LOVE TO WANDER
We travelled a total of 3,131 miles on this trip by road and about 100 miles on foot. That is a lot of ground. We could have cut the trip short by missing out the Wild West bit around Rapid City/Mount Rushmore, but we would have missed out on quite a bit of the flavour of the place then and I wouldn't want to have done that. The National Park annual pass turned out to be great value at $80. All the National Parks quieten down significantly after Labour Day at the end of August, so then is a good time to go, as long as you don't leave it so long that the snow arrives - it is a small window, RMNP is definitely the busiest park (people per square mile), so I would leave that as late into the season as possible.
With the great benefit of hindsight (always a gift to future travellers and part of the reason for putting effort into writing this blog!):
Flagg Ranch might have made a good stop - pitched between South Yellowstone and North Grand Teton, you could go either way, depending on your mood. Gardiner is a good place for the north end of Yellowstone and Red Rocks is potentially a good alternative to Billings en route.
Pepper spray - be prepared to rent it or buy it - but don't hike without it! You can't take it on an aircraft - even in the hold - so you have to get hold of it as soon as you get there.
We had a couple of hours drive to reach Denver again after checking out of our Estes Park lodgings. I was left wanting more from Denver on our first visit, so it was easy plan the few hours we had left to us today.
I had three objectives in mind: See Grand Union Station, visit the enticing looking Cheesecake Factory and take a photo of the mile high city skyline...
Grand Union Station - tick! Art deco style - never fails to please.
We hiked to Cub Lake today and decided to go beyond to Fern Falls - an 8 mile round trip in all. The foliage is a more fiery orange/red here, although it is a late fall this year.
Our hike was accompanied by the loud bugling of elk all along the trail. This is rut season and you can hear it going on all around you. I thought it would be confined to sunrise/sunset - but the cries rang out around the tranquil vallies all day. During the fall, bull elk become aggressive as this is the breeding rut. They gather harems of up to 60 females around them and fiercely defend them using their antlers as weapons as they lock in combat with other bulls for breeding rights to the cow elk. I failed miserably to capture the sound of a bugling elk all day.
The best I could capture was a still shot of an elk in full voice - but I couldn't put my finger on the shutter release and the video button at the same time! The elk and the foliage around here truly are "all fired up".
We drove back towards Denver, heading for the Rocky Mountain National Park this morning. It was a long but beautiful road with dramatic scenery all the way along. We arrived at the Park Entrance in the early afternoon and drove the Trail Ridge Road up into the Park and across to Estes Park our next - and last - stop.
The views from this road were absolutely stunning. The weather had turned much colder during the drive and as we gained elevation. The car recorded a low of 42 degrees F during the afternoon. It really does feel as though you are driving across the top of the world here - it js just so remote and beautiful. We crossed the Continental Divide and did a couple of short hikes to get a feel for the Park.
It was absolutely FREEZING cold on the top - we had reached an elevation of 12,000 feet by now. It gives you a whole new level of respect for those hardy little mountain tundra plants.
Self catering made a pleasant change at this late stage of our trip. Shopping in the supermarket was interesting too. The accommodation is a drive away from the nearest shop though. It was too cold to use the outside jacuzzi and it didn't look too inviting anyway. Bears raided the bins at night - which could have been better managed. The accommodation was very spacious and comfortable though. The Wi-Fi signal was very weak/slow.
Grand Junction is such an interesting town to visit - I am really glad we stopped here and we could easily have spent another day. It has lots of individual shops selling all manner of things from antiques to art and everything in between. There is a big foodie bias - lots of breweries and wineries and shops selling artisan cheeses - one stocked 54 varieties of extra virgin olive oil.
Main Street is lined with sculptures - public art - but with a quirky, fun bias rather than anything high brow.
We visited Colorado National Monument this morning. We had planned to spend just a couple of hours there, but ended up spending the whole day it was so interesting. John Otto was the man who fell in love with the place when he visited it in 1907 and dedicated the best part of his life to building trails there and getting it designated as a National,Park, which he achieved in 1911. He worked as the park's caretaker then for $1 a day, so dedicated was he to the site.
John Ottos's Dream: "I came here last year and found these canyons, and they felt like the heart of the world to me. I'm going to stay ... - and promote this place, because it should be a National Park."
A good choice of hotel in Grand Junction - everything you would expect from this chain.
We drove down to Grand Junction today, on the last but one leg of our big round trip. The road from Rock Springs to Grand Junction is long, mostly straight (aside from the many hairpin bends around Douglas Pass) and passes through miles and miles and miles of open country. We hardly saw a car or a building all the way except for the odd town on the road. This is such a big country - you forget the sheer scale of it until a drive like this reminds you.
We have driven through several States so far: Colorado, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and now, we can Utah to our collection. John Denver and Glen Campbell kept us company along the way - "Take me home, country roads".
We got talking to a couple of local guys in the Deadman's Bar last night - well actually, they'd started the conversation by asking us how we were enjoying our visit to the colonies. We laughed at this and the conversation went on for an hour or more by which time we had sorted out American politics, English politics, beer, whisky, resource management and - well we ran out of time for world peace. They asked us where we were headed next and when we said Rock Springs , they told us this was the armpit of Wyoming, in their opinion. Great - so we are aiming for the armpit then!