Posts Tagged With: Rocky Mountain National Park

Didn’t expect rain …

Alpine tundra Rockies panorama

Alpine tundra at Rockies

Rockies Day 3 (2)

Dusting of snow on the peaks the morning we leave

Howdy! Where did we leave off in this wild adventure? Ah, when we last checked in we were making our way across the western part of Colorado. It’s good we made it as far as Grand Junction, because the next task was to get to Moab and Arches National Park in time to make camp and enjoy the park. That drive wasn’t bad at all, pretty flat, open land with scrub and sagebrush and an easy road to follow. Better have a full gas tank, though, as most exits had nothing at all, just a road that crossed the highway.

Arches at last and yikes the line of cars and campers to get in was huge. It was Sunday and a crowd was not unexpected, but this looked more like the entrance gates to Disneyland. Jackie actually fixed lunch and we ate while moving slowly into the park entrance. This month the entrance fees just increased, but thanks to our America the Beautiful senior pass, we didn’t pay anything. Nice benefit for seniors!

Ok, the entrance gate wait was a challenge, but then the ride began like one of the roller coasters as Six Flags. Up, up, turn on the switchback, up, up, switchback, click, click, click and you expect to start down the first drop off, but instead you level off a bit and the scene gets dramatic. Huge red sandstone monoliths rise from the plateau in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Something of a cross between a giant chess set and huge “drip castles” – you know, the ones you make with wet, drippy sand at the beach? Absolutely breathtaking in size and scope. Arches has the most dramatic entrance of any national park.

Arches National Park panorama

Arches National Park panorama

We wound our way along the roadway, up and down, some downshifting involved, each pointing out something different in our window (oh yeah, keep your eyes on the road, Doug). It was 18 miles to the Devil’s Garden end of the roadway where the campground is located. As you drive along, you look ahead to canyons and plateaus and notice way, way over there is a road with cars on it … oh is THAT where we are headed? Objects are farther than they appear in the mirror, or window. Lots of cars, and lots of rental class “C” campers along the way and several large tour buses.

Devil's Garden campsite

Devil’s Garden campsite

We pulled in to the campground, unhooked the car and drove to the campsite. Had to unhook the tow dolly to back in to the site, but it is fantastic. There are only 50 sites here, so each has plenty of space around it, with junipers, sagebrush and boulders, with a backdrop of red sandstone surrounding most sites. So cool. I guess if you could camp on Mars it would look something like this, minus the vegetation.

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch

It is dry camping, so we have to use onboard water, propane, generator and batteries. We quickly made camp and fixed our packs for a hike in Devil’s Garden. The trail maps we have say this might be a mile or so, not something that should be too difficult for us. Off we go, only to find ourselves on a nice trail that has so many people hiking with us, or more accurately, passing us. The trail was pretty easy footing up to Landscape Arch and then turned very sandy until we got to the base of the sandstone fins. Where did the trail go but up the slanted spine of the rock. Ok, that should be an acceptable challenge, but as we were climbing up the rock, the Von Trapp family went whizzing past us, led by the youngest practically running up and bouncing us off the rock. It was a busy day on the rock. But once we got up to one of the summits and Partition Arch it was worth it. What a view. Back down, carefully, and we continued to be amazed by the folks hiking in, like it was nothing at all. The tour buses seemed to be filled with Chinese visitors, and let me tell you, those older women were not daunted by the climb at all. And taking pictures with their iPads. Well that can be forgiven, everyone, myself included, was taking pictures. You had to wait your turn at a few of the arches, unless you didn’t mind getting everyone else in the shot.

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We took a break back at camp and decided to go to see Delicate Arch before sunset, when the colors are brighter orange. We drove to the area, decided to do the viewing area instead of hiking up to the actual arch. Good thing, as the upper viewing area hike seemed a half mile up anyway. (My definition of a viewing area is like a scenic pull-off… you step out of the car, say “wow” and get back in. Guess that doesn’t apply here). We saw it, took pictures and since the sun was obscured by clouds, we headed back. I didn’t think it was as spectacular as several of the other arches we saw.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Showers overnight and light drizzle started things off today – seriously? Here in the desert Southwest? Well it is our full day in the park, so by golly we are gonna see them arches. We went to a few that actually did have shorter hikes to them (Windows arches and Double arch). Then we agreed to try the trail to Delicate Arch to get that famous shot. What’s a little drizzle when you have the right gear? Besides, it is only 1.5 miles, with a 480 foot elevation change. Piece of cake. Umm, I think we just hiked up Stone Mountain – and because the rain continued to get worse, we didn’t make it to the arch, maybe only ¾ the way. Storm clouds headed our way were full of rain. As we found out, the roadway into the parking lot was now closed and beginning to flood.

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The “trail” was up the slickrock behind Doug

Arches Day 2

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Nice challenging hike, though. Some of it is across a broad stretch of open slickrock, where you follow the rock cairns (stacks) to find your way (or the splotches of chewing gum). Was cool seeing the rivulets of water running down and across the rock. Still, we were passed by more Chinese women who just kept climbing (no disrespect intended). Oh, and more of the Von Trapp family was happily bounding down the slickrock trail, with little Gretta maybe only two years old. Just a little humbling (some disrespect intended).

You have to picture this, though. It’s raining, no doubt about it. Yet folks in their disposable ponchos, shorts, tennis shoes, t-shirts, nice white pants, yoga pants, Little Mermaid umbrellas all make the pilgrimage along these trails heading … where? The end of the trail, which gets harder to distinguish as you go along the slickrock? Onward they walk, snapping selfies and dripping water. Why? Because the views and the landscape are uniquely otherworldly. Still, it almost seems as busy as the mall on a week-end. Even the parking lots are full.

Arches Dog Benji

Arches Dog Benji

Now let me caution you about the National Park Service and their math skills. I don’t think they know how to measure distances. The trip to Delicate Arch viewing was supposed to be 100 yards roundtrip … no way. The trip into Devil’s Garden was supposed to be about 1.9 miles to the arch we saw, but Jackie’s phone tracked 8 miles round trip. And today’s trek to Delicate Arch trail, listed as 3 miles round trip? We both tracked that at over 4 miles without actually making it all the way to the arch. Not sure how they figure it, but count on it being farther than you expect.

As soggy as we were, it was an exhilarating hike today in the rain. A good personal challenge. Thank goodness we could go back to the van, heat up some soup and a quesadilla for lunch and put on the heater and change into dry clothes.

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When we awoke the next day it was blue skies and warming, so as we drove out of camp we stopped for yet another hike into the Park Avenue section. This area of sheer red sandstone walls seems more like you are walking through a huge old Roman city that has crumbled. Back in the car and camper and on to Moab KOA. Jackie drove the car with the tow dolly attached, which made the descent much easier in the RV. Nothing special about the KOA, except for a nice view of the La Sal Mountains, which now have a cap of white snow on them. A grocery run in town and dinner at the Moab Brewery, highly recommended by friends.

Hey, thanks for checking in for our Week 3.

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Downshifting into Week 2

Rocky Mountain Day 2 (2)

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.

Rocky Mountains (59)

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.

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Bull elk

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.

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Rocky Mountain Day 2 (52)

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The long trail down

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.

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Mountain bluebird

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Steller’s jay

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Abert squirrel

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Clark’s nuthatch

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Mule deer buck

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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.


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