Across The Rockies

I got a text last night from Jim Allen, It was around Midnight, but that’s the perils of time zones. In it, having read yesterday’s blog and pictured where I was, he implored me to go through the Rocky Mountain National Park to get to Boulder. As it happened, not only was that my plan, but I’d already logged it with Dropbox for my own reference to prove it. Somewhat out of character for me, I actually stuck to the plan too.

Before the Rocky Mountains, there was the no so small matter of the Arapaho National Wildlife Reserve….

Arapaho Prarie Dogs

Here’s the full story..

On the road for 08:30 having tanked up both myself and the car. Out of Steamboat along Rt40, which is something of a main road in the grand scheme of things. Immediately into a climb through the Routt National Forest, with some half decent views, but I knew there was much better to come. The peak of this climb is known as Rabbit Ears Pass, and the rocks on top of the adjacent hill show why. I’d seen a motel in Steamboat last night called Rabbit Ears, but had immediately dismissed it as some sort of weird hippy place! Shows the negative effect of of a name if you don’t explain it!

Rabbit Ears

Down the other side and a left turn for the first zig of my zig-zag route, onto Rt14. Other than a trio of trucks behind me, evidently heading for one of the sprinkling of oil wells incongruously dotted around the Alpine like landscape, I had the road to myself. At one point I stopped on a hill crest, with an arrow straight road heading off toward the horizon for a couple of miles in each direction – and not another vehicle in sight. Nice. 

At a place called Walden (a township which seems to cover twenty miles or more of nothingness) I turned right onto Rt125. All along here I’d been dealing with the phenomenon of gophers. I’d first encountered this tail-less squirrel yesterday in Sheep Creek Canyon, but that had been a fairly shy example. My next encounter was this morning when filling up the car, a grey streak which I assume to have been a gopher (but could have been a mouse!) shot out from the pump, almost between my legs and under the car. It was certainly gopher like behaviour. This animal seems to be very curious, sometimes quite brave, and incredibly stupid. They like the road. They will happily sit at the side of the road and watch cars go by. Unfortunately, they will also happily sit in the middle of the road and watch cars approach. Very fast.

A mile or so along Rt. 125 I saw a sign for the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge and turned into the unattended welcome area. Turns out there was a ‘auto tour loop’. Now before I go any further, I have to get something off my conscience. On Monday I made a crack about “the American way” whilst touring the Craters of the Moon National Park. I was, of course, poking fun at the stereotype which suggests Americans are so attached to their cars they won’t walk if they can help it. A cheap crack if ever there was one, and I apologise. Today, my hypocrisy was exposed. In my defence, in this particular venue, getting out of cars is positively discouraged, in as much as the car acts as a hide – or more to the point, while in the car, us humans don’t hassle the wildlife. There is abundant and overwhelming evidence of a lot of very physical non-car related activity all around elsewhere. So, Sorry America.

This particular auto tour loop was fantastic. You know how it is; when you see something for the first time, you get excited and are all of a flurry to photograph it . That’s how I was with the first gopher I saw close up. 200 gophers later… yawn. Same with prairie dogs. These creatures are nothing at all like dogs – they get their name from the ‘bark’ sound they make as a sound of alarm (I read that in a leaflet!). They seem to be slightly larger gophers, truth be told. Given that they spend much of their life underground hibernating under a blanket of snow, in June they intend to get as much sun as they can and the odd (very odd?) human in a white car isn’t going to put them off at all. I should say at this point that during the 52 minutes I was away from Rt.125, not one other car entered the Wildlife Refuge. Again, Nice.

Prarie Dog

Gopher

The remainder of the drive along Rt125 through Arapaho National Forest was fantastic. There were all sorts of unexpected surprises, no warnings or informational signs, just here it is. For example, can any geologist (or searcher of wikipedia) tell me what this is all about, because there was no warning of it. I had to reverse a bit and walk back to photograph it.

Rock formation

It’s a huge natural wall in a forest. Insane.

Far too soon, all things considered, my northern loop was back on Rt. 40 at a place called Granby. Immediately there was a “scenic turn out” which overlooked a bit of a lake. Pants, compared with what I’d just seen! My plan only kept me on Rt.40 a short distance and at the junction where I turned left onto Rt.34 there was a garage. It looked a bit of a ‘Good Ole Boy’ type of place, but it provided me with me a cold drink, a turkey & cheese sandwich and (in the absence of anything but a mega sized bag of crisps) a small tub of Pringles (about which, more later!)

The first several miles of Rt.34 were busy, serving the communities alongside Lake Granby. There was even a micro-brewery, though all things considered I put that out of my mind. Once beyond the small town of Grand Lake, the Rocky Mountain National Park was reached My first shock, and I blame Jim for not warning me, was a toll booth where the Natioanl Parks Service relieved me of $20 to enter their land. How rude! I thought this was a public highway!

You’ll recall how I’ve used the word “Nice” in a very John Thompson/Fast Show sort of way in the context of not having anyone else around for most of the morning. Well, the Rocky Mountain National Park, as beautiful as it is, was like Skeggy on a Sunday. I’ve paid $20 for this, the least everyone else can do is bugger off and let me enjoy it? I’d hoped that the higher up I got, the less people and cars there would be, but that was sadly naive. I ploughed on up, and up, and up. Every turnout, overlook and picnic area was thronged with people. Of course I’m exaggerating somewhat for (semi) comic effect, but there were lots of folk around. I did stop at some of the higher overlooks and took photos, but yet again, it was a case of just when i thought I’d seen the best, something even better hove into view.

