In my Colorado Playbook, fall means visiting the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. Why the Y? Here’s my top 10: 

  1. Because these nearly 900 acres sit right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, one of four national parks in our gorgeous state, and indeed, you can hike right in from the grounds here. 
  2. Because of the inclusive vibe. The fact that I am not Christian does not prevent me from loving the Y, and I think The Religion of Kindness — which is something we surely can all ascribe to — is welcome here. Diversity seems key in more ways than one. For example, the staff seems mainly composed of retirees from all over the country and young people from all over the globe. Connections abound! The kids next to me in the coffee shop here, for example, are all laughing wildly, despite language barriers. Surely, this is one way to foster peace and an open-hearted, empathetic world. 
  3. But back to religion: When people ask, I tell them my religion is Chlorophyll — what a miraculous transformation of energy, our lives depend upon it! — and I think that fits in nicely with the Y, too. Indeed, if my religion is Mother Nature, this is my temple, and this place is excellent for ethical reflection and deepening one’s practice to caretaking. Look at those crazy cloud formations over Longs Peak! But also, those wild turkeys! They wander by my cabin each morning at 6 to head downhill and back uphill again each evening, and sometimes look over at me, offer a gobble of sorts, their little throat feathers wobbling in joy.
  4. There’s a long history here, starting in 1908, built on being a place of service and a nonprofit, which is surely a rarity these days. I have a personal history as well, coming at least once a year for 20 years, raising my kids with mini golf and archery and hikes. This September was my first artist-in-resident stint, though, which meant two weeks in a cabin to work on my writing solo. The Y is the only place I have returned to so regularly in my ongoing job of being a lifelong explorer of Colorado. 
  5. Because it’s just so easy to do random strange stuff! Sure, this place is a parental godsend — roller skating, pool of both sorts, tennis courts, crafts — but as an adult, I too made a commitment to do one new thing each day. It’s basically impossible not to. Many new hikes, a session of pilates (harder than the hikes), archery, silk painting, browsing the museum. What’s not to love? And speaking of activities, yes, the mini golf. This time, my grown daughter visited for a day before heading off to Europe. Now she’s 22, and as we walked around with golf putters in hand, joking and egging each other on, we noticed the other adults out there, sans kids, and that made us laugh as well. You never outgrow a game of mini golf. 
  6. And the elk, of course. I heard one volunteer say they’ve already started their bugling, so I’m keeping my ear tuned. During the free guided hike advertised as “to the Hidden Pond” in RMNP, which was actually a hidden pond way off any trail, and which was hands down one of the best hikes of my life, our group quietly watched a large group for a long time, the young elk calling after their mothers and goofing around. Pure magic. 
  7. The learners here. As part of my residency, I offered a free class to writers, hung out in the truly lovely library, and went to open mic night. It became apparent that this place calls to people who wish to engage, learn, try.
  8. Lesser known paths into Rocky Mountain National Park. I always want to run up to the line of cars waiting at the entrance to the park and tell them to stay at the Y. Forget the lines and crowded trails! From the grounds, you can hike right in. You still need a park pass — nothing wrong with supporting our park system — and these hikes are equally as gorgeous and far less crowded. There is Glacier Creek to walk beside, Longs Peak to look upon.
  9. The sage and Paint Brush flowers at my feet. The sunlit orange clouds and rainbows above my head. Have I said how much I love Mama Earth and all she offers? It’s true that I worry nearly constantly for her — about the ways in which humans continue to encroach on wild spaces, crowd out all that is non-human, ruin our oceans and air. Sad facts drift across my mind: The last time the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 400 ppm was recorded was four million years ago. I believe we’re in for serious rising temperatures and more suffering than many assume. Life on Earth feels perilous. I won’t pretend otherwise or not acknowledge my sorrow. But here is a respite. We all need that.  
  10. Which is only to say: The Y is a haven. A healer. A place to grieve. A place to play. A gem worth discovering. 

Laura Pritchett writes a monthly column about loving Colorado and issues in the West. She directs the MFA in Nature Writing at Western Colorado University. Her novels, including two forthcoming ones, are all set in contemporary Colorado. More at

A headshot of Laura Pritchett

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