She Walked Across Colorado, Corners to Corners. The Reason Was Complicated

By Seth Boster
From The Gazette

Colorado Springs—In the summer of 2020, India Wood was hiking the countryside somewhere off Interstate 70 between Edwards and Wolcott.

“I really had to pee,” she recalls. “And it was all private land, and I’m like, What am I gonna do?”

Up ahead, she saw what appeared to be a kids camp—what she later found to indeed be a kids camp dedicated to dinosaurs.

“So I scurried over there, poked my head in the tent, and there’s this guy. I introduced myself: ‘Hi, I’m India, and can I use your outhouse?’ And he was like, ‘You’re India Wood!’”

The guy excitedly introduced this wanderer to the kids and told of how, when she was around their age, she uncovered one of the great fossils in state history. Wood was 12 in 1979 when she dug up the allosaurus now on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Alas, even on bathroom breaks, the reputation has followed her.

But on that summer day in 2020, Wood was on her way to accomplishing another feat, adding another chapter to her remarkable, colorful life story.

Last year, she finished an expedition she called “Colorado X,” a segmented walk that had her crisscrossing the state from corner to corner in two separate diagonals.

“The first question I always get when I say I walked across Colorado is, ‘Oh, so you hiked the Colorado Trail?’” Wood says. “And it’s like, Well, for 100 miles yeah, but (otherwise) just wherever I could put it.”

For her first transect in 2020, starting in the state’s southeast corner and ending in the northwest corner—not too far from where she found that allosaurus—Wood logged 732 miles over 65 days. That was mostly on paved roads or through unpaved ranches. In 2022 for the second leg, from the northeast corner down to the southwest corner, Wood recorded 739 miles over 70 days.

India Wood's camp east of Gunnison during her walk across southwest Colorado.
India Wood’s camp east of Gunnison during her walk across southwest Colorado. (Courtesy of India Wood/TNS)

Each diagonal was done with starts and stops, with days back at her Boulder home for resting and critical planning. Wood had to contact private landowners to request permission to cross and, on some occasions, cache water and stock food at their properties. Sometimes, they offered her a bed. Mostly, Wood slept in her tent.

No, this was not the Colorado Trail. There were mountains involved, but nor was this exactly the mountainous adventure people have in mind when they think of Colorado.

“I was one of those guys who drives through the prairie looking for the mountains, and then tries to get to the mountains as fast as possible,” says Dennis Lyamkin, a friend who occasionally joined Wood. “But the prairie offers something different.”

It offered them a chance to meet ranchers whose families had been on the land for 100 years—“stories you couldn’t imagine,” Lyamkin says. They walked deeper into history. In the northeast, through history of Native American bloodshed marked, for example, by a shot-up road sign for Summit Springs. In the southeast, through Hispanic homesteads and petroglyph-spotted canyons.

India Wood walks outside of Sterling, in northeast Colorado.
India Wood walks outside of Sterling, in northeast Colorado. (Courtesy of India Wood/TNS)

It was beauty Wood rarely appreciated. Beauty that could only be appreciated by slowly ambling through it. Images come back to Wood as if from a dream: pronghorn prancing, jackrabbits bounding, meadow larks and butterflies fluttering, black-eyed Susans waving against a big sky.

“You have the sensation of the plants and earth under your feet,” Wood says. “And you notice the wind and the grass.”

Her goal was to “uncover real Colorado.”

And the farther she went, the closer she felt to something more authentic in herself.

‘Truly One of a Kind’

On one hand, Lyamkin was surprised by the Colorado X concept Wood spoke of, the audacity and oddness of it. On the other hand, he’d gotten to know Wood by then.

“I remember her telling me stories about her past,” Lyamkin says, “and I was like, holy cow, you truly are one of a kind.”

Wood’s story begins in Colorado Springs, where she was born and raised through the ’70s. Her father was Myron Wood, who became well-known for his photography of the Southwest. Her mother was Nancy Wood, an equally prolific photographer and writer interested in the same place and its people.

It’s obvious where the child’s curiosity came from.

At the age of 12 in 1979, India Wood unearthed an allosaurus that brought her early fame. The dinosaur fossils are now on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Remembers a school friend from back then, Marjorie Eiref: “Whenever a subject came up, she wouldn’t just want to figure it out. She’d dive deep into it.”

And it’s obvious where the child’s independence came from, Eiref says.

“India’s parents both went through many, many marriages,” the friend explains. “Her father and mother had both been married before they were married and had India, so she had many stepsisters and stepbrothers. And due to that, she was often left alone at a younger age.”

She researched, read and explored in that time. Literature, history, chemistry, geology, astronomy—young Wood couldn’t get enough. But paleontology held particular fascination.

