Rocky Mountain National Park...and home
The third part of our trip, from Rocky Mountain National Park to Dinosaur National Monument, and then home.
DAY TWELVE: Liz and Jason flew out early today. We got up to see them off, then packed up all our camp gear--some of it still damp from the rains overnight--and started our drive towards Rocky Mountain National Park, through rain and flash flood warnings. It made for a memorable day. We loved the scenery over Togwotee Pass and through a fertile and prosperous Wind River Reservation--but clouds hid many of the peaks. We stopped to eat lunch at Sweetwater Junction, on the old Oregon Trail...which was very cool. Our original plan was to camp up in the undeveloped areas south of the highway near Jeffrey City, but that would have required driving on dirt roads for quite a while---not a good idea during flash flood warnings. So we booked a hotel in Laramie...complete with a warm shower, a bed with sheets on it, a steak dinner, and wi-fi. From there we checked in with my sister, who had a cabin at the YMCA camp in Estes Park for a month...and made plans to meet them there the next day.
DAY THIRTEEN: We ate breakfast at the hotel, then drove to Fort Collins, where my sister recommended checking out the Flower Trial Gardens at CSU, which were both beautiful and dramatic.
We ate lunch there, then drove into Estes Park to join my sister at her cabin at the YMCA camp there. After dinner we drove into the park and checked out Bear and Sprague Lakes, despite heavy clouds and dense smoke. Perhaps best of all, we washed laundry, washed ourselves, and tidied up the van after two weeks on the road.
DAY FOURTEEN: We were up very early to take advantage of a 5-7 am permit for Bear Lake Road access. RMNP is very crowded, and part of their crowd control plan is to offer timed entry for the more popular parts of the park.
We hiked the Glacier Gorge Trail to Alberta Falls, the Loch, and up the canyon to Lake of Glass. But we bailed on the last 100 feet up the to lake, as the scramble up the rocks was dripping wet and crowded with struggling people. Not our scene at all. The photo below doesn't really capture the full sense of chaos...grin.
So we hiked back down and ate lunch at Bear Lake, then drove around Moraine Park, and checked out the campground there. We were back at the cabin in time for a short nap, then dinner in town at Nepal's...with Beatrice, Gregory and their friends. Delicious and fun...
DAY FIFTEEN: This was our last full day in RMNP, and our original plan was to drive south and hike the Ouzel Falls Trail. But it was raining when we left the cabin, and got worse as we drove south. So we turned around and drove the Old Fall River Road--a fun adventure--and then checked out the Alpine Visitors Center--complete with large herd of elk grazing on the slopes blow. That's a view from road on the way up...
From there we went to the Baldpate Inn, now called Seven Keys Inn, but they were not serving meals. We shopped for groceries, filled the van with gas, and came back to the cabin for lunch, naps, a quiet read, and a short walk around the YMCA facilities before dinner. And after dinner, we talked until bedtime....tomorrow we're off to Dinosaur National Monument..
DAY SIXTEEN: As we drove over the pass and out of Rocky Mountain National Park the views were lovely, but we were just about at cloud level at the top, and many if the peaks were hiding. We connected to Highway 40 and headed West. We loved the area around Rabbit Ears Pass--beautiful high altitude forest--and we'd live to explore it more sometime. Steamboat Springs was an upscale zoo. Lots of McChalets and compounded by lots of traffic and a massive roadworks project. We were happy to see it in our rearview mirror. Slowly the landscape changed from alpine to forest, forest to high plains, and finally to red rock as we neared Dinosaur NM. We checked out the visitor center, looked at the massive wall of fossils, and then drove and hiked the Cub Creek Road.
We loved the petroglyphs and the old homesteads and box canyon. Salad for dinner at the campsite, just yards from the cooling effect of the Green River.
DAY SEVENTEEN: We wanted explore more if Dinosaur NM, so drove the Harpers Corner Road, stopping at each viewpoint and hiking each little trail. There is some spectacular scenery here... especially at the end of the road, even though the smoky skies made it hard to see,,,
Back to the Dinosaur wall, this time to hike down the trail through the rock layers...and then drove into Vernal for a massive lunch at Glazed and Grilled, including a great salad bar. A wonderful drive from Duchesne to Price through deep narrow canyons and over a 9,000 foot pass.
We liked the town of Helper Utah. What fun-- a tired old western town that has been renovated with art, culture, and a sense style. Charming and unexpected.
But we got a surprise at our reserved campsite in Old Folks Flat. There was another name on the tag for our site. Since we'd seen other campgrounds nearby, we decided to check them out, and found a lovely site about five miles away. Sure enough, half an hour later the USFS campground patrol came by. Happily he remembered our name and assured us the original site was ours, but also offered to let us stay where we were. Since we liked the new site better, we chose to stay, and chatted a bit more about hiking, backpacking, and the forest service. A light dinner of wine, cheese, crackers and fruit, and we were off to bed.
CAMPSITE DRAMA: While we were comfortably bedded down for the night, we were interrupted at about 10:15 by a pickup and boat combination who pulled into our campground and, after some study, knocked on our van to tell us that we were in their site. Given the situation, they were very nice about it. Given our own experience here, we believed them. But it was also both late and dark, and there were no other sites available. We offered to share the site with them for the night (there was room for two cars, and we were sleeping in the van) and promised to leave, first thing in the morning. At first they agree, but then later they chose to drive off...not sure where. Sigh. The next morning we left early, and they were nowhere to be seen.
DAY EIGHTEEN: This day began with a beautiful drive out of the mountains, the only downside was that we had to brake often for lots of deer. But things went downhill from there. As we neared Provo the skies were thick with smoke, and by the time we were driving through Salt Lake City visibility was down to about a mile. We read later that the area had the worst air quality in the world that day.
An unfortunately, we had an ugly drive for hours on the freeway...It was right about then that we got a text message from recreation.gov that our campground for that night in the Ruby Mountains was closed by flood damage. hmmm. Change of plans. We drove west, stopping for gas and lunch in Wells, then on to Elko, Winnemucca...looking for a place to camp, watching air stay full of smoke. IT was miserable. We finally decided to get indoors and stay in a hotel in Fernley, and head home tomorrow. The air was so smoky we didn't want to camp..
DAY NINETEEN: We were up early and on the road home through miserable smoke. Happily, we once we got out of the Sierra it was marginally better, and by the time we got home to Napa, the air was as clean as we had seen all day. Lots of clothes to wash, food to put away, and van clean up. We dried out the tents (damp from the rain in the Tetons) and generally tried to get everything shipshape for the next trip. A dinner of fresh veggies and bacon!
here's the whole crew at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone: