Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rocky Mountain High Lakes

It was a day for extremes as the Good Girls went from the high hot desert around Moab to the high cool mountain lake of Grand Lake, Colorado. As headwaters of the Columbia River we had been following, it was an appropriate destination.

A slightly unplanned turnoff took us to our destination via a rural route that put us in a Rocky Mountain frame of mind, thanks to
Meadows and hills in Colorado. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 hills that grew into mountains,

Photo by Debi Lander.

cattle and nary a car nor truck without ski racks and a heavy tow rig on the back.

We rendezvoused with our friend and host Gaylene Ore and followed her to Grand Lake where we checked into one of The Western Riviera's rustic, cabin-like efficiency rooms overlooking the lake.

Grand Lake Lodge. Photo © Judy Wells.
We hopped in with Gaylene for lunch at the historic Grand Lake Lodge. Opened in July 1920, burned in 1973, it was rebuilt and opened in 1981. I suspect the rooms, cabins, pool and dining room have been busy ever since. It reminded us of a period National Park lodge, which it was. Another was in Estes Park at the other end of the road through Rocky Mountains National Park.

View from Grand Lake Lodge porch. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Don't miss the view or the bison meatloaf.
Bison meatloaf. Photo by Judy Wells.

Grand Lake. Photo © by  Judy Wells.
After settling in and admiring our views of the lake we headed out to survey downtown Grand Lake, basically a street that parallels the lake with a few side streets.

Exchange tennis shoes for boots and you are back in the old West. Photo © by Judy Wells.
On both sides stores are fronted with old-fashioned boardwalks adding to its casual Western/boating flavor. It is, after all, home of the world's highest yacht club. Registered in 1902, the Grand Lake Yacht Club hosts an annual race with the ornate silver, ever so prestigious trophy donated by tea purveyor and yachtsman Sir Thomas J. Lipton.

Historic Rapids Lodge and Restaurant. Photo © by Judy Wells.
This disarmingly small-town burg has two other big-time attractions, Rapids Lodge and Restaurant and Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre.  We dined superbly at one and were rousingly entertained at the other.

Rapids of the Tonahutu River. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We joined Gaylene at the Lodge's restaurant after admiring the racing, tumbling rapids of the Tonahutu River it overlooks, imagining how nice it would be to sleep to their sound.

It wasn't long before our attention was the meal. Elk chops with raspberry demi-glace filled our plates with enticing aromas and our palates with delectable flavors.
Elk Chops, a taste of the new  West. Photo © by  Judy Wells.

We didn't encounter the Lodge's ghost, a friendly old lady who wanders the corridors, but we did get a kick out of the Lodge's history. Built by intrepid pioneer John Wesley Ish and opened in 1915, the hotel had electricity, indoor baths and running water. It has had 30 owners since through some pretty wild times as recently as the 1950s when the second floor was a gambling casino, the third floor a brothel, with a buzzer at the front desk to warn patrons to head for the back stairs when the law was approaching.

History of another sort is focus of musical "Newsies," one of four musicals in rotation at the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre. It makes a night of good theater telling the story of impoverished New York newsboys who went on strike in 1899 tackling powerful publishing moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

We were pleasantly stunned by both the handsome theater and the talented cast. No surprise that the group is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Other shows in this year's repertory, "Mamma Mia!" "Westside Story" and "Almost Heaven, Songs of John Denver."

We chatted with the couple in front of us at intermission and discovered they drive the 100 miles from Denver to catch the season every year. Pretty good recommendation, I'd say.

The town was shut or shutting down as we walked back to our room. We'd been too full to try either of the ice cream shops, one at each end of Main Street, both attracting crowds of customers. Time had been too short to do more than quickly scan the shops. Probably a good thing because we were tempted by several.

Grand Lake. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Nor had we been able to catch the boat tour around the lake, the largest natural one in Colorado, and learn more about the area's history. But we had dedicated a whole day to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park before heading up to Sheridan, Wyoming.

No one could believe we had yet to sight a moose, particularly between Grand Lake and the park. We were disappointed, too, until early the next morning as we headed to the Denver airport for the next leg of our trip. We were bemoaning the lack of moose sightings when I glanced over to the right side of the road and saw one between the trees. He paused in his dewy morning meal, gave us a long look and went back to eating.

