The Bear Canyon Trail is one of several trails surrounding the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The trailhead is less than three miles from my apartment in south Boulder, but I hadn’t hiked it before Dave Sutherland, a Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks naturalist, introduced me to it two years ago in the spring.
Since that time, I’ve hiked this lovely trail alongside Bear Creek many times. But this is late summer, and it’s not birdy now between the spring and fall migrations.
Still, the weather was perfect for a hike. When I got to the trailhead about 6:30 a.m. the temperature was already in the 70s, the air was still, and hardly a cloud was in the sky.
The Bear Canyon Trail runs up the canyon just below my favorite building in Boulder, the Mesa Laboratory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which sits atop Table Mesa at 5,950 feet. It’s one of very few buildings here in the Front Range above 5,750 feet because in 1959 Boulder approved the “Blue Line” amendment to our city charter restricting city water service to altitudes below that level to protect our mountains from development.
This building is exactly two miles due west of my apartment, from where I can see it 560 feet above where I live. Designed in the 1960s by I.M. Pei to look “as if it were carved out of the mountain,” it brought great acclaim to the Chinese-born American architect, who is often called the master of modern architecture.
Pei, who is now 97 years old, says that his inspiration for the building came partly from ”the places I had seen with my mother when I was a little boy, the mountaintop Buddhist retreats. There in the Colorado mountains, I tried to listen to the silence again, just as my mother had taught me. The investigation of the place became a kind of religious experience for me.” Wanting the building to exist in harmony with its natural surroundings, Pei also drew inspiration from the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in southeast Colorado.
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At another draw about a half mile further up the trail I looked up in hopes of seeing some of the deer that I had often seen there. And there they were.