Wild-West Road-Trip: Rocky Mountain National Park

Wild-West Road-Trip: Rocky Mountain National Park

Published: August 3rd, 2017

Rocky Mountain National Park

It could have been just another early morning start, but today felt different. In the back of my mind, I knew that this would be our last chance to experience one of America's treasured national parks before the kids had to go back to school. We'd seen and done so much in the last five weeks. I didn't really want to let go of the experiences. I wanted to keep running even though I knew that we were all feeling a little tired. 

Our first venture of the day was a hike around Bear Lake on the eastern side of the park. It's one of the most popular destinations for families because the short, half-mile trail doesn't involve any elevation changes and the location is close to most of the accessible parking areas.

Owen and Evan say that this park has everything: wildlife, trees, water, and rocks. I guess that covers it. We stopped for a family selfie on the edge of a rock with a cool view. Maybe this will end up on the family Christmas card?

I used my platypod on a timer as well as a speedlight off camera and to the right to punch some light into our eyes. I'm glad I opted to carry all of that gear with me the whole time. I have no regrets about the extra weight.

Of course, that entitles me to a fake nap every once in a while, lol.

After making the loop around Bear Lake, we hiked another relatively short trail to Nymph Lake. I don't think I've ever seen so many lilies before, and these were decorated by yellow blooms.

We saw some tracks in the mud near the water, and soon discovered that there was a doe nearby.

The deer always know that you're there, but they pay attention when you release the shutter or step on a twig.

We went back to the RV for lunch and rested a little before our evening tour. Our Green-Jeep driver and tour-guide, Vicki, was super cool and gave me extra time at some of our stops to catch the light as it gilded the fog that had settled. I took this shot because I loved how the layers of rock faded into the background and how each crest seemed to uniformly plunge into the valley. Here's another look.

We drove to the site of two incredible floods. The first flood, in 1982, occurred when a man-made dam failed and let millions of gallons of water scrape the hillside until it reached the town of Estes Park and left seven feet of water standing in the streets.

The second flood took place in 2013 and was called a "thousand-year flood" because at least twelve inches of water fell within two days. Eight days after the rain began, three feet of water covered the floor of Estes Park and much of the state of Colorado was in a state of emergency.

The force of the current moved boulders and rubble, swept over parking-lots now covered in soil, and changed the course of the river that had been formed during the 1982 flood. Water is one of the most destructive forces on the planet.

Another family pic, this one taken by Vicki with my camera.

The whole valley seems calm, now, but flash-floods can occur without warning and change the entire landscape in a moment.

I like how the clouds look like angels' wings in this shot. 

Very soon after getting back in the Green-Jeep, we took a road that brought us higher than the clouds. The whole scene was surreal. Long's Peak is the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park and stands 14,259' above sea-level.

Other views from the same look-out were just as amazing.

Looking over the edge into the natural world never gets old. Ever.

We all rode on the back of the jeep and climbed higher in elevation.

The view from the road was truly inspiring.

After a little while, we all noticed that it was more difficult to breathe. The reason was pretty clear.

Our next look-out point put us even higher above the clouds and we enjoyed some of the most wonderful sunlight. The kids posed on the rock-wall after I begged a little. Can you see Addy giving me some kind of eye?

Then, it was back in the jeep to climb even higher on this amazing road.

This section of the road is called "Cut Rock," because the engineers protected the protruding layers while using precise explosive charges to make way for the pavement.

For me, it's all about the light, and the day was fading quickly. I felt like we couldn't reach the higher elevations fast enough. The sun was moving so quickly.

I could tell this was going to be a good one, but we weren't ready to camp and wait for the sunset just yet. I wanted to find a moose before we left and we had one more location that might work.

If there had been a moose, I would have wanted to see it here. The air was cold, but the water was warmer. It would have been perfect.

As I turned away from the lake, I was surprised. It wasn't a moose, but a deer stood less than ten feet from my path. I couldn't move. It was way too close for me to attempt to make it back to the others.

We put eyes on each other until the animal moved far enough away for me to head to the car, and we drove back up the hill to Cut Rock to watch the sun set.

This marker stands at the highest point in the road in the whole park. At this spot, we were 12,183' above the sea.

It was the perfect place to be.

I watched the sun disappear from our view and knew that there was no way to be high enough to keep it from setting on our time in the west. There was still color in the sky and on the mountains and valleys below. There was nothing to do except take more pictures and wait for everything to fade.

The Green-Jeep looked pretty awesome up there on the road, too.

On the way down, I did see a young elk on the side of the road. He took off quickly after I snapped this shot.

Where we were once above the clouds, the weather had changed and we were now in the thick of it. There was almost no visibility and the chill was catching up to us.

Thanks to Vicki, we made it down the mountain without incident and retreated to a nearby BBQ joint for dinner at nearly ten o'clock. It had been a long and full day, but now it was over. In the morning, we'd head out and return to Denver to get organized before our flight. Such a long time to be gone, but it was over in a flash.

I have one more blog to post before the end of this series. Till then, take care!

- Wayne

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August 9th, 2017 Ginger:



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Dear Yellowstone, your life would be just fine without me. You don't need us, and you’d sleep better at night if we weren't around. These trails that cut across your mountain tops, these roads that we’ve carved into your valleys, and these bridges that span your waterways are selfish attempts for us to hold on to you. We’ve scarred you and caused you harm, but we love you and somehow you’ve tolerated our presence. You’re beautiful, and we’re so grateful that you keep us around.

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