Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Trip 2009 - Rocky Mountain National Park Day 3 and 4

Over night, winds really howled and we even got some light rain. I thought I would awake to find all of our camp furniture strewn about. Surprisingly, everything was as we left it the night before. Repeating my morning ritual, I started boiling water early for Mom's and Brandon's coffee and my Chai. While I was boiling water, Brandon (aka FireMan), started a fire to keep everyone warm. The temperature was about 50 degrees in the morning with a slight windchill, probably in the mid-40s.

Breakfast this morning, Spanish-style eggs, sausage, bacon, and flour tortillas to make wraps. Since everyone really needed a shower, we decided to head out to Estes Park to the Laundromat / Showers. This has to be the first time I've ever paid for a shower directly. Yeah, I pay the water and gas bill every month, but you don't think about shelling out $5.00 per shower doing it that way. $5.00 per shower ($4.00 for the kids) sounded like a great deal at this point though. Also, after washing hands and faces in cold water for the past 2.5 days, the hot water was icing on the cake. I highly recommend this place. I don't know the name, but everyone in camp knows where it is, right next to the Estes Park Safeway.

After we all got cleaned up, we decided to site see a bit in Estes Park. We walked around downtown and looked at all the tourist shops. We saw all the funny t-shirts, mugs, hats, and anything else you could slap a mountain, logo, moose, deer, elk or anything else related to RMNP on it. We actually walked out of all the stores empty handed and with all of our money still in our pockets. We did however spring for some chips and hot sauce from a local restaurant to take back to camp to have with lunch.

Back at camp, we prepared lunch for everyone. Lunch today was ham and cheese sandwiches, carrots, chips and hot sauce, oranges and apples.

Shortly after lunch, it was time for hike #2. The plan for this hike was extremely aggressive. A 5 mile round trip, out-and-back hike from Moraine Park to Cub Lake via the Cub Lake trailhead. This starts off fairly flat and crosses the Moraine Park Meadow. Here there is a ton of wildlife. We immediately came upon a heard of Elk. We were probably 50 yards from them, if not closer.


I quickly realized that it was going to be a challenge to get everyone up to Cub Lake, mostly the little guys. I resorted to bribery. I had knowledge that they sold Ice Cream every night in the campground at the place where we bought our campfire wood every night. I had held this a close secret until now. I offered ice cream to everyone if we worked as a team and got up to the lake and back down. That quickly lifted everyone's spirits.

Since it was my idea to really make the push to get up to Cub Lake, I literally took it on my shoulders to make sure we made it. I alternated carrying each of the boys for about 1.5 miles of the trip up.



We actually made pretty good time. I think we made it up to Cub Lake in 1.5 hours. Not bad! Everyone was in pretty good spirits as well. And well they should be. Cub Lake was beautiful. Probably not as nice as Dream Lake the day before, but definitely a sight to see. We found a nice spot and set out our snacks. We had a little summer sausage, cheese, apples, oranges and trail mix along with Goldfish crackers.


We hung around the lake for about 30-45 minutes and took a few pictures. I really enjoyed experiencing all this with the whole family, especially my wife. I would love to be able to experience this with her and the kids more often. I really enjoy seeing her beauty surrounded by the beauty of this environment.


I really wanted to make it back down by 5pm to avoid any sort of thunderstorms or rain showers. The team did great. We made it down right at 5pm. And, like clockwork, the rain came. Fortunately, there was no lightning. We hopped in the truck and started heading back to camp. We saw a lone coyote running through the meadow. It was too far off to catch a picture, but was probably the largest coyote I've ever seen. We also got to see some yellow-bellied Marmot with her babies.

It was a short drive back to camp and Dad paid up on the ice cream deal. We hung around the middle of the campground as rumor had it that a herd of deer would roam through around 6pm every night. We waited until about 6:15pm and everyone was tired and getting hungry, so we went back to the campsite to start dinner.

About halfway through cooking dinner, an ominous storm appeared to be moving in. The winds picked up, the temperature dropped and the rain started. Everyone climbed into the truck and we had dinner indoors. Dinner was great. We had grilled chicken and hot dogs, baked beans and corn. The weather kind of put a dampner on the whole evening. As soon as it got dark, everyone climbed into their tents. Linda and I stayed up for a while to look at the stars one last night and finish off the Jacob's Creek. After Linda turned in, I stayed up for a while longer to clean up camp, write my journal entries, stare at the dark sky and think of the next adventure.

