Rocky Mountain National Park


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Wednesday, August 15

Ellen left at dawn, flying out of Casper, WY, to get back and go to work that day...we got to sleep til about 8. Then we got up and drove to the Toyota service center in Casper to get an oil change for Boudika.
While Boudika was getting her oil change, we had them give us a ride to a Perkins that was close by; they have VERY good breakfasts. The EAT mural made out of school supplies was there. There was an offramp for DOUGLAS right outside of Casper; we had to go around the cloverleaf a couple of times, laughing like idiots, to get this picture of it. Obviously I was missin' Mr. Man a LOT.

The solar sign is from a rest stop; in the winter, heating these places must be a challenge!

We had been driving down Interstate 25 from Casper toward Denver; once we got into Colorado, we turned off on highway 34 to get to Rocky Mountain National Park. There was SUPPOSED to be a Del Taco in Loveland, but no. Heartbroken, I bravely soldiered on.

It didn't look like it was very far on the map, but it took an hour and a half to get near the park; it was so far that we thought that we had somehow gotten on the wrong road, and stopped and asked people who were pulled over having a picnic near their car. Nope, we're going the right way, it's just a looooong way.

The pictures on the left are of the road through Big Thompson Canyon...you go through this narrow canyon, then it widens out and twenty miles later is Estes Park, a fairly large city right outside the national park, with first the places normal people live and shop, and then closer to the park, and in the narrower areas of the canyon, the fancy cabins and lodges and then the downtown full of cute boutiques and food places. The neon sign was from there.
So we finally got to the campground entrance. I had reserved this camping space sight unseen, I just picked one randomly when I made the reservation in February. And the information both on the web site and in the reservation confirmation said, BEARS! WE HAVE BEARS! WE HAVE SO MANY BEARS! Use bear boxes! Don't leave food out! BEEEAAARRRSSS! (fine print: Campsites have shared bear boxes.)

WTF? I learned my bear protocol at Yosemite NP, where there is one huge box per campsite because if you don't keep everything clean and put away, the bears will literally RIP YOUR CAR OPEN to get at your stuff. I was carrying an ice chest, a crate of food, a crate of cooking stuff, and all kinds of other delicious smelling things; remember, I was on the road for five weeks and brought stuff for all kinds of situations. And we had been living out of my truck for the last three weeks.

So we get to the ranger kiosk, and said, what's with the bear boxes?
Oh, said the ranger, there are about 40 bears in this park, you definitely need to use the bear boxes.
But, we said, they're shared. What if there isn't enough room for our stuff?
Um um um, said the ranger, you can keep the food and cookware in your trunk, as long as it's out of sight. BEARS! BEARS BEARS BEARS!
Wait a minute, I said, are these bears tearing cars open or anything?
Well, no, said the ranger, but we don't want them to start...
Okay, I said, we'll do our best.

So we got to the campsite...there were three slot parking places, and five campgrounds loosely grouped together. And TWO bear boxes. TWO. For FIVE campgrounds. Kelly and I rolled our eyes and went to check it out. One of the boxes was empty...and we literally filled it with our stuff. Finders keepers.

And truthfully, nobody else in those spaces seemed to have a problem with it, I think they were all keeping food in their tents or cars. Whatever.

So we were not happy with this National Park, from the get-go.

So here you can see, in the first picture, Kelly at our picnic table, her tent, and one of the bear boxes. The second pic shows the bear boxes and Kelly's tent. The third shows how far it was down the hill to my truck, which we had to do over and over again, because anything that smelled like food (like Kelly's whole suitcase) had to be kept in the truck. The fourth shows our actually very pretty area when you look away from where all the other campsites and stuff are.

So we got settled, and it was about 4:30; not enough time for a real hike, but there was supposed to be a hiking trail at the end of the campground near us. It actually went to a riding stables, but it was a pretty walk, and helped us settle into the place a bit better.

