Saturday, August 16, 2014

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

Another toasty warm night in the tent thanks to the heater.  And it was time to get up.  And break down.  I decided I didn't want the thought of breaking down hanging over my head while we were out trying to enjoy one last spin in the park - so  ... just do it.  We ate breakfast and packed everything away, folded up the camper, repairing the clamps the screws came out of along the way.

And then just one more thing.  One last hurrah.... my pick will ALWAYS be Trail Ridge Road.  I love it up there.

Traffic was already pretty heavy this Saturday morning.  One of the campground hosts had said that all of July and the first half of August is the busiest time up there.  I'd been there in mid August before and I don't remember it being that crowded ... but.  

And it was pretty much an up-and-back.  A drive to Lava Cliffs, then turn around and come back.  Such a pretty, awe-some drive, literally.  Then back down to the campsite, hooked up the camper, then did a drive around the campground - all the loops - looking at campsites for future visits ... which ones were fantastic, which were close to bathrooms, vault or regular ... and made notes on the campground map.

And then down, down, down and out, with mountains in our rear view mirror (one of the saddest sights, to me).  Beautiful day, so they were really clear and visible, too.

There was a big, BIG bluegrass festival going on in Lyons.  We passed through and out to the high plains, down to I-70, and into Kansas.   We ended up staying at a Holiday Inn Express in Colby and ate at Taco John's.  We were both tired.  Slept well.

In the morning it would've been cool if we could just teleport home, but we had a good 7 hour drive ahead of us.

Great trip.  The water tank didn't work out so well.  The system still leaks air, but I'll get that figured out by next trip, and I'll use PVC as originally planned.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Squeezing In As Much as Possible

We took our solar showers and rested a bit.  About 2:40, it started raining hard, and the temperature dropped from around 84 to 56 degrees.  Didn't recover much for the rest of the day, either, which was fine with us.  I wanted to go down and maybe try some more photos of a stream so we went back down to the Bear Lake Road bridge over the Big Thompson.  But I couldn't seem to get it together.  Kept having to go back to the car for equipment I'd forgotten.  They'd blocked a lot of access to the river off as well.  This is where the "People Have Died Here" sign is. And just as I got everything together, I ran out of sunlight -- which will make or break your shot.

I tried the middle of the river under the bridge.  Ran into a ranger painting over graffiti on the bridge.  Seriously -- it is impressive how well the millions of visitors to the park in general treat the park so well, but there are still some real jerks out there.

One thing I had been curious about all week were these plastic barrels of water along Bear Lake Road with canvas hoses attached.  They were labeled WATER - NOT POTABLE - NOT FOR DRINKING.   I wondered what they were for.  So I asked him.

He said that there had been a major renovation of Bear Lake road recently.  They widened it, smoothed out some curves, and actually even re-routed a mile of it away from Glacier Creek.  And the barrels were to water the new native vegetation they were trying to get started in areas disturbed by the project.

So I wanted to head up the road to see where this re-route was.  There were storms building on the ridge, and you could see it was raining up on Hallett.  Bear Lake Road goes right up there.  The meteorologist mountain freak in me couldn't resist driving up there to see what it was like.

So we did.

There was a lot of heavy rain by the time we got up to the Bear Lake parking lot.  Lots of people coming back from hikes.  Lots of people still out there, apparently, too, if you were counting cars.  Lots of very wet, probably cold people, as it was probably about 45 degrees up there.

We drove back down ... when we had come back down from the Mills Lake hike, Vicki had spotted a streak of white in the forest up toward Glacier Gorge as we were rounding one of the switchbacks going down and asked "what's that white thing?"

That white thing, it turns out, is Alberta Falls and then that other cascade a ways below it -- visible from the road. Never knew you could see it from Bear Lake road, but from one spot, you can.  So this time, I looked for it, and we spotted it.  We're all, like, experts, and stuff now. :-)

We managed to find where the old road used to go off down by Glacier Creek.  It's a little stub used for overflow parking, and I think a trailhead for the trail they've turned that section of the road into.  And as we were approaching the turnoff to our campground, there they were.  What I'd been hoping to see all week -- a herd of elk grazing in the Moraine Park meadow.  There was quite the "Elk Jam" of cars.  We parked near the back of it and I grabbed my camera to take some shots and we walked a ways toward them.  They were working their way up toward the road, and rangers came along and had people get out of the way and move cars so they could cross undisturbed.  Very cool to see.

