Where do you even start? The enormity of the Rocky Mountain National Park is not something that any writer, no matter how clever, could attempt to address end-to-end. Far smarter, more creative, and brilliant people that I have attempted and failed, I won’t be adding my name to that list anytime soon.
What I will do is journal our time, and hope that I can convey some of the depth, the grandeur, the ‘Wow!’ that we experienced.
Again, the joys of flexibility. What do we do today? It’s a bright sunny Saturday morning, let’s head up to Estes Park, and figure out what we’re going to do from there. Splendid, Smithers!
The village of Estes Park in itself is somewhat a bust, unless you enjoy overpopulated tourist traps. Streets teeming with the summer vacation masses toting their Starbucks (hey, I like Starbucks, it just plays into my visual) and wearing their newest Estes Park t-shirt crowd the streets and keep any thought of stopping here far from my mind. Ok, one stop – the famous Stanley Hotel from The Shining Series and Dumb and Dumber. Gotta see it to check it off the list on the way through. Checked off, exit stage left.
Take 36 West out of town, and BAM (to quote Emeril) you’re right in the RMNP. The $20/car entry cost seems steep until you realize just what you’re getting. We have intended to purchase a National Park pass for quite some time now, so this was the perfect opportunity to plunk down the $80 for an all-access pass to all National Parks for a year rather than just spend the $20 for a one-day RMNP pass.
I had high expectations on the way into the park, and I wasn’t let down. Oh, except for those mountain lions, bobcats and bears. Elusive little suckers, didn’t see a single one.
You quickly climb through alpine forests up narrow winding roads with numerous switchbacks. We had planned on heading up Fall River road, only to discover that it is still closed due to snow. Um, Forrest, it’s June 19th! Snow? We’re certainly not in Kansas anymore!
We stopped at the Forest Canyon Overlook for a panoramic view of the area, despite the cloud cover and the snow that had begun to fall somewhere back around 10,000 feet. The heavy snow pack in the Rockies this year has been slow to melt off, and the Forest Canyon sign that you would normally stand and read at waist height was barely visible beneath the snow! I’m guessing that it’ll be a while before this amount of snow melts off, if it does at all. It’s also interesting to get a close look at the wheel loaders retrofitted with massive snowblowers necessary to clear this amount of snowfall from the mountain roads. Very impressive hardware.
As we continued our ascent, the temperature steadily continued to drop at the inverse of the altitude, from 80+ degrees in the valley to 36 degrees just above 12,000 feet. At a few of the pullouts where we stopped to look around, the snow on the side of the road was higher than either of us could reach, and the snow just continued to fall.
Past the summit and the visitor center, the road begins to wind it’s way back down the mountain towards the Continental Divide. Given our available fuel and the amount of daylight we had left, we decided to drive down to the signs before retracing our steps. The Continental Divide is another one of those “check it off the list” things – not much to see, take a couple photos, and press along to the next.
The wildlife in the Park is simply amazing. Hordes of marmots make their homes in the rocks up in the alpine regions, while numerous deer and elk make the most of the lush green low lying areas. Great photo opportunities for the nerds, and lots of ooohs and aaahs for the kids. A note of advice: Make sure that you’re 100% alert when driving, because you never know when a 700lb elk is going to run across the road in front of you. Hitting one of those guys is guaranteed to ruin the day for all parties involved!
Rocky Mountain National Park