The Last Day Of Our Colorado Trip

After waking up in the morning, I walked down to Fall River and did a short exploration of the property that our motel was located on. The first picture below is our motel room with our car parked in front.

After breakfast in our motel room, we headed south out of Estes Park on Colorado’s Route 7. We were going to be driving along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway to the town of Nederland during the earlier part of the day.

Route 7 quickly snaked and climbed its way out of town, up the foothills of the mountains. Our route was to take us through the Roosevelt National Forest, running along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park itself, with opportunities to visit sections of Rocky Mountain National Park where it lay close to the road we were on. It was unclear if we could actually stop at these areas since we did not have a valid pass for the day.

We made a stop at Lily Lake, which is a part of Rocky Mountain National Park. The parking area was along the main road, and there was no checking of entrance passes going on. We did the short walk around the lake before continuing on our way.

Further south, we took a detour from the main road towards Long’s Peak Trailhead, a part of Rocky Mountain National Park. We arrived to find cars parked along the sides of the road for a long stretch, even before we got to the entrance to the park. People had started their explorations early. This, plus the fact that we might have had to deal with park entrance issues anyway, made us decide to turn back.

Further along the main road, we drove past St. Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock.

Our next attempt at accessing the trails at Rocky Mountain National Park was at an area called Wild Basin. That was also not successful. There were long lines of cars at the entrance booths waiting to enter.

It was further south, while still we were driving on Route 7, that I got into a dangerous situation on the road. The vehicle ahead of us was driving very slowly, well below the speed recommended for this stretch of road. I sighted a place suitable for overtaking, and I moved into the opposite lane and accelerated. Unfortunately, it was only then that I saw vehicles on the other side of the road approaching in the distance, at the top of a stretch of hill. I had not noticed them at first because I was descending another hill before getting to the hill that the cars were on, and those cars had just come over the top. Fortunately, the Nissan Altima responded, and I was able to pass the vehicles, but with not much room to spare. The slow vehicle, now behind me, actually pulled off the road to let another vehicle that was behind it also pass. Phew! That shook me up for a little while. I do get myself into sticky situations similar to this every once in a while. One is not really in full control of every situation you face even though you may think you are. Life can be short…

We arrived at the turnoff for Route 72. This turn would keep us on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. The road started gaining elevation almost immediately. We were, once again, surrounded by forests after having driven through a clear area for a little while. We drove for a short distance through a canyon-like area with the Middle Saint Vrain Creek flowing downhill next to us.

The sign for Brainard Lake Recreation area appeared in front of us beside the road unexpectedly. It was a surprise! It was a quick, almost instantaneous, decision to take the road leading to this space. I was expecting to encounter the recreation area near the main road, but we ended up driving for some time on a road that kept climbing up the mountainside. We were not sure of what to expect in the end. We read along the way that this was also a place where a reservation was needed, but we kept going. Fortunately we found a free parking lot for hikers (Brainard Gateway Trailhead) that was located at the entrance, before the area that required payment for admission.We parked here. We did some investigationand decided not to attempt a hike all the way to Brainard lake. We would stretch our legs by doing a shorter walk.

We would go to the closer Red Rock Lake.

The following pictures were taken on the way back from the lake.After the hike, we returned to the car and had our lunch while hanging out around in the parking area. I saw this bird next to one of the buildings.Is is called Steller’s Jay. I believe we sighted this bird on a few other occasions.

From this recreation area you can actually hike up the mountains into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Four Lakes Backcountry Zone. There are different rules there from those in the recreation area for use of the land, including for trekking and camping.

We continued our drive on Route 72 until we arrived at the town of Nederland.Our first stop was supposed to be the Mining Museum, but it turned out that the place was only open on weekends.

We headed for the Visitor Center to get some idea about the town.(The rest rooms for the visitor center were interesting in that the doors and locks were operated without having to touch anything!) We inquired with the friendly lady inside the visitor center about what there was to see and do in town if we had just a few hours to spare. She gave us enough information to get us going.

