Tag Archives: Rocky Mountain National Park

Moose at Rocky Mountain National Park

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We humans seem to have some kind of fascination with moose. There must be something about that animal. Several years ago I was on a weekend ski trip in Breckenridge. The condo our group stayed in had a moose theme. Every decoration .. moose. The pictures hung on the wall. The design on the pillows. Even the back of the couches. It was impossible to rotate my head more than 15 degrees without seeing six new images of moose, in one form or another.

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It is nearly impossible to drive around Colorado, or anywhere in the West, without eventually seeing cars with decals like this one.

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Two years ago, when I rode my bike through the White Mountains of Central New Hampshire, I saw advertisements for numerous “Moose Tours”, in the town of Lincoln, NH. These tours involve a bunch of people crowding in a van of some sorts and heading out into the wilderness to look for moose. A subsequent Google search revealed page after page of companies offering moose tours. There are a lot in New Hampshire, some in Maine, a bunch in Canada. There are even “Moose Safaris” in Norway and Sweden!

Added altogether, there has to be at least hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who earn a livelihood helping tourists see moose!

I woke up on a mid-summer Saturday morning without a real plan. I wanted to go by instinct, as I’ve been trying to avoid overtaking things lately. That instinct told me to head to Grand Lake, a place I had actually not been to before.

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Grand Lake is perhaps best known for having Colorado’s largest naturally occurring lake, however, the town itself is pretty interesting too.

Just West of Rocky Mountain National Park, it attracts a lot of visitors and tourists, not unlike Estes Park, the more well known town east of the park. Compared with Estes, it is a little bit quieter, and the buildings also have somewhat of a more western feel.

It is also apparently near the part of Rocky Mountain National Park where visitors are most likely to find moose. I had no idea when I decided to hit up the Green Mountain Trail, the first major trailhead one encounters after entering the National Park from the West.

I just knew I wanted to be out in nature, and have a break from my pursuits back in Denver. I knew there was some sort of healing power in being immersed in a place like this.

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I wasn’t even tracking my progress along the trail. I wasn’t thinking about where I was, where I was headed, or what I was hoping to see. I was just there, in the moment, in the deep evergreen forests of the Upper Colorado River valley, apparently headed for a meadow, when a woman walked up to me and told me that there was a family of moose 200 feet past the next trail junction, in the meadow, where moose are typically expected to be spotted.

I must admit, that although I do not count myself as one of those moose obsessed people, when I heard this, I got extremely excited- almost giddy. It was a feeling that is hard to explain. It felt almost like the excitement that comes over someone’s entire body when they suddenly hear their favorite song, or that their secret crush asked about them, or that their best friend got them tickets to see their favorite performer. It’s that suddenly bubbly feeling that often comes more frequently from anticipation than an actual event.

They first appeared in the distance, walking up toward big meadow. Two other families were watching them, in awe.

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It is never a good idea to get too close to moose. They are dangerous and powerful. This was about as close as I wanted to get.

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Even from somewhat of a protected distance, it was still an amazing experience. We watched them gradually walk downstream along the Tonahutu Creek in this wide open meadow. I am really not sure if they saw us at all. I imagine they did, but serious did not care. It is as if the moose are the ones that have perfected the art of not caring about the judgements of those around them.

I am actually nearly 100% certain that had there not been a bunch of humans taking pictures of them and watching them slowly walk by, they would not be acting any differently. Maybe I deeply respect that about them. If only more of us humans can learn to stop relying on the approval and attention of others.

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What is it about these creatures that capture so many of our imaginations? There are, after all, plenty of large mammals to be spotted on this planet. What makes the moose worthy of hundreds of tour companies in Eastern North America, decals on countless SUVs, and an entire section of nearly every Western themed home decoration store.

It is probably that the quest to spot a moose has all of the ingredients that any other worthwhile life quest could have. As is the case with learning a new skill like car repair, finding the right date for a school dance, or finding a rare collectable, it is a challenge, a deep one, but an obtainable one. This is important because if a challenge seems impossible, it would not be taken on by too many people. People who do not believe in the existence of BigFoot are not going to go searching for it.

