Hiking the RMNP

RMNP, Colorado – August, 2017 We were certainly enjoying our time on the western edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park. We took several walks in the area but a couple of hikes were our most memorable.

One weekday we hiked to Grand Ditch via Red Mountain. We parked at the Colorado River Trail Parking Area. The parking lot had been packed every time we passed it so I expected a popular trail with lots of company. Instead we arrived at 8 in the morning and were about the 3rd car there.

We hit the trail and didn’t see another soul for an hour or so. Then a couple caught up to us and trailed us most of the trek. On our way back down the trail we met a few more hikers headed up the trail and a couple guys that had been backpacking several days and were on their way back to civilization.

The day was very overcast and I was grateful we never got rained on. Most of the trail was a pretty steady climb. Parts of it were rough and rocky.

I had developed a fascination with the local mushrooms ever since I discovered these red ones were not exclusively associated with small men with beards.

This romp through the woods gave me plenty of opportunities to photograph them.

Jim started enjoying the hunt and pointed many of the toadstools out.

These little orange ones covered an entire hillside.

I seriously took a hundred photos of fungi.

Our walk was occasionally interrupted by a beautiful mountain pond.

We finally made it out of the woods and enjoyed a view of the surrounding mountains.

A short distance from there we came to the Grand Ditch. Apparently this is a water diversion project to bring snowmelt from the Never Summer Mountains to the eastern plains farmers. The result is plenty of waterfalls.

Jim is often a reluctant model in my shots.

I believe the exact words before this shot were “Where are you? Please get back in the frame.” I am grateful, he is so patient!

The hike to Grand Ditch via this route was 6 miles roundtrip. I must admit the hardest part was the trip down. Our feet and knees were screaming on the descent.

I wanted to do another hike of similar length before we left but Jim wasn’t feeling it. I weighed my options for a solo hike. I read the park’s literature on hiking in bear country and I appreciated their advice.

The 3 primary rules were; don’t hike alone, make lots of noise, and hike in the middle of the day. I’d prefer to have a hiking buddy but given the option between hiking alone or not at all, I’d rather take a hike. Make lots of noise I can manage. I have a bear bell, I’m not above singing to myself, and when I get tired of my own voice I will happily play music on my phone.

The rule I most disliked was hike in the middle of the day. I am a morning person. I’d much rather put in several miles before lunch. If I have to wait till later it’s likely to not happen at all.

So I considered their advice and chose a hike where, despite hiking alone, I was unlikely to be alone. I decided to hike the Green Mountain Trail to Big Meadows and return via the Onahu Creek Trail. We had never passed the parking lot for these trails without them being almost completely full.

According to the trail map it was supposed to be just over a 7 mile roundtrip but my GPS recorded it closer to 6 miles.

I arrived at the trailhead around 8 am on a Sunday morning and snagged the very last parking space. A couple were just hitting the trail in front of me and I lolly-gagged a little to give them a head start so as to not crowd them. I never saw them again.

The trail climbed steadily and I stopped often to catch my breath. Despite the very chilly morning, it didn’t take long for me to shed my down jacket, and shortly thereafter, my long sleeved shirt. The trail map looked pretty straightforward but the trail turned out to be a little more complicated.

There were several paths leading in various directions that were not on the map. And some of the distances were not entirely accurate. But in general it wasn’t terribly difficult to follow the directions and I was able to get to where I intended.

I didn’t meet another soul until I reached Big Meadows. Supposedly it is not uncommon to see moose here in the early mornings. But I was not hopeful on such a popular trail and shortly before arriving there I could hear people making quite the commotion from a nearby campground. It was still a pretty clearing.

I met a couple young fellows on the trail and basically asked them if they thought I was going the right direction. They agreed I was on the right track. Turns out most of the people I met, and presumably most of the cars in the parking lot, belonged to those who had hiked in to campgrounds for a night or several.

The first half of the hike was pretty uneventful and not terribly scenic. But once I reached Onahu Bridge which was, surprisingly, an actual wooden bridge, the trail got much prettier.

The trail criss-crossed Onahu Creek for the remainder of the hike.

I passed a half dozen other hikers that morning, not exactly as busy a trail as I expected. But I never felt unsafe and I enjoyed my solo hike immensely.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Lake, CO – August, 2017 We treasured our time in the town of Grand Lake on the western edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). It was so convenient to slip into the park for a quick visit or for an entire day.

One of the most popular hikes from Grand Lake is Adams Falls. It is an easy half mile walk from a parking lot on the edge of town.

Our first foray into RMNP proper we saw a heard of elk in a field beside the road. We stopped for some photos. A storm was brewing and the wind was fierce. I had to lean on a sign to steady my shot.

They were a group of females and young’uns. I believe there was one young buck among them. See his little horns on the right hand side of the photo? On that same day I stared into the forest as Jim drove and saw a large buck with huge horns. I swear they stood at least 3 feet straight up.

We ventured in on a weekend thinking we would visit one of the sites close to the western edge of the park but couldn’t even find a parking space. Traffic was crazy so we turned around the first chance we got and hightailed it outta there. We returned on Monday morning and crossed the park on Trail Ridge Road. The views along the road were breathtaking.

We visited the Alpine Visitor Center at almost 12,000 foot elevation just as it was opening at 9am. Here is the view from their patio.

There are several elk grazing below that glacial ice. We climbed the Alpine Ridge Trail for more astounding views.

