Lyons and Boulder, Colorado, and Rocky National Park East

We had reservations for three days starting August 26, 2018, in Lyons, Colorado, so we packed up and left the western side of the Rocky Mountains behind. The Trail Ridge Road through the tundra was as stressful as we had imagined. The lack of barriers between the road and the steep cliffs seemed like certain death so I kept my eyes alert for a vehicle that might fail to negotiate a curve and slam into us. We felt a little better once the terrain turned to subalpine and forests, even though we had to navigate through 15 and 20 MPH hairpin turns.

On the east side of the Rockies, we noted teepee piles of brush, branches, and logs a few yards from the road. Although the park service does not remove most of the dead lodgepole and ponderosa trees killed by the pine beetle, they do gather up any trees that pose a threat of injury or death to people and burn the piles during the winter when the risk of a forest fire is at its lowest.

LaVern M. Johnson Park in Lyons, Colorado

The LaVern M. Johnson Park campground turned out to be a good choice for a place to stay outside of the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. We learned of the location from campers we met earlier on our trip and felt lucky to have snagged a spot. All of the RV parks closer to the Rockies laughed at my inquiry about sites. They had been booked for months.

Day use parking lot and RV park at LaVern M. Johnson Park

Besides RV sites, the Lyons park offers tent camping with concrete slabs, picnic areas, and playground equipment. Sandstone cliffs and the St. Vrain Creek border the park on three sides. Add in the large shade trees and visitors have a perfect place to escape the heat of a hot summer day.

St. Vrain Creek at LaVern M. Johnson Park
Tent site at LaVern M. Johnson Park in Lyons, Colorado

Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

The next day, we drove into the Rocky Mountain National Park, left the truck at the park-and-ride, and took the shuttle to Bear Lake Nature Trail. With the guidebook in hand, we set out on the trail that surrounds the lake. The booklet explained in detail each item designated by a numbered post and was worth the price of $2.00.

Hallett Peak framed by the trees

There is no fishing allowed in Bear Lake. Once considered extinct in 1937 due to overfishing and toxic waste from mining, greenback cutthroat trout now thrive in Bear Lake after efforts were made to reintroduce the species in 1975. The State of Colorado adopted the greenback trout as its state fish in March 1994.

Aspen leaves already turning yellow

A close-up of bark on a mature Douglas-fir. While the bark on young trees is thin, smooth, gray, and covered with resin blisters, mature trees are about 2-1/4 inches thick and have a cork look to them.

Douglas-fir bark

The eyes on aspen trees designate where limbs were once attached. Aspen self-prune the shaded lower branches which allows the upper branches to reach for the sun. These eyes look droopy to me.

Aspen eyes
Longs Peak (14,259 feet) is shown in the upper right quadrant of the photo
The pile of rocks is a glacial moraine left behind by a glacier

At the end of August, wildflowers still bloomed along the trail.

Heartleaf Arnica

Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake, a shallow 13-acre lake, also had a trail that surrounded it. Although there were a few information signs, there wasn’t a guidebook. While the weather was perfect at Bear Lake, in the afternoon it turned cold and windy at Sprague Lake. We rushed through the trail, scanned the information signs, took a few pics, and headed back to the shuttle stop.

Sprague Lake and Hallett Peak
Sprague Lake

Abner Sprague, who homesteaded in the area, created the lake by damming a stream. This provided recreation for guests at his resort which operated from 1910 – 1940.

Discovery Center and Historic Moraine Park

Our final stop was the Discovery Center where they have informative exhibits explaining the geological forces that created the unique terrain and the animals that inhabited the area eons ago. The valley in the photo below sits across the street from the Discovery Center. It’s hard to imagine the valley dotted with lodges, stores, cabins, a golf course, and a post office. When the National Park Service purchased the property in 1962, they removed the structures and the meadows revegetated. Fifty-six years later, there’s no sign of the Historic Moraine Park where visitors once stayed and played.

