I’ve hiked all over this mountain valley, bushwacked along the creek and up the hills, discovered cabins hidden deep in the woods, and found views of Meeker Park that I didn’t know. It’s been deeply satisfying, like putting the pieces of the puzzle together, so when enough pieces are joined, I can see more of the whole picture.
But there’s always more to discover.
One of my favorite views looking up from my cabin is the rock cap on the mountain to the north—layers of carefully delineated shades of rose, gray and buff; it’s where the last light of the day hits. Because neighbors had sometimes referred to this mountain as part of the Twin Sisters formation, which I can see from Lily Lake, four or five miles down the road, I had always been puzzled by how it was connected to the rock face behind my cabin. Just a week ago, I finally pulled my car over on Hwy. 7, at a parking spot where I could traced the Twin Sisters formation back to where my cabin sat. Finally, I saw that “my” the rock face was the southeastern part of a series of three connected mountains.
Just this week my neighbor John gave me the name for it—Cabin Rock (below)—and showed me the route to the top: hiking through the woods to a low saddle and then going to the left, up a steep incline. I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s not just having a name but making a connection, as if you’ve finally been introduced to someone you had long sought to meet.
We were hiking the hill to the south of Cabin Rock, heading to a place he referred to as “the rocks,” which would provide a view of Meeker Park, one I had never seen before. He has his own route up there, which follows the road for a while, and he knows the history of each cabin’s ownership, going back 30 years. One man who had a wife and children, and lived in one of the cities down in the “valley” for most of the year, came up every summer, pitched a tipi on his property and lived there for two months alone—the life of a mountain man—and then returned to his wife and children, presumably satisfied.
At some point, indistinguishable to me, John left the road and turned into an aspen grove, and we started heading in a different direction, through dense aspen forests, low-lying boggy areas where our boots sank into the dark muck, meadows full of golden banner, purple penstemons, lupine and wild iris, and around and over fallen trees. Around us, the clouds drifted in and out of the tall peaks, obscuring Mount Meeker and the other mountains.
Although it sometimes seemed we were lost in the woods, with no sign of the rocks, we finally came upon a road, where we saw indications of civilization—the remains of campfires, burnt logs and gray ashes, and, somewhat shocking, a gravesite on a hill: a heavy metal cross with only dates, no names—1975-2007—and Tibetan prayer flags hung above it. We finally saw the rocks up ahead and climbed to the top just in time to see Mount Meeker poking through clouds— unveiled.
Below us Meeker Park was displayed so well that I could trace the road that wound around the southern edge, see the pasture where the horses graze, the road I walk up to get to the pond, the field there greener than anything else around, the small houses dotting the valley bottom. To the southwest were the peaks of Wild Basin, still covered in snow, and to the northwest was Estes Cone. Surrounding us were the lower hills covered with what seemed like an impenetrable, almost monotonous covering of pine trees.
I had gotten views of the valley from other perches, but this hike had filled in some of the holes in my mental map. My image of the hillside and forest above the cabin is not so simple and general anymore. Now I know there are aspen groves, dense green meadows, small streams, old roads and horse trails, hidden ponds, even a gravesite. And the cabins aren’t just buildings but dwellings inhabited by people who loved this place as much as I do. The world becomes more complex, more layered, richer.
John told me that he once walked to Estes Park on the jeep road near the trail we were on, and when I later looked at a map, I could see how places that were separated in my mind, because they were on different roads, were all connected: the Enos Mills cabin on Hwy. 7 was just over the hill from where we were hiking, and Hwy. 36, the alternate route to Estes Park, could be reached by driving to the end of my road and hiking several miles. I could see that there was a center to all these places, and that I only had been on the edges. It’s like discovering that the world is not such a big place after all and that everything is connected.
There are still gaps in my mental map, still corners of this small universe to be explored. I think how satisfying it would be to know every inch of this landscape, to become more rooted in this earth, my feet sinking into the same muck as the aspen trees.