Below are the diary entries for September 18, 2012, with the newest entries added at the bottom. Also, check out today’s photos.
We spent today in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you haven’t visited it yet, you should! It is spectacular. We started with a hike, after getting hiking advice from a park ranger. After all, we’re not used to hiking at these altitudes - the mountains over which the Appalachian Trail runs in Maryland are mere mosquito bites compared to the Rockies - and we’re a tad out of shape into the bargain.
We settled on a couple of short hikes in the Bear Lake area of the park, for a total of 3.6 miles, going up 600 feet, which took us two and half hours. After that, we drove the Trail Ridge Highway (U.S. 34) through the northern end and down the western flank of the park. I’m not even going to attempt to describe the scenery; just look at the pictures.
The 48-mile drive rises to a high point of 12,183 feet (oddly, this isn’t marked) and crosses over the continental divide. It’s so high up that part of the road is closed from October to Memorial Day and road crews have to come in to clear snow banks that can be as tall as 35 feet before the road can be opened to the public. Because it’s only accessible a few months of the year, building the road took six years, from 1926 to 1932.
What with stopping every few miles, or so it seemed, switchbacks, and hardly ever going more than 30 mph, it took us three hours to complete the entire route, but that certainly wasn’t the end of mountain driving for today. After an hour or so on U.S. 40 we hit the Berthoud Pass, again crossing over the continental divide. The switchbacks here were even more challenging than those on the Trail Ridge Highway! We were glad to find a motel, even if it’s a bit on the seedy side, with a hot tub. We spent half an hour blissfully soaking in the hot bubbles and then headed back to our room and to bed with a dinner of rice crackers with cheese and an apple.
We woke up to a car with a layer of frost on the windows; it had been a while since I've had that! Driving out of Estes Park, there was an Elk crossing the road... fortunately I got a good shot of it.
The goal for today was Rocky Mountain National Park. We started out at the visitor center, asking the ranger there for suggestions. The ranger suggested to drive up to Beaver Lake and hike to Dream Lake. It turns out that there is construction in the park, and cars are only allowed to enter on that stretch between 8:00 and 9:00. Fortunately, we had gotten up early: we were at the visitor center at 8:04 and were in the park on the road by 8:20. There were plenty of others...
Still, the drive up was gorgeous. At Beaver Lake, we started our hike and it was beautiful there. The first part, to Nymph Lake, was mostly between trees. The path is asphalt but still going up nicely. The lake is pretty small and has a lot of water plants in it.
Dream Lake was much larger and probably much deeper than Nymph Lake. It also looked gorgeous with the mountains in the background! At this point, there were two ways we could go: either to Lake Haiyaha or to Emerald Lake. Lake Haiyaha was twice as long and twice as much a climb, so we decided on Emerald Lake: the combination of altitude and us not being in the greatest condition anymore was starting to make itself noticed.
The way back to the parking lot had a few additional photo opportunities, including another great shot of Nymph Lake. The 3.6 mile hike had taken us 2 1/2 hours, but that did include a 600 feet height difference. Doesn't sound like much, but it was definitely enough for us!
From the Beaver Lake area we returned back to the main road and followed the Trail Ridge Road through the entire park, crossing the continental divide. This took most of the rest of the day, still filled with gorgeous views of the mountains.
Leaving the park, we followed US-34 and our old friend, US-40, down to the I-70 and went a few miles backwards to the town of Idaho Springs, where we found ourselves a motel. This is so that we can start out tomorrow with the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70.