Hanging Lake and Vail, Colorado

We Mainers were enjoying our road trip from Santa Fe, New Mexico, up through Colorful Colorado. It was colorful indeed, and although I had grown up there, this visit, like all the others, left me awestruck by the majesty of the mountains. When our car-ful of myself, my mother, and my twelve and thirteen year old daughters, arrived in bustling Vail that June afternoon, we were tired, hungry, and ready to relax. After a very busy two days of driving and sightseeing, we had booked our hotel in Vail for two nights so we could rest up a bit and hike a special mountain near Vail the next morning. As a teen, I had climbed the trail to Hanging Lake twice, and I could not wait to share the experience with my daughters.

Hanging Lake is at the top of a steep, nearly staircase-like, two-mile trail. Hikers come up over the last rise of the trail to find the completely transparent lake right at their feet. Huge rainbow trout swim fearless in the small lake, as fishing is not allowed. The mossy bottom looks velvety and inviting, but swimming is not allowed either. Hanging Lake is protected, which is why is stays so pristine. The best time to make the hike is in the early morning, setting out at the trailhead before sunrise. The trail is not difficult, but it is steep, and even those who are used to the altitude find it tiring. I knew we needed at least an hour or more to make it up the two mile trail, so we planned, tentatively, to leave our hotel at about 4:00 the next morning. We would drive the forty-five minutes to Hanging Lake trail, and then make our way up.

Yet, sometimes the best laid plans do not work out the way we think they will. As aforementioned, when we arrived in Vail, we were exhausted. The hotel was large and beautiful, typical of Vail grandeur. Yet, something just did not seem right. My memories of summertime in Vail as a child were of staying in a hotel right in Vail village, running through town with my brother, riding the free shuttle bus, playing in the woods, and visiting the local toy shops and candy stores. I remembered riding the Gondola to the top of the mountain and hiking down the grass-covered ski slopes. But on this day, Vail was not the way I remembered it. Of course it had grown significantly, but it was more than that. Vail seemed plastic. Although scenic mountains were all around us, it no longer felt like we were in the mountains of Colorado, but rather, it felt more like a slice of Southern California. It felt wrong.

But I kept my thoughts to myself. We walked down to the hotel restaurant only to find that it was packed and it doubled as a nightclub. Since we were so hungry, we went on in, but the music was deafening, even to my daughters who seem to thrive on loud music. The food took forever to arrive and we all had headaches by the time we ate. It was terribly over-priced, and totally disappointing, to say the least.

When we got back to the room, my daughters went for a swim and I told my mom that this trip was too short to spend it like this. We were all tired and we really just wanted to get out of Vail. Hanging Lake was in the opposite direction of where we were headed next, so even though it was a disappointment to me, I decided to scrap that part of our trip. Besides, I knew the altitude would probably kill me, on top of already being so tired. We decided to go ahead and check out of our hotel the next morning and head on down to Colorado Springs. We had friends to visit along the way, as well as friends there in town – and we had a full schedule of fun things to do there. Rather than staying two nights in Vail, we would stay two nights in Colorado Springs and that would be that. With our new plans made, we went to sleep that night and slept hard with the cool mountain air wafting through the windows of our too-fancy hotel.

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