Days 30, 31, 32 & 33: Weekend of awesome.

FRIDAY

We started our morning shooting sunrise at the Moraine Valley Visitor Center with a small group of photographers.  I was happy to finally get to meet a couple of new people I’d only heard about previously.  It was nice to put the faces with the names of Aimee, Shiloh and Kat.

That visitor center is one of the few spots where one can get cell reception, which was fortunate for our friend Leasha, who somehow managed to get locked in a closed campground (after following a landscaping truck), trying to find us.  John and I drove over to find her.  She was able to secure her release before we arrived, but due to her infamous ability to get lost, we were happy to lead her back to the group (Sorry, Leash, but its true, haha).

We photographed the elk in Moraine Valley for a while before heading up Trail Ridge Road.  Up in the alpine tundra we photographed marmots and pika, some of which were more than happy to put on a show for us as they scurried about gathering grasses, then pausing dramatically upon rocks.  We continued on down Trail Ridge Road towards the west where we walked to the Hallsworth Historic Site cabins.  We explored several other locations,  hoping to spot some moose, but without luck.

We headed back towards the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, half of our group splitting off to meet with a couple of other photographers in Moraine Valley before meeting us at the Alluvial Fan.  John, Leasha and I waited in the Alluvial Fan parking area for about an hour before we decided to head up to the fan with our gear.  It was nearing sunset and the aspen had turned vibrant shades of yellow, setting off the blue sky and the tans and greys of the rocks around the falls.  We had a spectacular bit of time there before deciding to head towards Estes Park, looking for elk along the way.  We stopped several more times to photograph the landscapes in this amazing evening light and then it was a return to Poppy’s for dinner.

John and I had arranged to rent a cabin belonging to the parents of a friend of ours.  It was 30 minutes from Estes Park, a much more doable pre-sunrise and post-sunset drive than the 90 minuutes to Denver.  I hadnt set eyes on the cabin yet- it was wonderful.  They had decorated it to remind people of their grandparents homes and they did it well.  There were so many little touches that reminded me of the house my grandparents lived when I was a child visiting them in the summer.  It brought back a lot of memories I was thankful to have.  My grandmother has been gone 11 years and my grandfather passed away at the beginning of this year.  Waking up in my cozy room every morning I had a moment I was back at my grandparents house and it started each day of my stay with a smile on my face.

SATURDAY -day of awesome and 400 miles.

Neither John or I had photographed Trail Ridge Road up in the alpine for sunrise before.  Wanting something different for the morning, we were out the door by 5:20 and made it to ‘the saddle’ on Trail Ridge Road just in time.  The sunrise was intense, colorful and so different from down in the valleys.  Even better, we were surrounded by elk.  Two massive bull elk with their groups of cows stood on either side of us.  Two more bull elk stood across from us, battling, their antlers striking together the only sound in the still mountain air.  Two more young bull elks came through as well.  At one point there were 6 bull elk within 100 yards of us.   At one point I had to move a distance away as one bull elk started walking straight for me, heading for the larger bull that was 100 yards behind me.  It was spectacular.

After that we headed down to the west side of the park in hopes of seeing a moose. We figured our luck had been great so far, we might as well try, though we’d had no luck finding moose in the area my entire trip here.  Very quickly we came across a young moose grazing off the side of the road. There were quite a few other people there already.  We parked and I exited the vehicle.  I had my back turned to the moose as a grabbed my gear, and when I turned back it had moved to the base of the very small hill at the side of the road, directly below me.  The door was to one side of me, the branches of a pine to the other.  I prepared to jump back in the jeep should the moose decide to come up.  Thankfully, he continued down a ways and ran up the embrankment several car lengths down from our location.  We were able to grab a few frames of him before he was up the next embankment and off into the forest.

I’d asked John the day before what was further west from this side of the park.  He suggested we go check out the small town of Granby.  The aspen were in full color along that drive.  There was glorious color everywhere we looked.  John said we were only an hour and a half from his favorite town of Steamboat Springs, so why don’t we head there?  And so we did.

