Category Archives: Fort Collins

Who Speaks for the Trees?

Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park is always a quieting experience. The park marks its 100th anniversary as protected land next year, and although we like to think of our national parks as “timeless treasures,” Rocky Mountain National Park and others like it across America are beginning to show their age. It’s like seeing a friend who’s just gone through a very stressful period; you can see the fatigue around her eyes, a few new lines that weren’t there before. The stress of climate change has done just that to our national parks.

Yesterday, a few not-so-vertical, light hikes in the “family-friendly” areas of Rocky Mountain National Park revealed quite a bit. I was shocked to see the number of fallen trees, and many, though still standing, appeared ashen-faced, ready to fall over with the slightest wind. I last hiked this park in 2011, and didn’t recall seeing so many downed trees. Some had fallen into the water, many crisscrossed one another over the ground. The dead trees looked like vertebrae, backbones of once mighty creatures now growing pale under Colorado’s intense sun. What I was seeing was the impact of the mountain pine beetle, which I had read about in Michael Lanza’s wonderful book “Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks”. Warming temperatures have led to less brutally cold winters in Colorado, giving the gluttonous mountain pine beetle more time to feed on trees. National parks shouldn’t feel like cemeteries.

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For the past year, I’ve been working on a novel manuscript, which features travel through forested areas of North America and references climate change and the effects of the mountain pine beetle on the landscape. As we all know, it’s one thing to read about what’s going on in the world; it’s another thing entirely to see it. You don’t have to go far into the Rocky Mountains to literally trip over the impact of climate change. Politicians can debate science until their next election, but in the meantime, the trees are in desperate need of some Seussian protection; someone needs to speak for (and act on behalf of) the trees sooner rather than later.

To get ideas for my book-in-progress, I started taking pictures of the fallen trees in color, but then switched to black and white because black and white better captured the starkness of what I was seeing. I started thinking of how I would revise certain passages in my book to more effectively entice the reader to follow in my own footsteps, and while I felt excited for firsthand inspiration, I felt saddened that I was seeing it at all. Again, hiking the Rockies is always a quieting experience, but this was different than past hikes. The majestic mountains still make a hike through Colorado feel like you’re walking through a postcard, but the countenance of the mountains has changed, and why wouldn’t it? Below them, trees continue to fall. Above them, skies continue to warm. So much is changing, yet little is being done.

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Sharing My Rocky Mountain High

Mike and I were in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York last week, looking out on to the blue mountains, which can fall in the range of 4,000-plus feet, and thinking about Lewis and Clark (because that is what geeky, literary couples do). The Adirondacks are moving in their own right, blue peaks undulating north. Yet, while there, we were remembering our encounters with the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and how amazing it must have been for Lewis and Clark to see the Rocky Mountain range for the first time, with East Coast mountains as their only frame of reference. Fly over the Rockies. Hike them. Whatever your vantage point, from the clouds or from the soil, they are huge, regal, quiet beasts of rock that have stopped man and animals in their tracks, reminding them to take notice of who is really in charge.

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One of the best places to enjoy the Colorado Rockies is in Fort Collins, Colorado, which we visited two summers ago. That trip stayed with me, and now my piece appears in today’s Los Angeles Times. It’s my second story for this newspaper (my first piece ran in March and was about my obsession with hotel pools), however, the Weekend Escape format doesn’t do the town justice. And now there’s the new Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, which opened in 2012, and seems like a vacation-must, especially if you have kids. My daughter now talks about going to college at Colorado State in Fort Collins because she loved its landscapes. New York City, she says, “doesn’t have landscapes,” for to a tween-age girl, landscapes require, well, land.

Downtown Fort Collins inspired Main Street, USA, in Disneyland, yet downtown in 2013 isn’t filled with mouseketeers but with beer lovers, bikers, hipster chicks wearing funky floral dresses with funky floral cowboy boots, artists, families, and old people who stay young living and loving the outdoors. Money magazine named Fort Collins one of the best places to live in America, with its artisanal shops, affordable houses, bike library, and copious bike paths. Fort Collins is the new west, trendy and amenity-friendly, still rugged, but now more accessible. The city received more than a foot of snow on May 1, but Fort Collins hums this summer with outdoor festivals celebrating beer, bikes and art. Nothing slows down this town. We can’t wait to go back.

Gettin’ the Skinny and Chasin’ it With Beer (and Inner Peace)

Colorado is filled with sinewy people who relax by biking up mountains. The Red State has the lowest obesity rate in the nation, according to a recent survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and this was very evident during our four-day stay there. Bike paths criss cross every town; people jog; everyone hikes…even the wheelchair-bound; and communities invest heavily in public playgrounds and other wellness activities that are made accessible to everyone. Basically, the state is saying “If you can’t get in shape here then you can’t get in shape.”

