Rocky Mountain High

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 Road Junkies 0 Comments

MELLOW YELLOW, Chapter 11:  

Day 11:  Loveland, CO, to Castle Rock, CO.  We started the day today in the scenic Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado. We were eager to drive the famous Trail Ridge Road, often called the highway to the sky. Built in 1931, the road ascends to 12,183 feet. The views are magnificent, and, as you can see here, there are no guardrails to mar the view.
This was a little bit disconcerting if you thought too much about it or if you looked out the passenger window when riding on the cliff side of the road and saw the sheer descent next to the road's edge.
Rocky Mountain National Park
We visited the park's Alpine Visitor Center perched more than two miles above sea level. No utility or phone lines connect it to the outside world. Electricity is supplied by a diesel generator and water comes from snowmelt. The latticework of massive logs bolted to the roof hold it in place during hurricane-force winter storms.
Alpine Visitor Center at RMNP
We took a brief hike at Milner Pass, where fresh snow was on the ground. At an elevation of 10,758, we didn't complete the entire one-mile trail, which included a significant amount of climbing.
Got oxygen?
We've seen lots of aspens on the trip and finally today saw some moving toward their beautiful fall yellow.  Aspen trees grow in cold areas with cool summers.  They tend to prefer regions where most other trees are coniferous and there's little competition from other deciduous trees.
Aspen leaves are flat and flutter in the wind, which some describe as "quaking."
After leaving the park, we visited the mountain village of Grand Lake.  Named for the lake on whose shores it sits, the town was founded in 1881 and served as a supply station for nearby mining settlements.  Today tourism is its primary economic force.
Grand Lake is the largest natural lake in Colorado.
Our primary mission in Grand Lake was letterboxing. We succeeded in finding a series of six letterboxes. Along the way, we encountered this very unusual wildflower growing near the lake's edge. Known colloquially as fireweed, t is a pioneer species that quickly colonizes open areas with little competition, such as the sites of forest fires and forest clearings.  Plants grow and flower as long as there is open space and plenty of light. 
The letterboxes we found today were all devised by the same person and had some beautiful hand-carved stamps.  Clues for the boxes told interesting tales of the town's history and colorful residents.
Stamping in
We ended the day in Castle Rock, CO, exhausted and determined to slow things down tomorrow. We're adjusting our schedule and moving some events from "things to do tomorrow" to "what to do on our next trip to Colorado."