The next morning, after our full day of hiking Zion, we actually slept in until around 8 o'clock. After a quick breakfast, we packed up our gear and got on the road. Day 3 would be our longest day of driving yet, but we had no idea what we were getting into when we left that morning.
Saying goodbye to Zion, we made our way through Utah, admiring the hoodoo formations and deep canyons. At around hour 5, we took a stop at Devil's
Canyon, and if you can't tell by the picture, I was already road-ified and grungy by then.
After 5 more hours we entered Grand Lake, which is a gorgeous town with a crystal clear lake near the entrance of the park. Relieved to be so close, we pulled into the park entrance. We were about 3 miles or so in, and I made my husband pull over, "Honey, look, Elk!!! We have to take a picture". We pulled over to the side and snapped a few photos of these elk just grazing, not even remotely bothered by us annoying human tourists. We got back in the car, rounded a bend in the road, and lo and behold, the fields were covered with grazing elk. I have never seen so many wild animals in one place in my life. It was really neat.
Now, if you have ever been to Rocky Mountain, you'll probably appreciate what happened next. As the sun began to set we followed my directions taken straight from Google Maps, following US 34, otherwise known as Trail Ridge Road. What Google had failed to mention when it chose this route for us was that Trail Ridge Road is the highest two-way road in the United States (the summit is at over 12,200 feet), and that it was under construction. I started to get very nervous when the road became no more that dirt, and we had to switch off at the top. It was freaking cold.
That said, it was a beautiful drive at sunset. The ecosystem is a fragile Alpine Tundra at the top, and the landscape was just glowing. It was amazing to be able to see the sun set over the Rocky Mountains from the top peaks, and while a harrowing drive, we both agreed that it was worth it.
We finally made to Glacier Basin campground around dusk, after 12 total hours of driving. There has been a huge beetle infestation in the forests of Rocky Mountain, so unfortunately they have had to cut down a ton of trees. Our campground was one of the more private ones, but it was still pretty open due to lack of trees. Our view was great, though, and brand new bathrooms have been put in (although they put hand dryers in them for some reason, which were pretty noisy and kind of superfluous, in my opinion).
We set up our tent, tired and stiff from the drive, and went to sleep. At 8500 feet, the altitude made it hard to sleep, but my husband can sleep through anything. I, however, was delighted to hear the clip-clop of elk hooves. I fell asleep listening to them sniffing our tent and grazing, and showed my husband the tracks the next morning.
On Day 4 we were expecting one of my best friends to join us. She lives in Fort Collins, and I hadn't seen her since we had moved out to San Jose. Before she arrived, we went on a nice, short 2 mile hike from our site out to Lake Sprague. It was a really nice spot and we laughed at the baby ducks in the water.
My friend showed up around noon, and we spent some time catching up and having lunch. She is also an avid hiker, so we decided to catch the shuttle bus to the Glacier Basin trailhead and take a nice relaxed 5 mile hike.
That nice, relaxed, 5 mile hike ended up being a long, unmarked, snowy, 5 hour, 1600 ft grade hike. It was beautiful however, and the vistas we saw were fantastic. Because of the snow melt, Alberta Falls was raging and there were lots of crystal clear streams crossing our path. Hiking with two photographers (my husband is also an amateur photographer as well as a physicist, he has a fantastic eye) is always hilarious. The two of them were stopping at every interesting rock, beaver dam, and dead log. As an artist, I can appreciate this, but I couldn't help giggling at them bending over and snapping away, both as excited as school children.
After our hike we were very hungry, and as we roasted our sausages over the excellent fire my husband had made the Ranger stopped by to warn us of a weather front that would be bringing 80 mile an hour winds down the mountain.
We should have packed up and headed into town right then and there.
Instead, we took turns holding the tent up from the inside while the others slept. At one point, there was a lull, and I heard those same elk from the night before come sniffing around our site. Then, a sound like a freight train came down the mountain, "Mweeerrrh!!" (that's the best onomatopoeia I could come up with for a distressed elk) clop, clop, clop!! Off they ran as I braced myself for the next gale. We gave up at around 8 the next morning, when the wind started kicking up dust and sand blasting us through the screens of our tent. We packed up, tired and defeated, and got out of the park as fast as we could. It was like something out of Tolkein; Cranky ass mountain tries to kick annoying tourists off with horizontal tornado. I think J.R.R. would have probably added more flowery language, though, and we certainly weren't singing any stupid hippie songs about bubbling streams and ancient swords.
Grumble grumble grumble.
Tomorrow: Day 6 & 7, A Cottage by the River and a beautiful wedding.