I felt like Captain Preston of the Yukon at the end of every radio broadcast when he would turn to his trusty Husky and say, "Well, King, case closed."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Road Trippin' in Rocky Mountain National Park

No drugs needed, but you’ll feel a “Rocky Mountain high” when driving the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. The famed highway ranks the highest continual paved road in the US, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet.  Drivers enter the park from either Grand Lake on the west or Estes Park, Colorado on the east. Denver is just two hours away; a dramatic contrast of city to nature that makes an easy and alluring getaway.
Officially entering the National Park. 

The Good Girls were staying in a lakeside cabin while visiting the charming town of Grand Lake. The cutesy Main Street fronts eye-inviting bakeries, fun restaurants/bars and, of course, many gift shops. We wanted to beat the Sunday crowds in the park, so arose early.

Those facing the famed “highway to the sky” either see it with glee or anxiety. Depends on your prior driving experience and perception of scary challenges. We couldn’t wait for our turn at spinning up and down the 48 miles of twisty, hairpin turns, and steeply graded pavement next to sheer drops.

The Trail Ridge Road is only open in the summer.

The plan: Judy would drive to Estes Park, and Debi would jump behind the wheel for the return trip.  As always, scenic overlooks would be mandatory stops.

Route 34, or the Trail Ridge Road, starts near the Grand Lake turnoff and then passes through a vibrant canopy green valley of ponderosa pines. If only we had a convertible! We pulled off to take it all in, to breathe the calm serenity of the morning and warm sunshine.

Start of our drive up and down the Trail Ridge Road.

In no time, we left the pines behind and entered the aspen forest at mid-mountain, called subalpine.  Requisite photos were taken at the first major landmark: the Continental Divide along the Milner Pass. The Divide marks the split where rainwater falls either to the East or the West. 

The Ponderosa Pines 

Imagine how pleased we were to see snow in July, as two days earlier we were sweating from hot temperatures while hiking in the red rock canyons of Utah. The unquestionable variety of landscape within the U.S. is surely a national treasure.

The Continental Divide Sign makes a great photo op. 

We drove on and ogled the aptly named Never Summer Mountains at another parking slot. Good thing we didn’t have that convertible; the temperature continued to drop. We put on our jackets.
Never Summer Mountains

The vertical rise will likely make your ears pop, and whoas and ohs (or perhaps something stronger) will slip from your mouth. Even if you don’t get out of your car, Rocky Mountain National Park smacks you in the face with bold scenery; it envelops you and sent my heart soaring. If you don’t feel the beauty and wonderment of the wilderness here, you must be a staunch city slicker.

The treeline dwindled, the wind picked up and soon we were cruising through barren landscape near the peak. Almost everyone stops at the Alpine Visitors Center (elevation 11,796 feet), and we heartily recommend it. The gusty cold whipped us, and we hurried into the National Park building to see the alpine tundra exhibits. Displays speak to the harsh conditions that confront animals and plants that attempt to survive the altitude.  

Alpine Tundra Exhibits in the National Park Center.

Don’t miss the Trail Ridge store next door for indoor bathrooms, hot coffee, and the best darn National Park gift shop we’ve ever encountered. No one leaves without buying something from the vast and colorful collections. Kids search through the array of inexpensive rocks, small gadgets, and mementos. They can choose a stuffed animal from a display of nearly every species on the planet.

Hikers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts find all the essentials and wish- list high-tech items for extreme conditions. Tourists eye souvenirs among the plethora of tee shirts, sweatshirts and quality designer wear, books, prints, and snacks.

Don't miss this store and cafe at the top. 

We appreciated the warmth and honestly loved the store (and we’re not big shoppers).  For those wanting to hike a short distance to the trail summit, follow the route that leads from the side entrance. Be sure to bundle up.
Hikers near the summit.

Telephoto shot of the mountain tops.
Photo @Debi Lander

Back in the car, we began our descent, a roadway I’d rate as more enthralling than the uphill. The panorama changes around each turn and thankfully there are many pullouts and small parking lots. The literally breathtaking, high altitude views extended to eternity and beyond. Sharp, snow capped mountains, rolling hillsides and deep valleys extol the diversity and depth of wilderness beauty.

A grand view of the Trail Ridge Road

The highway became much busier, but we gradually made out way down the mountain. One of our stops included some beautiful wildflowers. After passing the park exit, we continued to Estes Park. 
Almost down!