Another thing I'd had a question about that got answered at the Moraine Park visitors' center a few days before is the big fences that I've seen in the park for years ... and now there are new ones in Moraine Park that weren't there 4 years ago.  They're basically to keep the elk out so that vegetation can recover, especially small aspens -- which they'll apparently eat up.  The problem is, the ranger said, there are actually too many elk in the park.  It's overpopulated by about 3x.  One wonders why the herd isn't being ... managed ... but I'm sure there are people who don't understand a thing about animal populations and resources who would just freak over it.  Probably a PR disaster for the NPS.   The fences are FAIRLY unobtrusive visually ... for fences.  And you can go through them (but you must close the gate behind you).

The wind from the storm had actually knocked a couple of our canopy poles down, so we set them back up.  We fixed red beans and rice with beef for dinner.

Since this was to be our last night (yes, I agreed to leave Saturday) -- and we hadn't had a fire all week, tonight was the night.  The fire ring in 96 is close to the tent pad, but it's kind of far away from where we had to put the camper. If you're in a camper, the site is really "strung out". So it really wasn't that cozy a campsite for a camper, and not really conducive for the campfire mood.  But we took the chairs out there and torched one up and sat around it with a few drinks and the guitar until about 11:00pm.  The stars were out in full force in the clear night.  The Milky Way blazed across the sky.  We even saw a shooting star.

New Ground

I've never hiked up Forest or Spruce Canyons at all, really.  No Fern Lake, no Cub lake.  I wanted to take it easy on Vicki so I picked the shorter of the two hikes for our last hurrah.  It involves hiking across Moraine Park right were a low granite ridge noses out into the flat valley -- the trail actually goes up and over the end of it, then along the south side of that ridge, and eventually up to Cub Lake.  Not much elevation gain, and mostly at the end.

It's a rule of thumb that it's a better idea to hike in the morning in the summertime mountains if you want to avoid a shower.  It's not as big a deal if you're not going to be out exposed above the treeline.  I've been out in the rain before - if you're prepared for it it's not so bad.

We headed out about 9:15 on a pretty morning.  The Moraine Park Meadow is a pretty one with the Big Thompson and Cub Creek meandering through it.  Hadn't really ever seen it from this end.

When we'd been up the Fern Lake trail looking for Windy Gulch Cascade Vicki had pointed out some burn marks on some of the aspen, but I didn't think much of it until I saw a sign near the Cub Lake trailhead that talked about the Fern Lake Fire of 2012.  As we walked along we could see trees that had been scorched and even killed by it.

It was evidently quite destructive.  On the flip side, so many trees had recovered, and so much new vegetation was coming up just a year later.  We walked through a big grove of dead aspen, but the thick stand of shoots coming up from the root system was 4 or 5 feet high already.  It was interesting to see the contrast between the obvious destruction and the rapid renewal in its wake.

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the pine beetle destruction.  Back in 2010, the swaths of brown trees pretty pretty pervasive.  Today, those trees have lost their needles and are grey forms of trunks and branches that blend in with the live trees much better.  While you can still see that there is damage, it's not as stark looking as it was a few years ago.  I also can't help but wonder if, in the end, this isn't a good thing for the forest, especially after seeing how it is coming back after the fire.  We let these trees stand, stamp out fires -- they get thicker and thicker... one has to wonder if the pine beetles aren't an alternate method for Mother Nature to thin the forest.  At any rate, the fact that there aren't a lot of brown needled trees left around tells me that the problem has waned ... if large numbers of trees were still being killed, we'd see lots more brown needles.  But for now, it looks like the epidemic is over.  A few seasons with normal rain and the remaining trees, which were the strong ones to begin with, should be able to recover from the damage they've been dealt.

Lots of pretty wildflowers and grasses along the way.  Glacial boulders, burnt logs from the fire (some of the hollowed out burnt logs had rocks placed in them ... I had to wonder if this wasn't a part of the fire fighting effort).  We ran across a large mountain hare in the middle of the trail.

Farther up the trail as it began to rise toward Cub Lake little streamlets springing out of the mountainside trickled down and crossed the trail in places.   You could hear the water all around, and a lush stand of ferns grew in the area. Fern Lake is in this same area - it's not hard to imagine how it got its name.