She’d dig for fossils around Colorado Springs until a fortuitous trip to a family friend’s ranch in the state’s northwest corner. The tool-wielding 12-year-old’s venture into the surrounding cliffs was her “fleeing my destroyed family,” she would later write.

Fame from the allosaurus was fast and strange.

“I didn’t really know who I was then, so it felt slippery,” Wood says. “Like, OK, am I that girl who is in People magazine? Am I the dinosaur girl? Am I somebody else? Who do I want to be?”

She saw her parents as starving artists. Strapped for cash and, in her mother’s case, mentally and emotionally strained. Wood didn’t want to be that.

She wanted to be a geologist, so she studied that at Dartmouth College, what she determined to be the most outdoorsy of Ivy League schools that courted her. Then she switched from geology to chemistry. Then to psychology. “I ended up getting a degree in English literature,” she says.

She worked with it for a while, but fear of being that starving artist eventually prevailed. She was starting a family that she swore would be whole, also unlike her parents.

Off she went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s business school.

“I think she felt like she had to do something that was more professional,” Eiref says. “I don’t believe she really thought this was what she wanted to do. It was what she felt she had to do.”

Wood got her Master of Business Administration. When she realized that wasn’t enough to grant her respect, when she realized the business world was way more interested in promoting men, she opted to become her own boss.

In 2002, she moved the family to Boulder, where she launched a successful consulting firm.

“I’ve had like five lives,” Wood says now. “And life No. 5 began around 2017, when I think, like many people in their 50s, I was thinking: What do I really want to do?”

Listening to the Birds

She wanted to realize the journey she imagined by stringing two strings across a map of Colorado, corner to corner, corner to corner.

She quickly realized the land wasn’t as convenient as it looked on a map.

Near 12,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains, “I thought, How am I possibly going to get across this?” she says. “It was one mountain after another after another after another.”

A scene India Wood captured during her perilous walk around Colorado's San Juan Mountain.
A scene India Wood captured during her perilous walk around Colorado’s San Juan Mountain. (Courtesy of India Wood/TNS)

It took her 10 days to get over the range, which included a life-threatening bout with hypothermia. Another time on the state’s opposite, southeast plains, she thought a derecho would blow her away. Around those parts she felt her greatest fear: In the middle of the night, a man sounding drunk lingered by her tent beside a country road.

Clouds build as the sun sets over India Wood's tent during her walk across Colorado.
Clouds build as the sun sets over India Wood’s tent during her walk across Colorado. (Courtesy of India Wood/TNS)

That was more terrifying than any animal encounter, including mountain lion. The scariest of animals was the savage-sounding dog outside her tent in the northwest; the Anatolian shepherd was clearly unaware of her permission to camp on the ranch.

Along with finding water, finding and contacting those ranchers posed a consistent challenge. At the beginning, she was acutely aware of the perception: Here came someone from Boulder marching into red, rural Colorado.

The perception proved to be only that. Strangers welcomed her into their homes. They served her dinner. They’ve stayed friends.

India Wood walked with a Colorado flag as she made her way across the state to its corners. Her she is on a trail in the San Juan Mountains.
India Wood walked with a Colorado flag as she made her way across the state to its corners. Her she is on a trail in the San Juan Mountains. (Courtesy of India Wood/TNS)

And so the long walk wasn’t a lesson about independence as much as it was about dependence. “About the way we need each other, and need to connect with each other,” Wood says.

Still, there were lonely times. “I’ve made friends with loneliness,” she says.

That would be beneficial back home. Her marriage of 30 years had struggled well before she embarked on her adventure. It would end sometime after her return.

It would be the start of yet another life for Wood. She’s starting again as a writer; maybe she’ll be that starving artist after all. It’s a life that feels uncertain as ever.

But she’s been thinking about those hard times from the walk, how she always got through them. She’s been thinking about the friends she met along the way, one of the farmers in particular.

“He’s this amazing storyteller, and he told me this story that I thought of every time I lost hope out there,” Wood starts.

“This was like in the mid-’80s. He was plowing his field, and he looked up, and there was this massive tornado bearing down on his farm. He floored the tractor back to his house, grabbed his wife, and they went down to the basement.

“When they came back up, the barn was gone, the work building, everything. Horses and cattle heads ripped off. The old family house had one wall standing. The tornado had ripped this line of elm trees that his grandparents had planted. And he said that he started to cry. He thought, How can I possibly rebuild this?

“And then he said he heard this voice telling him to listen to the birds singing. And he said it gave him hope in the midst of something he had no control over.

“And so I would think of listening to the birds. When I’d just be totally depressed, when I’d think I just can’t do this anymore, I’d think about that. Just be here, be present. You’re not in control, and that’s OK.”

Copyright #YR Colorado Springs Gazette. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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