St. Mary’s Glacier

My first “weekend” (my weekend days are Wednesday and Thursday) in Denver made me fall in love. After hiking the decently challenging Chimney Gulch trail, a friend of mine, who had moved here a month before me, and I went to St. Mary’s Glacier. Both hikes were so close to my house, and so easy to get to. It took about 40 minutes to get to St. Mary’s and the drive itself was beautiful. That’s something I’ve learned about Colorado, any trip into the mountains doesn’t feel like it’s actually taking very long, because the views are incredible. We were lucky to see the beginning of the Aspens changing colors as my little car chugged along the steep incline to the roadside trail head. St. Mary’s has a 5 dollar usage fee, but you can also camp there if you so choose. My friend had brought her dog, Ruby, along for the day as well, so all four of us started up the rocky path to the main lake. The altitude had both of us humans feeling a little winded although the dogs seemed just fine. After a few stops, we made it to the lake and it was spectacular! The dogs sniffed around, running after sticks and each other for a few minutes before we ascended to get a closer look at the glacier. Both of our pups had never seen snow before so it was quite entertaining to see them playing in it. It’s as if someone had let them outside for the first time and said “Go crazy!” They chased each other around, pouncing and sliding through the snow with the biggest, goofiest grins on their faces. Since we were both a little tired and winded, we saved climbing to the very top for another day and ate a few snacks before heading back home. I definitely recommend St. Mary’s Glacier as a spot to take friends and family if they come in town to visit. The hike to the lake isn’t too bad and the altitude can be managed by  taking it slowly. The views are totally worth the trip.

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Chimney Gulch Trail

I loved hiking Chimney Gulch! It was a pretty challenging, steep incline to the Lookout Mountain (Windy Saddle) parking overlook. I was surprised by how hot it still was in mid-September. I think being from Florida made me assume everywhere else was freezing by this time and we were the only ones still suffering from the blazing heat. Bella and I had a great time on this trail and once we got to the top we further explored the trail to the right of the parking lot, which had great views of the city of Denver. On the way down I noticed a red convertible that had fallen a pretty long distance from the road above. We found a small trail to get up close and inspect the car a little more. It was awfully eerie, overgrown with weeds, with a tire several yards down the creek it was sitting above. All in all a fun, but busy trail. Thankfully, Bella is an extremely well behaved dog, so we had no issues moving out of the way of trail runners and bikers.

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Working with Animals and Hiking

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I got back into Denver from Wyoming just in time to start my new internship. I was (and currently am) interning in the polar bear and otter division, which is very exhausting, on your feet type of work. Animals are an incredible passion of mine, as is conservation of our planet, including all animals and our environment. Although I don’t necessarily agree with all aspects of zoo culture, learning about these animals, caring for them, and trying to educate the public about them and their precious habitats is something I wanted to gain experience with. Working with animals gives one an insight on how to connect with another being on a level that goes way below the surface of normal communication. These animals have very real personalities and feelings and ways of communicating those feelings with you if you pay attention. I have always found that when I’m working one on one with an animal, I am in a very meditative state. My mind is clear, I am in tune with my own breath and body and the vibes it is giving off… all so that I can be in tune with theirs. I had the opportunity to work with two bear cubs in Melrose, Florida at a wildlife sanctuary, called Single Vision. Being around those two rambunctious critters taught me a lot about myself and how to be patient, not to be fearful (which can be hard when a playful 40 pound bear cub is lunging at you with a mouthful of teeth), and to forget any personal issues I may have going on.

I find a similar state of mind when I’m out hiking. It’s such a peaceful time to reflect or forget. I get to be in tune with myself and my surroundings, responding to the environment to help me reach my goal. I always hike with Bella and there are times when I have to help her climb over rocks or jump down off of steep drops. This provides such a great bonding time for us, as we both must put our full trust in each other to keep moving forward. The point of this was to express how important being around animals and exploring nature are to me in my life. I feel so grateful to be in a place that allows me to combine both of these passions into aspects of my life.

