After a perfect Fourth of July (the first we got to spend together), spent partly in Beatrice, partly in Lincoln watching the private fireworks all over the city from the roof garden, we got out of Lincoln about 9:30 Saturday morning. The trip was uneventful (I-80, I-76, the ), and we arrived 4:15 at Mark’s cousin’s house in Aurora, outside of Denver. We hung out and talked until about 7, when we met up with friends of theirs, Mark and Chris, and we all had dinner at a pizza/brew pub called the Breweria. The pizza was good and we had a good time, the six of us finishing up the evening with hanging out at Stan and Kathy’s place, talking about family, favorite books and life events, and trying to make friends with the cats, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
After a peaceful night in Stan and Kathy’s guestroom and a leisurely breakfast, we took off for a little shopping jaunt–we were hoping to get a sleeping bag at REI, but they were ridiculously overpriced, so we gave up on that for now. Instead, I dragged Mark to IKEA, which was right next door, and he got his very first tour of the store. I have to say we did this in fast-forward, since we have no intention of buying a kitchen or office furniture at this time–but we walked out with two tiny lamps we liked, plus some Swedish chocolate. Then, we left Denver and its hateful 96 degrees behind and, in the course of two hours, got ourselves to 10,000 feet and the low 70s at Stan and Kathy’s mountain house (known as the cabin, but really a small house) in Fairplay. I had never been in this region of Colorado, even though I know the area an hour or two north so well, and I was really surprised that there is a huge plains area tucked between the mountains of the foothills and the higher elevations here. It is called South Park (the South Platte runs through it) and is apparently sitting atop the sediment left over from the previous mountain range that was here before the Rockies. On the way up, we saw major traffic jams going down (after Fourth of July weekend), so we were glad we were going the opposite way. We arrived around 1:30 at the Cabin, with Stan and Kathy having gone ahead, and we had sandwiches and soup in their kitchen, plus Swedish chocolate. Then we got into their four-wheel drive car and drove up to a teeny mountain lake called Kite lake, where a trailhead leads to three 14,000 footers. Stan, Mark and I went up the trail a little ways, to an area where a bunch of collapsed mining buildings were sitting. There are tons of old, abandoned mines and gloryholes here, but also still active crystal and gold mining, which is really destroying the area, given the way how this is done now. The landscape was glorious, and even though the hike was very short (but steep) it was really wonderful. The wildflowers are in full bloom, and Kathy, who has a broken leg and couldn’t hike, got a nice photo of a bird that’s rare for this area. We headed back around 5:30 pm and Stan made us great pasta and salad for dinner; we sat around and talked in the living room, with Mark showing his Madagascar and other travel photos. What a nice day!
After a leisurely, midwestern breakfast at the cabin (pancakes, eggs, and even bacon) we took off with Kathy and Stan for another little expedition, this time into territory that only their four-wheel-drive could have managed. The area was near Horseshoe Mountain and Mount Sherman, and again, we saw a lot of old mining equipment and collapsed mines near this one, too.) We had a picnic lunch out of the cooler and went for a little hike, again admiring both the enormous mountains around us (this time, mountains that were visibly eroding, with “round tops” and lots of gravelly rock slides) and the teeny wildflowers that were in bloom all over the place. We also took a quick peek at the town of Fairplay, but Stan and Kathy needed to get home to Denver (she had just had several important phone calls that morning about a possible new job), and so we went back to the cabin and said our goodbyes a little after 4 pm. It was great to spend some time with them! We rested for a bit (still not quite adjusted to the altitude) and then went back into Fairplay to wander the two streets that are more touristy and have little shops and restaurants, plus access to a bit of park that leads down to the South Platte, at this time pretty fast-moving and of course ice cold, since it is fed from the last bit of snow that we still saw melting all over the place at 13,000 feet. The town is struggling — the big touristy place nearby is Breckenridge and of course syphons off all the tourist trade, while Fairplay is more like Nederland, and now uglified by a huge big goldmining operation that is marring the South Park landscape. But we found perfectly fine bar food and some ice cream and headed home at about 7 pm to spend the rest of the evening enjoying the peace and quiet and then the fading sun in the cabin.
