Monday, October 14, 2019

Checking out the Rocky Mountain Lilies (Lily Mountain and Lily Lake)

We're in our third day of hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park, and we were looking for the perfect trail. We wanted something with a summit view, but we didn't want to repeat another 14 mile hike like we did two days ago. Mark found a well-reviewed hike that is actually outside the national park--just barely--and it seemed to fit the bill. We were lucky to find a spot in the tiny parking area along Highway 7, and we started up the Lily Mountain Trail.

It's only two miles to the top, and the elevation gain is only 1,180 feet. What a great reward for so little effort! It's steep at the end with some rock scrambling, but we were suddenly on top of Lily Mountain!

The top provides a little rocky seating area, and our timing was perfect. A large group was just leaving when we arrived to have the place to ourselves.

We have views in every direction of the Rocky Mountains that surround us.

Mark loves scrambling to the farthest edges of the top of Lily Mountain, while Denisa is content to stay on more stable ground to take his picture.

But some times she finds out that her "stable ground" has some pretty sheer drop offs when she sees the pictures that Mark is taking of her perch.

We stayed at the top to eat our snack, fully enjoying this easy summit on such a beautiful day.

Then we headed back down the trail to allow the next group of hikers to enjoy the summit. We had time to do some bird-watching in our slow descent. This stellar jay perched nicely out in the open for some pictures.

The sun was lighting up the side of the mountain, and we had to take a picture of the rich blue sky, green trees, and red cliffs. We feel like we are wandering in God's wonders again today.

Next stop is right down Highway 7 to Lily Lake. We've heard reports of a moose visiting this area, so we took the long walk around the lake where the ranger suggested one might be snacking on the willows. Nope!

Then we took the Lily Lake Ridge Hike to get a bird's eye view of the area. Still no moose!

We are also looking for some fall foliage, but the aspens are especially late in turning into their golden splendor this year. Denisa had to snap this picture of a young aspen changing into shades of yellow and orange because she so wants to see those fall leaves.

We got rained on as we hurried off the trail to get to the car. This might be a sign that it is time to head back to town. We have been driving through the busy little town of Estes Park without stopping, but a rainy afternoon seemed to be a good time to do some urban exploring. We hiked some of the streets of Estes Park, and located a sandwich place that had been recommended by hiking friends. We even took their recommendation to try the Yak Burger. Then it was time for grocery shopping, and we still got back to the motor home before dark. After three days, this is the first time to see our camp site in the daylight. That also means that we actually got to see the sunset from our campground.

The Rocky Mountains are certainly a beautiful place to explore the Lilies (Lily Mountain and Lily Lake), as we continue to wander His wonders!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

What does a "day off" look like in the Rocky Mountain National Park?

After a too-long hike yesterday at Rocky Mountain National Park, we have vowed to take it easy on our second day in the park. So we are taking the "day off." That means that we're giving our legs a rest. Instead of hiking, we're following the ranger's advice and taking a driving tour today. Welcome to the Old Fall River Road!

Built in the 1920's by "inmates and hired laborers," this gravel road used to be the only way into this national park. Steep grades, narrow lanes, and hairpin curves are still a challenge as it ascends over 3,000 feet.

In 1932, the paved Trail Ridge Road was built, and that has been the main route for motorists ever since. So Old Fall River Road is now a one-way scenic drive that takes visitors to some lesser known sights in the park. For example, our first stop of the day was at the Alluvial Fan. That's our new vocabulary word of the day: alluvial fan - a triangular shaped deposit of water-transported material. In 1982 the dam broke at Lawn Lake, high up on the mountain. The wall of water that escaped from the lake flooded down this mountainside and formed this "alluvial fan" of rocks and waterfall behind.

Next stop is the Chasm Falls. We parked in the wrong place, and had to climb over a field of boulders to get a view of the waterfall. We were pretty impressed with the scrambling skills of the rest of the people already at the falls. Then we realized that a different parking lot led to a flat easy path to the falls. We're not so impressed with those other folks any more.

It's a beautiful blue sky day, and we are loving the mountain views along Old Fall River Road.

We had vowed that this is a rest day, but Mark had read good things about the hike that started at the Mount Chapin Trail head. So of course we parked the car along the narrow road, and headed up . . . and up . . . and up the trail.

