I drove just a few hours and WOW, what a difference. At last, the ROCKIES! The front range, as it's called came into view just south of Denver. However, the powers that be who plan roads etc did not, in their wisdom, include any scenic overlooks where I could pull over to gawk and take pictures. Finally, well past Denver, after I turned onto US 36 there was a place i pulled over to take these.
After a little bit of a challenging job I arrived in the absolutely gorgeous town of Estes Park.
I followed The Garmin to my campground at Mary's Lake, a county owned park, just outside town, but on the route for the free shuttle. Quickly I hooked everything up so I could head into town. When I hopped on the bus, the driver asked where I wanted to go. I laughed and said, "I have no idea, maybe downtown?" I rode for 30 minutes or so as it stopped at various campgrounds and lodges and then arrived at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center for the park. Inside, I watched another film about this park and its history, asked a few questions, stamped my passport and bought a hiking guide in the gift shop before hopping back on the shuttle to go downtown. I decided to stroll a little along the riverwalk to take a few more photos.
This is an area with shops and restaurants and a band was outside on the patio playing what else?, some John Denver songs, among others. Of course, there were all kinds of people, including these cowgirls, or cowgirl wannabes, I'm not sure.
I picked up a list of local worship services and mentioned to my bus driver who asked if I had a denomination preference. When I said no, he recommended the non-denominational service held at the YMCA every week. After looking over the list, I agreed with him and it was a great decision. This Y is the most amazing one I have ever seen. If you get a chance look up ymca.rockies.org. They have cabins and lodges and chapels and dining halls as well as many many kinds of recreational facilities. Here's a shot of the view from the main gathering area #
The hiker's guide I purchased had an article listing the symptoms of altitude sickness and I was experiencing several of them. I had been for several days but was attributing them to other cause since I didn't know anything about this sickness. The "cure" is to drink lots and lots of water, even if you don't feel thirsty and to remain or return to lower altitude until you acclimate. Because of this I decided to postpone my hikes for one more day since the starting point was about 2000 feet higher. Instead I relaxed, drank bottles and bottles of water and took Ed for a walk along this lake,
across from my campground. Every morning of my stay the view looked like this when I woke up
but every afternoon the clouds roll in like this
One evening, as I let Ed out, this pretty lady was having herself a snack about 100 yards from my door
Getting to the trailhead involved riding 3 different buses, and the last one often experiences delays due to a road construction project inside the park. I was lucky to get one of the last remaining seats on the hiker shuttle, and at least a dozen others had to stand the whole way. We did have one moderate delay but I enjoyed gazing out at this view
and chatting with my seatmate. He was a young man from Houston who had traveled here to escape the brutal heat of his hometown. Soon enough we were at the Bear Lake station,
elevation 9475 feet and the starting point for many trails of varying lengths and difficulties. I chose an easier one which is a half-mile level loop around this gloriously clear mountain lake.
The morning air was crisp and cool and I enjoyed the boldness of these little fellows,
sitting up to beg whenever they saw hikers. Soon enough I had completed my first mountain hike and found a lady ranger for information about 2 others I wanted to try. She smiled as she told me that I had planned well,(I didn't, it just happened) since my next chosen one was DOWN hill from Bear Lake and I could re-board the shuttle at its end instead of climbing back up. The other one I had chosen, called Sprague Lake, she told me was pretty difficult to do without a car since there were no nearby shuttle stops. Feeling great, I made my way down the 2 or 3 tenths of a mile to the start of the Alberta Falls trail using my new hiking pole. I can't believe how much better my hip feels when using this and wonder what in the world took me so long to get one! One funny thing that happened is that when I went into town I had it with me and would just walk along, kind of swinging it, not really leaning on it on the pavement. Twice, people saw it and assumed it was a regular cane. One lady apologized to me for using the handicapped stall in the ladies' room and another chastised a child for stepping on the bus in front of me. Obviously, these people did not recognize hiking poles!
Near the beginning of that trail there was a cute little bridge over the river I thought would make a good photo opp so I decided to ask the next group that came along to take a picture of me there. An energetic older couple, in their late 70s, at least, happened to be next. As the wife tried to focus and figure out my camera, the husband decided to join me. His wife began to scold him, but I laughed and invited him to stay. I told them that my friends are always telling me that I should pick up a man when I travel and now I had proof of doing so.
We all laughed before they zoomed on up the trail.
This trail is 6 tenths of a mile, fairly easy terrain and a mix of up and down hill. Much of the way you can hear and or see the rush of the river
and there are plenty of large boulders and logs to rest on when you need to catch your breath in this thinner air. The last bit of the trail is the toughest, all uphill, as you climb to the top of the falls. But,oh, was it worth the effort.
I spent a bit of time there, taking picture after picture and enjoying the roar and the spray of the cool mountain water. Too soon, I started back downhill another 6 tenths to the start of the trail. Then another 3 tenths mostly uphill to the bus stop. But the scenery makes even old bones like mine forget those little twinges. I was not anywhere close to the oldest hiker out that day. That couple who took my picture met me again coming down from the falls almost as I got to the top. Another couple that were probably in their 80s were doing the Bear Lake loop, her on a walker, and him reading to her out of a guide book at each of the numbered stops.At the bus stop, I waited under the shade and chatted with a friendly volunteer who told he had been working there every summer since 1991. He identified several of the peaks for me
and we shared stories about other favorite national parks. Soon the bus came and I boarded for my return back to my campsite, exhausted, a little sore, but exhilarated beyond belief. On the way out of the park, I think I finally saw some elk but I couldn't get my camera out of my pocket in time to capture them. The Rocky Mountains filled my soul with peace and I know I will be back someday to linger a little longer.As I drove away from Estes Park, I got to enjoy scenes like this for another 20 miles or so
Signs warned that there could be some bighorn sheep and I tried to watch for them, while not crashing into the river or stone walls, but never did catch a glimpse. Oh well, maybe in Montana.