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WY oh my

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My first off the beaten path adventure after moving to Denver involved driving up to Medicine Bow, Wyoming. A couple friends of mine from back home were traveling in the area and I took the opportunity to meet up with some familiar faces. I got a later start than I would have preferred and wound up driving 12 miles down a very rocky dirt road through open cattle fields, just after the sun was setting. Thankfully, my two wheel drive car made it to the campsite especially considering Bella and I were in the middle of no where with no cell service what so ever. I picked a semi-secluded spot, started a small campfire, and waited for the guys to arrive. After they showed up, we set up our tents and got ready for the hike to Medicine Bow Peak, my first climb up a 12,000 ft mountain.

Medicine Bow is absolutely beautiful. It has many gorgeous reflective lakes, large white rock formations, and several different types of pine, fir, and spruce trees. Plus, it’s dog friendly which is an absolute must for my just as adventurous 90 lb pup. The day of our main hike was gloriously sunny but had significantly strong wind gusts. I couldn’t wait to get started on my first big hike out West and begin breaking in my new Ahnu hiking boots. We started out hiking around a lake and as we neared the base of the incline to the peak, we ran into a couple turning back due to the wind. It was a slight dilemma trying to decide whether to go for it or not, but we decided we would at least attempt the hike and turn back if it got too blustery. From here the trail turned very rocky and we had to be careful to keep our balance with the sporadic strong blast of wind. The views were incredible, extending past the rocky peaks and left over snow, into the vast plains surrounding Medicine Bow.  We made it with surprising ease to the summit and Bella had no issues scaling the large rocks at the very top. I think it was more the excitement of being out there that got me up to the top, as the altitude started to hit this Florida girl on my other hikes as soon as I got back to Denver.

We stayed at several different campsites around Medicine Bow, trying to escape the insanely strong surges of wind each night. It whipped through our tents, making it sound like someone was trying to beat the tent down. Despite the wind, I would definitely recommend this hiking location and camping spots, Wyoming is gorgeous! On our final day we put up our Eno hammocks and absorbed the fresh air and magnificent sunshine. We had such a great time and the trails were a lot of fun to explore. It’s always hard saying goodbye to good friends and this time  some personal matters made it much more painful and made my going back to Denver, my new home and city that was lacking in family and close friends, significantly more difficult than before.

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Garden of the Gods

My lovely mother joined me in my move from the East coast out West. We had a good time, listening to tons of old school jams and stopping in Atlanta and Missouri along the way. After we arrived in Denver, we got my room all set up and cozy at my new house and went to visit the popular Garden of the Gods, in Colorado Springs. It was a pretty warm day, making the park packed with visitors. So, we hiked a nice trail around the perimeter of the large red rocks and briefly walked through the main part to view the spectacular formations. While the garden is definitely fit for an assembly of the gods, I would recommend going on a weekday or time of day less frequented by tourists and visitors. Also, I would recommend that if you take your pup hiking here, that they should be comfortable in crowds, heat in the summer months, and that you keep an eye out for rattle snakes! Later, we drove back in to Denver and had a wonderful dinner and a couple beers at Highland Tap and Burger.

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FL>>CO

If anything can go well it will. On August 14, 2015 I found out I would be moving to Denver, Colorado approximately two weeks later for an internship with the Denver Zoo. That was two weeks to finish up work with my pet sitting company, find a place to live in Denver, move my home full of things from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, pack what I could fit in my little Mazda 3, and drive Bella, my 6 year old chocolate lab, and myself the 1,662 miles to our new home.

My excitement was undeniable. I had been needing a change and the mountains had been calling. Growing up, my family moved a lot. We had moved from Florida, to Iowa, to Tennessee, and back to Florida. After living in Tallahassee, FL for a number of years, I moved to Gainesville, where I got my degree in animal science from the University of Florida. I continued living in Gainesville after finding a post-grad job and moved to Jacksonville a couple years after that. While I will always consider Florida my home and location of some of my favorite people in the world, I had always missed living in the mountains of Tennessee. The mountains have a pull on my soul that is nearly indescribable There’s something so special about being lost in the tall, vastness of the forest and reaching the peak of a mountain after challenging yourself to make it there. I had only been to Colorado for skiing vacations in the past, but I had a feeling it was just what I needed.

So, I took to Craigslist and found a place to call home. It seemed like a good situation, pet friendly, month to month, fenced in back yard. Rent was decently cheap compared to the rest of Denver and the location was pretty ideal; in the middle of where I would be working and where the mountains were located. And the rest is history. I packed a few belongings in my car, bought an air mattress, and drove out west, not having the slightest clue what would happen when I got there.