Cross-Country Road Trip: Watching the Rockies Rise

I have to make a confession about this road trip. Apparently, I have trouble judging both linear distances and the height of mountains.

Yes, we were on our way to Angela’s childhood home in San Diego. Yes, we were all excited about visiting ten national parks during the journey. Yes, we eagerly anticipated the hiking, swimming, and camping in some of the world’s most beautiful locations.

But, as I’ve said before, I’m all about the journey itself. Especially when that journey involves some kind of epic crossing or transition from one thing to another, very different thing.

And, on this trip, I just wanted to watch the Rockies rise out of the horizon as we rolled west across the Great Plains. I had this romantic notion that something so tall and imposing as the Rocky Mountains would loom over the surrounding land and be visible from a hundred miles away.

Throughout the length of Kansas in its monotonous majesty, I had scanned the edge of the unbroken distance for my first glimpse of higher ground. Then, as we crossed the border into Colorado, I imagined seeing the far off foothills of the Rocky Mountains, only to find as we approached that the “hills” were nothing more than mounds of dirt or dust storms or heat mirages blurring the perpetually flat landscape.

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Still no Rockies.

Even as we entered the eastern sprawl of Denver itself, the mountains I had envisioned surrounding the city were still nowhere to be found. Flat as a pancake. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed.

Not until we arrived in Golden, Colorado, on the far western edge of Denver, did I feel like we had truly left the plains behind and entered mountain country. But, by that time, my romantic notion was shattered. We were winding between the artificial landscape of office buildings and sports stadiums, with the occasional low mountain peeking out as we cleared the trees.

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But travel isn’t always about discovering new places. Sometimes it’s about discovering something new in ourselves.

Very quickly, the disappointment of my miscalculation turned to humor. At first, I laughed inwardly for ever having believed that I could see the Rocky Mountains from Kansas. Then, later that night, I shared my mistake around the dinner table and received copious amounts of good-humored derision from my Colorado friend, Steve. He shared with his friends, and everyone had a good laugh, including myself. At one point, someone asked if I could see the Pacific Ocean from the back deck of the pub.

After a few days of rest and visiting with friends in Golden, we set out again. This time into the heart of the Colorado Rockies, winding our way beneath snow-packed peaks, through sweating tunnels, and along precipitous drops to experience the surreal wonder of Hanging Lake.

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These were the mountains I had come to see. And, although they didn’t rise from the horizon as I had anticipated, I found myself loving them no less. We had crossed the vast interior of the American midwest and come to a new and wholly different place.

And that was good enough for me.