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.

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