I love driving through Colorado.  There are so many different types of landscapes and none of them look a thing like home.

Not long before Steamboat Springs was the Rabbit Ears jeep trail.  Since we weren’t on any schedule, John suggested we jeep to the top of Rabbit Ears.  The elevation reaches 10,500 feet and there are unending views in every direction.  One can climb higher to the top of the rocky formation known as Rabbit Ears, and there were several people doing just that, but it was all I could do to walk along the cliff side trail for the better views.  John convinced me to move out to one rocky outcropping, which was ok, until I started back for more comfortable footing and froze halfway.  It was just a little too much for my height phobia and John had to pull me the five feet from my immobilized position.  He, of course, found it rather amusing.  I did not.

John then gave me a tour of Steamboat Springs and we had lunch at Ciao Gelato, which was owned by friends of John’s.  The owner, Mosimo, was a loud, congenial man whose enthusiastic nature filled the small restaurant.  He and one of his staff were quick to create a vegan sandwich for me and they even had a vegan gelato for desert.  The sandwich was incredible- sun-dried tomato spread with roasted veggies on a thin gluten free bread cooked panini style.   The lemon gelato was the perfect finish.  I’m getting hungry again just thinking about that sandwich.

After lunch we headed to Fish Creek Falls.  Managed a few nice frames there and enjoyed hiking, though once again my lungs were feeling the burn when at home the trail would’ve been easy-peasy.  The elevation was around 7000 feet, but still…I’ve been up here a while now. *sigh*

After our hike we turned towards east and hit the road again.  As we came up to the park, we could see massive thunderstorms over the tundra.  The lightning was fairly intense and we knew there would likely be snow at higher elevations.  The park is fairly quick to close the roads if they ice over, so we booked it, foregoing photographing some impressive skyscapes from the lower elevations.  In the alpine we did run into some snow and sleet, but it wasnt as bad as it had looked from the bottom and we made it across without incident.

Last fall one of the locals had suggested we dine at Momma Roses in Estes Park.  We’d never gotten around to it, so we thought it was about time.  We met up with Leasha along the way and the three of us headed into town. The elk festival was going on and there were crowds and lines to get into restaurants everywhere.  Initially the staff at Momma Roses said it would be about a 45 minute wait.  We waited in thier lobby with thier stained, shabby victorian style chairs (one of which had a poky spring in the seat) for less than 30 minutes before our table was ready.  They had decent menu options and I was able to talk them into making me eggplant parmesan without the cheese and with vegan marinara.  Unfortunately, their fare is a poor americanized version of Italian food.  They also provided small portions that were considerably overpriced.  I will say that our waiter was very good and we tipped him well for putting up with our goofy selves.

The three of us were all exhausted at this point and we called it a night.

SUNDAY

John and I decided we hadnt gotten on the road quite early enough the day before and wanted to hit a different location up Trail Ridge Road for sunrise.  We were out the door before 5.  Just as we reached route 7 we spotted someone broken down on the side of the road. This section of 7 is well out of cell phone range, completely unlit, not well travelled so early and miles from pretty much anywhere.  In other words, a pretty unfortunate place to break down.  We stopped and talked to the guy, who was probably in his teens, to find that his alternator had blown.  Fortunately, he had a friend nearby and on our way and we were able to give him a lift.  As he departed he handed John a $20 and told him our breakfast was on him, so our day was off to a good start.

We still had plenty of time to swing by McDonalds for coffee (well, for me…I don’t pay attention to what anyone else is ordering before I’ve been caffeinated, so John could’ve been having milkshakes for breakfast for all I know) and reach Rainbow Curve up Trail Ridge Road before sunrise.  Leasha met up with us only moments after we reached Rainbow Curve and I think we all managed to capture what  turned out  to be a rather spectacular sunrise.  As the sun broke over the horizon Leasha and I were distracted by chipmunks.  It wasnt just a couple of chipmunks that arrived looking cute, but dang near a hundred of them scurrying all over the place.  People must feed them quite a bit at that location because the chipmunks were quite bold.  They would run up and try to get into my coffee if I didnt pay attention.  I sat on the wall to talk to Leasha Hooker at one point and twice chipmunks chose to just scurry across my lap rather than go around.

