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


Our Perfect Day continues

Rocky Mountain Wildlife

Rocky Mountain National Park


Our drive continued up Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park.  Hubby and I could not contain our smiles after watching the cute little Pikas darting amongst the boulders and through the alpine tundra wildflowers.

If it weren’t for the high altitude making me feel a tad woozy, I would’ve stayed on that trail all day.

Yep, pull up a chair and watch the Pikas and Marmots scurrying about the tundra!   Yes sirreee, I’m easily entertained.  Al and I could sit for hours and watch wildlife.  So hubby was equally enthralled.

bighorn sheep

We tore ourselves away from the Pikas and continued our journey, but we didn’t get far.  We saw folks with pointed cameras and a couple of park volunteers donned in orange vests standing along the side of the road.  I quickly found a place to park and joined the group.

bighorn sheep

The three male bighorn sheep were magnificent.  The orange clad volunteers directed traffic as well as ensured tourists maintained a nice distance from the animals.  It was clear the bighorn sheep were used to visitors.  They were more interested in munching the meadow grasses than they were in the shutters snapping.

bighorn sheep

Supposedly, the area near Iceberg Pass is a popular location to spot bighorn sheep.

Rocky Mountain National Park

hiking in ColoradoMoving on …. Near the highest point on Trail Ridge Road (12,183 feet – 3713 m), we spotted a herd of Elk in the distance.  We were getting accustomed to seeing Elk in the park, but those antlers were never the less impressive and check out those wildflowers – they sure were pretty!

We took a pass on stopping at the Alpine Visitor Center and continued our trek toward the town of Grand Lake crossing Milner Pass and the Continental Divide.  This marks the location of the direction of water flow.  All creeks and rivers on the east side of the divide flow easterly toward the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean.  Creeks and rivers on the west side of the divide including the Colorado River flow toward the Pacific Ocean.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Shortly after Milner Pass are a series of five switchbacks that helped us navigate the 2,000 foot drop in elevation to the town of Grand Lake.  We found a nice place to stop along the shore of Grand Lake to enjoy our picnic lunch.

Grand Lake Colorado

Grand LakeIt didn’t take long before we were joined by company looking to mooch a morsel.

One of these chipmunks was running across Al’s foot and even started begging.  When we threw him some lettuce leaves he actually had the audacity to spit out my fresh, organic butter lettuce. Then another chipmunk came over and tried the lettuce.  He too spit it out.

“Well guys…. if you were looking for junk food, you picked the wrong couple”.  Al and I have been trying to eat a little healthier lately and feeling much better for it.  Perhaps sometime I’ll post about our Paleo diet, but for now I’ll just say it’s made a huge difference in our overall health.

Grand LakeAfter a very enjoyable lunch, we headed into town to stroll some of the shops.

Grand Lake is a small town that Al and I would visit each winter when our family of four would spend the Christmas holiday near this part of Colorado.  Ah yes, wonderful times.  This little mountain town will always hold fond memories for us….. new and old.

While I made a quick dash to the Ladies room, Al stepped into one of the shops and upon my return, he surprised me with a gift.  You see, my birthday was just a few days away and hubby decided to surprise me with a necklace.

Five years ago I might have questioned his taste … I much prefer a combination of gold and precious gems, but our new lifestyle is so different from that of our suburbia world that most of my fine jewelry was either given to our daughter or sits in storage.  I was almost brought to tears by the lovely sterling silver moose hanging from a silver chain.  A moose necklace; how perfect.

TundraAl and I have been together well over thirty years, and we stopped doing the surprise/gift thing a long time ago and I’m totally fine with that.  As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure it was initially my idea.

Anyway, I found the gift very touching and adding to an already amazing day.  But the cherry on the sundae was yet to come as the guy in the fudge shop (yes, you read that right ‘fudge’.  Chocolate IS healthy and we’ll leave it at that)….. the guy in the fudge shop recommended we drive down Columbine Road if we wanted to see moose, thus off we went.

