Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rocky Mountain National Park Trip 2010 – Part I

After a 13 hour drive we arrived at approximately 6pm to our 1st cabin in Estes Park. I love the trails and scenery of the East Side of the park, but not a big fan of the crowds. We took a quick drive to Sheep Lake / Horseshoe Park area and then drove up Beak Lake Road before returning to the cabin to eat and get ready for bed. The next morning Tom & I drove up early to Sprague & Bear Lakes to catch the stillness and uncrowdness of the lakes at sunrise. This on our list of must do’s when we visit. We returned to the cabin with donuts in hand for the girls, who were dressed and ready to go for our 1st hike. We made a poor decision for our 1st hike by choosing West Creek Falls. The elevation of the falls and trailhead were deceiving and looked like an easy hike, but in actuality you have to hike up a steep trail and then hike back down the other side. We made it to the top of the trail, but decided to head back, knowing the return would have been too much as were all ready winded and almost out of water. It was too much for us flat-landers. We did enjoy the view and the numerous birds, especially hummingbirds that were on the trail. Back at the cabin we enjoyed a relaxing lunch next to the Fall River at our cabin at Castle Mountain Lodge and listening to the sounds of the river. We headed out to Cub Lake, since we knew that was an easy hike. Later in the evening we went up the Avuial Fan, another must do. We prefer to go in the early evening, because mid-day it is packed. We arrived at the perfect time, as we meet the nicest couple who had a great spotting scope and showed up some large Big Horn Sheep rams on the side of the mountain. FINALLY in the many years of going to RMNP we saw some rams. The couple let us use their scope we could see them up close and were hard to see with the naked eye. I took a few photos, but they were too far and since it was dusk, the photos were very grainy and under exposed, but I’ll share anyways since they were so magnificent to watch.
The next day we repeated the trip to Sprague & Bear Lake, but this time with the girls and a little later. We decided to hike up to Bierstadt Lake from Bear Lake and then down to the Bierstadt trailhead. We still had to do some uphill to the Bierstadt, but nothing if we started at the trailhead, that is quite a hike up. We took the shuttle back to Bear Lake. Be sure to make use of the shuttles in RMNP, makes it much easier for those like us that are not use to hiking in thinner air, higher altitudes and steeper grades. It also helps cut back with air pollution in the park by having fewer vehicles. Bierstadt Lake was not my favorite, but still beautiful and I have heard it has can be if you arrive at sunrise. The hike down the trail does have some breath-taking views. We had to hurry back to the cabin in time for check out time and move to the cabin on the west side for the remainder of the trip. After packing up within a matter of minutes we were on our way. We took our time since we couldn’t check in for several hours and made a side trip to Granby for the week’s groceries.

The west-side has a total different look than the more crowded east-side. It is less rocky and more forested, although over the past few years most of the lodge pole pines have succumbed to the pine beetle infestation and sadly has changed the look of the west-side. There is also the Kawuneeche Valley which has the Colorado River and is much wetter which is ideal for our favorite RMNP animal, the moose! Mary always counts how many “sightings” we have each year and broke it this year with 70. I am sure some of these are repeated moose, but that is why we say moose sightings. We went out every evening to go on our moose hunt. I can’t and won’t bore you with by recounting all the sightings, but we did have fun looking for and watching them. We saw several cow and calf pairs which always fun to watch. One of the most memorable sightings was watching and pair cross the Colorado River and then watched the cow jump a fence and waited patiently for her calf to jump also. He ran up and down the fence line for at least 30 minutes, I am sure scared to death as several other people joined in the watch. While we remained in our car to watch, they all got out of their vehicles to get a better shot. I rather miss the “perfect” shot, then to stress the wildlife. The wildlife is use to the cars and people on trails & roadsides but leave you vehicle and get off the trails it stress the animals and puts yourself in danger. Seems this year was the year of the smart people, “schmert” as the girls were calling them. We watch as a couple got closer and closer to a moose cow as the moose watched them closely. They were lucky as she didn’t have a calf with her and soon took off into a deeper vegetated area. Not only did they stress the moose and endanger their selves, they ruined it for anyone who wanted to properly observe her. The lady walked up to our truck and proudly announced that we walked along the tree-line as she did, we could see it up close. I quickly replied, “We are not that stupid and you’re lucky she did not have a calf or she might have come after you”. She said,” I know, one chased me yesterday”. I don’t think it dawned on her that I just called her stupid. We joked about her throughout the trip as we came across several others that basically did the same thing. Most of them had a small point and shoot camera and since most of this happened at dusk, not to be a photo snob, but the photo won’t be worth it compared to the risk they just took. A majority of the wildlife photos I took were from our truck and I got plenty of decent photos for my family & friends to enjoy. Stay patient for the grazing, relaxed animal to look up and take your shot, if they start to stare at you, back away you’re stressing them. I saw too many people yelling, raising their arms or shaking items to get the animals attention, like they are prey animals and they will look up occasionally or more to another location….be patient.
Another one of my favorite moose sightings was at a distance, but still fun to watch. While a moose cow ate in an old beaver pond, her calf ran and jumped around her splashing in the water, it was very cute to watch. Our favorite sighting involved several elk and a one moose. We have a favorite spot that at one time, not many knew about (more and more are figuring out though). It brings you very close to the river and many animals cross there. We watched from the truck as the elk and the lone moose grazed across the river from us, with exception of a 2 of the elk, they crossed the river. I had to set the camera and hand it to Tom (who got a lesson 2 days before to use my old camera) and told him to focus and start shooting. He did pretty well, many were out of focus, but one shot was great and I told him I was going to enter it in local photo contest for him. The greatest thing of this event was an elk with great personality. He didn’t cross the river; he used a small bridge to cross. He slowly made its way toward us, stood about 5 feet from my window and took a quick look and then proceeded to check out the truck bed, I am assuming for food. He then walked over to the driver’s side to check out my husband, and then went on his way. The girls loved it and named this bunch of elk. The named the elk with big personality "Ed" and they mentioned him several times throughout the trip. 
For more on my trip look for Part II