At least we had enough sense not to hike all the way to the summit. We reached a nice fall foliage view from a plateau, then turned around and headed back to the car.

Besides the plants turning red, we see evidence that the animals recognize the changing season. They're gathering food for the long winter ahead. We're not sure what this ground squirrel was clutching, but it kept his attention while we took several pictures. 

Old Fall River Road is an eleven-mile drive that stretches to the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park, and it ends at the visitor center at the top of the park. This is the view from the Alpine Visitor Center. At 11,796 foot in elevation, it's the highest national park visitor center in all of the U.S. parks.

We explored the Alpine Center, and then we took the hike right outside to this high point. As often happens here on top of the mountains, the wind is blowing 40 mph and it is cold!

But we braved the wind and the cold and got the obligatory picture at the 12,006 feet elevation marker. As you can see, Denisa is wearing two jackets and her gloves to make this hike.

We had seen this scenery when we drove the motor home over this pass two days ago. We are SO glad that day wasn't as blustery as today. It would have been especially challenging driving our tall motor home over this pass with these 40 mph winds.

On the trip with the motor home we couldn't stop in at the scenic viewpoints. So today's drive in the car allowed for more stopping and taking in the views. But with stiff winds and rain on the horizon, we didn't stop long.

As we drove to lower elevations on the east side of the park, we joined the crowds of people that were already lining the road at the meadows. As we look across the meadow, we can see the herds of elk that are the stars of the rut season each fall.

This group of elk cows are being guarded by the bull with the big antlers. He's lounging in the back right now, but you can be sure that he will jump into action if another male approached his harem.

As we look across the meadow, we can see that many of the park visitors have left their cars for closer views of the elk herds.

The elks weren't very active this afternoon, so we had plenty of time to do some bird-watching too. We've seen many of these birds that we have nicknamed "tuxedo birds" because of their neat black-and-white breast feathers.

But now we know that this is a magpie. We got a great look at their back feathers, to see that they aren't just black and white.

In fact, they have beautiful iridescent blue and green tail feathers. This guy hopped right in front of Denisa, just begging her to take a picture of his feathered finery.

Our next stop was to Sprague Lake. We've been to three different visitor centers within Rocky Mountain National Park, and they are all advising this as the best place to see a moose on the east side of the park. We showed up at prime moose-watching time, and walked the entire loop around the lake. We were there just as the sun was sinking in the sky. The shadows on the lake grass pictured a couple of hikers (that are supposed to be taking the "day off"), holding hands while they waited on that moose.

We got pretty excited when the guys with the huge cameras showed up. They had zoom lenses that were two feet long, and we assumed they knew where the best wildlife sightings would be. A large bull moose had shown up at this time for the last two nights, and the crowd of watchers grew larger as the evening progressed. But the moose must have forgotten his appointment at Sprague Lake. We stayed until almost sunset with no sign of him.

So we headed home in the dark for the second night in a row. Even though this was our "day off," we managed to still hike over six miles, and we were in the park for close to twelve hours. We've got to quit staying out so late! But it's hard not to take advantage of every minute while we get to wander God's wonders here in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Beware the Trail with Too many Detours!

We usually start a visit to a national park by asking for advice at the visitor center. We have four days here at Rocky Mountain National Park, and they have more than 500 miles of trails to explore. We obviously aren't going to hike all of them, but our first day we certainly tried! Trail head parking fills up very early--even after Labor Day--so we used the park's bus system to take a one-way hike across some of the most popular parts of the park. We got on the south-side bus at the main park-and ride station, and rode to the popular Bear Lake trail head.

Everyone who visits this national park must have a picture of this lake. It's easy to reach with the bus system, and has a flat hiking trail around it. So we got our Bear Lake pictures just like everyone else.

That means this area is very busy, so we were glad to hit the trail. We headed straight up for a while, and the crowds quickly disappeared. We soon began seeing mountain peaks at eye level.

Notice that we are both smiling, as it is before noon and we are still feeling rested.

Our trail got rocky as we approached Lake Helene, and we are seeing areas where last winter's snow has now made it all the way through the summer.

We often see yellow-bellied marmot in these rocky sections of trails. But today we are treated to see several pikas playing in the rocks. 

