Once leaving Centennial, it was on to Rocky Mountain National Park. Since we had been up to the Estes Park/East side back in the spring, we opted to check out the West Side this trip, and went to Grand Lake. When we were out in the spring (without the RV) there was still snow on the mountains..and the through road across the mountain between Estes and Grand Lake was closed. We were able to get as far as Rainbow Curve before the road was closed. If you look at a park map, you’ll discover that it really wasn’t that far….especially when you take in the fact that RMNP is a huge park.
So, Grand Lake was a perfect choice, on many levels. It’s a quieter side—not as many shops/restaurants/etc as the Estes Park side. We stayed in a smallish RV campground called Winding River RV Resort. Pretty much a standard campground…I guess it depends on what you’re looking for if one were to classify it as a “resort”. It had all the basic needs for us-electric and water, and a dump station. We were in a spot somewhat near the front, but they have a large “field” with big-rig spots near the back that I’ve read some reviews on—it’s pretty much a “pack em and stack em” with tight sites and lots of toy haulers with ATV’s and the like. And a bunch of tent sites. It’s not for everybody, I guess. They not only have ATV/Off road vehicles for rent, but you can also rent horses on site and go riding on the trails, or get one of the sites that has a corral and bring your own horse with you. After a rather disconcerting effort to ride a few years ago in the Smokeys, we opted not to even try horseback riding.
We were there from Sunday night to Wednesday morning. Which was more than enough time for us to traverse the park a bunch of times. The wildlife in the park is abundant…and to us, I guess you could say “exotic”…We saw more elk in 3 days than we’ve ever seen in our lives…and those things are massive. Let’s just say that wandering the park road at night is a “high alert” drive. Actually, any time you’re driving the road from Grand Lake to Estes or back, you really have to pay attention because you could come around a curve and just find one standing in the middle of the road. Much like the Smokeys, you can kind of “predict” where there might be one(s), because people are pulling over or just stopping in the road to watch them, and causing “mini traffic jams”. They’re fascinating to watch—and seem non-plussed by people. They appear pretty docile, but the park tells you too keep your distance from them because they can get aggressive at times. And of course, there’re stupid people everywhere…so sometimes it was more fun to watch the stupid people doing stupid things (selfies with an elk? You mean I can’t pet him/her?) than it was to watch the animals. We just shake our heads. It’s all you can do. We chatted with a couple from Philadelphia at one of the pull offs/vistas…and were a little disappointed that we missed their encounter coming up to where we met them—they got stalled by 2 elk who met in the middle of the road, and were “battling it out for world domination”, right in front of their car—racks of antlers clacking and tangling, up on rear legs “slapping” at eachother with their front hooves…the video they shared with us was incredible.
There’s also moose in the park, although not as many….they too are massive animals. But they don’t seem to get as close to people as the elk do. We only saw a few females either alone or with their offspring…but the males are definitely around. We were also advised when we checked in to the campground that both the elks and the moose often just wander through the campground at random, mostly in the early mornings, evenings or even at night. And to be sure to secure/store any foodstuffs…because there are bear in the area as well. Yeah, we’re covered on that one too! We never saw any bear, not sure if I’m thankful for that one or not.
At the higher tundra elevations of the mountains where the tree line ends and it becomes just “tundra”—grass and rocks—we saw a lot of Marmot, which would dart in between the crags—they were similar to wood chucks. They were fun to watch, but not quite as “socialized” as the elk.
The views, all along the Trail Ridge Road were amazing…even if a bit hazy from smoke being carried in on air currents from wildfires further West, including as far as California. We remarked more than once that we’d like to come back and check it out again some day after the smoke has cleared and it’s a crisp clear day. Someday.
On one of our trips back and forth on Trail Ridge Road, we opted to take another “path less traveled”, over Old Fall River Road. That was an experience—it’s one way back up the mountains, and totally unpaved. It’s closed for most of the year, only open July to September. My poor little Honda was a champ, taking the ruts and bumps like a hero. The views along this road were amazing, and we can understand why it’s a one way….it’s narrow, and the switchbacks were tight…I can’t imagine vehicles coming down if it were a two-way. It was bad enough being a one-way!
While in Grand Lake, we did take some time to wander the town, although a lot of the shops had shorter hours or more days closed than open, now that the “season” was over and the families with kids were gone. We did some laundry, some grocery shopping, and had supper one night in town… and get almost full service cell signal. The campground and the park were a desert of service, both on cell and on over the air TV antenna…zero. Nada. Nothing. It was weird being so “disconnected”. No wifi in the campground either. But it wasn’t horrible to be “forced” out to check out other things! One thing that was neat in Grand Lake is mostly all the shops had hummingbird feeders out, hanging along the overhangs of their buildings…and the hummingbirds were everywhere. At home, they are very territorial and usually you’ll only see one at the feeder who then gets chased away by another…here, it’s a free for all—we saw one feeder that had probably about 6 or 7 feeding at one time…and they’re pretty brave (or maybe acclimated to people) because you could get within a foot or so of them before they’d take off….
Wednesday dawned and it was time to move along to our next stop…but since we were up early (what else is new?) and check out wasn’t till noon, we decided to take a hike and check out Adams Falls. Grand Lake borders the park, so access up to the falls is from a trailhead in Grand Lake. There’s another end of the trail that leads you down to the falls from within the park, but it’s a lot more challenging than our abilities would allow, so we opted for the easier route. It was a beautiful hike, and the falls are spectacular. And other than 1 guy out for his morning run, and a group of 3 girls we encountered on our way back, I don’t think we saw anyone on the trail. Hiking a little further beyond the falls brought us to a beautiful meadow that in the spring is probably teeming with wildflowers. I could see it as a poster or something in an advertisement in my imagination.
And our time in RMNP and Grand Lake was at an end…we did our packup “chores” and were off to the next adventure…Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.