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Monday, August 6, 2012

The Shining Rocky Mountain High... Colorado.  Remember the old song by John Denver? One of my favorites back in 1974 when I had long, straight hair and wire-rimmed glasses and played the guitar! Last week I spent a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado in my own personal Rocky Mountain High with my old Peace Corps buddy Diane and friend Alice.  (Click here and here and here to read about my travels in Montana and Wyoming with Diane and Alice last year.)

The "high" part had nothing to do with any 1970's-era drugs. It was all about the elevation! We hiked almost every day, and as soon as we passed 9,000' (2743 meters), I started gasping. I've hiked at elevation a lot over the years. Usually after an hour, I adjust and don't notice. I made it all the way to the top of Kilimanjaro at 19,340' (5894 meters) in 2006. But after five days, still gasping. The hiking was really fun anyway, and the higher you go, the more spectacular the scenery.

 Here I am at Nymph Lake--this is my nymph pose. I think the lake is named for definition 1: the larva of a grasshopper or mayfly. Whereas, I am working definition 2: minor divinities of nature in classical mythology represented as beautiful maidens dwelling in the mountains and forests.

 Farther up the trail on our beautiful evening hike--Diane and Alice on the approach to Dream Lake.

Dream Lake. 

A little girl sitting with her parents at lakeside said, "This lake is beautiful like a dream." She was only at Nymph Lake, but it was still sweet. 

Mornings, Dr. Alice attended a medical conference down in the town of Estes Park. While Alice studied gerontology, Diane and I took another hike, to the very popular Cub Lake. It was here that I first noticed many large groups of hikers wearing matching t-shirts. We stood to one side while 11 people of all ages marched by in green T-shirts. Then 17 in blue. Then 8 in yellow. Diane and I were under dressed in our mismatched outfits.

Cub Lake, ringed with lily pads. 

A dusky grouse along the trail. She had a baby with her. The baby hid in the grass, but the mama stood her ground as we passed by only a foot away.

I know she's a dusky grouse, because the next morning, Diane and I got up early and went on a bird-watching walk with a Park Service volunteer. We showed him the grouse picture and he identified it for us. No pictures from the bird walk because it was so early that I left the hotel without my camera, due to caffeine deficit. But, all the birds (Yellow-rumped Warbler, Violet-green Swallow, Green-tailed Towhee, Northern Flicker, Hairy WoodpeckerBroad-tailed hummingbird) moved so fast, I wouldn't have gotten any pictures, anyway.

Another spectacular hike another day, going ever higher into the mountains, and still gasping.

Alberta Falls

 Alice and Diane on the approach to Mills Lake.

 Beautiful Mills Lake, where we gulped down our lunch, so that we could finish the loop trail and get down out of the high country before the regular afternoon thunderstorm rolled in.

Oops! Too late! But nobody got hit by lightning....

Poisonous, pretty Amanita mushroom along the trail.

 Still no lightning strikes.

A distant view of Longs Peak--one of the Fourteeners in the park. Peaks over 14,000' (4270 meters) that hikers more serious than we flock to Colorado to climb. This is as close as we got!

More groups of hikers in matching T-shirts this day on this trail. They were all boys in their early- to mid-teens wearing maroon T-shirts with little white emblems. Being from Utah, a very big Boy Scout state, I asked one group if they were Boy Scouts. Yes, they were. Eighteen of them were traveling with four adult leaders for a two-week trip, in which they had driven from Michigan to Colorado, planned to hike all day, then drive to Arches National Park in Utah, and then drive on in a giant, multi-state, multi-park loop that would eventually take them back to Michigan. Yikes! Brave adult leaders!

And bonus! While I was chatting with the Boy Scouts, Diane spotted an American Three-toed Woodpecker. We didn't get a good look at his toes, but we did clearly see the yellow patch on the top of his head that our volunteer bird walk guide had told us about earlier.

I would say that Rocky Mountain National Park is mainly a hikers' park. Most of it is unroaded, and the many hiking trails access spectacular scenery. But roads ring the edges of the park and the Trail Ridge Road, a high-elevation road with its own spectacular views, cuts through the north of the park. We drove that road twice and took in the views and walked out to the overlooks and stopped for animal sightings along the road. 



 And more elk. I think Diane's getting a little too close...

 See? That one's mad! 

But just like the lightning storm, nothing bad happened. Maybe those park rangers have been exaggerating the dangers of nature all along.

 We saw a few marmots behaving really oddly--flattened out on the dirt road, licking the road surface. A ranger told us they're getting mineral salts from the dirt.

This one's acting more typically marmot-y.

 Here's a chipmunk in action!

 And this is NOT a chipmunk! It's a golden-mantled ground squirrel.

