Since I have recently broken my arm and can no longer go mountain biking, my friend from home and I are heading to the Tetons, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks! We will be doing a little heard of hike known as Goblin Labyrinth in Yellowstone, trying to meet with Tim Cahill, founder of Outside Magazine, and generally do what has been done by only a few before us.
Betasso Preserve is one of the staple rides for people in Boulder Colorado. Just a few minutes up Canyon Road, which runs through the center of town, it is not only the easiest trail to reach, but a flowy good time.
There are three different sections available in Betasso.
The Canyon Loop (Clockwise & all downhill):
Benjamin Betasso Loop (Counter-clockwise & all downhill):
Betasso Link Trail (All downhill):
How to get there with a car: In Helpful bullet Points
• Drive up Canyon to the beginning of the first and only tunnel, and the parking lot is on your right. This will also bring you to the Canyon Link Trail, which is a little more difficult, but a lot of fun. There is also another access point to get around the link on Sugar Loaf Road, if you do not feel comfortable on a black diamond trail.
How to get there without a car:
• At the RTD bus station, get on the bus for Nederland (Cost of 4-5 dollars). Tell the bus driver you will want the Sugar Magnolia Road bus stop. It is exactly like the Grateful dead song. From the drop off, ride uphill towards Sugar Loaf, and follow the signs leading to Bettasso Preserve.
• This is my favorite way to ride these trails, because I can simply ride my bike directly back into town, without having to worry about the car. I also get to do the Canyon Link Trail this way, without having to ride all the grueling way up. It’s a win win.
Description of the Different Sections of the Trail: In Helpful Bullet Points
• The trail will be either going clockwise or counter clockwise. I prefer the counter clockwise direction because it is more fast and flowy, but either way can be a good time.
• The trail runs through a wonderful forest, and it is not uncommon to see deer scampering about around the trail. Be aware though, because the deer of Boulder Colorado are mysteriously unafraid of human beings, so it isn’t always guaranteed that they will jump out of your way as fast as you might like. They are a beautiful obstacle.
• There is a Benjamin Bettasso Loop halfway through the Bettasso Loop trail. If you have a time crunch, I do not recommend it, but it is always an awesome time, and adds a little extra to your ride. I prefer the counter clockwise direction for this trail. It is a little more fast and flowy.
• The trail is closed on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This is pretty strictly enforced during the summertime, but my friend and I have gotten away with riding on these days in the late fall and wintertime.
When I finally came back into cognizant recognition of where I was, it was with a cactus bush in front of me, and I was thinking, “Not these again”. I then proceeded to walk continue on my path towards the center of the bush, and then kept going. Somewhere along the trail I had managed to lose my shoes, and had been walking barefoot through desert scrubland since sometime in the middle of that night, so I felt every needle of that cactus. The sun was now rising, my feet were cold, full of cactus, and I had overshot our car by a mile.
How would any sane, quasi-outdoorsy person end up in this situation? The answer is a two faced friend of mine named tequila.
I frequently overestimate the amount of alcohol I can drink, as my natural tolerance is not as high as most of my friends. When Eric and I rolled into the parking lot at the base of the sand dunes, we had a 750 mL bottle of tequila, a can of iced tea, and the ambition of sharing a nice drink before reaching the top of the dunes under the light of stars alone.
But the sand dunes of Sand Dunes National Park are always full of surprises. From where I stood in the parking lot, I thought we would be standing on top of the dunes in under thirty minutes. Fifteen minutes later and we found ourselves finally reaching the base of the small mountains we refer to as sand dunes, with a quarter of our bottle now missing.
When we were halfway up the dune we had also finished drinking half the bottle, and the stars were fantastic. Because it was so dark outside, we couldn’t see how much we had drunk outside of the light of one of our cell phones, and since we were trying to enjoy nature, we were keeping those in our pockets. In this way we found ourselves drinking a lot more than either of us actually wanted.
