~Wednesday, May 18, 2022~
Two hoorays for today; the first, seeing my first moose sighting at our campsite this morning. The second hooray.....no more strikes.
We finally saw the sign turned from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ at the visitor center and were able to get the information we needed about the trails, though she wasn’t very forthcoming in her information. Unfortunately, many of the highly rated trails are fire damaged,
as we thought. Darn, and here we are in one of the best parks for hikes!! However, she did offer a few other trail suggestions. She also recommended that due to the upcoming late winter storm, that we drive the Trail Ridge Road to Milner Pass (recently opened) before the likelihood of being shut down again. We took part of this 40+ mile road a week ago, while staying on the east side of the park (Estes Park area), so really wanted to see as much as we could of the west side. This road connects the east to the west side of the park and generally does not fully open until Memorial Day weekend.
With today being the best weather day we’ve had so far in Colorado, we wanted to get out and explore. We started off with the meadowy Kawuneeche Valley, once shaped by the forces of the glaciers and the Colorado River. This section brought us to one of the valley’s first dude ranches…..the Holzwarth Historic Site.
In 1917, German immigrants Sophia and John Holzwarth built their homestead here, after wartime Prohibition closed their saloon in Denver. Their evergrowing friends and visitors enjoyed fishing, hunting, horseback riding and delicious meals, while staying in rustic cabins. Due to the popularity of the national park, they purchased and developed even more land, expanding their lodging heavily in the 1920’s. They eventually called it the Never Summer Ranch in reference to the surrounding Never Summer Mountain Range (the only volcanic range in Rocky Mountain NP). Subsequently, a few other families took ownership. But in 1974, the successful homestead and business was purchased by the Nature Conservancy, and one year later, transferred to Rocky Mountain National Park.
As we climbed higher on Trail Ridge Road, stopping at one of the overlooks of the Kawuneeche Valley below, there was an interesting map of the Colorado River, its tributaries and dams. At that moment, it dawned on us that the river has been a large part of our journey these last few months starting at the Grand Canyon, to Lake Powell, to Canyonlands, to Moab, to Carbondale, to Estes Park, and now Grand Lake. Wow!! In fact, the headwaters up the Kawuneeche Valley, spring from the Continental Divide’s western slopes and the Never Summer Mountains,
about 10 miles upstream, only to travel 1,400 miles to the Gulf of California. And along the way, hundreds of tributaries join in.
As we drove even higher to Milner Pass at 10,758 feet at the Continental Divide, we were in complete awe as we were nearly in line with the tops of the Never Summer Mountain Range across the valley. We learned that this side of the park (west side) gets more precipitation than the east side, likely due to the airstream normally traveling west to east with the west getting the brunt of whatever’s coming. The mountains’ shiny appearance, kissed in full sunlight, seem to be solid ice, not snow, with not a single tree in sight of the near 13,000 foot elevation (treeline is around 11,200 feet in the Rockies). While at Milner Pass, we had to get a picture of Jeff standing in front of the iconic Continental Divide sign.
But we also noticed something else. At the roadblock gate, there were 2 signs that showed dogs and bikes allowed. What?? We could have brought the bikes and the pooch. Well, actually we couldn’t have brought both. But what a way to see at least a fraction of this stunning scenery on the ever popular road, with no automobile traffic, especially on such a gorgeous day and in the Spring no less. The wildflowers must be in abundance. If the weather cooperates tomorrow, we may be back up here for a ride!
We came back to the trailer to get Sadie for an early evening picnic right on the Colorado River. We had read about this really cool trail to what’s called the AA Barn Ranch, located within the Arapaho National Recreation Area. It is also a beautiful location for weddings. Having trouble locating the property, we stumbled (we seem to do this alot), on something else….. a really neat picnic area with it too, on the river, called Pine Beach Picnic Area. There wasn’t anyone else around….just us and the pelicans sunning themselves. But we still had a mission to find the AA Barn. After a few more accurate map searches, we finally found we had turned one road too early. An angler’s paradise, we asked a few fishermen if we were headed in the right direction. We were! About a ½ mile from the locked gate, we found the barn. Oh my! What a location, right on the river, but set in a more meadowy area. We certainly see why this is a popular wedding venue. After a bit of frolic time for Sadie and enjoying the quiet of our surroundings, we headed back towards Pine Beach and found another gem……the Green Ridge Campground. Jeff thinks he looked into this many months ago, as it’s highly rated. So we took a drive through to see what we could see. There are a few sites that could fit our rig. Though no hookups, the views are breathtaking. He remembered that we didn’t choose this campground in the first place because of the risky time that we would be there. We just didn’t know what the weather would be like and couldn’t risk having freezing temperatures and snow without electricity. But we’ve certainly noted it for future summer trips. Finally, we ended up back at Pine Beach for our evening snack. It was the ideal place for Sadie to swim and sun herself while we enjoyed the sunshine, warm weather and a few nibblies.
We’re really keeping an eye on this forecasted late winter storm. You never know this time of year, being in the Rockies. It could really affect our departure day of Friday as we are not willing to risk driving in snow. Stay tuned!