Colorado lives up to being every bit of “colorful,” just as the sign claims. Our days are filled with eager exploration, complimented by hours of quiet and awe. One of those hours is technically “stolen” from us as we travel back east across the line where man controls time.
Our first point is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. To me, it is more breathtaking than the Grand Canyon. The land feels more raw and real and there isn’t just a single spot where we stopped to admire, but an entire day of beauty which leads into driving and hiking our way through San Juan National Forest. Here, the sharp black rock juts through turquoise waters which flow in contrast but just as aggressively as their sharp banks. I see Alfonso in the rock and myself in the water. His strength and impressive stability make each deliberately decided upon step a permanent act… where myself, appearing soft and moldable flows with a fearless un-contained enthusiasm for what lies ahead. Signs here warn us of avalanches, and memorial markers remind us that those signs are not to be taken lightly. Alfonso takes note where I dream on.
We visit Pinkerton Hot Springs and stop at Mesa Verde for the night. Our intention is to pull into the campgrounds but they are still closed for the season and we are too exhausted to find a new spot, so we park at an overlook. In the middle of the night, there is a knock on our back window, and we listen quietly to the group of teenagers giggling. Alfonso sets off the alarm to scare them away and we laugh about it. Then, we are woken early the next morning by another knock. This one is from a park ranger, who not very politely threatens to fine us for parking overnight. After Al explained that the campgrounds were closed and we meant no harm, she let us off with a firm warning but stays until we’ve packed up and pulled away.
Continuing on, we follow the blue striped wings of magpies to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Peaks of sand shimmer like satin in the April sun, creating a magnificent contrast to the backdrop of snow-covered mountains. Armed with plenty of water, we begin our ascent up the dunes. There is no rhyme or reason to our climb. We just hike up a ridge and tumble down the other side. The air is brisk, but the golden sand scorches our naked feet as we take on the tallest sand dunes in North America. We walk along the blowing peak of a six-hundred and fifty foot dune. Amongst this mass of shifting earth, we all appear so insignificant. I turn to look back and where I have been and watch my footsteps disappear with the wind, there is no record that I was there. I question whether in my life, will my work make an impression that lasts any longer, or simply vanishes behind me in the breeze.
When we visit the Rocky Mountain National Park, there is so much nature that it is actually unnatural. Overpopulating elk own the land. The animals were reintroduced to the park years ago, but no one made the decision to reintroduce any of their natural predators like wolves. Now, protected under the National Park system, wild elk have extended the borders of open land and are found walking amongst businesses, intersections and nearby homes. As these animals meander into roads and destroy vast amounts of shrubbery, there is a huge controversy over whether or not a controlled hunting season is the next step. It is proof once again that in our desire for control, we actually lose all control. In the park, we also notice that it isn’t uncommon to see deer wearing tracking collars. It’s not like seeing deer anywhere else in the wild because the animals are completely unimpressed by nearing humans and seem more like pets or a completely indifferent herd of cattle.
However, one of my favorite spots in Colorado is Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and I fall in love with the city to the north. Denver parks are uniquely designed and we visit the new art museum for free, since it is under construction. The gallery interested in displaying my work is also in Denver. At Habitat Gallery, we meet Jack Pappalardo with a story of his own. His wife is an inspiring artist herself, but she’s been battling serious illness for years. Despite demanding struggles, their devotion to each other and partnership in her craft is something we aspire to achieve. Jack takes us up to the roof of the gallery to show us the city at night. We end the journey of the land with a respect for man. Even with the illuminated buildings, we are able to see stars in the black sky. There is a place where balance exists between man and earth. That place may be here.