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For the wanderers 21 May 2012

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…and the would-be wanderers. If your heart longs to explore, then you’ll find something in this video. It’s incredible

 

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Switzerland (Or: Why you shouldn’t build your mansion in the mountains) 12 March 2012

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So here’s the thing about about Switzerland: sometimes, after too long spent traveling around only your own country, you’ll look at your bank account and say, “Huh, that seems like more than I usually have.” To which your frugal side will respond, “Yes, yes it is, and it’s the product of your hard work and diligence and it’ll pay for your child’s education and a downpayment and a nest egg and, and…” But then Switzerland will slink by with a  vest full of cheeses and Patek Philippes saying, “Betcha I can help you unload all that extra cash in a week.”

And of course, you’ll take Switzerland up on the offer because, well, the Alps.

For the geographically challenged, it’s a country about twice the size of New Jersey sitting pretty in the middle of Europe, between France, Italy, Germany and Austria. For the politically challenged, it’s also, you should note, not part of the EU. Why should that matter to you? Because Switzerland’s not on the Euro, and with the rest of the continent esploding and whatnot, this has made the historically safe Swiss Franc (CHF), a very, very expensive currency.

Expect to pay about $1.10 for every 1.00 CHF. That doesn’t sound bad, except everything in Switzerland costs about twice as much as it does in America to begin with. So plan on 200 CHF/night for a small hotel room, 25CHF/plate at dinner and 5 CHF/beer.

Once you get past the price, though, Switzerland is quite possibly one of the best, and certainly most beautiful, places on Earth. Folks from the Midwest tend to regard mountains as mountains. They’re big. They loom. Goats and people climb them. But spend any amount of time around rocky, pointy places and you’ll realize that not every range was created equal. The Sawatch in Colorado roll up to 14,000′ covered in talus–a fairly boring affair as mountains go. The San Juans offer a bit more relief: solid walls of rock a few thousand feet high, rugged terrain filled with lakes. And then there are the Alps, still dissected by glaciers and soaring 10,000′ above the valley floor where a cluster of chalets huddle together against  rockslides and avalanches.

The tallest peak in the Alps, Mont Blanc (which is actually in France/Italy), breaks the 15,000′ barrier, higher than anything in the lower 48. And as its name implies, the glaciers smothering its summit leave it white year-round. No one will ever confuse Colorado for this place, no matter how much Telluride may protest to the contrary.

Anyway, faced with all that, we did what any sensible Coloradan would do: we skied it.

There’s more to that than you might image. Skiing in Europe is an affair unlike anything you’ll encounter in the US. There are no “resorts” in the American sense of the word, only “areas,” which generally seem to be run by their surrounding communities. The difference is this: so long as you’re in between the ropes at an American resort, you probably won’t die in an avalanche. In Switzerland, only the groomers benefit from avy control. And that partly explains why, in the 2009-2010 season, avalanches in Switzerland claimed 29 lives, seven of them in one slide alone. During that same period, 36 people died in all of America, where the population is roughly 40 times that of Switzerland.

I suspect to Europeans, this all contributes to the danger, and allure, of skiing. You might die. You might not. In practice, though, this seems to scare the bejeepers out of most skiers, who appear too timid to tackle evenest the tamest off-piste terrain. Of course, enough of them do that you can kinda sorta tell what’s safe an what isn’t based on their tracks, but for the most part, the day after a storm offers unlimited powder runs, which are exactly what we discovered in Grindelwald. Eight new inches, bluebird skies and the Eiger (which is German for ogre, evidently) keeping a close eye on everyone below.

This was skiing as it was meant to be. The Swiss should know; alpine skiing draws its name from these mountains. Yet the country predates the sport by several hundred years, meaning the ski villages typically appeared well before their lifts. You won’t find condo towers here, or mansions, just chalets perched on the hillside as if they’d grown right out of it, clustered together so a half dozen villages might inhabit a single valley. In some sense, these villages seem as much a part of the mountains as the boulders and the trees.

We could learn from that. It’s hard to overestimate the difference this makes in the overall experience. On the slopes, skiing is skiing and it’s easy to lose track of time and place. But wander the narrow alleys of Zinal as the last hints of alpenglow fade from the peaks and it takes you back a century or more. You pass a barn, an ornate carving on a chalet twice as old as anyone you’ve ever met. This place seems right, in a way that Vail with its Disneyland decorations and too-clean shutters can never match. This is the Swiss ski experience, not reliant upon the snow, which falls now and again in Tahoe-like dumps, but on a unique mixture of mountains, towns and the occasional ski lifts that all seem to draw meaning from one another.

