Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rocky Mountain High: Colorado

Leaving Arches was a welcome thought to escape the sun. I drove up the scenic byway along the Colorado River and passed ranches, wineries and historic places. A very wild and remote place along Eastern Utah. I reached Grand Junction and grabbed some quick food and a refreshing ice cold drink. Being in the desert really makes you appreciate ice even more than normal. I love my cold drinks. I stopped at the welcome center and got some brochures, since I wasn't completely sure what I was going to do in CO. There was a lot to choose from. I noticed Colorado National Monument was only 2 miles to the South and since I had an annual pass, I figured I could check it out and leave if it was nothing special. I am not sure I ever heard of it before. It is a national park, but the name is slightly decieving. I drove up some more windy roads from the valley floor and reached another high plateu. It was hot again, but not quite as intense as Utah, but still uncomfortable and I was trying to rehydrate. I decided to keep this a mostly air conditioned quick venture. It was about a 25 mile detour and ran from Fruita (note I also stayed in a town named Fruita in Utah) to Grand Jct. where I could pick up 70 again. It was mostly a drive along canyon rims with more stone monuments sticking up from the basin floors. An otherwise impressive view/park, but I was a little canyoned out and had seen so many over the last week or two, I didn't find it that exciting anymore. I made a few quick stops and took just a few photos.
I drove on to Central Colorado on 70 again. A very impressive highway that winds along and crosses over the Colorado River occassionally. The width and rapids vary as you travel along the many miles of the mighty river. The areas get quite narrow in places and the opposing Westbound lanes are often elevated and slightly overlapping the Eastbound lanes. I assume these were added later or they just could not carve deeper into the wall without creating rockslides. Several tunnels are encountered along the way, none as impressive as the Eisenhower tunnell that penetrates the Loveland pass and is about a mile long. I stopped at Glenwood Springs. A town built around the Glenwood springs pool and hotel. It has a massive pool and adjoining pools, water slides etc and a historic hotel next to the property. The pools are about the length of a football field or more and of varying temperatures 91-104F. The town accross the river looked quaint and bustling with some kind of festival and many restaurants and shops. Its interesting how the towns make use of the limited space of the mountain river valleys. Most of Central Co is like this from what I've seen. Nothing but peaks and narrow slots between. I needed some relaxation and it was a beautiful day here, so I decided to visit the springs and soak for a few hrs. Afterwords, I noticed a camping sign at the next exit up and it was early eve. I had considered driving up to Dillon lake near the major ski areas of Summit county, but was not sure of the camping situation there. I thought I would check this out anyway and maybe spend the night here. The campsites were right along the Colo River...this time really along it. Right up to the banks with trees to shade you, showers, wifi, laundry etc. Seemed good. They had one spot left and it was the one I noticed. At $38 w tax, it was a bit steep for a tent site, but it seemed like a cool place to bed down and let the rapids lull me to sleep. You only live once right?
Well, I set up camp and went back to the springs for another visit since I had paid for an all day pass. I came back, uploaded some pics from the previous days, charged up my phone, batteries and then went to bed. This was a nice little resort, and the river was very calming. Just one little hitch that would change my feelings about this place. At 115 am a train came barrelling down the tracks on the other side of the river, which is approx 30-50 foot wide at this point and meanders along the steep canyon walls, shaped by the strong currents. The train was louder than normal due to the bouncing off the opposing wall and the campsite took, was down at the bottom of a steep hill, so all the sound waves were compressed. The chug-a-chug-a, was almost bearable, but the screaching and whining of the steel wheels grinding on the bends of the steel tracks (or maybe that was the brakes?) was unbelievably loud and deafening and created a weird sorta harmonic effect like the reverb of an electric guitar amplifier. This woke me up, started my heart jumping and forced me to cover my ears. The aftershock made falling back to sleep a challenge. This repeated at least twice more during the night before the sun came up. I was also woke up early by some loud talking girl next door and couldnt sleep, as she would not shut up, shouting almost at the people who were standing next to her. This is a recurring theme. I would be a tired mess the rest of the day.
I can imagine, being the train conductor at night along those mountain routes must be scary. One false move and you could be in the river. Its also rather amazing how some of these routes must have been constructed initially and in such remote areas.