We drove around the residential neighborhood for about 15 minutes before deciding to call it quits.  We had a long drive ahead of us back to camp and figured we would just have to return next summer to focus on that moose hunting.  I no sooner turned the corner to head to the main road when Al urgently said, “Wait….. look”.

Can you see him?

I glanced between two houses out into the water, and there he was …. the largest moose I had ever seen.  He was standing in the water munching away.  I couldn’t get the little truck pulled off the road and parked quick enough.


Isn’t he gorgeous?  Oh my gosh, this was definitely the icing on the cake, cherry on top, pièce de résistance turning this day into one heck of a perfect day.  Boy, did we hit the Mother load of wildlife that day; pika, marmot, elk, bighorn sheep, and now a moose!

Colorado moose

It was tough pulling ourselves away, but we still had to cross the Continental divide back over Trail Ridge Road to get home to the Glacier Basin Campground.


Trail Ridge Road

What a fabulous day it was …. sheer perfection. A day I won’t forget.

Grand lake colorado moose

bighorn sheep colorado

Nature Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park
Wildlife Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots

A Perfect Day

Rocky Mountain National ParkWe’ve all experienced those days when nothing seems to go right, you know Murphy’s Law and all, but then there are those days where everything comes together perfectly.  Our last full day in Rocky Mountain National Park was just that; a nearly perfect day.

After three consecutive days of hiking, we opted to take a break from the trails and take a scenic drive.

Trail Ridge Road is known as the highway to the sky and stretches 48 miles between the towns of Estes Park on the east side of the Continental Divide to Grand Lake on the west side.  There’s an eleven mile section that traverses above tree line with the high point being at 12,183 feet in elevation.

There are numerous scenic pull-outs along Trail Ridge Road and all worth stopping at to take in the amazing scenery.  This is a great way to enjoy a sweeping view of the Rocky Mountains in all directions.

Since we’ve had the privilege of visiting this National Park several times previously, we knew to plan the entire day to truly enjoy all that this scenic drive has to offer.

We packed a picnic lunch allowing us time to meander without a schedule.

We left our campsite at Glacier Basin Campground around eight in the morning.  It was a beautiful sunny morning with a crispness in the air.  Our first scenic stop was at Rainbow Curve.  From this vantage point we were able to see the Alluvial Fan in the valley below.

Continuing up highway 34 (aka Trail Ridge Road or as Al and I like to call it, Ogden Ave. As newlyweds, hubby and I lived near Ogden Avenue aka highway 34 in northern Illinois.  So it’s kid of a joke between us) our next stop was the Forest Canyon Overlook.

Trail Ridge Road
It’s August 18th and I’m glad I wore my earmuffs.

From the Forest Canyon Overlook there were spectacular views of some of the park’s remotest areas.  Because this scenic overlook sits at an elevation of about 11,700 feet, the views were directly in front or below me.  There were stunning mountain peaks in all directions.  The winds were particularly gusty and cold during our stop and I was glad I donned my earmuffs.

Tundra Communities Trail
Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park. The view from the Tundra Communities Trail.

PikaOur trek quickly continued just past Rock Cut to the Tundra Communities Trailhead. Although hiking wasn’t on the days agenda, a stroll was.

You see, ever since I read about Pikas I was on a quest to see these little guys up close and personal and this should be the perfect place to find the cute critters.

Did you know they are related to rabbits? Aren’t they adorable?

Rocky Mountain National Park

As we were about to pull into the parking lot, I noticed two birds flying very close to one another.  Actually, a little too close and rather strange.  I blinked to clear my vision and then asked Al, “Is that one bird or two?”  Boy, did that get hubby’s attention as he urgently responded, “Of course, that’s one bird.  Do you need me to drive since you’re experiencing some double vision”.  “No, no I’m fine. Yes, it’s obviously one bird. I think I’m ok now”, I responded as we pulled into the parking lot.  Keep in mind, we were driving a high mountain road with no guardrails or room for error, thus hubby’s concern was most definitely warranted for several reasons. Hmm, was the thin air and lack of oxygen effecting me? Possibly!