There is also something amazing about the end result. This is important because there has to be some sort of reward that makes the challenge worth pursuing. I do not see a market for a 1,000 piece puzzle that is pure white, with no color, picture, or design. The end result would be nothing. Moose are something.

They are also unique, at least in the realm of the experiences the average human being has throughout their lives, but unique in a non-threatening way. Finding a moose in an open meadow is the right kind of unique. It is a unique people can relate to based on their own experiences, having likely seen something somewhat similar, like a horse, or some of the animals at the zoo. It is not too far out there for one to relate to.

So, in a way, seeing a moose after trying and failing a bunch of times, is a metaphor for obtaining the things we most cherish in this life. We have to work for it. There is some amount of reliance on luck. The reward is something amazing and unique, but also tangible, obtainable, and relatable. Now I understand why so many people love these creatures.

Welcome to Fall

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Although the weather in many places in the country is still quite warm, the fall season is upon us.  Along with it comes all of the things associated with fall; shorter days, football games, all sorts of stuff made out of pumpkin, and, of course the fall colors.

For many, fall’s best feature is the colors that arrive as some species of trees make the necessary preparations for the coming winter season.  The Aspen trees at higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains are amongst the first to change colors.  In fact, at elevations near 10,000′, fall colors can even arrive towards the beginning of September.  In the Eastern States, colors will only begin to appear at the end of September in places like Northern Minnesota and the higher terrain in New England.  Most places will see their peak colors in October or Early November.

To view some of these Aspen trees, I headed to Rocky Mountain National Park, which actually has more of these trees than I had previously remembered seeing.  Of course, I had never been there during the fall before today, and probably did not pay enough attention to the tree types on my summer trips.  Like most places in Colorado, there are still more pine trees (and other “evergreen” varieties) than Aspens.  But, there are enough to make large patches of yellow and orange stand out while viewing the park.

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Also, the colors themselves appeared more vivid here than they did in the places I had previously gone to view fall colors in Colorado.  I found out that this is one of the most popular places in Colorado for viewing fall colors.  This weekend, Estes Park is holding their annual Autumn Gold Festival, indicating that this is indeed the best time of year to search for fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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The arrival of these fall colors, of course, indicates the changing of the seasons.  They remind us (just in case the football and pumpkin flavored everything is not enough) of the transition that is currently occurring, and, of course, of the winter that lies ahead.  They also remind us of the cyclical nature of most things on this planet.  And, they also remind us that all things on this planet, whether they be as periodic and predictable as an ocean tide, or as complicated as the global economy, undergo periodic transformations.

Those among us currently experiencing a rough period can look to the colors on the trees, and take solace in the fact that nothing is permanent, including situation they are currently in.  Just as the season must change, and just as periods of war and peace are inevitable, one’s current situation will eventually transform too, for better or worse.  And, at some point, regardless of how any particular person feels about their life’s situation, it will come time to move on to the next phase, or the next “chapter” of their life.  We did not chose to enter fall- fall just started.  I am sure there are some that would gladly stay in summer for a few more months.

Alongside, each individual’s periodic transformations, society as a whole also undergoes periodic transformations, which often end up intertwined with each person’s individual story.  Here in the United States, the 1950s-1970s was a time of great transition in which our society became more inclusive and individualistic.  More recently, the proliferation of the internet and later social media transformed the way we communicate.

Of course, with every transition, there is some level of predictability, but also some level of uncertainty with regards to the eventual outcome.  Will the coming winter be bitterly cold, or mild?  How much snow will we get?  Will it be a good ski season?

What can I expect from my new job?  Will my marriage work?  Will I like the city I chose to move to?

And, of course, the European philosophers that ignited the Age of Enlightenment had no clue that these ideas would lead to a series of revolutions amongst their colonized land in the “New World”.  Nor did the global political and economic community know what was to come of these newly established countries until several decades into their existence.

