Sunday, November 4, 2007

a day in the park: wild turkeys and chewed up water bottles

I finally recovered from my flu shot this morning (entirely psychosomatic trauma, so I'm a little worried about how typhoid, yellow fever and tetanus are going to go down next week. the nurse didn't help with the incredulous 'you rode your bike down here? that was very brave of you, but i'm *sure* you'll feel fine'). So, in celebration of this one Fall day in Boulder in which the temperature shot up to 25C and the sun is shining, I went for a hike with a friend.

Apparently hiking is the done thing in Boulder on a Sunday afternoon, as Chautauqua Park was overwhelmingly crowded. We got the entire cross-section of the Boulder population out: everyone from newly-born in baby-carriers to, well, the not so newly born. But by about 100 feet from the parking lot, the crowd has thinned, and despite running into the occasional NOAA scientist, it wasn't too unreasonable.

The hike started ominously with my requiring a return to the car from the trailhead as I realized I didn't have my wallet on me. It's like the moment when you get into the car and aren't completely positive that you locked the house or turned off the stove: rationally, you know it will all be fine, but until you go and check there's this sense of dread nagging at the back of one's head. Embarrassing. But the ominous overtones quickly disappeared as we made our way up the steep mountainside. The first place of note is the 'Amphitheater': a semi-circle of craggy rock that makes passersby feel the odd need to sing or perform lines of Shakespeare. or slip on a climbing harness and make an ascent, as the Boulderite case may be. It's really a spectacular sight.

From there, the next highlight is a pair of bright yellow trees sticking out from a dark gully. Shining and luminous, they reminded me of the spectacular colours out East. Except they accompanied a very steep hike that reminded me that perhaps I should actually go to the gym rather than just talking about it. Or at least join a gym. That would be a good start. Tomorrow.

The top of the hike was the Saddle: a pair of rosy granite cones that offer views of Boulder and the Front Range on one end, the Rockies and the already snow-capped Long's Peak on the other. As we sat admiring the view and taking a drink of water, the wind picked up. And promptly blew my mostly full water bottle down the hill. In the spirit of not trashing a relatively high-throughput wilderness area, we went off in search the water bottle - last seen crashing down a gully between spiky rocks and spouting water out. I carefully marked in my head where it was last seen (next to the big granite rock between the two pine trees). Once we clambered down to the correct region, I realized that there were many big granite rocks. And the hillside was covered in pine trees.

But an empty water bottle was found - sliced open and without any water. And without a label. Which prompted a discussion of whether it was an Aquafina or Arrowhead water bottle. We disagreed. The only way to conclusively determine whether this was our waterbottle was to return to Wild Oats and see what was on sale. So we slowly circled the Saddle and decide that if we just headed South with a slight downhill bent, we should hit the trail soon. By slight downhill, I mean ridiculously steep lichen-covered gradient. It was kind of fun - a little adrenaline never hurt anyone, and the view was truly spectacular (steep enough to not have trees growing on parts... kind of like glissading, but without the snow). But we finally bushwacked our way to a slightly flatter part (past the caves and over the rocks which were pointed out to me as ideal rattlesnake territory). The sun started to set and amplify the rosy peaks, and the Denver smog layer created a rather lovely lilac-coloured band in the atmosphere. And as I turned to look for a trail, I noticed another water bottle below us. And a band of turkeys (gaggle? murder? actually, according to google, it's a 'rafter of turkeys') above us.

The leader of the fine turkey band noticed us, so they slowly began to pick their way across the rocks, and my companion went off to photograph them. Wild turkeys are lovely things: massive feathers, a sort of friendly demeanour, and they seem to chat with each other like a group of gossiping freshmen. After they went out of sight, we headed down to check out the water bottle. This was definitely not ours - it was a thick green Gatorade plastic, and had been extensively been chewed on by an animal. A very sharp and pointy teethed animal. Large, pointy teeth. After some discussion over what would have adequately sized teeth, we chose to pack it up and head down quickly. By that time, the trail was just around the corner - and the shadows were getting longer.

The way down was mostly uneventful - with the exception of a large rustle in the bushes which sounded very predatory animal-ish - particularly after the water bottle incident. And the fact that it was almost dark. (Note to self, the fall timechange means that it gets dark earlier than you'd think). We managed to scare ourselves into talking loudly and looking as large and people-like as possible. And quickly made our way the last few yards to the parking lot without unfriendly encounters, but with the whisper of cougars in the back of our minds. Nothing like a little suspense and drama to round out a lovely day in the park.

It turned out that we had bought an Arrowhead bottle and most likely retrieved the appropriate one. And that may be the last hike for a while: the temperature is apparently supposed to drop tonight, a sure sign that snow and turkey season is upon us.

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