Safely parked in the parking lot….. with a smirky little chuckle, Al says, “You don’t plan on doing anything silly like hike this trail, do you…. especially since you’ve already experienced double vision?”  “No hon, not to worry.  I’ll just walk up to that sign up there. Ok?”  Ah, we both knew better.  Of course I was taking that trail.

Rocky Mountain National ParkThe Tundra Communities Trail is a 1.1 mile hike. The first quarter mile is taxing considering it’s at 12,100 feet in elevation, but it levels out after that. The trail winds through alpine tundra scattered with delicate wildflowers during the months of July and August. The trail eventually leads to Mushroom Rock.

I walked to the first interpretive sign while Al checked out some other signage at the parking lot.  I was huffing and puffing as I continued up the trail.  Gosh, I thought to myself, “I haven’t walked far at all.  Why am I so light headed?”  And although I promised Al I wouldn’t hike this trail today, Mushroom Rock was calling to me.  “Come on, it’s only a mile UP the trail”, I thought.  “How difficult could it be?”

Since I was having a little trouble breathing and felt a little woozy, I started doing some deep yoga breathing.  My friend, Carol, would be so proud!

Trail Ridge Road
Al hikes no further than the first sign

PikaThe deep breathing was working so I continued my stroll.  “So how much fricken further is that mushroom rock?” I wondered.  I kind of promised Al I wouldn’t venture further than the first interpretive sign, but here I was already further up the trail and he was now at that first interpretive sign.

I waved to him, he waved back.  I pointed in the direction of the trail and he waved me on.  That was his way of saying it’s ok, go ahead without me.  Not that I needed his permission mind you, but out of courtesy for his concern for my well being I did want him to know where I was venturing, as if he didn’t already know.

He and I have become well versed at “our” version of sign language.  Must be all those hand signals I use to help give Al back up the RV 😁

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road

I captured a couple photos of Mushroom Rock but more importantly I captured several shots of the cute little Pikas.  I was so engrossed trying to follow the fast Pikas that I could’ve cared less about any symptoms of hypoxia. Gosh, they are so fast as they scurry between, up, and over the boulders.  I was lucky to capture any photos at all.  Trust me when I say I took lots of photos of rock and vegetation with no Pika in the frame … sigh!

A Pika – they have the cutest little butts!
Busy Pika foraging for food

Although our perfect day continued with sightings of bighorn sheep, elk, and moose the sightings of the Pikas will remain my highpoint of the day.  There’s also something about the tundra and its fragile ecosystem that intrigues me.



If I didn’t encounter any other wildlife that day, it still would’ve gone down as a very memorable and special day.  But it got better!  Next up…. our perfect day continues…

in addition to the Pikas we saw lots of Marmots

Hagen Living World Pet Tunnel, Red/Grey
Pika: Life in the Rocks

Just Right!

Which trail shall we hike today?  Let’s see… Saturday was an easy hike but more of a stroll than a hike and yesterdays hike to Bierstadt Lake proved to be more of a challenge than we expected.  I only later found out that it was the ‘unimproved’ trail to the lake.  The trail with the switchbacks was the one to take.  Who needs switchbacks when you can go straight up?Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National ParkThat said, for Monday’s hike, I wanted something in between.   Hmm,  I was feeling a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  I needed to find that trail that was just right!  Not too hard, not too easy, but just right.

I studied the Rocky Mountain National Park brochure.  I reviewed the free trail map.  Still undecided, I perused my blogging in box.  Ah ha, found it.  A blog I follow featured some stunning photos taken in Rocky Mountain National Park.  His photos are so picturesque and beautiful that I felt compelled to lay my eyes on this amazing scenery.