I believe our society is currently undergoing a transition, partly in response to the recent economic collapse, but also partly in response to some of the shortcomings of our current societal structure.  Maybe the internet and social media transformation has yet to be completed, and we are still working out how our society is going to incorporate all of these new innovations.  In-person interaction was somewhat degraded by the proliferation of social media and smart phones, and there is much talk about periodically “unplugging” from technology.  The cause of, and lessons to be taken from, the financial collapse is still very much under debate.  But, with the increased competition for both jobs and business, many are taking aim at one of the most destructive aspects of early 21st Century culture; the demand for instant gratification.  As is the case with any other transition, there is a lot of uncertainty, and what our society will look like in 10 years is anyone’s guess.  But, I am cautiously optimistic about these developments.

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For those unable to get up to their favorite fall color viewing spot this weekend, there is still time.  While many trees have already changed colors, there are some that have yet to “turn”.  Those who make it up to Rocky Mountain National Park over the next couple of weeks will still be able to enjoy some fall colors.

The Lifeblood of the West

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The Colorado River is often referred to as the “Lifeblood of the West“.  Recent estimates place the number of people dependent on water from the Colorado River at close to 30 million.  This is a number that is likely expanding, and expanding fairly rapidly, given that water diverted from the Colorado River supplies water to some rapidly growing metropolitan areas, including Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City.  Most of the areas dependent on the Colorado River for water supply are deserts that receive precipitation irregularly.  These cities would not have been able to grow into the large cities they are today without this water source.  Without it, our country, and it’s population distribution would be quite different.  It made an entire region the powerhouse it is becoming today.  The importance of this particular river to the United States would be hard to over-estimate.

It is also one of the most iconic rivers in the United States.  Along it’s course, it carved out some of the most scenic canyons in the world.  This includes the Grand Canyon, a location iconic enough to make it into Arizona’s state motto and attract five million tourists a year.  The Colorado River not only conjures up images of all of these iconic canyons, but also images of rafters, kayakers, and other water sports enthusiasts.  And, of course, one of the most iconic images of the Colorado River is the Hoover Dam, over 700 feet tall, one of many dams that supplies both water and power to the Southwestern United States.

This gigantic cascading of water has it’s origins in Rocky Mountain National Park, near the Continental Divide.  The headwaters are not accessible by road.  A several mile hike is required in order to reach the headwaters of this iconic river.

This particular hike was not especially physically challenging.  Nearly every hiking guide rates this hike as “easy”, as opposed to “moderate”, “strenuous”, or Long’s Peak, which needs a category of it’s own.  Being a trail that follows a river valley, it is not surprising that the hike is easy, as steep grades are not common along river valleys.  This is why many trails follow rivers.  In the pre-automobile days following a river was often the safest and most direct route for fur traders, settlers, etc.  The automobile came along and made travel quite a bit easier, but many of today’s roads still follow these trails.

One interesting exception is Trail Ridge Road, the road I took to get to the Colorado River Trail.  This road traverses Rocky Mountain National Park, but it climbs to a peak elevation of over 12,000 ft. along a ridge in the north central part of the park, as opposed to following one of the river valleys like many other roads do.  It is also the route of U.S. highway 34, a route that proceeds eastward through Estes Park, and then towards Loveland, CO via the Big Thompson canyon.  The road follows a trail through a river valley east of Estes Park, but not west of town.  I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915, after the automobile had already been invented.  So, the people who planned the park could plan around visitors with cars.  Had it been established earlier, like Yellowstone, would the road follow one of the river valleys to the north or to the south, as opposed to it’s route up Trail Ridge?  Historical what-ifs are always fun to ponder, but never verifiable.  At least we know that as things actually are, visitors to the park can enjoy a scenic drive up Trail Ridge Road from mid-late May through the end of September.

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Whenever a trail follows a river, there is an enhanced risk that the particular trail will be muddy.  The last couple of weeks have been rainier in North Central Colorado, and therefore, it was no real surprise to me that there were many places along this trail where the entire trail was covered with standing water, requiring hikers to either wade through it, or walk around it.  Anytime hiking, or bicycling along a dirt trail next to a river, one should prepare for such conditions after rainy days or rainy periods.

