May 25th – 28th ~ Estes Park, Colorado ~ Memorial Day Weekend
Finding a spot for two RV’s, relatively last-minute over a holiday weekend, at a popular National Park, with a view of water, is not an easy task. We started looking several weeks in advance and everything was showing sold out on our online searches.
Tim was our hero when he started calling around and found us two spots at Manor RV Park in Estes Park.
The Rocky Mountains form one of the world’s longest ranges, stretching all the way from Alaska to Mexico. RMNP is located only 76 miles NW of the Denver International Airport.
“The Rocky Mountain National Park Act was signed by then–President Woodrow Wilson on January 26, 1915, establishing the park boundaries and protecting the area for future generations. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the main automobile route, Trail Ridge Road, in the 1930s. In 1976, UNESCO designated the park as one of the first World Biosphere Reserves. In 2016, more than four and a half million recreational visitors entered the park, which is an increase of about nine percent from the prior year. The park is one of the most visited in the National Park System, ranking as the third most visited U.S. national park in 2015.” ~ Wikipedia
Friday: Arrival day and basics
Arriving early afternoon on Friday, we set up our RV’s, unhooked our tow vehicle and headed over to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center (designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture), only a short drive away. This was mainly a fact-finding mission to pick up a map, speak with a ranger to get recommendations for hikes, must see spots and best photo locations, and watch the movie on the parks history.
The Theil’s middle son, Brad (Cameron) and his son, Blake, joined us for the first two nights. We watched Blake play in the freezing creek, and later in the evening make s’mores with his grandpa.
Saturday: Trail Ridge Road, Alluvial Fan, Chasm Falls
Our first morning, we chose to drive the Trail Ridge Road. This would take us to the highest altitude in the park. Called Natures Knife Edge, you climb through distinct ecosystems. Montane (below 9,000 feet), Subalpine (9,000-11,400 feet) and Alpine (above 11,400 feet).
Entering the park at Estes Park, we were in the Montane ecosystem, filled with evergreens, aspen and many animals.
From the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, on Highway 36, you proceed to Deer Ridge Junction. Stay to the left onto Highway 34 which becomes the Trail Ridge Road.
There are numerous scenic pullouts as you wind you way higher and higher. One of our favorites was Rainbow Curve. From this vantage point, you can see Horseshoe Park far below.
At Rock Cut, you can park and take an approximate 1/2 mile hike along the Tundra Communities Trailhead. This pathway is asphalt and well maintained, but it is uphill. At this high elevation, take your time!
One of the highlights of this hike was seeing a mamma elk with a newborn calf. The baby was probably born within the past day as it was still a little wobbly.
Tim captured these brief video clips of the little one:
The tundra is stark, but still beautiful, in an other-worldly kind of way. Snow-covered mountains in the background added to the grandeur.
Bold rock formations broke up the otherwise bleak landscape.
Continuing up the road to the Alpine Visitors Center, we were now over two miles high at the highest elevation visitor center in the National Park System. Situated at 11,796 feet (3,595 meters), you feel like you are on top of the world.
360 degree views to grab your attention.
Backtracking down the hill toward the Deer Ridge Junction
A short stop at Hidden Valley for a brief easy hike along the creek.
At the junction, this time we turned left toward the Alluvial Fan. You can approach the falls from two sides. We first took the trail to the left of the falls.
Later in the day we hiked up the right side of the falls for a slightly wider view.
Falls River Area Trails:
A short drive past the falls you come to the start of the Old Fall River Road. This is a one way, narrow dirt road that is only open from early July – September. Memorial Day weekend, the road was still closed, but we had been told we could hike up the dirt road 1.4 miles to see Chasm Falls.
There are few parking spots available, but we managed to get off the road and hiked UP, UP, UP.
But eventually we got our reward!
Trees and Terrain:
The many shades of green were stunning to behold. And if you took you time, you could spot many small and unimposing flowers along the way.
And finally after a long, but satisfying day, we returned back to our RV’s for wine, dinner, and some surprise guests – ELK RIGHT IN OUR CAMPGROUND!
TO BE CONTINUED…
Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful for the friendly, experienced, helpful and polite rangers and volunteers who were eager to share their knowledge of the park and surrounding areas. They helped us make decisions on which hikes to take, answered numerous questions, and gave us valuable tips and directions.