Cub Lake itself was a little disappointing, but it wasn't its fault. The trees around it had been killed by beetles and the fire -- all of them. The water lilies were pretty, as was the backdrop. You could see a bit of Little Matterhorn poking out from behind Mt. Wuh in front of us, and Gable Top Mountain framed by the end of the gorge.

We had lunch on a lake shore boulder sticking out into the water before turning back for the hike back down.

It was a very warm hike ... temperatures were creeping into the mid 80's, and the sun was intense.  By the time we got back to the car, we were pretty sweaty and a bit tired.  But the sun meant one good thing ....

That solar shower water was bound to be good and hot.  And I knew what we'd be doing when we got back to camp.  There was plenty of water for both of us.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

In a Mountain Town

I wrote a new original song the weekend before we left, inspired by a few mountain towns, but mainly Estes Park.  In case you're curious, Brad Fitch also goes by "Tropicowboy" ... that's his publishing name.

Today was the day we were planning on spending in town in the first place due to rain in the forecast.  Do the tourist thing. We'd had a bit of a preview a few afternoons before - but we stuck with the plan.   Slept in until 8:00, had cold cereal and yogurt for breakfast, and took 34 into Estes Park ... both to drive through Horseshoe Park and see the other way into town and the Fall River visitors' center.

Cool thing is, they had the Longs Peak Geo-Situ pin I was looking for.  A souvenir shop next door had a vinyl relief map of the entire state of Colorado - cool, but not quite what I was looking for.  Still, I made a note of the company that made it (Hubbard Scientific) for future reference.

We both love Christmas and had seen The Spruce House Christmas shop on the west end of town a few days before and stopped there first.  Got some ornaments as presents as well as a small tree for the hearth at home that Vicki thought was cute.

We stopped at Penelope's where I had my traditional Elk burger, and Vicki had a Buffalo burger.  For those of you familiar with Columbia, imagine a really cool cross between Booche's and the 63 Diner ... with really good burgers and fries.  That can be elk or buffalo if you want.

We went into a few other shops ... a rock shop where they had some beautiful rocks, fossils, and rock formations, a few tourist shops (t-shirts and little souvenirs) and into an Alpine shop type place ... where I found the Hubbard Scientific relief map of RMNP I was looking for!

We each got an ice cream cone at Hayley's along with some toffee.  It did rain off and on ... we just dashed into shops when it rained.  It wasn't quite the washout predicted earlier in the week, though.

We sat by Fall River in Tregent Park and just inhaled the atmosphere mentally.  And by 4 we were ready to go back to RMNP.

Hadn't had quite enough river, so we went back to the Fern Lake trailhead and in a couple hundred yards to a spot we'd seen before where I again tried to record some river sounds.  We were watching a couple of fly fishers again ... too much conversation for a good recording, though.

Back at the campsite, I had some leftover rice meal.  Vicki wasn't really hungry and just had a small snack.

The deer were back in the campsite, and we were treated to a spectacular pink and purple sunset as storm clouds hugged the ridge to the west and south.

Cooler tonight for sure. We'll be breaking out the heater.

Only two more days in the mountains.  Starting to hit me.  It's almost over.

Little did I know.  Vicki had a suggestion before we went to bed.  That we start back Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday.  She suggested we pack up Saturday morning, go do something in the park, and leave in the early afternoon.  A little compromise.  I had to wrap my head around it.  Leave early?  Hmmmm....

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Road Trip

We were sore the next morning.  I figured I should give Vicki a rest, and frankly, I didn't mind.  There had been some mention that getting up early and hitting trails wasn't exactly her idea of a vacation, as much as she was enjoying it.

We'd brought some pancake mix that you just add water to ... must've had cinnamon and nutmeg in the mix, too.  I mixed that up and heated the syrup in a pan of boiling water (I don't like cold syrup), and then cooked up the pancakes on our new cast-iron grill on the Coleman stove.

It's the gasoline kind -- a true dual fuel stove (Coleman 424). I like several things about it.  #1, it's old-school.  I like old-school. I burn white gas in it, but it will also burn unleaded gas.  I like that option.  I also have a propane adapter so we can use propane if we want.  One of the main things, though, is you can tell how much fuel you have left.  I can pick up the tank and feel how full (or not) it is.  Propane's a lot more iffy.

They were very good.  We'd been turned on to the Kodiak gourmet brand by some friends, but I couldn't find it in any local stores.  Plus online it was like $17 for a box.  I found this brand at HyVee for $3.28.  I can't remember off the top of my head what it was.

