Like I said, Sunday morning came early. Like 7:30 early. Which may not seem early, but it is when you’ve spent the vast majority of the previous night worrying about large predatory animals and listening to abnormally large raindrops hit your roof. Still, we all managed to get a little sleep and were feeling better – time for some hiking!
Sprague Lake was to be our first stop. It was named as an easy hike and it sounded like it fit the bill perfectly.
Sprague Lake was named for Abner Sprague, who owned a lodge here at the turn of the century, before it became RMNP in 1915. The trail we walked was a half mile trail around the lake and surrounded by trees. It was a completely flat trail – very important – and an easy walk.
Here’s proof that I was there.
You’ll notice that I was wearing jeans. That’s because June is still spring in the Rockies. Morning lows are in the 40s and afternoon highs are often not out of the 60s. That’s amazing considering the weather we came from was in the upper 90s. Happily, this translated into the best opportunity for seeing local wildlife and spring wildflowers.
It was a lovely walk and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. When we finished we decided to head on up to the end of Bear Lake Road and check out Bear Lake.
Bear Lake sits at 9, 475 feet elevation. This is important. Our ears popped on the way up to the parking lot. When we arrived at the trail head we were met by a very kind Park Ranger that answered all of the girls questions about the Junior Ranger books. He then directed us to the Bear Lake Trail. This was another fairly easy trail around a lake. Also a half mile long. Perfect!
As we were walking up we came across a large pile of….snow? Yeah. Snow. Funnily enough, Hollywood didn’t know what it was and wouldn’t believe us when we told her. Poor kid. She had to walk over and touch it to verify that it was indeed snow.
We had purchased the interpretive nature guide and followed the marked points around the trail to learn more about Bear Lake.
That tallest peak is Long’s Peak and is one of the Colorado Fourteeners (there are 53 mountains in Colorado that top 14, 000 feet elevation). The ridges along the right side are called the keyboard of the winds. Legend holds that when the wind blows across those jagged cliffs that it creates an eery musical sound.
As we continued along the guided trail we were introduced to different trees, plants, and features of the area. Near the completion of the loop we discovered that the trail was blocked. By huge snow drifts. Poor Captain Chaos did not like the snow. He pronounced it “dirty” and “yucky.” He didn’t like climbing over the slippery surface. Every time we came to another drift he would shake his head and say “No no!” Roughly, that translates into “no snow!”
When we finished with Bear Lake it was nearly noon and we were all pretty hungry. We decided to take the drive back into town and find something to eat. On the way out through the South exit (also known as the Beaver Meadows exit) we passed a little restaurant called Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ. It rang a bell because we had heard a group just raving about it that morning in McDonald’s. We pulled in and opted to give it a try.
Oh. My. Goodness. Now folks, I am from Texas, so I know barbeque. I am not a connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but I know when it’s bad and when it’s good. And Smokin’ Dave’s ROCKED. First, it was reasonably priced – amazing considering that they kind of have a monopoly going on, and second the portions were huge. Huge!
I had the pulled pork sandwich which was amazing on its own, but the real treat was finding out that Dave makes all of his own sauces. I highly recommend the sweet original. The other menu items of note – Dad had the Triple, which included a HALF a chicken and Hollywood had the tastiest hamburger. If you are ever in Estes Park you should definitely go to Dave’s and “get sauced at 7,522 feet.”
After lunch we headed back to the camper for much needed naps and some research for the afternoons activities.
Dad jumped on the internet (there’s free wireless access at Jellystone Estes!) and found the best place to see a sunset – Rock Cut on Trail Ridge Road. After everyone was napped and ready to go we loaded up and headed back to RMNP. Since it was still early we stopped on the Moraine to see the elk.
Then we headed up Trail Ridge Road. A word about this road – it’s the highest road in the country and crosses the Continental Divide. It is two lanes. It has no guardrails. Hopefully they can open it by Memorial Day. There was still 10-12 feet of snow along the road. It closed while we were there because of frozen precipitation. Driving it was scary. My Dad will testify to that fact.
It is frightening to look out the window and realize that there’s nothing between you and a 10,000 foot fall. <shudder> You see those sticks along the side of the road? That’s for the plow drivers so they can find the road and don’t drive off the edge of the mountain while plowing. I am sorry, there is not enough money in the world for me to take that job… As an aside we talked to a Ranger that works at the Alpine Visitor Center (~12,000 feet) and he told us that all the rangers that work there have to be EMTs. Not surprisingly, the most common problem they treat there is anxiety attacks.
Anywho, we made it to a scenic overlook (not Rock Cut) for the sunset. Folks, this was on the Alpine Tundra. It snowed while we were standing there!
While we were there we saw a marmot. Very cool.
We were all really bummed when the sky clouded over and we couldn’t see the sunset. I don’t think any of us were really looking forward to driving back down Trail Ridge Road. Least of all Dad. Finally back in the valley we were intrigued by a sign pointing to the Alluvial Fan and we decided to go check it out.
The Alluvial Fan was created in 1982 when a dam higher on the river broke and sent 29 million gallons of water flooding into the valley. It eventually broke two more dams before being contained by the Lake Estes dam and flooding Estes Park to a depth of 6 feet!
When we got there we saw three mule deer feeding in the parking lot.
Then we headed up to see the river, falls and fan.
A pretty flower growing in a boulder.
After Alluvial Fan we headed back to the camper for the night. Another night in the leaning camper of Jellystone.