We got up reasonably early, around 8, and packed up fairly soon after that, hopefully leaving Stan and Kathy’s cabin in good order. We drove back into Fairplay, had coffee and tea at the much-recommended Java Moose, and then went to “South Park City,” a reconstructed little mining village (about 30 buildings) / museum that was part what you’d expect from any such place (what did a pioneer cabin look like, how was the mayor’s living room decorated, etc.), but partly also specific to the area. There were a number of mining sheds, pieces of equipment, and explanations, and since we had seen what they look like after a 100, or 50, years of neglect, it certainly gave us a good idea what things were like in the heigh-day of mining, when Fairplay was founded by the people who came just a little too late for the first rush of surface mining. For the last few buildings, including the general store and a print shop, we had a very nice guide, a very friendly black and white cat that showed us from place to place and hopped on all the counters.
After our walk around the little town, we left Fairplay and went the slow but glorious route that Stan and Kathy had recommended for a back way to Boulder–from Grant on the 285 to the I-70 at Georgetown, there is a scenic route across Guenella Pass (a little under 12,000 feet), and although it was 25 mph for most of the 26 miles or so, it was well worth it taking it slow. The view from the pass was awesome, and we even encountered a mountain goat family that had just crossed our road and was willing to be photographed. We came out in Georgetown, a very cute little place with lots of restored Victorian houses and cabins, at about 1 pm, had a picnic lunch, and then took the Interstate for about 20 miles before turning toward Central City / Blackhawk and then on to Nederland. The road was again gorgeous and scenic, but CC/Blackhawk always infuriate me.
I am not anti-gambling(that wouldn’t get me very far with the Bauer family, anyway), but the way those two places became these hideous tourist attractions with casino after casino and Las Vegas-size hotels that almost dwarf the surrounding mountains in parts really frustrates me. CC was cute when it was a run-down gambling town with slot machines and $2 dinners 20 years ago. Now every single historic building has been gutted, only the outside preserved and completely disneyfied, while the mountainsides get dynamited and fortified with steel and concrete to make room for more casinos and parking lot. Ok, rant over.
We drove on through Nederland without really stopping (we’ll see my “outlaws,” my ex-husband Bruce’s family, in the course of the next few days), but we did park to look at Barker Dam, because for the first time since I can remember, it was flowing into Boulder Creek over the top. It’s been a very wet summer, and we could see that everywhere, since the meadows all during our drive were still so green in mid-July. In Boulder, too, everything was very green. We got there a little after 3 pm, got gas and wandered briefly to the Pearl Street area just to get some coffee (I knew my aunt doesn’t serve any), then drove up just before 4 pm at my aunt and uncle’s place. Karin and Peter have lived there since 1967, in a lovely brick Victorian with gorgeous woodwork and a huge garden that is an enormous amount of work (about half of it is vegetables, enough for 10 or 20 people probably! although there is only the two of them).
We didn’t stay home long, though, because I really felt like I needed a walk. So they took us to the Chautauqua Park area, and we went on a little (3 miles or so) hike up around the meadow at the bottom of the Flatirons, where you can look up at the Flatiron formations and down at the whole valley into which Boulder was built. We walked by two of the creeks that flooded so badly last September, when the area experienced a historic flooding after 10 days of heavy rain, and the debris that was brought down from the mountains was still very impressive. Hard to imagine that the two trickles we could see swelled to such power as to pull down enormous boulders halfway down their path! At the end of our hike, we also saw the actual Chautauqua part of the park, with cabins and the big concert hall which features a summer music festival each year. We got home about 6:30, and had a very simple, very German meal (brats, potato salad, and a green salad that I contributed) in the back yard. Around 8 pm, my cousin Malva, her husband Rick, and their son Benjamin came to join us, and we had gooseberry tart and squash bread for dessert — it was Rick’s birthday and the gooseberry tart was in his honor. They stayed for about an hour, and we had a good time catching up a little. Benjamin entertained us with jokes and was intrigued by Mark’s videos of the lemur and of some of his students’ projects. After they had left, we went to bed pretty quickly–we had the only room that has an air conditioner, so we felt pretty special!
