Family Trip to
Estes Park / Rocky Mountain National Park
29 July - 4 August 2007

Our family vacation this year is to go hiking and camping in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. We'll be staying in nearby Estes Park at the KOA campground. We've rented a small cabin that has no running water, but free WiFi Internet access. I like roughing it, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Sunday, 29 July

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We got a late start Sunday morning, and finally pulled out of town around 1pm. We made good time, though. We ate lunch before leaving and dinner when we got to Dion and Andi's, so we never had to stop to feed anybody except Simon. We pulled into Johnstown, CO, around 8pm MDT (an eight hour trip). It was an uneventful trip. It was overcast through most of Nebraska, and sprinkled on and off. Colorado was sunny and dry until we left I-76. We hit some a small, but potent, thunder cloud just west of Ft. Morgan. We took photos of it masking the setting sun as we were approaching.

Micah and Noelle played with Nick and Grace for an hour or so after we arrived, and we all went to bed fairly early.

Monday, 30 July

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We hung out with Andi & Co all morning, and finally left for Estes Park around 1:30pm. About 20 minutes from Estes, we hit a traffic jam of people watching a herd of big horn sheep on the shoulder of the highway. We joined them for some photos, of course, before they ran off into the trees five minutes later. The sky was bright and sunny at the time, but two minutes later, we hit torrential rain and pea sized hail that forced us to pull over because visibility was so bad.

We checked into our cabin at the KOA first off. It's a tiny place (about 12x12'), but we all fit, and the kids seem to enjoy it.

We finally headed into RMNP to hike Bear Lake around 4:30pm. It was a fun little hike, and got the kids used to some exercise. Micah especially enjoyed climbing ever boulder we'd let him near. Noelle enjoyed all the friendly chipmunks. Simon seemed to like riding on my back, although I'm not sure we had everything adjusted quite right on his carrier.

We headed back to town around 7:30pm without having seen any wildlife in the park larger than a baby duckling. Stacy cooked soup for dinner on our camp stove on the porch, and we eventually roasted marshmallows over my pitiful attempt at a fire.

Our neighbors are friendly folks from Minnesota. They drove over to the west side of the park today, and saw a coyote, elk and a moose. Maybe we should head that way tomorrow...

The KOA's wireless Internet access doesn't seem to be working on my Mac laptop, so I can't upload any photos just yet. Hopefully I can get that resolved tomorrow.

Tuesday, 31 July

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We got out of town around 10:30am (an improvement), and headed up Old Fall River Road. This is the first road constructed in RMNP, beginning around 1915 and initially built by convicts using only hand tools. It's now a single lane, dirt road on which travel is only allowed east to west. Stacy drove today, which was good for both of us. It prevented her from getting car sick like she did yesterday, and it prevented my acrophobia from getting the better of my driving skills. It also freed me up to take more photos from the road.

At the base of Fall River Road (on the paved section that's still two way), we stopped at the Aluvial Fan. In 1982, a flash flood washed down this creek, leveling every tree and carrying enormous amounts of rock out into the plain below. 25 years later, it's now a very pretty rock garden and water fall. Micah loved bouldering along the side of the creek, and Noelle went wading barefoot in some of the side pools. Stacy and Simon hung out and watched, which left me to run the camera. We all enjoyed the stop.

The rest of the drive up Fall River Road about 90 minutes. We made a few brief stops for photos, but the kids were pretty worn out, so we didn't make any more hikes until we reached the Alpine Visitor Center at the junction with Trail Ridge Road. I did make a quick jaunt down to see Chasm Falls shortly after leaving the Alluvial Fan. It was cool, but not enough to drag the entire family down to see it. Alas, I took the wrong lens with me, so I didn't get any great photos. There was a painter setup at one spot making an acrylic rendition of the falls, which was neat.

After a lunch break at the visitor center (elevation 11,796 feet), we hiked the 153 log steps for an additional 209 feet to reach the peak of a nearby summit. Poor Micah was starting to suffer from altitude sickness, and had to stop and rest quite a few times on the way up. Noelle complained of being tired early on, but was leading our group by the time we reached the top. Coming down, she commented several times on how much nicer it was to come down. Surprisingly, the only wildlife we saw at the summit was a pair of elk about a quarter mile down the hill and, briefly, a marmot that almost got run over by the car in front of us as he sprinted out of site. After returning to our truck, we headed west a half mile to get a closer look at the aforementioned elk and their three friends. We got within about 80 yards of them, and it never phased them.

