Our next stop was at Rock Cut which is as the name implies a place where the road cuts through the rock. This was the beginning of the Tundra Communities Trailhead whose highest elevation was 12,304 ft
. We decided to hike this trail. You could see forever because there were no trees. It was chilly but just sweatshirts were enough to keep warm. We saw pikas, small rodents with big ears. They were haymaking! They gather the plants that grow on the tundra and store them underground for the winter. Yellow-bellied marmots which are related to groundhogs were also making hay. Pikas are about the size of a hamster and marmots are almost as big as a ground hog. As we headed up the trail we heard the pikas squeaking to each other. At one point one ran right between Larry and I on the path. Unfortunately, most of the alpine wildflowers are done by now but I did see a few. On a side path we saw mushroom rocks, dark schist on top and granite below. Because the granite erodes faster than the schist, you get a formation that looks like a mushroom. Further on there was a large mound of rocks which Larry and Erin climbed to the top and I took pictures from the bottom. Rock climbing is not something I do much of anymore. On the way down Larry and I spotted an American Pipet to add to our bird list.
We went through Iceberg Pass and then stopped at the Lava Cliffs. These cliffs were formed by a volcano. There were snow fields at the top of the cliffs and a glacial lake at the base. Next we went over the highest point on the road, 12,183 ft.but there was no place to park there
. Our next stop was Gore Range where we had a really good view of the Gore Range and the Never Summer Mountains. These mountains were almost completely nude of trees. The next stop was the Alpine Visitors Center. Here we hiked the trail up over 12,000 feet again. This trail was more like a long stone stair case. From the top you could see Wyoming 35 miles away. We started down the other side of the mountains and stopped at Medicine Bow Curve where we decided to have our lunch. We noticed a small trail leading from the parking lot and walked along it until we couldn't see or hear the cars and people. We found some rocks to sit on so we didn't harm the tundra. We ate in silence, drinking in the view of the park below us and the clouds coming over the mountain across from us.
Our next stop was the continental divide at Milner Pass. We got out to view Poudre Lake and Creek which flow into the Platte River and the Gulf of Mexico. Beaver Creek on the other side of the divide flows into the Colorado River and to the Pacific Ocean. We continued on to Fairview Curve where we could see south to Timber Creek Campground where we had camped in 1990. It was completely out in the open. When we stayed there it was in a huge forest. The trees all had to be cut down because they were dead or dying from the Pine Bark Beetle. It is a native beetle but the warmer winters combined with lack of rain and no natural fires have caused them to be much more abundant
. There are whole mountains sides full of dead and dying trees on the west side of the park. We continued down some very sharp switchbacks to the Colorado River Trailhead. We walked the trail for about half a mile until we reached the river and footbridge across it. The bridge was about 20 ft. long. It seemed a little strange to see such a small river when we had seen the Colorado River in Arizona in May where it is huge. We drove to Timber Creek Campground and drove through it trying to decide where we had camped. It was so different we couldn't tell. Then we headed back to Estes Park, 40 miles back across the mountain. When we go back to the Visitor's Center the clouds were thick and near the road, we even drove through a few. Of course, it was raining again by now. It took us more than an hour to get across the park and everybody else was trying to do the same thing. When we got out of the park, the traffic was bumper to bumper all the way into Estes Park. When we finally got to the cottage it was after 3:00 Erin and I had headaches probably from all the changes in altitude. All of us took naps for about an hour and when we got up Larry had a headache too.
I started supper because Erin's friend Kerry and her husband Andre were coming to eat with us. Erin worked with Kerry at Expedia until Andre got transferred to Denver a year ago. I made Pizza Casserole and salad. They arrived early at 5:20 because they weren't sure how long it would take to get here on Labor Day Weekend. Kerry made lemon bars for dessert and they were delicious. We had good conversation and enjoyed getting to know them a little bit. They headed home shortly after 8:00. Then we skyped Derek for a few minutes. After that I started writing the blog and Erin and Larry watched TV while waiting for Breaking Bad to come on. When it came on at 9:00 it was last week's episode but the new one will be on next. We plan to take a hike tomorrow morning and then take Erin to the Airport.
We got up at 6:30 and were headed out by 7:20. Our plan was to go as far as we could on Trail Ridge Road which crosses the park going west and then south. Our first stop was a small pull off overlooking Horseshoe Park and the Alluvial Fan. There were clouds right away today so we wondered how long it would be until it rained. Our next stop was a pull off called Many Parks Curve. A "Park" is usually a green valley between the mountains and there were several visible from this pull off. Next we stopped at the Trailhead for Ute Trail and got our first glimpse of Forest Canyon. The next larger pull off was Forest Canyon and it was easy to see from here where it got its name. We were above the tree line and as you looked below you could see trees below filling the canyon.