Give America 800 years, and maybe we’ll get there, too. But right now, in our lifetimes, there’s only one place for it: Switzerland.

The Start of the Season 9 November 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing, Travel.
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Of course we were wearing onesies. Of course. 

I think we can consider the season officially started, so long as you ignored the opening of Wolf Creek, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, but no one really counts those since they’re not real mountains. The ski season hasn’t truly begun until some mountain owned by a publicly traded company or a private equity firm gets into the game. Those are the folks who know what skiing’s all about, so I’ve decided to write a season-opening haiku in their honor.

Keystone and Copper:

keeping investors happy.

How? More yard sales, please.

I spent too long on that.  In any case, Copper mountain and Keystone have both opened their white ribbons of death, so if you still haven’t bought a pass and want to base your decision purely on on the one run that’s open right now, get the five mountain from Vail Resorts. Keystone’s top-to-bottom runs, serviced by two lifts, will make it worth your while. After that, well, I don’t know. This is the first year I’ve held the Copper/Winter Park pass, so it’s tough to say where you’ll get the most value down the road. But you’re concerned about skiing Right Now, right?

In other news, it looks like Winter Park’s opening early; they say it’s because so many folks were asking them for it at, of all places, Denver’s Ski Expo last weekend. Plan on heading there this Saturday, Nov. 12 if you prefer crossing Berthoud, rather than Loveland, Pass to get to some mediocre skiing. On the other hand, maybe you ought to check out Wolf Creek, which received almost three feet of snow over the weekend.

And in still other news, if you haven’t bought a pass already or if you do have a pass and simply oodles of money to spend too, you should check out the Monarch season pass. Even if you’re not planning on skiing there, the $339 you’ll pay for it gets you three free days at a gaggle of ski resorts including… Revelstoke, Powderhorn, Sunlight, Loveland, Red River, Angel Fire and several more. You’ll also get a free unguided day at Silverton as well as half price skiing at Taos and Alta, two of the best mountains in America. The rep at the ski expo suggested that next year will feature even more deals, so check Monarch’s website in late spring/early summer next year to get the best deals.

That’s all for now, but if any of you have experience writing profile pieces for magazines, let me know. I’ve told Powder that’s the plan for Tuesday, but I’m not sure I have any idea what I’m doing.

It’s Denver… with Rain! 1 November 2011

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Seattle, that is. C– and I journeyed northwest a week ago to explore the only other American city in which we’d consider living (Leadville notwithstanding). Despite what Seattleites will tell you, it’s just as rainy and gray as you’d expect, but somehow no one seems to mind. We sure didn’t. But maybe that’s because we’re from Denver where the slightest hint of moisture in the air sends folks into a frenzy of sorts. We press against the windows watching rain fall as if it were Manna. Suffice it to say, Denver types have a preoccupation with water, and seeing so much of it in one place is a little surreal. Seattleites, on the other hand, attach fenders to their road bikes and set out on rides oblivious to the drizzle. That’s crazy.

The water issue aside, the two places seemed in our limited experience, fairly similar. Yelp and, improbably, Yahoo! Answers seem to agree on that point. Both cities offer a liveable, walkable downtown that extend beyond just the city core into the surrounding neighborhoods, leading me to believe that my upbringing in the suburbs of St. Louis cultivated an irrational fear of urban places. Apparently, in other major cities, taking a stroll downtown won’t get you shot. This is happy news. I’d continue at length about the great migration of twenty-somethings to urban neighborhoods, but that’d be a dreadful bore, so how about the coast?

Seattle sits on the edge of Puget Sound, a body of water which probably holds more liquid than every Colorado puddle combined, but you’ll have to drive a couple hours to reach the true shore. It’s a worthwhile trip if you’re visiting, particularly since involves a ferry journey across the sound. But once you’re out of Seattle, the Washington countryside begins, green as anything you’ve ever seen. There’s an actual rainforest up there, the Hoh, I think. Fog rolls off the mountains; wood smoke fills the air. Is that a bald eagle across the lake?

And then you arrive in Forks. The town has achieved a kind of notoriety (or fame, depending upon your perspective) as the setting for the Twilight series. This has evidently made an otherwise bleak and miserable little city on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula a hot spot for a certain sort of tourist, and if you can imagine imagine Bella and Edward doing anything, you’ll find that there’s tour for that in Forks. We even ran across Twilight firewood. You guess is as good as mine. Too bad the whole thing was filmed in British Columbia, but at least you’ll find a good latte at the grocery’s coffee shop.

