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

shopping

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

 

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Our Perfect Day continues

Rocky Mountain Wildlife

Rocky Mountain National Park

Pika

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”.

moose

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.

moose

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!

Pika

A Pika – they have the cutest little butts!

Pika

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.

Pika

Pika

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…

Marmot

in addition to the Pikas we saw lots of Marmots

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