We woke up around 7 and very quietly got ourselves ready for the day, since Karin and Peter were still asleep or at least quiet. When they came downstairs, we had actually had our tea and read our news, and went for a little walk while they got themselves ready for our day together. It was lovely outside, lower 70s and sunny, and we walked to Eben Fine Park, right at the bottom of Boulder Canyon, since that’s just a few minutes from my aunt’s house. You can walk along Boulder Creek for quite a while there, and we enjoyed the noise and the masses of water that keep coming down. When we returned after about an hour, we were almost ready to go and drove up to Sugar Loaf mountain–to hike, but also to stop by and visit my cousin Florian, who is working on a building site about half-way up the mountain–he does excavations and has all kinds of fun equipment for that. We spent about 10 minutes talking to him, and then went on to the hiking trail up Sugar Loaf. The hike is short (1.5 miles round trip) but steep over a very rocky trail (with tons of mica and other glittery quartzy rocks along the way). It was really rewarding–gorgeous views en route and from the top, where one can see a huge chunk of the continental divide, from Mount Evans in the South to Long’s Peak in the North, and looking East, the enormous stretch of the flatlands right behind Boulder. Below us, we could also see the excavation site where Florian was digging. In addition, there were tons of butterflies all over, since everything is in bloom. It was a gorgeous walk all around.
After our hike, we decided to drive to Nederland and have Indian buffet lunch at the Kathmandu restaurant–we’d all been there before, but I thought it was especially delicious. We then drove around a little, first to the huge log house (“cabin” is not the right word) that Florian is in the process of building on one of his several plots of land, and then to Karin and Peter’s cabin in Eldora, which is also being renovated. Around 2:30, we drove back down the mountain to Boulder, and we quickly gathered our things, because at 3:45, we were meeting with my niece Nicki right outside of Boulder. We went for a little walk up the canyon, timing it just right to be under a big overpass when it started to rain for about 20 minutes. Nicki caught us up on her life and adventures, and we had a wonderful time. Around 5 pm, we got back into our cars, and Mark and I drove off to Estes Park, while she got ready for a 2-year anniversary dinner with her boyfriend Adam.
We took the road from Boulder to Estes Park via Lyons, which was not just the shortest route but also the area that was so heavily affected by the major rains and flash floods last September–Lyons was the town of 2,000 that had to be evacuated. The road has been almost completely reconstructed, but we could still see a lot of the devastation along the St. Vrain River, which runs right along the highway for quite a while. We got to Estes Park at about 6 pm, checked into our hotel (we got a corner room with a very nice view), had a quick dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and even took a dip in the hotel pool before turning in. A busy day!
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!
Unfortunately, I did not sleep well last night and so had a bit of a rough time getting up–but we still got out of bed around 7 and out of the hotel around 8:00, to get an early start on hiking in what looked like it would be slightly variable weather. This time, we headed into another direction from Trail Ridge Road once we got to the National Park–down the road that ends at Bear Lake. This one is much shorter and has very few stops and pull-outs, so we drove right up to the end, where it was quite busy even before 9 in the morning. There are some very short and (because of less high altitude) not very strenuous hikes going off from Bear Lake, and so a lot of people with young kids and also elderly hikers are around. We first went around Bear Lake, which was unspectacular, and then decided to hike to three lakes in sequence, each about 0.6 miles from the next–Nymph, Dream, and Emerald. That was really fun. Emerald Lake is right beneath these massive granite rock walls (one side is Flat Top, I am not sure what the other mountainside is), and so we got to see the structures quite close up). The lake was very pretty and there were even some totally cute chipmunks for entertainment–a mom that had clearly had enough of the steady tourist traffic and hauled her almost grown babies by the neck to a new home. It looked too funny; we watched her yank two of them into safety. 🙂
After we returned from this not-very-strenuous but nice hike, we had another picnic lunch in the parking lot, and decided to go down one other trail, and that turned out to be really worth it. It led to the Alberta Falls, again only a mile away, plus probably another half-mile further up the rocks along the falls. It was absolutely gorgeous, with the rushing water masses and the huge boulders, and very adventurous, because we couldn’t see very far ahead of us how this river would be running and where the next set of falls and boulders would be. On the way down, we took the path rather than to opt for more rock climbing, and since it was all downhill, it was pretty quick. Instead of going back to the Bear Lake parking lot, we branched off to the Glacier Gorge parking lot and caught the shuttle back up. On our way down from the falls, we had heard quite a bit of distant thunder and it looked like it would rain, but we actually made it all the way to our car up at Bear Lake before the first real drops began to fall, and then drove back to the hotel in the pouring rain, while seeing some of the mountains in the sunshine. Fun!