But there were more disadvantages to not bringing any light outside of seeing how much we had been drinking. The best way to climb the dunes in Sand Dunes National Park is by following the ridges on the side of each dune. High winds in the area make the sides particularly steep, which is problematic for walking, not to mention drinking tequila.
We constantly found ourselves stepping off a ridge and then trying desperately to stop ourselves from falling into the basin of sand below us in a fashion that probably would have looked hysterical if there was enough light. This happened at least ten times for each of us, so you can believe me when I tell you it was close to a miracle when we finally threw ourselves on top of the dunes, exhausted, and with only a quarter of the tequila bottle left.
On top of the dunes, the fabric of the cosmos had opened like a blanket before us. The foggy band of the Milky Way stretched across the sky like a cloud that had been decked out in the sparkling stones of other galaxies. Behind us the town of Alameda was gently glowing on the plains below, and in front of us the ruggedness of the mountains was outlined by the gently ambience of the starts. I had to look back on thinking of myself as being similar to the miners at the beginning of the trip and said, “I love gooooold,” while I stroked the sand below my hands.
My memory of the situation ended with looking at the last bit of tequila at the bottom of the bottle and saying, “Lookey there, just a little bit left. Lets kill this thing!” Eric will have to take the story from there:
“First of all you started chugging the last of the tequila. I don’t know why you did that, but things started moving fast from there.
We started jumping and rolling down the hill. You took your shoes off and kept saying how nice the sand was. I almost took mine off too but looking at your feet right now, I’m glad that I didn’t.
I was trying to do front flips and kept landing on my head, and you just took off. I kept calling your name, but it was so dark that I couldn’t see you anywhere. You responded maybe twice, and I found myself back at the car a little while later, where I had to wait for you until sunrise. I even made a little fort in some ditch, and pretty much didn’t sleep. Thanks for that by the way.” He showed me his fort the following day. It was about as nice as a drunk person without a light could make one.
I had been walking parallel to the road leading to my car, walking over the scrub grasses of the southwestern prairie lands. Looking back on my nocturnal mistakes, it feels fitting that I was traveling next to the paved road, because that is what I find myself looking for when I travel, exploring the less traveled path leading to the same place as everyone else. Usually though, I have shoes when I do it.
I must have walked into multiple cacti bushes, because when I encountered my last bush, I remember thinking, “Not these again”. Even though I wanted to avoid it, I still walked into the bush. I learned then that when a person steps on a cactus, neither that person nor the cactus comes out on top. It’s a very clever plant.
I had managed to miss the entrance to the park by a few miles. When I finally found the road again, I was guided back to the car by the hazy glow of the early morning sun.
I knew that my feet hurt were going to hurt as soon as the tequila wore off, so I was enjoying the remaining effects of tequila as I enjoyed the beautiful sunrise. Even though I was walking down a road of pain, I will always remember my favorite view of the dunes being on that morning walk, when they were outlined in gold, and the sky was in the process of changing from grey to blue. Then I found the car, and that was even more beautiful.
Eric ran out to greet me from his shelter in the bushes, and seemed to be pretty upset. “Hey You Guy! Why didn’t you answer me in the dunes! I’ve been waiting here! I’ve been waiting right here! Where did you go, and why don’t you have any shoes?” He was very flustered, and I remember it being quite funny.
“I got lost Eric. I got super lost, and I don’t know where the shoes went, but I could definitely have used them. Maybe cowboys and miners wore shoes because they were hard to accidentally take off. But right now I need to sleep. We can talk about it in the morning.”
Without much further debate, we hopped in the car, reclined the seats, and fell asleep almost instantly.
The next day we would be unable to climb the dunes, particularly because the sand gets red hot, partially because I had cactus needles in my feet, but mainly because I had lost my shoes. The hangover wasn’t helping either. We could call it a regret from the trip, but after everything we had been through, the San Juan trip was still a wild success. I think the dunes are more beautiful at night anyways.