Forks leads to the shore,and if you’ve never wandered across a deserted coastline in the Pacific Northwest, then you’ve yet to experience one of life’s great joys. This is America as it was before anyone knew it by that name. The cedars and the Douglas firs run right up to the beach and extend impenetrably back to Mount Olympus. The fog hangs everywhere, a gauze holding back the rest of the world. Only the evolving dunes of the Outer Banks can approach the vast desolation of that landscape. There is nothing to the ocean except wave upon wave upon wave.

Coming to Colorado, I’d wondered whether the mountains ever grew old, whether they became background noise. I can report that they haven’t, but standing there along the shore, I wondered if the ocean, too, could lose its appeal. It can’t. You come to Seattle for the water.

A Toll for the Slopes 17 October 2011

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I just love when skiing intersects with policy, particularly since most of the time, nobody wants to hear wonkishness about Pigovian taxes and internalizing externalities. But when you’re stuck in a car on a Saturday morning waiting, praying for ski traffic to start moving, it’s high time to pull out the ole policy gun and fire off a round or two. At least you have a captive, and interested, audience. Pretty much everyone who skis in Colorado hopes for a solution to the traffic nightmare that is a weekend morning or evening. For those of you not familiar with Colorado’s unique predicament, here’s a primer from Slateon that stretch of highway between Denver and Vail:

The I-70 mountain corridor is a rather unusual piece of highway. As Ken Wissel, a transportation engineer with the Denver firm Stantec…describes it, I-70 has two of the highest peaks in the entire Interstate Highway system within 25 miles of each other. There are four major ascents, a two-mile-long tunnel that dips under the Continental Divide, a terrifying descent that features one of the country’s most-used emergency truck ramps, and a number of merge zones where traffic must jockey as the highway goes from three to two lanes before entering the tunnels. To complicate matters there’s snow, a lot of snow (“We had 600 inches last year,” Wissel says); and traffic, a lot of traffic.  “We end up with some real long queues,” Wissel says. Backups as long as 30 miles have been reported.

A good summary, but the problem isn’t all about the geography; it involves people too. The ski day begins and ends at particular times, meaning that traffic all arrives from Denver at around the same hour and departs on a similarly scheduled basis: roughly 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. All those cars at once, intermingled with the inexperienced throngs of Midwestern vacationers and their white-knuckle driving creates a mess of volume and accident-related slowdowns or stops. Dealing with traffic is a necessary part of skiing in Colorado. A rite of passage almost.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Slate article above describes the problem to tell a larger story about CDOT’s attempts to “harmonize” traffic at certain speeds. Once volume hits a certain point, a cop pulls onto the highway, lights flashing, and leads the mass of cars at 55 mph. Think pace car in an Indy or NASCAR race. That keeps drivers from engaging the the sort of speed up/slow down behavior that results accidents that cause even more delays. Two tests so far this year seem to indicate that it will be an effective strategy, but it only addresses a symptom, not the underlying problem of volume.

The real issue of course is volume: too many cars on a road only designed to handle so much. And look, before you say it, I know that semi trucks are a curse too, but they only become relevant once traffic reaches a certain point anyway. If there aren’t already 10 bajillion cars on the road, whatever dumb behavior you attribute to 18-wheelers doesn’t matter. At any rate, when the problem is volume, you can have only two solutions: increase capacity or decrease the number of cars.

No one’s going to widen I-70 anytime soon, nor are they going to build that monorail, so you can nix solution one right out of the gates. So the second option is the only realistic one, and since you can’t arbitrarily ban, say, cars with license plates ending in odd numbers from heading up to the mountains, the leaves the sensible solution of making the whole thing a toll road—at least part of the time. Congestion pricing is nothing new—London does it—but it will definitely piss people off. It will also keep them off the road because traveling around peak times will get annoyingly expensive.

Under the system, traveling at peak hours would incur higher tolls, while off peak travel could be essentially free, encouraging drivers to travel at off times or to pile more people into their cars to diffuse the cost of the toll. In turn the money could go toward expanded capacity. Or a monorail. I mean, why not? I’m not as interested in the particulars as I am in forcing drivers to confront the real costs they’re incurring when they all show up at the same hour because the interstate is free, creating slowdowns that waste everyone’s time. Time really is money, and we shouldn’t be wasting either when it comes to skiing. If it takes toll roads to get us to and from the slopes faster, then toll roads we shall have.

