NP Photo

Day 1 / 6

Our first adventure into Rocky Mountain set the stage for the rest of the trip, and it was a great stage! After stopping at the Fall River Visitor Center and getting lots of helpful information from the Ranger there, we made our way into the park. First, we decided to go to the Alluvial Fan. That short half a mile hike was easy and brought us to a wonderful waterfall. After spending some time there, we decided to continue on down towards Old Fall River Road.

We decided not to make that trip this morning. Instead, we took the main way, Trail Ridge Road, up to the top. Just because Trail Ridge Road is paved doesn't mean it's any less terrifying, there are no guardrails, and on one side is a steep cliff. We were treated to some amazing views all along that drive though, so it was more than worth it. One of the best parts was spotting the pockets of yellow that were the Aspens as they changed at different paces. The mountains weren't quite in their peak, but they were pretty close.

We made it up to the visitor center at the top of Trail Ridge Road, just below 12,000 feet, the highest elevation either of us have ever reached. I think spending a day getting acclimated to the 8,000 foot elevation down at Estes Park helped, because neither of us were really very light headed. The visitor center was packed, but we managed to explore a bit, there was a family of elk on the hills behind the visitor center. They were difficult to see without a long lens, but they were neat. As we were leaving the visitor center parking lot, a snow squall came up. High winds blew light snow all around us and we had to go slower until we got around one mountain peak and it was like a brand new day!

That wasn't the only thing we did today though! We entered the park after we ate looking for more Elk, since it was getting towards sunset. Boy did we find them! There were close to 100 Elk hanging out in Moraine Park. It was hard to count them all, especially since the bucks were herding them all together. It was fun listening to them, and watching them run around the park.

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Day 2 / 6

After a good night's sleep, we decided we were rested enough for a nice long hike around the Bear Lake area of the park. (Un)Fortunately, by the time we got to the parking area, the official lot at the Bear Lake trailhead was full, thankfully, the park has a free shuttle from between the park and ride section, and Bear Lake. Luckily for us, Maryellen was paying attention on the shuttle and noticed that one of the stops was Bierstad Lake. When we got to Bear Lake, we looked at the map, and planned our trip, there on the large map was Bierstad Lake shuttle stop. What's more, just alittle past it was the park and ride. It turns out, we were able to hike from Bear Lake, all the way back to the Park and Ride. So that's what we decided to do today!

Bear Lake itself is a nice small lake that we were able to completely hike around, it's about 1 mile total, and it was paved. We had some nice views along the way, but unfortunately, the wind kept us moving to keep ourselves warm!

After we had finished Bear Lake, we took a quick break, double checked the map, and started our way towards Bierstad Lake.

The first one third of a mile were the hardest, it was all uphill, and it was steep. Thankfully, we had plenty of water and some snacks. Once it looked like we reached the end, we stopped for something to eat. It was still quite early, so we didn't have our lunch. The hike itself was pleasant, we passed a few groups of people, each moving at their own paces. Someone told us that there was a moose at Bierstad Lake. We hurried to try and catch it, unfortunately it wasn't there by the time we arrived.

The wind was though! Lots of wind. We took shelter behind a giant boulder on the lakeside, we took some photos, and took in the view. We tried to eat our lunch on the rock, but the wind was too much, instead we hiked into the woods for some protection. Our wraps were delicious and we had plenty to eat ourselves, despite the few chipmunks that tried to steal some lunch.

Bierstad Lake is longer than Bear Lake, but like it, there's a trail that encircled the lake, which we decided to hike around (still on the look out for that Moose!). After that hike, we started on the trail back to the park and ride. Thankfully, this was all down hill. Over 1,000 feet of down hill that is! In total we had over 1,300 feet of elevation change today, based on the start at Bear Lake, and ending up back at the park and ride. Our legs managed to hold out though, and the experience made it all worth it!

