Posts Tagged ‘trails’

It’s not always bad news…

Reason #44- Mountains

Nadyne and I grew up near mountains, she in Tucson, Ariz., and me in the Los Angeles Basin in Southern California.  We shared a love of mountain views and their majesty.  But, like the song lyrics go, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”  We moved to Kansas, where the nearest mountains were almost 300 miles away.  In fact, we used to joke that from the 12th floor in the Wichita City Hall you could see all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Sorry, Flat-Earthers, the curvature of the earth kept this from being true.

We experienced an interesting phenomenon in Wichita that extended to many flat plains locations: claustrophobia.  How can being in a wide-open space cause such a feeling?  I finally figured out that it has to do with a finite horizon.  Walk or drive anywhere with mountains and the sight of the range gives you an internal sense of the size of the space you are in.  Take away the mountains and either you have a non-distinct view of the infinite horizon or the horizon becomes the building rooflines, treetops or the top edges of tall hedges.  That loss of a distinct space can be unnerving to those of us who grew up around mountains, and it didn’t seem to affect native Kansans at all.

Believe it or not, there are health benefits to visiting a mountain range.  There are several reports that spending almost any time in the mountains can trigger weight loss and high altitude is known to decrease your appetite and make you feel more full.  People who live in or spend considerable time at higher altitudes, which would include cities like Denver, Colo., and Santa Fe, N.M., are less likely to die from a heart attack and have lower risk of cardiovascular disease.  The fresh air you breathe in the mountains, free of toxic gasses and air pollution, gives your lungs a chance to breathe in a better mix of oxygen.  Pine scents also tend to decrease hostility, depression and stress.  Mountain trails also provide some of the best exercise available and the opportunity for bonding with friends, family and that special someone.

You can extend all the benefits I embraced with trees to the mountains as well, since more trees inhabit mountainous regions than all other geographical zones combined.  Speaking of geography, and therefore geology, there are three major ways mountains form, all as a byproduct of plate tectonics.  Volcanic activities occur when one tectonic plate is pushed beneath another, causing magma to be forced to the surface.  The “Ring of Fire” was created in this manner, as have the series of dormant volcanoes in the Cascades, site of Mount St. Helens.  During tectonic plate collisions, when two plates plow into each other, one plate is forced upwards, creating ranges such as the Appalachians, Himalayas and Mount Everest.  The least-known is rifting, when rocks on one side of a fault lift relative to the opposite side, such as with the Black Forest in Germany.  I don’t want to make this a geology course, but as we tour America, it is interesting to see how the different mountain ranges were created and how they have changed over geologic time.

The “purple mountains majesty,” though, is why we love to visit the mountains, with photos not exactly doing them justice, and with views sometimes so amazing as to render us awestruck in silence.


I’ll complete this discussion with a quote from a famous 19th-century novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote, “Mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.

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It’s not always bad news…

Note- just a reminder that this was written and published before my wife, Nadyne, passed away. I will be continuing to hit the road and visit family around the country, as I described.

Reason #31- Hiking Trails

My first hike occurred when I was in the Boy Scouts at age 14 in the Los Angeles area.  My troop’s leaders drove us up into the San Gabriel Mountains to a trail head and we proceeded to hike 6 miles up into the forest.  I hated every minute of it.

We set up camp for the weekend and, on Sunday, we broke camp and hiked back down the trail — a bit easier walk, but I was still not a fan.  I had overpacked, which wasn’t ever going to happen again.  A few months later, we hiked one of the Seven Peaks trails in the San Bernardino Mountains.  That was the first time I had climbed to a mountain peak.  Looking down over the valley below was exhilarating, despite poor visibility through the smog.