Historic Moraine Park

On our way back to base camp, we stopped at Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew in Estes Park. The large portion on the pulled pork platter with coleslaw and green beans gave us enough food to enjoy our meals again the next day for lunch. It was as good the second time around as it was the first.

Enjoy great food at Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ in Estes Park and Lyons, Colorado
Wood Arch Bridge crosses the St. Vrain River

Boulder, Colorado, and Pearl Street Mall

We were able to poke around Boulder for a few hours one day when we drove into town to pick up a few things. I shook with excitement when I walked into Mike’s Camera. The multi-story building was filled with all manner of photographic equipment and paraphernalia. The building must have been ten times the size of Mike’s Camera in Dublin, California, near where we live. Apparently, Boulder is where the company began its business in 1967. I was almost embarrassed to walk up to the counter and ask for such a small purchase as the little rubber goody that wraps around my camera’s eyepiece. Had I stayed in that store much longer, I would have ended up spending money on things I wanted but really didn’t need.

Next, we headed to the Pearl Street Mall where we walked around looking for a place to eat lunch.  We settled on Hapa Sushi Grill and Sake Bar and were not disappointed.

Boulder County Courthouse

Shopping, dining, and art appreciation are activities enjoyed at Pearl Street Mall.

Pearl Street Mall Scene

Several outdoor art objects are strategically placed throughout the plaza.

“Hearts on a Swing” by George Lundeen
Boulder Bookstore
Hapa Sushi Grill and Sake Bar
Pearl Street Pub & Cellar

We wished we had more time to explore Boulder, Colorado, and the surrounding area. There was so much more we wanted to see and do. The Museum of Boulder at the Tebo Center, Fiske Planetarium, Boulder Farmers’ Market, Boulder Creek Path, and the Celestial Seasoning tour are all places we would have liked to visit. Hikes and trails nearby would also have given us plenty to explore. Ah, perhaps another time.

Next, we find a place to settle for the Labor Day weekend, which we didn’t realize had arrived on the calendar.

Safe Travels

Rocky Mountain National Park – Part 1

Rocky Mountain National Park – Part 1

 It’s rare that we take off for a new destination without some idea of where we will stay for the night. Without a reservation or multiple options, it feels like a gymnast is inside my stomach flipping, flopping, twisting, and turning during the whole trip. Thursday, August 23, 2018, found us in such a predicament as we headed for the west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.

I could barely enjoy the view as we drove through Rabbit Ears Pass where patches of dead trees broke up the healthy forest covering the mountainsides. There were only 98 sites at the only first-come-first-served campground on the west side of the park.

The sign at the Grand Lake Entrance showed no vacancy for the first four campgrounds listed. Then the last campground, Timber Creek (first-come-first-served), showed vacancy. Yes! Now we only had to worry about finding a campsite for our 30’ fifth wheel. Would the sites be big enough?

All of that worrying turned out to be for naught, as it usually does. We managed to squeeze into a perfect spot, paid the fee, and settled in for three nights.

Timber Creek campsite

We had plenty of daylight left to commence with exploration. First stop, of course, was the Kawuneeche Visitor Center for maps and information about hikes. We didn’t plan on any strenuous hikes at elevations of 9,000 to 12,000 feet. Even though we had been in high elevations for almost a month, we still suffered from shortness of breath at the slightest exertion, the occasional headache, or dehydration. Sticking with the shorter and flatter trails would keep the more serious symptoms of altitude sickness at bay.

Adams Falls

Accessible near Grand Lake a few miles outside of the park, Adams Falls turned out to be our speed at a distance of .6 miles roundtrip and an elevation gain of 79 feet.  Lodgepole pines had fallen like pick up sticks along the trail, cluttering the forest floor. It looked like more than a good raking was needed to prevent a catastrophic forest fire.

