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

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