Health-wise, hiking is one of the best all-round activities you can do.  Here are the Top 10 from Health Fitness Revolution and author of the book, “ReSYNC Your Life,” Samir Becic:  hiking increases fitness, allows you to take control of your workouts, tones the whole body, helps prevent and control diabetes, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and may improve the antioxidative capacity in the blood of oncological patients, helping to fight off the disease.  It’s a social activity that increases creativity, increases happiness levels, curbs depression and allows you to commune with nature.

My own preference for hiking really stems from my vagabond spirit — there is only so much of nature to see from the highway.  On one of my hikes in the mountains when I was in my 20s, about 5 miles from the road, we came across a car, probably circa 1920s, terribly rusted and nearly completely imbedded into the mound of dirt in which it was sitting. 

On another walk at Lake Mead, outside of Las Vegas, I found a dilapidated pleasure boat from the ‘50s or ‘60s sitting on the desert floor, in an area exposed from the lake’s recent retreat due to drought. You just never know what you’re going to see.  Also, the farther you are from civilization, the more apt you are to witness wildlife — in the wild.

In America, we are so fortunate to have city, county, state and federal departments that create and maintain hiking trails in all 50 states.  You can hike in so many terrains, too, including sandy desert, rocky mountains, thick forests, alpine elevations, spongy tundra, dripping wetlands, lake or ocean beaches, and so much more.  Although public abuse of those trails has begun to force some trail closures or additional fees, there still seems to be a commitment by the appropriate agencies to keep lands available to use.  Also, there are many volunteer groups that periodically tend to trails and trail heads.


I’ll end with a quote from American journalist Nicholas Kristof, who said, “Wilderness trails constitute a rare space in America marked by economic diversity. Lawyers and construction workers get bitten by the same mosquitoes and sip from the same streams; there are none of the usual signals about socioeconomic status, for most hikers are in shorts and a T-shirt and enveloped by an aroma that would make a skunk queasy.

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When we decided to move from Kansas, we had a tough time deciding where to live. I had had my fill of the flat, nondescript Midwest and Nadyne wanted nothing to do with living on the Pacific coast (they have earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires and volcanos there) or the extreme heat of Arizona. We had lived in Buffalo, NY, and I was over winter and arctic temperatures. We lived for a few years in Las Vegas and the temps there are brutal, too, besides the fact that it’s the ultimate tourist town, not so great for locals.

Somehow we pared our list of possible destinations from twenty to ten, then to five. After looking at employment stats, we ended up choosing Denver, and bought a manufactured home in a northern suburb. I knew about their winters, but Colorado’s natural beauty was an exciting aspect my photographer’s eye couldn’t pass up. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, all that beauty begot crowds.

Here’s an example of a surprising hiking experience. We decided to go hiking in the mountains one summer weekend on a fairly easy trail on Guanella Pass, about two hours from home. Having heard that it’s a popular trail, we got up at 3:30 am (still dark) and left by 4 (in the morning!). We got there at 6:05 am to find the trailhead parking lot and about a half-mile of roadside in both directions completely full of vehicles of all types and sizes. When I thought about it, that meant that most of these people had gotten up and left even before we did. There are almost 3 million residents in the Denver metropolitan area, and another million in Colorado Springs region, and a lot of those people are in Colorado for the same reason we moved here. Add to that the international draw of the Rocky Mountains, several national parks, Pikes Peak, the “Fourteeners” mountain peaks and the abundance of wildlife, to be “one” with nature is nearly impossible — there’s just not much solitude to experience.

One would think that a world-famous ski region would only be crowded in the winter. Au contraire. Colorado and its nearly six million residents, along with millions of visitors, can be as crowded as an elevator in Times Square year-round.

​So went the struggle during our six years living north of Denver. I’m definitely not sorry we moved there — my photographer’s itch was relieved many times over, we met some amazing friends there, and it was where we began our RV camping lifestyle. But, even after learning when the most and least popular visitor days and times were, there were numerous weekends that found us staying home when we really wanted to be in the mountains. Luckily I’m not into winter sports or I would have a whole separate diatribe to share.

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