The sunrise was beautiful. I ran around breathlessly for an hour before breakfast, taking a million pictures, wearing myself out, and breathing heavily.
Luckily for me, the entire area had frozen during the night, so it was easy to get around the more marshy areas without getting my shoes wet. If I hadn’t followed through with building the shelter, my opinion would have been different of course. Well rested and excited though, I was happy that it had been so cold the night before. I would have kept taking pictures all day, but my stomach had to be the adult, and made me wake Eric up for breakfast.
We ate the breakfast of an unsuccessful miner: chili and really soupy oatmeal. We couldn’t add the berries we had thoughtfully brought all the way from boulder, because I had made sure to liberally cover them in a thick layer of pasta sauce the day before. My mind would frequently wander to the eggs in the cooler at the back of my car, sitting deliciously in in the puddle of cold water that used to be our ice when we were mountaineering later that day.
It was another day of looking for the picture gold that I just knew was in the hills. In an area called, “Ice Lake” I figured we could easily get some epic shots of beautiful, but uninviting conditions. The lake looked frozen enough to walk on, but not enticing enough for either Eric nor I to feel like we needed to prove it actually was. It was a photography mine better left for braver souls than ourselves.
A few more hours of beautiful hiking later, and we were finished with that part of the day, and headed back to the car. We had pretty staunch plans to drink a bottle of tequila on top of Sand Dunes National Park that night, and wanted to get there sometime before midnight.
With five hours of solid driving ahead of us, we hopped back in the car, and ran into one of the strangest towns ever.
I was tipped off that the area would be strange when we saw our first three cops after three hours of driving, patrolling the seemingly desolate streets of this small, Rio Grande town. We needed gas, and wanted to pick up some more eggs for the next day, so we rolled into a station to gather some necessities.
Right when we walked in, one of the kids behind the counter said to his friend, “Dude if they could hear what we were saying in here, there is no doubt that we would be instantly fired. These cameras pick up video feed, but not audio.”
This was something any teenager afraid of getting caught with weed might say. Then he spoke again, “Yeah man, politicians just don’t want teenagers to run the government because they want to keep things the way they are now. The wrong way.” I had to poke my head around an aisle of chips to get a look at the kid.
It was like looking into a cartoon. He was the super skinny acne pocked teenager who might give this same speech in a cartoon. The co-workers around him seemed to be pretty enraptured with his speeches, which piqued my interest to a new level. A few conspiracy theories later, and I found myself wishing there were more cops patrolling the streets. I bought my bag of chips and got out of there, while Eric had an even stranger experience in the bathroom.
“When I walked in there, there were just these two dudes staring at me. And this wasn’t like a big bathroom with stalls and stuff. It was a urinal and a toilet, and they weren’t saying anything, just like smiling at me. I peed and got the hell out of there.
Then I was on my way out, when I hear that kid from behind the counter say, ‘Yeah man, if they blew one of those up, everybody would be screwed.’”
Without a doubt it is the strangest gas station experience I hope to ever have. It made me think of all the small town stories I had ever heard, and how a lot of them must be true. We drove on to the dunes, and persisted to have one of the crazier nights I have had in the woods.
I never knew that it was legal to camp in one of America’s National forests without having an official campground, but at least in the San Juan National Forest, it is not only legal, but it makes your stay completely free. We didn’t have to pay a penny for our parking, and slept in the most beautiful camping area I could have imagined. It was a student budget dream.
Ice Lake is located in a massive valley that probably gave New Zealand a run for their money as the shooting location of Lord of the Rings. It is hard to reach. A massive river runs through the valley, with vast swaths of wildflowers lining the shores, and locals assured us that the wildflowers only get better after their monsoon season at the end of July.
To reach our camping site on the first of the Ice Lakes, a person needs to climb up to 12,000 feet, and bring everything they are going to need, but Eric and I didn’t have most of the things a camping person needs, and a lot of the stuff camping people try and avoid bringing.