The place certainly had an old-town appearance to it.

We took a walk along Boulder Creek.
There were aspen trees beside a certain section of the trail.
We walked to the water inlet to Barker Meadow Reservoir.There is a dam downstream of the reservoir that holds back the water to form this lake.In the first of the two pictures above, you can see the threatening clouds that were moving in from the west.

By this time I was beginning to get a kind of vibe from the town that my instincts related to the 1960s, the time of the hippies. It seemed to be a laid-back place. This feeling began when I first noticed the folks in the park beside the creek. They had parked their old vans by the water, were playing older music, and were indulging in some random artwork on random objects of different kinds. I was thinking that they would sell these to make some small change. The behavior had a certain ring of familiarity to it. The feeling persisted with other people we encountered. There was a certain casualness, a certain way of presenting oneself that seemed different from that of an eastern suburbanite. I wondered if this was generally a Colorado thing. I imagined people getting away from complicated lives and coming to live a simple life in the mountains. Perhaps some of it was my imagination, perhaps also some wishful thinking.

After the walk to the reservoir we came back to a small shopping area. Angela and I rode the Carousel of Happiness next to the shopping center and a main road.The carousel has some interesting history to it. It was built by a Vietnam Veteran as a therapeutic project using original parts salvaged from another historical carousel from 1917.The carousel opened in 2010.

After that, we had frozen yogurt and coffee from a small and offbeat establishment operating out of a repurposed railroad carriage. They also had miniature donuts that we did not try.

It was raining on and off all of this time. We finished our drinks under the covered bridge over Boulder Creek,and headed to the car.

We departed Nederland in the rain – headed for the town of Boulder on Route 119. The road is also called Boulder Canyon Drive in this section. As we departed the area of Nederland, I took this picture of the dam downstream of the reservoir.It was still raining lightly and the skies were dark over the reservoir. In the distance, we could see the outlines for the mountain ranges that we were about to leave behind. The town of Nederland lay at the far end of the lake.

The drive on Boulder Canyon Drive was actually unexpectedly interesting. We kept descending from the mountains through spectacular canyons that seemed to go on forever. The creek cascaded down the mountain next to the road. There appeared to be quite a few places to pull over to the side to indulge in some outdoor activity or the other, but we were time-constrained because of a flight we had to catch later in the evening. There was a nice running and biking trail running for a long distance through the canyon next to the road. I could imagine myself running and/or biking through the canyon. What a great resource for the locals!

We drove through the town of Boulder, only stopping on the outskirts of town at a local park to pack away stuff into our suitcases to prepare for our flight back. We had assigned ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport and deal with any car rental issues that might be brought up by the rental company.

And then we joined rush hour traffic on our way into Denver. This was quite a change from the traffic in the places that we had been to the last few days.

Fortunately, the return of the rental car went smoothly, and we had plenty of time to get to the terminal before our flight. There was no inquiry about the car that had been damaged a couple of days earlier. We finished our left-over food for dinner after we got to a place on the concourse that was close our departure gate.

The flight back was uneventful other than the fact that there were an unexpectedly large number of young ones on the flight, and a baby that seemed to be objecting to the experience of flying for most of the duration of the flight. And then the kid seated on mother’s lap behind me decided to play with the food tray attached to the back of my seat by regularly banging on it!

The sun set behind us as we were in the air.We landed at the airport around midnight. I was so tired at the airport that I was only thinking about taking the shuttle bus to our parked car, and I forgot about our checked-in luggage. The others were fortunately more alert.

I got us back home safely.

Across The Rocky Mountain National Park

We spent the day driving on the Trail Ridge Road from one end of Rocky Mountain National Park to the other – from Grand Lake in the west to Estes Park in the east. The total distance covered was only about 50 miles, but we did make a few stops and do a lot of walking along the way. It was another exciting day!