However, before leaving the RV, Al wanted to review the map and info on the trail that I had planned for the day.  Apparently, he had no intention of following blindly like yesterday.  Gosh, I can’t imagine why especially after yesterday’s wonderful hike.  His response, “I just want to make sure you haven’t picked out another ‘easy straight up’ hike”.  Now would I do that?  wink, wink!

RV in ColoradoSo we were off to Dream Lake.  It was 8:00 a.m. on a Monday morning (August 18). We knew the Bear Lake Trailhead is the most popular in the entire park, but felt rather confident we wouldn’t have any trouble parking. I’d say half the campers at the Glacier Basin Campground vacated on Sunday and by Monday morning we found our campground half full, if that.

We figured if the campground was any indication on traffic within Rocky Mountain National Park, we’d be ok.  And sure enough, we arrived at the trailhead and had no problem parking.  We bypassed the quick walk to Bear Lake and quickly headed up the trail to Nymph Lake.  Rocky Mountain National ParkNymph Lake itself is beautiful and filled with lily pads with blooming yellow flowers.  This was as far as we hiked on Saturday, not wanting to experience a problem with the altitude.  The trail is easy to this point but does have a steady incline and starts at an elevation of 9,500 feet.

Bear Lake trailToday, there wouldn’t be any stopping or resting just yet.  I was on a mission that kept hubby and me hiking at a steady pace to Dream Lake.  No stroll this morning.

Rocky Mountain National ParkThere were already folks coming down the trail.  Yep, those are the photographers that are a tad more passionate and dedicated to photography than myself.  Oh, I occasionally have those moments too, but not this trip.  I’ll return at a time of year when the sun rises at about 7:00 a.m.  No wait …. won’t it be cold and snowy then?

On second thought, since the Roaming Lama already captured Dream Lake at sunrise for me, you can check it out here, I don’t feel badly about sleeping in.  And then this is what Dream Lake looks like when the sun is up and without snow.Rocky Mountain National Park

Ok, my photograph isn’t quite as dramatic as the Lama’s but the scenery is still breathtaking and so worth seeing in person ……… at anytime of the day.

Rocky Mountain National Park
the water is so clear at Dream Lake that you can see the trout swimming around

Rocky Mountain National Park

So far, today’s hike was so much easier than yesterday’s hike that we decided to continue on to Emerald Lake.  We passed waterfalls along the way.  The scenery between Dream Lake and Emerald Lake is not to be missed.

Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake

All alpine lakes are beautiful in my mind, but some are just more beautiful.  That said, we found Nymph Lake and Dream Lake the most breathtaking followed by Bear Lake and then Emerald Lake.Rocky Mountain National ParkwaterfallsOur hike was 3.6 miles round trip with a 605 foot elevation gain (taking us up over 10,000 feet).  It took us a total of about 3 hours round trip due to lots of stopping, sitting, chatting, and shutter snapping.  We had an absolutely fabulous day and I thought this was the prettiest, most enjoyable hike I have ever taken.  The only thing that would’ve made it perfect would’ve been a little more solitude.

If there is only one hike a visitor could take in Rocky Mountain National Park, THIS would be the one I’d recommend.  It was JUST RIGHT.  However, please dress and prepare for the environment.  I was shocked with the number of gals wearing flip-flops or folks not carrying water and we did see a couple of young (college age) people struggling with the altitude.  Altitude sickness is serious business and shouldn’t be poo pooed.

Although today’s hike was longer in mileage and higher in elevation gain than yesterday’s hike, we found it substantially easier.  The trail is well-groomed and the scenery ….. amazing.

Rocky Mountain National ParkI guess now I know why the Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park is the most popular.  I know I’ll be back!

Bear Lake
Bear Lake

Merrell Women’s Moab Ventilator Shoe,Smoke,9 M US
Columbia Sportswear Women’s Aruba Convertible Pant, Sage, Medium

Huffing and Puffing to Bierstadt Lake

Rocky Mountain National ParkAfter yesterday’s easy hike and experiencing no problems with the altitude, I was ready to tackle a lengthier hike.  The trailhead to Bierstadt Lake wasn’t far from our campground and seemed ‘on paper’ to look very doable.  From the Park and Ride (shuttle) parking lot to the lake was 1.6 miles one way.

