One of the things I love most in life is gaining an appreciation of something I’ve become desensitized to. Gaining an awareness of something that I’ve seen a hundred times but have never actually noticed. Such things happen when friends from home come to see… well, home.
“Check out those fancy, rustic houses!”
“Look at those Christmas-looking trees!”
“The weather is beautiful!” (—on probably one of the crappiest days I’ve seen)
Even, “I like these rocks, these are neat rocks!”
I stared at the small stones my friend, Allison, held in her palm, and cocked my head, trying to see what she saw in those familiar, completely ordinary, rocks.
But before I could say anything, she and our other friend, Amanda, were already running across the trail toward a wooden bridge, whipping out their phones for endless pictures. I smiled as I followed them, knowing when I first came here, I had a similar reaction. And then I was disheartened for a moment, wondering why my reaction to the beauty around me had changed since then.
It’s hard to know the exact time when we lose appreciation for something, especially if that something is in our lives everyday. When did I stop noticing the Christmas-looking trees, the fancy, rustic houses, the colorful, weather-worn river stones? Even the weather, cloudy, gray and snowy as it was, was beautiful.
Why hadn’t I thought of these things on my own today?
Over the next few days, my friends’ enlivened spirits would change that.
Colorado National Monument was the next place I took them to after picking them up in Aspen’s airport and spending the rest of the day exploring the quiet (—due to the off-season) ski town.
The monument, located near Grand Junction, reminds me of the Grand Canyon’s little brother—though I’m not sure little is the best word to describe it.
Thirty-two square miles of deep-cut canyons, sandstone formations, waterfall tunnels and sagebrush-dotted valleys make this National Park one of Colorado’s most scenic areas. My friends were starstruck, pointing “look!” at the scenery every five minutes. It wasn’t hard for me to have an automatic and lasting appreciation of this place, too, since it was also my first time seeing it. Still, I credit their enthusiasm for spiking mine, and before long I was the one jumping up and down and pointing at the canyons.
After spending nearly the entire day driving through and hiking at the park, I spent the next two days at my internship, thinking I’d give my friends a break from the high-altitude exercise and travel here. Too excited to “rest,” as I encouraged them to do, they spent those days hiking more, both around my home and the town of Carbondale. Each evening as I came home, they were full of stories and, well…life.
They had done hikes I had also done before, but their perspectives were completely different. While I seemed to focus on the bigger picture (like, the mountain I was climbing or the view at the top), they seemed most excited about the journey there, the weird bends in tree-trunks, the types of birds and the steps to the top. All the little details that I had overlooked. I listened to their stories and told myself I needed to hike these trails, apparently for the first time.
On the second day of my internship, I ran up during my lunch break to meet my friends on the nearby trail!
On Wednesday I took off of from my internship to bike 14 miles roundtrip with them through Glenwood Canyon. Though I had driven through the canyon before, biking was a totally different experience. Up-close bighorn sheep, for example.
It was a beautiful, warm day. The canyon walls towered overhead as we weaved through dandelion fields, neighborhoods and green valleys along the Colorado river.
If three straight days of hiking and biking for my friends wasn’t enough, on Thursday I took them to Crystal Mill where we (accidentally) hiked another six miles over boulders and snow. The original plan was to drive much closer to the destination, which was a wooden compressor station from 1893 that used the Crystal River to power machinery, and perhaps the most photographed site in Colorado. This had been on my bucket list ever since I moved here, especially since it required having an off-road vehicle to make it there (unless you want to hike the 10 miles roundtrip). Amanda and Allison got their first taste of, I’d say, pretty extreme off-roading (I know I said in my Moab post that the off-roading there was intense…compared to this, I stand corrected).
Four miles of jagged, let me repeat, JAGGED rocks the size of bowling balls or bigger stood between us and the mill. Let’s just say, in between driving the sections that were barely wide enough for only one vehicle, with sheer drop-offs to one side, I asked Amanda multiple times if the tires were ok. I genuinely thought they might pop.
We passed Lizard Lake, with water as green as….a lizard…and made it about a mile or so before we hit an impassable amount of snow. Slightly relieved to no longer be jostled to death in the Jeep, we began to make the trek the rest of the way, admittingly having no idea how far we still had to go. What we thought would only be about another mile turned into at least three, and it was the constant rounding the bend and being hopeful for an end in sight—when in reality there was only another bend—that finally did us in. The previous days had finally caught up to us.
But the mill was always just up ahead…
But when we finally did get there, we knew instantly it was worth it.
We checked out the actual town of Crystal, another 0.2 miles ahead, completely abandoned and totally cool. All around, a backdrop of snowy mountains circled the historic town, including one that looked like the Grinch’s peak in Whoville (not pictured).
The hike back was much faster since we were on a mission to finally be off our feet, even spooking a coyote eight feet away as we charged on. The next two days consisted of sleeping in and being completely lazy. But with all we had seen and done, I was confident they got a pretty good taste of their first trip to Colorado. And I remembered something very important.
At this point, I no longer needed my friends’ energy to remind me of how grateful I am for this place. The trees, the rocks, the endless places to explore… I remembered how it felt to see it all for the first time. And from now, I plan on keeping it that way.
So thank you, friends, for reminding me to look around, really see, and appreciate. Come back again soon 🙂
Welcome, home. Welcome home.