By Rebecca Briesmoore
I arrived in Gunnison for the first time late on a summer afternoon, the time of day when the sun is beginning its final descent, the golden rays streaming through my bug-splattered windshield.
As I drove into town from westbound Highway 50, still jittery from my first drive over Monarch Pass, I got my first glimpse at the Western campus, with its shiny red roofs looming out of the dusty, rolling hills. I turned onto the first street that felt right, hoping it would lead me to my new home.
After meeting with the summer Resident Assistant, getting my keys to my temporary housing in Chipeta Hall, and dropping off some bags, I stepped out to explore. Campus was deserted and quiet, the sun’s low beams illuminating the sparkling green grass that shone neon in stark contrast to the miles of sagebrush I had passed in the last hour of my drive.
I stretched, my body sore and tired from two long days of driving and set off on a slow walk across campus. My feet carried me as I meandered past unfamiliar buildings that I knew would feel like old friends in just a couple of months. Soon, I reached the edge of campus, where gravel trails led away from the green grass to rocky, scraggly ground. Gazing up at the Signal Peak trail system for the first time, I knew I had to climb.
I set off up the trail, stirring up dust from among the scattering of rocks and hardy plants. Unaware that I was now at a high enough elevation to not worry about rattlesnakes, I watched my step, cautiously looking out for scaly camouflaged creatures enjoying the last of the day’s sunshine.
I only made it a quarter of the way up to the summit before I had to stop and gasp for breath, my native Iowan lungs unaccustomed to mountain slopes and altitude. Finally, I reached the cell tower, collapsed to the ground, and sat until sunset among the rocks and sage, gazing out over the valley I would call my home for the next two years.
Since my first few hours in Gunnison when I huffed and puffed my way up, I have climbed that short half-mile trail to the tower dozens of times. I have climbed up the hill with visiting family members and friends, sat and chatted at the peak with classmates, and rested in silence, lost in thought.
Some evenings, when I am walking home from a day on campus, I notice the start of an epic sunset and my feet carry me to the top of the hill, where I sit and watch the sun sink below the horizon, coloring the sky pink and purple on the way down.
Other times I take off on a spirited study break up the hill to stretch my legs and give my eyes a break from the glare of the computer screen. One time I even climbed the hill on a dark but moon-lit night, spooking myself with thoughts of mountain lions and illuminating the rocks in front of me with a dim flashlight to assuage my fears.
The hill has become my refuge, a quiet place within sight of and just a breath-catching walk away from campus and my home. Looking down upon the valley where cars appear to be the size of toys and people are mere ants, it is easy to remember that most of my problems and worries are miniscule when scrutinized from above.
But most of all, this place is special to me because it reminds me that this beautiful valley, where I have made friends, developed connections, and created memories, is, for the time being, my home.