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Day 3 / 6

Lots of hiking, staying out late looking at stars, both of those lent us to a much later start than the previous days this week. Not to fear though, we had plenty of time to do everything! Lily Lake, alittle south of Estes Park, was our focus this morning. Another windy lake, but this time with nice sweeping mountain views surrounding it. The path around Lily Lake was flat and paved, and easy to enjoy. Part of the way around the path splits into the lake side, or the hill side. Not having given our legs enough of a work out yesterday, we decided to do the hillside path. From up here the wind was much calmer, so much so that we had to strip off our wind breaking jackets. The view of Lily Lake below us was gorgeous. We made sure to stop and take in the beauty more than once on this lovely morning.

After our foray around Lily Lake, we made our way back to town. It wasn't quite lunch time yet, but we couldn't pass up some ice cream. It was quite delicious and was enough to keep us going for the rest of our simple day, for we decided to make the trek up Old Fall River Road.

We were far from the only car on the road, and our VW Passat was not even close to being the smallest car on that road. Neither of those things eased our mind as we made our way around the switch back turns, which because of the time of year, were easily rutted out to 6 - 8 inches deep! Taking things slow and steady however proved the way to go, and we made it along without any issues. There were plenty of stops along the way, but the two that stick out in my mind were the one at Chasm Falls. That was a short hike down from the road to a small, slot canyon with a fast moving water fall. The other amazing stop was towards the end. With the visitor center in view, we saw an unnamed hill to hike up. We had to hike it, no matter how tired we were, how much we wanted to be back in the room resting, we were going for it.

The wind was unrelenting. It was quite unbelievable at how strong and constant the wind was. I don't know what the speed was, but it was enough to keep us standing while putting all of our weight into it. I did get knocked down once when I wasn't paying attention. The views at the top were worth it though, totally, and completely worth it. And, we were now just at 12,000 feet in elevation.

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Day 4 / 6

This morning we woke up at 4:30. We had a photo tour out to Dream Lake to catch the sun rise. At that hour of the day, there was no problem getting a parking spot at the often crowded Bear Lake parking lot. It was still completely dark out though, and hiking in the night is something I've never done before, it was quite an experience, I'm very glad I had a guide for it, because otherwise I would not have felt comfortable. Not so much about animals, or getting lost, but of tripping, falling, and/or getting injured. Had I known the trail, I would have felt better about it.

Nevertheless, we made it to Dream Lake with about 20 minutes to go before the sun rose. There were about 4 other people already set up on the lake looking for the sunrise when we got there, and as the morning went on, 3, or 4 others showed up. The lake was large enough and spread out enough where we all were able to take our shots without getting in anyone's frame. The forecast for this morning was clear and sunny, but the ever changing winds of the mountains brought in an endless supply of big white fluffy clouds across Flat Top Mountain. This served to our benefit greatly, because it added some amazing contrast to the skies. While the wind was at it's usual blustery, we still had pockets of calmness that offered great reflections in the lake. After about 30 minutes of taking photos, and just taking in the experience, we moved to a small pond behind Dream Lake for a different view. The wind was too much there, but I got a few interesting photos.

Our next set was down to Nymph Lake. As we hiked back down the trail, and the sun was out in full, we were able to see the cliffs, and boulders, and views that our head lamps weren't quite up to the task of illuminating for us. Along one bend we had a perfect view of Longs Peak, with an Aspen that was just about coming to it's peak fall colors to the side. Unfortunately, one of those perfect fluffy clouds was covering the sun, and we had to wait what seemed like hours for it to pass and light up Longs Peak.

Nymph Lake was more crowded, and more tree lined than Dream Lake. The water was covered with water lilies also, and in general, I wasn't a big fan of the views from there. The ever present wind did allow for me to get a nice time-lapse of the clouds moving across the sky and reflected in the water below.

From Nymph, we hiked back towards Bear Lake. We did decide to go onto the Bear Lake trail to see if the water was calm for another reflection. I'm sure you can guess the answer there. After a few photos of ourselves, we headed back to the truck and down towards the rest of the park. We stopped along the Bear Lake Road for another photo opportunity of Longs Peak and Flat Top Mountain. A stream on the side helped frame out the view. Next up was back to our hotel, the morning over. Not so fast though! As we drove through Horseshoe Park, we were greeted by a half dozen Big Horned Sheep licking the salt and minerals off of, you guessed it, Sheep Lake. By the time we got to our hotel room, it was only 10 A.M. Still plenty of time left in the day!

