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Monday, September 7, 2009

Rocky Mountain National Park

Ladies and gentlemen, back by, uh, well, back because I was told to, your favorite guest blogger. As you all know, I'm a bit more verbose than my lovely wife, so grab a cup of coffee or a muffin and (hopefully) enjoy.... Seriously, I apologize for how long this entry is, but that's just me. I know Beck likes to include links to "more" pictures, but I said the hell with it and just put a boatload of pictures right here so NO CLICKING NECESSARY!!

We're not sure how long we're going to be out here in Colorado. It could be two more months or two more decades or anywhere in between. So I've been telling Becky for a few weeks now that we have to get out and continue to experience everything that Colorado has to offer. I mean we've been up to Breckenridge a couple times now and I skiied in Vail earlier this year, but there's so many more cool things that we should explore. We needed a PLAN. So we gathered a LIST of 4-5 things that we felt we should definitely do before we left Colorado and since that could be sooner than later, we started aggressively attacking the list this past weekend.

We had heard that Rocky Mountain National Park was a good time and that, specifically, there was a road called Trail Ridge Road that we should definitely drive some time. So that time was Saturday. We packed some drinks, buckled Isla in the car seat, hit Einstein's Bagels and we were off.

A bit of history about Trail Ridge's the highest paved road in the United States, topping out at 12, 183 feet above sea level and it connects the 48 miles between Estes Park and Grand Lake. Eleven of those miles are above the tree line which, as you can imagine, offer some cool views. It was built back in the late 1930s.

We drove into Estes, about 45 minutes from our house and checked in at the Estes Park Visitor Center where the ol' map guy told me that our decision to do Trail Ridge was a good one since there was some elk and bighorn sheep. He suggested we stop at the Visitor's Center, just near the summit of 12k feet and then turn off we went.

You hit Rocky Mountain National Park just a few minutes outside Estes and it cost $20 to get in. As you start to make your way up the mountain, there are many pull-off areas on the road with great views of the valleys below and mountains in the distance.

(Now we get to the visual part for all of you who prefer pictures like Dave Leeds, for instance).

During our first stop, we got kind of an average view. We didn't feel it was worth unbuckling Isla P, so I walked around and took a few pics. Here is one of a valley with a fun little river winding down the bottom of it and another picture of a couple chipmunks who were putting on a show for some of the little kids.

As we started to reach the treeline, the terrain started to change quite a bit. The temperature up here can get to minus 50 and the wind can blow up to 150 mph. Hard to imagine.
There were signs everywhere that talked about the surrounding "tundra" that we had now entered and we were told to stay off the tundra since some of the plants take decades to grow just one inch. Some of what we drove by just looked like a wasteland.But then we came across a fun little pull off area where a couple cars had stopped. There looked to be some incredible views.....and there definitely was! We bundled up little Isla P in her purple fleece and her watermelon ski cap. It was probably around 58 or so at this point, but was pretty windy.

[A writer's aside: We recently sent our Nikon D70 back to Nikon for some repair work. The pictures over the last couple years just didn't look right so someone talked us into sending back. It cost some money to repair, but jeez, it was worth it. These pictures are so crystal clear and capture my beautiful girls perfectly. The small size of these pictures here on the blog definitely do not do them justice, but you can still get a sense of how good they are.]

Just a breathtaking view.
My beautiful girls.
Just some classics.

And the obligatory Becky picture. She INSISTED that I take a few pictures of the mossy vegetation and weird rocks.
We got back in the car and headed further up the mountain. Although there were many good views, when you have a baby strapped in the back seat, you really have to pick and choose which are the great views vs. the good views. And we came upon a great view just a few miles later. We saw a few cars parked and some people standing and pointing down a few hundred feet off the road and we could see a huge herd of elk. So we pulled off and started to head down towards the beasts. It was really windy at this point, so Becky and Isla went about half way down, got a couple pics and then headed back to the car. I tiptoed up toward some of the elk and got some decent pictures.
It was clear this big dog was in charge. He was directing traffic and was interested in some extracurricular activity as he was bellowing his mating call while we were there.
Of course, we had to get a pic with Isla and the elk in the background. I know, I know, she's the cutest thing you've ever seen.
There were three elk off to the right, so since the big boy was leading most of the herd further down the valley, I decided to go see what these guys were up you can see, they clearly saw me coming. They probably said something like "hm, that's an interesting-looking beast."

I creeped up closer and got some good pictures...probably got to within 80 feet or so.
I forgot how hard it is to climb uphill at 12,000 feet, but I finally made it back to the car and we continued our ascent. Made it to the Visitor's Center just in time for a good steady rain to start. Outside the Visitor's Center, there was a path about 1/4 mile long and straight uphill. We were very tired but figured since we had come all this way, we should go the last mile. So since it was raining, we walked around inside, bought a Christmas ornament to commemorate our adventure and had some really good chili as we made faces with Isla.

When the rain stopped, we started up the hill. Here's me carrying Isla. I felt like the top of the hill kept getting further away....again, we're at 12,000 feet and I'm holding my 15 pound tootbug trudging straight uphill! OK, I'm out of shape, but if I'd had known this was going to be how the day went, I definitely wouldn't have worked out that morning. Man, I'm old and crusty.
So just as we crest the top of this hill and catch our breath, we realize that there's ANOTHER hill. Some people were walking back from there so we asked them if it was worth the extra hike. They said it was, so off we went. And it was all worth it. We got some great pics with Isla as you can see here.

Right about this picture above, Isla P had had enough. It's hard to tell from the pics, but the wind was blowing about 30 mph right into us and it was probably 45 degrees. It had been a long day (probably six hours since we had left the house) and she was saying "enough is enough". So she's starts bawling nonstop and I'm "sprinting" down the mountain to try to get her out of the wind, tiptoeing down each step on the path so that I don't jar her too much and my legs are killing me by this point. I've got her wrapped up in two blankets, one covering her head because the wind is right into us and she's just screaming. Finally get her back to the car so that Becky can feed her and down the mountain we go.

Beck and I made a pact that unless there was something REALLY cool, we'd drive straight through. About half way down, we see about 50 people pulled over because there was this huge elk sitting down in the middle of a field a couple hundred feet off the road. I had Beck pull off early where there were no cars because I figured I could just shimmy down the hill and walk right up to the guy, so I did.

As I got about half way there, I realized I was the only one who had meandered off the road. Not sure if that meant I wasn't supposed to do that, but by now it was too late, so I just kept going. Beck was nervous for me and took a picture of me from the car. She said I looked like a pipsqueak compared to the elk beast. He was freaking big, but really cool as you can see here.

I was glad my dad wasn't with us; there would have been some trouble. He would have had visions of this elk's head in his living room, trust me. But this big guy just ate his grass and chewed it as he stared me down. It was pretty cool stuff.

But that was it. I made it back to the car unscathed and my girls and I headed home. Needless to say, we were pooped when we walked in the door and slept in late today. But we all had fun and got to cross one adventure off of our LIST. More later on when we attack our list again.....thanks for reading the novel.

PS - I was just joking with Beck that her blog entry would have been something like "Me, Greg and Isla went to Rocky Mountain National Park today. It was fun. Isla is cute. Here is the elk. Here are four pictures of Isla. Click here to see more picture." But I still love her and I'm sure you do too and of course, she has a four month old now occupying most of her time (luckily that little tootbug was sound asleep when I did this).

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