Lodgepole pines downed by bark beetle
Adams Falls
Adams Falls empties into Grand Lake

Grand Lake Lodge

Grand Lake Lodge was our next stop. The lodge was either established, built, or began operation in 1920 or 1925. Three different signs listed three different dates. It’s a beautiful old lodge with wood beams and floors. A huge fireplace dominated the middle of the lobby with a bar on one side and a restaurant beyond. Seating on the porch was popular for its view of the lake.

Grand Lake Lodge with historic vehicles
Picturesque location for a wedding
Lobby area with fireplace, seating, and bar
Welcome to Grand Lake Lodge
Flowers on the porch create a homey feel

Tundra Communities

Our destination for the morning was the Alpine Visitor Center. Yeah, right. To get a parking place requires an early rise, something we rarely manage, or a long wait in line until someone leaves. We kept on driving to the Tundra Communities Trailhead. Information signs along the 1.3-mile roundtrip trail with an elevation gain of 260 feet explained the topography, detailed the plants and animals that live in the tundra zone at 12,000 feet and how they adapt to the cold temperatures. We came prepared for the cold donning our base layers, sweaters, jackets, gloves, and knit hats. The difference in temperatures from 9,000 feet to 12,000 is significant, especially when the wind is blowing.

I had heard of marmots before, but never had the pleasure of meeting one in person. This guy must have been a lookout because we heard him screaming from the parking lot which was about a half mile away.

Marmot lookout squeals from atop a rock

The tundra is similar to a desert in that it doesn’t look like much from a distance. Get down close to the ground, though, and it comes alive. All of the plants are miniaturized in the tundra. Some flowers are so tiny they’re hard to see. They stay low to stay warm and their little faces track with the sun.

Some alpine plants contain an antifreeze type chemical that converts sunlight into heat. Hairs also protect the plants from the ultraviolet radiation that in the tundra is twice what it is at sea level.

Yellow tundra flower nestles close to the ground for protection from wind and cold

It looks like someone came in with a skip loader and deposited piles of big rocks and boulders on the hill. The rocks actually were churned up; forming rock streams, strips, garlands, or polygons; when moist soil repeatedly froze and thawed.

Clusters of rocks provide shelter for tundra critters

An icy wind howled across the tundra cooling my left side as I made my way up the hill even though my right side was comfortably warm. On my way down the hill, my right side took the brunt of the wind. It was hard going, but oh, what a view. We envisioned a stressful drive pulling the trailer across the ridge after seeing the road from the top of the mountain.

Trail Ridge Road does not have guardrails
Even at 12,000 feet, smoke filled the air

Strange mushroom-shaped rocks at the top of one hill looked out of place. The darker rock is schist which formed from sand, silt, and clay at the bottom of a long-ago sea. Magma pushed its way up from deep in the earth, cooled into granite forming the white mushroom stem.  Erosion finished the masterpiece and continues to shape and mold the formation.

Erosion shaped the mushroom formation

A little girl wanted to race across the field. Her father pulled her back. The girl cried and tried to wiggle out of her father’s arms. It could take 500 to a thousand years for trampled tundra to repair itself. Everyone must stay on the asphalt trail. Toddlers don’t understand.

Tundra Communities Trail

On our way back to base camp, we drove by the Alpine Visitor Center. There were even more cars lined up to find a spot to park. From the road, I saw a hill where people walked up and down. It looked like we didn’t miss much. We already completed our walk, viewed the tundra up close, and marveled at the views.

Trail Ridge Road

Driving along Trail Ridge Road we stopped at a few pullouts to take in the views. A portion of the Never Summer Mountains is depicted below. They are the only volcanic mountain range within Rocky Mountain National Park. With a length of 10 miles north to south, they form a section of the continental divide near the headwaters of Colorado River.

Mt. Stratus 12,500 feet
Never Summer Mountains
The valley below
The Lava Cliffs were created 28 million years ago by a powerful volcanic explosion

 

More of our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park coming up next in Part 2.

Safe Travels