So something easy today.  I'd never been to Lily Lake, and I never realized it was right off of the road.  It's outside the fee area of the park, but I think it may now technically be a part of the park.  It has a trail all the way around it, and we took it.

You could see Longs and Meeker looming up to the south, with Estes Cone close by.  And there were cattails in a marsh on the south end and families of ducks in the water. Some of them were diving for food. Wildflowers and pines all around it.  Lots of people stop here, apparently.  The parking lot was overflowing.  Can't get over all the families we saw on this trip.  That's a great thing.  Lots of kids.

But what to do after that?  We planned Thursday to be a town day because it was forecast to be the most likely day for rain - so we didn't want to do that.  So we decided to drive down to St. Malo's in Meeker Park to my favorite little church.  Vicki had seen it before, but it's always a nice spot to visit, and 7 is a scenic highway.

Right away I noticed the pond that is normally around the church was empty.  Closer inspection of the roadbed revealed why.  This is where 7 was washed out in the flood last year.  Wow.  It was mostly cleaned up and the road was repaired ... I can only assume they'll let the pond re-fill... but it did show starkly how Estes Park and a few other communities up there had been cut off by the floods that stormy week.

It's not nearly as photogenic without the pond ... so what to do now?

Well how far is Nederland?

GPS said 20 miles.  So we started out.  And when we'd gotten to the end of that 20 miles I realized that it was 20 miles ... to the TURNOFF.  It was another 20 miles to Nederland.  Oh well.   We've come this far.

I once read in a guide to Colorado's mountain towns that Nederland is where all the hippies from Boulder moved when they got priced out of the real estate market.   Probably an apt description.  And have we mentioned yet that this was my first trip to Colorado since pot was legalized?  If you're going to see a store anywhere, you're going to see one in Nederland.  Sure enough, Vicki spotted a sign right downtown advertising "Fine Canabis" (The Canary's Song?).   No, we didn't stop and buy any.  :-)  But we did go to Kathmandu, an Indian Nepali buffett ... which was very good.  We ended up parking near another interesting place, "The Ned Center" .... which I assume was for medical marijuana before it was legalized for recreational use.  But I could be wrong.

At any rate, the food at Kathmandu was very good, and I don't think it had anything to do with a haze of smoke over Nederland ... it's just good.  No, really.

The coffee shop in a railroad car that Mark and I had stopped in back in '07 has been bought out, I'm sure much to the dismay of the purists.

We headed back to Estest Park.  I wanted to stop at a hardware store to find some screws to replace some screws on the camper that had somehow gone missing and pick up a card to mail to Pam and John for their 40th anniversary.  It started to rain rather heavily after we picked these things up ... and Vicki spotted a sign that said "You Need Pie".

Vicki likes pie.  A lot.  A place that specializes in pie?  We're in.

They were out of pie.  Guess we got there too late.  Seriously.  Don't tempt people with pie if you don't have pie.

Back to the park.  Back to the campground.  But first, we stopped at the Moraine Park ranger station/lodge.  I picked up a  Colorado Geology book there to read in the rain if it kept raining tonight, and perhaps tomorrow.  Vicki already had books.  It became a running joke that week that we'd get to that place within 20 minutes of closing time.  It closes at 4:30.  Even if we weren't going there, we'd note the time when we drove by it.

We had new neighbors at the campground.

Saw a Cardinals Baseball shirt on one of the ladies, heard a game in the background, Missouri plates and a Joe Machens plateholder - they were from New Bloomfield -- less than 30 miles driving from Columbia.  Small world.

We had another of the famous flavored rice dinners, and sat and relaxed in front of the camper ... Vicki was reading, and I was picking on my little guitar... and three antlered deer wandered into the campground, grazing, and generally unconcerned with anyone who wasn't moving fast.  Which was pretty much nobody.  They posed for pictures for lots of campers in the waning sunlight.

Ended up going to bed around 10.  There was a little rain overnight, but not much.  Didn't really need the heater that night.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Glacier Gorge

Got up at 6:30 and decided to take Vicki back up to the Bear Lake area to go to Alberta Falls and maybe Mill's lake up in Glacier Gorge. So we again had a quick light breakfast and headed to the Bear Lake parking lot (we were early enough for a parking spot today).  Made PBJ's, packed some apples and nuts and fruit and hit the trail for Alberta Falls.  I was anxious to try to capture it with a neutral density filter so I could get that "motion" feel.

