As Joni Mitchell observed in her classic Big Yellow Taxi, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” The vast wilderness encountered in the United States west even through the early 20th century has been eroded by development. Fortunately, the National Parks and National Forests along with many state and local agencies have preserved enough open spaces for visitors to enjoy.
While people are familiar with Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier National Parks, leading to traffic jams, overflowing parking lots and other annoyances, there are terrific destinations waiting to be explored, such as Sheep Creek Canyon (see previous post Rocky Mountain Road Trip) and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in northwest Colorado.
In three days of fishing, horseback riding and hiking, we saw virtually no one. Bald eagles competed for the trout (catch and release for us) and we saw evidence of moose, elk and other big game, but they were our only companions.
The devastating fire that swept through in 2002 destroyed 17,000 acres of pine forest, which had been largely decimated by pine beetles in the 1940s. However, some areas were spared and aspen trees provide striking counterpoints in the autumn. It is also gratifying to see Mother Nature in restoration mode, as new, healthy growth appears.
Until I left New England in my twenties, I never appreciated the phenomenal spectacle that is leaf peaking/peeking season (see Joni Mitchell above). While the West does not have the vibrant reds of Vermont’s maple trees, it has a stunning beauty of its own that should be witnessed at least once in a lifetime, if not on an annual basis.