise and wonder may just be around the corner…even if it is a path I have already journeyed.  
*Sometimes it is helpful to plan your steps. Sometimes it is helpful to go with the flow.  
The river showed me things about myself.  
Besides bringing to the surface bits of self-doubt it also showed me parts of my personality and that of my hiking buddy.  
There were numerous times when we had to criss-cross the river due to boulders or one side being more or less rushing than the other. About twenty minutes into the hike I began to develop my own system of navigating the hike for myself. I would look upstream and see what was coming and where the white water was so that I could go around (if possible) the more powerful currents. The river became like a chess board as I tried to think two steps ahead. My hiking buddy was fearless. I noticed her several times taking on the river in sections where I chose to go to the left but she was chill with going to the right side. She was spontaneous and fierce; taking the river as it came to her.  
I believe life is best lived when balanced between these two approaches: planning and spontaneity. I must be mindful of how I tread and yet if I try to plan out every step I will certainly take all of the joy out of life (not to mention be very frustrated when unforeseen events occur). I must also learn to go with the flow.  
Like the river, I must remember that I am strong. But I must learn to bend. It is okay to have both deep and shallow moments. And it is okay to let people in. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Rocky Mountain National Park in the Fall.

Skittle-colored aspen leaves splashed amidst the evergreens. 

Elk bugles and mating rituals.

Somber. Spiritual. Reflective. 

I love Rocky Mountain National Park in the Fall. 

(photos taken 10/7/15)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Denver's Best Burger of 2015--Humboldt: Farm Fish and Wine

I finally had the chance to experience Denver's Humboldt burger! Literally from the very first bite I knew this burger was THE ONE. The flavor of the beef combined with the smoky bacon vibe was the first noticeable taste to my palate. Soon after the initial taste the other flavors from their specialty sweet onion jam (I do not usually like onions but this jam is incredible) blended in as well. And my mouth was in heaven. On this particular evening the meat was cooked right at about medium (which is also not usually my preference but I told the server to bring it out however the chef recommended). Dang it, it was such a perfect burger! I have seriously never tasted a burger so flavorful and delicious.

They offer the Humboldt burger everyday, including during happy hour. If you go during happy hour it is $6 bucks cheaper than usual. But  even the non-happy hour price of $16 is worth it!!

Speaking of Humboldt Happy Hour, they have one of the best happy hours in town for the quality of their menu. So, come try out the Humboldt burger or try out some fresh oysters!

But, seriously, come check this place out! Even former President Clinton and U2's Bono dined here recently!



1700 Humboldt St.
Denver, CO 80218

Open everyday at 11am.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Byers-Evans House Museum; A Peek at Prominent Life in Early Denver

I recently toured the Byers-Evans House Museum. It is located adjacent to the Denver Art Museum, at 13th and Bannock. The large, Italianate style house was built in 1883 by Denver's first newspaper publisher, William Byers of the Rocky Mountain News.

The house was later sold to William Evans in 1889. He was the son of John Evans, the 2nd Territorial Governor of Colorado. His family and descendants would go on to occupy the house for over 90 years. I was fascinated by his daughter, Josephine's room which displayed her hand-carved leather works among other interesting items.

The house is quite large and lovely. The wallpaper that lines the mainroom downstairs and up to the second floor is unique and beautiful. It almost looks like wood sketches. You can tell the family was well educated as there are book cases in almost every room and artifacts from their various travels.

The house has been restored and focuses on an interpretive era from 1912-1924. According to my friendly tour guide (named Angela) over 90% of the furnishings inside belonged to the Evans family.

It was fun and intriguing to peer back in catch a glimpse of what life was like as a wealthy family in early Denver.

(This is the view of the original entrance. The window to the left had a bullet hole in it...apparently someone wasn't too thrilled with the Evan's family at one time....I remember the tour guide saying something about voting issues....and the Tramway....anyway...)

                       (The conservatory)                             (View of one of the parlors)


Tour times:
May-August there is an additional tour at

Friday, April 24, 2015

Riverside Cemetery; Denver's Oldest Cemetery

I recently toured  Riverside Cemetery, Denver's oldest cemetery founded in 1876. Plenty of history and interesting sights abound in this park. It is referred to as Denver's Pioneer Cemetery. As you walk around and notice the dates on the headstones, as well as, many familiar last names (if you know your Colorado history) you can see why.

Riverside is home to three early governors and many other public figures. One thing about Colorado history is that if you are familiar with Colorado's topography and names of it's famous mountain peaks...then you already know many of Colorado's famous figures. And many of these famous people are buried in Riverside Cemetery. When approaching Samuel Elbert's headstone, I remarked to my professor (my tour guide), "Hey, is that the Mt. Elbert guy?" To which she replied with lack of amusement but slight smirk, "yes."

As my professor was eager to point out, cemeteries offer a slice of community history. Riverside offers a demographic tour of the cultures represented in early Denver. In one corner are buried Denver's first Japanese individuals, a community of Russian Orthodox in another, also African American, Italian, and several other ethnic communities represented.

There is also a large military section dating back to the civil war era. One of my personal favorite military persons in history is Silas Soule, who refused to take part in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. He is buried in Riverside.

So, if you like history, photography, or old cemeteries come visit Riverside.

The cemetery sits amidst a dense industrial area of Denver. The cemetery has been in decline since its loss of water rights and the focus turned toward the more upscale Fairmount Cemetery (Denver's 2nd oldest cemetery).

(This is the headstone of Denver's first known Japanese resident; Tadaatsu Matsudaira, 1855-1888.)