We arrived at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, at the western end of Trail Ridge Road, as they were opening up for the day – got some information about the trails to explore, watched a video about the park, and then headed into the park. I had forgotten to bring my senior pass with me, but I had kept a receipt for it on me – just in case! The park ranger at the actual entrance to the park was kind enough to let us into the park after seeing the receipt without our having to pay an entrance fee for the day. She actually did not have to accept the receipt because it was missing some of the information she needed.

We traveled north in the broad Kawuneeche Valley for the first section of the drive, stopping at Harbison Meadows to take a couple of pictures. The Colorado River flows through the meadows. There was a crew of rangers out in the meadows doing some work.The mountains were still in the distance at this point.

The valley narrowed as we drove further north, with the peaks of the Never Summer Mountains rising up to our west. At one point we had the option to stop at a pullout area and start hiking along the Colorado river on the Colorado River Trail – towards a point very close to the river’s actual headwaters. We had considered doing this initially, but ended up not having time. We reached a point in the drive where the road began to climb and switchback its way up the side of a mountain on the eastern side of the valley. At the last of a series of switchbacks, at a pullout up on the mountainside, we got this view of the valley.If you examine the picture carefully, you can almost see the road that we had been driving on in the valley. The Colorado river itself is merely a stream, and is barely visible.

Our first stop was at Milner Pass (10759 feet). The ranger at the visitor center had recommended our walking along the Continental Divide towards Mount Ida from this location. The parking lot at the pass was already full when we arrived. We had to park at a smaller lot further along the road and walk back along the road to get to the start place for the hike.You can see the parking lot for Milner Pass in this picture, beyond the lake in the foreground. The lake is called Poudre Lake.

Unfortunately, once we arrived at the parking lot that was our original destination, I led the team onto the wrong trail. I only figured out that we were going the wrong way after a little while – as we were traversing a meadow.Although the start of this trail had looked well used, we had encountered no other people along the way. Also, we had not seen any official trail markings anywhere.

We had to return to the Milner Pass parking area and restart our hike. We had actually already walked a significant distance by then.

The hike took us immediately up the mountainside. It was quite a steep climb. Since we were also starting out from a high altitude. the going was tough.We arrived at a point where the trail split in two directions, one leading to the Alpine Visitor Center, and the other taking us in the direction of Mount Ida. There was a warning attached to the trail sign to watch out for the weather if one were headed in the direction of Mount Ida. The weather could change quickly in these parts and one would be walking in the open, above the tree line, for the latter part of the hike. If one were caught in a storm, including perhaps lightning, there would be no place to take shelter. We had been warned that there was the possibility of inclement weather later in the day. We wanted to complete the hike before that time.

The climb never got easy! The vegetation started thinning out as our elevation increased,and at some point we made it above the tree line. The Never Summer Mountains loomed to the west of the valley below us.

At one point we thought that we were close to the ridge line of the Continental Divide itself, but we arrived at that locationonly to see that there was still some more significant climbing involved in order to reach the top of the ridge.

We continued our slog higher up the side of the ridge. We then arrived at the highest point on the ridge that we had seen from the bottom of this stretch of the ridge, thinking that we had reached the top,only to find out that there was still quite a climb left if one actually wanted to get to the top of the Continental Divide, and that the trail in fact continued along the side of the ridge rather than along its top.

We regrouped. We had some snacks to restore our energy, and then turned to head back to the trailhead at Milner Pass. We had to leave the climb all the way to Mount Ida for another day. According to my GPS device we had climbed up to 11,620 feet. In my estimation, Mount Ida was still more than a mile away. It is at an elevation of over 12,800 feet. I was not sure about our ability to handle the additional climb at this elevation, even though the climb beyond this section appeared to be a more gradual one. Besides, we had expended additional energy with the walking at Milner Pass itself.

