Monday, July 18, 2005

Boulder and Rocky Mountain Natl Park

On Thursday we went to visit Boulder. We didn’t have too much time, so we spent a couple of hours running errands, touring Pearl Street and having lunch. We’ll have to put Boulder on our list of places to re-visit. We need more time for this cool city. We had to drive back to Lyons, pick up the RV and head on up to Estes Park that afternoon. It was raining when we got to Estes Park so we didn’t head into the Rockies as we had initially planned. Later we learned there was a foot of hail at higher elevations. Not that Estes Park isn’t high at 7,840 feet.

On our first full day in the Rocky Mountain NP we drove Trail Ridge Road, which bisects the park. We stopped at various overlooks along the way to take it all in. At one point the road goes over 12,000 feet in elevation. Up here the trees disappear and wildflowers get smaller and closer to the ground. It’s a cold, rough life for plants. There are still snowfields dotting the hillsides. As we continued along the 48-mile long road, we crossed over the Continental Divide and down into another valley. A short walk along the Colorado River provided us with a rare moose sighting. We continued on through the park and checked out the old cowboy-town of Grand Lake. The covered, wooden walkways in front of stores are just like in the old western movies.

Over 3.3 million people visit the Rocky Mountains each year, with the majority visiting during the summer months. We think we met them all. Overlooks and Visitor Center parking lots were packed. Short trails near the overlooks were crowded. We can’t wait to get on some of the longer trails and enjoy the beauty in some peace. We hope.We were on the trail the next morning by 8:15, which we considered late. We headed to Beaver Lake area and took the shuttle to the trailhead. They have a large parking area for Park & Ride and a shuttle system to take you to the different trailheads. The biggest plus is that you can hike one-way trails, end up at another shuttle stop and not worry about having to make a loop back to your car. And in Bear Lake the shuttles run every 10 minutes so there’s no waiting. Our 8-mile hike today took us past several different lakes. Lake Haiyaha and Mills Lake were our favorites with the snow-specked mountains as a backdrop.
The scenery along these trails was constantly changing and even the lakes were all characteristically different from one another. The one similarity was the water temperature – a frigid 30’s or 40’s is our guess. It felt like picking up an ice cube. But as for the peace and quiet? Nope. The trails were pretty crowded, especially within a two-mile radius of any trailhead. Oh well, it is high season and we knew it when we came here. The benefit is that it is also wildflower season. They’re peaking now and it is wonderful.

Our second day of hiking got us off no earlier. We headed down the trail at 8:15. But our excuse this morning was that a herd of elk came into camp so we had to watch…and take pictures…silly tourists. This day we hiked in the Wild Basin area and hiked to Ouzel Lake. The initial plan was to hike to Ouzel Falls, but when we got there by 9:40, we decided to go further to the lake which made our hike 10 miles roundtrip. Ok, now we’re tired. We’re just not accustomed to these elevations (Ouzel Lake is 10,010’). But it was worth it. Part of this hike took us onto a ridge with views of the valley below and mountains above. The lake itself was hidden inside an oasis of pines, so we didn’t see it until we went back down. The wildflowers were spectacular up in this area and such a variety - columbines, bells, daisies, forget-me-knots, and so many others. This area also looked like it was hit by a forest fire at some point which added character to the scenery. Along the hike from the Falls to the Lake we started to think we lost everyone else. We saw two guys close to the Lake and they were the first people we had seen in over an hour. But when we turned to leave after our lunch break, the hordes started to file in. At least we had the lake to ourselves for lunch. The warning in the Rockies, though, is to get off the ridges and down from above timberline by noon, because that is when the storms start to come in. And lo and behold, as we were hiking back on the ridge, I turned to the west and there they were. The clouds were still white and puffy, but billowing and rolling over the mountain range. The storms move fast here, so we had to keep watch. The fat, cold raindrops started to hit us when we were still 2 miles from the trailhead. It was refreshing, and I didn’t mind knowing we were moments away from the car. But what about these other people heading up in their dollar flip flops? It amazes us how ill-prepared some people are…bad shoes, no water, and no pack. But who knows how far they were planning on walking, right?

Today we took the day off from hiking and went to downtown Estes Park. We biked over and then walked the shops and ate lunch out. It’s a touristy town with lots of shopping and restaurants. The Fall River runs through it with a pedestrian walkway that runs alongside. We followed this path from one end of town to the other. East of town Fall River merges with the Big Thompson River which cuts through our campground. There are views of the mountains from almost anywhere in town. It was a nice, quiet day to try and give our legs a break. Hiking uses muscles that aren’t used much running or biking flatlands. But we’ll tackle some higher trails tomorrow and Wednesday.

So far we've seen some great wildlife. Here's a sampling:

Ok, so we got lucky with this last one...definitely not something you see everyday!


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