The next morning, while sad to be leaving, was a great morning. It is amazing how everyone does their share and truly works as a team. Linda and I cook breakfast, Brandon takes care of the fire (which keeps my little Princess warm) and the little guys play away. We ran out of fuel early on attempting to boil water. I then resorted to boiling it over the campfire. Brandon took it upon himself to cook the remaining bacon we had over the fire as well. He kept us well fed on Bacon throughout the morning. As we started to run out of firewood, he would scamper about, collecting small twigs and sticks, enough to keep the fire going and the bacon cooking until it was all gone. Throughout this, Linda and I packed everything up and loaded the truck.

Check out was noon, but we wanted to stop in Boulder for lunch, so we were on the road by 11am or so. It was sad to leave, but I think everyone had a great time. I know Linda and I did and we look forward to more adventures with the family. We also are looking forward to our trip, just the two of us, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park later this summer for a 3-day backpacking trip.

I have included a number of pictures in this series of blog entries, but you can view all the pictures from the entire trip at http://picasaweb.google.com/ChrisATyler/2009SummerTripToRMNP#. I hope these entries inspire some of you to take a trip to this area. Colorado Springs and RMNP are two great places to take the family. If possible, spend a week or two up there. There's more than enough to keep you busy and the scenery and weather are hard to beat.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Trip 2009 - Rocky Mountain National Park Day 1 and 2

We drove up from Colorado Springs, through Estes Park and into the main entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (aka "RMNP"" or just "Rocky"). For those that have never been to or looked into RMNP, it is located in North-Central Colorado, about 2 hours North/NorthWest of Denver.


The Continental Divide runs through the middle of the park. For those who don't know what the Continental Divide is, it is basically the dividing line for North America where water that falls on the west side of the Divide runs west to the Pacific Ocean, water that falls to the east runs south and east to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, the mountains in RMNP are BIG. There are more than sixty (60) peaks higher than 12,000 feet, including Long's Peak at 14,259.

We reserved a campsite at Moraine Park, just outside of Estes Park, CO. Moraine Park is a campsite right inside the Park and is at 8,160 feet. There is a giant meadow near Moraine Park which stays full of wildlife including Elk, Coyote, Marmot and an occasional Black Bear. A Black Bear had just rambled through the campground 10 minutes prior to us arriving at the campground entrance, according to the Park Ranger as she was reminding us to bear-proof our campsite.

Upon arriving at campsite 237, everyone got out and stretched and we were immediately struck by the temperature... a cool 70 degrees and no humidity. As we would find out soon, every night about that time, around 5pm, a brief thunderstorm would roll in, drop some light drizzle and then depart. However, winds would stick around providing some strong wind gusts that made setting the dinner table an interesting event. For this first evening, the wind also made setting up the tents fun. Brandon and Lauren did a great job getting the tents set up. We had a tremendous view of Long's peak from the campsite. What a way to wake up every night!


While Brandon and Lauren set the tents up, Linda and I got dinner started. We made grilled chicken. After dinner, we had roasted marshmallows and s'mores. That night, the temperature dropped into the low 40's with about a 30 degree windchill. I think most all of us were plenty warm in our sleeping bags. Linda got pretty cold. We may need to look into a different bag for her for the next time we get into colder weather.

In the morning, we got up and had pancakes for breakfast. I didn't make too much of it when cooking dinner the night before, but I really noticed it when cooking breakfast, it takes a lot longer to cook at altitude. Boiling water took a loooonnnnngggg time and cooking the pancakes was a challenge. We cooked on our trusty Coleman 424 Duel-Fuel 2 Burner Stove. For car camping, it's hard to beat. Thanks to my brother-in-law for that Christmas gift! I've got friends who have had the same stove for 20+ years and their still working like a charm.

After breakfast, we set out for our first big hike. We drove up to the Bear Lake trailhead which lies at around 9400 feet. I got a bit nervous as we got a late start and most of the parking lots were full on the way up. Having never been to this trailhead, I thought we were going to be turned back. We were in luck, the Bear Lake trailhead has a huge parking lot. It still comes close to filling up, especially in peak seasons (June, July and August). There are plenty of bathrooms at the trailhead as well, so everyone can go before you head off on the trail.

