Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rocky Mountain Sampler–Driving the Trail Ridge Road

We left home Friday, Aug 14th, We are on our way to Yellowstone NP where our son Brian and daughter-in-law Rebekah will fly out to join us for a week. Yellowstone is a good 4 day drive from home. Our first stop was Cherry Hill RV just our of Tulsa, OK. Our second night, we stopped at Cedar Bluff State park in Kansas. So far, our traveling and the weather have been good.

We decided to stop and spend 3 nights (Aug 16th – 18th) in Rocky Mountain National Park on our way. Neither Fred nor I had ever been here, so we thought that we would take 2 full days to just explore- knowing that we could only get an overview, or a ‘sampler’ of the park in such a short visit.


We are staying within the park at Moraine Campground. Our site is nice, just long enough for the camper with the truck parked in front but with a very nice large open area behind the camper. There are no hook-ups (no electric or water) which is typical of the National parks. This suits us fine, as we are self contained, and our new solar panels are doing an excellent job! We have not needed to run our generator at all! (note- our campground sits at 8,150 ft. – We noticed a bit of breathlessness, but no other problems with altitude sickness)

Moraine campground is located just out of Estes Park, Colorado. Estes Park seems like it would be a cute town to visit, with lots of restaurants, coffee shops, unique gift shops. It also has a grocery store and gas station very convenient to the park.

Aug 16th - We arrived around 2 pm, just as a major thunderstorm broke. Rain and small hail! We found our site, but just sat in our truck until the storm passed. This, we found out, is the typical weather pattern – clear skies in the morning, with thunderstorms and lightening in the afternoon. In fact, there are signs warning you to plan your hikes for the morning, so that you are off any summits and exposed areas by afternoon.

After settling into the campground, we headed out to the Visitors Center just at the entrance of the park. We watched two very good films all about Rocky Mt NP and picked up a guide book on day hikes.

Aug 17th – We got up early (we had not yet adjusted to Mountain Time) and were off to explore by 7:30 am. Our plan for the day was to drive the Trail Ridge Road through the park. Trail Ridge Road is a 40 mile road that serves as the major roadway through the park in the summertime. It has the distinction of being the highest in elevation continuous paved road in the United States. In winter, the road is closed by snowdrifts that may reach 35 feet deep!

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We stopped at the major overlooks and hiked a bit where the opportunity came up.


The views were breathtaking – though some of that could have been the altitude! The road steadily climbs to a high point of 12,183 ft.

We stopped at the Forest Canyon overlook…..


Which had a nice paved trail out to beautiful views……..


But, as we first started out, we noticed some big horn sheep just below the rim.


Fred got this wonderful picture by standing up on a bench. Getting off the paved walk and approaching the animals was not allowed. So we have to be content with whatever view the creatures decide to give us!


The other creatures that we saw were Marmots. They are rodent like mammals the size of a beaver. This fellow was sunning himself on a rock.


Then he was joined by a couple of his buddies…….


Ok, I’ll admit that I got carried away watching these guys and snapping pictures.   ; -)


I LOVE my zoom on my camera!

We stopped at the Alpine Visitors center, about midway on the Trail Ridge Road. Here you can find food and gifts as well as information. Oh my! Their gift shop could take several hours to look through! We decided that we would just have to forgo this, as we had a hike that we wanted to do.

A section of the UTE Trail begins just across from the Alpine Visitors center.


Fred just LOVES the GPS, with all it’s data, especially the elevation – which was at 12,036 feet where we started our hike.


This section of the Ute trail – Fall River Pass to Milner Pass – follows the 1918 – 1932 road route that had been abandoned when the current Trail Ridge Road was opened. This trail runs an easy downhill grade, dropping 1,000 feet over 4 miles to the Milner Pass trailhead. I would have loved to hike the whole trail one way, but without an arranged shuttle, or a friend to pick us up at the other end, we would have to hike this trail as an out and back. We set out to hike about 45 min or so out then turn around and head back. Remember, that it would be uphill on the way back, and we could certainly feel the effect of the higher altitude!


The trail stretched out across the alpine tundra, paralleling the road far below. As we stopped to take this picture (and to catch our breath!) I’ll be danged if another marmot didn’t pop up for a photo op!

The vistas were beautiful! It was a perfect Rocky Mountain day…….


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