21 June 2016-It takes two days to get out of Texas from San Antonio, a total of 733 miles for us; one night in Lubbock then on to Raton, NM for a night. West Texas is miles-and-miles of miles-and-miles, not much else. I have to admit that folks who live here must be a hardy bunch, farmers and ranchers. The upside of that travel is the Rabbit Ear Cafe in Clayton, NM. I remember our first discovery of the place one cold winter’s afternoon headed to Red River for a ski trip. That green chili pork stew, thick, rich, spicy, still lingers in my foodie mind. Our stop today did not let us down. It seems that the place is always packed, so be patient. It is well worth the stop.
We head through Denver on IH-25 to Loveland to take US34 into Estes Park, and, of course, there is an accident impeding traffic. Fortunately, the next exit/turn around led us to CO66 due west to US36 right in to EP. We are staying just outside of town at Raton KOA. The sites are so close we cannot extend the awning. Also, the entire RV area is gravel, so there is dust swirling around during windy times. Speaking of the wind, when it blows from the west, one senses the large horse stables just next door. Whew! We found a couple of other RV parks just outside of RMNP that look more appealing, especially the view. Otherwise, the place is clean and well kept with an accommodating staff. The nights here are cool in the lower to mid-fifties. It reached ninety yesterday and today, but if one stays in the shade, it is bearable.
Our initial trek into RMNP began around 7AM. We follow the signs through town taking the suggested US34 route, aka Fall River Road, for about 23 miles. It merges into US36, so watch the road signs, not the scenery. A better way is to follow US36 West straight into the park at the Beavers Meadow Visitor Center. It is only 10 miles, but it does go right through downtown Estes Park, not a problem at 630AM.
What a beautiful 10-mile drive from the Fall River entrance up to Bear Lake. Without traffic, it takes about 20 minutes. Mountain lupine decorate the roadside. Several mountain peaks still have snow. All amidst the awesome backdrop of granite boulders strewn amongst the pine, spruce and fir. We pass free-flowing mountain streams into the Moraine meadow then climb again past Glacier Gorge on up to the Bear Lake trailhead.
Remember, we drove up very early, actually before the rangers arrived at the main entrance. That allowed plenty of parking availability. However, by 830AM Bear Lake parking is full, as is Glacier Gorge, as is Moraine Discovery Center.
A volunteer ranger told us that parking gets scarce as the day goes on. If you plan to visit, go early, like before 7AM, or park at the Shuttle Lot and ride up. Let’s face it. With over 4 million visitors annually, that is a lot of automobiles.
Our initial hike around Bear Lake is easy with only a moderate steep incline about two-thirds of the way, a mere 20-foot elevation gain. Hiking at a leisurely pace we circumvent the lake, 0.5 mile, in about 40 minutes. Definitely purchase Bear Lake Nature Trail guidebook ($2). The lake’s basin was literally scooped out by glacial movement leaving a natural dam (moraine)at its south side.
The lake is surrounded by thinleaf alder, longpole pine, aspen, spruce and fir. With all those trees come birds. The noisy gray, white, and black bird is the Clarke’s nutcracker. The gray jay is plentiful as well, and much quieter. If you are lucky, like Becky, you might spy a dark blue Steller jay with its crested topknot.
By noon we drive back to our trailer, take the dogs out for a walk, and have a light lunch, provided by our neighbors, of barbecued chicken legs, pinto beans, and Mexican rice. We decide to go into Estes Park, park at the Visitor Center, and stroll along the Riverwalk. This little town has really developed a thoughtful downtown area. Lots of different shops, bars, and restaurants.
We wake up at 5AM to the full moon of the summer solstice. After taking care of morning chores, we head out to RMNP for a morning hike. We planned last evening how to proceed today. First, we take the trail up to Alberta Falls, backtrack to the Glacier Gorge trail, catch the shuttle back to Bear Lake. We pass through the ranger entrance agin with no one in attendance. If you arrive after rangers are posted, the day fee is $20 per car, unless you have a Senior Pass like me, then it is free. We take another winding drive up to Bear Lake where parking at this time is plentiful.
The weather is clear, sunny, yet cool, so we both have sweatshirts over our tees. Off we go to Alberta Falls, a 0.8 mile trail with a 160-foot elevation gain. This is a moderately easy trail with a bit of an incline as one approaches the falls. One can hear the falls change from a rumble along the trail path to a roar once there. It amazes us at the amount of water tumbling down the mountain crevice, calling a dozen feet, and rushing off into the forest. The temperature is cooler as the mist swirls to the trail.
What energy, what fury, what beauty.
After 15 minutes or so of meditating on the falls we backtrack to the Glacier Gorge trail intersection. This trail parallels a mountain stream, dotted along the way with a variety of wildflowers.
My leg muscles appreciate the fact that we planned well as the hike is mostly downhill. Coming to a short bridge across the stream we turn to look at the steep path. Now we understand why the group we met earlier, sitting on the rocks, panting with pounding hearts, looked so disheveled. That is a steep elevation change of about 100 feet in only 0.3 miles at 9240 feet high.
As we wait for the shuttle we chat with the volunteer. She tells us that visitation is up 15% over the past couple of years. She also says that there are around 2,000 people, mostly volunteers, working the park. I imagine that without those volunteers things would not go as smoothly as they do. Bless those visionaries who worked so diligently for this park and for the volunteers who keep it running.
After catching the shuttle back up to Bear Lake we decide to hike up to Nymph Lake, a mere half mile, but an elevation gain of 225-feet. Its a pretty little lake with lily pads floating around. BUT, our legs really complained. AND, there is not a lot of air at that elevation 9710-feet.
See you later from Yellowstone NM.