2016 Trip Eight, The Rockies, Oct. 4

Estes Park, CO. October 4, Tuesday

View along Trail Ridge Road

View along Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road (TRR) traverses Rocky Mountain National Park. It is US Highway 34. It is also stupendous. Today it was also windswept and snowy. TRR is only open from about June 1 to about Oct. 15, depending on weather conditions. We wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to drive it during our stay and before it was closed for the year. We knew the day would be windy; Estes Park weather conditions called for 20-25 mph winds and temperatures in the high 40s.

At the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road

At the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road

TRR goes from the city of Estes Park elevation of 7500 feet to 12,183 feet above sea level. Eleven miles of the road are above the tree line. The six of us (including Lacey) rode in the Subaru Legacy which was roomy enough for a journey of a few hours. The beginning of the journey was sunny but breezy. We soon encountered blowing snow and the road surface had a light covering of icy snow. It is always cooler and windier at the top. When we reached the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet, we do know the temperature was 19 degrees and could only guess that the wind was much stronger than what we experienced at Estes Park.

All six of us at the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road

All six of us at the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road

One view of the tundra environment

One view of the tundra environment

We were dressed for it but chose not to go on the walk at the visitor center which climbed higher still and which was completely exposed to the wind. Lacey enjoyed the snow and wind tremendously; the rest of us bundled up and alternated between enjoying the outside view and shopping at the visitor center. The views at the top were more limited due to the low cloud cover, snow, and blowing snow. The drive up and down offered more views as the clouds separated when we were at lower levels. There are not a lot of parking areas and there are no shoulders along the road. Later we found out that the road was closed at 3 PM today; evidently due to the weather and road conditions. I do not believe the road closing is for the rest of the year, guessing that it will be open again tomorrow.

Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park

Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park

On the way back down, we stopped at Hidden Valley to have a walk and a picnic lunch. The temperature had risen to 47 degrees and the wind was maybe half as strong as it had been at the top. After lunch we went to Alluvial Fan. This area also had elk herds visible but our reason for visiting was the fact that Alluvial Fan is the area where on July 15, 1982, a dam broke on Lawn Lake. Lawn Lake is a small lake up in the mountains that had been expanded in the early 1900s by a dam to act as a reservoir for the purpose of providing irrigation water to farmers in Loveland CO. Lack of repair and maintenance led to the failure. Three campers lost their lives and million of dollars of damage was done to businesses in Estes Park.

Ed and Chris walking on boulders at Alluvial Fan, Rocky Mountain National Park

Ed and Chris walking on boulders at Alluvial Fan, Rocky Mountain National Park

Alluvial Fan is the area below Lawn Lake where huge boulders settled over acres of land after being carried down the mountain by the flood waters. One can scramble over the boulders along the stream and walk along the wetlands below Alluvial Fan. There are aspen in the meadow area with a great view up into the mountains.

Looking downstream at Alluvial Fan

Looking downstream at Alluvial Fan

After Alluvial Fan we stopped in Estes Park for an afternoon snack of either a malt, pie, hot chocolate, or a smoothie. The owners of “Shakes Alive” are two brothers from the Champaign Illinois area who work dawn to dark for the six months from May 1 to Oct. 31 and then spend the next six months in the Caribbean recuperating. We did not get the story for the “You Need Pie” shop but the apple strawberry pie was excellent.

Relaxation time filled the last two hours of the afternoon before we headed back to Moraine Park Discovery Center for the 6 PM ranger talk on “Elk Echoes”. The ranger gave an excellent presentation (outside-we dressed warmly) about the habits of the elk. She provided interesting tidbits about the rutting season and the various bugle calls and behavior patterns used by bulls and cows. Just a few pointers:
Bigger is better-the bigger the bull elk’s rack of antlers, the more the cows are impressed.
The elk antlers are grown each year, dropping off in April and then growing until the October rutting season.
Elk antlers can grow at a rate of one inch per day.
The bull elk spend the spring and summer in the forest alone eating and resting to focus on growing their antlers.
The cows and calves spend their spring and summer in the meadows in groups that provide protection.

On the way back home, we saw even more elk along the road with cars pulled over in long lines to view them and take pictures. Back at Crags Lodge, the tasty chili Bernie and Tony made in the crock pot was waiting for us.

Ed and Chris

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