This was my third hike to Alberta/Mills since 2005, and I know by now there is a bit of a cruel joke the trail plays on people.   Oh yeah, when you first hit that trail and you start off going down hill, it's easy. Kids are running past you.  And you pass the connection to the trail to the Glacier Gorge trailhead parking lot on the way down ... I'm pretty sure it's all uphill from that parking lot to that point.  But the deal is, especially if you do the full hike to Mills Lake, you're 6 miles into about a 7 mile round trip hike when you get to that last stretch to the Bear Lake lot, and it's all up hill.  At about 9,500 feet.  I made a mental note of this as we coasted down the hill on foot.  If the Glacier Gorge parking lot hadn't been full it might have been better planning to start there, but it only holds about 15 or 20 cars.

We got to the first cascade I had mistaken for Alberta Falls almost 10 years ago, and continued up to Alberta Falls itself.  There were fly fishermen there fishing below the falls, and the place was pretty crowded especially for so early in the morning, I thought.  We'd seen a lot of fly fishers this trip.  I usually see a few in Moraine Park, but apparently we were there during a good fly fishing period.  I found a rock to set up my camera for the time exposure it would take to get the shot I wanted and cropped areas where lots of people were.  I ended up with a pretty good shot -- but didn't realize until later that the lens filter itself was actually catching some sun and I had some lens flare.  I was able to crop the obvious bits of that out, but it did leave a kind of streaked, misty optical effect running from the upper left to lower right that oddly makes the photo look almost 3-D, especially with the tree in the foreground.  I still think it's my favorite shot from the whole trip.

We walked up the granite to the top of the falls, which I think is impressive the way it comes around a corner through such a small chute before taking the first big drop - definitely worth seeing.  I asked Vicki if she was up for the rest of the hike to Mills Lake.  The altitude and the elevation gain on the trail were pretty taxing on her. It's "only" another 2.3 miles.  But she hasn't been riding her bicycle to work all summer ... being retired and all.  Actually I was doing better than my previous two hikes up here and I'll chalk it up to my commutes. They are doing some good.

She said she'd do it, so we got started.  However, you're off the trail up here at the top of the falls.  But I knew if we just walked west through the forest a little ways we'd have to hit the trail, and that's what we did.  Vicki was a little concerned about getting lost, but really, it couldn't be more than 50 or 60 yards to the trail, and there was no way to miss it going that direction.  We found it, and kept going up.

There are several places where the trail crosses the creek coming down from Mills Lake (through Alberta Falls, and beyond) and little rough-hewn foot bridges across with nice views of it cascading down the mountain through the forest.

To me it seemed like the hike went more quickly than in years past, as if someone had cut some switchbacks out, because in no time, to me anyway, we were at a point where we leveled out and were headed directly toward the end of Glacier Gorge where some of my favorite dead trees still stand.  It's also in the sun, though, and protected by high canyon walls so there's not much of a breeze in there.  Warm.

It was a rough hike for Vicki ... I offered to just quit and go back, but I did tell her that she'd think it was worth it when we got there ... though I wasn't so sure she'd think so from the current look on her face.  But she trooped on.

When you get there, it just suddenly sort of "appears".  After you climb across some large gentle domes of granite, you're looking up Mills Lake the long way and into Glacier Gorge, with Longs Peak about halfway up it on the left, and Chief's Head in the back.  You can clearly see The Trough and Keyboard of the Winds.  At just under 10,000 feet, you're below the tree line by a thousand or so feet so pine and fir come down to the lake shore.  There were quite a few people there.  Lots of families.  We picked a spot under a tree on one of the granite jetties to stop and have lunch on under a tree, and were set upon by chipmunks who were obviously used to being fed by people.  They weren't shy.  One climbed right up Vicki's back trying to get to her sandwich before deciding maybe that wasn't such a good idea and leaping off and dashing back to the safety of a crevice in the rock.
There were a few fish jumping in the lake, and some kids testing how much cold water they could stand -- a young brother and sister teasing each other.  It was around 11:00, 11:30 so several people were having lunch right along with us.  We exchanged picture-taking duties with a couple of people and continued to take in the view and rest.  Vicki did say it was worth the trip.  It is.  It's a great spot in the park.

