Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting the Lay of the Land

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Our first stop whenever we visit a national park is the Visitors Center. We find that the rangers always offer invaluable help in determining the best plan to accomplish our goals. Since this was our first day in the park, we thought we might get the lay of the land by driving the 50 mile-long Trail Ridge Road, which connects the east and west entrances of the park. Our ranger suggested some short hikes we might try along the way while our bodies get acclimated to the high altitude. She also told us about the Old Fall River Road, a picturesque one-way section of roadway, full of steep switchbacks, that ascends above the tree line to the Alpine Visitors Center. She also suggested some moderate hikes we might try another day.

We started out on Trail Ridge Road and then picked up Old Fall River Road, stopping at pull-outs along the way. We enjoyed a short hike down to a pretty waterfall and took in increasingly more breathtaking views as we climbed higher and higher. There was a high-wind warning in effect today and as we climbed higher, the winds grew stronger and the temperature dropped, but it was clear and sunny and didn’t deter us from enjoying the spectacular views at every turn. The aspen trees were beginning to turn a brilliant yellow on many of the slopes, and above the tree line, the tiny tundra plants splashed the slopes with a variety of colors.

On our descent from the Alpine Visitors Center, we reached the Continental Divide – an undramatic spot along the roadway identifiable only by the sign posted there. We continued several miles further after that to see the Hovwrath Historic Site along the headwaters of the Colorado River, where an early dude ranch operated in the early 1900s. By then we had traversed about two-thirds of Trail Ridge Road. We figured if we continued to the end we would be making the return drive in the dark, so we decided to turn back toward Estes Park. On our way back, we walked the 0.8 mile trail up to Rock Cut, the highest point we would reach on this trip at over 12,000 feet. With winds gusting to over 60 miles per hour and the very thin air at this elevation, this seemingly short and simple hike took real effort, but we were more than rewarded by the magnificent views from the top.

Returning to Estes Park, we did a little window shopping on the main street while we looked for a place to have dinner. We chose the Wapati Grille, semi-hidden down a funky little alley. They served up good burgers and beer and we walked back to the Silver Moon afterwards full, tired and pleased with having chosen such a pleasant vacation destination.

See all our photos on Flickr.

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