Do Coloradans ever splurge? Yes. It’s called beer. They drink it daily. Hourly. They drink some of the finest beers outside of Belgium. And when the sun rises, they power through any residual hangover with a robust bike ride through postcard-perfect scenery. See how this cycle works? One brilliant Colorado resident and entrepreneur decided to combine his two loves: beer and biking. He’s the owner of New Belgium Brewery, a quintessential Colorado experience that should be a must on everyone’s travel itinerary.

Here’s how we enjoyed last Saturday, a recipe for an ideal summer’s day in Colorado:

Late morning drive to Shambala Mountain Retreat and a brief walk up a hill to see the The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. Walking up the hill, I felt the sky sitting on my shoulders…you’re enveloped in blinding blue brightness that doesn’t abate until well past 7 pm. At the top of the hill sits the Stupa.

Consecrated in August 2001, the Stupa is said to promote harmony and reduce fear. The path to the Stupa is lined with frayed red prayer flags fading in the relentless sun. Our host, Matt, who is a practicing Buddhist, explained to Anna that the prayer flags are left to the elements and once the wind finally takes them, the wind carries these prayers out to the world. It was my first visit to a formal Buddhist site of prayer, the first of many, hopefully.

After some walking and prayer it’s the perfect time to get lit. Our sojourn to the Stupa was followed by a tour at New Belgium Brewery where the serving samples are shamelessly generous and where employees receive an old-fashioned beach cruiser bike once they reach their one-year milestone. I drank Fat Tire, Abbey, something that shared the same color as pee but tasted great and was called Mothership, and a sour beer that tasted like nothing I’ve ever drank before.

Here’s Mike mastering the pour:

And a tray full of Abbeys:

Anna didn’t sample beer, but kids are welcome on the tour and they do get an earful about the aging of hops, barrels, and bottling. Brewing beer involves quite a bit of chemistry mojo.

New Belgium Brewery tours ends with a ride down the company slide, which, after six or seven four-ounce glasses of beer, can be a real treat when you’re pushing 40.

We felt so empowered by Colorado awesomeness and alcohol that we decided to go wrestle a bear. Actually, we really just hugged a bear statue in downtown Fort Collins.

And the best way to end the perfect summer’s day in Colorado? A backyard barbecue with the family and a dip in the pool.

Best…summer’s day…ever.

Coming Off My Rocky Mountain High

Monday through Friday, I drive from one aggressive region of the United States (New Jersey) to work in another aggressive region of the United States (the Bronx), so I do not get a lot of opportunities to zone out from the backseat of a vehicle and take in a view…any view. Needless to say, it was a visual treat and somewhat of a sensory overload to let someone else drive me around while I drank in the Rocky Mountains from the backseat of a minivan. When this is what lies before you, you can’t help but feel the possibilities.

And who wouldn’t be happy waking up to this every day?

Or this?

Coloradans are a happy people and why wouldn’t they be? You’ve got purple mountain majesties and abundant sunshine smiling down on you morning, noon and yes, even the early hours of night. It’s called Big Sky Country for a reason–the sun doesn’t seem to budge and the sky is as endless as the sea. I couldn’t distinguish 11 am from 3 pm for mornings felt as hot as afternoons. It was just one long day of fun after another…I was blissfully disoriented and completely unaware of the time for once.

I’ve been to Colorado before, but that was before I lived nearly eight years in the New York City metropolitan area; Colorado doesn’t know an authentic bagel from hardened moose dung, but by God, this state is drop-dead gorgeous, and I don’t need to eat as many bagels anyway. Antsy East Coasters looking for a new life on the frontier can’t help but stop, breathe it all in and decide this is where it begins and ends for them. I also discovered Colorado is far more of a foodie state than I expected. You can buy chocolate bars containing cherries AND chilies for under $3 thanks to a delightful chocolatier called Chocolove that’s based in Boulder. Bacon bits in chocolate? That’s so 2010. Chocolove throws sea salt and orange rinds into its candy bars. And don’t think Colorado is just a land of steak and sides; Californians who need their sunshine and mountains have gravitated to Colorado in search of cheaper real estate and hungry diners eager to feast on dishes beyond burgers (Coloradans cook, too…just saying I noticed an influx of Californian influence). Funky new restaurants are popping up like wildflowers. More to come about the beer, chocolate, beef and Tex-Mex that added up to an extra two pounds on my five-foot-three frame. Oh, and the Buddhist temple we visited and the shopping in Fort Collins!!! I know…you might be wondering how we mixed a core Buddhist principle–detachment–with materialistic consumerism? Well, Colorado makes it easy. And out west, anything is possible.