On our way out we ran across a female elk foraging in the forest just off the trail.   There were also a lot more people heading up the trail.  Alberta Falls was really crowded when we got back down to it, and then of course we hit the "cruel joke" at the end of the trail.  By the time we got back to the car I figured we'd done a 7 mile round trip with some moderate elevation gain in there.

I'd left the solar shower out on the picnic table at the camp ground.  There have never been shower facilities in the park, and you're not allowed to do it at your campsite -- but in 2012 the park installed an outdoor solar shower facility in Moraine Park on Loop A where you can use your own.  There are two stalls. (They're building another two stall facility this summer). It's open air, so you're sort of one with nature, but nobody can see anything but your feet.  The water was hot, and it felt good to get completely clean.  I typically use Coleman body wipes and then wash my hair in cold water in the bathroom for a couple of days between showers.   This was muuuuch nicer.  We had some time so we headed into to Estes Park, found the Estes Park bewery and had a beer and some wings, then looked in a few shops.  Vicki bought a mixed bag of old time candies, and I bought a big laminated trail map of the park. To this point I couldn't find the Hubbard Scientific relief map I was looking for.  Or that Geo-Situ pin....

At 6:30 we headed over to Bond Park to see Brad Fitch (Cowboy Brad ... DOT COM) doing what turned out to be his final Bond Park show of the 2014 season.  Went to say "hi" to him and he said, "I know you".  We had a quick bro-hug, I introduced him to Vicki and let him go about his business and before long he was taking requests and singing songs.  Most of the songs requested were his own songs, which was kinda cool (I'm sure he usually gets a lot more John Denver requests -- the man is a ringer for him and does annual benefit concerts of John Denver music).

I once told Brad he's the kind of legend that matters.  Not that he thinks he is one in any way.  He's really an unassuming guy who does a lot for the community he lives in, not just the benefits but the free, family-friendly concerts that really add to the spirit of Estes Park, plus in recent years he's gotten on as a ranger in RMNP, which is a fitting honor and I'm sure he loves it.  I know I would.  The community would be diminished without him.

Picked up his latest CD "Rocky", which is officially sanctioned RMNP Centenial Merchandise. Really enjoyed it, too.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Above the Tree Line

Well, the temperature in the camper was a nice, toasty 66 degrees... until the propane ran out about 5:15 am.  The temperature quickly dropped to 42 in the camper in less than an hour.

Yeah, for some reason I forgot how much propane we'd used our last few nights in Ouray a couple of years  ago.  There was much less in there than I thought.  I know what we'll be doing before tonight.

We got up at 7:00 and dressed (very quickly!) and had a quick yogurt and granola bar and some coffee.  Vicki doesn't like to eat early in the morning, but she had a piece of bread.  The sky was perfectly clear.  We'd had thunderstorms the last two days, and the rest of the week, especially Thursday -- had a decent chance of rain in them.  Perfect day for a Trail Ridge drive.

I might tell myself I would rather have waited until later in the week, but it's kinda not true.   I'm always jonesin' for some 'tude, and time above the tree line is precious.  I really like to get up there as quickly as possible, and with a nice paved road that takes us right up there ... why not?

I stopped at the main stopping places for Vicki to see ... Many Parks Curve, where you can see Moraine Park, Beaver Meadow, Horseshoe Park, Horseshoe Falls & the Alluvial Fan, and even some of Estes Park ... then up to Rainbow Curve, then up past the tree line to Rock Cut and Sundance Mountain.  We did the little 1/4 mile hike to the top of Sundance (one of the easiest 12'ers you'll ever do, and so worth it) and climbed up on the rock formations at the top.  There was a small herd of elk grazing on the north slope tundra, and you could see Fall River Road winding up the valley below.  A little pica popped out of the rock at the top of the mountain about 2 feet from where Vicki was sitting ... probably hoping she had something to eat ... but no luck.

The Alluvial Fan we could see below is one of my favorite places in the park to just chill.  If you have kids, it's a must.  Horseshoe Falls cascades from above into little shallow pools of water among rocks and boulders perfect for kids to safely explore while you sit at take it in.   Unfortunately, about a week before we left, they closed it to start work on Fall River Road -- which they say will take about 2 years to repair from the flood damage -- which is extensive.  The alluvial fan added to itself in the flood and the river changed course through it.  There is at least 4 feet of rock, gravel, and boulders in the west parking lot and over much of the road.  I'm sure they'll have that part ready by next summer.  It's the rest of Fall River Road that will take a couple of years to fix. That's why we hadn't gone there.  But I digress.  Back up top on Trailridge....

