24 Oct 2014

US Road-Trip - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The first real stop on our road-trip was the stunning Rocky Mountain National Park. I hadn't made it there on my last visit, and only allocated one night there on this trip (wanting to cram in as much as possible). We left Boulder on another day of beautiful sunshine and headed through the canyon to the west of the city, with locals driving about a car-length behind us (welcome to driving by our fellow road-users on a good part of the rest of the road-trip!) in spite of the windy, hilly road. I stuck to my guns and managed to avoid any of the cars rear-ending me, and eventually the traffic thinned. Along the route we began to climb steadily and saw the first of the real autumnal trees. We stopped a few times at pull-outs, mainly once we'd turned north on the 72 at Nederlands. I realised at this point that aspens are pretty much the only deciduous trees in the area, and that the leaves go yellow before falling to the ground (none of the red maples to be found here!); pretty, but no variety. A lot of the aspens were already bare.

When we arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park we found out that it was National Parks Day, and that therefore entrance to the park was free, so all the world and his wife would be there. We looked at each other and grimaced (we had to get an annual pass anyway, so the fact it was free was irrelevant). I had overlooked this fact and it meant that the park would be super-crowded (we'd made this mistake when hiking in Yosemite five years earlier and faced a queue of about 150 people for the chained section after a long hike up to Half Dome, at which point we cut our losses and turned round, highly disappointed). At each junction were signs saying "PARKING FULL", so we pulled in at the main Park 'n' Ride and waited at the end of a long line for the bus up to the trail-heads. We didn't have to wait too long, and chatted to a local and his friend and got a bit of advice about timing on the trails and eating places in town. We didn't have enough time to hike up to the Loch and get back and drive to our B&B in time for check-in at 6 pm, so we decided to hike to Emerald Lake. It was a good decision, as it was absolutely stunning, in spite of the crowds (and boy, was it busy). I'd looked on Flickr to get some ideas for hikes and none had prepared me for the grandeur of the mountains - rocky indeed!

We hiked up past Nymph Lake, a picturesque lake covered in lily pads, a couple of unnamed ponds, then Dream Lake, where a few people were fly-fishing, and finally got to Emerald Lake, which might have looked a little more emerald had the sun been shining on it, but was still magical. Some of the trees glowed golden in the sun, which was rapidly moving behind the peaks above Emerald Lake.


It was a fantastic hike, and in spite of the altitude (10,110 feet at Emerald Lake) we still managed it easily enough. My husband will probably testify to the fact that due to my taking endless photographs, we took it quite slowly!

We arrived back at the bus-stop to find that everyone else had the same idea. The ranger told us that the wait was about an hour, which seemed strange, given that it seemed as if there was a similar number of people waiting as had been earlier. Buses came and went, leaving room for people at stops further down the valley, so it took a long time; the queue shuffled forward very slowly. Eventually a bus arrived after we'd been waiting for 45 minutes and took us down to the car. Once we got back to the car things seemed a little quicker, until we reached a long queue of cars trying to leave the park. It gave me the opportunity to pop out to capture a pretty meadow, but was otherwise frustrating.

The reason for the tailback eventually came clear as we neared the entrance station. Cars had pulled over and any still driving by were going at about 5mph, to see a harem of elk, with a large male nearby. By the time we arrived we caught the tail-end of the show (literally) - the male was just disappearing into the trees. The whole thing was a little annoying and we couldn't see what all the fuss was about; they were elk, after all, not moose or bears!

A brief burst of normal speed out of the park followed, but quickly came to an end as we approached the outskirts of Estes Park. The only reason for the hold-up was the sheer volume of traffic, all heading into the town centre, past one set of traffic lights, and either parking there or driving out the other side. By the time we cleared town and headed down the 36 to our B&B it had taken us over two hours since we'd finished our hike (and we'd only gone about 5 miles) - a frustrating end to a wonderful hike. We made the journey back to town for a "gourmet pizza" (recommended by one of the guys in the queue) - didn't turn out to be very gourmet after all, but the leftovers made for an easy lunch on the road the following day when we headed south.

Next stop: Buena Vista & Black Canyon

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