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I was expecting humble beginnings, and even considering titling this blog entry as such, but that is simply not true.  A mile or two into the trail, which is only a couple of miles from the source of the river, it already looks quite a bit wider than many rivers in this region.  Although the Colorado River gets a lot of additional force, and water flow, farther downstream, when it is joined by large tributaries, particularly the Gunnison, Green, and San Juan Rivers, seeing the river here it almost seems like this particular river stands out against every other river, creek or stream that flows off of the continental divide in this region.  Like that one child in grade school already reading at high school levels with a curious mind and appetite for learning, it seems destined for greatness at this early stage.

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One interesting thing about this particular trail is that it passes through a ghost town.  3.5 miles from the trailhead, is a place called Lulu City.  In my DeLorme Colorado Atlas, it receives some fairly large lettering, so I was expecting the ruins of a town of sorts, similar to what you see on the Plains, or in the Rust Belt when you drive through a town that has been abandoned.  However, it was nothing like that.  All that is there is this sign, stating that a town of 200 people existed here for a total of five years.  Only five years!  I wonder what the story of this place is, and why it even warranted this major mention both in my atlas and on the Rocky Mountain National Park trail maps and signs.

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After another mile or so of not too strenuous hiking, I arrived at the headwaters of the Colorado River.  The hike took less than two hours, and that was after going out last night and getting about three hours of sleep, so I was not exactly in top condition today.  Anyone wanting to view the Colorado River’s headwaters should actually stress the drive there more than the hike.  From Estes Park it is at least a half hour drive as the road traverses the park up and down a windy road.  Usually, it will take longer, as travel through the park slows down at nearly every scenic overlook, as well as anytime wildlife is seen and people stop to take pictures.

And of course, I can now forever say that I have walked across the Colorado River.  And I really walked across it, as opposed to when I walked across it on the bridge at the top of the Hoover Dam seven years ago.  That does not count.  But, when I get to the Grand Canyon, Moab, or any other place where the Colorado River has carved out an iconic scene, I will know that I have actually traversed across this very river with the assistance of nothing other than two logs, probably placed in the river earlier this year by someone with the same wacky idea and reasoning that I had today.

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Oh yeah, and I cannot claim the higher ground with regards to everyone stopping to take pictures of wildlife and causing delays getting across the park.  This was only the second time I have ever seen moose, and this bighorn picture could not be passed up.  Five and a half hours of driving, and three and a half hours of hiking later, I can at least take solace that I rode my bike 39 miles yesterday and therefore did not really need a lot of exercise today.

Regional Familiarity

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Within only a month or so of moving to Colorado, one of the things I missed quite a bit about the Midwest was the familiarity I had with the region.  After 19 years in the Midwest, I had grown quite familiar with the area.  I knew the traffic patterns of Chicago, as well as all of the good alternate routes.   I knew what areas were popular in which situations, and therefore knew where to expect crowds.  I knew how much time to allocate for driving between any area in the Midwest, allowing me to allocate my life quite efficiently.  I also knew about restaurants, bar specials, people’s typical behavior patterns, and, well a host of other little intangibles that help an individual operate their lives smoothly.

I suspect many people begin to feel this way when moving to a new place.  Although it is important to embrace a new experience, in order to get the best result possible, it is hard not to long for that familiarity.  Different things are important to different people.  But, after living in a place for a few years, most people will have gradually obtained the knowledge that is important to them.  However, that first year or two always involves a scramble.

Yesterday, I learned a lesson about Colorado.  I had decided I wanted to go to Rocky Mountain National Park for two reasons:

1.  I decided that it was a good time to do a hike that contained a vertical climb somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 feet at a fairly high elevation.  This, of course, is mostly me wanting to fit in here, with the activities that a lot of people in my age group like to do.  At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, fitting in involved developing an alcohol tolerance.  Here it means being able to physically handle terrain, by hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, etc.

2.  Last month at Badlands National Park, I bought an annual pass to the National Parks for $80, with the specific intention on using the National Parks here in Colorado.