The hike back to Milner Pass, and to our car, was much quicker than the attempted climb up to the Continental Divide.We walked back along the road to the place where we had parked the car, and then drove to a picnic area at Lake Irene to consume our packed lunch. We had expended at lot of energy on this walk even though it had not been that long. Some of us were hangry!

We continued driving eastward into the park on the Trail Ridge Road. Since we had crossed the Milner Pass at a relatively high elevation, I thought that we were already into the high areas of the park. But I was wrong. The road kept climbing and soon we were up in the alpine tundra region of the park. I did not realize how vast this space was until I experienced it. In these wide open spaces, one can see enormous distances along the mountainsides – for miles and miles. The tiny path of the road ahead of us, gaining elevation, looked quite minuscule and insignificant in scale when seen along the side of the massive mountain range. I was awestruck.

At Medicine Bow Curve we could see that the road was headed still higher up the hillside after the switchback.

This is what I saw at the switchback after Medicine Bow Curve up on the mountain. (You can actually see the switchback in the middle of the previous picture.) This picture also shows the road that we had already traveled on on our way from Milner Pass. It is to the right of the picture.

(The lighting was not ideal for the above pictures. You might have to click on the pictures to open them up and actually see the roads on the mountainsides.)

From the location where the above picture was taken, I could also barely make out a building on what looked like a saddle between two mountains. That was my first sight of the Alpine Visitor Center, at an elevation of 11,796 feet. It is the National Park Service’s highest visitor center.

We arrived at the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot, and for the first time got a full appreciation for the magnitude of the crowds visiting the park.The big parking lot mostly full and you had to drive around to find an available spot.

We first tackled the Alpine Ridge Trail that ran up the hill next to the visitor center.
It was difficult climbing because of the elevation, but I did not feel it as bad as at Mount Evans.You could not see the actual top of this hill from the visitor center. You got a surprise when you got to where you thought the climb ended – when you suddenly realized that there was some more to go! Fortunately, this last section of the hike was not as steep as the earlier one.

Along the side of this trail was a wayside display that explained why it was more difficult to climb at this altitude, and the kind of behaviors that one could expect from a person suffering from the effects of altitude sickness. I could not help thinking that this was a perfect location for teaching young people. They should be busing school kids to the visitor center and taking them up the mountain so that they can experience and get more practical knowledgeable about the realities of our physical world.

Here is a view from the top of the mountain.The mountain had a flat top, and its elevation topped out at 12.005 feet.

Back at the level of the visitor center, you could also see the western terminus of the Old Fall River Road that also ran across the park. It is a one-way, mostly dirt, road that can only be driven in the east to west direction today, and it runs in the valley between the mountain ridges, one of the ridges being the one we were going to continue our drive on. Here is a picture of the road climbing from the valley to the level of the visitor center.We would encounter the Fall river once again later in the town of Estes Park. Both of the roads through the park are closed in winter.

After the somewhat obligatory shopping at the gift shop in the visitor center, we continued the drive eastward along the Trail Ridge Drive. We made a few stops along the way at different viewpoints. We crossed the highest point on the road at 12,183 feet. There was a herd of elk at one point along the road that brought traffic to a standstill. We pulled off the road into a parking lot to see the animals.

Here is a sweeping view of the mountains from the Forest Canyon Pullout. Mount Ida can actually be seen in the distance, towards the right side of the picture.

The drive in the alpine tundra section of the park, above the tree line, came to an end at Rainbow Curve (elevation 10,875 feet). Here is a picture of the valley below as seen from that viewpoint.The road was about to start descending into the valley beyond this point.We could see a spectacular rainstorm happening in the distance.There were also chipmunks at the parking lot that kept us entertained.We remembered these animals from our previous trip to the park.

Rainbow Curve was the location at which our attempt to explore the western side of the park had stopped during our previous visit to the park – due to unexpected snowfall early in the season in the mountains.

