We started the day bright and early, just after 7, with the usual mediocre hotel breakfast (we had cereal with a banana, but of course produced more trash than we consumed as food.) Then we took off, since it was a glorious, sunny morning and we were eager to get to the park. We got ourselves a pass for a whole year as we entered the park on the Trail Ridge Road, and then basically went very slowly along TRR and stopped at every single overlook along the road, taking little hikes where they were available. The best ones were the one from Rock Cut, where we also got awesome photos of marmots both on the road side, by the actual rock cut, and then also at the top of the trail, where the view was awesome and stretched 72 miles to a mountain range in Wyoming, and the hike from Alpine Meadow, at the very top of the road. It was super busy there, with a constant stream of hikers and cars (a couple of Germans photographed each other with a German flag; of course we heard French and Flemish etc.), but also really beautiful–both the landscape and the awesome tundra flowers were just wonderful to see. We had a picnic lunch at the Alpine Meadow parking lot (no picnic table because of the crazy winds that usually blow through there), and then went on. We also liked our hikes a little further down the trail, by Milner Pass, where the Continental Divide runs across TRR. We had stopped there 2 years ago, but not hiked–this time, we went a little ways in both directions, so we actually saw both the stream that goes to the Pacific and the one that goes to the Atlantic Ocean. We even walked through a little bit of snow on the one trail–but ultimately, we were chased out by the mosquitoes, since these were lower-lying areas with lots of forest and moisture.
The last stop on the road before we turned around was Timber Lake Trail Head, which was, at first, unspectacular (the half-mile we took was just forest), until we saw some movement and then heard elk bugling. I had never heard that before and was very impressed. We did see a couple of elk, but just very briefly, and were ready to be a bit disappointed–but then we drove back, and there were not one, but a total of three different groups of elk for us to watch–one of males with huge antlers way above us on a meadow, then a large group of about 30 females and young ones within 20-30 feet of all of us curious tourists who walked back along the road to peek down on the slope below, and another group of males way below in a meadow. We even saw three elk crossing a huge big snow field way off in the distance. Between the elk and the totally fearless marmots, we were really happy with the wildlife spotting–even though it’s not unusual in Estes Park at all, it was awesome for us.
We had already done quite a bit by the time we got to the turnoff where one normally enters to get to Fall River Road–we had taken that two years ago in the mini, and I am so glad that we did, because it is now closed — again, the floods from September did that, and in a most spectacular way. We did go as far back as we were allowed, namely to the area of the alluvial fan that was caused by the spectacular 1982 flooding of Thompson Canyon, which started with a broken dam above this area, at Lawn Lake. Boy, were we in for a surprise. We had been able to see from above, from one of the outlooks, that the fan looked quite a bit different, but going there, over partly destroyed paths that we had used 2 years ago, made us realize how massively different it was. The entire path of the river had shifted quite a bit westward, and there was debris and a huge mudflat, now dry sand, everywhere. The road that continues on to Fall River Road was washed away, and there were huge new boulders everywhere. The photos will only partly do it justice, but it was really impressive to see how unstoppable the force of water is. It was neat that the National Park Service decided to leave the area open for pedestrians even though it is partly destroyed (nothing is dangerous about it).
By now, it was almost 4 pm and we felt we’d taken in enough! It was also getting overcast, but although we got sprinkled on a couple of times and could hear thunder in the distance, no bad weather developed all day. We went back to the hotel for a bit, to freshen up and get reorganized, and then parked in downtown Estes to find some food. That turned out more difficult than we thought, since the downtown area now features two million ice cream places, but only a few overpriced and boring restaurants. Eventually we settled for a burger joint and had pulled pork/hot ham and cheese and a salad. And then, of course, ice cream. We were back in the hotel by about 7:30 (neither one of us really likes cute little gift shops, and we were a bit too tired to appreciate the park landscape along the Fall River behind the shops). We wrapped up the day with doing laundry, uploading photos from the day, and journaling. What an awesome vacation day!