We returned to Moraine Valley to photograph the elk and ran into a handful of our photographer friends who were doing the same.  We had good light and cooperative elk for an hour or so.  John, Graham and I headed for Estes Park, hoping the Estes Park Brewery would be open. It wasnt but we killed time and waited for a couple of our friends to show up which coincided with Estes Park Brewery opening for the day.

Sadly, I can’t say I was overly impressed with the brewery.  They have free beer tastings at the bar downstairs, so I was able to sample most of what they had on tap.  There were a few good ones, but none that I would go out of my way to purchase.  Upstairs in the restaurant I settled on a Stout and frenchfries (my other options were a non-vegan veggie burger or an overpriced veggie plate with ranch dressing).  I can say I’ve been there, and thats that.

We headed back towards the cabin to do some jeeping at the nearby  Miller Rock  trail.  The trail itself was great fun and I enjoyed exploring the rocky area around Miller Rock itself, though I’m not quite agile enough nor long limbed enough to manage the climb up to the top.  Another location I might try again as I get in better shape.

John and I decided we needed some downtime after the last few days so we returned to the cabin to relax.  There was no cell reception, no television and no internet access.  It was sort of wonderful to have this detachment from the outside world.  I settled down with my Kindle and read Call Of The Wild, an old favorite of mine I havent read in years.  I’m happy to say I’ve been enjoying it as much this go-round as  the last.

We visited Lyons for some groceries for dinner. St. Vrain Market is fairly pricey, but they did have every vegan staple I usually have on hand and I was easily able to find the ingredients I was looking for.  Back at the cabin I threw together some beer bread and a pumpkin spread.  It was nice to have some homemade food rather than eating out.

Later in the evening Josh (whose parents own the cabin) and Cahlean came over and we sat around the fireplace with some drinks and goofy conversation.  John and I told them what we’d been up to Saturday and after much discussion about my inability to adjust to hiking at higher elevations as quickly as I would like, we decided that I should calculate how many times I’d have to run up and down my stairs at home to equal a mile, then do so wearing a tight fitting hospital mask to cut down on how much oxygen I’m getting.  I’m not actually sure that would work, but after a glass or two of wine, it seemed like a good plan. *shrug*

Eventually we called it a night and headed off to sleep…

MONDAY

We’d decided the night before not to set any alarms and it to have an easy morning.  When I got up after 8 it was to go grouch at and ask John if he were moving furniture around in the kitchen. I’ll reiterate again- I am not a morning person.  I sort of lazily got myself up and about and the two of us cleaned the cabin up before returning  the key to Josh’s parents.

We had to head back to Denver at some point, but decided to first go to Brainard Lake on the off chance there were moose around (there were not) and to go play in the mud with the jeeps.  I think thats the dirtiest I’ve ever gotten jeeping and we had the doors and windows closed.  John’s soft-sided jeep still let a good bit of mud and water in and I was quite splattered by the end.  Josh and Cahlean would take thier jeep through the mud while we photographed them, then John and I would play through while they photographed.  It was a blast. I SO need a jeep back home.

We said goodbye to Cahlean who was returning to MN that evening and we headed back to Denver.

TODAY/TUESDAY

I’m spending my morning working on travel plans.  I’m planning to depart for home on Thursday (I’d originally planned to leave yesterday, but there’s so much to do and see!).  There’s the temptation of another jeep trail/photography outing Thursday morning… *sigh*

NOTE- I’m all typed out so forgive the numerous grammatically incorrect sentences, typos and other errors I’m sure are within. 😉

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