The Grand Colorado Adventure, Parts II and III

Here’s a hint for all of you out there – don’t wait two weeks to blog about your vacation.  It takes longer to conjure up what happened, and it’s not nearly as much fun.  However, it’s also kind of nice to go back and try to reconstruct the days. 

(Full disclosure: long blog entry ahead, proceed at your own risk)

“Views from Lunch #2, 9/4/11, Estes Park, CO”

So, when we last left off, I was sitting in a cafe writing and working crosswords and generally communing with Colorado.  I left the cafe and headed out for a solo walk along the riverfront, just enjoying the weather and the air.  Then my friend and I met up for some shopping.  There was a terrific art fair going on in Estes Park, and I dutifully supported local Colorado and Wyoming artists by purchasing more than I should have, but I love all of my newfound treasures, especially my glass necklace, which we’ll talk more about later. Next came lunch (with wine!) at a slightly overpriced Italian restaurant with a lovely view (see above left), thus beginning my photo series “Views from Lunch”, which was completely unintentional but fun, nonetheless.  (Note – I still haven’t developed the rafting photos, so “Views from Lunch #1” will have to come later)

Next, we tracked the signs to the Alpaca market and spent a few moments learning about this crazy-looking species who’s wool is soft and lovely.  Turns out a pair of Alpaca (Alpaci? Alpacus?) sell for a cool $25K, and they are kept mostly as pets.  We got to see a baby one, too, which was officially cute.

Then we took a drive up, up, up the Trail Ridge Road to a series of scenic overlooks where we took dozens of photos and I learned how to drive on a two lane road, 9000 feet up, with no guardrails. This would come in handy the next day, but I get ahead of myself.  The views were just amazing, and we passed through at least 4 different zones of vegetation.  I have too many photos to share them all but one of my favorites is at right – it’s the Alpine Tundra, but it looks like another world. 

Back down the mountains we went, stopping to visit with some elk along the way, eventually finding our way to a fabulously yummy Indian restaurant called Nepal’s Cafe, which, despite being a tad shabby and dirty, served amazing food and countered the mediocrity of the cuisine on our trip so far. 

One thing that was evident about Estes Park on Labor Day weekend was that there are a LOT of families with kids there, and that can definitely cramp one’s style.  So, the next day, we set out for an early morning foray, on foot this time, into Rocky Mountain National Park.  We were on the trail by 8:30 or so, and I personally did a lot of self-back-patting, because we reaped the rewards when we visited Bear Lake in the cool (and generally quiet) morning air.  Only a mere 9400 feet in elevation, it’s a very popular trail, and you can see why at left.  Then we struck out for Alberta Falls and Mills Lake, about 2 – 2.5 miles one way, on our way to 10,000 feet (give or take a few).  There were just too many gorgeous views, vistas, waterfalls and cliffs to mention.

Eventually, just when I was starting to wonder “are we there yet?”, the lake popped into view.  After some oohs and aahs, we trekked to a quiet lakeside rock to eat of our Comfort-Inn-created lunch of PB&J on pilfered bagels.  I had my most meditative moment of the trip, sitting cross-legged at the water’s edge, listening to nothing and everything and wishing I could just stay there forever. Here’s what I saw:

Views from Lunch #3, 9/5/11, Mills Lake,
Rocky Mountain National Park
But alas, we had to head back, and so we did, stopping briefly when my ankle decided, as it often does, to roll on me, and I face-planted onto the trail.  My friend, to her credit, didn’t laugh (or at least not too loudly), and I did my best “nothing to see here, everything’s fine” bit while attempting not to limp on.  Down we trekked, and did some more self-back-patting as the trail filled up with families and kids, and by the time we got back to the trailhead, we were sufficiently sweaty, tired, and happy.
Food seemed like a good idea, and remembering that there was a restaurant at the top of the Trail Ridge Road, we decided to take the back route to the top, the Old Fall River Road, the first road ever to cross into the Rocky Mountains.  It’s a one-lane, one-way dirt road that is supposedly “safe” to drive, but I’m not ashamed to admit it freaked me out a bit.  Ok, more than a bit. Huge ruts meant that you bounced and skidded and risked terminal damage to the undercarriage of your car, and the switchbacks were insane.  And of course, there were no guardrails of any kind (the natives didn’t need ’em, so why should we?).  The views were spectacular, but I was gripping the wheel so hard that my muscles were sore the next day.  It was worth it; I just won’t do it again.   
Views from Lunch #4, 9/5/11,
Alpine Visitors Center, RMNP

Anyway, we made it to the top and the Alpine Visitors Center, and made like Hobbits with a Second Lunch.  A little shopping at 12,000 feet, and then back down we went on the luxurious paved road (for the wimps – real drivers drive dirt roads!).  By the time we got back to town, showered and changed, the entire place had rolled up the sidewalks and we had to beg the hotel clerk to tell us of a bar that was still open.  We wound up at The Rock Inn, a local hangout where the kitchen closed at 10pm on the dot.   I got to enjoy watching my friend attract the men in the bar (a familiar theme by this point), and over local beer (mine was blueberry and very yummy – don’t judge!) made plans for our final day.

Views from Lunch #5, 9/6/11
Dushanbe Tea House, Boulder, CO

The following day dawned rainy and gray, and we said goodbye to the Park and headed to the flatlands.  Our destination: Boulder, where we were greeted with medicinal marijuana signs and the Celestial Seasonings Factory, which, curiously, made me not want to drink Celestial Seasonings tea (not exactly the outcome they were hoping for, I imagine).  Perhaps it was that we were bound for the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, which served incredible food and sold amazing loose-leaf tea, and where I took the final in the “Views from Lunch” series (at left).   We visited an impressive 3-story bookstore on Pearl Street, dodged the rain a bit more, and then headed off to the airport.  After a brief tussle with the rental car agency (tell me why I would agree to pay $8 per gallon for gas, hmmm?) had our final meal in the airport before departing for reality and our respective homelands.

Whew.  Now that the play-by-play is over, I found myself reluctant to bore you with too much of my philosophical musing, so I guess I’ll just say I haven’t enjoyed a vacation/adventure like that in a long while.  I turned off and/or ignored my email, and since we spent a great deal of time simply putting one foot in front of the other (or in my case, attempting not to drive off a cliff or fall flat on my face), there wasn’t a lot of time for fake stress.  I came back feeling really, honestly refreshed, and the feeling lasted for a while.  It’s fading now, which brings me to my glass necklace, which I’ve chosen to wear as a sort of talisman, reminding me to try to get back to that place of peace in my head, where the worries about life, love and livelihood are not big enough to erase the joy of being in the moment, celebrating fresh air, nature and blue skies, which just so happen to exist here in Arkansas, too. Cheers to that.  Special thanks to Trip Advisor, unofficial sponsor of our adventures, and thanks to my friend, Jennifer, for being an excellent chipmunk stalker and great travel companion.  Hope we do it again sometime.

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