July 13, 2020
Eight or nine times a year, my best friend, Ruth Willows, plops me onto one of her horses and takes me into the wilderness.
It’s actually state forest land, and she knows the trails like the back of her hand. It’s really beautiful, and peaceful, and a lot of fun. Last week she and her horse, Blue, took me someplace I’ve only been to once before: The Cathedral. It’s not ancient ruins. It’s a beautiful grove of aspens, deep into the forest, and it’s the fuel for some cool local legends.
We started our ride from the eastern bridle trail. We passed the swimming area of the river then turned north west up an unmarked trail. After a couple of switchbacks, we headed down into a small valley and came to the cathedral.
Ruth said her grandfather Joe Willows was the first one to show her this spot. “It wasn’t long after I’d got Blue, we rode here. I’ve heard some people call it the ‘chapel’ or the ‘heart of the forest,’ but when I first saw it the leaves were just starting to change and it reminded me of stained glass windows.”
What makes this spot so special is the seclusion. You pass through the typical pines, then you get into some dense vegetation. Suddenly the land opens into a large grassy circle ringed by aspens.
Ruth told me about one legend, “The way my Grand-daddy told me was there was an Apache girl who had fallen in love with an American solider. I’ve also heard it was a Comanche girl and a frontiersman. Regardless, the ill-fated lovers secretly pledged themselves to each other amidst a grove of aspens. Soon after, a battle rages and both lovers fall. Their ghosts now meet in the aspen grove where they can spend eternity together. There is no camping permitted in this part of the forest, but I’ve talked to people who’ve been in the grove at night and swear they feel a presence.”
A similar, yet slightly different version of this story is about a young frontier woman. She was forced into a loveless marriage to a much, much older and abusive man. On the trail west, she falls in love with a young frontiersman. The wagon train decide to settle on what is now our state forest lands. The young lovers meet secretly in a secluded aspen grove. One night, the drunk old man catches his young wife sneaking off to find her lover. He chases her, and running for her life she slips and falls to her death. Her lover, hearing the commotion, runs off to avoid the old man. I was told by campers, if you hike the trail from the campgrounds toward the grove, at night, you can hear the wailing of a young woman as she falls down the steep bank of the trail.
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