Our plan was to hike up the Bear Lake trail to Nymph Lake and on to Dream Lake at 10,000 feet, then come back and see Bear Lake which is only 500 feet from the trailhead. Everyone got geared up with camelbacks. Even though the temperature was around 55-60 degrees and probably 50 degrees with the windchill, the sun was out and while hiking you will stay plenty warm, so most everyone had shorts and short sleeves on. This trail was pretty steep the whole way up, so you definitely will heat up quickly. It is also extremely crowded. Put those two things together and expect a slow trek up the trail. We probably stopped every 5-10 minutes for a break.

After .5 miles, we arrived at Nymph Lake. It's a smallish lake just off the trail. This is where we got our first glimpse of some white stuff. Could it be? Yes, it was snow... In JUNE! Here are a couple of pics from around the lake.



Continuing up the trail another .6 miles, we came to Dream Lake. Just before getting there, we came across a pretty large field of snow. We even had to cross a log bridge that was surrounded by snow.


Getting up to Dream Lake, we had our lunch. We broke out the summer sausage, cheese, crackers, trail mix, oranges and apples. Yummy. We were in a great spot with a great view of the lake. There were a lot of trout in the lake and tons of chipmunks running around looking for whatever crumbs fell out of the kids mouths. We did our best at picking up the tiny crumbs of goldfish crackers to avoid feeding the wildlife. We stayed for about 30-45 minutes. The kids had a great time having snowball fights and practicing glissading on the snow. We got everyone packed up and headed back down.


While it was great having the camelbacks for everyone to ensure they stay hydrated, there are some drawbacks to them. Because the kids are drinking off them constantly, they are having to relieve themselves of the excess fluids regularly. Trying to follow the
Leave No Trace principles, we always attempt to do this over 100 feet from trail and water, which is often difficult to do on this steep terrain and with the amount of water in the area. I feel like we did a pretty good job of it, though. It is also extremely difficult to find a good hiding place when sharing the trail with hundreds of your fellow hikers.

As on the way up, Dylan and Blake are guilty of "dawdling". Don't know if that's an official word, but it's one that we use quite frequently to describe the actions of our two youngest. It encompasses various behaviors including picking up and looking at every rock, bug, stick and leaf. Additionally, the youngest one must climb on every rock along the trail. This is generally not a problem, but this time he got a bit high up and even though I was spotting him, we both got in trouble by the Park Rangers who asked us "to keep him a bit closer to the trail, please". Since this behavior always make Linda a bit nervous, she snickered and muttered an "I told you so" under her breath.

2.5 hours after leaving the trailhead, we arrived back where we started. As planned, we made a brief stop to look at Bear Lake. By now, everyone was bushed and ready to get back to camp to kick it for a while and get ready for dinner. We made one more quick stop on the drive back to camp at Sprague Lake. If you get the chance, it's worth the stop by this small lake as there are a ton of Rainbow Trout in the stream leading to the lake. The kids really enjoy seeing the beautiful shiny fish swimming below the bridge.

Back at camp, everyone took a load off and went about playing and lying in the hammock. Even Blake enjoys the hammock as can be seen in this picture.


After the long hike, Linda and I got to wondering about where the showers were. We had been to the campground bathrooms and noticed none in there. We asked one of the campground employees and were told that there are no showers in the campground. I'm not sure if it's because there's no hot water, or if it is simply for ease of maintenance and health reasons. Whatever the case, there are NO showers in the park. The closest showers are in Estes Park in a local laundromat. More on that in the next entry.

We cooked dinner that night, a good dinner which included Ham Steak, Kielbasa, Ranch Style Beans, Corn and Mac 'n Cheese. All complimented nicely with a Jacob's Creek Shiraz. Everyone was too tired this night for s'mores or marshmallows. I think all the kids were in their bags by 9:30pm. Linda and I enjoyed a peaceful evening under the stars until the winds picked up, the temperature dropped and we were chased into the tents.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Trip 2009 - Colorado Springs, CO

On Day 2, we made the drive from Palo Duro Canyon to Colorado Springs via the Raton Pass outside Raton, NM. Once you get outside Clayton, NM, you start seeing some nice terrain. You even pass the Capulin Volcano National Monument and what appears to be volcanic rock strewn about, I'm assuming from when the volcano was active.

The Raton Pass climbs to nearly 8,000 feet before dropping back down to 5,000 feet heading to Pueblo, CO and into Colorado Springs which is at 6,000 feet. Upon arriving into Colorado Springs, we first visited the famed Garden of the Gods. In the Garden of the Gods, you can climb all over and around large and extremely interesting rock formations. Kids can crawl under and atop the giant sandstone features. There are also many trails that can be hiked. You could spend days wandering around the park, which is free to all visitors.


