Estes Park, CO
For our last hike in Rocky Mountain National Park we decided to do a loop of about six miles going first to Cub Lake. We would then return on the Fern Lake Trail which we would join at a spot called “The Pool,” where the trail crosses the Big Thompson River.
The first part of the trail was through a meadow on a level path.
As the trail began to gain in altitude we went through a section of Aspen Trees.
There were numerous colorful flowers along the early section of the trail.
We then entered a section of trees that were not so beautiful. This area was part of a large fire, the Fern Lake Fire, that started with an illegal campfire last October. The fire flared up in early December and moved swiftly toward Estes Park, causing the evacuation of 1,500 people. Although we were not near any of them, there are areas of this fire that are still active.
Part of the fire danger in the park comes from the numerous dead pines, killed by Mountain Pine Beetles. Mountain pine beetles affect pine trees by laying eggs under the bark. The beetles introduce blue stain fungus into the sapwood that prevents the tree from repelling and killing the attacking beetles with tree pitch flow. The fungus also blocks water and nutrient transport within the tree. On the tree exterior, this results in popcorn-shaped masses of resin, called “pitch tubes”, where the beetles have entered.
After hiking up for about three miles, we came to Cub Lake. This small lake is surrounded by forest burned by the recent fire. The ring in the lake is a large growth of pond lilies.
We continued past the lake, following the trail down the mountain through what must have been the scene of some of the most intense areas of the fire.
The fire did not damage any structures, but one of its victims was a short bridge over a small creek. Fortunately, the creek is small, so it was easy to go around the burned out bridge.
Just past the destroyed bridge was another, smaller bridge that received extensive fire damage but is still functional.
At the bottom of the mountain we crossed over the roaring waters of Big Thompson River at a spot called The Pool. The river was raging, so there was no pool to be seen.
Along the Big Thompson River we came to a spot where the trail goes through a large rock formation. OK, its not exactly Utah, but it is rocks!
Returning to the Jeep, we drove back out to Sheep Lakes to see if any Big Horns were visible. This was our fourth visit to the lakes, and finally we were rewarded with a view of some of these cool animals. They were feeding next to one of the lakes a bit of a distance from us, but we were able to see them clearly with binoculars, and even managed a picture.
This was our final hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Tomorrow afternoon we”ll take our daughter, Jessica, to the Denver Airport for a return flight back to Pennsylvania. Then Friday morning we leave here and begin a slow movement to the east. Our plans are a bit hazy right now but we’ll first head through the plains of Kansas (not much hiking there!) then a turn to the northeast as we head toward Northern New York. But we intend to make many stops along the way, so the journey will move slowly.
More on that later . . .