Today is Thursday, March 23, 2017

Rocky Mountain High

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How close can you get to the edge of a rock cliff with a Jeep tire before it breaks off? I can tell you from experience that it takes more than a tire's breadth because that was the margin I had on a ride up to Imogene Pass. The four-wheel drive vehicle chauffeured by a 28-year-old guy from England made the exceedingly rough, rocky, narrow road trip up to 13,000 feet with what seemed to be half of the tire tread hanging over the edge of the ledge. Just below was 500 to 1,000 feet of thin Colorado air above the imposing rocks of the last switchback underneath.

The scenery, if you could concentrate on it, was beautiful. Snow-capped mountains surrounded the valley we were climbing. Trees blocked some of the views down until we reached the tree line, above which it was too cold for them to grow. We had come just after the first snowfall of the season that was now about a foot deep on the summit. A few sheet pellets hit us as we traveled upward.

At the top were remains of the gold mines dating to the early 1900s. Tomboy Mine dug a three-foot-wide shaft a mile deep to process the gold on site before sending it, heavily guarded, down the same little road that we were driving today. Once reaching the top of Imogene Pass one could look for miles toward Vail, Colorado. Runners were coming up that trail in preparation for the mountain-to-valley race coming up. Walking a few feet left me out of breath because of the thin air. After a few minutes of looking at all of the high mountain peaks, it was all I could do to get enough strength to climb the three steps back into the Jeep. I did manage to eat some of the nice white snow and throw a snowball at the other tourist car.

Coming down, several small waterfalls dripped over the rocks into the road and almost into the open passenger seats (with us and them). One marmot barked a warning at us from a high rock 30 feet above the road. We saw several ground squirrels dart out of their holes for green leaves to chew. An occasional chipmunk would beat a lightning path across the road holding his tail high like a rudder or sail.

The whole trip was invigorating, but I was happy to get my feet back on the solid ground below the mountain where I could take a deep breath of less rarefied air.

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