It was drop dead gorgeous in every direction.

And we had it pretty much to ourselves at that hour of the day. It was a bit chilly, around 40 degrees.

We briefly visited the eastern side of the park and checked out Estes Park. Then we drove back via the incredibly scenic AND rustic Old Fall River Road. It was a gravel road with one switchback after another. We had to back up to make several of the sharp turns. Soooo worth it!

We enjoyed a stop at Chasm Falls.

And found a quiet place to enjoy our lunch.

We continued on to where the one-way gravel road brings you back to the Alpine Visitor Center. Here is a view of the center from below. It’s that tiny rectangle to the right of the snow.

We passed through the almost full parking lot of the visitor center. The trail up to the ridge was now crowded with hundreds of people. We were very glad we had braved the chill and had those moments alone with the views.

Of Moose and Men

Grand Lake, CO I don’t know exactly when I became fixated on moose. Somewhere around 20 years ago I suspect. I have no idea what started it but my love for these beasts is not waning.

Despite this my affection seems unrequited. They do not seem to be a fan of me. I have had very little contact with the creatures.

I was sure we would see lots of them when we vacationed in Alaska in 2006. We rented a class C and drove all over the state for a week. We saw a lot of amazing things but not one moose until our last night in the RV.

We stayed at a park on the outskirts of Anchorage. We were told we would almost certainly see a moose there. Sure enough at dusk a couple ladies made their way down the highway and bedded down near the entrance to the park.

This was my one and only moose encounter up to this summer. And it just wasn’t the kind I was hoping for. It was not the same as spotting a moose, preferably a male with a huge rack, in the wild.

So you can see why I was so excited when we had our run in with the moose near Flaming Gorge. Ok it wasn’t exactly up close and personal. But it was a bull and it was in the wild.

Our next stop seemed to promise more moose encounters. The town of Grand Lake sits on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. We fell in love with this little place and ended up staying 2 weeks.

Our very first morning there we went for a drive in the nearby national forest. We spotted a bull moose in the trees on the side of the road. Jim turned the truck around and the moose had crossed the road and climbed way up a hill.

We also saw a large female nearby. After further driving we saw 3 more moose! A young male …

and two females.

They were pretty near the road so I was able to get several good pics.

Thank goodness we had such a positive early experience because we didn’t see any more moose the remainder of our stay. We know they were around, we saw moose tracks and moose poop. Jim was walking along a river and a fisherwoman said “did you see those two moose that just passed?” Nope, he did not. But that’s OK, because we saw 5 moose in one morning!

Despite not seeing more moose we did have a wonderful time. The town was just big enough with great restaurants and nice gift shops. We had pizza the day we arrived at Grand Pizza and it was so good we went back for more before we left.

We also went out to breakfast one Saturday morning. The Fat Cat had the most amazing breakfast buffet. The chef was English I think and every dish was outstanding. I know, 3 meals out in only two weeks, what were we thinking?!

I don’t think the calories hurt us though. We did plenty of hiking, mostly in the national park. I’ll share that with you in my next post.

The town of Grand Lake is on the shores of Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake. It is not overly crowded and moves at the slower pace that Jim and I prefer. It had everything we wanted and we didn’t have to share everything with throngs of people.

One weekend while we were there they held a regatta. They had races for kayakers, SUPs, canoers, and rowers.

Another weekend they hosted a free corvette show. There were at least a hundred corvettes on Main Street.

We visited Shadow Mountain Lake and checked out the dam where they release the lake waters and they continue on for a few miles as the Colorado River before backing up and becoming another lake, Granby. What we saw there got my fisherman pretty excited. The trout and salmon were going crazy trying to jump up that dam and continue their trek upstream, impossible.

We returned to the spot several times and Jim enjoyed the fishing.

He had some luck and we have some trout in the freezer.

This was the perfect area for us because he was entertained and there was so much for me to explore. I hiked along the east side of Shadow Mountain Lake which is part of the 3,100 mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This is a trail that, when complete, will travel along or near the continental divide from our northern border with Canada to its southern terminus at the Mexican border. It is currently only 72% complete and for now requires some travel on motorized roads.

The mile and a half hike beside the lake was a bit difficult because of the number of downed trees I had to go over, under, or around. There were about 20. I counted them on my return trip. But it was worth it. The lake views were outstanding and I ran across a deer and her fawn. They were a little skittish but in the end they decided I wasn’t a threat.

That trail continued on south of the dam and was less difficult. Jim joined me on it another day when the fishing was disappointing. He is so much better than me at spotting wildlife. He saw this osprey which was just a blob in a tree and I had time to get my telephoto lens out before he flew away.

I also walked many miles through the on-site campground, Green Ridge, chasing photo opportunities. The hummingbirds were plentiful but just won’t be still enough for a good shot. The chipmunks were a little more cooperative.

The lake was just gorgeous in the mornings.

We spent the first 10 days of our stay at Elk Creek Campground, an extremely nice, if a bit tight, RV park just outside the town of Grand Lake. We planned to stay 3 nights and then find a boondock in the national forest. But it was just so convenient there so when they said they had a cancellation and could accommodate us for another 7 days we decided to stay. Their daily rate for the full hookup site was $49 and the weekly rate was $309. It was definitely a splurge.

For our last three nights we moved over to our new happy place, Green Ridge Campground. We moved to the first come first served site early on a Friday morning. By early afternoon the place was packed. We paid $21 per night for a sight with zero amenities.