What I found out was, leaving at 7:30 A.M. was not early enough.  Well, not to do what I wanted to do, which was hike the Lawn Lake Trail, a 6.2 mile trail with a 2,450 foot accent to Lawn Lake, in the Mummy Mountain Range, and return to the car safely before thunderstorm chances increase in the afternoon.  My problem was that I departed right around the height of the morning rush hour, and, decided to take U.S. highway 36 through Boulder.  Not only did I encounter traffic before even getting out of Denver, but I encountered the usual Denver to Boulder traffic, and the usual delays in Boulder, where traffic is quite lousy for a city it’s size.  After all of this, I did not arrive at the entrance to the park until just after 10 A.M.  Luckily, I had learned from all of my recent travels that traveling within a National Park can be slow going, and therefore had selected a trail not too far from Estes Park, where I had planned to enter the park.

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By that time, all of the parking spaces at the Lawn Lake Trailhead parking lot had been taken, so I had to park across the street.  This was somewhat fortunate, as one of the best pictures I got from the area actually came walking across the street to get to the trailhead.

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On some hiking trails, it is surprisingly easy to take a wrong turn.  But, not on this one, as the trail was well marked by rocks the entire way, and even had periodic signs pointing the way.

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As was advertised, the trail was quite steep.  In fact, it began with several switchbacks, and it was less than half a mile into the trail that some meaningful uphill progress began to appear.  That was when I saw another reminder that I am still a Colorado novice.  On one of the trail markers, I saw someone had actually left a hoodie on the post.  My first instinct was that having just worked up a sweat climbing the initial few switchbacks, the person had overheated a bit and decided to take their sweatshirt off.  But then, I thought to myself, why would anyone want to dump off a layer of clothing when going uphill, where it will only get cooler with elevation.  I also wondered if this was any kind of a signal that Coloradans know about that I do not.  Could it be similar to someone tying a tie around the door knob of a college dorm room to signal to their roommates that they have company and need to not be disturbed?  Only walking in on your roommate, as scary as that sounds, sounds less scary than being suddenly attacked by a bear, or giant falling rock because I did not understand this signal.

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I also seem to always happen upon waterfalls at Rocky Mountain National Park.  And, happening upon a waterfall I was not expecting kind of also made me reflect on some major differences between living here and in the Midwest.  I happened upon a waterfall when my destination was a lake.  This feels like the opposite of the way it would occur in the Midwest.  In the Midwest, waterfalls are hard to come by, and it is not uncommon to travel hours to encounter a good waterfall.

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Knowing the thunderstorm threat at this time of year, and the amount of time I had, I had to change courses and chose to hike the shorter trail, Ypsilon Lake.  This trail, however, is also rated as “strenuous”, and at Rocky Mountain National Park, when they describe a trail as strenuous, they mean it!

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I knew I had made some significant uphill progress because the density of the trees had begun to thin out.  From viewing the area around me, I concluded that I was roughly 1,000 feet below the “tree line”.  Later, after consulting my fabulous Colorado DeLorme Atlas, I determined that I turned around only about a mile and a half from the end of the trail, but that I had done pretty much all of the climbing.  From a base elevation of 8,540 feet, I had reached somewhere in the vicinity of 10,500 feet, leaving something in the neighborhood of 200 or 250 feet of climbing remaining.  I still wonder if I should have continued the rest of the way to the lake so that I could have completed the trail, but I guess I need to chalk the whole experience up to just not quite having the feel for how Colorado works yet.

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Additionally, despite the fact that clouds seemed to be building on my decent, the thunderstorms actually held off.  So, I ended up deciding to do a little bit of driving along the famed Trail Ridge Road, which actually ascends up to nearly 12,000 feet.  On this road, one actually ascends above the tree line.  According to the Alpine Visitors Center, the tree line in Northern Colorado is at 11,400 feet of elevation.  Above this elevation, few trees are found, and pockets of residual snow can actually be found.

