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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Destruction Turned to Beauty

~Thursday, May 12, 2022~

Day 697

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) has quite a number of visitor centers in its 415 square miles. So we wanted to check out the eastern section of the park today, starting at the Fall River Visitor Center. Constructed in 2000, it is supposedly the best visitor center in the park offering highlights of how the national park came to be (one of the earliest national parks, established in 1915) in addition to full-sized wildlife displays, and interpretive signs/exhibits about the tundra and wildlife survival/management. Next door, there is a convenient, large gift shop as well as a casual, family-friendly restaurant.

With our handy park map, we began our drive, and were one of the fortunate ones to spot a solitary, male big-horn sheep, grazing in the Horseshoe area of the park.

We read that in RMNP, they come down from the higher elevations to graze on meadowy grasses to get their “essential vitamins”, if you will. To get to this heavily nutrient area of Sheep Lake, they must cross the touristy road to get to it. Evidently they are very skittish around cars, so the park asks that you don’t slow down or stop when you see one. Minding the rules, we found a turnout up a ways, and watched with our handy dandy binoculars from afar.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are the largest wild sheep in North America with males weighing up to 300 pounds and females weighing half that. In summer they shed their heavy coats. Their rubbery hooves and rough soles provide just enough grip to climb and jump sharp cliff faces (what a sight that would be!) And unlike horned animals, they retain their true horns throughout their life. The rams (males) have horns that curl around their faces by 8 years of age. The females (ewes), have smaller horns that curve slightly to a sharp point within their first 4 years of life.

We knew this section of the park would encompass more driving than hiking. So our first stop was seeing the Alluvial Fan, created on July 15, 1982.

There is a short trail to get to this fan-shaped area of disturbance where 200 million gallons of water came rushing through from the collapsed earthen Lawn Lake Dam, flooding the Park and nearby town of Estes Park; eventually creating Horseshoe Falls. We just couldn’t believe the powerful force it took to move this much earth and the number of boulder-sized rocks that rolled to the valley floor below. Interestingly enough, the interpretive sign showed a 1990 photo of the area so you could compare that to what it looks like today. Forty years later, much of the area has been filled in by new forest which is so encouraging to see.

Next was a stop at one of the park’s wetland environments……the Beaver Ponds. There are several examples of these in the park where you can get access via elevated walkways. At one time, these areas were home to several beaver colonies, whose dams eventually blocked the flow of water, creating a series of tiny ponds. The beavers have since moved on, abandoning their dams which in time, have fallen apart, leading to the ponds eventually draining, leaving nutrient rich soil behind. In the near future, this marshy state will turn into a lush meadow.

When we approached the Hidden Valley Trail/picnic area, we wondered what warranted such a huge parking lot. Hidden Valley used to be a former ski resort that ran from 1955 until 1992. Now demolished, there once was a base lodge, a cafeteria and ski patrol headquarters. Over the years, as other ski resorts were established, they just couldn’t compete with Colorado’s “big boys''. But not all is wasted as the area is still used for picnicking and offers some of the best sledding and tubing opportunities.

It’s too bad that we can’t stay in RMNP longer since we have to get heading north for the Alaska portion of our trip. Memorial Day weekend seems to be the popular launch date to explore many more things in and around the park. One is the Trail Ridge Road, still closed from winter snow. This 48-mile scenic drive eventually dumps you into the other side of the park which is where we’re headed next. So yes, instead of circumventing, we’ll have to go around. But for today, it would have been nice to take in the views from that road. Instead, we had to settle for the road dead ending at Many Parks Curve. But it really wasn’t “settling”. From here, we could see stunning views of Longs Peak and others as well as the valley below, much of which is not part of RMNP. It was the perfect way to end our time in this section of the park.

Since Jeff and I are big fans of the movie, “The Shining”, we couldn’t miss seeing The Stanley Hotel, which

became Stephen King’s inspiration for his acclaimed novel. Apparently he and his wife had a 1-night stay back in 1973, and were the only guests at the hotel that night. But King was convinced they weren’t alone. In 2015, the hotel added a small hedge maze in front of the building, (ill maintained today) as a homage to the film (do you remember that creepy scene in the movie?). We decided to give the maze a whirl. Even though it’s a fraction of the height of the one in the movie, it still was challenging for us as we came to a dead end more than once. As we moved about the hotel, it was apparent why this hotel has become so famous, between King’s book and the many celebrities who’ve frequented it over the years. It was also the sight for the famous 1994 film, “Dumb and Dumber” starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, as well as a few episodes of “The Shining” made for t.v. mini-series.

We decided to use the $5.00 coin they gave us at the hotel’s entrance, for a nice, warm Chai Latte and Cafe Mocha; perfect for the brisk day. While we were waiting in line, I saw an arcade about the 1st Annual Estes Park Jazz & Blues Festival, hosted by The Stanley Hotel, the day AFTER we leave Estes Park. Grrr!! Another thing we’ll be missing.😩

After our FULL day, we came back to the trailer to pick up our Sadie girl to head back out again and walk the Estes River Walk Trail. The downtown portion of the trail is about a mile but extends into its full-length version of 5 miles around Estes Lake (which we already did the other day). The Big Thompson River (the same that’s behind our campsite), and the Fall River wind through the heart of downtown, right next to the Riverwalk Trail, offering wonderful sights and sounds. Along the way are many shops, bars, and restaurants adding to the experience. Though there were a few enticing pubs along the trail, Jeff had a different one in mind. Avant Garde Aleworks is about a 5-minute drive to the outskirts of town, in an industrial area, like many of the good breweries are (cheaper rent I guess). You can tell they’ve put a lot of effort into the place with a wonderful, large outdoor seating area with firepits and wall fountains.

Their specialty is craft brews made on sight. When we arrived with Sadie, they were in the midst of trivia night with the locals. We found a nice outdoor corner space perfect for rehashing the day while enjoying some delicious “suds”. Jeff’s score on this one….9 out of 10! Wow!!!

Finally arriving back to the trailer, it was a nippy 38 degrees with the wind chill. Jeff headed inside to warm up while I met our new neighbors Suzy Q and Marty from Kansas City, Missouri, who have been coming to the Estes Park area for years. After chatting about our travels and love of horses, we realized we had quite a bit in common. Hopefully we stay in touch.

Can’t pass up the fact that our laundry facility is only 10 feet from our campsite (the most convenient ever) and only $1.50/load. And since we prefer to do laundry at night, when most people are winding down their evening, we had the whole place to ourselves.

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