(Vines growing on the outside of what was John Evan's mausoleum)

(Russian orthodox area)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Denver; The Mile High City (and a funny story of inaccurate surveying)

Downtown Denver is a popular place for locals as it seems there is always a festival, concert, new restaurant or cultural event going on. Not to mention the art museum, history museum and central library are all located nearby as well.

Recently, as I was working on a history project, I needed to locate a specific monument designating the end of one of the old pioneer trails (the Smoky Hill trail marker at Colfax and Broadway), I remembered that on the steps of the Capitol building is the survey marker designating that you are standing officially one mile above sea level. So, I headed up to get some pics. The original engraving that says "one mile above sea level" was etched in 1947  on the 15th step of the Capitol (etched  because people kept taking the sign). However, in 1969 people determined that the 18th step was in deed the accurate elevation....Well....guess 2003 the marker was moved again to the 13th step. (Apparently, land surveying is not always easy to decipher). At any rate if you stand at or near one of these markers you are standing pretty much officially at one mile above sea level.

As you stand on the steps and face west, you can see Denver's courthouse across the lawn, and beyond that the mountains or front range as we say here in Denver.

So, if you are downtown and want a quick, fun photo op--walk up the west side of the Capitol steps and pick a survey marker.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

It's That Time Again; Aspen Leaf Viewing!

Upon moving to Colorado I began to experience life amidst four seasons (although I will admit the Fall season is seemingly quite short here compared to the other three). There is something about the changing of the seasons that speaks to the soul. Obviously change is a natural part of life. But the way we are able to enter into each season.... and then to see it fade away....and the process in between...there is something about those transition points where you start to notice, for instance, the nights becoming cooler....or the sun going down earlier....the wildlife changing their routines...or the leaves changing their colors....perhaps it makes me feel a part of something greater than myself...and encourages me to be conscious of the world around any case, I have come to love the four seasons (though I still am making peace with winter driving).

 My favorite season, that of fall, encourages me to look for the glorious beauty all enjoy the moment for soon it will the golden, quaking aspen trees do their annual this often times dry, arid climate the splash of yellow, orange and lime are not unlike masterpieces to behold. Soon winter will be here...and the colors more monotonous...but for about 5 weeks in September/October we have the chance to witness nature at its peak color spectrum.

So, get out and let nature brighten up your soul!

I have posted before on popular places and sites: here and here.

And I will also list more of the same below:

(in no particular order...most of the locals know of these.....and basically if you notice that most of them are pass roads...therefore, if you basically just drive in the freakin' mountains right now you're going to see some awesome colors....)

1) Guanella Pass
2)Kenosha Pass
3) Kebler Pass
4) Boreas Pass
5) Peak to Peak Highway
6) Maroon Bells
7) Rocky Mountain National Park
8) Independence Pass
and many others....these are just my favorites but also popular one's

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Denver Biscuit Company; So Good You'll Think They Stole Your Granny's Recipe!


The Denver Biscuit Company takes the Southern, backwoods breakfast biscuit and introduces it to the neon lights of the urban city! wont believe you're not in the south as the fresh, hearty biscuit flakes off into your mouth...only to make way for the juicy goodness that is to come; whether it be sausage, fried chicken or catfish!

I sampled the Dahlia; according to their menu it consists of: housemade sausage patty, apple butter, fried egg, and maple syrup (the only thing I would have added was a slice of cheddar cheese). It was almost as if I was sitting in my Granny's kitchen. It doesn't get any better than that folks.



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Walking in the Footsteps of the Ute at 11,000 feet

I have long been fascinated with the various Native American tribes that first inhabited the Colorado territory. Upon learning that the Ute tribe frequented the area now known as Rocky Mountain National Park, I have been fascinated to retrace their steps and to try to see through their eyes. Just this week I finally got the chance to walk along the Ute Trail, which traverses heights of  over 11,000 feet. I pondered the view as if I lived in the 1800's (or beyond) and marveled that I was seeing the very same view that the Ute's saw as they hunted in this area during summer time. The hike was more of a stroll and at times I was actually being pushed along by the forceful winds that frequently blow through the high elevations. Situated off of Trail Ridge Road, the views are astounding! I will always remember this hike as I felt connected to nature and to history.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Gunnison KOA

Are you looking for a family-friendly place to camp or lodge while in the Gunnison area? Then look no further than KOA Gunnison.
With clean restrooms, hot showers, pool tables, shuffleboard and paddle boats this place makes for a great family getaway.

I will say that it did look crowded in the RV area and several of the deluxe cabins face the RV I would definitely recommend the A-frame cabins as they are on the other side of the lake and all to themselves. They are small; comfortable enough for two and very basic. I found it very peaceful and cozy.

**Do bring bug spray as the mosquitoes have been active

(The A-frame cabins)

The atmosphere was one of a satisfying summer folks grilled out, children rode their bikes, others lounged in their camp chairs, and I stared at the reflection of the sky splashed across the pond....

I would definitely recommend this place for families, couples or individuals who want a few amenities while enjoying an outdoorsy getaway.

**There is also a fenced dog-off-leash area where you can play fetch with your canine family member. Also, the staff were very friendly and the property was clean and well-maintained.

(View from inside A-frame cabin looking across the pond)

There are several places to visit nearby (of which I have written about previously). Click on the links for more information.

KOA Gunnison information:
click here for their website

105 County Road 50
Gunnison, CO 81230
Reserve: 800-562-1248
Info: 970-641-1358