June 17, 2020 Estes Park RMNP, CO (Day 5)

Last night, the skies cleared and the stars came out by the thousands. It was a cool, crisp night, but it was hazy again this morning with smoke from the wildfires 200 miles away. We had reserved time to enter the park at 10 AM, so we took care of some business, packed a lunch, and were on our way. We pulled up at the end of the line to enter the park and surprisingly it was quite a long line.

Once we did, the line behind us grew longer by the minute. We waited our turn in line which took about 5 minutes. Surprisingly, there were a lot of cars parked along the side of the road. We had never seen that on any other day. We figured out that they had arrived early and were waiting until 10:00 to get in line for their designated entry time.

The sign said the campground was full and the fire danger was high.

We couldn’t pull up our reservation on the phone, but she let us pass through anyway. Today was the day we were driving up Highway 34 through the park with our goal to drive as much of the Timber Ridge Road to the top as our nerves could handle. The plan was for Bob to drive as much as he could and then I would take over when needed. He had a beer to steel his nerves and we began our drive. Trail Ridge Road climbs to an elevation of 12,283 feet with lots of winding sections, but we wouldn’t go quite that far.

The lower section isn’t too bad as there are mountains walls on one side and pine trees on the downhill side. You get a sense of being protected. The upper section had snow last week that they cleared away, but there are sheer drop-offs on both sides of some sections the highway with no guardrails. You are literally driving on a ridge. We have done the drive before a couple of times in our younger days when we were brave and fearless. Now we are wiser and know our limitations. The views from the road as we climbed were amazing.

We passed bikers going up and down as well as people pulling travel trailers. How crazy!

At Many Parks Curve there is a nice-sized parking lot where you can park to walk to an overlook of the valley. We decided to make a stop there on the way down. We kept climbing and climbing.

These dials in the Jeep gave us lots of information as we climbed higher.

We saw many areas of runoff from snow melt that poured down onto the road.

We were 3 miles from Rainbow Curve–our predetermined stopping point. That’s as far as we would go. We stopped at a pull-off spot and could see where the road went above us to Rainbow Curve. The last section was sheer drop-off on the downhill side with a short 2′ wall of rocks to prevent you from falling off the edge, so we decided it was time to turn around and head back down.

The rocky looking area is where Rainbow Curve is located.

We turned around and did not go any farther. We headed back to Many Parks Curve where we parked to walk to the overlook.

We had to walk across the road to get there, but traffic was light on this road today and there was a crosswalk where drivers are supposed to stop for pedestrians. We could see in all directions.

Longs Peak

The overlook gave us a view of the many “parks” below us. A “park” means a valley in the Native American tongue.

When we got back to the Jeep, Bob decided he wanted to drive up all the way to Rainbow Curve. We could do it! So we did!

It wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. From that vantage point of Rainbow Curve, we could see far down into the valley in many directions.

We were very close to the top, but were satisfied to call this the “end of the road” for us.

Sheep Lakes from Rainbow Curve

From there, we could see an area below us in the valley that seemed to be attracting a lot of vehicles. Someone told us what we were looking at was Horseshoe Park. It was the name of the valley we were looking at that was in the shape of a horseshoe.

Part of the valley contains the Alluvial Fan. The Alluvial Fan is an area where debris of trees and rocks were deposited after a dam broke on Lawn Lake in the higher elevations and sent 29 million gallows of water rushing down the mountain all the way to Estes Park in 1982.

We had to check it out, so we drove to where Highway 36 turns off and headed north again. Once we got closer, we could see the water coming down, but there was no place to stop. We drove to the end of the road as far as we could go and decided to eat the lunch that we packed. There were no parking spaces available in the parking lot, so we backed up to a “Road Closed” sign and ate our lunch there in the shade. When we finished, we drove back a mile to the Alluvial Fan parking lot and as we pulled up, someone was leaving. We were so lucky! We took the short hike to where we could see the waterfall up close.

See how the water carved out the side of the wall of the mountain.

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What a spot that was! We joined quite a few other people there who had climbed higher in the rocks.

This faraway picture shows how much farther up the cliff the water had come from. We were only about a third of the way up the falls.

We felt the water and it was very cold. As we made our way down, we could see the line of clouds off in the distance that told us the cold front was approaching like the weatherman said. Tomorrow and Friday the highs are only in the 60’s so we’ll make plans to work around the weather.

We took a different way back to town on Highway 34. We passed Sheep Lakes–an area where the Bighorn Sheep gather in the meadows in the spring and early summer.

We parked in the parking lot to see if we could see a Bighorn Sheep. None were to be found. There were only 140 Bighorn Sheep in RMNP years ago and now the herd is close to 400 in 4 different herds.

From there, we exited the park and drove into town. We stopped at Safeway to pick up a frozen pizza for dinner tonight. We had a taste for pizza! From there, we explored an alternate route from the campground to avoid town when we leave on Sunday. It brought us down Highway 7 through the back hills past Mary’s Lake.

It was a beautiful area outside of town. We saw am amazing house on the cliff!

We got back to the campground around 2:00 and sat outside with Auggie under the trees in the shade.

Our neighbors stopped by to chat a bit and then we made pizza for dinner.

Tomorrow and Friday are supposed to be much cooler, but that’s ok. We’ll deal with it as we continue to explore the area. We were both tired from all the fresh air and hiking we did, but we had a fantastic day!

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