The kids were all spent by this point, so we didn't make any more stops on our way down Trail Ridge Road back to town. We hit the construction zone at the right time, so we didn't incur the 30 minute delay that we might have otherwise. This turned out to be the only afternoon that we spent in RMNP, and also the only afternoon during our trip when it didn't rain.

We spent a leisurely evening at the camground, eating ice cream on their patio and playing with the two other 5-yr-old girls that are staying in the cabins next to ours. I finally managed to get the campground's wireless Internet access working, as you probably figured out by now. It's dreadfully slow, though (256Kbps both ways), so I probably won't take the time to upload many, if any, photos until we return to Lincoln. Sorry.

Wednesday, 1 August

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We started the day by heading into RMNP to Sheep Lakes, where we listened to a talk by a ranger about bighorn sheep. It was interesting, and fulfilled a requirement for the kids' junior ranger badges. Did you know that the visible portion of a ram's horn is just a hard shell about 1/2" thick? It floats on a soft cushion, which in turn covers a solid, inner horn which is attached to the skull. When you see them butting heads, it really doesn't hurt as much as you might think.

We then headed into town for lunch at sandwich shop, followed by wandering a few shops on the main strip. Micah chose some colorful crystals from The Ore Cart as souveniers. It was rainy in town, and the mountain peaks were completely obscured by clouds, so we headed back to the cabin for naps that afternoon. After dinner, we headed back to town around dusk to wander some more shops in search of ice cream, rock candy, and lollipops. On the way in, we passed a herd of more than two dozen elk right in the middle of town -- next to a steak house, ironically. Noelle bought a souvenier stuffed puppy in a purse. Many shops close up at 9pm, BTW.

Thursday, 2 August

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We went horseback riding at the YMCA of the Rockies' Jackson Stables just southwest of town. Micah got to ride his own horse named Shotgun. Due to their ages, Noelle had to ride tandem with Stacy on Sherman, while Simon rode in a chest carrier with Ben on Trooper. All of us had a great time. Simon grinned ear to ear until he fell asleep half way through the hour long ride. Noelle was somewhat disappointed that she couldn't ride her own horse, but is anxious to turn six and return.

We rested a bit this afternoon while it rained, then Ben took the kids across the street to Epic Climbing Center to climb a rock wall. They both did surprisingly well. Noelle had trouble making her second climb, but really put her mind to it and made it up.

This evening, we played Slamwich (a card game), popped popcorn, and made hot chocolate on the gas camp stove under the covered porch while the rain continued.

Friday, 3 August

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We spent the morning packing up the truck and checking out of the KOA. We then drove to the RMNP visitor center one last time to have a ranger check over Micah's and Noelle's Junior Ranger workbooks. They passed the quiz, and were awarded shiny, new Junior Ranger badges as evidence of their knowledge of outdoorsy stuff. After eating lunch at the same visitor center (elk burgers taste nothing like chicken), we took the scenic route down to Denver by heading due south out of Estes Park down highways 7, 72, 119, and 6 through Central City and Golden. It was very pretty, but anybody who wasn't driving had trouble with motion sickness. That route would be a hoot on a motorcycle or a convertible sports car, I'm sure.

We arrived at Chuck and Hannah Henry's house in Highlands Ranch (south central Denver) just before 5pm. They were good friends of ours when they lived in Lincoln, but we haven't seen them much since they moved to Colorado. It was good to catch up. Their 4-yr-old daughter, Brooke, and Noelle had a great time together.

Chuck showed off his heavily modified 2000 Audi S4 supercar, which is easily the fastest car I've ever driven. Any car that doesn't stop accelerating rapidly up hill when you accidentally shift straight from second to fifth gear obviously has a few ponies under the hood. Chuck has his up to around 400hp and 450 ft-lbs. It'll run the quarter in mid-12's at 6000', which equates to mid-11's at sea level. It also has four doors, baby seats, and a trailer hitch.

Saturday, 4 August

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We eventually rolled out of Denver around 11am MDT and got to Lincoln around 9pm CDT without incident. Simon will be happy if he never sees another car seat.

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last updated 5 Aug 2007
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