I got to Rocky Mtn. Nat. Park later that morning and drove in the west entrance. The windy roads take you up to 12,183 ft eventually with some stunning views of partially snow capped peaks, melting glaciers and melted tundra. Storms are off in the distance often. I really didn't know much about this park, prior to this trip, but it is pretty impressive. After passing the summit, I felt overcome with exhaustion after a few photo stops and took a short nap in the car. I felt like I was gonna pass out any minute. I was pressed for time to get a campsite, or I would have just taken my time. There was only one on the west side and it was being cleaned up with downed trees and looked a mess. I flipped a coin in my head and went to Morraine campsite. Sign said full. Sigh. I drove up anyway just to check it out. I asked the girl at the booth if she had some recommendations for other campsites, since this was full, and to my amazement she had one site left, just inside the entrance. I checked it out quick and settled on it for 2 nights. It was perfect. A 200 ft walk from the car up a hill but, nicely secluded as you can expect to get in a NP with amazing views of the peaks and meadow below and Sheltered slightly with trees too. I felt very fortunate to land this one.
After setting up camp and having a meal, I did a 2 mi hike to Dream lake. A beautiful mtn. lake, but the mosquitos and flys were so bad, I couldn't relax and enjoy the view. I had to keep moving or get bit. I stopped at Bear lake and one other lake on the way back. Still some snow remained on parts of the trail. I got to bed early and enjoyed a campfire. Once again I was woke up at 730am by some French woman who sounded like she was bitching up a storm. Sitting accross from her husband at a picnic table, you wouldn't think it was so necessary to talk so loud (her site was a good 40ft or more away. This went on for two hrs and later included a cell phone conversation that got even more emotional. What the fuck is with these people and their total lack of consideration every campsite I have been to? Kids run loose, screaming and shouting all hrs of the day and night. With all the parkspace you would think you could get some peace and quiet.
I did some longer hikes today and saw some beautiful raging waterfalls and more mountain lakes. This time closer to the glaciers and much higher elevation. Upon reaching the summit of my hike, it cooled off from being an otherwise hot day and started to rain lightly. I did not mind, since the heat was sapping my energy and I headed back downhill briskly. Once I got in the shuttle bus, I was again hit by extreme exhaustion, thirst, hunger and a severe headache. Maybe it was the altitude (close to 10,000 ft), but I also don't think I ate enough last night or this am. I was a little foggy headed and slow to get going this am. I had no mt. dew or coffee to perk me up either.
I came back and napped for a few hrs, though I was in and out of sleep as it rained on and off and had a slight leak in the tent that hit me in the eye a few times, plus I had to block out the light to have a chance to sleep, then the kids started running and screaming around me again. I was super hungry, thirsty, head killing me. I did not want a camp meal in the rain again, like I had this afternoon. I instead headed for Estes Park to see what it had to offer. It was just a short driver from the east entrance and was a stunningly beautiful place. Rock outcropped peaks everywhere and views of the white peaks inside the park, from the center of town. A picture perfect town. Lots of shops and ice cream/candy places and restaurants were all along the main road. Plenty of hotels and cabins too. The famous Stanley hotel I stumbled onto as well. It reminded me of the Pinehurst Hotel, but with a red roof instead of Copper/green. I would guess it was the same architect. Gorgeous mountain homes were all along the surrounding slopes, with views to die for. What a place to live with the park just a few miles away and endless skiing options in the winter. The rain did not subside and was unusual again, which has been the theme of the trip. I was ok with it, other than taking down and packing a wet tent really sucks. Mud is splattered all over it and the rain will probably not stop anytime soon. Estes Park, from what I have seen so far, is an enviable place to live. I guess it is kind of a getaway spot for the locals.
Tomorrow I will check out Boulder on the way to see my old HS friend Sean in Denver for a few days.
Oh, I almost forgot. I finally got to see some elusive black bears today. A momma bear and cub, that couldn't have been more than 20-30 lbs They were brown in color and very cute walking along the road. The shuttle bus stopped to view them, but before I could get a picture they scurried along down the hillside. It was very exciting, considering how rare bear sightings are in RMNP, let alone the other parks. I also saw a coyote, walking through my campsite, as I was getting my stuff out of the car. Of course, when I grabbed my zoom lens camera, I forgot I had taken the battery out to charge and not replaced it. He was gone quickly.

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