We went into town, walked around, got brunch, and decided to go hit up the parts of the park we had missed - mainly Moraine Park. We did a few hikes along dirt roads, and down some simple trails, but we were too tired to do anything fancy or technical. We did spend some time in the Moraine Park Discovery Center. That was the best visitor center in the park, tons of information, tons of exhibits, and great views of the meadows below. Not to be forgotten, we did go star gazing again this evening! We drove up to Many Parks Curve for a different perspective of the night sky and stars beyond.

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Day 5 / 6

Our last day in the Estes Park area. We walked around some of the areas in which we missed, mainly the Beaver Ponds area. We did not want to spend too much time lollygagging around on this side of the park because we didn't know what the weather would have in store for us, or what things there would be to do on the other side of the mountain in Grand Lake. We did make sure we took the 1 mile round trip hike at the Tundra Communities towards the top of Trail Ridge Road. When we made it to the top of that mountain, we were at the highest point of our trip, roughly 12,200 feet above sea level. As you would expect, it was extremely windy and cold. But it was totally worth the hike. I would have stopped to take in more of the signs, but the wind was just too strong to be bearable.

We continued on our way down the other side of Trail Ridge Road. We stopped along the way at the lookouts taking in the sights, sounds, and smells. We reached the Continental Divide and all of a sudden we were in a different zone!

Not quite, but the West side of the park had a very different vibe than the Estes Park side. Everything was much more spread out, and the pine trees of the area seemed much more dead and brown then on the other side. Whether this was due to disease, fire, or merely their natural look I don't know. But all in all it was a completely different experience. The same level of fun and exciting in it's own right though.

When we got to the visitor center, we were on the look out for information that would lead us to the whereabouts of a Moose. Unfortunately, the Elk rut, and the coming Moose rut had everything all thrown into whack. We remained on the look out for the rest our time in Grand Lake however. While the pine trees looked dead, perhaps that stark contrast made the aspens seem much more vibrant and further along in their color change.

We did decide to see if the night sky was any different on this side of the park, we were rewarded with much more of the Milky Way. We took some time and watched for shooting stars, sadly, none were visible this evening.

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Day 6 / 6

Sadly, our efforts finding Moose were for nothing on this trip. Plenty of Elk, and birds, and chipmunks, but no Moose. I guess we'll just have to go back. That's not to say we didn't have a great day. Though you could tell that we were exhausted. We awoke at a somewhat reasonable time and made our way out to the Big Meadows trail. The parking lot was graced with some beautiful aspens that were right at their peak. Unfortunately, they were a small selection of them. The remainder of the two mile one way hike was relatively tame. Every so often there was a puddle which offered some lovely reflections if you contorted yourself in just the right way. Along the way we passed a few smaller meadows, none of them had any wildlife around sadly. I mean, we saw birds and things, but none of the big ticket animals we were on the look out for.

Overall, the entire hike was quite uneventful. Except for the one couple we kept leap-forging along the trail. They were quite interesting to talk to, but it was enjoyable. If there were more Aspens along the trail we might have continued the loop up towards Onahu Creek, but everything seemed so dead and uninviting.

After a break and a snack, we drove to Coyote Valley, again on the look out for some big fauna, sadly, all we got was sun. It was interesting hiking along the beginnings of the Colorado river. Having rafted along the more rowdy parts of it in The Grand Canyon, this small stream is a major departure from what I expected. I guess all rivers need to have humble beginnings somewhere.

This evening we went looking for Moose, but as I said earlier, no luck finding any. We did see tons of Elk though. Elk everywhere. They were much more vocal on this side of the mountains than the East side. It was fun to listen to them and watch them though.

This was our last day in Rocky Mountain. Tomorrow we start the long drive to The Great Sand Dunes, and hopefully an afternoon of hiking, and an evening camping under the clear dark skies of southern Colorado.

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I have a handheld GPS unit that comes in really handy for tracking the many miles of activity I did in . Below you can see the highlights from my trips there.