Take a hike, go jump in a lake and other ways to enjoy the great outdoors

Time and time again, research has shown that exercise is good for both the body and mind. Regular exercise is especially important for seniors in order to stay as healthy as possible. And seniors in Western Colorado are in luck—with million-dollar views, our region offers the perfect outdoor gym for exercise and exploration.

Doug Van Etten has enjoyed the great outdoors since he was Boy Scout. For 31 years, he and his wife Mary Hertert lived in the wilds of Anchorage, Alaska, where their weekends often included sea kayaking (the best in the world, according to Van Etten). Whales, sea lions and harbor seals were a common sight on the tundra, all before a backdrop of glaciers and dense coastal forests.

Van Etten and Hertert moved to Fruita six years ago. They left one outdoor recreational paradise for another and now take advantage of the many opportunities within arm’s reach of the Grand Valley. They both love river rafting, hiking and the deep archeological history on the Colorado Plateau. The level of activity within the local senior community was also a perk.

“We were amazed by the number of older people who were road biking, especially up the roads in Colorado National Monument,” Van Etten said.

The couple is always ready to hit the road to explore wide open spaces and hidden canyons. When Van Etten and Hertert moved here, they started a group called Western Slope Adventurers to encourage others to join them. The organization has regular outings and more than 400 members. Activities include day hikes on the Colorado National Monument’s Serpents Trail, weekend camping trips, canyoneering expeditions and more.

While Van Etten doesn’t have exact data on the age range of participants, he said that at least 70 percent of the regular attendees are over 65. The most popular activity for seniors is hiking because special equipment isn’t required. All one really needs is a hat, hiking pole and a bottle of water. Many of the hikes are out and back, so one can hike in as far as he or she is comfortable.

The Serpents Trail is a favorite weekly hike for Fran Parker, who is in her early 60s. She enjoys it so much that she organizes regular fitness hikes on the trail with the Western Slope Outdoor Adventurers.

“The nice thing about it is that it’s predictable, and a good workout. A lot of people go on Serpents Trail rather than the treadmill,” Fran said.

Western Slope Adventurers participants are an outdoor-oriented group. Members have climbed mountains, rafted the Grand Canyon and hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.

Sue Joffrion, 61, hiked all 2,168 miles of the Appalachian Trail a couple of years ago. She’s often asked how she did it. People tell her that such a feat would be impossible for them.

“It’s a matter of getting out there and doing the best you can,” Joffrion said. “If it doesn’t work, you’ve done your best, and that’s the best you can do.”

Joffrion has always loved the outdoors and said staying inside can feel claustrophobic. After all, there’s nothing like fresh air and sunshine. Some of her favorite activities include hiking, biking, kayaking and cross-country skiing. However, her passion is scuba diving.

“It’s a wonderful world down there with all of the creatures,” she said. “You feel weightless.”

She took up scuba diving a couple of years ago and now travels the world to explore its ocean depths. She’s seen eels, turtles, colorful fish and sharks.

Advancing age can be an asset when it comes to exploring the outdoors. For Van Etten, it has encouraged him to take appropriate caution in his activities. Joffrion said age has not caused her to be more cautious—she isn’t afraid of much—but has made her decelerate a little.

“Age made me slow down so I can enjoy the outdoors,” she said. “When I was young, I tried to push through it all. Now I can lie back and enjoy it more.”

Exploring the outdoors is a new activity for Jude Solano, 70. She began hiking three years ago when she moved to Grand Junction from Florida. Now she’s an avid hiker who nearly conquered Handies Peak—one of Colorado’s famous 14ers—when looming weather forced her to turn around just below the summit. She also enjoys regular hikes on Serpents Trail, Devil’s Kitchen, Riggs Hill and the Grand Mesa.

Since Solano started hiking, she’s lost 70 pounds. Now she serves as the Silver Program Advisor at Crossroads Fitness, leading the way for senior fitness and getting participants outdoors. This summer, she’ll organize sunrise and moonlight hikes in the area. Everyone is welcome to join her hikes; last year, she welcomed a Grand Junction resident of 30 years who had never hiked Serpents Trail.

Becoming a member of the Western Slope Adventurers is free. For more information, visit meetup.com/WesternSlopeAdventurers.

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