So yes, this hike was pretty. And (clouds notwithstanding) the weather was nice. And the mountains.
And on this hike, we talked about how unhappy we were with this place, and I said, you know, we can leave. We can get a motel in Denver, and just be city girls for a couple of nights. But both of us really wanted to camp, and after talking about it a bit, we figured out that the thing we disliked (aside from the whole stupid bear box thing) was how damn CROWDED this place was. It's a sixth the size of Yellowstone but gets just as many people every year, and this weekend it was packed to the gills. We realized that that was what we disliked, not the park itself, so we said, it's only three nights; we'll just suck up the crowding and have fun during the days. And we did.
This was the view from our campsite. The trees and mountains are beautiful, but (as they say) oh, the humanity. Although, as usual, most of the people we met in the campground and hiking were decent and nice. My night to cook dinner! Yup, I brought my concertina. This was fun on Thursday night! And the sunset was pretty.

Thursday, August 16

Sunrise. Our picnic table is genuine National Park Service issue, LOL.

There are three shuttle buses that take people around the east side of the National Park, which is where we were camping; one of them stopped at our campground.

We had talked about what we wanted to do here. We decided the Emerald Lake hike would be a fun starter. To get there, we walked about 1/3 of a mile to the campground entrance to catch a shuttle bus. This would take us to the Park and Ride lot (!) and from there we'd catch the Bear Lake shuttle.

Ox-eye Daisy

Not being sure of how closely the shuttle stuck to its schedule, or how long it took to get from point A to point B, we got to the shuttle stop way early and amused ourselves by taking pictures.

Adorable bunny, gorgeous rock, flowers, pine cones, glistening sap on a tree, and an ant.

As the bus went along its way, I saw a guy beside the road taking a picture of something...a moose in the woods!
A whole lot of hiking trails start at the Bear Lake parking lot...the one we wanted to take goes by Nymph and Dream lakes as well, ending at Emerald Lake 1.8 miles away..and LOTS of stairs.

I loved the notice board!

And it's a lovely morning.

Nymph Lake. and the white flowers look like Pearly Everlasting.
Stairsteps. A whole lot of this trail is stairs. Crossing a stream More steps...and you can see the smoke starting to come in. This is the outflow for Dream Lake.
On the left is some kind of grass, and the flower is Cow Parsnip.
Dream Lake and a sassy bird. We saw a grownup with the same beak and tail feather pattern later in the day; that was a Clark's Nutcracker, and I think this one is too, but is a fuzzy teenager.

Photo op! Thanks, Kelly!

Dream Lake was big, and the trail went beside the shore for a ways. There were so many people doing things one should not do in a park-I got tired of saying, You know, you shouldn't be doing that. Sigh. This chipmunk was actually begging for food with his paws up, like a dog. Of course someone fed him; at least it was cute. A really gorgeous fish. And, oh joy, more stairs!
Sticky Cinquefoil Harebell Seed heads I think this is more yarrow; hard to tell without seeing the leaves.
Dwarf fireweed Dandelions This was hard...I think it's a prickly Russian thistle, Salsola tragus, that turns into tumbleweeds. And one beautiful berry!
The gorgeous rock by the outflow from Emerald Lake...and Emerald Lake itself. We're here!
A Clark's Nutcracker was hanging around hoping for food. Bird butt! And a really pretty log.

There were a TON of people there...we rested for a while, had a bite to eat and hit the trail back.

Back to Emerald Lake and another bird butt. What is it with these birds?
And some awesome trees on the way back to the shuttle stop.
So we got back to the Bear Lake parking lot, needing to use the facilities...but they were pretty awful, and there were long lines. So we toughed it out and took the short shuttle trip back to the huge Park and Ride lot and went to use the facilities there, which were chemical toilets. And when we met up again, I said (and this was my favorite thing that I got to say for this whole trip): Sorry I took so long in the bathroom, I was taking pictures. LOLOL! But I was, and this moth was what I was taking pictures of. I think it's some kind of silkworm moth, but I couldn't pin it down. But it was SO PRETTY!
On our way back, the bus turned the corner onto the road to our campground, and we saw this...a herd of elk in the meadow, and a WHOLE LOT of cars pulled off to look at them...which wouldn't be so bad except people got OUT OF THEIR CARS to see them and were WAAAY too near the wild animals! Luckily there was a ranger there telling everyone to get in their cars and get moving...we took pictures from the bus and were happy to be safe.
We stayed on the bus past the campground entrance and went to a road on the far side of the campground to hike the Cub Lake trail, 2.3 miles one way. The day was smoky/overcast but not cold, pretty nice for a hike, actually.
Those are not drops of rain on that red rock, but some sort of inclusions. Western Canada Goldenrod

