Take the Long Hike Home
If you are familiar with the state of Colorado, if you have spent significant time here or simply perused professional photos or artistic renderings of the majestic grandeur of the state, you are familiar with Crystal Mill outside of Marble. It is one of the most photographed spots in the state, and you will find striking images of the 19th century structure perched above the Crystal River amidst a sea of stately aspens adorning many a nature photographer’s studio. Countless visitors travel from far and wide to appreciate the view, having seen pictures in magazines or travel brochures. But though my girlfriend and I recently went there for the first time in my nearly twenty-five years living in the state, don’t expect to see my iPhone shots of the mill posted here. There are plenty of amazing photographers out there (including the late great John Fielder who recently left us) that have captured the regal beauty of that space far better than I could ever hope to do. With far-superior equipment and a trained eye for light and framing, they have recorded the sublime resonance of Crystal Mill in works I urge you to appreciate for yourselves. No, this instalment of TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less is all about the journey it took in getting there.
Crystal Mill is located about 4.5 miles on a dirt road outside the town of Marble. Now when I say “town”, I might be stretching that term a bit, as the municipality boasts no more than 140 full-time residents. And when I suggest the term “road”, I again too might be overreaching with the connotation of my word choice. In this case, it might be more accurate to describe it as a path, given that it littered with steep descents and truly rocky terrain, rendering it accessible to only certifiable 4-wheel drive vehicles. Not your Subaru Outback. I mean real 4-wheel drive vehicles. And that’s how many people see it. They go out on a jeep tour or rent an ATV, and they drive the nearly five miles out so that they can stop for a few seconds and admire the view. They get there in a hurry and leave in one too. Maybe they have a picnic lunch there or smoke a cigarette or two perched above the river on the other side of the mill. And then they get back into their vehicles and leave, missing the entire point in the first place.
As these folks would pass us, waving nicely and spilling up dirt from the road into our faces, I would nod politely, smiling and thinking to myself, “Enjoy your time in nature.” Because we certainly did.
For these folks rode ride past Lizard Lake as it sat nestled in the midst of the looming rock faces above. Snapping a few photos before being swarmed by bloodthirsty mosquitos, descending on us like we were Walmart on Black Friday, we noticed the couple from Arizona who had hiked in before us so that they could fly fish in this remote corner of the state, a secret stash few knew or spoke of.
They also missed the opportunity to partake of the cascading twin waterfalls that dropped into the canyon with a mighty and deliberate force. They never had the opportunity to hear the powerful echoes of time and water, as sure and perpetual as the universe itself, as sound reminding us of our own humanity and mortality. They were too busy listening to the droning hum of their vehicles’ engines.
They lost out on the swath of wildflowers that defined every hue of the kaleidoscope that makes up our lives and the life of nature itself. For them, they were nothing but an indistinct blur that flew by the window side as they whizzed by. Life has a way of doing that to you when you don’t slow down to appreciate it.
So too did they miss out on the row of summer cabins that lay just beyond the mill. Dating back over a century, these structures had been passed down from generation to generation and served as these families’ grounding rod to nature. Persevering in a time-tested tradition that required fortitude and grit, we watched as some other inhabits worked on their modest abodes while others lingered in the summertime sun, relishing the grace they were afforded.
Each step we take in nature is an adventure waiting to happen It is an opportunity to be seized and held onto during the more mundane moments of our lives. Or the ones we will no longer have.
About a mile and a half into our trek (and this is an absolutely true story), some nice folks pulled up alongside of us and asked us if we wanted a ride. Though I swear the guy looked like a younger, High Fidelity-era Jack Black, they didn’t seem like serial killers, preying on innocent hikers lost amidst the wilderness. In fact, they looked quite pleasant.
Without hesitation, we both looked at each other and politely declined their offer.
“We’d rather hike it,” we responded in unison.
Truer words have never been spoken.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com