Neither of us own a tent, I had also forgotten my camping backpack and was awkwardly trying to carry two backpacks in its place, I had a warm weather sleeping bag good until 40 degrees (it usually reached 30 or lower at the 9,000 foot parking lot), we were bringing a pair of large pillows, had only a massive luxury stove used in car camping, and embarrassingly enough, had no bear bag (serious camping faux paux). We were still a little hung over from the night before, but very excited.
The ranger looked more than a little concerned when we told him we were going to just find a spot in the woods, and set up a camp there.
“Look out for bears.” Was all he really said, but his eyes said, “I really hope I’m going to have to come looking for you two days from now.” Particularly after he found out we were out of state students from Boulder. We nodded our heads and smiled when he gave us the okay, then persisted to pack our bags full of beer and just enough food to spend a night comfortably. He must have been really concerned.
Going the wrong way has become something of an unfortunate habit for me. Instead of turning to the left and crossing a stream, we decided it would be far better to follow the not so defined path up a steep waterfall, because it felt like the right direction. While the nice trail with comfortable switchbacks lay over to our left, we were struggling up a vertical slope with our arms full, because like the guard rails on the roads, the people who made these trails felt it wasn’t too important to include little signs and trail markers.
After twenty minutes of physically exhausting climbing, our hands full of pillows and cooking stoves, the trail ran us through the base of a waterfall. If there hadn’t been people on the other side, we looked for any other trail leading anywhere, but it soon became prevalent that the only place we could cross was right before us.
The water was ice cold, as it had just recently been melted from the remaining snow above us, and was still trying to work its way down to warmth of the Rio Grande. We had to take our shoes off to cross it, which is a lot harder than it sounds if you have never tried walking around on a freezing cold and rocky river bottom.
The water was painfully cold. I got to experience it twice as I had to make two crossings to make sure neither my pillow nor camera bag got wet. The pain lasted while I was in the water, and then for a few minutes while I was on the other side. The closer I got to the edge, the less I got hit with the waterfall, but also the closer I got to falling off a cliff. So I danced awkwardly through the middle, making primal noises for the audience of an elderly couple and Eric who sat with warm feet on the other side.
Despite our series of trials, it was all worth it when we finally reached the first lake. The area rolled out into green pastures lined by jagged cliffs, and with some peaks teasing a beautiful view of the mountain range in the distance. We quickly found where we wanted to camp, right by the lake, but that it was going to be harder to reach, as the small stream crossings people usually take to get there were now flooded into small rivers with snow melt.
It was exhausting to have to walk all the way around the valley to reach an area that could have easily been reached by hopping a stone over the stream. So I had the bright idea of throwing all of my bags over one of the streams, and then finding a place to cross a little further up without having to carry all of that weight. Seems like a great idea right?
A few streams later, and we were finally back on track, when I started to smell something delicious. “It smells fantastic right now. Like really good pasta sauce and cheese.” I said.
“You’re just imagining things. I’m pretty starving myself.” Eric said.
“I don’t know, it smells a lot like pasta sauce, and it didn’t smell like that before.”
“Lets just get to the camp. I’m sure it’s fine.”
But I wasn’t fine. I had smashed the pasta sauce in the grocery bag carrying anything with flavor in it, coating my bag and clothes in delicious smelling sauce (a beacon for bears), and kind of ruining our dinner. Now not only did we not have a bear bag, but I had managed to marinade myself in delicious smelling pasta sauce, and might as well have had a huge neon McDonalds-esque sign written in bear language, saying, “Delicious and already marinaded human fast food right over here. Both slow, and easy to kill.”
With all of these frustrations bearing fruit, we decided it was time to make our bland dinner, and build our fort and nightly resting place.