Thistle

Subalpine Gumweed

The trail went along some hills, down this flat valley, and up and down over rocky outcrops. It was really pretty, and not very hard to hike.
A thistle and a bunch of Cutleaf Coneflowers. I loved the coneflowers!

Blanket Flower

Fireweed

Fireweed

Richardson's Geranium and a bee

Richardson's Geraniums

The pine needles look like pom-poms!

And we have found Cub Lake! We took a well-deserved rest.
There were lots of dragonflies flying around the lake, although none of them wanted to stop for a picture...they're Blue-eyed Darners.
Cute chipmunk!

Chipmunk: I bet there's food in here...is this how I open it?...dammit! I can't get in.

A few more shots of the wildlife around the lake (Hi, Kelly!) and we're ready to head back. It's gotten much more overcast, and an appreciable amount of it was wildfire smoke...
And just after we started on the trail back to the shuttle bus, we ran into another hiker, who pointed to a small lake across the valley...a moose and her calf were sauntering and nibbling. Awwwww!
The rest of the hike back was nice. More coneflowers and a thistle. Bees in Curly-cup Gumweed.

We got back to the shuttle and to our campsite in plenty of time to cook dinner and hang out, and we richly deserved the rest, having hiked about 8 1/2 miles today!

Friday, August 17

This was our last day of camping together, and we really didn't have any plans. We had looked at the map and the national parks guide I brought, and we decided to drive into the park to see what was there; we ended up making a figure 8 around the whole park, seeing pretty much every sign, pulloff and park-and-look thing there was. So here we go:
Kelly woke up early and got a picture of the dawn. We hit the road around 8 to avoid as many people as possible...it's amazing how many folks just don't get moving before 10 am in the outdoors. The morning sun on the mountains was really pretty. flower, and the white flowers are yarrow.
The first place we stopped was the Beaver Ponds, where we expected to see, well, BEAVER PONDS. Instead it's a place where the beaver dams backed up and silted up the river and made wetlands. Kinda cool.

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Yarrow, probably, but I didn't include the leaves

I'm going with Common Woodrush for this red plant; it was waay down off the side of the bridge, so this is literally all I could see of it.

Another Common Woodrush, if that is it.

Then we went on to West Horseshoe Park, which is a whole valley full of horseshoe bends of the Fall River.

There were elk exclosures in several places in Rocky Mountain NP. Kind of a cool idea, really.

And here is a picture of the inn that was once here by the road before the NPS took this area over as part of Rocky Mountain NP.

