Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Rocky Mountain National Park - Day 2 - Morning

[Composed 7/24/2023]

Today our Rocky Mountain National Park adventure started in earnest. The plan was to take in the sights of Trail Ridge Road and acclimatize ourselves to the elevation. The hope was that we'd see amazing views, unique wildlife and give our bodies the best chance to prepare for our upcoming long hike. In short, Trail Ridge Road more than delivered on all these goals.

We arrived to the park entrance at about 6:45am and asked the ranger his thoughts on how quickly the alpine visitor center would be at capacity. His guess: soon, if it wasn't already full. We took this as our cue to make our way up the  11,796 feet to try to score a parking spot before they were gone. Along the way, we ooh'd and ahh'd at the stunning mountain scenery. The day before, we'd shown the kids* the snow capped mountains in the distance. Now we were eye-to-eye with snow fields. Add to that the marmot and gang of elk we saw, and the drive was proving to be as impressive as I'd hoped.

We arrived to a closed visitor center and a half-filled parking lot. This was perfect. Well, almost perfect. With the visitor's center being closed, M had to use the pit toilets and he returned with a 0 out 10, must skip, review. Sorry M.

From the visitor's center parking lot, we took the .6 mile alpine Ridge Trail up to a staggeringly beautiful overlook. Because we arrived at the visitor's center so early, we had the overlook mostly to ourselves. The perfect weather conditions made the scene look even more Instagram worthy. As if all this wasn't enough, a gang of elk with impressive antlers made their way into our field of view.

The experience reminded me of one of the best pieces of photography advice I've heard: If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff. Jim Richardson was right: with the scene in front of us, it was impossible not to feel like a National Geographic cover photographer. Needless to say, I loved every minute of this.

While we made it up and down the Alpine Ridge Trail without incident, the 12,000 foot elevation humbled us all. Even the uber-fit kids had moments of being out of breath. The goal of this trip, like most of our adventures, was to encounter unique experiences, and dealing with the altitude was one we'd all not soon forget.

From the visitor's center we made our way 10 miles, and 2,000 feet down, to Milner Pass. Here, Trail Ridge road crosses the Continental Divide. We paused here to stretch our legs and snap pics of this notable geolocation.

From Milner Pass we made our way another 11 miles and pulled off in at a seemingly randomly location. However, the stop was anything but random. It's at this point that the 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail (CDT) passes Trail Ridge Road. The CDT, along with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Appalachian Trail (AT) form the triple crown of US long distance trails. Shira and I have enjoyed logging miles on the AT in a number of different states, so I was excited to get some time on the CDT.

The section of trail we covered starts by crossing an anonymous looking stream. We posed for pictures at this point and I collected up a few rocks from below the shallow, cool water. It's hard to believe that we'd just encountered the 1,460 mile Colorado River.

The plan was to hike the CDT in until we hit Gaskill Cemetery. The cemetery is a remnant of an 1880's ghost town. While I had a couple of different maps that told us the location of the cemetery, none could be found when we arrived. We searched high and low, but all we found were blown down trees and elk scat. Oh well, it would have been a fun find, but it wasn't meant to be.

We made our way back to the car, where we refueled on  snacks. Next up was the end of Trail Ridge Road, Adam's Falls and hopefully ice cream.

*M, P, B are not kids, they're young adults. Brilliant, thoughtful and accomplished young adults at that. But for the purposes of writing, and because I'm old, it's easier to type 'kids.' Sorry guys. If it's any consolation, in a few decades, you'll be calling anyone in their mid-twenties or younger 'kids' too.

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