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170 million years ago, the formation of the Rocky Mountains began as glaciers morphed a continent during a three-tiered phase of orogeny. Today, 3,000 miles of terrain make up the Rockies, which span two countries. Winter here, no matter which part of the range you’re visiting, is idyllic. Outdoor sports take on new dimensions. Coursing snow-deep, rough-hewn mountain peaks and hidden geologies confound.
The air in the Colorado Rockies is so crisp and clear it almost hurts to breathe it. Fragrant pines, ski slopes, redrock and pioneer history are ever-present. Winter is the essence of the mountains, but spring brings lush peaks and riverbeds, fields of wild mountain flowers under horizons filled by snow-capped, purple-grey crags. The gold rush brought Colorado’s first non-Indian inhabitants to the state just over 150 years ago, and adventure and appreciation for the wilderness have kept them there.
The Colorado Rockies are iconic of the winter getaway. Cabins are tucked into the forested mountains; their chimneys puff smoke into snow-boughed pines. Sleeping in a Colorado cabin in the winter, fireplace stoked with real wood crackling, snow falling on conifers, is the ultimate winter’s vacation. One could spend weeks in a cabin in the mountains of Colorado with no need for contact from outside. Small mountain towns like Colorado Springs, Redstone and Steamboat Springs offer enough in the way of facilities that one can stock up on essentials and hide away in the frozen wilderness. Alternately, outdoor activity is rife in this southwestern state. With wideout winter landscapes and sunny-if-cold days, there’s no escape from adventure sport.
Skiing is the most popular and well-noted activity in the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies here are known for Vale, Aspen and Telluride, just to name a few of Colorado’s renowned slopes. These areas are well-traveled and enormous. If you want snow without mass populus, however, Ski Cooper is a mellow beginners arena and Arapahoe Basin boasts the highest skiable terrain in North America.
The Colorado Rockies are also the mile-high location for the city of Denver. A laid back, cold-weather haven, Denver is strung with diffused lights, its railroads harkening back to days of industry and the later cross-through travel of the Beats. Boulder is a smaller city just a forty-five minute drive northwest from Denver whose proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park makes it an easy detour from the mountains. Crafty galleries and shops line the main strip of Pearl Street Mall. Brimming with outdoor enthusiasts and spiritualists, Boulder is home to an environmentally-friendly and conscientious population. This is where Allen Ginsberg founded his Buddhist-oriented school Naropa, an arena to visit if only to see its yoga and meditation rooms. Unrefined scenery is abundant in close proximity to Boulder for those who enjoy photography. The Flatirons provide classic Boulder landscapes and Indian Peaks Wilderness spotlights a range defined by its sawtooth nature. This jagged appearance was forged by glacial action, leaving Indian Peaks dotted in more than fifty glacial lakes, some nestled not far from trailheads throughout the park. In winter, the frozen lakes take on an alpenglow; in spring the waters are lucid and create reflections of the mountains that surround them, as though Earth created perfect mirrors for the sky.
The state of Wyoming is a grand plateau dissected by many mountain ranges, one being The Snowy Range of The Rockies. This is where the Great Plains are interrupted. Jackson Hole, a main winter destination in Wyoming, is a valley surrounded by Rocky Mountain crags. Grand Teton National Park encompasses much of Jackson Hole, and lends to the preservation of the Teton Mountains and the glacial lakes embodied therein. The park is 485 square miles and is cut through with hiking trails for those who want to explore the absolute wildness of this winter destination. Moose, antelope, mule deer, bear, bison and trumpeter swans can all be observed while hiking Wyoming’s snowblown trails. Fishing is another favorite pastime, and is often rewarded with a meal from the day’s catch. Sporting outfitters in Jackson Hole sell supplies and permits and give advice on how and where to ice fish. A sunny day with a portable grill awaiting fresh-caught fish from waters running below frigid ice is relaxingly bucolic. Another winter activity in Wyoming is dog-sledding. Personalized Iditarods are offered out of various companies in Jackson Hole.
Rising at dawn in Jackson Hole is aesthetically desirable. Smoky lavender skies embrace the snow-dappled Tetons, and sipping coffee or hot chocolate alone on a log-cabin porch in this valley of white allows one to feel the serene immensity of the environment.
Other intriguing winter locations in Wyoming are Laramie, home of the state’s only four-year university, and Yellowstone. Laramie is a quaint outpost with attractions like the Plains Museum, which speaks to pioneer history, and Vedauwoo, a hiking area of rocky outcrops that in winter, with snow blowing across its fields, is an illusory Ansel Adams pastoral. Yellowstone National Park, which rests largely in northwestern Wyoming, also has thin acreage in Montana and Idaho and is perhaps the most shocking Wyoming locale. The geyser of Old Faithful is located in Wyoming’s Yellowstone (one can even snowmobile past it). The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is another geological masterpiece not to miss. Winter is an especially unique time to visit the latter site as a natural ice bridge then forms across The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, whose upper falls in other seasons usually crash over stone cliffs. In winter those falls are frozen in time, linking stone cliff to stone cliff.
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