Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Beautiful Drive

Joe and Ned in the Snow in July

We were up and broke camp in good time this morning. We were headed for Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. We had reservations at a campground in the park so we were not pressed for time. From Moab, UT we turned onto Utah Route 128, the Upper Colorado Scenic Byway, and followed the Colorado River north. The river here has cut a wide canyon and the red rock walls in the early morning light are beautiful.

Soon we were on Interstate 70 and back in Colorado. We stopped in Grand Junction, CO to see an eye doctor. The piece of contact was still in my eye and really bothering me. After successfully having it extracted by the very helpful Melinda Hicks OD we explored downtown and had breakfast at a bagel shop.

I70 through the mountains of Colorado is a beautiful drive especially through the Glenwood canyon. The highway flows with the Colorado River. The lanes pass over and under each other and at times you are alone as the other lane pierces the mountain through a tunnel. Along the highway there is a multi-use trail that weaves in and out of the highway and river. We made a quick stop at Vail for gas. We passed through the Eisenhower Tunnel built under the Continental Divide at an elevation of 11,158 feet, the highest tunnel in the US. It is also the longest tunnel in the Interstate highway system, 1.7 miles.

Leaving the interstate we turned north onto US Route 40. We had a pleasant lunch in Empire, CO and then drove up Clear Creek Canyon and over Berthoud Pass, 11,307 feet, and back across the Continental Divide. This was another beautiful drive with fantastic views.

We entered Rocky Mountain National Park at the south entrance and stopped at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. We picked up Junior Ranger books for all of us and checked out what to see in the western part of the park. We were now on Trail Ridge Road the highest continuous paved road in the nation.

Our first stop was a quick hike on the Coyote Valley Trail through the Kawuneeche, Arapaho for coyote, Valley. Sometimes elk and moose are sighted but all we saw were some fish in the river. If we thought the Colorado River was cold at Lee's Ferry it was even colder here so close to its origin.

Our next stop was Lake Irene, a pretty little alpine lake. It started to lightly rain as we parked so we took a quick walk around part of the lake. As we were returning to the car we saw a pine marten which is a pretty rare sight. Next was Milner Pass, 10,758 feet, where Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide. We took a short hike to stand in a bit of remaining snow pack nearby. On a ridge overhead there were bighorn sheep and a man walking back from the snow said there was beaver. It was a marmot sitting on a rock eating some grass. While we slipped and played in the snow we realized we were not alone. A small herd of bighorn sheep had walked right up to us. As we watched them they climbed up the steep hillside and joined the others on the ridge. As we walked back to the car we saw a herd of elk lying down near a small pond.

At Medicine Bow Curve we took a quick alpine hike to look at wildflowers. We startled a ptarmigan as walked by some bushes. The Alpine Visitor Center was closed but we saw more elk and a big marmot on the a wall. A German visitor showed me a hole in his pants where a marmot walk up and bit it. He was so happy. The Rock Cut overlook had a bunch of pikas and a family of marmots running around. As we approached the campground we came across a group of mule deer in the woods.

We had camp set up in time to attend the campground ranger program on Our National Parks. We learned that there are 29 different types of park units from parks, monument, memorials, historic parks, to lake shores.

Driving Along the Upper Colorado Scenic Byway

Cows on Board Get Free Soup

After This Stretch, No More Red Rocks

Kawuneeche Valley

Joe Checks the Water Temperature While Ned Throws Rocks

Kawuneeche Valley From Fairview Curve

Some of the Bighorn Sheep That Visited Us

Joe is Going East and Ned is Going West

Cache la Poudre River Valley From Medicine Bow Curve

Mountain Flox Still Blooming in the Alpine Tundra

The Lone Marmot

Moab, UT to Rocky Mountain National Park Moraine Campground, CO, 419 miles 9 hrs 58 min

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