It is easy to fall into a habit of walking tight loops in Boulder, Colorado. Occupants of our fair city, frequently lauded as one of the best places to live in the United States, enjoy easy access to parks and green spaces, a pedestrian-friendly environment featuring 58 miles of paved multi-use paths and 145 miles of natural hiking trails, and plenty of pleasant public spaces in which to meet or retreat throughout the downtown and Boulder Creek corridors. There is so much to do and see and explore in each part of the city that I suspect many of my fellow Boulderites, are, like me, used to simply walking their own neighborhoods or driving from amenity to amenity, experiencing the city as a series of destinations, like pearls on a necklace.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to explore the full range of Boulder's urban and natural environments on foot, stitching together step by step different neighborhoods, nature trails, parks, shopping centers; places with smooth sidewalks and uneven ones; underpasses and the always-under-construction campus on the hill. I walked 9 miles in about 4 hours with 11 other "ramblers" - people from all over the world and a great variety of disciplines - in the largest loop I'd ever attempted around the city.
As we connected with each other, thanks to the able facilitation of our Walk2Connect leader, Jonathon, we connected different parts of the city in our minds, writing new mental maps and learning new things about how Boulder works, and doesn't work, for its residents.
Our group began by walking west along rain-swollen Boulder Creek and passing through a tunnel inscribed with an uplifting message.
Jonathon then led us north up the Red Rocks trail toward Mt. Sanitas, on the western edge of the city.
At the top, we stopped to learn about the historic significance of the magnificent red rock outcroppings to the Arapahoe and Ute peoples, who lived here long before 19th-century gold seekers set up camp and established a town at the mouth of Boulder Canyon. As one member of our group said, the rocks were considered not just the most prominent feature of a sacred landscape, but gods themselves. To the people who lived and worshiped here, the land embodied the spirits that sustained them. Now, our city stretches unceremoniously out before them at the base of this hill.
Our group members connected easily, sharing ideas and stories and life experiences as we hiked down toward the Mapleton Hill neighborhood, one of the first settled areas of Boulder.
The neighborhood had beautiful weather for its annual rummage sale. Neighbors sat out on their sidewalks and porches with items for sale as people crowded the streets, creating the atmosphere of a vast, winding marketplace. We walked right on through, noting the pleasant atmosphere of pedestrian dominance and slowed-down cars, without browsing much, talking with each other as we strolled toward North Boulder Park.
Occasionally, we crossed our signals ...
... but we soon made it to the park, where we stopped briefly to note North Boulder's excellent pedestrian access to both recreation amenities and essential shopping. The Ideal Market grocery store and shops on Broadway are just a few blocks from this park, as is Mt. Sanitas, with its trails.
From North Boulder, we looped around to eastern Mapleton Hill, where Jonathon shared thoughts on the pedestrian friendliness of the historic district, facilitated by the classic pattern of inserting planted buffers between the streets and the sidewalks. I also love how old neighborhood streets often feature overhanging trees, creating little canopies to walk through.
Jonathon is an advocate of "wildscaping" front yards, so he stopped in front of one home's habitat to describe the benefits to bees and other wildlife of planting a natural landscape rather than grass.
From lush Mapleton Hill, we turned toward Boulder's hardscaped eastern edge, splitting up and walking down Pine Street (a dog-friendly zone) and the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall (on which dogs are not allowed). We then met up on East Pearl Street and took a lunch break at Snarf's Sandwich Shop.
Storm clouds rolled in over the Flatirons. As we traversed the 29th Street Mall, a sprinkling began that lasted the rest of our journey. We briefly took refuge in a frozen yogurt shop before turning onto the Boulder Creek Path and crossing the University of Colorado campus.
With just a mile or two to go, we glowed with gratitude and the joy of exercise on a cool summer's day.
Little by little, step by step, we made our way back to our starting point and on with our afternoons, renewed, refreshed, happy, knowing more about where we live and having made some new friends.
To learn about other walking opportunities like this one, as well as shorter trips and special walking programs, check out the events calendar on the Walk2Connect website. While you're there, please click on "The Campaign" and make a contribution to Walk2Connect's crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Walking Movement Leaders to continue providing health-giving, friendship-building, life-enhancing experiences like the one pictured in this post. Thanks, and hope to see you out walking soon!