We unfortunately only had a short time in the park, but we look forward to going back. I would highly recommend spending a full day exploring this park, having a picnic and seeing all there is to see in this beautiful place.

We left Garden of the Gods, and after a delicious Mexican dinner, we ventured up to Seven Falls. Unfortunately, I don't have a good camera for taking night photos, but you can check the pictures out for yourself on their website. I do have one decent picture of me and the 3 kids who chose to make the climb.


While I'm sure it is impressive during the day to see, it is best seen at night when they have the falls lit up with various lighting effects. There are two sets of stairs which can be climbed, one is 188 feet right next to the falls and the other is 224 feet set back about 100 yards or so which gives you a full appreciation of the entire fall. The stairs are very steep, but have great handrails and are extremely sturdy. If you aren't looking forward to the 224 foot climb, you can take an elevator which has been built into the mountainside taking you to the top where there is an observation deck.

The next morning, we went to Manitou Springs to catch the Pike's Peak Cog Railway. I'm sure everyone has heard of the 14,115 foot Pike's Peak, and that there is a road which takes you to the top. For those who are not as adventurous in the driving department, or who have family members who don't like driving along a road with no shoulder which can plummet you 1,000 feet down a hill, I suggest you check in to the Cog Railway. It's a Swiss Train which takes you up a fairly straight path to the top of Pike's Peak. At points, the train will ascend/descend at a 25% grade. A steep road is considered to be 10% grade. The train takes about 1.5 hours to go from the base at around 9,000 feet to the peak at 14,115 feet. I suggest booking your reservations at least 5 days in advance to ensure you get on a train at the time you want. Otherwise, you will be like us and hope you get lucky (as we did) and get on as a walk-up. It apparently doesn't cost anything to make a reservation, so book early.


Atop Pike's Peak, it is going to be cold no matter what time of year you go. Our trip was in June and there was still quite a bit of snow on top. If you do take the train, know that you will only have 30 minutes or so at the Summit. That goes pretty quick. So if you and your family want to spend more time at the top, you might consider driving it. The drive takes about an hour to drive up and about 45 minutes to get back down. You should also know that staying too long at 14,115 feet can cause flatlanders to have symptons of altitude sickness.



All in all, Colorado Springs is a great place for a family trip and I highly recommend spending at least 2-3 days there.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Trip 2009 - Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Canyon, TX

This is the first entry in a series about our family trip this Summer. I will also be adding some entries from the kids.

Our first stop along the way was Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, TX. For those of you not familiar with it, it is often referred to as a "mini Grand Canyon". While there are similarities in features, there is nothing that can compare to the Big Ditch.


Palo Duro is a very big canyon though, as you can see from the picture above. It drops over 500 feet from rim to base. Unlike the Grand Canyon, the main camping is at the base of the canyon.

When we arrived, we had some lunch and then decided to go out exploring before setting up camp. We drove around to a place where we spotted some people climbing up a scree field into what looked like a cave. We parked, hopped out and walked towards the entrance of the cave. You can see the sliver of an entrance above and to the right of my wife and daughter in the photo below.


We all climbed up and into the cave. It wasn't much of a cave (only about 20 feet deep), but it was a fun climb up and there were some great views from up there.


After the caving expedition, we found a small riverbed and decided to get in and cool off. We all played around in the water until it started getting dark. We then headed off to set up camp.


Setting up camp was a chore. The good ol' west Texas winds were blowing and the family had a great time pitching the tents in the 20-30mph winds. We got camp set up just in time for dinner and a good Texas light show. The thunderstorms moved in right after dinner causing an abrupt end to the evening festivities of marshmallow roasting. The sound of the thunder came immediately after the lightning, so we knew it was close. The thunder was extremely loud as well. Surprisingly, none of the kids got too scared. It was late and we all got some sleep. The storms ended somewhere around 2am.

In the morning, we needed to dry everything out before packing it up for the drive to Colorado Springs. While everything was drying, we fixed breakfast. Eggs and bacon, mmmm. We even had some sausage, cheese and tortillas to make breakfast burritos. Mighty tasty! We did pretty good packing up and were on the road by 10am. We had 6-7 hours to get to Colorado Springs for the next leg of the journey.