I went on a little road trip to Steamboat Springs this week, so got to spend some time on “the other side” of the Divide. The Divide I’m talking about is the Continental Divide along the crest of the Rocky Mountains here in Colorado. In specific terms, the Continental Divide marks the spine where on the western side, the watershed leads to the Pacific, and on the eastern side, the water flows to the Atlantic. But as a resident on the east side of the divide, spending time this week on the west side reminds me it so much more than that.
On the east side of the Divide, life is more crowded. Most of the population of Colorado reside along the Front Range, the first group of mountains encountered when you drive from the eastern plains. Driving, biking, hiking, working on this side of the Divide means dealing with lots of people. Even recreating on the east side inevitably means more crowds and along with it, harder to park, to find solitude in the wilderness. Prime examples of this are our popular parks and recreation areas such as Rocky Mountain National Park, Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Even the Fourteeners on the east side are teeming with people. One of the first Fourteeners Bryon and I climbed after moving to Nederland was Grays Peak, accessible just east of Loveland Pass. We went on a weekend, and had to park over a mile down the access road. As I peered up the mountain, I could see what looked like an army of ants making their way up the trail. It felt like everybody in Denver had decided to climb that particular peak that day.
I’m kind of a wilderness snob. I love climbing mountains, taking in majestic views, spying meadows filled with wildflowers, but I don’t want to have to share it with anyone else. That’s what made my trip this week to the west side so refreshing and fulfilling. The west side of the divide has a lot less people, and a lot more wilderness, which automatically ups my chances of having one of those special solitary moments to enjoy the beauty of this amazing state. As I drove up to Steamboat Springs, I marveled at the wide open expanses of open land, seemingly untouched by people. It was hard to believe I was only 2-3 hours from the Denver metro area. As soon as you cross over the Continental Divide, you feel how different the vibe is. Even the towns feel vastly different compared to similar size towns along the Front Range. They feel truly western, and people seem surprisingly relaxed and not in a particular hurry to go anywhere or do anything.
There was a lot of road work going on during my trip (remember the famous saying — there are two seasons in the mountains — winter and road work). Because of this, at certain points, traffic was held for as long as 45 minutes each way. Yet, most people seemed to take it in stride, just hanging out, reading, talking, enjoying the day. I remember when I lived in Lake Tahoe, I used to bring along a book, a magazine and a small beach chair, so I could fully enjoy my extended waits during road construction. As I drove the mountain roads on the west side, I felt more present, more tuned in to my surroundings. And by far the highlight of my day on Wednesday was a hike from Berthoud Pass up to the top of the old ski area, the dogs by my side. The views were stupendous, with the rays of the setting sun slanting off the nearby hillsides. Even the dogs seemed to revel in the beauty and clear air. And best of all, I didn’t see a single other person my hike. I remember standing on the tundra, taking it all in, and thinking how lucky I was to be able to enjoy that view in that moment.
Given how much my mood picked up during my little road trip, perhaps it’s worth making a few more trips to the other side of the Divide in the near future.