Monday, March 30, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 7: Colorado, Part 2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Junction and A Few Day Trips

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

Boulder, CO to Rocky Mountain National Park via Estes Park, CO. 41 Miles, 1 Hour 2 Minutes.

Day 22
We got to Rocky Mountain National Park just as the sun was going down. We went straight to Moraine Park Campground to grab a site before dark. We landed site number 62 - and pitched the tent with the last minutes of daylight. We decided there wasn't a whole lot we could do in the park so we headed back into Estes Park - the closest town - to walk around and maybe get some groceries. The grocery store was...baron..so we wound up getting McDonalds for the first time on the trip. J regretted this decision more than I did. We walked up and down the main strip a bit and then headed back to our campsite where we bundled up and tried to make a plan of action for the next day. It became immediately apparent we were going to need to stay an extra day, so we decided to Jam as much of the eastern side of the park into tomorrow, while reserving the scenic Trail Ridge Road drive for the following day. 

Day 23
When we got up,  I walked down to the ranger station and found out the site we were currently in was reserved for the night but the 'Honeymoon Suite' was open if we didn't mind the very short hike in. We drove up to the new site to check it out, and quickly went back to the ranger station to book it. We then broken down our site, packed it away half assed, and moved everything up to the Honeymoon Suite.

The Honeymoon Suite, on the right, the rest of the campground on the left.

Once the campsite was set up, we were ready to go explore. Our first stop was to Wild Basin, which is located on the south eastern part of the park. You actually have to exit the park and head south from Estes Park to reach this area. We drove in a ways, walked around a bit, and decided that as nice as it was, our time would be better spent elsewhere. 

J, somewhere in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We backtracked a bit and headed down to Bear Lake. This was a very popular spot - judging by nearly full the parking lot and crowds of tourists. We decided to do the 2.2 mile hike up to Dream Lake - which quickly shed most of the crowds. We were NOT acclimated this altitude and what would have normally been a relatively easy hike was fairly strenuous. Once we got to Dream Lake we sat on a boulder and ate some peanut butter sandwiches and applesauce while trying to shoo away the chipmunks. We set up our tripod and snapped a quick picture.

Dream Lake. So dreamy. 
We had a bit of time we drove a bit further north and through the Fall River Entrance on our way back to Estes Park, where we picked up some essentials for dinner and drinks by campfire. What seems like a relatively simple day - when you account for how scenic this driving is and how often you have to pull over to gaze or take a picture...this ate up a ton of time. As we got back to the campground a rain shower was dying off in the distance and the sun was starting to set. We took a minute to take it in. 

Surreal moments like this are a dime a dozen in Rocky Mountain National Park
We built a fire and roasted some sausages, some canned vegetables and some boxed mac & cheese. Quite a meal.

Fine Dining.

Day 24 

Above the treeline
We packed up our tents and took Trail Ridge Road out of the park. This is easily one of the most scenic drives in the United States. 11 of the 48 miles that is Trail Ridge Road is above the treeline at 11,500 feet - and its high point crests at 12,183 feet. You can gain 4000 feet in just a matter of minutes. Needless to say its a pretty incredible drive, with plenty of stops and attractions along the way. 

Self explanatory 
We crossed the continental divide (for the first time on the trip) and stopped for a quick lunch. Our goal was to get to Grand Junction, clear on the other side of the state, before dark, so we were moving at a pretty fast pace. The entire drive across Colorado was pretty stunning - even being on i70 for the majority of it. Its pretty incredible going up and down through the mountains and eventually descending into the desert as you get further west. 

We found this guy at a thrift shop in Grand Junction.
We got to Grand Junction on time and met up with my grandparents, two aunts, cousin, his wife, and their baby - almost all of whom were visiting my grandparents at the same time (which is why we rushed to get there). We went out for dinner and caught up a bit before we went back to my aunts house, where we would be staying while in Grand Junction. This was our first night sleeping in a real bed (not a futon, couch, floor, car, etc..) since we were in Pittsburgh - on day 1 of the trip. We played with her cat, Cat, for a bit before falling asleep. 

Cat, my aunts lovely cat.

The next few days were all spent at a relatively slow pace (hanging out with a couple 90+ year old people as well as a toddler = not a lot happens). We went out to  eat a bit, had our fair share of drinks, and cooked a few meals. Once my cousin and his family left, we decided we planned a couple day trips. Grand Junction is located in a great place for day trips - not unlike Albany. Lots of really great stuff pretty close by.

Lovely breakfast at my Aunts.
Day 27
Grand Junction, CO to Colorado National Monument. 6 miles, 12 minutes.

Exploring at Colorado National Monument
We took a short drive to Colorado National Monument. This is a nice canyon-rim-drive-style park that is just outside of Grand Junction. We spent a few hours hiking in various parts of the park. We went off trail a bit while hiking in the Devil's Kitchen area and had to do some scrambling, but all in all it was a lot of fun. 
In the Devils Kitchen at Colorado National Monument
Some other highlights were Red Canyon, Ute Canyon, Coke Ovens, and Independence Monument.

Independence Monument at Colorado National Monument

Day 28
Grand Junction, CO to Arches National Park, UT. 102 Miles, 2 Hours 1 Minute.

