Today we wound our way down out of Rocky Mountain National Park, through Estes Park and Boulder and then across Colorado on I-70 to Grand Junction area – James Robb State Park, to be exact, alongside the Colorado River. The river was a clear ribbon we followed out of and across the Rocky Mountains. If you have ever done this trek, you know there is a lot of downshifting going on, both down the serpentine roads and then as you wind your way back up again. But I skipped ahead and need to let you know how it was in Rocky Mountain National Park. AMAZING.
I might overuse that word just a bit, but it really was an awesome experience. We arrived in camp knowing it was a first-come basis for campsites, but we didn’t expect to find the LAST campsite available. A bit of panic set in just before we claimed it for our own, but it worked out just fine, even though it was across from the restrooms and the bear-proof garbage bins.
The park was very busy, which surprised us, but we were told that September is their second busiest month due to elk viewing. This is also the park’s Centennial, so I think there has been a greater push to visit the park. It was evident, as we wove our way through the many cars parked alongside the road every place there were elk. But they were spectacular beasts. The bull elk were in rut, so they were rounding up and stealing from each other’s harem of hinds (females). The younger males tried their best, but they seemed to always be on the fringes. The bugling calls of the males were heard day and night, a very eerie sound that reminds you that you are in their mountains. The aspen are all golden and orange, sprinkled among the spruce. It makes for very colorful mountainsides. Unfortunately, the spruce beetle has really taken a toll on the trees, with at least a third of the trees dead or dying.
First hike we did was around the Morraine Park meadow, the place where most of the elk hung out (although they and the mule deer wandered through the campground). At one point in the 5-6 mile hike we were on the far side of the meadow away from all the cars and spectators and we had fairly close view of about 12 = 15 males challenging each other. When we heard calls up the mountain behind us, we picked up the pace so as not to stay between them. These guys move quick.
We were proud of our hikes, since our walking routine these past months has helped get us in shape. But folks from Colorado out-do you every time. I think it must be a requirement to live in the state that you bicycle or hike miles and miles each day. It is definitely a very bike friendly state. “We just did a little 10 mile hike to the five lakes …” was heard on the shuttle bus. Sheesh.
I spent time trying to get pictures of the local wildlife, which consisted of several kinds of squirrels and chipmunks, large grey and white Clark’s nuthatches and the elusive Steller’s Jay. The one I caught on camera in Cheyenne Mountain was actually a Scrub Jay. As you can see by the pictures, I think I did pretty well with the wildlife. I have to say that the money shot for the elk was the bull I caught in the stream. Was kinda ho-hum after spotting that guy.
We decided to only drive the car up Trail Ridge Road, rather than leave the park that way with the motorhome. Good decision. The day we went up to the Alpine Visitor’s Center it was clear and sunny and an awe-inspiring drive. But it went to 12,700 feet from our camp elevation of 7,500 feet, not something I really wanted to do in the motorhome. We hiked across the tundra on a few trails, but the cold wind and the altitude do a number on you, no matter how much in shape you are. The majesty of the mountains and the vistas just took your breath away anyhow.
A thunderstorm rolled through the night before we left. In the morning the temperature was 32 degrees and snow had fallen in the higher altitudes. They are shutting off the water in the restrooms Oct. 5, so I guess freezing temperatures are to be expected soon.
The Morraine Park Campground has some great campsites, a lot of them are for tents. There is no water at campsites and no electric, so you have to be prepared. We were down to the last of our onboard water, but the propane was fine for cooking and the fridge; we ran the generator just long enough to heat up in the morning or just before bed at night.
Back to today’s trip. We did spot a group of Bighorn sheep as we drove west, all females and it was too quick to get a picture. But no moose in the Rockies just yet. Maybe the most exciting part of the drive was through Glenwood Canyon, where the road divides into an upper and lower level to make it through the pass. However, construction had everyone on the same 2-lane roadway, one lane each way. But it was fun, and the canyon walls were just gorgeous.
The state park site tonight has full hookups, so we are charging everything we can, doing a load of laundry and filling the water tank in preparation for Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park. We should be there tomorrow night.