In order to get myself back over the Rockies from Steamboat Springs, I decide to take a more northerly direction up near the Wyoming state line through Red Feather Lakes. It’s a place I know little to nothing about, but have long been intrigued. There’s not much information on the area. In fact, it is a challenge to even figure out which roads are best to take and where to go once I get there. I get by with a little help from my friends…or in this case, friends of friends, who are gracious enough to share coordinates for potential boondocking spots.
Red Feather Lakes is a small village in the middle of the Roosevelt National Forest. There’s not much there except for a couple of cafes, two general stores, a post office, and once again as I keep discovering in these small mountain towns, a nice library!
It’s an area made up of small, placid lakes, some public and others private, requiring a membership to access. Although there are numerous lakes, Dowdy, West, Bellaire, none of them share the same name as the village.
Since Red Feather Lakes area is surrounded by forest, it’s a boondockers haven. County roads head off in numerous directions, many of them marked for camping by stone fire rings.
Coordinates lead me to an idyllic, quiet and isolated pull out along the forest service road. As peaceful as it is Monday through Friday, come Friday evening, there must be a hundred travel trailers, horse trailers, ATV trailers, dirt bike trailers, etc. etc. all bumping up the gravel road toward me, some arriving long after dark. Red Feather Lakes area must be THE weekend getaway for every Coloradoan living along the I-25 corridor north of Denver!
But there’s another reason I want to visit Red Feather Lakes. Returning from my year long backpacking trip on the heels of 9/11, I relocated to Atlanta for a job with American Express’ competitor. It was a big job…my biggest yet as a Director of Product Development with a team of eight managers reporting to me. I reported directly into the SVP, which in this case stood for Sociopathic Vitriolic Person! It was a difficult time in my life, but having just saddled myself with a 30 year mortgage in a declining economy, I couldn’t quit. Waking at 4:00am in a cold sweat, I began seeking anything that would soothe my frazzled nerves and quiet my frenetic mind.
In searching out distraction from my stressful situation, I began to visit the Atlanta Shambhala Center, based on ancient Tibetan Buddhist teachings. It gave me a much needed calming distraction and immersion in a like minded community. It also helped me tap into the little used creative side of my brain, as I attended classes in the contemplative arts; writing, flower arranging (Ikebana) and yes, even meditation, all with the purpose of focusing on compassion and basic human goodness, something I was sorely lacking in my career.
While at the Atlanta center, I heard often about the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes. Located on 600 acres in the middle of nowhere, I have always been curious to visit the campus, as it is also the location of the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, which has been visited by the Dalai Lama himself. Completed in 2001, the 108 ft tall Stupa took thirteen years to build, and is considered one of the most significant examples of sacred Buddhist architecture in North America.
The center itself offers workshops in everything from hiking retreats, writing retreats, yoga retreats, all centered around contemplative focus through meditation and mindfulness…quieting the mind of daily noise and chaos so creativity and compassion can enter.
Although I have never mastered the art of quieting my monkey mind through meditation, I respond to surroundings at the Shambhala Mountain Center like Pavlov’s dog. The clear resonating tone of the meditation bell, the sound of prayer flags fluttering in the breeze, the act of removing my shoes to feel the cool tile on the bottoms of my feet, all sensations that instantly evoke a sense of inner calmness. My walking pace slows down. My thoughts become more measured. And the most simple of tasks become deliberate and contemplative as I am reminded with every breath to express gratitude for my every blessing.
Inside the Visitor Center near the Great Stupa is a poster that sums the teaching up well, I think:
“In this time of warfare, disease, and depletion of natural resources, when distrust between people of different faiths is rampant, it is our hope that this statue will inspire those who see it to affirm their commitment to peace, tolerance, and compassion.”