Rocky Mountain National Park is our second favorite of the western US national parks behind the extraordinary Glacier NP which is on the America-Canada border at the top of Montana. We’ve been to Rocky Mountain National Park several times (Max has been there twice) and we are always ready to make a repeat visit.
We entered the park on the western side through the small, touristy town of Grand Lake which boasts a population of 500 full-timers and about a bazillion or two tourists annually.
Grand Lake sits at near 8, 400 feet (2,550m) above sea level and is named for its lake (duh, really?) which is the largest natural lake in Colorado.
Here’s something I learned: tread very carefully when booking accommodations that append the phrase “…and snowmobile rentals” to their name as though that were a major amenity.
There is a reason you’ll never see “Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Snowmobile Rentals.” ‘Nuff said.
Grand Lake offers visitors a nice, slow pace of life. It’s a place to wander about, noodle through the quaint stores, feed burgers to your voracious Maltese on the patio at Squeaky B’s and engage in as many or as few outdoor activities as suit your fancy.
Mostly, Grand Lake serves as the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park which I will henceforth abbreviate as “RMNP” because my senior fingers get tired when typing the whole name.
What struck us on this particular visit to RMNP were not the magnificent vistas, the wildlife, the endless mountain views or the sheer, almost overwhelming beauty of the place although we fully appreciated each of these attributes.
No, what struck us most was how old we had gotten.
On previous visits we (or at least I) would launch early from bed, hoist packs and head into the wilderness to hike and camp in the distant reaches of the park. We were in constant motion, heads-on-a-swivel and game for whatever nature tossed at us.
Not anymore. We talked about how we might go about exploring some off-track parts of the park but we soon realized that part of our lives was gone, a victim to passing years (although we blamed the Malt, of course.)
Nowadays, for us, national parks are scenic drive-through experiences with hotels instead of tents, restaurants instead of freeze-dried rations, cell phones instead of the trusty .30-06 and dog parks instead of…well, something.
Fortunately, our new passive approach to visiting RMNP worked very well. The roads and vehicle trails are easily accessible, incredibly scenic and offer a vast diversity of sights throughout a wide range of elevations. So much can be seen from a car. We spotted moose. We saw remnants of glaciers. We enjoyed a stop at the alpine visitor center at 11,796 feet (3,595 m) above sea level.
It’s not like the old days tramping in wonderful solitude or that incredible, ineffable fragrance of forest or the thrill of discovery of remote sites. Nope. We have become what we formerly mocked – car tourists. (Insert a long, drawn-out sigh from me and a whoop-yeeee hah! from the AJF.)
Max seemed fascinated by the terrain and was not indisposed by the altitude. I guess he has secretly been keeping up with his cardio exercises. He was very popular at the visitor center especially with folk from foreign countries. All appeared to think his stroller was either funny or very practical and he received an excessive amount of pets and scratches.
We spent a couple days in RMNP, leaving each evening to a snug motel and soft bed which, along with indoor plumbing, made for a happy wife/happy life combination.
I longed for the old days when I would venture into the backcountry for extended periods of time, often by myself but sometimes with the AJF who has never been the world’s best outdoors person. (“Ewww…..there’s something in my sleeping bag, get it out!”)
We exited the park on the east side through a town named Estes Park which is an Araphoe Indian term for “more darn tourists, rvs, sunburned skin, souvenir tee shirts and ice cream stands than is humanly possible.” It was insanely crowded on the town’s streets and the sidewalks were chock-a-block with visitors from all over the world. Max was worshiped like the dog god he believes he is. We bought souvenirs.
From Rocky Mountain National Park we wandered south to Boulder, a very trendy university town not far from Denver. We had heard that Boulder is a lively place especially along its “Pearl Street Mall,” a showcase of restaurants and shopping opportunities.
We fought through traffic that would stun even a tough Los Angeles driver and circled again and again to nab a parking space only to find out that the Mall, and actually most of Boulder, was not really dog-friendly.
We felt deceived.
See, there is no place we’ve ever visited that had as many dogs running around as Colorado. Everybody has one, most often a retriever of some sort but all breeds are represented. So, of course, the state must be super dog-friendly, no? NO.
Colorado has very strange rules for allowing dogs in eating establishments and in popular public spaces. On several occasions we looked online for dog-friendly restaurants only to arrive and find out their interpretation of dog-friendly was that you could tie your dog outside a fence that separated a restaurant from the sidewalk. It was bizarre because another place just down the street would allow one to bring the dog on to the patio.
Bottom line: Max gives Colorado a “C” when it comes to being a dog-friendly state.
After our unfortunate visit to Boulder and a much more fun time in Denver (posted earlier) we crossed back through the magnificent Rocky Mountains, passing through the pricey but very nice town of Vail en route to the desert town of Grand Junction.
Grand Junction has a thriving agricultural industry, mostly fruit, because it accesses the Colorado River for irrigation. We bought lots of tasty gifts for family: cherry jam, peach salsa, raspberry sauces, etc.
The terrain around Grand Junction is diametrically opposed to that of the mountains but is impressive in its own right. Nearby is the Colorado National Monument, a land area of red rock, sheer-walled canyons cut deep into the Colorado Plateau, with pinion and juniper forests hosting a wide range of wildlife, including red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, ravens, jays, desert bighorn sheep, and coyotes.
This is the land of dead dinosaurs. Lots of bones. As you might imagine, much of the focus of tourism is on dinosaur-related topics. Whilst the AJF and I may be properly categorized as dinosaurs in our own right, we are not especially fond of the Mesozoic Era ( we prefer the 60’s) so we skipped taking the dino bus tour of the area.
From Grand Junction we departed Colorado into Utah and started the long road home. Even though Colorado was below Max’s expectations in terms of its dog-friendliness, the state remains as one our favorite destinations and already we talk about going back to explore, albeit in a car, both new and familiar destinations. We had a wonderful time.
Meanwhile, the garden kept growing and we were eventually welcomed home with an abundance of fresh summer vegetables from our backyard.