Two Falls, Two Springs 27 September 2011

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Climbing Pyramid Peak this weekend took more effort than I’d imagined it might, and my quads are reminding me of that today, but all in all the hike became one of the more enjoyable ones of the year, if only because of the season. I’d almost forgotten about fall in the mountains—autumn comes twice in Colorado—but the passel of photographers at Maroon Lake hadn’t. Well before dawn, they’d lined up on the shores, two deep in places, for that iconic shot of the Bells, that one you see in Nature Valley commercials. We on the other hand, got lost taking the wrong trail, backtracked to the lake, then eventually found our way at first light. So much for starting early.

At any rate, it was a reminder that most everyone else in the country seems to think that Denver’s a mountain town, a place where folks ski to work and bobsled home–and in a way it is, since so many folks here enjoy a mountain lifestyle, and so many more would bobsled anywhere if given the chance. But the truthof course is that Denver’s on the plains, the high plains sure, yet the mountains only begin to rise 20 minutes from downtown. Think Omaha, except a mile higher, so the fiction that we’re always bundled up waiting for the next blizzard is just that, a fiction. The reality is if anything stranger and more wonderful: two scoops of every season.

At this very moment, fall has come to the mountains. The high country aspens have received Midas touch, and in a month’s time, maybe less, a foot of snow will blanket their fallen leaves while the same process begins here on the plains. A month after that, as the mountain freeze hardens, Denver will begin to feel a true winter chill. Yet its winter is brief, lasting until April, just as the high country receives the most snow and the most sun. Ski conditions up there will be their best all year. Those 4000′ separating Denver from Summit County always leave the mountains two months ahead or behind.

So, this weekend, our route to the summit carried us past a rock glacier, a molting mountain goat and up a fairly stiff face that in places involved significant exposure. I can report that Pyramid Peak is more interesting, certainly, than anything you might encounter hiking Missouri. It’s a fourteener which actually deserves to be climbed, so long as you remember the helmet and keep your wits about you.

The summit delivered cool, calm weather perfect for lazing and gazing. Before this, I don’t think I’d spent any time in the Elks, but they must rank near the top of any “most beautiful” range list for the Bells alone. The rich, red hues of the sedimentary rocks in the area, coupled with the near vertical faces set the Elks apart from the standard Colorado fare of grays and rolling slopes. Aspen is that much the better for it.

Colorado has a Wyoming: Hiking the San Juans 19 September 2011

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Everyone in Denver wishes he’d spent some time in the San Juans. Just talk to anyone in the hiking community around here and the story’s the same, “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to get down there for ages. Just never had the chance.” At six hours in drive time alone from the Front Range, even the nearest peaks aren’t very doable in a weekend. And the 14ers that draw the most folks require at least a day-long hike beyond the trailhead. The rest of the range is similarly remote.

Still, this being Colorado, when I made the trip on a Labor Day weekend, I expected to run into a bunch of other hikers who’d finally received the opportunity to spend some extra time in southwestern Colorado. Except they never materialized. The town of Creede, last stop before the Rio Grande Reservoir and points deeper into the range, bustled with Texans getting into and out of their trucks. I also ran into a costumed bachelorette party which, curiously, included the bachelor too. Stranger things have happened.
Creede’s a curious town, though. Its rise and fall follow the standard Colorado mining arc, but no ski area has resuscitated its fortunes, leaving me to wonder what exactly happens to a mountain town of 400 during the winter. So I asked the girl making a burrito at the cafe.

“Well, there’s pond hockey.”

“No, I mean what do you folks do when the tourists aren’t around?”

“Oh, well, this is a good place to be if you like spending time with your friends and drinking beer.”

“Those are good things.”

“Then maybe you’d like Creede during the winter.”

But this was a post about the San Juans.

I wandered in on my own on a Saturday morning with plans to visit a formation called “The Window” and the less descriptively named Ute Basin. You’d do well to make the same trip. The whole area lies within the Weminuche Wilderness, a protected tract of nearly 500,000 acres that covers Colorado’s most remote and jagged peaks: the Needles range, the Grenadiers, Chicago Basin.

