Our first Saturday in Colorado began very early. The sun hadn’t risen over the mountains and the birds had barely begun their morning song by the time we were packed up and leaving the house. Waking up this early on a Saturday morning is usually against my principles, and it is definitely against my principles when I’m on vacation, but we were hoping to “miss the tourist rush” at Alberta Falls and Bear Lake, two of the most popular destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park.
As we followed the road through the park, we were greeted by a sign that read, “Bear Lake Parking Lot Full: Turn Here for Overflow Parking. Shuttle runs every 15 minutes.”
Well, so much for beating the tourists.
There were literally hundreds of bright-eyed people unloading gear from their cars and lining up for the shuttle, ready to seize the day. People of all walks of life, all standing in line ahead of us. As I started at these people, a notion dawned on me–and notions rarely dawn on me in the morning–this place would be a gold mine for people watching.
And it was indeed pure gold. So you don’t have to miss out on the fun, here are some of the observations I made while sharing the trail with most of humankind.
1. Our national parks are being enjoyed by all walks of life. Wailing infants. Sleeping infants. Nursing infants. Geriatrics. Geriatrics who are fit as fiddles and could hike circles around me. Women who are 9 months pregnant. Teenage skater dudes. Grown men who think they are teenage skater dudes. Middle-aged parents who are clearly evil because they are forcing their teenage kids to come on this dumb vacation. Young couples who are totally in love and to whom possibilities are as endless as mountain views. People who don’t speak English. Japanese tourists. Short people. Huge people. Noisy groups laughing their way up the mountain. Quiet people on solitary hikes. People with hairstyles of all variety–mohawks, french braids, purple streaky hair, no hair. I saw people of so many different ages, ability levels, nationalities, and lifestyle choices. It was heartwarming to see everyone sharing in the beauty of the mountains.
2. Nature makes everyone happier. The views and the serenity calm and unwind people while the hiking gets their endorphins pumping. People seriously go out of their way to say hello to you as they pass you on the trail, even when there are hundreds of people. In New York City, on the street? Not so much. But we’re in the mountains and we’re all enjoying this beautiful place together. That inspires a greeting.
As I was hiking up the mountain, all of these warm greetings began to inspire me to return the favor. I decided that I would say a different greeting each time. For example, I would say Howdy once and Hola the next time, then Gutentag, and so on. I decided that the first one I would say was “Bonjour.”
I repeated “Bonjour!” once to myself and set my eyes ahead on the trail to look for the recipient of my first greeting. I psyched myself up and got ready to deliver a warm “Bonjour!” to two hikers coming up the trail at that moment.
As they got closer to me, I noticed they were deep in conversation. Soon, their voices became more audible. I began to pick up on the fact they weren’t speaking English. By the time they got within earshot, I realized what language they were speaking.
French! Seriously, what are the odds?
I was so shocked by the coincidence that I locked up and couldn’t to say “Bonjour!” to the only people who really could have appreciated it. Zeut alors.
Speaking of everyone’s friendliness, I would like to thank the mysterious, God-sent hiker who returned my iphone to the Ranger kiosk after I dropped it somewhere on the trail. God bless you.
3. Some people must not know what a mountain looks like. That is the only reasonable explanation for why I regularly see people hiking in flip flips and high heels. No, I am not joking–I saw both on this trail. Maybe they weren’t expecting to hike when they left the house that morning, I don’t know, but I wanted to stop them and give them the address to my website.
I’m not claiming that we all should be experts. Amateurs are welcome in the great outdoors. All you really need to know is that you will be exposed to the elements — wind, rain, sun, heat, cold, etc, and you should plan accordingly. When hiking, always take a rain poncho or waterproof coat. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes. Wear sunscreen and bring a hat.
Because it’s gonna rain!
4. Nature selfies are wildly popular. I would see entire groups stop and try to replicate Ellen’s memorable selfie at the Oscars. It made me wish I was an early investor in selfie sticks. #hiking #lovingit #greatoutdoors
5. Baby outdoor gear has got to be one of the cutest things on planet earth.
Babies were everywhere (see #1 above) and each one was wearing baby-sized outdoor gear. Baby Patagonia rain jackets. Baby hiking boots. Baby down puffers. I couldn’t handle it. I melted into a puddle every time. I was officially the creeper who stopped and saw “awww look at youuuu, you little cutie!” every time. I probably scared a few moms.
6. Baby chacos are officially one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen.
Like regular chacos, but teenier and tinier and therefore much cuter.
7. Baby Columbia fishing shirts are officially another one of hte most adorable things I’ve ever seen. I mean, need I say more?
8. And then there are the supermoms. They are not only totally fit, but not a bead of sweat graces their foreheads as they cruise up the mountain wearing Lululemon, confidently leading five adorable and impeccably-dressed children behind them like little ducklings. Dad brings up the tail with a huge pack of snacks, water bottles, diapers, extra clothing, games and toys, and snoozing baby #5 perched at the very top. Everyone has a smile on their face and everyone is wearing matching socks, because mom made it so.
And at any moment, you’re sure they are going to bust out in song with a perfect rendition of “The Hills are Alive.”
Every time I passed a mom like that, I spent the next twenty minutes wondering how much gear she must have had to locate, wash, organize, and pack just for her five children to come to Colorado for a brief vacation.
That takes dedication.
After our hike we sat on a bench by Bear Lake and enjoyed our lunch. We watched a beautiful Indian couple take pictures by the lake. The wife was about 8 months pregnant and her sari whipped in the wind as it blew across the lake. She was glowing, and her husband could not get enough pictures of her.
I know who will need some baby chacos in a couple of years!
I have neglected to tell you about the scenery so far. It was unbelievably beautiful. Breaktaking 360-degree views, unique natural features along the trail, the roar of a mountain stream by your side the entire way to the falls. It was easy and very doable by all ages, hence all the people.
When I wasn’t staring at people, I was staring at the view.
Colorado, you have all my gratitude for a wonderful day of hiking and people watching. And an extra thanks goes out to whoever returned my phone to the Ranger kiosk. I need a nap.
PS. Check out my mom’s vintage pack and her collection of hiking badges. Not your average Girl Scout!