Denise Goldberg's blog

Saturday, September 22, 2012

a ribbon of highway

Today was a day for a bit of a rest. It was a driving day with a bit of walking thrown in as opposed to a full day of walking. It was a day for exploring Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge Road is one of America's national scenic byways. The high point of the road is 12,183 feet above sea level. It runs from Deer Ridge Junction on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park to the Grand Lake Entrance Station on the west side of the park. At the lower elevations there were brightly colored aspen, woodlands changing to dense pine forests and then to (the treeless) tundra.

The road is 38 miles long, and I have to admit that I didn't quite make it to the end. I left the B&B at 9:30 this morning headed straight to the start of Trail Ridge Road. Six hours later I was probably about 10 miles from the end. I thought about finishing but I still needed to drive back. I knew I didn't want to drive over that road on the edge of daylight, and I also knew that if I continued I was going to need to spend some time outside of the western border of the park. It was the right decision for today.

I was fascinated by the tall thin wood poles along the edge of the road. They clearly were from young pine trees, marking the edges of the road so the plows can find the road after a winter's worth of snow. Apparently it's not uncommon to have 25-foot drifts of snow across the road by the end of the winter.

I stopped often, walking in some spots, just standing and looking in others. There were many spots where I would have liked to stop but where there wasn't a pullout. It wasn't a road where you could stop just anywhere, no shoulders, and no level ground next to the road. There were places with many linked curves, places where the speed limit dropped from 35 MPH to 15 or 20 (depending on the sharpness of the curves). There were others there a longish straight stretches were linked by U-turns giving the impression of a ribbon or road. Beautiful.

I saw some hawks flying and some Clark's nutcrackers and Steller's jays popping around. Chipmunks and ground squirrels ran across the ground in front of me, but the marmots and pikas seemed to be hiding today.

At Rock Cut (12,110 feet of elevation) I walked the Tundra Communities Trail. Walking up was harder than walking down; stopping to breath was helpful. I would love to see the tundra during the short growing season - the small wildflowers must be beautiful. It's funny, as I reached the parking area at the end of my walk a man asked if there was a lake at the end of the hike. When I said there wasn't he declared that if there wasn't a lake it wasn't worth the walk. That seemed a bit wacky to me!

I stopped at Medicine Bow Curve when I saw a sign stating that the mountains (that were visible) were 20 miles away and that Wyoming was 35 miles away. That sign stood on a narrow trail, a trail that seemed to be calling me for a walk. I walked to the end of the trail. It got fainter and fainter, then disappeared. There was another woman walking out there too - we looked at each other, and both decided to turn back at that point. There were subtle changes in colors, some spots dark from cloud shadows, some from darker groundcover.

Another spot for a bit of a walk was near Milner Pass. The sight of Poudre Lake pulled me in for a look after I walked just a bit on the other side of the road.

It took 6 hours to get to my turnaround spot, and almost 2 hours to get back to the B&B from that point. As I approached Hidden Valley there was a line of almost stopped cars. We crawled along at between 5 and 10 miles per hour for probably a good 2 miles. I assumed that there were animals in the road, but there was nothing visible when I reached the point at which cars started moving again. It could have been an animal block or it could have been a sun block from the late afternoon angle of the sun.

It was another good day.