The hike in follows the Los Pinos River, which got me to thinking that Pinos Altos would be a good name for a mountain cabin. Hiking alone, that sort of thing gets stuck in your head. Pinos Altos. A one-room cabin with a wood burning stove, maybe some pelts of varmints hanging from the rafters. The smell of wood smoke.  Pinos Altos would exist in a state of perpetual winter, where the snow was always falling, the fire was always burning, and we were always just returning from a long day of something difficult and rewarding. You spend a few miles thinking about that when you hike alone.

Eventually the trail turned toward the Window itself, leaving the Pinos River behind and below, its meadows receding around the bend. I’d met one man earlier, returning from a solo hike to the summit of the Rio Grande Pyramid. “Trail goes up that way for a couple miles,” he said, “Then you’ll hit a blow down, and if you start thinking, ‘This is steep,’ it is steep, and you should go back around. There’s a cairn.” And we continued.

The Window comes out of nowhere. You see the Pyramid, rising above most everything else, then its arm extending south. But there’s this chunk out of it, plain as day, and that’s the window. Evidently, the whole thing’s volcanic, a bunch of breccia that doesn’t get anyone except geologists excited, and as volcanic rock tends to do, it fell apart. I learned from a retiree the next morning–he ran into me as I was striking camp–that the Spanish used to use the Window as a guide post of

sorts as they smuggled gold out of the San Juans. Moved tons and tons of it, evidently, though some partnership with the Utes. He’d read about it in a book titled “The Window” in Spanish, which he suggested I read if I could remember the word for window. Luckily, Google Translate can.

As you might imagine, the Window is suitably spectacular. The view is a postcard from Wyoming. With the addition of a glacier or two the Needles could pass for the Winds, and it all unfolds before you without any indication of a human presence. The whole of the San Juans surrounds the Window and from every angle the mountains stack up on one another until they disappear beyond the horizon.

This leads me to believe that the San Juans could in fact pass for Wyoming. Nowhere else in Colorado feels so high and so lonesome. Every valley ought to have a town, but look, and a braided river winds its way through a meadow, perhaps on its way to Los Pinos. If I were the Spanish, I’m not sure why I’d ever smuggle anything out of this place—better to sit there and admire it, alone preferably, but good company could work too.

Invariably, a twinge of sadness accompanies a departure from a high point like The Window. The trail descends, the views disappearing along the way. But this trail holds more in store, and as two hikers told me on Ute Pass, it would only get better.

It did.


Another saddle and more views down a web of drainages. Where could they lead? Then along another ridge staring into the Needles. A thousand lakes, it seemed, or at least a few. These were the winds all over again. A trail, trees, lakes, the rolling expanse. Here was Colorado before the mining booms and busts, before Creede, before even the Spanish and the Utes and all that gold.

Past Ute Lake, then Twin Lakes, it had to end. The Continental Divide Trail—the unbroken ribbon from Mexico to Canada—continued north, but my route carried me back to the reservoir, and my waiting car. The hunters camped at Twin Lakes never called out a greeting, and no one else appeared along the trail to greet.

An evening in a meadow, then a frosty sunrise. The hike out through Aspens. A family of stoats and more thoughts about Pinos Altos.

I’m not sure where all the thoughts go when you hike alone, spending that time with yourself. To be in your head that long, it should drive a person crazy, but it never does. It can’t. Too many mountains wait out there.


Hiking the Wind Rivers: The Wilderness Paradox 16 August 2011

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There was everything I thought I knew about Wyoming. And then there were the Wind Rivers. This isn’t, though—or won’t be—the glowing trip report you’re thinking those first two sentences might suggest. The Winds defied my expectations in a good way, yes: they offered unmatched beauty. But I can’t help but call the north end of this range anything other than “overrun.” Even as a Coloradan, I can say that.

These mountains offer glacially-carved bliss an an almost inconceivable scale. Only the Alps present a superior demonstration of the interplay between rock and ice. Each peak, arete, col and horn evinces a glacial past. How else to explain a tower of rock soaring 3,000′, straight up, from the valley below? What else could scatter these thousand tarns? The rolling mounds of Colorado’s Sawatch look positively benign by comparison. And yet, naturally, it is these features which draw so many to the range. The Winds may well be the Times Square of the American backpacking world, lack of lounge chairs notwithstanding.

So I’m just not sure what to make of that, particularly as a Coloradan who has grown used to, if not accepting of, crowds in the backcountry. On the one hand, greater use most likely leads to greater and wider appreciation of wilderness in the legal sense. In the Winds, three federally-designated wilderness areas—the Bridger, Fitzpatrick and Popo Agie—preserve the range’s remote qualities by banning mechanical travel, and each comes with its own trail-side sign to remind visitors that they’ve entered a wilder place.