It was only about 2:30 pm when we got home, but we were pretty shot after our 6 or so miles, and took a bit of a nap, and generally rested up a bit. Around 5:30, we took off to find ourselves some dinner in town. For the record, I officially “yelled” at Mark for the first time because I had suggested one place to park and he tried for another, already packed place, so that we spent extra time finding parking. He didn’t “yell” back, so we still haven’t had our first-ever fight, but we had a good laugh at how silly it was and how stressed out I got about the extra two minutes of driving around to get to an empty parking lot). We followed my niece Nicki’s recommendation for Mama Rose’s, an Italian place that turned out to have delicious food that we both liked very well. We then got ice cream at another of the gazillion ice cream places, but we thought it was really a much bigger portion than we wanted, so we probably won’t try another tomorrow. We walked around a little more in downtown Estes between rain showers, mostly along the riverbank, and also drove by the famous Stanley hotel (“inspired” Stephen King’s The Shining , and features dumb ghost tours–just the kind of touristy crap I cannot stand). Then we picked up some groceries for the next picnic lunches, and went home to wrap up the evening. This is the third day of a big 5-day rodeo, and we hear excited shouting and screaming through our hotel room windows for our auditory entertainment.
Another fabulous hiking day–with our longest hike yet (yes, we’re pretty wimpy). We got up early and were out of the hotel before 8. For our last hiking adventure (our last full day in Estes) we decided to take Highway 7 out of town, basically the road south along the Eastern border of Rocky Mountain National Park. We had spotted a trail on national forest land that went about 2 miles up to a smaller peak called Lily Mountain (9700 feet). We hoped that we’d have a good view from the top, and we were not disappointed! It was a longish way up (1500 feet–Mark’s GPS told us all those sorts of things) and we have to admit to some huffing and puffing, but we really loved the climb at the end, over big boulders, to the two rocky tops within our reach. The view all around, of the entire Estes Park valley and of the mountain range to the west of us was just awesome. We even took a photo of the two of us, with the help of a hiker from St. Louis, who was at least 20 years older than we are!
The descent was uneventful and of course a bit faster, but we got pretty short on water and were very glad that our lunch cooler had some bubbly water and some orange juice for backup! We had an early lunch (the hike took us probably about 3 hours round-trip) at the banks of Lake Lily, only a few hundred feet further along the road than our trailhead. Then we moved on to the Longs Peak trailhead, where we knew there was a water refill station. We refilled our bottles and took a look at the many photos and the 3-d map of the Longs Peak / Meeker area, and of course the climb looked awesome and adventurous–but also well out of our reach and rather scary. Even though people climb up without equipment, the 7 miles include 2 trailless miles at the end, which is all climbing, and of course the hike there and back takes all day. I was intrigued to learn that Longs Peak is the northernmost of the 14,000ers and that the NP service has no way of keeping track of how many people go up every year, unlike at the sites where the ascent is restricted.
We left the Longs Trail Head pretty much right after that, and went on to Wild Basin Trail Head, the last entrance into the National Park. They warned us that the parking lot would be full, but we did manage to find a legit parking spot only a couple 100 feet away and went for a little mini hike (really all we were still capable of), about 0.3 miles up to a water fall area called Copeland Falls. As with the other waterfalls yesterday and the day before, we were fascinated by the masses of water and its power–I am very glad the mountains here have rivers; it sort of substitutes for the ocean for me! This time, the new aspect was that we watched a pair of birds who were building or fixing a nest right under the rocks nearest to the waterfall, and who kept flying up the waterfall just over the spray, wings flapping like crazy.
