Hike to Devil’s Backbone

A black canopy dotted with stars, like holes poked in an ebony sheet. The lights slowly dimmed in the predawn sky. It was the blue hour, and nightlights faded until the waning moon was the only light left, a hanging fragment above towering rocks. Opposite, in the southeastern sky, colors crept in – ombre tints of blaze and pumpkin orange as pale tangerine bled higher. It was a promise. Sunshine promise of radiant light ushering in another day.

As the central star broke the horizon, a coyote choir barked and howled. Right on que, they yipped as the sun crested a distant hill. Luminous daystar. Flaming, golden orb. Round. Burning. Bright. Suddenly, the animals hushed, and the Rocky Mountain foothills offered a moment of silence. It was morning.

That was the start of my Thanksgiving Day. A sunrise hike to Devil’s Backbone Open Space in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. I went with my two kiddos on the invigorating jaunt; it was just under 20 degrees outside. Cool applied to both the weather and the experience. The sky was perfectly clear, so all the lights and colors were fully visible. It was fantastic!

As we set out that early morning, in the dark, I look up at the sky and was transported back in time. I was six and it was Christmas night. In my childhood home, I crouched under our piano with my new toy – Light Brite – as I poked colorful pegs into a black sheet, creating lights that dotted a canvass like all the stars outside. I made my own heavenly miracle.

That is what I think about the sky. It is a miracle. From balls of gas suspended high above, forming constellations, to the daily sunrises, cotton clouds, and amazing colors of sunsets. The world – all of nature – is so awesome and, at the same time, mysterious. Like a dark sky at night, it can be both fantastic and unsettling. Cloaked in darkness, I felt that way as I hiked on Thanksgiving, in the black shadows of the foothills, excited and a little unnerved. The area we were hiking was marked as having mountain lions. Gulp.

On our hike to Devil’s Backbone, my kids and I spoke of things hidden by the dark, like animals. I let my imagination go too far and began to feel uneasy, verbalizing scenarios. “What-ifs.” I said the worst case, in my mind, would be two of us watching as one was mauled by a huge, ferocious cat (yeah…). My son calmly commented, “I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t just be watching.” That made us all laugh and made me realize the irrational fear was just that. Irrational.

Imagination is much more scary than real life.

Back on track, simply enjoying the brightening landscape and company of my children, I admired the rolling hills and how light and dark contrasts of rocks and tall, frosty grass looked in the dim light.

Keyhole at Devil’s Backbone

As we reached the rock formation known as Devil’s Backbone, a keyhole came into view. A large misshapen hole in one of the rocks. It was big – my kids stood inside and were dwarfed by the opening. We had about ten minutes to sunrise when we reached the keyhole, our destination. We sat quietly and waited.

My favorite part of the hike was having the experience with my kiddos. Nature speaking, thought, it was the coyote choir and colors in the sky as the sun made its daily debut. The light illuminated on rocks as the bright star prepared to show itself, tawny brown-red rocks. Growing light that flooded out darkness and shadows. Good morning Thanksgiving Day. Good morning Colorado Rockies. Good morning world.

My heart was overwhelmed with gratitude.