Rocky Mountain National ParkFYI….. This eastside area of Rocky Mountain National Park is the most popular with the Bear Lake trailhead that we visited yesterday being the most popular trail in the entire park. 

To alleviate traffic and congestion the park offers free shuttle service from a parking lot not far from our campground to the Bear Lake trailhead with stops in between.

The shuttle is also great to use to be dropped off at a trailhead and then hike back to your vehicle.  Very convenient.

So back to my 1.6 mile hike one-way which will be less than 3 miles round trip.  Piece of cake, right?  Well, what I failed to research was the 566 foot elevation gain that would take us up over 10,000 feet in elevation or the fact that this was the ‘unimproved’ trail …. oops!Rocky Mountain National ParkWe picked up the trail from the shuttle parking lot and immediately started uphill.  It was about 9:00 in the morning on a Sunday and for the time being we seemed to have the trail to ourselves.  Yep, we were liking the solitude and fresh scent of pine.Rocky Mountain National ParkBierstadt LakeAt several points the trail did seem to level off giving us a nice reprieve from the steady climb up as well as a clear wide path, but that was short-lived.

After about 45 minutes of hiking (mostly uphill), we passed another couple coming down the trail warning us that the steepest climb was yet to come.  Oh, joy!

We took a rest before tackling this part of the trail.  Not only was the trail steep, it was like walking up an old river bed with loose rock under foot.  We proceeded slowly.

I’ll admit, we were huffing and puffing on the hike to Bierstadt Lake and numerous rests were necessary to catch our breath.

Rocky Mountain National ParkAnd to think, I thought this was going to be a relatively easy hike and briefed hubby thusly  😉

Once at the top when the lay of the land seemed to finally level off, we had a decision to make; left or right?  We went right and when I saw a path through the tall grass I veered left urgently in search of the lake.  Al tried to stop me to discuss ‘our’ plan, but I was down the path and out of sight long before he could finish his sentence.  My vigilant protector quickly followed.Bierstadt Lake

The trail TO the lake was not marked but somehow I sensed a body of water was “that a way”.Rocky Mountain National Park

Could it get any prettier?  All that huffing and puffing was sooooo worth it.Bierstadt LakeThe air was crisp and clean with the hint of scented pine.  It would be a sin to not sit and savor the surrounding beauty.  Thus, sit we did.  We drank our water, munched on a power bar and just sat in awe taking in the scenery.Bierstadt LakeBierstadt LakeWe were roused out of our meditative state by a rather large, loud group of college kids who looked ill prepared for the hike.

Ah, yes…. the University of Colorado in Boulder would be back in session in less than 2 weeks.

Their presence was our queue to head back down the mountain and exit the trails before the masses took over.

we spot our campsite in the distance
we spot our campsite in the distance

Our hike down obviously went much quicker without the need to stop and catch our breath.  We still found ourselves taking our time on the loose rock and boulder filled trail.  I had more hikes planned and twisting an ankle wasn’t part of that plan.Rocky Mountain National ParkHmm, which trail shall we hike tomorrow?  😉
Memory Challenge: Na
8″ Elk Plush Stuffed Animal Toy



A Reprieve from City Dwelling

Rocky Mountain National ParkAfter two months of city dwelling, it felt wonderful to get back into the great outdoors.  Our destination was Rocky Mountain National Park.  I booked us into the Glacier Basin Campground located within the National Park and it did not disappoint.camping in a national park

Most National Park Campground facilities were developed long before today’s RV’s were even a glimmer in granddad’s eyes.  Thus, when it comes to campsites size does matter 😉   Being wise to this tidbit of knowledge played a very important role in our RV buying decision.  We didn’t want a RV that would be too big to fit into some of these National Park campgrounds.   Glacier Basin Campground Colorado

However that said, before making a reservation we wanted to lay eyes on the campgrounds and pick out specific sites.  We took a scouting day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver to check out the camping facilities and see which sites would accommodate our size, and of course which ones had awesome views.