Perhaps the best example of this was an overlook a couple of miles short of the summit – Medicine Bow Curve. It was thronged with cars and even a few coaches, but I thought what the heck and found a gap to park and go look. I knew something was up when a guy came running toward me (actually toward his own parked car), shouting “Ethel, Ethel, you’ve got to come’n see this”. (I may have changed the name). 

This is what he was urging Ethel to come see…

Elk1

Elk2

Elk3

These magnificent beasts were simply oblivious of the hoards of tourists gawping at them…

Tourists

Insane.

A little further up the hill and another overlook, Gore Range, and I finally gave in and called it my picnic spot. I ate in the car, but couldn’t beat the view. Lunch at 12,000′ –  unpressurised. And therein lies the comment about the Pringles… they didn’t half POP when I opened them!

Lunch spot

Past the highest toilets anywhere (?) – a sign affixed thereto announces their elevation as 12,090 feet – and back down the other side. More pretty smart views and a couple of stops to take them in, but before I knew it, I was no longer in the wild west, with the flat plains of eastern USA spreading out in front of me. Before long I was entering the town of Estes Park. It might be a little unkind to dismiss this place as the eastern clone of Steamboat, but there were undoubted similarities – right down to the Starbucks, which is where I headed when I found a parking spot. This provided much needed data for FaceTime with Kay and maps of Boulder etc. To be fair, the bit of the town I saw was particularly charming, with all the shops having a front entrance toward the road and a back way toward the picturesque river and the path running along side it. Oh, and it was hot – but more about that later.

As I returned to the car I was merrily snapping photos of the river, including a female mallard and three ducklings. To my (and, I think, their’s too) they were sucked into the current and over a particularly fast flowing weir. Happily, despite getting seriously dunked, all three infants were reunited with their mother (who cheated and flew over the weir at the last second). Ruffled feathers all round though.

Flustered Ducks

Onwards along Rt.36 and Down From The Mountain into Boulder. The lower I got, the higher the number displayed by the car’s outside temperature gauge got. It had been in the mid-60s most of the day (Fahrenheit of course, this is America). By the time I was entering Boulder it was 99 but I didn’t actually see three digits. Oh, and the traffic got silly, both in terms of volume and behaviour. So my first impression of Boulder was not positive. Hot, sweaty and in danger of becoming bad tempered – and that was just me.

Rt.36 became 28th Street, the ‘spine road’ of Boulder’s business district. The first candidate in the lodging stakes I came across was a Best Western. Actually this was second, first was a Marriott which I’d already priced-up on line and found to be wanting stupid money. I pulled into the Best Western’s empty car park (it was nothing more than a motel configuration) and went into the  office. The clerk looked me up and down and told me, curtly, “we’re sold out”. I wonder if was because of the “[New England] Patriots Champions 2002” T shirt I was wearing? That was a shame as I’d spotted a brew-pub across the road and the Apple Store was just behind that too.

In their car park I found I was back on the T-Mobile 4G network so I put it to good use. I discovered that my new go-to motel chain, America’s Best Value Inn and Suites has a presence less than a mile up the road, so – by a roundabout route caused by the heavy traffic – I made my way there. Bingo, I’m in.

Once checked in and in the room I went and started off a load of laundry and investigated the outdoor pool. Let me tell you how welcome an outdoor pool is in 99 degree heat. Bliss. I splashed around for half an hour or so and went and sorted my now clean undies etc. Having pottered, it had cooled sufficiently for me to venture out on foot. I retraced my steps along 28th Street, and followed a “multi user path” (read: skateboarders!) alongside the Boulder Creek, where several folk were cooling off in the rapids. This path brought me out at Carpenter Park where a Little League baseball game was into the sixth inning. The Boulder Panthers were playing a team whose name I didn’t discover, and weren’t doing well. I watched an inning of both sides, and when I left, the visitors were leading 10-5. It might be Little League (i.e. teenagers) but let me tell you how fast that baseball comes when you’re even moderately close…

Little League

It was fascinating to watch in that, other than the absence of a bat boy to collect the runner’s discarded bat, everything else was like the big game – all the umpires, the third base coach, a scoreboard, the modest crowd… and an atmosphere.Maybe one of these kids will make it to The Show?

A block or so onwards and I was at the open air 28th Street Mall, home to the Apple Store. I had a quick look round, but my true aim was BJs Restaurant and Brewpub – a chain, but it looked the part. I’ll skimp the details here; prime rib, BJs Oasis Amber, BJs PM Porter & BJs Hopstorm IPA accompanied by the Texas Rangers beating the New York Yankees. Not quite as good value as last night, but it really worked. A slow walk back to the room and here we are.

The motel is located across the road from the University of Colorado and next door there are some condos, evidently home to groups of students. The unit closest to my room seem to be having party. We’ll see how that goes.

And now Jim can stop drumming his fingers….

3 thoughts on “Across The Rockies

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