Rocky Mountain National Park

Back in October of 2010 I was scheduled to attend a real estate investing workshop in Denver, Colorado for a few days, and I thought that would be the perfect opportunity to make a long awaited trip to see Rocky Mountain National Park after my workshop. Now the fall weather in the intermountain west can yield everything from gorgeous sunny, crisp days to blinding snowstorms. And the higher the elevation is the more likely you’ll get the latter.

I wasn’t really too worried as I had my Jeep Wrangler Sahara, so I decided to make that drive to Colorado. I took Interstate 80 across southern Wyoming from Salt Lake City; the weather on the drive out was spectacular – clear, cool and sunny. In fact, is was one of the very few times that I had been through Rawlings, Wyoming when the wind wasn’t howling, and it wasn’t either hot as a blast furnace or cold enough to give an eskimo frostbite. The drive was so pleasant that the only rough spot was finding the hotel parking.

View from US 34 in Rocky Mountain Park. If you look closely, you’ll see the snow on those high peaks.

After a couple of days in downtown Denver at the real estate workshop that was actually incredibly informative and helpful to my practice (remember I am an investment advisor), it was time to head out of town toward Estes Park, the closest town to Rocky Mountain National Park. The last time that I was in the park was with my parents when I was 10 years old. About the only thing I remember from that trip was seeing snow in July — pretty cool for a 10 year old boy from El Paso, Texas where even seeing snow in January was rare.

The plan was to explore the park the next day, and then drive westward through Rocky Mountain Park via US Highway 34, known in the park as Trail Ridge Road – the highest paved highway in the continental United States. I got to Estes Park in the early afternoon from Denver, checked into my motel, and then walked around town and had a nice dinner.

Here is a view of one of the 14,000 foot peaks in the park. The fall colors were sweet, but that new snow was foreboding.

For you movie fans out there, Estes Park is home to the Stanley Hotel, which inspired the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining”. Now the actual hotel filmed in the movie was the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon. Having been up there in a raging snow storm in late October, I can tell you personally that the Timberline Lodge is spooky as hell. Why do I go into the mountains in the late fall? 😂

A pond in the park on the way to my hike. Notice the dead conifers across the pond. This is from the western bark beetle which is wreaking havoc upon our western forests due to the changing climate.

Let’s get back to my journey to Rocky Mountain National Park. I woke up early the next morning, and during breakfast at the hotel restaurant I heard quite a bit of scuttle about a big snow storm hitting the park later in the day. Uh oh! Well after breakfast I headed out into the park and began the tour. This is where I saw the elk herd in my recent post, An Elk Surprise. Prior to my first, and what would work out to be my only hike that day, I stopped into a ranger station to check on the weather. Well, the breakfast scuttle was looking to be quite accurate now. The rangers said if the storm hit as predicted that US 34 would close that afternoon for the rest of the season until next summer.

This big guy caught my eye that morning, and now you know why I miss my Sigma 170-500mm super telephoto lens. It kept me a safe distance from guys like this.
Here is another photo of my elk friend. He was so majestic.

I decided to hit a nearby trail, hoping to get higher up and make the best of what was likely my short trip in the park. And then maybe if things weren’t too bad the next day, I could do some winter photography in the park. Much to my surprise Mother Nature had decided that there would be other things happening.

I caught this little chipmunk having a snack near the trail while I was photographing a tree. He is so cute!

Off I went up this beautiful rocky trail, and then it happened – snowflakes! At first is really wasn’t too bad – mostly flurries. As I was taking some shots around a gorgeous mountain lake, the storm hit with a vengeance. In like 15 minutes the weather went from dreary with light snow flurries to a full blown dump! Crap!

This tree is so incredible – literally clinging to those granite cliffs for its survival.

I had been pretty unconcerned about the weather that day other than contemplating a new route home. Now I was a few miles up on a high mountain trail with very few other people around (I should have noticed that earlier), and had to make it safely down the trail back to my Jeep then back down snowy roads. That was a tougher walk down than I shall describe here due to the extremely slick footing from the ever deepening snow.

The weather was really starting to turn just after I snapped this photograph. Notice the hazed mountain in the background. It is snowing over there.

I drove down the mountain through the messy weather back to Estes Park. The trip down the mountain went smoother than the hike, mostly because I was one of the few idiots left out there. Now what to do?

Here is a broader shot of the lake with the big peaks in the background. Such beautiful country!

I stopped at the ranger station again, and it was now official – US 34 which goes up over 11,000 feet (over 3353 meters) above sea level was now closed for the season. The only way to get back home was to backtrack east down out of the mountains and head toward the freeway. That evening I was studying my maps pretty thoroughly because I wanted to see some great sights, and I just wasn’t prepared to give in to Mother Nature.

Here is the last shot worth showing from my hike. Those white spots and streaks are snow. A few minutes later, it just got ugly.

Plan B.  The next morning I drove down US 34 to Loveland, Colorado, then north up US 287 to Fort Collins, Colorado – the home of Colorado State University. I had decided to go north out of Fort Collins, and then take Colorado 14 westward north of Rocky Mountain Park to Steamboat Springs, Colorado on the other side of the Rockies. Colorado 14 still goes through some incredible high country, at least according to the maps, before it eventually connects to US 40, just east of Steamboat Springs. From there, I could take US 40 straight back to Salt Lake.

This is the Cache la Poudre River along CO 14 west of Fort Collins, CO.

Was that ever a drive! Mother Nature was on one, and I made it, but let’s just say that she showed me who was boss that day. Those beautiful views of the Colorado 14’ers (peaks above 14,000 feet) were mostly obscured by clouds hanging only a couple of hundred feet above the highway. I didn’t see sunshine until later that afternoon, most of the way to Steamboat.

Farther up Poudre Canyon on CO 14. There was some hope of a decent day here.

Also, I didn’t notice on the maps that CO 14 went over a pass that was 10,276 feet (3132 meters)! As I came around one snow packed bend in the road up near the pass, I saw a green Ram truck off of the road to my left. At first I thought it was stranded in a snowbank. Nope! Upon further inspection it was lodged in some pine trees about 25 feet above the ground where the trees were! Evidently he was going just a tad bit too fast around that snowcovered curve.

This is on Colorado 14 heading toward Steamboat Springs not far past Walden on the western slope of the Rockies.

Steamboat Springs finally came into view about 5:30 pm. Whew! What a day; what a drive. Man was I ever glad to get to that Comfort Inn Motel. The next morning gave me clear skies with an easy drive back to Utah.

Well, thanks for reading about my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately I haven’t made it back yet, but I will say this. When I return it won’t be in later October! Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog, and thank you for making this blog happen. It keeps me sane. Have a wonderful day!

6 thoughts on “Rocky Mountain National Park

  1. Amazing, Tim! I had no idea that the Stanley hotel in Estes Park and the Timber Line hotel in Mt. Hood OR were featured in “The Shining.” Lord, I’ve watched that movie many times and it never gets old. I plan to see the Rockies and stay at least a night in the hotels sometime before I leave this world.

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    1. Thank you! The Stanley Hotel is the one in Stephen King’s book, and is the setting for the film. But the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood is the one where the filming was done. Rocky Mountain park is very cool; I need to go back. Thanks for stopping by, and happy blogging. 🙂

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