Written by aboutthatplace on 07 Sep, 2010
The Continental Divide runs through the middle of the Rocky Mountain National Park, creating two distinct climates, and is home to seven large mammals, countless birds (including eagles) and an abundance of wildflowers. That’s all we needed to read before deciding to become…Read More
The Continental Divide runs through the middle of the Rocky Mountain National Park, creating two distinct climates, and is home to seven large mammals, countless birds (including eagles) and an abundance of wildflowers. That’s all we needed to read before deciding to become one of the 2.9 million visitors this year.We got up before the roosters -- why, I’m not sure, other than my family has done this for three generations -- to start our road trip. By the time the sun awoke, we were crossing from Northern New Mexico into Colorado. We discovered that this is where the deer and the antelope play. Hundreds of antelopes took over the hills, grazing casually, sometimes intermixed with cattle, a close cousin.At a rest area just over the border, we got out with our two dogs to stretch our legs. We surveyed the land, now transforming from high desert into mountains. I counted six types of wildflowers along the sidewalk alone.That night we settled into our cabin near Allenspark. It was rustic to say the least, but what can you expect from a last minute, dog-friendly reservation on Labor Day weekend? We were relieved to find no cell coverage or television, just books and WiFi. We satisfied our hunger with hot dogs, watermelon and a crisp, lively Pinot Gris.The next morning we were also up early. In the communal area the hosts -- a young, friendly couple -- provided breakfast, which more than made up for the simple accommodations. We stuffed ourselves with strawberry, banana and peanut butter burritos. Hearty and sweet. (Sunshine Mountain Lodge, 18078 Colorado 7, Lyons)Trail Ridge Road: BYOBPB... Bring Your Own Brown Paper Bag.It seems that when a road is labeled "scenic," it also means death-defying. This is the case with Trail Ridge Road, 54 miles of winding asphalt which begins at Estes Park and ends at Grand Lake, providing you make it that far. The beginning is easy with meadows and small lakes. Then the climb to the twin passes starts. Don’t ever think that you’ll reach the speed limit of 35 m.p.h. At times we crawled along at 15 m.p.h., and not because of the traffic -- there were no guard rails. On one side the road simply drops away. Because this is a National Park I doubted that there were little white crosses below. We continued our praying.Up we climbed across the Continental Divide (10,758 feet) and Fall River Pass (11,796 feet) and onwards to Iceberg Pass (11,827 feet) where there was a high wind advisory. Yes, it was white knuckles on the wheel, as the road on both sides plunged straight down and the wind whipped around the tiny car. We felt so temporary and miniscule compared to this mountain that could kick our butt six different ways.There were several pull-offs for us to regain our nerves, and we ended the drive at a stunningly beautiful lake. This also gave us the time to find a different route than US 34. No way should this be tried twice in one day.Once safely down the mountain we discussed the seasonal changes of the Rockies. Nearly half of the trees were brown or some shade of gold and orange. We thought that this was peculiar as we didn’t believe that pine trees were anything but green. Indeed not. We saw a sign describing "pine beetles". We had noted that nearly half of the trees on one side of a mountain were brown, and there were large patches of brown scattered amongst the other mountains. Pine beetles have infected the largest area in history throughout the Rockies. In 2006 they killed a million acres of trees but spread in 2008 to double that size, and this year they are predicted to double the size again.These pests dig into the bark of pines where they spend the winter, then grow up to 7 mm long by spring. In early summer they leave their tunneled out nests to fly to new trees. Some experts have predicted that Colorado’s mature trees will be eliminated within five years. The priniciple means of controlling the pests is removal of dead trees and prescribed burns. The result is piles and piles of brown, decaying pine trees. Worrisome to say the least.Grand LakeFor 10,000 years Native Americans visited "Spirit" Lake (attributed to a mythical buffalo) seasonally. In a particularly gruesome episode in of history, a war party made up of Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians ambushed a hunting and fishing party of Ute Indians. As the warriors defended their village, Ute woman and children boarded rafts to row to the center of the lake. Instead of finding safety, a gust of wind tipped over the rafts and they all drowned. For years, Ute warriors saw their ghostly figures dance across the blue waters.Then, as was common in the American west, French trappers discovered the abundance of animals in the area. This led to a large number of midwesterners settling onto the land, and huge parties (100+ members) of European hunters slaughtering the herds of deer and wildlife which grazed the area. By the 1870s both gold and silver set off a mining boom. A permanent settlement of Grand Lake (city) sprung up, though the mines went bust by the 1880s. Now, its home to 60 shops, restaurants and galleries. I recommend finding Bears Den & Paw Pub, located on the main strip at 612 Grand Ave. Grab some sandwiches (their French Dip is one of the best that I’ve encountered) and continue along the shoreline towards a chain of lakes. Between Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Gramby there are numerous pull offs and each has a spectacular view. Perfect for lunch. If you can find it, try Boylan’s Birch Beer. Since 1891, this tiny, local soda company has been producing this reddish root beer.Union ReservoirThe next