With our modest 31 foot length, we realized we might fit into less than half the campsites.  Most of the sites are really geared toward tenting.  We did manage to score a nice site with an unbelievably gorgeous view.Rocky Mountain National Park

ElkWe initially thought about leaving my little truck parked at our daughters place in Denver, but at the last minute decided to take it along for our day excursions.

The Tacoma is a lot easier to park than the F-250 with extended bed and this was still August after all; peak tourist season, meaning parking would be a challenge.Elk

Our first full day found us bounding out of bed at 6:00 a.m. and out the door thirty minutes later.  Al was none to happy with me and didn’t understand my urgency.  Hubby suffers from a severe case of selective hearing and as many times as I briefed him that we would be hiking thee most popular trail in all of Rocky Mountain National Park, he didn’t seem to comprehend what that meant.Bear Lake Trail

Rocky Mountain National ParkWe arrived at the Bear Lake trailhead parking lot with the place already a third full with cars.  Yep, I was sure glad I was driving the little truck; much easier to park.

I knew I was too late to capture a sunrise over Dream Lake, but apparently plenty of other hikers and photographers were not.

Since this was our first day hiking, we felt a slow and short hike was in order to allow ourselves to acclimate to the 9,500 foot elevation.  Many years ago, I experienced altitude sickness and Al and I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again…. although I was a flatlander back then!Bear Lake

Rocky Mountain National ParkWe hiked around Bear Lake twice then headed UP the trail to Nymph Lake.  We took our time taking in the beauty before returning to the trailhead around 8:30 a.m.

Upon our return to the parking lot, we noticed orange vest clad workers directing traffic.  The lot was already full and as early bird hikers were leaving waiting cars were directed to the newly vacated spot.

Al couldn’t believe the traffic.  And of course I couldn’t resist saying, “Told ya so!”Nymph Lake ColoradoRocky Mountain National ParkWeekends are especially busy in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is understandable considering it’s only about a 75 mile drive from Denver.  The campground was full on the weekend and only half full during the week.

This was just the beginning of our wonderful stay in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Best Easy Day Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park (Best Easy Day Hikes Series)



Estes Park, Colorado

So ya wanna visit Rocky Mountain National Park?  The name Estes Park is synonymous with Rocky Mountain National Park.  This quaint town is considered the eastern gateway to the Park and is the most popular, well-known entry point.  Estes Park is a small mountain town catering to the needs of the many tourists from around the world embarking on a Colorado adventure.

in , USA
in , USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is an abundance of lodging (including campgrounds), restaurants, shopping, and sights to see.  The most famous lodging is the Stanley Hotel.  Al and I stayed at the Stanley when we celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Colorado.  Very romantic, I might add.  Oh, and yes, the hotel was built by and named after the famous Stanley Steamer inventor.

The Stanley Hotel is known for its architecture, beautiful setting, and famous visitors.  Most notable;  Stephen King’s “The Shining” novel, turned movie, was filmed at this amazing place.  The hotel is also known for being haunted and has been featured on several shows about the super natural, most recently on the Travel Channel.  Although this historic hotel is haunted, not to fear, the ghosts are considered to be happy ghosts.  No murders or unpleasantries took place here.

Trail Ridge Road – Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is a spectacular wilderness that has been protected for millions to see and enjoy.  This being said, commercial activity inside park boundaries is extremely limited.  So on any outing or activity, be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks.  Please remember to drink lots and lots of water to avoid even the mildest symptoms of altitude sickness.

Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States.  It is also one of America’s top ten byways.  This road traverses through the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park to Grand Lake.  My favorite day and one I would recommend;  head out of Estes Park about 8 in the morning.  Dress in layers because it’ll be cool/cold in the morning.  Drive Trail Ridge Road and stop at EVERY scenic pull-out for a photo-op…….destination Grand Lake.  In Grand Lake enjoy lunch, a picnic, ice cream, coffee – whatever floats your boat.  If you stand at the water’s edge of the lake, you can feel the coolness of the water.  Kind of like opening a refrigerator door. Be sure and take a stroll up and down Main Street.  Grand Lake is one of my favorite mountain towns, a town we would frequent every winter during our Christmas vacations at Snow Mountain Ranch.  Although it is much more of a summer destination than winter one.

Al and Bear / Grand Lake, Colorado

After your Grand Lake tour, return to Estes Park.  Once again taking in all the sights.  I’m not sure why, and perhaps it’s just me, but the views from this direction take on a new personality.  So you won’t feel like you’re doing a repeat, not that this awe-inspiring scenery doesn’t need repeating.  Plan on taking the day to do this trip, and don’t be surprised if an afternoon storm rolls in.

Estes Park is a great jumping off point for a Colorado vacation, whether you stay in a hotel or a campground.  I personally wouldn’t recommend Trail Ridge Road for large RV’s, even though we see plenty.  The road is narrow and parking is difficult during busy summer months.  The majority of campgrounds within the park are geared toward tents and small trailers.  Most are not suitable for large RV’s and offer no hookups.  If I were tenting it, I would definitely stay at one of several campgrounds within Rocky Mountain National Park.  What an amazing backyard to enjoy.  I would also recommend checking out YMCA of the Rockies for lodging options in Estes Park.

No trip to Colorado would be complete without a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park.  I’m ready to go back today……

Ouzel Lake and Mahana Peak, Rocky Mountain Nat...
Ouzel Lake and Mahana Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA (misidentified as Bear Lake at source site — compare to photos at http://www.mendosa.com/fitnessblog/?p=625) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daughter and I visit Rocky Mtn National Park

A year and a half after Al and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary in Rocky Mountain National Park, I found myself once again suffering from altitude sickness.  No wait.  We were living in a Chicago suburb with a mere altitude of about 600 feet.  Oops, that time my dizziness and nausea was not due to the altitude, but due to pregnancy; planned and wanted, I might add.  And what a beautiful baby she was!

Daughter – Rocky Mtn National Park

When my daughter was three, we moved cross-country to Las Vegas, Nevada.  It was during this drive west, we stopped at a scenic overlook in Colorado.  Numerous tunnels are met when traversing Interstate 70.  The longest and most known is the Eisenhower Tunnel at Loveland Pass, elevation 11,990.  When traveling westbound on I-70, the moment you exit the Eisenhower Tunnel, you are greeted with the most spectacular “Colorado” mountain scene, and it only gets better.  After the tunnel but prior to the Frisco exit is a scenic overlook….overlooking Dillion Reservoir and the Continental Divide.  This scenic overlook is a MUST stop when traveling westbound (not eastbound).  It was at this point, daughter informed us, “I move to mountains when I big girl”.   At the age of three, she was so taken by the view that it left an indelible impression upon her.  And move she did! When she was eight years old, we moved to Colorado Springs.  This move made daughter very, very happy, even though she was leaving friends behind.  Daughter loves living in Colorado.  Over the years, she and I have been known to hop in the vehicle and explore our local Colorado attractions.  Mid July a few years ago, she and I visited Rocky Mountain National Park. We chose to go ‘the back way’.  We took I-70 west, headed north on Hwy 40, and spent the night in Winter Park.  From Winter Park we continued north on Hwy 40 to Granby.  At Granby we headed northeast on Hwy 34 toward Rocky Mountain National Park.  A stop in the small town of Grand Lake, just before the park, is a must. Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915 and encompasses approximately 415 square miles.  The Park is home to more than 60 mountains exceeding 12,000 feet in elevation.  Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its majestic mountain peaks, dense forests, rushing mountain waters, delicate mountain flowers, clear lakes, and plenty of wildlife. Daughter and I continued driving on Hwy 34 which turns into Trail Ridge Road.  Trail Ridge Road is one of America’s top ten byways.  As you travel and gain in elevation, the landscape changes from trees and meadows to alpine tundra.  Although the tundra is too harsh for trees and appears barren at first glance, the tundra is abundant with an array of delicate vegetation.

