Monday, July 25, 2022

Rocky Mountain National Park - Day 2 - Noon

We made it just about a mile from the Ute Trail before we once again pulled off Trail Ridge Road to catch a view. I wasn't immediately convinced that Forest Canyon Overlook was worth stopping for. I'm glad Shira ignored my instincts. The view from the overlook here was beyond magnificent. A fellow tourist at the overlook informed us that far below were a number of pikas scurrying around. Could they have been squirrels or chipmunks? Sure, but I'd like to believe they were pikas.

Back on the road we managed to come across a coyote out for a morning stroll. This was a moment every photographer dreams of: an iconic creature, a camera with the right lens attached and settings dialed. I took many photos of our furry friend before he trotted off. It was all magical.

We also caught sight of many elk. Some were relatively close, others pointed out to us by another kind traveler, were way off in the distance. What a treat it has been to see so much wildlife.

Like any good visitor of the park, we made our way to the visitor's center and gift shop. Pro tip: the bathrooms you see from the parking lot are pit toilets. Inside the visitor's center there are flush toilets that are immaculate, so enjoy them if you're in need of a bio break.

The visitor's center and gift shop are impressive, especially more so when you consider that due to elevation and remoteness they're independent from the power grid and they haul their sewage away daily (see the toilets above). So the standard visitor center amenities you'd expect are far more of a luxury here.

We did the short Alpine Ridge Trail that's situated behind the visitor's center and continued to be blown away by the views. Sure the area was crowded by now, but I'm still glad we made the iconic trek.

We continued our trip along Trail Ridge Road, stopping at various spots to snap pics and take short walks. We debated whether we had time to take in the Holzwarth Historic Site, and so I had Shira pull into the parking lot for us to talk this through. As we got out of the car to stretch our legs and debate the timing of the day, two massive moose came strolling through the field we'd parked adjacent to. Again, I was blown away at our luck at seeing wildlife today. We ended up passing on the historic site because we were just too short on time.

The final stretch of Trail Ridge Road, before we exited the park, took us through a burn area caused by the massive East Troublesome Fire. This fire happened in October of 2020 and was relentless:

In just 24 hours, the fire grew from 18,550 acres to 187,964 acres. It jumped Highway 125 and rapidly spread eastward into Rocky Mountain National Park. That is when Grand Lake was in very real danger.

Stopping here to photograph the landscape had a sort of eerie feel to it. While signs of life and regrowth are everywhere, it's hard not to feel moved by the site of so many burned out trees.

We finished up this stage of our trip by enjoying some baked goods in Grand Lake. Grand Lake's elevation is 8,369' which is high by DC standards, but quite a relief compared to earlier in the day when we were hiking at over 11,500'. We had one more substantial hike for the day and then we'd make the trip back along Trail Ridge Road.

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