day we opted for something easier, a picnic by Union Reservoir. There weren’t as many photo opportunities, but we didn’t need a brown paper bag to breathe into either.The last ice age dug out Calkins Lake, one of the few natural lakes within Colorado. In 1903 a tunnel was drilled, releasing some of its water into St. Vrain river, forming Union Reservoir. The reservoir is located seven miles west of I-25, in Longmont.This crystal clear reservoir is managed beautifully. Everyone has their own little spot -- from a beach, to marina and off-leash dog area -- complete with bathrooms, snack bar, picnic benches, parking lot and a small fee of $8 per car. Oh, and for the fishermen, wipers, walleyes, gizzard shad and catfish are regularly caught here. (Note: no campfires or grills allowed).As we packed up the car the next morning to head back to reality, we realized that our time was far too short. We promised to come back again, and as I looked up to pitch the last piece of luggage into the trunk, a moose stood chewing his cud just beyond our cabin. He watched me as I watched him. He seemed reluctant to move on, as were we.Close
Written by American91 on 30 Apr, 2007
Honestly, all “gateways” to National Parks are the same. The gateway, or the town, situated at the entrance is always bustling with tourists, streaming through the shops, buying souvenirs, polishing off ice cream, and enjoying all the luxuries that are either overpriced or not available…Read More
Honestly, all “gateways” to National Parks are the same. The gateway, or the town, situated at the entrance is always bustling with tourists, streaming through the shops, buying souvenirs, polishing off ice cream, and enjoying all the luxuries that are either overpriced or not available in the park. In Rocky Mountain’s case, that town is Estes Park.
The fact that the streets are packed with about 99% tourists and 1% locals isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, the sidewalks are crowed with people trying to eat their hot fudge sundaes or snapping pictures of a hummingbird, and the road is filled with speeding cars driving precariously close to the pedestrians, but all you have to do is look up and see the proud faces of the Rocky Mountains.
The first thing you need to know about downtown Estes Park is to get off Main Street, that is where the best shops are. Do some window shopping quickly and drop back to the green, an open grass area right along the center of town. Drive behind this and park your car around here. It seems impossible to find a spot in Estes Park, but back here, although a farther walk, you are much more likely to find a spot.
There were a few spots in Estes Park that I found to be very secluded and very nice within the bustling town. The first was the trout pond. Near the green, look for a large brown building with a sign hanging saying “TROUT POND”. Upon entering the plaza, you’ll find a bunch of small stores and a courtyard with an atrium in the middle. There are a few restaurants in here and it is very quiet and secluded. I went there at 3pm, just after everyone was leaving the park, and we had the building practically to ourselves. It was a much more relaxed atmosphere to sit down and eat than along main street.
Another interesting sight in Estes Park is the Stanley Hotel. This was the setting for Steven King’s movie “The Shining” although filming did not actually take place here. The basis of the movie is a family that gets snowed in at this hotel, high on a mountain in Colorado. The only thing relevant between this and the movie however, is that it is in Colorado.
On the other side of main street, you’re sure to find a raging river running parallel with the road. Many restaurants face the river, and many beautiful plazas line it. The best of these plazas is located behind the Subway restaurant. With more stores and shops to pick from and more space with plenty of picnic tables and benches, this plaza offers a little breathing room. I highly recommend this as a place to take a break from shopping since it is just off Main Street but offers a view of something other than cars and people.
My favorite find in Estes Park was a short hike to an old building. We parked near the main green, and right nearby was a small field with a rock cliff behind it. An overhang over the field said this was a popular elk destination, and eager to spot some, we followed the path. The path wound around the cliff before returning to the top of it, perched above the field and Estes Park. A stone building, which evidently burned many years ago, still holds it structural support, but now merely looks out over the town. This is by far the best way to take it in. Directly below you is the hustle of the city and above them is the skyscraping Rockies.
Estes Park may seem like a turn-off at first, but you really just need to find the quiet spots which truly make the town more interesting. By simply heading away from the main road you can find many diversions, such as the rock cliff, trout pond, or a beautiful plaza in front of a river. But no matter how you look at it, Estes Park is always the same, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. And if you ever feel in doubt, just look up, and take in the beauty that is the Colorado Rockies. Close
Written by RMYUKUR53 on 05 May, 2007
The main point of my family's annual trip to RMNP is to hike and spend time together. It still remains my favorite vacation of all time. This past summer, we stayed for 10 days. We did awesome hikes: CCY—hike up Mount Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon—about…Read More
The main point of my family's annual trip to RMNP is to hike and spend time together. It still remains my favorite vacation of all time. This past summer, we stayed for 10 days. We did awesome hikes: CCY—hike up Mount Chapin, Chiquita, and Ypsilon—about 13 miles I think, and a 17-mile hike across Pawnee Pass were the highlights. Close