If you didn’t know, I’m a Colorado native. I’m not the kind you usually meet, you know, the one who grew up in Boulder or Denver. Well, I guess I am now that I’ve gone to school in Boulder and am living in Denver. However, I grew up in a very different part of Colorado. It’s called the Western Slope, separated from the cosmopolitan side of the state by mountains and lifestyle.

While it wasn’t all about cows, there was a much more rural feel.

I hated growing up in my “hick town.” A few years and a whole lot of moving around helped change that perspective, leaving me with a gratitude for the state I call home and the town that shaped my path.

I felt out of place in Rifle. My high heels were the only ones clicking through the hallways and my red lipstick stood out at graduation. My short skirts were made fun of and I didn’t like the fair grounds when rodeo season came around. Unfortunately, I chose to see all the things that I didn’t click with instead of all the beautiful things people move to the area for.

A few friends from Kansas changed my mind about Rifle when they visited during my junior year of high school. They came equipped with cameras and wanderlust. Their excitement was contagious and the beautiful photos they showed me exposed a beauty I hadn’t seen in my home before. After the travelers left, my town never lost the spark they helped me discover.

In hindsight, I never gave my community enough credit (in my defense, I was a teenager). I cheered at football games every Friday night and still get birthday wishes from the moms who cheered from the stands. I never experienced a shortage of support or love, and that’s thanks to both my parents and the community they helped me build in that town.

Just a hint of high school

I’m a city girl by nature. So, Denver is probably the best Colorado fit for me. Before turning 18, I saw it as a small, lame city. Little did I know there is a booming start-up culture bustling around the State’s capital. My parents moved to Centennial, South Denver area, when I entered my freshman year at CU. I thought my love for the state started then.

Denver Botanic Gardens are a short drive, though technically not in Centennial.

Centennial’s proximity to activities excited me. In Rifle, the outdoors and Walmart were the only recreational activities in the immediate area for teenagers before a movie theater came to town, though I’ve recently visited and it seems to be growing.

Soon after Centennial, I moved to Boulder. I proudly stated that I was from Boulder whenever I got the chance. It’s the kind of city that takes your breath away before you even reach it’s limits (just drive down 36 from Denver to Boulder and you’ll know what I mean) and I wanted to brag about it.

This granola town mixes cosmopolitan with outdoor recreation successfully. It’s so good blending that it got itself rated the happiest city in the US during my freshman year.

College made it hard for me to love the town. I stressed myself out too much to fall in love with my surroundings. I am ashamed to admit that I envied the students around me because I just couldn’t seem to love the Boulder bubble as much as they did. It took me meeting friends from around the states to understand how lucky I was to call Boulder my home.

I felt out of place again. Boulder is full of rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, which are both things that I am not. I began to think it wasn’t just Rifle that didn’t fit, it was the entire state. I wondered whether being a Coloradan required a pair of Chacos, a carabiner, and a pair of hiking boots. A small portion of the CU community is fairly competitive when identifying who really fits the “Rado vibe.” The young, inexperienced freshman didn’t understand that the small pool doing that doesn’t represent the entire community. So, I chalked it up to “I don’t fit in” and left.

My sophomore year began in Washington DC, which stole my heart before I could even breathe in the muggy metro station air. Everything about that city made me feel welcome, the museums, the coffee, the always working. However, while I was there I discovered that my connection to Colorado is much stronger than I thought. While I was watching the rain, my friends were posting the snow and I couldn’t help but miss it.

When I told people I came from Colorado, they were in awe of the state and almost always said “I’ve always wanted to visit,” or “That’s such a cool state.” Hearing the praise from people on the outside looking in helped me realize just how good my happy, sunny state is to me.

Returning to Boulder felt different. I had a room in a house instead of a dorm room, a kitchen, and no freshman jitter to make me anxious about life. All of the sudden, Pearl Street invited me to explore instead of entice me to be distracted. The Flatirons served as the outdoor recreation I was missing in DC, and the mountains were a welcome sight to an unknowingly homesick girl.

In true Makenna fashion, as soon as I became comfortable I decided to leave, this time to London. You know the stories from London, and if you don’t, you can read a few here. I fell hopelessly in love with London and the rest of Europe. Their lifestyle changed my understanding of life and my values. However, my time away exposed even more love for my home state.

I missed clean air, London is a big polluted city. My lungs are used to crisp morning breaths and fresh breezes. Seeing stars at night and looking up at a sunny sky fills my heart with joy and Colorado makes that happen. I also missed going outside. While I am a city girl and will usually choose an urban landscape over a hiking trail, I like the option. If it’s warm, I’ll probably opt to hang out in the trees and would never say no to a river. It’s a little more difficult to find nature in a big city, not impossible, but harder and different. I also found that while I enjoy dressing up, sometimes a pair of comfy sandals make my feet feel good and those don’t seem to be received the same way they are in the mountains.

I would still choose to go back to London if I could, even if just for a visit, but Colorado called to me. I never realized just how connected to the state I am because I’ve met so many others who seem to do it better. However, while I was away I learned that you don’t need to be a chaco wearing rock climber to belong in Colorado, you just need to love the state and appreciate all the elements that make it your beautiful home.

It took me 21 years to come around to the idea that I do belong here. I belonged in the community I grew up in, and I’m the one who alienated myself. I belonged in Boulder, I was just too impatient and guarded to understand that. It took me moving out of it to recognize that not only is this state my home, but it beckons me. It brings me joy that I wish I would’ve known I had access to earlier, and offers community in every city it’s comprised of. Colorado, I love you.