I was pretty excited about the fort, until I realized that the only suitable fort building sticks around were massive logs close to my body weight. While Eric was cooking our pasta and a little chili, I was trying to carry obscenely heavy and spike riddled logs out of the woods. And while both of us were distracted, our camp was under attack.
The Pika is kind of like a woodchuck, but lives in high altitude environments. They will look cute to the un-experienced camper, but one finds out quickly why they have been placed in the category of rodent, rather than pet.
While I was busy grabbing the wood, and Eric was focusing on dinner, this little creature had managed to chew his way through a pair of my sandals, and part of my camping pad. He would have done considerable damage to my camelback as well, if I hadn’t returned from my log gathering in enough time to run down the hill flailing my arms and raising enough hell to scare him away presumably forever.
But the next time I left, he was back again. This time it was to nibble at my friend Eric’s bag and pad. We finally figured out that they don’t know how to climb trees, and stashed the rest of our gear in the branches of the pine trees around our camp. He stopped coming around sunset, which made me think of the predators who must be roaming the area.
After the sun went down, we realized the fort would either make or break the night. Outside of the fire we had built, it had become freezing cold, and I knew that at least my sleeping bag wouldn’t keep me warm enough. It would have been perfect to camp out under the stars that night, with the galactic carpet lighting the massive basin and log pole pines around our area. So Eric and I hunkered into our very cramped sleeping shelter, and spent a surprisingly comfortable night.
Durango is without a doubt one of the friendliest towns in the United States, but like all good things in life, it takes a test of will to get there. The roads from Silverton to Durango are lined with cliffs, but not guard rails. Driving on that road is a sweaty palmed business, with an epic backdrop to distract even the most dedicaed drivers. Throw a bunch of massive trucks on the roadway, and you get the road from Silverton to Durango.
Safely in the town, Eric and I were finishing our delicious enchiladas at the, “Zia Taqueria” restaurant, wondering what to do next. Isabel wouldn’t get back from New Mexico where she was working for a little while, so we had some time to kill in this strange new town. We went to Main Street, the center of the area, and probably the best place to get a drink.
The area was decked out in traditional western architecture. The town has been around since the 1800’s, with placards on the wall, and even a seize and desist sign for one of the bars during prohibition. With all of these gritty reminders of the dangerous western past, I found something I had never seen, nor was ever expecting.
On the corner of main street, outside of the Coldstone ice cream shop there was a group of middle school aged kids wearing matching outfits, singing and dancing in a Glee Club/ Broadway style. It was like a flash mob, but a crowd was seated before these kids, and they had a tip jar which was almost full.
Then we got a call from Isabel, “Hey where are you guys?”
“You’ll never guess whats going on in front of your cold stone. A group of middle school kids have taken one of the corners, and are now doing broadway style singing and dancing.”
“Oh its those kids again. They are there all the time.” I was astonished.
At no place where I’m from in New York could parents get far enough away from the public not to have their kids ridiculed at least a little bit. In Durango, there was a large crowd not only of parents, but a bunch of random people from the town. The talent was questionable, but the support for these kids trying to live out a dream was outstanding. I was amazed, intrigued, and needed to see more.
Colorado people are optimists. Their positivity overrides any cynical feelings, or sometimes even realistic ones. The characteristics I have slowly grown to enjoy the most, though it can sometimes annoy a dying cynic like myself. My first reaction to this even was to kick the kids off the street, but as I sat there longer, I realized this was a truly wonderful thing. At no other place I can think of would this continue in such a positive way, which makes Durango Colorado one of the most characteristic towns in the U.S.
Isabel found us before we could see her. She is a beautiful woman, with an excellent body, brown hair, and a contagious smile. We nearly failed physics lab together, blowing fuses left and right, stealing calculations and doing anything that would keep us from actually having to focus on the physics lab at hand. I hadn’t seen her in three years, and she greeted me with one of those contagious smiles.
