Our first stop was one of the Visitor Centers at the Western edge of the park where the kids got Junior Ranger books and we all watched a video on the unique characteristics of the park. By now, the kids are experts at searching out the auditoriums in every park and settling in for the informative videos. We got some suggestions on places along the drive to stop, look at, and explore on foot
. The first part of the drive was through a low-lying (well relative to the rest of the park it was low-lying) valley before we turned and started climbing sharply into the higher elevations of the park. We stopped halfway up and went for a short walk around a small alpine lake. This was certainly an enjoyable walk but we were all dismayed at the effect that the elevation of 10,000 feet plus (nearly two miles above sea level) had on our ability to take this short walk. We all made it back to Odie slightly winded and climbed in, determined to explore the rest of the park. Our next stop was the Alpine Visitor Center which, as it turned out, is the highest Visitor Center in the National Park Service at over 12,000 feet. What was interesting and unique about this park and the high elevation at which we found ourselves, was the rolling, green tundra of the tops. Both Jess and Tim had pictured the tops to be more craggy and severe (after all these are the ROCKY mountains) but were surprised at the gentle swell and fall at the top. This road is only open a couple of months a year and is closed due to snow the rest of the time. We had certainly timed it well in order to see the annual explosion of green grass and the multitude of tiny yet vibrant and colorful flowers. We only saw a couple of elk on our drive, but I think it is safe to say that this was the highest (in altitude) we have been on our adventure.
After exploring the Visitor Center and enjoying our time looking at, photographing and slowly driving through the highest parts of the park, we descended to a lower elevation where we stopped for a picnic lunch on the side of the road
. Then we made it down to Estes Valley and the final Visitor Center of the Park where the kids handed in their Junior Ranger books, were sworn in and issued their badges. At this point in the day, the temperature had risen to nearly 100 degrees fahrenheit and since we had a couple of hours to kill before meeting up with Tim's cousin for pizza, we headed into Boulder for a spot of Lego shopping for the kids and some good old fashioned wandering inside an air conditioned super-store. It was while shopping that we found the one item of camping equipment we had been missing all along; a mesh enclosed 11 foot by 11 foot canopy to keep the sun off, the bugs out and the rain off our heads. Oh, how we wished we had found this sooner on our travels. During our afternoon rambles we passed the University of Colorado and later in the day, The School of Mines, institutions that Jess's dad had attended and where he trained as a geologist. Then it was back into the car and off to Idaho Springs to meet up with Tim's cousin Stefanie whom he had last seen in 1997 as a young teenager. We had a lovely pizza dinner at a trendy pizza place called Beau Jo's and due to the slow delivery of our order, had plenty of time to catch up and reminisce and talk about family, as is often the way when relatives get together. The kids were super well-behaved once more although this was probably helped by them assembling on the dinner table, the lego that they had bought earlier. Too soon we had to say goodbye to Stefanie, albeit with promises to meet up in New York later in the year and wind our way 90 minutes through the mountains and back to our campsite just North of Granby. We all collapsed into the tent and promptly fell asleep.
Today was the day to reap the rewards of two days of driving South to get back into Colorado and explore Rocky Mountain National Park. We woke rested after a great night's sleep, as last night's threatening dark rain clouds and thunderstorm seemed to dance around our campsite and left us with cool weather for sleeping in. We were also pleased to be able to leave the tent up for the day, as for the first time in 5 days, we were sleeping in the same place for two nights. So, up we got, had a nice leisurely breakfast in the early morning sunshine and headed out to drive a big loop through the park.