Friday, August 21, 2009

Rocky Mountain National Park

As promised, I will now begin posts concerning individual parks. I chose Rocky Mountain as my first park because someone at work is going there, and it seems an opportune time to give my opinion on the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park is in Colorado, fairly near Denver. Its main attraction, as you might guess, is the Rocky Mountains. The mountains are quite good there, and the Trail Ridge Road is at a high elevation, giving a spectacular view. Truthfully, though, I preferred the San Juan Skyway between Durango and Ouray in southwest Colorado. Two other items of special interest in the park are the large number of elk and the origin of the Colorado River. I went in September, so the weather was good and all trails and roads were open. It was a little weird when I was there because I drove to the park from Glenwood Springs on September 11, 2001. It was eerie driving on I-70 with all of the electronic signs saying that all airports are closed. I did what any good National Park enthusiast would do: I spent my time hiking and sightseeing, ignoring CNN until after dinner.

I entered from the west side of the park; most people enter from the east, the Denver side. The Kawuneeche Valley is on the west side of the park. This is the valley that the baby Colorado River runs through. I got the biggest kick out of standing by a small creek that would eventually be the river that carved the Grand Canyon. Also, the abandoned Never Summer Ranch is in the valley. Up the road a bit is the trail head for the Colorado River Trail. I took that hike to the abandoned Lulu City the next morning. It was a pleasant hike, and I still got a kick out of the river.

To get to the other side of the park, you take Trail Ridge Road with its spectacular views. The east side of the park has many of the interesting sites, including Longs Peak. There are several small lakes there, including Bear Lake (left). Also there are treeless areas called "parks" where the elk like to hang out. On that side of the park, Estes Park is a good place to stay if you do not want to camp. I recommend the Alpine Trail Ridge Inn as a no-nonsense place to stay.

On my third day, I was ready to take my big hike - Chasm Lake (8.4 miles round trip). I was tempted to hike to the top of Longs Peak, but I did not for two reasons: I did not want to get up before daybreak to start hiking in the dark, and I thought Chasm Lake would just be a better hike. It was indeed a good hike, and I recommend it. Chasm Lake is on the shoulder of Longs Peak, so the beginning of the trail is actually the same. The trail to the lake splits off after a while. The hike starts in the forest and gradually moves above treeline to tundra (above right). Good views abound. The only bad thing is that it is a constant uphill climb until the last half mile or so. At the end of the trail, you have to climb some large rocks to view the lake. Longs Peak looms above the lake (left).

On this hike, I had a bit of an ego blow, but it turned out not to be serious. I am a strong hiker, and I was passing everyone like I usually do. When I was just about at the top, I saw another hiker catching up to me. "What? This can't be," I thought to myself. I was outraged at my obviously failing hiking ability. Then I noticed it was a ranger who was hiking up there to work. I later saw him digging. My ego was intact. It is no insult to be surpassed by someone who is used to the hike and the altitude.

So, in summary, Rocky Mountain is a fine park with great driving views, great hikes, especially Chasm Lake, and plenty of scenery. As an added bonus, there is a nice Indian Art shop, Eagle Plume's in Allenspark on the road near Longs Peak.

My visit: September 2001

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My Park List

A few posts ago, I was mentioning that I have now been to every National Park in the 48 contiguous states. Here is a list of those parks, in chronological order of my first visit. I have indicated if I made more than one visit to a park. I have also indicated by color the parks I visited in the same trip.

Saguaro (6) AZ 1990
Mammoth Cave (4) KY 1991
Yellowstone WY 1991
Grand Teton WY 1991
Shenandoah VA 1992
Redwood (2) CA 1993
Guadalupe Mountains (2) TX 1994
Carlsbad Caverns (2) NM 1994
Petrified Forest AZ 1994
Grand Canyon (2) AZ 1994
Olympic WA 1996
Mount Rainier WA 1996
Joshua Tree (2) CA 1997
Great Basin NV 1998
Zion UT 1998
Bryce Canyon UT 1998
Capitol Reef UT 1998
Arches UT 1998
Canyonlands UT 1998
Mesa Verde CO 1998
Everglades (2) FL 1999
Dry Tortugas FL 1999
Biscayne FL 1999
Death Valley CA 2000
Great Sand Dunes CO 2001
Black Canyon of the Gunnison CO 2001
Rocky Mountain CO 2001
Cuyahoga Valley OH 2004
Great Smoky Mountains TN/NC 2004
Crater Lake OR 2004
Lassen Volcanic CA 2004
Channel Islands CA 2005
Theodore Roosevelt ND 2005
Badlands SD 2005
Wind Cave SD 2005
North Cascades WA 2006
Acadia ME 2006
Yosemite CA 2006
Kings Canyon CA 2006
Sequoia CA 2006
Hot Springs AR 2006
Congaree SC 2007
Glacier (2) MT 2007
Isle Royale MI 2008
Big Bend TX 2009
Voyageurs MN 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Favorite Organizations

There are many nature and conservation organizations wanting our money. Many of them do very little real work and are actually in the business of whining about global warming or else being against everything and anything. There are, however, at least two organizations that do great work and earn every donation they get.

The first of these is the Student Conservation Association (SCA). In their own words, "SCA provides college and high school-aged members with hands-on conservation service opportunities in virtually every field imaginable, from tracking grizzlies through the Tetons to restoring desert ecosystems and teaching environmental education at Washington, D.C.’s Urban Tree House. We are truly building the next generation of conservation leaders." What this means in a practical sense is that SCA members do real work at National Parks and similar areas. The parks truly would not function as well without them. They supplement the staff, save our tax dollars, and learn something useful at the same time. One of my favorite pastimes at National Parks is chatting with rangers. Many of them say that they were in the SCA. Enough said. Get out your checkbook.

The second organization is the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). They do political rather than physical labor, but that is no less important. Their mission is "to protect and enhance America's National Parks for present and future generations." More specifically:
"We advocate for the national parks and the National Park Service; we educate decision makers and the public about the importance of preserving the parks; we help to convince members of Congress to uphold the laws that protect the parks and to support new legislation to address threats to the parks; we fight attempts to weaken these laws in the courts; and we assess the health of the parks and park management to better inform our advocacy work." I have been donating to them for years. As an extra bonus, they have a great magazine, National Parks.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Quest Fulfilled

I recently visited Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. Voyageurs was my 46th US National Park. This is significant because there are 46 National Parks in the 48 contiguous states. I have now been to every National Park in the 48 contiguous states! This has been a quest of mine for several years. It has taken me eighteen years from my first visit to Mammoth Cave National Park in June 1991 to my visit to Voyageurs National Park in July 2009. In the future, I will see a handful of the remaining twelve National Parks and repeat several of my favorites. I will never be finished visiting National Parks and other units in the system, but now I can relax and know I have completed a worthwhile quest.
You may wonder why I will not be seeing the other twelve parks. The reason is simple: it is impractical. I doubt I will ever be in American Samoa or the American Virgin Islands. The two parks in Hawaii are quite doable, as are Denali and Glacier Bay in Alaska. Some of the Alaska parks are doable with a bit of work, but others require being flown in by a bush pilot and then having him come back for you. I am a day hiker, not a backpacker.

In the future, I will be writing individual posts about many of the National Park.