“The poetry of the earth is never dead.” — John Keats
I love to visit the western places of the United States. For me, it still symbolizes what I am sure it once represented to the early settlers who descended on the West in a locust swarm after the Civil War. In heading out to the untamed wilderness, there was opportunity to make a fresh start, see new sights, or just experience what was a vast expanse of open spaces that resonates with all those who long to wander and explore–with the ultimate goal of feeling small in a big way. And we should all want to feel small daily, for it is the realization that there is something larger than ourselves out there, constantly imploring us to stop, look, and listen. To be fair, what reads like a romanticized endeavor to the West for one people, reads like a Shakespearean tragedy for another people. And while history largely is written and recorded based on the perspective of those writing it, one thing is certain: that the genie cannot be placed back in the bottle and thus the West was open for exploration.
There is still a wildness and feeling of freedom that one gets when heading across the Mississippi River and into what was once indeed wild and free. Of course, it is not the same. Gone are the millions strong bison herds that once roamed the Great Plains. Gone is the gray smoke rising from the Native American encampments in the distant mountains. Fences stretch out to the horizon that once was free of obstructions. Roads are carved through mountains that would have taken weeks to conquer on foot. K2 and I are grateful to live in a time and place that allows us to move about this land as freely as we do. However, there is part of me that is perpetually sad that I could not see it for what it once was, and to be able to move over land where the only boundaries were those inserted there by nature herself. I am not naïve so much to think the journey back then would be easy. On the contrary, it would be dangerous and most difficult. This, however, would not sway my wandering spirit nor deter it from its innate and unrelenting, deep desire to explore. What we have now is limited to the new boundaries we have placed on the land. The fences, the roads, the property lines, these all are limiting factors. Nevertheless, it is worth seeing and worth exploring, to whatever degree one can do such things.
One of the few states out west that I had never visited was Colorado. So, when my brother and his wife, who shall be known as K4 and K5 to protect the innocent and not so innocent alike, asked K2 and I to go with them for a short jaunt to Estes Park, Colorado, we were all in. (As an aside, all the K numbers bears some explanation at some point and will be addressed in a later blog. Suffice it to say, we have a lot of names beginning with the letter in my family). We flew into Denver on an early morning flight and arrived in time for breakfast. Our plan was to stop and eat and then head to a wildlife sanctuary that was only around 30 minutes from the airport. After standing in line for some time for our rental tank, or more commonly known as a GMC Denali, we set out for the first leg of our journey to Kennesburg, Colorado for a visit to The Wild Animal Sanctuary.
The sanctuary itself is a unique place. First of all, it is massive at 789 acres. It also has an elevated walkway that extends out over the park some 1.5 miles or so. One of the more endearing qualities of this place is the fact that all the animals here are rescues. There are many lions, tigers, and bears…oh my, but also jaguars, hyenas, wolves, camels, and horses, to name a few. What strikes you immediately is the size of the habitats. Unlike most zoos, which are limited in size for animal enclosures, this place gives them room to roam. With the size of each habitat being so much bigger and the fact that you are on an elevated walkway and so, less threatening to the animals themselves, you feel like you get to see them in what is as close to their natural habitat that is possible with their current circumstances. For lovers of animals, this is a must see if you are in the Denver area with time on your hands.
After walking off breakfast and spending a few hours milling around the walkway over the animals and the gift shop inside the entrance building, we decided to drive to our place of stay for the short week. So, fighting the gusty winds and dueling navigation devices from the phones of K2 and K5 which kept changing directions and dropping in and out of service depending on which way we were facing, which road we were on, or as my grandmother used to say, if I was holding my mouth right, we made our way westward to Estes Park. On the distant horizon, we could see the snow-capped mountains of the mighty Rockies through the windshield and out of our windows. They grew larger as we drove and seemed to surround us as we approached them. Ever so slowly they ascended to the heavens with caps white and laden with snow, and we were engulfed in the majesty of the mountains, cradled in the enormity of it all, sheltered as if wrapped in a blanket on a cold winter’s night. And in that moment, I realized how exceedingly small I am. I was comforted by that thought.