In the same family as the common rabbit, they seldom have let us get so close or stayed so still for clear pictures.

Maybe that's because they are settling down for their great winter nap among these rocks. We caught this guy carrying a big green leaf twice his size into his den.

We scrambled off the trail for our first detour. This took us to a ridge for unbroken views of the mountains around us. We are surely wandering God's wonders today!

Part of this trail is narrow, hugging the side of the mountain. But once we got to this point, it is all down-hill.  We are glad that the ranger told us to make this hike in this direction, as we are meeting people that are working hard going uphill.

By 1:00 we can see our next destination. That is Odessa Lake showing up far below us in the picture below.

It's detour #2, but we took the extra hike down into the valley to get to Odessa Lake.

Because it's cloudy and windy, we decided not to spend too much time here. It's funny how the weather will determine your feelings about a location. Odessa Lake won't go down in our memories as a favorite even though it is a lovely place on a sunny day.

Then we're on the trail again, heading toward our next destination of this hike that is getting longer and longer. 

This is a popular destination within Rocky Mountain National Park--Fern Lake.

It's after 2:00, so we're due for a long lunch break. We love taking pictures of some of our picturesque meals with a view. With that blue sky and protection from the breeze, we'll remember the clear water of Fern Lake fondly.

A hiker very early in the day told us to take a left turn right after Fern Lake for a short hike to some great views. We found a left turn and started straight up the mountain on what would be a very long detour #3. The trail went up and up and up and . . . It's hard for us to cut our losses and decide that we have wasted too much energy. So we just kept going. all. the. way. to. Spruce Lake.

It was a tiring two mile detour that included scrambling over boulders and lots of elevation gain. Part of this area is closed for the mating territory of the endangered Boreal Frog - but we didn't see any. Someone we talked to later saw a moose at Spruce Lake today - but we didn't see any. So it was a long trail to a mountain lake and we didn't see a soul on the trail. It was a nice secluded place in a very busy national park, but it wasn't worth all that energy for another long detour.

This is a long trail, but it has plenty of scenic views along the way. We've been hiking for about seven hours by the time we came to Fern Falls, and we are both still smiling. That's because no detour was needed to get to the falls.

Our original plan was to hike from the last shuttle stop on the south side route, all the way to where the north side bus would pick us up at the end of the line. But when we checked our map, it would just be a little further to make a detour to Cub Lake and the next bus stop. What we didn't bargain for was that this #4 detour would include a mile of uphill hiking. Why do we keep doing this? The main reason to make the extra effort to go to Cub Lake is that it is a notable moose habitat. Besides, we are getting late in the day when moose like to show up at lakes. But the magic didn't happen tonight--no moose at cub lake.

It's getting late in the day, and Denisa has vowed to take no more detours. But then we see three bull elk across the marshy meadow. Shouldn't we take detour #5?

Of course we do, and we find ourselves in the middle of a stream bed covered over with tall grass. How about soggy feet for the rest of the hike?

But we do get close enough to take some pictures of the bulls. The biggest one started bugling, and then took off at a fast pace to where the action was in the far meadow.

The two younger bulls must know that they don't have a chance in the competitions going on in the meadow right now. So they are content to stay here for a close-up portrait.

We stayed and watched the two young bulls, butting heads and tangling their horns in a good show of testosterone.

We really have to pick up speed now, knowing that the last shuttle bus of the day is only an hour away. We're in big trouble if we miss the last bus, because our car is miles away and we know that there's no way that Denisa can walk that much further. So we did some speed hiking for the rest of the trail. The last shuttle runs at 7:30, and it was already getting close to 6:30. We saw a shuttle bus rounding the corner into the parking lot when we were only 200 yards away, but the 6:30 bus pulled out before we got there. Now we had to wait thirty minutes for the next shuttle! Denisa was so sad that she almost missed the pink sunset that was happening by that time.

The ranger did a great job of recommending this awesome hike that took us beside beautiful lakes with stunning mountain views that could all be seen in just 8.5 miles of hiking. But our foolish detours stretched our hiking day considerably. By the time we got home we clicked off almost 14 miles, with elevation gain of 2,060 feet. No wonder Denisa was so tired! It was a beautiful day wandering God's wonders, but beware of too many detours!