We got up and headed out early so we would have as much in the park as we possibly could. We took i70 to Cisco (a little ghost town just off the highway). Here we caught route 128 which we took straight to Moab (which is a few minutes south of Arches). This wound up being one of my favorite drives on the whole trip. The only reason we went this way is because my grandfather, who has been driving on every back road in this part of the country for the past 40 years, wouldn't shut up about it and how great the drive was - 'Its better than Arches' he kept saying. I'm not sure I would say its better than Arches - but it is staggeringly beautiful and I cannot recommend it enough. 
Route 128 to Moab

We got to arches and right away we were both blown away by its beauty. It had been just under a decade since I was here last, and Jillian really had never seen anything quit like it. We spent a few hours driving around to most of the look outs and quick hikes, before we got to the delicate arch lookout. We immediately realized that the lookout was a joke - as we could barely see the arch - and that we would have to make the 3 mile hike up to it. While 3 miles isn't the longest hike by any means, it was definitely difficult. It was pushing 100 F, the sun was shining, and we are definitely not used to this sort of hiking. 

Delicate Arch

From the parks web site:
"Length: 3 miles (4.8 km) round trip
Time: 2 to 3 hours
Elevation change: 480 feet (146 meters)

Take at least 1 quart (1 liter) of water per person! There is no shade. Open slickrock with some exposure to heights. The first half-mile is a wide, well-defined trail. Upon reaching the slickrock, follow the rock cairns. The trail climbs gradually and levels out toward the top of this rock face. Just before you get to Delicate Arch, the trail goes along a rock ledge for about 200 yards."

A truly incredible hike, with enormous payoff. We couldn't spot the bottom lookout from the ledge - to put it in perspective how shitty the view is from the parking lot. 
After we left Arches we spent a little time hanging out in Moab, grabbed some dinner and drinks at Moab Brewery before heading back to Grand Junction.

Day 29
This was J's birthday. Our original plan was to be in Salt Lake City visiting her aunt by her birthday, but she was still on the east coast visiting family so we were buying time in Grand Junction until she got back to Salt Lake City. We decided to spend the day touring the many vineyards and wineries in Grand Junction and Palisade. Nearly all of them were...not for us. Our favorite of the lot was Two Rivers Winery. The bartender there was very friendly, offered a lot of advice for our trip and it was overall a nice experience. This was our first stop and we wound up returning at the end of the day to buy some wine. We made some dinner and hung out at my aunts house for the rest of the night.
Day 30
Scenic drive from Grand Junction, CO to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to Grand Mesa back to Grand Junction, CO. 322 Miles, 6 Hours, 44 Minutes. 
A bit of the 'Hanging Flume' on the canyon wall to the right. The Unaweep-Tabeguache Byway was pretty beautiful, with lots of varying terrane - from red rock canyons like this to lush rolling green hills and valleys. 
We decided to check off several things this day as we were itching to leave Grand Junction and still had some stuff we wanted to see. We got up as early as possible and started our day of scenic driving by taking the Unaweep-Tabeguache Byway all the way south, looping around close to Telluride and then back up to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 

The first lookout at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
This is a pretty quick park to see - another canyon rim style but its more than worth checking out as it is really unlike any other canyon Ive seen. 
J at Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
The pictures do not do it justice. Very steep, jagged, sharp black rock. Very dramatic and beautiful. 

J and some Random perched at a lookout at Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
 Once we left Black Canyon we headed back to Grand Junction by way of Grand Mesa. This wasn't our favorite part of the drive, but mostly because it reminded us a lot of driving around back east. J mentioned how much the actual town reminded her of New Paltz.

Sun setting as we came off the Mesa.

Day 31
We planned on leaving Grand Junction this day but a very large storm system was developing over the majority of the Western United States - and because our plans for the next few days were all out doors - we decided to hole up in Grand Junction until the weather passed. This took a few days. 

Day 34
The weather was finally starting to normalize, but not completely. In order to avoid weather in Wyoming, as well as catch J's Aunt in Salt Lake City - we had to drive from Grand Junction, CO to Glacier National Park, then return south through Yellowstone, the Tetons, and then over to Salt Lake City. Not the most convenient itinerary - but the one that made the most sense. It also allowed us to see Boise, which we originally wanted to but had to take off the list because we were going to head west from Glacier National Park into Washington State. 

Next up:
Butte, Bozeman, Glacier & Yellowstone. 

From our book:
Rocky Mt National Park (Enter @ Estes Park) open 24/7. check road status online. 
  1. o campground closing dates/full price: aspenglen 9/28 $20, Glacier Basin 9/7 $20, Longs Peak 11/3 $20, Moraine Park 9/28 $20/$14 water off,Timber Creek 11/3 $20/$14 water off. Reservations online (reserveamerica.com/recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777
    Trail Ridge Road (Main road) closes Mid October
    Old Fall River Road - Closed, Endovalley Road - Closed


GRAND JUNCTION, CO
Free to do:
  • Colorado National Monument – 9-5
    o 1750 Rim Rock Dr/Fruita CO/81521
  • Farmers Market – Til 9/25 – Thursdays 5:30-8:30p
  • Walk along main street – over 100 sculptures.
  • Scenic Byways: ‘two of the most beautiful drives in the western US’
o Grand Mesa (hwy 65)* climbs canyon of plateau creek to evergreen forests, to grand mesa (worlds largest flat top mountain) – see view from lands end overlook. Over 300 lakes and ponds.
o Unaweep/Tabeguache – (hwy 141 & 145)
o Could do the two in a loop & add in black canyon of the Gunnison
national park (2 hour loop including stopping at overlooks) This would be a leave early return late kind of drive (7 hours or so/336miles) – route: 141S>145S>62E>550N>50E>347N>BCGNP LOOP>(return)347S>50W>50W/N>92E>65S>i70W>Grand Junction
Other:
  • Not too far from Glenwood Springs – Pool open daily 9-10, $15.25pp, 10.25
    from 9pm to 10pm
    o 415 E 6th St/Glenwood Springs CO/81602
  • Dinosaur Journey Museum – 9-5, $8.50 pp o 550 Jurassic Ct/Fruita CO/81521 

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