Everything Is Beautiful

When I moved to Colorado Springs twenty-five years ago, I didn’t get a chance to see much of the city. Settling my two kids, then 11 and 4, into a new apartment, new school, and new daycare – while I figured out my new job as a Unix systems administrator at a high-tech firm – took all my time and focus. I was also a full-time college student (yes, working single moms have an unbelievable reserve of energy and resolve).

For the cross-country drive, I strapped my kids and computer into the Camry, arriving just ahead of a blizzard. The semitruck carrying the household goods got stranded on a mountain pass, and it would be days before any of that stuff made it to the apartment. With no furniture, I set up my computer on the living room floor and logged in to find that one of my college groupmates had dropped the ball on a team project, so I stayed up late to do his part and turn the paper in. With several feet of fresh snow on the ground, I couldn’t even make it out of the driveway for my first day of work, so that morning my new boss and her husband picked me up in their Subaru.

This is my long way of telling you that I had more on my mind than visiting all the sights of this fair city, Colorado Springs, and the state of Colorado back then. But the next year I vowed to see it all. That August, I took a week off from work and the kids and I went everywhere. We rode the cog railway to the summit of Pikes Peak, took the Lantern Tour at Cave of the Winds, walked the bridge over the Royal Gorge and rode every ride in the park. We did Elitch Gardens – the rides and the water park – hit the fine art and science museums and spent a day at the Downtown Aquarium. It was a crazy, hectic week, but my kids loved it. And I finally got to see a little more of Colorado beyond my cubicle and computer screen.

Since then, I’ve seen much more. I credit hiking and mountaineering for that. Doing all the 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet above sea level) and county highpoints gets you out of the office and all over the state. Then I visited 47 hot springs, hiked to more than 100 lakes and more than 150 waterfalls, and summited over 700 mountaintops, and I’m still out there, camping, hiking, and climbing every week.

I always remind myself not to take this for granted. Don’t think everyone lives like this. Not everyone wakes up to a day like today, with blue skies, puffy white clouds, sparkling snow on America’s Mountain, and endless possibilities. I tell myself: “Enjoy this day, every minute of it, and don’t take it for granted. Somehow (don’t ask me how), you got really, really lucky, Susan.”

But no matter how many times I tell myself this, I do get used to it. I’ve camped and hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park so many times – three long weekends this year alone – I’ve lost count. Hiked every trail and climbed most of the rock formations in Garden of the Gods. And hit the trail to the summit of Pikes Peak nine times from four different routes – one time in snowshoes, in January. After a while, the beauty of this place fails to register. It’s as if I’m taking it in with all of my senses, but my brain doesn’t get it. My brain doesn’t say “Wow, this is amazing.”

Last fall, my sister, Carolyn, and her husband Andy came to visit. I hadn’t seen family in years, so it was quite a treat! They were doing a three-week cross-country loop, and only had one day to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park, and one day in Colorado Springs. Of course, I put together itineraries for them. I went online and got tickets to visit the new summit house on Pikes Peak. I got tickets to the new US Olympic and Paralympic Museum too. I found a doggy daycare for their pup, a nice dog-friendly trail in Garden of the Gods, and a restaurant that was both vegan-friendly (for me) and dog-friendly (for them).

It was a great day. Perfect, in fact. If you haven’t been to the summit house on Pikes Peak or the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum, I can’t recommend them enough. If you can, get weekday tickets and avoid the crowds. We did the peak on a Monday morning at 8 a.m. and stopped by the Devils Playground parking lot on the way down. There’s a trail there now to the top of Devils Playground Peak, the highpoint of Teller County. After lunch downtown, we hit the museum. My brother-in-law’s words as we entered the top floor sum up the experience: “I’m going to need a lot of time in here.” I agree. We spent two hours and could have easily spent three. It’s not your typical museum.

After picking up their pup for a walk around the Garden and watching the sun go down from the rocky ridge between Keyhole and Easter Rocks, we headed to Trinity Brewing. At an outdoor table, we dined on pizza and beer, and watched a lightning storm over the mountains to the west. They were leaving that night, headed out of town again, so I wanted to know how their trip had been.

“So, how was Rocky Mountain National Park,” I asked, “Did you enjoy the hikes and the waterfalls?”

“Um, we drove up Old Fall River Road and down Trail Ridge Road,” my sister said.

“And, where else?”

“That was it.”

I wondered whether they had the dog with them, because pets aren’t allowed on park trails, but no, they said, they had boarded him in Fort Collins that morning.

“You spent seven hours in Rocky Mountain National Park, and that’s all you did? How is that possible?” I thought about my weekends in the park and all the hikes I’d crammed in – Deer Mountain, Mount Ida, Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak…not to mention all the lakes and waterfalls.

My sister smiled and told me about all the sights along the roadways. Just the views from the pullouts.

“We had to keep stopping. Everything was so beautiful.”

Ah, yeah. There it was. Everything is so beautiful. And sometimes just getting away from my computer to see it isn’t enough. Sometimes I need to see it through someone else’s eyes, someone who’s never seen it before, to be reminded of that. Maybe I need to retrain my eyes, my nose, my ears…my brain, too. Because we are very, very lucky to live here and I never want to take it for granted.

This blog first appeared as a column in the October 26, 2021, Gazette North Springs Edition.

Pikes Peak above Mason Reservoir, Colorado Springs. One of many hikes in Best Lakes Colorado, to be released summer 2022, by FalconGuides. Photo by Susan Joy Paul.

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