After lunch, we retraced our journey but got stalled at a long line waiting for entry into the park. Being over 62, we used our lifetime senior passes to the National Parks, one of the greatest bargains ever. As of September 2017, they are going up to $80.  That’s still a great deal because the lifetime card gives free entry for up to three others in your car.

The valuable National Park Senior Pass

The traffic had more than quadrupled since the morning, so we decided to drive directly back, stopping only once. The parking lots were crazy with folks vying for spots. Over one million people pour into the park within a six-week period, so rangers must occasionally limit entrance. Anyway, our brains were in sensory overload, but in the best way.

Breathtaking views of Rocky Mountain National Park from each stop.
Photo @Debi Lander

Rocky Mountain National Park reminds me of Smoky Mountain National Park because it can be viewed and adored from the car. The designated All American Road, therefore, becomes a bonus for those with disabilities. We wished we’d had time to hike to Bear Lake, but perhaps that can happen on a return visit.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Return to Arches

The road to Devils Garden is open! We won't miss it after all.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
Again we are out early. The drive gives us a look at a different terrain, more arches and fascinating rock formations.
Photo © by Judy Wells.

Once we hit the trail trees provide blissful moments of shade for the curving trek up through canyons narrow and wide.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
The surface shifts from rock to sand which means Landscape Arch is just ahead.

Landscape Arch. Photo © by Judy Wells.
A rail fence has been built to keep visitors from getting too close or underneath. Landscape, with a span of 290.1 feet, is fragile, only 6 feet at its narrowest point. In recent years three chunks - 30, 47 and 70 feet - of Entrada sandstone have fallen off. Experts are divided on whether or not that weakened the structure, giving it less weight to hold up or taking away strength.

We consider ourselves lucky to have seen it intact. Actually, we feel fortunate to experience Arches and are loath to leave.

The Gossips. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We photograph formations we may or may not have caught already and more closely examine the exhibits at the Visitor's Center and see the film a second time.

We had heard that a scenic road loops from the south side of Arches, up into the La Sal Mountains and then back into Moab. Always ready for a road adventure, we drove on.

Photos © Judy Wells.
The views of the red canyon walls were humbling, and it’s hard not to stop and just stare.

Rafters on the Colorado. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The river runs alongside and soon we spied groups of rafters. In the heat of the day, this activity looked appealing.
Photo by Debi Lander.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
We continued driving, passing ranches and small farms and lots of fascinating rock towers.

Photo © by Judy Wells.
But, when we followed directions and made a turn, we came to a sign stating the road was closed for repairs.  Dang, we were just starting to get into the cool mountain air. 

We returned to Arches when most of the visitors were leaving but some like us were arriving for sunset. This time Debi headed to the Windows and I went to Turret.

Windows at sunset. Photo© by Judy Wells.
Think I got the better of the deal. The light on Windows was extraordinary and view through Turret was intriguing, especially when someone wandered up to stand under the massive rock and was dwarfed by its size.

Dwarfed by the Turret. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The relatively flat slickrock made going from one viewpoint to the other easy, but as sunsets go, this one was a dud. No clouds for dramatic effect.

Not a very dramatic sunset. Photo © by Judy Wells.
We returned to the car, sat for awhile hoping for darkness then headed to Park Avenue to wait for the stars to emerge. Unfortunately, we mere met by hordes of hungry mosquitoes ready for dinner. We swatted and slapped, saw the stars and decided to leave the biters before we came dessert as well.

Sad to leave this red rock country tomorrow but its images will stay in our memories forever.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands

Even if you’re not into photography, you need to consider getting up before dawn when staying in Moab, Utah. The canyon formations jump like fiery blazes; in fact, you almost need sunglasses. It’s impossible to ignore the power of Mother Nature.

The rock canyon walls blazed in fiery red at dawn.
Photo @ Debi Lander

The Good Girls rose early to hit Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands National Park at sunrise. But, when we arrived at the Dead Horse parking lot, there were no other cars. Hmmm? We surveyed the scene and realized that although the vista is dramatic, it's not the best place for sunrise shots.

 Judy surveys the scene near the entrance to Dead Horse State Park.
Photo @Debi Lander

Back in the car, we headed toward the famous overlook at Dead Horse Point. Now, this spot on the Rim Walk offers all the majesty we'd wanted. We were standing 2,000 feet above the gooseneck bend in the Colorado River.

