We took the smaller scenic route to Rocky Mountain National Park from the Black Canyon (highway 50 east to just before Salida, and then north on 24 through Leadville to the last bit of Interstate 70, but honestly, I think going straight up to Interstate 70 from Montrose would have been more scenic. Except for Blue Mesa Reservoir, the biggest body of water in Colorado. It goes on and on as you drive east on 50 from the Black Canyon, and it’s worth seeing. Especially if you’re used to lakes always being surrounded by trees. Here the desert comes right down to the water’s edge.
I’ve driven Interstate 70 in both directions several times between Grand Junction and Boulder, and it’s the most beautiful stretch of Interstate I’ve ever seen. It’s also shown on the map (in one of those oversized map books of the USA) as scenic, and the first time I thought, yeah right, but I was blown away.
T and I had been to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP from now on) before. T and I once, and I once before that, by myself. It was the first time for the kids, and they were excited about maybe spotting moose and elk. And even though T and I had seen it all before, every time is like the first time when it comes to Colorado.
We arrived at the campground in Estes Park ( a county park next to Mary’s Lake, but a levee blocks the view) in the evening, and we had dinner at a little restaurant along the riverwalk. I can’t recommend the campground. They claimed to have wifi, but they didn’t, the laundry room was open from 8 am to 5 pm–which, of course, is when you’re out seeing RMNP–and it was ugly.
The next day we just spent driving along the Trail Edge Road, stopping a lot for views and animal spottings.
By the time we were driving above the tree line, a storm was coming in. I was elated, because there’s nothing I like more than the mountains under a dramatic sky.
Then it hailed.
I had been looking out for a marmot once we were above the tree line, but so far, I had had no luck. Then, when we were in the gift store next to the visitors’ center, there was a marmot mother with three babies right under the window! What a treat.
Going down past the highest point, we saw these two male elk, just sitting in the grass, about twenty feet from the road, showing off their antlers.
We bought a book on birds of Colorado, but we still don’t know what this is.
The first time I was in the Rockies by myself, I saw a lot of ground squirrels at the first overlook I stopped at. They didn’t seem at all shy, so I offered them some granola bar crumbs, and pretty soon I had four or five chipmunks climbing all over me, even checking my hair for granola. You never know, right? I saw the sign warning not to feed the animals later. So I had told R that she couldn’t feed the ground squirrels, but that some might be quite curious if they’ve been fed by other humans. For days she had been looking out for chipmunks and ground squirrels, and then approaching them slowly and sitting nearby, with her hand out, making herself as unthreatening as possible. Every now and then one would come close, but they never touched her hand. But this day she was in luck. A ground squirrel at a picnic area was eating some bread that someone had left there, so R took it and fed it to the ground squirrel. After all, he was already eating it. And sure enough, soon it was all over her, to her extreme delight.
We decided to camp in one of the park campgrounds, since we didn’t like the one at Mary’s Lake. This one was much nicer. No hookups, but a beautiful setting and still more sights. I was just taking pictures of this double rainbow…
when I heard people telling one another that there were elk in the campground.
A bit later we heard from the park ranger that a bear had been spotted four miles away, heading in our direction, so to make sure to put all foodstuffs inside. But if a bear came to the campground, it did so in the dark, so I had no bear spotting.