(Buckley AFB, Aurora, CO) Hi 91 Lo 59 – We didn’t think anything could exceed the scenic beauty of our trip to the top of Mt. Evans on Monday. But we were wrong! Today we drove almost 250 miles, making a large loop north to Estes Park, through Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road west to Grand Lake, then south to I-70 and back to Aurora and Buckley AFB. We started out with breakfast at IHOP around 7:30 and didn’t get home until 6:30pm. It was a wonderful trip, with jaw-dropping scenery around every bend and curve in the road. Between the two of us we took around 350 pictures with our two cameras. (Sure glad we don’t have to pay for film anymore.) :) The 35 or 40 included below provide a good overall summary of what we saw.
The leg of the trip from the flatlands of I-25 to Estes Park was about 25 miles. We went through a section of canyon walls that rose up from the road in spectacular fashion. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)
The road finally opened up as we neared Estes Park.
Estes Park is a very touristy town with fantastic views of the Rockies all around it.
A famous landmark in town is the Stanley Hotel. They say it was the inspiration for the hotel in Stephen King’s novel “The Shining.” I can see why.
The “main drag” through town is typically loaded with high-priced shops and eateries.
We made a quick stop to use a public restroom, but we didn’t bother doing any window shopping.
Just outside of Estes Park is the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Trail Ridge Road is said to be the “highest continuous paved road in the U.S.” It goes up to 12,183 feet at its highest point. But wait… the road up to Mt. Evans we took on Monday is paved, and it goes up over 14,130 feet. But, per the nice park ranger I spoke with, the Mt. Evans road isn’t “continuous.” It stops and you have to come back down. Picky picky, I say. :)
Anyway, Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles long and connects the park's eastern entrance at Estes Park to the western entrance at Grand Lake Village. And the drive just thrilled us more and more as we went along. Here’s some pics.
Here’s a look down at the road below us that we traveled.
A winding river way down below.
We couldn’t resist a “we were there” shot.
As you can see from the photos above, we were still below the tree line. But eventually as we went above 11,000 feet we got into the alpine tundra, where there’s very little vegetation.
There were many pull-outs with scenic overlooks and short trails.
This gives an idea of how much traffic there was on the road.
One stop we had to make was the Alpine Visitor Center, the “highest visitor center in the National Park system.” It sits at 11,796 feet altitude.
The visitor center is open only during the summer. They get their electricity from a diesel generator, and their water from an underground reservoir, and their sewage waste is trucked out every day. Sort of like boondocking. :)
I should mention, the air temperature was quite cool up there. It was in the low 50’s, and we each had to put on our light jackets that we brought. It sure was a relief from the heat we’ve had lately though.
After spending some time in the visitor’s center we continued on our journey, and now we started heading downhill below the tree line. But the scenery remained spectacular.
We were lucky enough to come across some wildlife. Here’s a few elk that were grazing near the road…
… and farther on we saw these two mule deer.
We finally reached the western end of the park and exited at Grand Lake Village.
We had lunch at the Rapids Lodge. We sat at an outside table next to a rushing river. That was a nice treat. The food was good, but the service was very slow. :(
Grand Lake had the usual main street full of tourist shops.
Grand Lake itself is the source of the Colorado River. Interesting bit of trivia: the Colorado River was originally called the Grand River (hence the Grand Canyon). In 1923 the Colorado state government deemed it necessary to have an official state river. So they changed the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River.
The lake is beautiful.
We happened to cross a bridge over the Colorado River near its source, and I tried my best to get a picture. I got it, but it’s not the best composition.
Hard to believe that little “creek” carved the Grand Canyon isn’t it?
From there we made our way back to civilization, and by civilization I mean Denver rush hour. Dee and I both agree that today, and Monday’s summit of Mt. Evans, are the highlights of our full time travels so far. And if we had to pick one over the other, it would be hard. Mt. Evans offered the exhilaration of going higher than we’ve ever been, and Rocky Mountain National Park offered the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen. We’re just so thankful that were were able to do both. And we still have Colorado Springs to go yet. We are truly blessed!