Estes Park, CO
On Tuesday we decided to take a ride all the way through Rocky Mountain National Park. Trail Ridge Road (Rte. 34) runs from Estes Park over, around, and through the park for 48 miles to Grand Lake. It is the highest continuous paved road in the U.S., going up to an altitude of 12,183 feet at the highest point.
After a stop at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to check out some future hiking trails, we headed west. Snow covered mountains immediately appeared in front of us.
As the road went through a pine forest, more and more snow became visible along the banks.
At Rainbow Curve we stopped to view the valley to the east and the winding highway we had just driven.
To the west we could see more snow covered mountains.
As we crossed the tree line, the snow banks along the road began to get higher and higher. This part of the road is closed during snow season and only opened about two weeks ago.
As we continued, we could see a still frozen lake below us.
At its highest point, the road winds across the treeless tundra. During planning of the road in the 1930s, internal opposition to the construction of a road through the park’s alpine tundra was overruled by National Park Service director Horace Albright, who wanted to encourage park visitation. The road was designed to intrude as little as possible into the landscape, in accordance with Park Service design principles.
About two miles from the highest point on the road, we came to the Alpine Visitor Center. At 11,796 feet, it is the highest visitor center in the National Park system. The Visitor Center just opened for the season about two weeks ago, probably because it took a long time just to find it under all that snow!
As we continued west, the road began its descent toward Grand Lake. But the thick blanket of snow on that side of the mountain made it feel like December rather than June.
Down in the valley outside Grand Lake we saw a large number of Cow Elk, and finally spotted a few moose enjoying lunch in a nearby field.
This one doesn’t seem to be fully developed. As the season progresses, we think he will finally develop a neck and head!
Some moose seemed to enjoy posing for the camera.
But the only one with antlers was too busy eating to pose for a picture.
As we approached Estes Park on the return trip, we detoured on to Fall River Road to visit Sheep Lakes, a favorite spot for Big Horn Sheep. While the sheep weren’t home, we did finally get a look at some Bull Elk grazing in the meadow.
Just outside Estes Park we spotted what we thought were elk statues along the road. But we were surprised to see one of the statues move it’s head, so we turned around for another look. The big fellow below stood in that pose for a number of minutes and seemed to be part of the church sign.
After a few minutes standing in the above position, he adjusted his pose a bit as he was beginning to develop a sore neck.
The drive across Rocky Mountain National Park is truly spectacular. Next up is a hike or two to get up close with the scenery.
More on that later . . .