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Overall, I guess I still had a productive day at Rocky Mountain National Park, but I still wish I could have traversed the entire trail to Lawn Lake.  I pictured myself getting there significantly earlier than I did.  I learned that Rocky Mountain National Park is farther away than I think of it in my head.  For some reason I always think of this place as being right in Denver’s backyard, because, from the point of view of 1,000 miles away, it kind of is.  But, it does take nearly two hours to get there from Denver.  Perhaps it would be faster to follow I-25 to Longmont, cutting over to Lyons on route 66?  I’ll probably try this next time, as Boulder does not do a good job of accommodating traffic.

I also learned not to expect this place to be much less crowded on a Tuesday than a Saturday.  This is because most of the people here are actually not from Colorado.  I actually saw a ton of Illinois plates here.  People come here on vacation, and, with the kids out of school for the summer, they are likely to be vacationing for a whole week.  If I really want to find a less crowded place to hike on a Tuesday, it would probably be best that I look somewhere completely different.  These are all things that people who have lived in Colorado for several or more years probably know and understand well.  And, over time, I will gradually get the feel for.  For now, I must learn all of this, either through experiences like this one, or through solicitations of advice from others.

The Peak to Peak Highway

The weather has not gotten quite good enough for a hike in the mountains.  Well, maybe for some people who don’t mind chilly temperatures and trudging through a significant amount of residual snow, it’s time to get out there.  But, that is not me.  I love the outdoors and outdoor recreation, but I am not a fan of enduring the cold.  So, with this weekend being somewhat nice (highs near 60 in Denver, which means 30s and 40s in the higher terrain), I figured this is a good time to take a drive along the famed Peak to Peak Highway.  The Peak to Peak Highway is a popular cycling route too, and sometime in the future I think I want to try it.  But, I need to get better at climbing.

The Peak to Peak Highway runs from Blackhawak, CO, the town that has all the casinos (along with Central City) to Estes Park, CO, a resort town adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park.  In between it runs through a lot of recreation areas, as well as the town of Nederland, which is known for Eldora ski mountain, the ski resort people from the Boulder area go to when they don’t feel like driving farther to go to the better resorts.  It’s 1600 foot vertical still blows anything in the midwest out the water, but is pretty small compared to the likes of Vail, Steamboat, Breckenridge, etc.  It is also known for some recording studio where a lot of famous musicians recorded albums in the 70s and 80s.  I also hear it is full of hippies.

To get to the Blackhawk, the start of the Peak to Peak Highway, we decide to follow highway 6 West from Golden.  This road follows Clear Creek and actually offers up scenery that is significantly different than Interstate 70.

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Following Clear Creek, the highway actually goes through three tunnels on it’s way to Blackhawk.  The number of tunnels, as well as the length of the tunnels actually reminds me of the famous Elrory-Sparta trail in Wisconsin.  I also notice a lot of people fly fishing at various spots along this creek.  Fly fishing is distinct from standard fishing as people wade into the water.  Fishing people tend to know which rivers, lakes, etc. have the best fish.  Judging by the popularity of this particular creek, it is probably a good place to fish, but I don’t know for sure.

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I have been to Blackhawk before, but never entered from this direction, Northbound on 119 from highway 6 that is.  I had always come in via Central City.  Central City is easy to get to via Interstate 70 because they built a 4 lane road connecting their town to the Interstate.  This 4 lane road, which I have taken several times, actually seems kind of out of place in the mountains where most roads are 2-lanes and wind around.  Therefore, every time I had come into Blackhawk before, it had always been via Central City as opposed to from the South.

Sometimes it seems to me that people are willing to go to somewhat great lengths to take Interstate highways as opposed to other roads.  Maybe this is more of a midwestern thing.  Back when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, I would actually usually take U.S. highway 12 as opposed to I-90 to several places, including my parents house in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago.  In my calculations, I found that taking the Interstate would only save me roughly five minutes, and the mileage was almost 20 more.  It wasn’t worth the additional gas money to me, let alone the tolls on I-90 in Illinois.  However, I think for a lot of people taking U.S. 12 instead of I-90 would not even be a consideration.

