Bill and I have been professional travel writers for several decades, blessed with seeing many beautiful places around the world and all over the United States. The beauty of nature is never surpassed by man-made places. Thankfully, many of the natural places of wonder in nature have been preserved as National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites in many countries. But perhaps our most memorably exquisitely wondrous experience was in Colorado in 1991, on one of the rare times the full moon coincided with the Northern Hemisphere Winter Solstice, on December 21.
We were visiting Bill’s sister and her husband in their Estes Park home, and they had prepared quite a way for us to experience their beloved Colorado mountains. It was a cold winter with plenty of snow, and they had hiked up a tall mountain the day before and made a snow cave to show us. Being from a warmer area we had never seen one before and thought they only existed in Alaska.
We were not experienced with mountain hiking or with snow. They brought out snow shoes and assured us we could accomplish this first easily and hike straight up the mountain with these shoes, which looked to me like tennis rackets attached to boots. I was very skeptical. This was the night of the Winter Solstice,the longest night of the year, which began early with nearly total darkness because the full moon rises slowly over a tall mountain. We began our trek about 9 p.m. and almost immediately found the snowshoes to be easy and unbelievably capable of helping us climb straight up through heavy snow and not slide backwards.
It was a crisp, clear night and hundreds of stars were twinkly above us. We soon entered a thick evergreen forest as the full moon emerged brightly above us with its beams lighting our way perfectly without flashlights. The wonder of the brightly lit snow mingled with the shadows of the tall pines at our feet and the black sky with the brilliant full moon above us was wondrously magical, and I still remember it as the most beautiful experience of my life.
After about ninety minutes of challenging trekking, we reached a summit and there we were invited to enter the sturdy snow cave, which must have taken hours of labor to build. The thick walls were packed tightly and a seating ledge inside was of snow packed so firmly that all seven of us could take a seat to rest. Our brother-in-law had put a light switch on the wall. Since it was dark inside I unthinkingly tried to turn it on. My falling for the clever prank delighted everyone to laughter. Our wonderful leaders had planned so well. They turned on a lantern, served us steaming hot chocolate from thermoses in their back-packs, and built a small fire outside for us to warm up as we rested.
The hike back down the mountain was by a different route and even more amazing as we walked beside a frozen stream and waterfall. One of our group who was quite experienced wore cross-country skis and maneuvered over and around the thick icy crust as we stayed to the side and watched fearfully, since we could hear the water rushing below. The frozen waterfall of ice was gorgeous in the moonlight. We returned safely to the house with visions of wonder dancing in our heads ever after.
The December Solstice creates the longest period of darkness in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest period of daylight in the Southern Hemisphere, since it is when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, the farthest south of any time of year. The next time the full moon coincides with the December Solstice will be in 2029. It is an irregular and rare event since the lunar calendar is calculated at 29 days.
About the Author:
Bonnie Neely, a professional journalist for over 30 years, has worked extensively in educational television in which she has been project coordinator, researcher, and scriptwriter. She has also been a columnist for various newspapers and magazines as well as a producer/scriptwriter for the Discovery Channel. Furthermore Bonnie is one of the “Top Book Reviewers” for Amazon.com. She founded Real Travel Adventures and built it into a leading travel blog.