We had just descended into the valley (on the road seen in one of pictures above) when we came to an area where all traffic had come to a standstill. People were stopping their cars on the narrow road and getting out to look at something by the roadside. There did not seem to be any park official around to maintain order. As we crawled along, we finally got a glimpse of what had caught people’s attention. It was a moose! We had made a few trips to parks out west, and this would be a first moose sighting for us. I found a place beyond the crowds where there was place to pull over safely, and got out of the car and walked back to the place where we had sighted the animal.

The moose was sitting quietly amongst the vegetation chewing on the greenery. It appeared to be completely oblivious to the excitement that its presence had caused.

Our last stop in the park was at a big meadow (elevation about 8500 feet) that was said to be a good location for bird watching, and for looking for longhorn sheep. We found neither. There was the solitary elk sitting in the meadow in the distance. It looked quite relaxed!

From the meadow, off to the west, we could see the opening in the mountains through which the Old Fall River Road runs. Perhaps we will have an opportunity to drive on that road some future day.

We could also see Rainbow Curve from this point. That was the location in the mountains from which we had seen this meadow for the first time. I had also taken pictures of the meadow from Rainbow Curve.

We drove further east, out of the park, and into the outskirts of the town of Estes Park, soon after we left the meadows. Our motel turned out to be a charming place, sprawled out on a property beside the road, accessed by a short covered bridge over Fall River. The motel property also included a short trail beside the river. There was some exploration to be done the next morning.

After all the events of the previous day. including the late night, I was happy to end the activities of this day somewhat early. We headed out towards the center of Estes Park for dinner. Memories of our previous trip came flooding back as we entered the central area of town. It is a very touristy place, and not very inviting. There was no room at our first choice of restaurant this evening, but we did manage to find another nice place to eat. After dinner, we walked over to the river running behind the shops. Fall river feeds into the Big Thomson River in town. Big Thomson River also originates in the park, and it runs through the valley that we had seen from Forest Canyon Pullout earlier in the day.

After dinner, we took a detour to try to locate the motel we had stayed in during our previous trip. The mission was successful. We then drove back to our motel for a relaxed evening. I was able to crash out at a reasonable time.

We have managed to explore just a tiny part of what Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer during our two trips to the park. There is so much of hiking and exploration that remains to be done. Surely one must return!

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 3 (Rocky Mountain NP and Onward)

The morning started with the sighting of elk from our hotel room window.  They were crossing a side street and somebody’s property.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese animals own the place.

It had snowed overnight.  After breakfast of some pastries we had bought in the supermarket, we headed out into the park. On the way we saw these elk bulls butting heads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce in the park, we got a picture of ourselves at the entrance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADue to incomplete instructions from the ranger the day before, and because of plans being made on the fly, it took a while to get to the trail head that we finally decided to hike from.  We started at the Park and Ride lot on Bear Lake road at about 8800 feet elevation and took the trail to Bierstadt Lake. The temperature was 30 degrees F when we started. We climbed through the snowy woods.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was tough! We reached a spot by the lake after a couple of miles, and an hour and a half of laborious climbing.  It was a small lake, which had its own beauty in the snow.  The altitude was supposed to be 9460 feet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a different trail down the side of the mountain to the actual official trail head for the climb to this lake on the way back to the car.  The view of the valley as we switchbacked down the mountain was spectacular in spite of the weather.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt would have been much more amazing if the skies had been clear.  At the bottom of the mountain we turned east, and we walked on a trail that ran along the road, back to the parking lot at the Park and Ride location.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFive miles of walking!  The temperature had risen to 37 degrees by then.

After a lunch of peanut butter, carrots, and fruit, and a Clif bar for myself, we drove to Bear Lake. The lake itself is at a height of about 9600 feet.  It was back to freezing temperatures – 32 degrees F – because of the altitude!  After a short and quick walk around the lake,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe hit the roads to head out of town.  We had a 250 mile ride ahead of us.