“Lets go get a drink.” She said to us, and Eric and I followed her to the Lady Falconburgh’s bar on the main strip of Durango. We had come on their happy hour day, with a dollar off drinks. We ordered a round, and as one would expect from college kids getting to re-know one another, soon got into party talk.
Durango is a quiet town every night of the year except for on Halloween, when they do an event called the, “Zombie Walk”. The entire main street shuts down, and the festival is held in a largely peaceful way. They even put mattresses out in front of the different stores, so people who enjoy themselves a little too much to drive home have a place to sleep on the street. This was another thing that could only happen in Durango, as my town of Boulder will do pretty much anything to keep their kids from partying in any street. Murk and I had a different story to tell.
Eric had been attacked the night before we left on our trip, and accidentally knocked a guy out without punching him. Sounds unbelievable, but this is his story:
“So I’m walking down the street with these ladies right. George you knew them, they were with us at the beer gardens. Anyway, there were two of them, and then me and this other guy there that one of them had just picked up at the bar. He was whatever, but I was mainly talking to the brunette girl, you know the smoking hot one.”
“Yeah she was pretty good looking.”
“Anyway, I’m talking with her, and this random guy comes up to me and starts grabbing my shirt. I’m like, ‘dude let go of me right now.’ But he doesn’t, and hes just talking a bunch of shit. His friends are standing right behind him like, ‘you better not fight this guy, he’ll probably win.’ In the meantime the girls have kept walking. They don’t want any part of this, and my night is already kind of ruined, not that anything was probably going to happen. I don’t want any trouble, so I tell the guy one last time to let go of me, and he grabs me again. Then I tell his friends to get him off of me, and they just stand there.
So I grab him by his shirt, I have to reach up a little because he’s a pretty big guy, do the classic wrestling move of throwing one leg behind him, and I take him down to the pavement. On the way he hits the back of his head on the pavement, and gets knocked out cold.
Then I look at his friends and say, ‘Look what you made me do.’
They are all silent. Then I walk away down the street, and I hear one of them say, ‘Well I guess he had it coming.’”
It’s a great story, not because I’m violent (I’ve never been in an actual fight) but because Eric isn’t violent either, and got really lucky. This is one of the reasons why they will never put mattresses in the streets of Boulder. With this story in mind, we went to Diorios, the most friendly pizza shop in Colorado.
I don’t say this lightly either, because I have been to many a friendly pizza shop. The guy was about to close, but made a fresh pizza for us when we walked in. He let us know he was doing it special for us, and I could tell he was being genuine. He even went so far as to apologize to us for smoking outside after he made our pizza. It was almost a little too much.
Though their roads may not have guard rails, and they may not think this is a pressing issue, the people of southern Colorado are amongst the most hospitable and friendly I have ever met. Sometimes it can be unreasonable, and a little annoying, such as not understanding the importance of guard rails, but it is who they are, and it makes the area unique and very enjoyable.
Back at the bar, Isabel’s friend had arrived from work. She started talking with Eric while I caught up with Isabel. We are the only people to come from our hometown in Albany New York, to anywhere in Colorado (if anybody from Albany living in Colorado is reading this, please give me a shout).
It was frustrating at first to live here, because there are a lot of ridiculous people around with nobody seeming to mind. I told her about the happiest guy in the world, who literally runs down the path in the sunlight, stroking the air and dancing in circles, while laughing quietly to himself. He definitely drank too much of the punch at one of Ken Keseys Acid Experiments, but I would say he came out on top. I don’t know how he functions in society, but a part of me thinks we should all envy him.
We all eventually went back to her friends house, where she had two large couches for Eric and I to camp out on, because Isabel was slowly moving out of her apartment for a year in Chicago.
Despite not knowing us at all, her friend was completely fine with the two of us on her couches. She had a few roommates who were sleeping, so we kept our voices down until it was time for Isabel to leave. We exchanged a long hug, and then she walked out the door. I frequently wonder if I will ever see her again, but I know that I will always think of her whenever I find myself in Durango.