Additionally, to be completely honest, sometimes I actually get tired of the Interstate.  Despite my willingness to make the calculation described above, often times the Interstate is the most optimal route somewhere.  The interstate highway system was designed to go to places where people are most likely to want to go.  But the Interstate represents a completely different environment than traveling by state and U.S. highways, or by bike trail.  In your standard midwestern town along any Interstate highway, you often find your standard fast food restaurants, such as McDonalds, Wendys, and Arbys, right along the Interstate highway, next to, or even co-located with gas stations, for the ease of the traveler.  However, typically along whichever state or U.S. highway travels through that town, you will enter the actual town center.  This is where you find the local restaurants and shops that make that particular town unique.  So, to me, travel by Interstate represents a significantly more controlled environment, and shows you a world where everything has been standardized.  You find roughly the same dozen or so establishments everywhere you go.  When traveling by other roads, or bike trails, you may travel across the same continent, but in some ways you see a different continent, where the world has not been standardized.

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As we begin to travel north along this Peak to Peak Highway, I kind of begin to see why it is a popular road for bicycles.  There are a lot of good scenic views of mountain tops, and, while there are some difficult climbs along the way, large sections of the road seem somewhat flat, or only to contain small rolling hills.  Blackhawk is at roughly 8000 ft. of elevation.  The beginning of the route does involve a somewhat significant climb.  We do not encounter too many bicycles today.  This is possibly due to the chilly weather.  In Denver, the temperature was in the mid 50s, as we ascended out of Blackhawk the temperature gradually dropped into the lower 40s.  Now that I have lived in Denver for a while, I think that these in-between seasons, Spring and Fall, are a good time for recreation in and around the city of Denver itself (or Boulder, Fort Collins etc.).  In the wintertime, I will often go up to the mountains to ski, and summertime is great for other activities in the mountains.  But, on a day like yesterday, in which there are many, temperatures were pretty pleasant at 5200 ft.  But, this lower 40s doesn’t really do anything for anyone.  It is not cold enough for good skiing, but not warm enough to really enjoy a bike ride, hike, etc.

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Additionally, the farther up, and the farther North we went, the more snow we would encounter.  We would see this especially in the trees, and in areas shaded from the sun.  Most of the April snowstorms dumped the heaviest amounts of snow in the higher elevations and North of us, closer to the Colorado-Wyoming border.  South of us got less in general, so there is a North-South gradient in mountain snowpack right now that we witness first hand on this venture.

We passed through Nederland, and saw a significant amount of people walking around.  I’ve only been there once before, so I do not know if this is typical.  To be honest, Nederland is a town I cannot really figure out.  I know they have a commuter bus that runs between Nederland and Boulder, and a ski mountain nearby, but the town does seem small- smaller than Breckenridge.  But there always seems to be something going on there.  Eldora’s ski season is over, and we passed through town at roughly 1:15 P.M., yet, there were still a lot of people walking around.  Is the town bigger than I realize?  Is there some kind of other reason people generally get in their car and go to this town?  Someday I will solve the mystery, but I hope it is not all for that recording studio.  It did burn to the ground, so there really is nothing to see there.  Maybe it is all the other resorts we see along the way?  Yeah, that has to be it, I mean if you are staying at one of the campgrounds or lakes up the road, in Peacefull Valley, this would be the closest place to get food and such.

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Headed north toward the Estes park side of the road, the views get even more amazing, and, more wintry.  I am not sure which mountain peak this is, it is probably something in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I know it’s not Long’s Peak, as I could not get a good picture of it from the road.  It was somewhat tougher to get a good picture due to the clouds.  However, at this particular point in time, the little window of blue sky appeared in front of us just over the mountain peak, allowing for a good picture.

All in all, the Peak to Peak Highway is a pretty good drive.  I probably could have gotten in a bike ride or something back in Denver yesterday, or gone for a small hike somewhere in the foothills at a lower elevation, with pleasant temperatures.  But, I also wanted to see this famed road, and see first hand what the conditions look like for future hikes in the mountains.  The snow does appear to be melting rather quickly.  So, I am hopeful that these mountains will be ready for some quality hikes in the near future.  However, the current conditions don’t appeal to me at these elevations.  Hiking a snowshoeing are two different activities in my book.