We headed south past the town of Boulder, and picked up Interstate 70 at Golden, CO, the birthplace of Coors beer.  There was only time for a stop to fill gas (petrol) and get a quick drink of hot chocolate.

Then began the most spectacular ride on Interstate 70 towards the place we were staying for the night – Parachute, CO. We crossed the Rocky mountains. The weather was all over the place during the ride through the mountains, but it was a notable experience nonetheless.  That part of the ride started with heavy fog in a winding section of the road as we climbed into the mountains.  I was not happy at that point.  We then encountered rain and snow in some other sections, and in some places it looked like the sky was going to clear up.  We crossed the the mountains through a tunnel above 10000 feet. It was clear on one side and we could see the snow covered mountains of the Rockies for the first time,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand on the other side of the tunnel it was snowing so heavily that the surface of the road was covered with snow and traffic was moving more slowly. The weather kept changing.  We went past the ski towns of Breckenridge and Vail.  It started raining lightly once again as we drove through Glenwood Canyon at the western end of the ride through the mountains. We emerged from the windy section of the road at Glenwood Springs and the ski area of Aspen.

Glenwood Canyon was spectacular, with the highway hugging the vertical sides of the canyon, supported by various concrete structures, the Colorado river below us, and the Denver and Rio Grande railroad line on the other side of the Colorado river.  (I may be wrong, but it is possible that Amtrak’s California Zephyr train from Chicago to San Francisco runs on this line.)

After another over hundred miles of driving past towns with names like Gypsum, Silt, and Rifle, we arrived at Parachute. We drove into the sunset as the skies cleared out a little bit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter dinner with margaritas at the Mexican place in this small town, we crashed out.  This tiny place looks interesting. We can probably see everything there is in town in 15 minutes.  The hotel room was remarkably affordable, and recommended to anyone coming this way.

Now it is on to Moab, and Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  The weather should be warmer from now on.

Colorado and Utah by Car – Days 1 and 2 (Denver to Rocky Mountain NP)

The first day was a travel day.  Left later in the evening for Denver. The flight and the arrival at the hotel was uneventful.  But the hotel was a surprise!  For a very reasonable price we had ended up in a fantastic place.  Here is the atrium of the hotel, seen before daybreak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter Sunday Mass, we headed for Rocky Mountain National Park.  Nice drive.  Drove up from the mile-high city of Denver into the town of Estes Park.  We knew we were in Colorado when we saw this.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found Estes Park to be an extremely touristy and crowded place, although we did get a nice view driving into the valley where it is located.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When we reached the visitor center for the park, we were in for a disappointment.  The Trail Ridge Road and the Old Fall River Road that crossed over the ridge of the mountains to the west were both closed due to snow, and it looks like they will be closed for the rest of the season since more snow is expected today.

We drove as far as we could on on the Trail Ridge Road.  As we got higher, above two miles in altitude, we began to experience rapid changes in the weather.  The skies would be clear one moment and the next moment we would be enveloped in fog.  We even began to see signs of snow.  The drive ended at Rainbow Curve, beyond which the road was closed.  The mountains would appear and disappear in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is the autumn season here, but the primary color other than the green of the evergreens is yellow.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is rutting season for the elks.  The bulls coral their large groups of “ladies” and go at it making loud bugling noises to manage the whole situation.  Elks are all over the place and tourists are also stopped everywhere to look at them.  The animals can come pretty close and stop traffic when they cross the roads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are experiencing both real and imagined issues with breathing because of the altitude.  We should be fine.  We are taking some medication.

It is supposed to snow today, but we are going to try to do some walks today before we head for our stop for the night, Parachute, Colorado.  So far things are not going exactly as initially planned, but that is is fine.  What are you gonna do? Our middle name ought to be “Flexibility”.

As I type this in the morning in my hotel room, I looked out of the window to find some elk crossing the main road.  I will post a picture in the next blog.

Fair warning that they blogs are being generated on the fly with minimum additional editing at this time. I might fix things later.