Many people from our side of the world who have had the privilege to visit the United States would usually also visit one of the many majestic national parks that the country has to offer. The most common ones that most Malaysians would know, I believe, would be the Grand Canyon National Park and the Yellowstone National Park.
Me? I’ve not had the chance to visit any of the two above-mentioned. Instead, I have been to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Why? Because it is located in Colorado, and it is just an hour’s drive from Loveland. Today, I will tell (show) you more of this park.
The Rocky Mountains National Park is actually a pretty big park. How big? More than 250 thousand acres. In Malaysian term, almost the size of the entire Perak state. As such, there are two entrances to this park, located at Estes Park and Grand Lake. However, the more popular entrance is the one in Estes Park. Three reasons:
- The Estes Park entrance allows you to access most of the paved roads on the Rocky Mountain National Park. The Grand Lake entrance only allows you to access the Trail Ridge Road, which is closed during winter and other bad snow days. So to minimize risk of not being allowed entry, most people would enter through Estes Park.
- If you drive from Denver and the I-25, Estes Park is the easier town to access out of the two.
- Estes Park is a native Indian/cowboy town. As such, you might be have buffalo steak for lunch, or be able to see this on your way to the Rocky Mountain National Park.
So I shall focus on Estes Park here. If you set your GPS to locate Rocky Mountain National Park, you will drive past the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.
It is advisable to stop here before you proceed, because this is the last place you can get access to a restroom for quite a long while once you enter the national park. You can also get information brochures and souvenirs here.
Once you are ready, then you get into your car and proceed further down the road to the park’s entrance. This entrance is basically a toll booth for you to purchase entry passes. Yes, you need to pay to enter the Rocky Mountain National Park.
There is no day pass for this national park. You can either purchase a seven days pass, or an annual pass. I visited this national park twice: once in 2010 and once in 2011. Both times I paid US$ 20 for the weekly pass, and that pass is good for one car, never mind if it is one person or four persons in the car. If you are riding a bicycle/Harley/bus number 11 a.k.a walking, then it would be US$ 10. The annual pass would be US$ 40 regardless of how you enter. I’m not sure if the prices has been revised now, it has been a few years.
Although I was driving, there are people who come here to hike. Especially American families. And when I say hike, I mean those 3 days, 50 or 100 miles hike across a couple mountains – people must be having climbing Kilimanjaro packing list, I bet – complete with tents and supplies. In fact, the Rocky Mountain National Park is rather popular for such hiking activities. There are more than 3 million visitors to this park each year.
Anyway, after paying up, you will be allowed to enter.
If you drive into the park, there are two main roads (plus some other small trails), the Trail Ridge Road and the Bear Lake Road. The Trail Ridge Road is a high elevation road which is only open from late spring until early autumn. Other times the road will be covered in snow and ice so the road is closed off for vehicle access.
The Bear Lake Road on the other hand, is open all year round. On my first visit in 2010, I drove along this road because the Trail Ridge Road was closed.
About 10 minutes into this road, you will arrive at Morraine Park. Morraine Park is a rather scenic place where a small visitor center is located (but is usually desserted), and you can also stop here to have picnic (which I did). In fact, there are people who live here.
You know, people don’t call the road Bear Lake Road for no apparent reason, right? That’s because this road leads to Bear Lake.
I’m not sure why this lake is called the Bear Lake. I suppose the lake looks like the shape of a bear? Or maybe there are bears that roam this area? That would be pretty exciting, but also at the same time, suck.
Unfortunately, I could not see Bear Lake, because when I came, it was late spring but the ice has not thawed sufficiently, so what was supposed to be Bear Lake, was this…
It is not terribly exciting, is it? In fact, the squirrel that I spotted beside a tree was more exciting.
Catching a glimpse of a couple of skiers was also more exciting.
Falling down flat on my butt was NOT exciting though… (although it was staged)
I actually did not expect to see a field of ice instead of a lake when I came. Apparently, 2010 was a freak year for Colorado where the winter extended late into spring. I’m sure this place would be more beautiful in the summer.
Trail Ridge Road
On my second visit, it was late summer. I wanted to revisit the Bear Lake, but the Trail Ridge Road was open this time, and the Trail Ridge Road is THE main character in this Rocky Mountain National Park story. In the end, I did what most sensible people would do…
I mentioned earlier that the Trail Ridge Road is a high elevation road. This means, you start off from lower grounds where the road is clear. And by the way, this is a great road, full of twists and bends. Perfect to practice your drifting skills for Initial D/Tokyo Drift wannabes.
And the view is excellent…
And then, as you drive on, the altitude gets higher, and the view becomes less colorful as you get closer to the clouds..
And then you really do reach the clouds!
And all of a sudden, the road becomes like this, with the snow attacking your car without mercy!
Mind you, this is when the road is open to the public. This was a good day on the Trail Ridge Road. Now do you understand why they have to close the road off during winters?
Let me show you how high we were…
12107 feet, that’s roughly 3700 meters above sea level. Almost Mount Kinabalu peak level?
We drove all the way up here basically to do one thing. This, in sub zero celsius…
I know, you might want to say this is
Sparta stupid. And I would agree with you.
At the highest point of this Trail Ridge Road (12187 ft above sea level), there is a place called the Alpine Visitor Center. We were supposed to come here to have hot coffee in the cold, but unfortunately, the restaurant was not open on that day.
And anyway, we were not able to stay for long. The snow was coming down quite rapidly and a ranger came around advising us to make our descend quickly to avoid being stranded.
So yeah, we drove all the way back down as quickly as possible..
And that was the end of my Trail Ridge Road experience…
And that was the end of my Rocky Mountain National Park experience…