Our last stop for the day was, once more, the Alluvial Fan from the 1982 dam failure that washed out all over again last fall. We’d already been there and we were really just going to take another look, but ended up climbing around quite a long time, trying to get a good view of the fall and the new course of the river from higher up. We maneuvered a rather tricky spot near the water, but on the way back actually had to have some help getting back up on a rather tall and steep rock. It was fun, but after this last climb/hike, our legs were truly tired! It had also gotten ominously dark (we had already dodged a couple of rains earlier in the day) and started raining as we got into the car. We actually stayed in the parking lot for bit while it was hailing, and then drove back to Estes in pouring rain that probably lasted for at least 45 minutes. (With the rain, there was again thunder in the mountains, and there was actually a death caused by lightning near Rainbow curve that afternoon–after there had already been one massive lightning strike with a death and several injured on Friday, near the tope of the Ute Trail. This is crazy rare; the last lightning death in Rocky Mountain National Park happened in 2000, so it made CNN. What was freaky for us about this was, of course, that we were at Rainbow Curve and at the Alpine Meadows Parking lot, where the Ute Trail starts, on Thursday.)
By the time we had looked at today’s photos and taken showers (we had gotten VERY sweaty on our first hike), it was lightening up and we went to have dinner at a lovely, simple Vietnamese restaurant that was a little bit off the main drag and therefore not so crowded. Then we bought some taffy as presents and for ourselves (apparently a Bauer family tradition, and another way to explore the two million candy shops here) and also some fudge as a little dessert, and headed home before 7 pm. I don’t think the rest of the day will bring much more excitement than a movie in bed; we can barely move!
We woke up pretty early, although this would have been our day to sleep in, so we had breakfast around 7 and checked out of our motel early, after the usual cereal breakfast with terrible coffee, to drive down the Big Thompson Canyon to Loveland. Again, we were on the lookout for signs of change caused by last September’s floods, and we were amazed at both how much change there was to the river banks and a number of homes that had been washed away, or even more dramatically, torn in half, and at how fast the repairs to the roads have gone. There were a number of completely new stretches of road all along the way, and several very dramatic-looking washouts; even a park that was probably designed as emergency flood plain was basically completely filled with mud and dirt. We stopped several times to look, but still arrived in Loveland very early, at 9 am or so. We drove past the house where Mark’s maternal grandmother and grandfather used to live, and he told me all about how, when his family used to stop by here on their summer camping trips, grandma’s house was the only house in the whole area (very close to the lake in the middle of Loveland). It is now completely built up, as is the rest of Loveland — we didn’t realize until we looked it up that it had just a little less than 9,000 people living in it in 1960, while 70,000 live there now! That is pretty enormous growth, and accounts for Mark barely recognizing Loveland today. The downtown area, however, is the classic rundown 1950s Main Street (complete with many closed stores and the usual run of antique stores that do not make money, and the requisite coffee house, where we had coffee, tea, and a scone). After we had strolled there for a while, we drove to the park at the west end of the lake, and also walked around there for a little. The park is public, of course, but the lake is private, so there is only the tiniest area for swimmers, and the rest is off limits.
At 11:30, we took off to meet Jacquie and Ginny (my former mother-in-law) at the care facility where Ginny now lives in assisted care for memory-impaired seniors. She was happy and surprised to see Mark and me, but I am not quite sure she knew who we were, although she knew who her daughter Jacquie and her dog Rusty were. We drove to a nearby state park and met up with Alan, her son who lives in Fort Collins, and who brought everyone–his wife Sue and his two sons Tony and Lee–so we could all have a picnic together. It was great fun, and Ginny had a good time–I think it helps that no one was trying to argue with her or correct her when she was a little confused. The conversation stayed very light, and that accounted for her good mood.