Whether that reminder translates into support of continued or expanded federal protection once hikers return home, I’m not sure, but I suspect it does. Let’s say it does. So these crowds are a mixed blessing of sorts: necessary as constituents making the case for wilderness, but painful as traffic jams pile up on the trail. That’s what national parks are for. You can find solitude elsewhere.

But I guess the lack of solitude’s more our problem, really, and not a black mark on the Winds’ reputation for incomparable grandeur. Except that it is. Although the 1964 Wilderness Act takes care to define wilderness in a particular way to preserve its original character, it was written at a time when fewer Americans followed in the steps of men like Jim Bridger. Critically, I think,  it came into being because of a few great men, not a mass movement. Car camping existed then, certainly. But only recently has backpacking gear become sufficiently light and the American population sufficiently enamored of the outdoors, to create the sort of challenge facing the Winds and other popular wilderness areas today.The presence of each additional group detracts from the wilderness experience, particularly when the other parties comprise adventuring church youth groups, not a few rough and tumble mountain men like Bridger.

So therein lies the “wilderness paradox.” Places like the Winds inspire people to take up arms and cry, “Protect this place!” They have that effect on people, and we need the Winds—or more specifically, lots of people visiting them—for that very reason. But the number of visitors needed for support runs counter to the numbers needed to keep a place “wild.” Too many visitors, and the Jolly Rancher wrappers, fire rings, and even the trails, multiply. Where we’ve arrived is a sort of equilibrium in which a few wild places like the Winds, or the wilderness areas in Colorado, receive an outsized proportion of backcountry enthusiasts, while the others remain more less pristine. It’s a balance that seems to be working, but boy, how amazing it would be to explore the Winds alone.

Wind River Photo Post 15 August 2011

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Hey, so I’m working on a more complete post about the Winds, due up this week, but in the meantime, here’s a photo post to get your started.

Photos, nom nom nom nom!

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There’s Something About Wyoming 29 July 2011

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There’s something about Wyoming, the high peaks, the plains, the desolation. The entire state, which is about the size of Colorado, counts fewer residents than Denver. And that’s the appeal. We arrived there two summers ago for an 11 day trip in which we went five straight days without seeing another human being. 17 trail miles from the nearest road, we plopped down in the Shoshone Valley at an old camp and watched as rain fell, then hail, then snow. We swaddled ourselves in sleeping bags on a frosty August morning, and with hands I could barely feel, I took the photo above.

I suppose in theory, I could find all that in Colorado—maybe in the San Juans—but in practice, I haven’t. Wyoming offers an altogether different experience, at once immediate and ancient. Primeval you might say if you were prone to such language. Along with the Alaskan wilds, and Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remains one of the last great untouched stretches of earth in America. There be grizzlies there, and wolves, and entire valleys which function untrammeled by humans.

If that doesn’t lift your spirits; if the existence of a landscape in which humans are irrelevant doesn’t excite you the littlest bit, then, well, stop reading because this is a place to feel small, and insignificant. As I said in a college essay, longer ago now than I care to consider, we find solace in the mountains precisely because the mountains do not care whether we find solace in them at all. Wyoming is a place that does not care about you, or your concerns. Whatever you bring there, whatever you may find there, is your own. Nothing given, nothing taken.

But enough of that. Let’s speak realistically about wolves and bears and high meadows awash in a sea of indian paintbrush and alpine sunflower. The snow lingers well into August. Glaciers inch down valleys, grinding the landscape into submission. We ran into a pack train about a week into our last trip. “Not often we see people out here on foot,”  their leader said. “Stay safe.” They trotted off. And it was in those wilds that we crossed paths with two young grizzlies, racing from one drainage to another over a 12,000′ saddle. The second stopped and gave us a glance at a few hundred yards, then continued on his way, unconcerned about our two-legged intrusion.

We preserve wilderness to preserve these encounters, to keep Wyoming in existence. This Saturday, we’ll drive 450 miles over 7 hours to walk 50 miles over 5 days. In pursuing speed, our culture has lost a sense of scale and an ability to appreciate just how grand and expansive this American landscape really is. How far can you walk in a day? How far can you bike? Drive? Fly?

But those are the sorts of questions you ask in Colorado, where you can climb a 14er and return home that afternoon. Come to Wyoming and forget you were concerned about that sort of thing. Put one foot in front of the other. Walk, and in so doing, experience everything.