“Atlanta to Denver on a cheap direct-flight ticket….hmmmm”, I mused. That was in May, after we’d returned from a week’s vacation in the Turks and Caicos. Well, I couldn’t help but LOOK at that “airfare deals” alert I found in my email IN box. I mean after all, we work hard for the 2 weeks or so of vacation time per year that we take (when I’m working, that is) and it was time to start planning a late summer break for some hiking.
I felt like Goldilocks as I clicked away… “This fare’s TOO HIGH. This flight has TOO MANY LAYOVERS. This flight is priced JUST RIGHT and it’s direct!”
Hiking in the Colorado Rockies has appealed for many years but for various reasons, we just hadn’t been able to pull it off. I took this low fare offer as a sign from the hiking gods which, combined with a great deal I found on VRBO.com on a 1930’s era tiny cabin near a river in the town of Estes Park, pulled us inexorably out west, for a week of late summer stomping at high elevations.
By the time late August arrived, we were totally ready for much-needed relaxation and time away from work. Estes Park, about 1.5 hrs drive northwest of Denver, is a popular summer resort and the location of the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park. Situated some 7,500 feet up and lying along the Big Thompson River, the town is picturesque from almost any angle. It also is the home of the turn-of-the-2oth-Century Stanley Hotel, which inspired Steven King to set the locale for his novel The Shining.
It’s also the home of large SUVs, every truck known to humankind, funky little restaurants and shops and elk, bighorn sheep and other park dwellers that prefer the relative ease of finding foodstuffs around a human population of less than 6,000 permanent residents. Which we figured out after spending two days driving back and forth across the (awesome, breathtaking-views-laden) Trail Ridge Road, sometimes at elevations above 12,000 feet, looking for critters like marmots, pikas and the herds of elk that live in this wilderness.
The herds of elk weren’t hard to find—we quickly learned to look for the crush of cars, vans, campers and tourists spilling over the vertiginous roadsides. “Look, out there in that wind-swept vastness—two elk!” Quick, take a picture that, when viewed, will reveal a breathtaking shot of a massive grass-covered mountainside surrounded by towering snow capped mountain ranges— and two tiny brown dots with antlers sticking up somewhere between us and those mountains in the distance…
OK so we really did spot (and photograph) elk herds and even a moose at lower elevations. I managed to spend 20 minutes sneaking up on a marmot to take its picture, no mean feat when the largest thing to hide behind are basketball-sized rocks strewn on yet another of those awesome, windswept (and cold!) hillsides. I did enjoy the challenge of the stalk. MORE PIX HERE
So our funny story of the trip is that after all that driving and people-car-crush activity up in the park, we returned to the relatively cosmopolitan Estes Park only to discover a small herd of elk quietly ruminating under the trees next to a golf course, right in front of a restaurant where we ate elk one night (not the elk we’d seen, of course—we ate Denver elk, we were assured.)
And later we came across a 13-point buck browsing next to the shopping center beside the busy town main drag. He was a show-stopper, and we managed to get a quick photo of this magnificent, healthy bull before the car-crush developed.
Our photos really tell the story, which for us was actually about very intense hiking over the course of the week. Our knees and feet were pretty bruised from the work to get up some of those trails, but the payoff for every hike was awesome and more-awesome scenery. It didn’t take long for the wonder and the majesty of the mountains to remind us of how very small we truly are in such landscapes, and how being in them simply makes one’s world-weary concerns lift away.
Brief video clip of windy gorge on hike: http://youtu.be/vRPCSek6aKs
Brief video clip panorama tundra at 14,000 feet: http://youtu.be/4FZcJ3c76ZY