Hiking the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest

May 19, 2020 at 5:35 pm

Sick and tired of sheltering-in-place? Me too! I want to bust out of these four walls and take in the fresh air, not just for an hour or two, but for an entire vacation. A trek to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and to the big boy parks of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah is the panacea for the indoor “I-can’t-stand-it-anymore” blues. Once I asked a friend who relocated to Thailand what he missed most about the United States. He said, “The national parks and all the different types of beauty.” I never realized that America’s natural bounty had such a pull on people’s heartstrings. I suppose what we have is quite magical. This summer or fall, I want to touch, smell, and feel the textures of the earth. Everyone should before scenic landmarks erode (or close) and before certain plants and animals go extinct.

Snow covered Pikes Peak at the Garden of the Gods Park near Colorado Springs, Colorado

In the Rocky Mountains and Southwest, it’s all about hiking on the red dirt trails. I am smiling giddily in the summer sun and witnessing the daily miracle of brown mountains morphing into shades of pink and orange and scarlet at dusk. I love Colorado’s Garden of the Gods where you can scramble in and around ancient boulders balancing on a tiny point. And then there’s the challenge of bravely hoofing it across the Royal Gorge Bridge, the nation’s highest suspension bridge dangling above the Arkansas River. I want bragging rights when I come back home. Yes, I am shameless.
Over years of travelling with friends and family, I have learned that vacation styles are as different as individual thumbprints. For some reason that I cannot fathom, certain sojourners prefer to laze around, wake up late, take their time getting dressed, and sip their morning coffee in a leisurely fashion. Me? Nah! I cannot waste time like this. I set the alarm to rise early to take in as many adventures my mind and body can handle.
If I were at Pike’s Peak, for example, I would make darn sure to book that bicycle ride excursion where the outfitter drives clients to the top and lets them zip down this mountain measuring over 14,000-feet. But I prepare well so as not to be irresponsible. Colorado is the highest state in elevation, so that means drinking a gallon or more of water a day and lip balming often so my lips don’t crack from the dryness. I dress in layers knowing that at any moment, clouds can march in uninvited. A rainstorm can pounce while I am crossing a waterfall.
I cannot wait to stretch my palms on the slot canyons of Utah’s Zion National Park or the hoodoo spires of Bryce Canyon, marvels sharing the same state. Monument Valley, which rests on tribal land, blankets the sacred land with buttes and mesas, and promises one of the darkest skies mankind will ever see. I envision lying on my back atop my sleeping bag, dreamy-eyed at the galaxy of stars dancing above.
In Arizona, I will wave to the Snoopy rock made of red sandstone seen from one of Sedona’s many hiking trails. And from there I will shout an echo down Verde Canyon and ply through the Verde River via kayak.
At the tail end of my trip, the grime from these sweaty outdoor pilgrimages is going to get to me. And at this point, I trade in my hiking boots for my sandals. I luxuriate at one of the fabulous resorts at Lake Las Vegas. I plop on a clean white downy comforter, fuel up with a gourmet restaurant meal, and spoil myself with a spa treatment.
And the next day… well, I am flexible. I shall eat my critical words and become one of those travelers who likes to laze around, sleep in, and sip my morning coffee. Hey, don’t judge me – I’m on vacation!
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Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of Bay Area Family Travel, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books and many others.