Our objective was a drive from Estes Park around the north side of Rocky Mountain National Park to Grand Lake for lunch and then a return trip.
Before we reached the park, however, we were greeted by several white-tailed deer in the center of Estes Park.
Heading into the park,
we opted for the Old Fall River Road. Opened in 1920, Old Fall River Road earned the distinction of being the first auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park offering access to the park’s high country. The primarily gravel, 11-mile long road is one-way uphill and punctuated by 29 switchbacks. The posted speed limit is 15 miles per hour, a clear indication that a journey up Old Fall River Road is not for the impatient. Also, there are no guard rails along this road.
Along the way we passed Alluvial Falls.
While relatively serene today, on July 15, 1982, an earthen dam above the falls failed, releasing 29 million gallons of water which raced downhill, picking up and relocating boulders and snapping trees in its path. Ultimately, the flood waters claimed nearly 200 lives.
Chasm Falls, a few miles further on, was far more impressive
and where we were greeted by a local inhabitant.
After being watched by another couple of white-tailed deer seemingly playing peek-a-boo with us,
we continued on
to the Alpine Visitor’s Center, more than 2 miles above sea level.
Hiking a half mile and another couple of hundred feet in elevation, the mountain scenery was truly impressive.
Leaving the Visitor’s Center, with its log-reinforced roof (winds can reach more than 150 MPH and winter snows pile up higher than the roof line),
we found ourselves on the Trail Ridge Road, a paved road, as we descended toward Grand Lake on the western side of the Park. Along the descent, we passed several herds of elk.
Grand Lake, established in 1881, sits at an elevation of 8,437 feet and derived its name from the lake on whose shores it is situated. The Town was originally an outfitting and supply point for several mining settlements but is today a tourist destination with a population of 471 and is adjacent to the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
This community also had some of the prettiest flowers we’d seen since entering Colorado.
Is the largest natural lake in Colorado and was formed by glaciation some 30,000 years ago. It has long been known as the headwaters of the Colorado River. The lake is also included in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Water from the lake flows through the “Adams Tunnel”, under the mountains to Estes Park and ultimately to the City of Denver.
Retracing our route,we spotted our first and only Moose of the day.
Climbing, we again crossed the Continental Divide
Which, interestingly was well below the Alpine Visitor’s Center and the height of land we had ahead.
Just east of the Divide, there was a pristine pond
whose waters began their flow toward the Atlantic.
Fireweed, which we’d first encountered on our trip to Alaska was to be found along the sides of the road except at the highest elevations.
The road climbed …
bypassing the Alpine Visitor’s Center and well above the tree line
where we could look down on alpine lakes
and a snow rimmed lake at the base of a volcanic cliff.
We finally reached the height of land on the Trail Ridge Road
the highest continually paved highway in the United States where you can drive for 11 miles at elevations of greater than 11,000 feet.
On a somber note, throughout the park we were continually aware of the huge areas of dead trees.
The demise of an estimated 17 million trees in the West was not the result of forest fires but, rather, by some 17 species of bark beetles. Burrowing through the outer bark of conifers, bark beetles lay eggs which hatch into hungry beetle larvae … which consume the living inner bark of the trees. Recent warm winters and prolonged low precipitation have combined to favor the beetles and weaken many evergreen trees.
The following map provides a sense of the expanse of the bark beetle infestation and devastation they’ve created in the Western United States and Canada.
Back at our campground while enjoying a glass of wine, we watched the sun highlight two clouds framing Long Peak, at 14,259 feet, the highest in the Park.