After lunch, we got directions to Alan’s house up a canyon from Fort Collins, and drove the hour or so to get there after we had picked up some groceries. They had never gotten a Christmas gift from me, so I picked up ingredients to cook for them that night. When we got there, though, we went for a walk first–just for about 45 minutes, but it was a nice change from a mostly sit-down day. They live in a house up the side of a mountain that had a major forest fire 2 years ago, and we got to see where in the surrounding area some of the trees and homes burned down. They were very lucky–the fire came close enough to burn one of their cars and scorch another, but the house remained unharmed. We looked at another property where a cabin had burned down, so it was pretty spooky although the vegetation is coming back, especially this year with the extra rain.
When we got back around 5 pm, I started to cook chicken biryani, while Mark showed his Madagascar photos on their big TV screen and Tony played guitar (his favorite musician also happens to be one of mine, Eric Clapton, so I have rarely enjoyed a 14-year-old’s musical performances more!). Mark and Alan also played chess, we admired a rainbow after a big downpour, and finally all six of us had dinner–I was very proud of the result; the biryani, the green salad with mango and red onions, and the lemon curd ice cream with strawberries all came out really well! Tony and I cleared the dishes, and then Alan and Tony treated us to some more music with two guitars, while I actually worked (a bit fanatically) on a puzzle that was sitting around partly done. The finale was a guitar and trumpet version of “Moondance” by Van Morrison, which was both fun and appropriate, since we had one of those not-so-rare “supermoons” yesterday. We stayed up until almost 11:30, but went to bed good and tired!
Today was mostly a driving day. It started out early, before 7, but with a fabulous latte made by Alan, which made it great from the start. We hung out for a bit at Alan and Sue’s house so that I could work a little more on that puzzle, while Mark tried to get some photos of the hummingbirds at the feeders around the house. He got a couple of great ones! We then took off shortly before 9, and Mark drove 460 miles from Fort Collins to Jackson, WY. We really just stopped to get gas, have a picnic lunch near the North Platte River, and for a couple of bathroom stops. The landscape across Wyoming is interesting, of course, with all the bluffs and and interesting formations, but after a while it got a bit monotonous with just the vast areas of sage brush and no settlements whatsoever (which also means that I slept through part of our drive). Ever the statistics nerds, we looked it up and did find that although it is not the least densely populated state (Montana beats Wyoming), it is the least populated state in the contiguous US. It sure felt like it!
The landscape got more interesting when we started to see the Wind River Range to our left–it has snow-covered peaks and is almost inaccessible by major roadway, so people who want to hike there clearly stay all the way out where we were driving (HW 191) and then somehow get themselves to their hiking and fishing destinations into the mountains. The highest peak in Wyoming is there, and we found out that it’s remote enough that a 4-6 day hiking trip on foot is required! Soon afterward, the Grand Tetons were starting to show up on our right, and as we got near the National Forest area that comes before Jackson and the Grand Teton National Park, we had some spectacular views. We came over one hill as it was getting very cloudy and we could see the rain come down like curtains to the left and the right of us, but straight ahead, partially snow-covered peaks were gleaming in the sunshine. It was a pretty special site for someone who has never been in this area at all, like me!
We arrived in Jackson and initially decided to drive straight into Grand Tetons National Park and find out more about possible accommodations in the park. But the only lodge available was out of our price range, so we backtracked (always Plan B) to Jackson and found a motel north of town that was a bit more reasonable. We checked in and then drove right into town to find something to eat. Jackson is like Estes in many ways–a packed, overpriced tourist town full of knickknacks and most interesting where it least tries to be interesting–in the corners where the older cabins or vacation homes from the 1950s or earlier are still extant, or where the cheesy old motel signs from those days have been allowed to get a bit rundown. We did, however, get an excellent recommendation for a bar/restaurant near the Snow King Mountain ski lift, past some construction sites, where it was a little quieter and where we had perfectly fine pizza on the deck, watching the ski lift going around and around on summer duty, taking people up (and down, for most customers) for the view from the top. After dinner, we walked back to the car, stopping to reserve spots on a whitewater rafting adventure tomorrow morning for the early bird rate (including breakfast — which is very appealing!) and again avoided stormy weather just in time. From our hotel room, which faces straight east, we could see areas bathed in bright pre-sunset sunshine while the rest of the sloping hills were dark with overhanging rain clouds. Hopefully, we’ll be lucky with the weather tomorrow!