Friday, July 24, 2015

Road Trip - Rocky Mountain National Park

Lone cloud above Longs Peak at Rocky Mountain National Park
It was past time for a road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  Neither my wife nor I could remember the last time we were there over a dozen years ago.  RMNP was one of our favorite places to take our children when we lived here.
On our first Colorado visit in 1989, RMNP was were we tent camped two nights, receiving snow the second night.  That inch of snow at our campsite made it impossible to climb Long's Peak, and drove us to drive across the mountains of the state to spend the rest of our vacation time at Mesa Verde National Park.  That was a fantastic vacation, and led me to apply for jobs in the west which eventually resulted in us moving to Colorado 3 years later.
It was a 2 hour drive for us today and we arrived in the park well before lunch.  At the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance, we bought an annual pass for only twice the price of the daily admission (we only need to visit twice in a year to get our money's worth).  Our plan is to return to RMNP many times during the year, camp, hike and enjoy the area.

Across from Forest Canyon Overlook
As we had done several times in the past, we just drove up Trail Ridge Road, stopping at the Forest Canyon Overlook first.  Here the overlook clearly shows glaciation with signs showing what the area used to look like under all the ice. That was 10,000 years ago.  All that time has done well to heal the wounds of the incredible weight of the ice.  Some micro glaciers still occur in the park, but mostly what you see are snowfields only with no movement of the ice.  You cannot see it, but the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs just behind the peaks across from you here along its route from Canada to Mexico. Those peaks are also the actual continental divide, which you can cross at Milner Pass on the way down the west side of the mountain towards Grand Lake.

View of Never Summer Mountains from Gore Range overlook
The roads were crowded with high summer attendance today.  The partly cloudy skies held back the rain for some time, but soon the wipers were on.  We stopped again at the Gore Range overlook, where the Ride The Rockies crew had setup the first official stop in the tundra some 15 years ago.  I'll never forget bicycling up the mountain all morning, and the openness of the area as I bicycled along the sharp edge of the road.  It was cool that day, but not raining like it was today.  I snapped some photos and we got back into the car.

Cirque at Alpine Visitors Center
Next, we headed to the Alpine Welcome Center, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car before touring the store and native American items for sale there.  The gravel Fall River Road comes out here behind the building, but it was closed for maintenance today.  Thunder and lightning prevented us from hiking the Alpine Ridge Trail where you overlook mountain upon mountain, across the Mummy Range, Comanche Peak, Neota, Rawah and Indian Peak Wilderness areas to as far as you can see in any direction.  The Alpine Welcome Center sits atop a cirque where a glacier used to run 8 miles east to end at Horseshoe Park.  Just west of us, the Kawuneeche Glacier used to reach south over 20 miles to Grand Lake.
We drove back down Trail Ridge Road to the Many Peaks Curve where we got out and walked the trail along the roadside to see the parks below us.  It was so very green, with all the rain we had experienced this year.  The rain had paused for a few minutes, then began again.

Sprague Lake Trail
We drove on to Bear Lake Road, where we drove up to the trailhead and stopped for views along the way.  The road had been thoroughly reconstructed during our absence.  Longs Peak had a cloud around it's top all day.  Sprague Lake was a beautiful stop and a quick walk in the rain around the lake.  There was too much thunder and lightning to hike in Glacier Gorge or Bear Lake and the rangers were warning everyone away.  It was sprinkling there too.
With nowhere else to hike, we the went north to Horseshoe Park and drove out the Fall River entrance back into Estes Park, passing the historic Stanley Hotel.
Next we drove south of Estes Park on CO 7 and toured the Longs Peak campsite, our first visit back there since 1989.  This is due west from the Twin Sisters Peaks.  Hiking a short way up the trail brought back many good memories. The rain was holding off on this side of the mountain and we tarried a bit while reminiscing.  Our drive back down the mountain took us through Allenspark and Lyons.  We had a great time visiting here, even during the rain!
To find Rocky Mountain National Park, drive west from Denver along US 36 to Boulder.  Continue north on US 36 to Lyons, turning left on US 36 to Estes Park.  Follow the signs through town to reach RMNP.  TrailRidge Road becomes US 34 and it ends on the west side of the park in Grandby, at US 40 (another way into the park).

No comments:

Post a Comment