That's a chipmunk on the left--smaller, with stripes extending across his eye. And a golden-mantled ground squirrel on the right--bigger with no stripe over his eye. So now you know! Don't call that big ground squirrel a chipmunk!

 And more elk--this one a baby still in spots.

And just to break things up, here's a big bull moose.

And my favorite animal sighting of the whole trip...

 ...this beautiful little red fox trying to cross the road.

As the Trail Ridge Road climbs higher, it's all alpine tundra and high peaks and stormy weather.

There's the stormy weather...

There's some alpine tundra...

Here's the really fun Tundra Communities trail out to a high scenic overlook.

Our fellow tourists over looking the void. Two of them have matching shirts!

Tundra and stormy weather together in one photo.

And then, winding our way back down to the lower part of the park, here's Sheep Lake, where the Bighorn Sheep often come right down to water's edge to a mineral lick. But hadn't done so for eight days when we passed by.

Overall, we felt very satisfied with wildlife sightings during our visit. Except that we saw no bighorn sheep or mountain goats. Then we stopped at the lake, where another volunteer told us there are no mountain goats in Rocky Mountain National Park. So we remained dissatisfied only about the bighorn sheep.

We stayed in the town of Estes Park, just a few miles outside Rocky Mountain National Park's east boundary. Many of the town's motels seem to date from the 1960's and 1970's and are pretty basic. Of course, the newer, fancier ones are expensive! We went cheap and had an adequate, comfortable room. But all of the rooms in our building had sliding glass doors facing a playground area that hosted much noisy activity every evening. Our last two nights, a group of 50 or so staged a big barbecue in the playground. They all had matching orange T-shirts and a big tartan banner proclaiming the Douglas Family Reunion. Alice (Chinese) and Diane (Italian) tried to send me (Irish) out to steal some barbecued ribs because they thought I could pass for Scottish. But I didn't have an orange T-shirt, so I didn't try it! We were all happy when a big thunderstorm with heavy rain rolled in at 8:00 pm and the reunion broke up early enough for us to get a good night's sleep. I know that sounds crabby. What can I say? We wanted to sleep.

We did spend a bit of time in town. We carried a picnic lunch with us on a tram ride to the top of a ridge on the edge of town and had lunch with an incredible view.

Alice and Diane at the top of the tram, way above Estes Park with lunch, but non-matching T-shirts. You can see the edge of Estes Park at bottom right.

And no trip to Estes Park would be complete without a visit to the Stanley Hotel. We not only visited, we took the ghost/history tour. Ghost tour? Yes! Because Stephen King and his wife were staying here, as the only guests at the end of the summer season, when he was struck with the idea for "The Shining."

 I think it looks spooky, even in the sunshine.

Stephen King wanted the movie (you remember--Jack Nicholson--"Honey, I'm hoooome!") to be filmed here, but Stanley Kubrick instead used the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, Oregon. Our tour guide told us that Stephen King was unhappy with the movie, and so filmed his own version, a TV miniseries, at the Stanley Hotel in 1997.

 All that "woodwork" around the reception desk is really white plaster, but the TV crews painted it to look like wood. The plaster was too cheerful.


 ...or spooky?

 Spooky! This is the hallway where the two twins with braids stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

As we toured this hall, a family were in the hall outside their room, getting their baby stroller and packages all situated. They had twin daughters, about nine years old, with braids!  I wanted to ask them to pose for pictures in the hallway. But I didn't, in case that would have been rude. Or in case they actually were ghosts. 

The adjoining hall is rife with contemporary ghost stories, repeated by many guests, of the sound of children running and laughing in the hall late at night. When the guests open the door, no one's there! When the guests call the front desk, and an employee goes upstairs to check, no one's there!

I guess Diane wasn't all that scared by the ghost stories. She dozed off on the hotel's gracious front verandah. 

And back at our (much cheaper) hotel in town, we repeatedly heard children running and laughing outside our room. But every time we looked outside--there were a million little kids wearing matching orange T-shirts!

(If you'd like to see more photos of this visit to Colorado, click here to jump to a Picasa web album of 169 photos.)


  1. These photos are just fantastic! Especially loved the Elk, for whom I have a soft spot. We often took our boys camping up in Sedona and Flagstaff when we lived in Arizona, and had frequent Elk encounters, which we still remember fondly. Oddly enough, living here in Korea has made me want to do a lot more traveling when I get back to the US, especially the West. Your photos just give me extra incentive!

  2. Barbara, what a gorgeous area! And frnakly, you are an adorable "nymph".

  3. I hesitated a bit on the nymph definition because of the "maiden" part of it, but what the hell....

  4. Great wildlife photos - the Park looks so beautiful. I agree, you rock as a Nymph! Also very good to see a new entry on your blog so I can get caught up on what you are doing :-) Carol