Taking the long way to Rocky Mountain NP

 

Since we were based out of Colorado for the summer my mom and her long time friend came to visit us from Michigan via train. They had big plans to squeeze as much in as they could while visiting so as soon as they arrived we got busy.

 

First we headed south from Buffalo Creek (BC) to Colorado Springs where the plan was to see cliff dwellings that had been relocated from Mesa Verde NP to this area. Although it would have been great to bring them to Mesa Verde it was entirely too far away to squeeze it in with all the other plans. We explored the dwellings then looked through the museum and gift shop.

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More than anything else what stood out to me was the heat. It was sweltering that day and all I wanted to do was just sit around and drink water or eat popsicles, mostly the latter. Once we made it back to the hotel (yes hotel, how high-class of us) after dinner the munchkin and I took a swim in the pool before bed so that I could feel refreshed and she could splash all her energy out.

 

The next day we went to see the Garden of the Gods. It’s a mass of red rock similar to the Red Rocks Amphitheater but minus the incredible music venue. Climbing is banned in Red Rocks but it’s welcome in the Garden of the Gods so each of these places has something good to offer folks depending on what they’re into.

We came, we saw, we headed back to BC to recuperate if only for a moment.

Next thing on the agenda was a day trip to the Animal Sanctuary outside of Denver. Since we are without the Internet in BC a brief scan of a map was what we had to go from before heading out the door for our destination. Before the sanctuary I decided to stop off at the Red Rocks Amphitheater so that they could see the venue and the museum there. It’s worth mentioning that the date was September 11th.

 

When we arrived at Red Rocks it was unbelievably packed. Cars were lining the winding roads in every direction due to overflow from the parking lots. It turned out that there is a special event on 9/11 where people come together and run the stairs (of which there are many) at the amphitheater a certain amount of times to honor those who were lost that day. There were firefighters that had come far and wide from all across the country. It looked like an incredible event and I was bummed that I wasn’t aware it was happening until it was too late. I was once again bamboozled by the lack of the–alleged-world wide web. I would have loved to have participated but regardless, I’m glad the event exists and hopefully one day I’ll get back there to participate.

 

We only stayed at Red Rocks a short while since we obviously couldn’t get into the amphitheater but at least they were able to check out the museum; next stop Animal Sanctuary. We drove and we drove, then we drove a bit more until finally we found our exit. We drove for so long that we were in the flat plains with minimal signs of life in any direction. Thankfully there was 1 mom-and-pop restaurant to patron so that we could get some late lunch because I certainly didn’t pack enough provisions for this long of a drive. Lucky for us the food was actually pretty tasty and the portions were large enough that we nearly needed a pack train to haul the leftovers to the car.

 

Once replenished, we continued our driving expedition further into the nothingness until we arrived at the Sanctuary. We parked and quickly headed for the entrance. The kind woman at the entry informed us that fee was $30 per person. Say what! Yes, $30 American dollars per person. Plus each person was required to make a donation as well. We were all in shock at the price and I think we stood there staring at her in disbelief for several minutes before speaking words. The fact that we traveled for 40 years to get to this place basically meant that there was no way we were turning back without going inside. And so, we each shelled out a small fortune reminding ourselves that it was for a good cause and went on our merry way.

 

The sanctuary spanned several hundred acres, with a 1.5 mile elevated walkway to view the animals from. It was explained to us that the elevated walkway reduces the stress on the animals because they have no predators that come from above; therefore people are not deemed a threat from that vantage point.

 

Something I took notice of straight away was the amount of bees on the walkway. It was obvious that they had built nests in the ends of the metal tubing on the walkway itself because they hadn’t been capped closed. This was of special concern because my mom has a severe bee allergy and we didn’t have an epi-pen (mainly because my mom isn’t a millionaire, $600.00 per epi-pen!) with us. I asked one of the employees if they had them amongst their medical equipment on site and the answer was less than comforting. “Hmmmm, I don’t think so. But I don’t think anyone has ever been stung on the walkway before.” I really had to restrain myself from going into firefighter mode. I wanted so badly to start drilling her with questions about their medivac plan! We basically crossed our fingers and hoped for the best, which turned out to work in the long run.

 

The refuge housed loads of (wait for it) lions, tigers and bears, Oh My. We also spotted cheetahs, wolves and a lone giraffe. Odds are there were other types of animals but I didn’t have binoculars so I can’t really say for sure. I was most impressed with the tigers but the bears won out for entertainment value. One bear was batting a hanging tire back and forth  while in a separate water area two bear buddies were playing and splashing with one another for at least an hour. I must admit I was pretty jealous because it was about 90 degrees outside without a lick of shade to be had. Well, that’s sort of true. I was packing Ani around in the hiking backpack and had grabbed an umbrella out of the car anticipating that there would be a need so at least she had something to hide under.

 

All in all our little group was happy to have observed so many rescued animals in a safe unconfined environment. Basking in that sense of satisfaction we jumped back into the car and drove the 40 years back to Buffalo Creek.

 

Since there is no rest for the weary we loaded into the car yet again the very next day and headed north for the Rocky Mountain National Park. Here I thought the car was crammed full when it was just Ani and I road-tripping, now we had extra bodies and more “stuff” but we somehow managed to fit in every-thing and every-body so we were off.