Daughter as we hike trail near Alpine Visitor Center – folks resting along trail

The Alpine Visitor Center is at an elevation of about 12,000 feet.  Even the fittest of persons seem to get breathless at this altitude.  There’s a large gift shop, restrooms, and snack area, as well as a nearby hiking trail.  Daughter and I have spent the past fifteen years living at 5000+ feet in elevation and are not as easily winded as most of the visitors.  We take the nearby hike to a scenic view-point…. Huffer’s Hill trail is aptly named.  Many tourists can’t seem to catch their breath and return to the parking lot.  Daughter and I walked a steady pace and passed others winded.  Hey, no altitude sickness for this ‘ol’ gal.  Could it be, I’m no longer a “flatlander”?  I even outpaced some high schoolers  🙂

Daughter heading back to the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot

Although Daughter and I were glad we did the short hike, similar scenes can be eyed from easier viewpoints.  Be sure and keep a sweatshirt or jacket handy during your explorations at Rocky Mountain National Park.  Weather can and will change swiftly.  Sunny, summer mornings are often frequented by formidable afternoon storms, complete with high winds and lightning.  So be sure and keep an eye on the sky for severe weather.  If you start your day early, you’ll have a better chance of seeing wildlife and do more activities prior to the storms rolling in in the afternoon….hike early and be off the trails before lightning strikes.  Happy Travels!

Snow still around in mid July

Rocky Mountain National Park

There’s a variety of ways to experience Rocky Mountain National Park.  You can enjoy an abundance of scenic drives, short strolls along a gentle trail, daylong hikes, strenuous vertical mountain climbs, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and biking.  I would caution you to be humbly honest with yourself and your physical abilities before starting out….yes, speaking from personal experience.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

All of Rocky Mountain National Park sits 7500+ feet high in elevation.  Altitude sickness is a common occurrence, even among the young and fit.  My first visit to this gorgeous park was in the late 1980’s.  Al and I were celebrating our five-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Colorado.  My parent’s eagerly watched our son, their first grandchild, allowing Al and me a much-needed break from parenting.  We were young, in good health and fit, but “flatlanders” from Illinois.

Rocky Mountain National Park – Sept.

We stayed at the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  We explored the quaint town of Estes Park, a great jumping off point.  Day two, we embarked on several scenic drives through Rocky Mountain National Park, stopping at the many scenic overlooks and took in the sights.  We had not attempted any hiking at that point, as we wanted to acclimate to the altitude.  It was the morning of day three that I started feeling a bit under the weather.  I was experiencing symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath; textbook altitude sickness, or bite your tongue, pregnancy.  Thank goodness it was altitude sickness……not without experiencing a few moments of terror  stress.  With son having just turned one, I was not ready to venture down the road of pregnancy again, just yet anyway.

The folks at the Stanley Hotel, recommended lots and lots of water with the occasional aspirin to overcome the sickness.  That worked, but I never did gain enough energy to hike.  Exploring by car and taking short strolls to witness the majestic towering peaks and deep valleys did not lessen our enjoyment.

I was overwhelmed and awed by the mountains, forests of pine trees, grassy hillsides, and rushing streams of water.  This was the perfect, most romantic place to celebrate our anniversary…..that is, once the dizziness and nausea subsided 🙂

Twenty years later, we revisit Rocky Mountain National Park. A little heavier, grayer, but more acclimated to the altitude. See age has nothing to do with it.