Years ago, I discovered a fascinating book called ‘A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains’ by Isabella Bird. The book is a series of letters to her sister in which she recounts her adventures and the people she met travelling around Colorado in the mid 1800’s; by the end of the book I was hooked. Although I had absolutely no intention travelling through the Rocky Mountains on horseback and definitely not in November!
Since we retired and started exploring the US, Rocky Mountain National Park has been somewhere we’ve tried to visit several times, but on each occasion bad weather held us back.
This September we finally made it and it was simply gorgeous.
On our first day in the park we decided to drive Trail Ridge Road, as we knew that although the official closure date was mid-October, bad weather could and probably would, close the road at any time.
We started our drive from Estes Park and right from the start the views were amazing.
Built between 1926 and 1932 Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles long and is a designated All American Road, 11 miles of the road are over 11,500 ft high and at its highest point it reaches an elevation of 12,183 ft. Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous highway in the USA.
It’s hard to imagine that a glacier 500ft thick once covered this valley, it’s beautiful in the sunshine, but just as spectacular as a thunderstorm creeps down the mountains.
As it climbs ever higher the road travels through forests of aspen, and ponderosa pine, followed by subalpine forests of fir and spruce before leaving the trees behind as it reaches fragile windswept alpine tundra.
Old Fall River Road from Trail Ridge Road
Autumn colours in Hidden Valley, the valley once had a ski resort, it’s still possible to snowboard and sled here in the winter.
Trail Ridge Road from Many Curves corner as it winds up the mountain from Estes Park.
28 million years ago volcanic vents 12 miles away in the Never Summer Mountains were clogged with lava. A violent explosion of molten rock and gas formed a fast moving avalanche, which when it stopped it fused into a solid mass. The dark rocks are welded tuff and known as Lava Cliffs.
Trail Ridge road at one of its highest points as it crosses the tundra. It’s easy to see why it’s closed during the winter, as once the snows arrive and the wind blows, how on earth would you be able to find the road?
The Never Summer Mountains, they often have snow on them even during the summer, an informational sign told us they were named by the Arapaho Indians because ‘summer never comes’! They’re the only volcanic mountain range in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Huge logs on top of the Alpine Visitor Centre help stop the roof caving in during the heavy snows of winter. We stopped here several times on our visits to the park. It was almost always windy, but the last time we stopped the wind was so strong I could barely open the truck door.
The coffee shop has huge windows with fabulous views of the alpine tundra, on our first visit there wasn’t a seat to be had by the windows, on our second all the seats were free as the windows had been boarded up. On our next visit water was limited so only tea and coffee (sadly no hot chocolate!) were available, all this was part of the closure preparations, in case of bad weather, which we were told could close the road at any time and this was only mid-September!
Old Fall River Road, this was the first road in Rocky Mountain National Park and opened in 1920. The one-way gravel road starts from Horseshoe Park and follows an old Indian Trail as it climbs up to the Alpine Visitor Centre. When we visited the road was closed for repair after the disastrous floods in September 2013. Of course, this makes it yet another place to add to our ever growing ‘to-revisit’ list!
Driving along high on Trail Ridge Road, fabulous views on either side.
The one and only time we saw elk in the park.
Have fun, we are!