July 24, 2015

7/20/15 - Rocky Mountain NP

When I was a kid my cousin and aunt took me on a trip that went through Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. It was July and there was still snow by the road so I thought that was pretty cool. This year George and I finally made it there--no snow by the road but it was still cool. We were staying at a campground near Fort Collins so we drove in through Estes Park and then headed up US 34 to the Fall River Visitor Center.

Just before we got there, traffic was stopped! Some bighorn sheep were crossing the road and, of course, everyone had to gawk.  George drove very sloooowly and I took pictures out the side window. Motley-est bunch of critters I've ever seen!  July is apparently when Bighorn Sheep shed their fleece naturally, but it's not a pretty sight.
This guy seems to have it down though...umm, no pun intended.
When we finally got to the Visitor Center, the student intern told us to just drive up the Trail Ridge Road. Then I started talking to a super-nice (older) volunteer who suggested a better route--he said the Old Fall River Road was recently reopened after being closed all last year because of the 2013 flood damage and it was definitely worth the trip. He wrote all over my map and told us where to stop for the best views and hikes. (You should always make a point to talk to old people--they're very knowledgeable and often enthusiastic.  Enthusiasm is very underrated.

Just past Sheep Lakes we turned off the main road. (There were sheep in the meadow but they were a long distance away.  They're motley anyway so you're not missing anything.)
In 1982, the Lawn Lake Dam broke and left an alluvial fan of flood debris.  All these big boulders and rocks were left by the flood. Now it's a nice place to hike. And there are pretty wildflowers too.
This stuff is called sulphurflower, because it's yellow, I suppose.
After two miles of pavement, the road becomes a gravel road. This was the first road in the park that took visitors up into the high country. It's one-way uphill, with lots of switchbacks and no guard rails.
It's only 9 miles on to Fall River Pass (11,796' high) but at 15 mph and lots of stops for pictures it seems farther.
We saw a couple of waterfalls alongside the road before we got to Chasm Falls, where we had to walk a bit to see it.
At one place there's a big retaining wall made of blocks of chicken wire filled with rocks. Makes you wonder what happened here...I'll bet somebody got clobbered. 
One of the best parts of this road is that you're a lot closer to the high peaks of the Mummy Range so you look straight up to see them instead of across the valley.  I really like craggy mountains! That's the way mountains are supposed to look.
There are wildflowers everywhere. The red one's Indian Paintbrush; the white one is Western Bistort. I don't know about the yellow ones...

There's still snow remaining in the mountain shadow, but it's melting. There are trickles of water--even if you can't see them, you can still hear them. Wonder if this part of Colorado is in the drought area?
You can see where the snow blew over the ridge last winter. This section of the road just before the Alpine Visitor Center gives "off the side of the road" a whole new meaning.
Alpine Visitor Center is at the top of the pass. Lots of people were hiking across the tundra and up the Ridge Trail--elevation gain of 300' in 1/4 mile to above 12,000'.  But it was windy and it was cold, so we went into the gift shop instead. (I didn't buy the "I made it to the top" t-shirt--that would be tacky.) But even the view from the parking lot isn't bad.
Turning left out of the parking lot put us on Trail Ridge Road, which IS paved...and wider. Lots more traffic than the Old Fall River Road. Rocky Mountain NP has the highest paved roads in the national park system--and this one is the highest continuous paved highway in the U.S. We stopped at Lava Cliffs for the view (or was that because there was a pullout?)
Actually, we kept stopping at the pullouts...for the view.  There's a little alpine lake in this picture. If the sky were bluer, the lake would be too. (If you can't see it very well, just double click on the picture and it will open another tab and enlarge it.)  Sorry, I can't control the weather but I do think these big black clouds are dramatic. George doesn't have the same opinion...but he's the worrier in the family.
At one of the stops we saw yellow-bellied marmots. And cute little pikas at another.
Then on a slope by the side of the road we saw a whole herd of elk! (I get excited about seeing all these animals because so often we don't...even when other people do, we don't. I do, however, have a good imagination and frequently see animals that aren't really there. Ask George.) Some of the elk were growing antlers, some had calves, a couple even had radio collars.

Sky sure was getting dark. When it started raining, George wasn't as willing to stop for pictures. Let's see...mountains, rainstorm, lightning...maybe he's right.
But it didn't last long, so we got one more picture of the two of us.
I really like this park a lot. Next time we'll come in from the southwest and do the other half of the Trail Ridge Road. My cousin Charlotte and I remember that the mountains were more dramatic coming from that direction.  They'll have to go a lot to surpass what we saw this time around.

More pictures here:  Rocky Mountain Natl Park

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