There was a lot of traffic on Trail Ridge ... I'm glad we came up early.  Vicki fixed some PBJ's out of the back of the Escape and we had that with some apples and chips.  By the time we got to the Alpine Visitors' Center, parking was becoming an issue.  But the air was fairly clear (there was the normal summer haze, but clear blue skies) and the views did not disappoint, really.  We went to several of the pullouts and looked at the mountain ranges behind mountain ranges, meadows of tundra, Forest Canyon, lakes .... Vicki agreed she could see why I like it up there so much.  Even saw several marmots sunning themselves at the Forest Canyon Overlook.

Around noon we headed back down and into Estes Park for propane for the heater ... we decided we'd like some sweatshirts.  We packed for a bit warmer weather than we were probably going to get, especially in the evening.   We got the propane at Elk Meadow RV Park &  Lodge ... which I'd seen many times right outside the park but never actually made the connection between that place and the place Brad Fitch often plays shows.  That's where we missed him Saturday Evening.

Late afternoon I decided I wanted to look for Windy Gulch Cascade ... if it existed this time of year.  It's only on a few maps, and it's less than 1/4 mile I think from the Fern Lake trailhead.  If you look at a topo map, you can see that it probably only runs when there's snowmelt or during a rainstorm.  It's where the runoff from a high mountain meadow runs into a cliff at the edge of Forest Canyon.

On the drive down there along the Big Thompson in Moraine Park, we rounded a corner on a gravel road.  We saw some women walking along the road together, and when we drove by them I heard one of them say loudly "you almost killed somebody!" ... which was very confusing to me because if she was talking to me, and I assume she was ... we hadn't even come close to blowing one of someone's hairs out of place.  We weren't going fast and were on the other side of the road from them.  After a bit, a part of me thought "almost, eh?  Well let me back up and try again!"  But ... let it go.  We got to the trailhead and found, via the GPS on the phone and my memory of some photos I saw of it earlier where the fall must be.  A large boulder marked where I needed to go off trail a little and look for it.  I left Vicki on the trail and went around it and up the canyon side a little to another smaller boulder.  I used some trees next to it to climb up onto the boulder.  If the fall was there, I should be able to see it from the top of the boulder.

It wasn't.

I climbed back down off the boulder using the same trees, but as I put my weight on some downed trees on the ground, one of them broke, wrenching my right shoulder, bonging my right elbow, and scraping my right shin.  Guess the bike wreck wasn't enough, I needed a few more injuries to go with them.

Vicki shook her head at the blood when I got back.  It was actually worse than it looked, but still wasn't bad at all.

We sat by the river and watched the river bounce by while a couple of fly fishermen fished it.  I tried to record some of the river sounds on my portable Boss BR-600.  But there was too much talking going on so I turned it off.  Went back to the car and drove out to where the Big Thompson exits Moraine Park under Bear Lake Road to try some fuzzy water pictures with my new variable neutral density filters.  First time I've used them since I got them a year ago.  Should have tried earlier, because it turns out they sent me the wrong size for one of them.... 49 mm instead of 52.  But I did get a few shots with the 62.

We headed back to camp and had leftovers from the night before.

Perfect mountain weather day.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

To the Park!

We slept like logs, and got up around 7:30 for a little continental breakfast in the lobby.  The Columbine Inn is like a little time capsule in more ways than one.  They also have a sattelite radio channel playing kind of "music of your life" stuff from the 1950's & 1960's ... what used to be called EZ Listening when that meant Percy Faith, Ray Conniff, and AndrĂ© Kostelanetz ... a lot of the clientele appears to be a bit older, too, or people with older people, which is fine by me. Quiet = Good when it comes to motels for me.

Now I knew the chances of our campsite being open at 9:00 am was slim to none, but I thought I'd try.  And of course, it wasn't.  Checkout is noon.  What to do until then?

We weren't going to haul the trailer all around the park, but there's plenty of room at Park'n'Ride for the Bear Lake area, so we headed up there (we had everything with us anyway, right?) and caught a shuttle for Bear Lake.

Vicki had only been to RMNP for an afternoon back in 2001 with my cousin Elizabeth and me, so she really hadn't even seen Bear Lake.  Not enough time for Alberta Falls or Mills Lake, but we did have time to head up to Nymph lake as well.  So our first full day in the mountains did include a mile long hike at 9,500 feet ... not my normal itinerary.