 

We chose to drive up highway 72 since it was advertised as a scenic highway. I wouldn’t say all the twists and turns were especially worth it with the exception of being able to go through the town of Nederland. This place was buried in my memory bank because a friend I worked on the hotshot crew with had served in an Americorps program based in Nederland. Being Americorps Alumni myself I always like to hear about how and where others have served.

 

While in Nederland we stopped into the Happy Trails Cafe where I was happy to find a basket o’ stuff to occupy the hands and minds of munchkins. It gave us time to relax and drink warm tasty beverages while also giving Ani some out of the car play time, win-win! I liked Nederland quite a bit and would put it on the list of the least boastful towns of Colorado, a.k.a. list of towns I could envision living in.

We arrived in Estes Park by late afternoon, which gave us time to check-in to our hotel (yes, again!) and hit the visitor center before it closed.

As we were driving back from dinner my mom frantically began yelling and flapping her arms around so I of course assumed that we were in some sort of certain danger only to find that she had spotted a herd of elk on the local golf course. After I regained my composure and began breathing again I pulled over so that my mom and her friend could hop out of the car to take some pictures. They certainly were not alone in their excitement as the parking area of the golf course was packed with onlookers. I don’t know what sorts of delicious chemicals are sprinkled on the lawn there but the elk sure were enjoying themselves. It also happened to be rutting season so there was some entertainment in watching the bulls chase the cows around without any success. I’d say there was somewhere around 30 elk partying at the golf course that night, apparently it was the place to be.

 

The next morning we made our way for the park, which is just at the edge of Estes Park itself. We had learned from the visitor’s center that parking is limited at the trailheads so they offer shuttle buses from larger parking areas. We found the system there to be pretty efficient and easy to navigate. The biggest conundrum I was having was which trail to hit for the day. After finally making my decision it turned out that my mom and her friend were headed for the same trailhead to see a waterfall. We all set out together but after about 15 minutes I had to abandon their pace. Those two were averaging approximately 5 steps before stopping to take a photo, which is great because they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. However, I was planning to go about 6 miles and if I stayed at their pace I would be finished with my hike in about 4 days so I left them to their own devices and kept on truckin’.

As with any hike in a National Park the further you go, the less people you see and after I passed the waterfall the numbers of people I saw dropped considerably. Ani was contently perched on my back in the pack while I plugged along peering out at the turning leaves and jagged mountain landscape.

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I eventually came to the Y in the trail that I’d been dreading. The trail descriptions I had read weren’t very informative so I really had nothing to go off of. I hesitantly veered to the right and began zig-zagging up the switchbacks. As one fellah was passing us by I asked for some insight on what was up ahead. He was just the right person to ask because he’d been coming to this park for several years and knew it well. His description seemed rather lackluster which helped me decide to turn around and go the other way back at the junction. He was headed that way as well so we became quick trail buddies.

 

We chatted as we hiked learning little life tidbits about one another before stumbling upon Mills Lake. Mills Lake itself wasn’t particularly eye catching but it rested in the foreground of a snow-dusted peak making the whole scene something worthy of holding your gaze. The boulder-riddled shore of the lake is where we decided to take our lunch break so that we could take in the view a little while longer. Ani was perfectly content eating her PB&J while tossing rocks into the water’s edge and I caught myself thinking, could I possibly fill my time with anything better than this?

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After the leisurely lunch our new hiking group decided to head back to the trailhead rather than push onward for 2 reasons. It was obvious that weather was coming in because the sky was looking quite ominous and if I turned back now I’d be on time to meet up with my mom and her friend.

 

Our new hiking buddy took us on a secret ranger trail that cut some time off of the hike back and our timing couldn’t have been better. We met them and hopped back on the shuttle bus just as the first drops of rain started coming down. Perfection!

 

We finished out our day by meandering around town which for me meant finding a good coffee shop. Ani and I hung out in the Ink Well& Brew for a while and it was great! As someone who enjoys writing and all the tools to help you do it, I was a fan. They also offered a kiddo area for Ani to play in so we were both happy.

 

Our last bit of excitement for the day came by stopping at The Stanley Hotel. For those who don’t know, this is the hotel that Stephen King’s The Shining was based off of. Apparently he had stayed there during low season and the enormous historic hotel was virtually empty. There are countless claims of hauntings by guests and staff members alike so he wasn’t far off base. I thought the place had a fun history but I really enjoy historic buildings in general. If I had it my way we’d still be building structures of all kinds with that early 1900’s quality and style.

It was surely a long day, but a good one. The following morning we found ourselves some breakfast and set out for the trail ridge road, which basically loops around the entire park. We intended to take the super-scenic route before leaving and heading back to Buffalo Creek. The drive was slow but the views were fantastic. By taking this route we got the added bonus of stopping in at the highest (elevation) visitor’s center in the country. It was just us and a billion other people; so tranquil, so serene.

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Eventually the slow winding roads led us out of the park and back to Buffalo Creek where I was able to hang up my chauffer hat if only for a little while. As far as I could tell my mom and her friend had a great time and certainly took in as much as they could of Colorado during their visit. The day after our return to Buffalo Creek I turned another year older and celebrated with some favorite meals cooked by my mom. I imagine that people who live near their parents might take something like this for granted but for me this was a much appreciated birthday gift.

 

Here’s to 37.