Fireweed and Canada thistles
The Lawn Lake trail is about half a mile of pretty rocks and stuff, ending in a wash full of big rocks and a river...which is what is left after the lake above broke and flooded, causing the Aspenglen campground to be evacuated...
and leaving this cool alluvial fan of rocks. And on the hike of course I had to stop for a photo-op!
The dark scars on the aspen trees are from elk rubbing their horns on them...
Then we started up the one-way road to the top of the park, Alpine Visitor Center. The one-way part of the road was 9 miles of dirt, and went upandupandup and was WAY cool to drive. There were several trailheads, and one pullout for Chasm Falls, which had a steep trail/staircase going down to it. Worth it, though. Very pretty.
This is what a lot of the road looked like...it is, by the way, only open from July to September, as is the Alpine Visitor Center.
There is a huge pullout/parking area near the top of the road, and the views are AMAZING.
On the left is a sign about the road we just came up; on the right is a picture looking back on it. You can also see the fog and smoke coming up all around us suddenly.
The Alpine Visitor's Center is at 11,796 ft, in actual alpine tundra...and I found out here that the definition of tundra is any land that is so high up that trees can't grow on it. These were some of the informative displays they had there.
Flowers and animals that are found here in the few months it isn't covered in snow...
All about lightning indeed! Especially amusing in light of the sign that was outside...and what we saw later...
So here is the concrete walkway/stairway that leads up the last 300 feet to the summit, and if you don't think that sounds very hard, remember it's at 12,000 feet. There IS NO AIR TO BREATHE. Also, warning signs, just in case you didn't realize what altitude is like...or lightning!
Me at the top and a view across the tundra to the mountains.
By this time, it was getting to be around noon, and the place was getting full of other people. So we decided it was time to go (once we found each other again!)
We stopped at the Lava Cliffs pullout on the way down, to see lava columns and SNOW. It was getting colder and the sky was getting darker...and after we left there, it started raining. Kelly was great, driving down the twisty windy road (a real road, the dirt one is only uphill) in the rain!
On the left is the road we drove up on, shrouded with rain and mist. On the right is the view across the valley towards the western side of the park where we came from that morning. We could also see the storm at Alpine Pass, and there was lightning hitting there, unfortunately BEFORE the scheduled ranger talk...I thought that was pretty funny, except they probably get a LOT of lightning...
So then we drove back around the loop to where we had been this morning; the one thing we had missed was Endovalley, which is a big picnic area in the trees just before the one-way dirt road starts...we had seen it as we went by but hadn't realized that that was it til we were on the one-way road. So I wanted to go there and have our lunch at one of the picnic tables in the beautiful trees.

Except it was pouring rain, as you can see in this picture...so we parked in one of the picnic spots and had our lunch in the dry and warm front seat of the car.

And...that was it. We had literally done everything in Rocky Mountain National Park that you don't have to hike to do, and we sure weren't interested in hiking in the rain. We decided to find a place to get out of the rain til it blew through (and we were hoping it would, because camping), and we were OUT OF BEER. So we looked at the map, and said, let's go to the Fall River Visitor Center, it's outside the park and there might be a market or something.

And we did. And there was. And all they had was icky stuff like Bud and Miller. Do you have any really good beer? I asked, or do you know where we can get some? There's a Safeway three miles down the road, said the market lady. Thanks! I said, and we went next door to the Visitor Center and spent about an hour there. Including me going next door to the big, non-NPS gift shop that also sold food.

Hm, I thought, if they also sell food maybe I can get the beer here and we don't have to go to Safeway...

So I asked the young man at the counter...he said no, they didn't, and I said no worries, we'll just go to Safeway down the road.

And the woman also behind the counter on the other side of him turned and said, No, don't do that, they sell terrible beer, Colorado has this wierd rule about liquor licenses...and she told me to go to the Safeway shopping center but to go to the liquor store there, not the Safeway.

So it turns out that in CO, a corporation is treated like a person for issuing liquor licenses...and if you own a chain, like Safeway, you can get one license for one store. So there's one store in each chain, usually in Denver, that can sell good alcohol, and the rest of them sell terrible 3.5% stuff. Who knew?

Some kind of mullein, looks like, probably orange mullein. And a beautiful sunset on our last evening.
We got back and it was Kelly's turn to make dinner, so I pulled out my concertina and played for a while. As I put it down, a guy in a campsite up the hill from us, who had been sitting there listening, told me to keep playing! We started talking; Bo is a middle-school history teacher from Broward County, Florida...he was reading Heraclitus, which gave him points with me! His friend was supposed to meet him but had gotten held up, so he hung out with us for a couple of hours, and was lots of fun to talk to.

Saturday, August 18

We drove out of the park through Sheep Lakes hoping to see bighorn sheep, but it was raining and they had more sense than to be out and about. Good sign though! No sheep, but baby quail crossing the road! We all stopped for them. Finally. A Del Taco in Firestone Colorado. A cool sign in the airport when I dropped Kelly off.
I am sad to say farewell to Kelly, but my adventures continue in Travelin' Jo Part 5: COLORADO