The water lilies were blooming like they were last time I was there, and we got some good reflection of mountains in the background so I got some shots of that.  One thing I did notice is there were more people than I'm used to seeing ... but .. eh.

We got back down to Moraine Park right about noon, and of course got right in and set up the camper... and then I thought we'd head to the visitors' center.  I knew they had the enormous 3-D map with lights and such, and I was kind of looking for the larger version of the small vinyl 3-D map I've had for years at the office for home -- plus I wanted to replace my little Long's Peak Geo-Situ pin.

About the time we got to the parking lot the skies opened up, and a deluge ensued.  We ended up making a run for it.  They didn't have the vinyl map or the pin, and the place was crowded so we went and watched a film on the centennial of the park, which is this year.   We headed back toward the campground and saw a small herd of Elk at the Bear Lake Road intersection.  Then ended up going into Estes Park for some ice, gas, and ended up finding a couple of things we had to get for Trenton ... one being a 3-D Tyrannosaurus picture and an unbroken geode to discover the inside of.   Back to the park, picked up some firewood, and to the campsite for a dinner of buffalo chicken rice on the Coleman stove with chicken and mixed vegetables. And cookies.

The temperature dropped quickly into the 50's at sunset.  Definitely glad I brought the heater.

The low that night was 42, but we were at a toasty 66 in the camper.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Kansas Hasn't Shrunk

"The mountains are calling, and I must go."  - John Muir

Ole John and I have something in common.  About any time of year when I'm travelling west on I-70 a voice inside me will suggest "you know, you could just keep going..."

The worst part about a trip to Colorado is Kansas.  Now don't get me wrong.  I find Kansas fascinating.  I've said before I'm a geology nut, and the changes from central Missouri to central Kansas is interesting to watch.  The fields of giant windmills are awesome.

It's just that there's so ... much ... of it.  I think like 480 miles or so of I-70.  The group "Missouri" did the song "Movin' On" that says "that road goes on and on into the sunset"....

Maybe it should have been Kansas.  Missouri doesn't go on and on like Kansas.  Oh well.  Nothing for it.  Carry On My Wayward Son.

But we got through it, and into Colorado, and we could see thunderstorms brewing in Colorado.  They started to hit by Burlington.  We were only getting about 17 mpg going uphill, against the wind, 75 MPH, and hauling a trailer that I think should probably be more leveled out.  I think we need more of a drop on the hitch.  The front is high, and the back is low, so I think it acted sort of like a parachute.  And in the west, you don't have a gas station every 20 miles.  I knew I needed it before Limon.  Found a gas station and filled up, and that's about when the rain started.

After Limon, we got into some heavy stuff.  And around Limon, there's another large stretch of giant windmills.  At one point, I wondered aloud what happens when lightning hits one.

Without hesitation, Vicki responded "it probably goes, 'Whoooooooo!'"

I don't think we stopped laughing for at least 5 minutes.  Yeah, Kansas is a long state.  Everything is funny after you cross Kansas in one day.

A couple of years ago when Mark and the kids and I went out to RMNP, we took an alternate route that took us around the entire Denver metro area by jogging through the country and hitting the mountains through Longmont and Lyons.  We took that route this time, too.  It adds about 20 minutes to the trip ... maybe.  Depends on the traffic.  Certainly cuts down on stress.

National Guard engineers from several states are still working on US-36 from the flood damage.  The Little Thompson River really did a number on it during the flood.  But they were opening a big gravel section of it on weekends so people could get to Estes Park and RMNP, and it was Saturday, so we were able to drive right up it.  Almost a year later, you could still see some devastating flood damage through the canyon.  Homes filled with mud and debris, and some debris still left just scattered about -- piles of trees, and you can see where they've had to repair the road and where they're still working on it.  It is impressive.  Mother Nature is powerful.  Try not to get in her way.

We pulled into Estes Park about 7:00pm.  Going to catch Brad Fitch was pretty much out at this point, but I kinda knew that by the time we left McDonalds in KS.  We had a couple of other opportunities.

We checked in to the Columbine Inn ... a quiet, reasonable, clean, and serviceable ... even a bit nostalgic motel I'd stayed in with Mark and the Kids back in 2010.  Went to eat at a Mexican restaurant next door, and turned in early.  We hit the park in the morning.