A Special Day of Firsts

As I sit here in Phoenix, Arizona, enjoying the desert sunsets and regular visits with our son, my thoughts drift to our daughter.  You see, it’s her birthday. I wish I could spend the day with her, but knowing weeks ago that I would no longer be in Colorado for the special day, she and I managed to celebrate early and often before I hit the road bound for the desert southwest.Rocky Mountain National Park

Ashton and I always enjoy spending time together and although due to her work commitments we weren’t able to take one of our memorable road trips, we did manage to take in several day excursions.Fall colors in the mountains

Hands down, our excursion to Rocky Mountain National Park turned out to be one of our favorite day trips.  We could not have timed it better.  Fall colors were almost at their peak and the weather was near perfect this 3rd weekend in September.quaking aspen

fall colors in the RockiesSince I had already camped a week in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as taken a few day trips exploring this past summer, I left the plan of the day up to Ashton but did help by giving her several ideas and recommendations.  After a quick discussion, she decided she wanted to retrace our route from our trip six years ago.

Trail Ridge Road it is!fall colors in the Rockies

From Denver we took a lovely scenic drive via Highway 36 and arrived in Estes Park, Colorado, about an hour and a half later.  As we drove down Main Street, we made note of stores and restaurants for our return back through town.  A few miles later, we entered the National Park via the east entrance; Fall River Entrance Station.Fall River Entrance Station

We planned on traveling up Trail Ridge Road (America’s highest paved continuous road) and making a bunch of scenic stops along the way with Grand Lake being our destination.  Our first stop was at Sheep Lakes.  This is a popular area for mountain sheep to be seen from spring to about July.  Starting in mid to late September and all through the rut, Elk can usually be spotted in this meadow.  During my several visits this year, I’ve never had any luck spotting wildlife at this location 😦painting in Rocky Mountain National Park

Next stop was just a little further up the road on a side street.  We noticed a group of ladies on the side of the road and had to check it out.  There was some big event happening that weekend in conjunction with an Art Gallery in the town of Grand Lake which was tantamount to a painters marathon (my take anyway).  Later that day, Ashton and I actually stumbled upon the art gallery that was behind the artist event. Grand Lake Art Galleries

Ashton was rather excited when we spotted this gallery.  A little browsing was in order. Too bad I don’t have any wall space these days because some of these works were breathtaking and I found several I wouldn’t mind owning.  Thankfully the lack of wall space in my RV allowed me to spend money on more important things…. say fudge.canvas painting of the Rockies

Ashton and I watched these gifted ladies capture the scenery on canvas.  I’ve never possessed such talent but I have always appreciated it.  This was a first for Ashton.  She had never seen an artist in action before.  She was fascinated and in total awe.art galleries in Grand Lake

We reluctantly tore ourselves away from the artists at work, and continued on our journey.  We made a couple of quick stops before taking a more leisurely stop at the Tundra Communities Trailhead near Rock Cut.unique rock formations

I wanted Ashton to see Mushroom Rock and hopefully a few Pika’s.  She’d never seen a rock shaped like this before and found it quite interesting.

I noticed the tundra during this visit looked very barren and brown.  What a sharp contrast from my August visit.  I could feel the harshness of the land knowing winter was just around the corner.  Although I found it rather strange that the temperature during this September visit was warmer than my August visit.  At an altitude of 12,125, I expect cold temperatures.  During my visit in August, I wore gloves and earmuffs but the tundra wildflowers were still present and the pika’s and marmots were everywhere.  No wildlife sightings today and no need for earmuffs.  I almost didn’t need to wear my sweatshirt – that’s how mild the temps were.photography in ColoradoLast time I experienced a little light-headedness on this trail, but today was no problem.  Thus, Ashton and I hiked to the end.  At the end of the trail, we climbed up the rocks a little to take in a bird’s-eye view.  Before doing so, I reminded Ashton to be sure to step only on rocks and avoid stepping on vegetation.tundraThe tundra has a very delicate ecosystem and the plants are quite fragile. I am totally intrigued by the tundra and the ability of anything to survive in such a harsh environment.  Ashton and I find ourselves lingering in silence and in awe.  What splendor lay before our eyes!Tundra

Our stomachs growling finally broke our trance and had us returning to the vehicle.  We decided to bypass the Alpine Visitor center and continue down Trail Ridge Road in search of a scenic spot for lunch.

Lake Irene Colorado
Ashton tries to cut a bagel with a butter knife.     After some serious laughing and attacking the bagel – success!

Lunch along Lake Irene proved to be the perfect place for our picnic lunch.  Stomachs satisfied, we were off to Grand Lake for a little shopping.

shopping in Grand Lake
hitching posts are still used in Grand Lake, Colorado
stuff we all could live without 😉

One ice cream cone, one piece of fudge, and one key ring later we were back in the truck driving the 48 mile stretch of Trail Ridge Road back to the town of Estes Park.  Let’s see – it only took us 3 hours to drive 48 miles from the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park to the town of Grand Lake.  Gorgeous scenery has a way of lengthening any drive.  I believe it’s called ‘photo-op’.three amigosThe return trip to Estes Park took a little less time but still ended up taking a couple of hours due to Elk viewing.  Ah, yet another first for Ashton as she listened to the Elk bugle.  Although the ‘rut’ hadn’t officially started, it was obvious the time was nearing.Elk in rutAfter a light dinner at an Irish pub in downtown Estes Park, it was time to head home.

elk in rut
It was exciting to stand this close to a herd of Elk

It was definitely a memorable day with several first’s for my daughter…….

*  Fall colors near peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
*  Artists at work in the field
*  A rock shaped like a mushroom
*  Elk bugling
*  Standing so near to a herd of elk

It was a special day indeed –  Happy birthday, Ashton!Rocky Mountain National Park

Picnic Time Sorrento Insulated Cooler Backpack with Picnic Service for Four (Green)
Eddie Kohair Elk 8″ by Douglas Cuddle Toys