Stunning morning views from Dead Horse Point.
Photo @Debi Lander

The horizon looms 100 miles away, and with a blessed clear morning, we were overwhelmed by the vastness of the rock real estate and inhospitality of the region.  Hard to imagine ancient Puebloan people ever lived here. The spellbinding location offers a sweeping panorama any time of day; don’t miss it thinking it’s just a State Park.

A closer look at the bend in the river.
Photos @ Debi Lander

We didn't see hikers on the trail. Who would want to make the climb back up?
Photo @Debi Lander

Still following the morning light, we skedaddled out of Dead Horse and hurried along to Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is divided into four districts carved by the Green and Colorado rivers and offers broad overlooks at Island in the Sky, rambling trails in The Needles to deep remoteness of The Maze.

We stopped at the Island in the Sky region’s Visitor’s Center for a map, but the center itself was still closed.
Arriving at Canyonlands: Island in the Sky area.

We again used the Arches and Canyonlands Gypsy Guide App and found it picked up signals better in this region. We’d listen to facts about the park in between directions to the next stop.

Before long, we arrived at the trailhead to Mesa Arch, a pothole arch that spans across the mesa’s edge. It frames a fantastic formation that looks castle-like. The audio guide told us, “A pothole arch is formed by surface water that pools on the sandstone behind the arch, slowly eroding the rock.”
Mesa Arch spans 50 feet and sits at the edge of a vertical cliff.
Photo @ Debi Lander

We followed the 0.7-mile round-trip loop trail to the landmark, but reaching it took about 10-15 minutes.  The trail is uneven and slippery. Fortunately, we were still early enough to see the arch magically illuminated by the sun.  The iconic stone arch spans 50 feet, and I carefully sat down at the top of a 500-foot vertical cliff.

Debi lives on the edge. Photo by Judy Wells.
For me, this was one of the most memorable moments of our entire trip. 

Sit down and enjoy the spectacular view!
Photo @Debi Lander

The view in the oppsoite direction from under Mesa Arch.
Photo @ Debi Lander

Mesa Arch makes a terrific photo op, and if I return, I’ll go there first thing in the morning and stop at Dead Horse later.

The walk back to our car was hot and sunny making us glad we had started early and brought our own water.

Canyonlands holds a plethora of photo ops.
Photo @ Debi Lander

View from Grand Point.
Photo @ Debi Lander

We pulled in to more outlooks for views and photos before reaching Grand Point Overview. It’s aptly named because it is indeed grand. This section of the park is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, except the gorge does not drop as deep, and the walls of the canyon are farther from the river.

A telephoto lens lets me get a close-up.
Photo @ Debi Lander

We moved on to Upheaval Dome, which is, surprisingly, a crater. The dome is upside down or the sunken area. We also passed Whale Rock, and while it caught our fancy, Canyonland’s Moby Dick was impossible to photograph from stops along the road.  Apparently, kids like to climb on the ridge or the whale’s back. On this hot day, we didn’t see any.

Whale Rock- can you tell?

We drove slowly back to the Visitor’s Center and went in to watch the movie.  Compared to the fantastically educational and artistic film at Arches, we were somewhat disappointed. Nonetheless, it proved interesting.

Canyonlands Close-up.
Photo @ Debi Lander
Overall, as with all National Park sites, Canyonlands is worth a visit, especially if you are into hiking. Another option is to drive the nearly 100 miles trail, the White Rim Road.

Note: There are no restaurants or snack facilities within the park, so be sure to bring your own food and water. Budget conscious, we picnicked on cold lasagna leftovers from dinner the night before.

This lady helped us see the petroglyphs on the wall.
Photo @ Debi Lander

Since it was just lunchtime, we decided to drive along Potash Road. We’d been told about some prehistoric rock art just a few miles down. Thankfully, there were others around to point out the drawings. The sun bakes the rock wall in the afternoon and creates glare.  Once you accustom your eyes, you discover many primitive figures.  Judy and I felt they were extraordinary and highly recommend a stop.   
Potash Road Petroglyphs.
Photo @Debi Lander

Ancient Rock Art, a real treasure.
Photo @Debi Lander

Note: Potash Road is narrow, running between the cliffs and the Colorado River. Vehicles of rock art gazers and rock climbers share the shoulders. 

Can't resist adding a look back at Mesa Arch!
Photo @ Debi Lander