Colorado Catch-up

We’re sitting right now in the breakfast room of our hotel in Denver, the same one we stayed at last week when we first arrived. We had a few days last week to explore Denver, and we brought two bicycles each across the country with us, but it was cold and rainy during our free time so we basically explored the city (coffee shops, book stores, bicycle shops) by foot and public transit during the day, and met Emmi & Kyle for dinner and drinks each night. The last afternoon here in Denver, we went with Emmi to the Botanical Gardens, which were spectacular. The rain cleared up and the sky was a deep blue, and the gardens were just beautiful. (I have pictures, and will post a bunch when I get the chance.)

Kyle and Emmi had the next few days off, and they’d booked us all a cabin — a huge, 3-bedroom, pine-wood “cabin” — at the YMCA Conference Center in Estes Park, which is like the gateway town to Rocky Mountain National Park. The Conference Center was like a throwback to a different era: several huge “lodges” or public buildings, baseball fields and tennis courts, hiking and jogging trails, arts and crafts and other activities, and scattered all around were pine-wood cabins (each on about a quarter acre), plus a few condo-like places near the lodges. Since it was elk rutting season, they would come down out of the mountains in the evening, cows forming small, harem-like herds, and the bulls fighting with their antlers and trumpeting their high-pitched call, right there on the baseball field and among the cabins. (You could hear them trumpeting all night.) These were very much wild animals, running about half a ton each, and the males at least were fairly aggressive – you had to give them a wide berth and they were pretty much everywhere. It was pretty dramatic, and we weren’t even in the park yet!

The park itself was amazing. Denver is at 5280 feet elevation, and our cabin was at about 8500 feet, but our first day’s hike took us up to about 10,000 feet. You could definitely feel the effects of the elevation, but the trail (and the lakes we visited) were beyond beautiful, with amazing mountains all around. (Again, I have plenty of photos, and will post them when I get the chance, but they really cannot do it justice.) We were all satisfied (and exhausted) with our relatively short hike, and came back down to a great meal in town.

We got up the next morning, had a huge breakfast, and drove up to the Alpine Visitor’s Center — a long, exposed drive up, and up and up, through several ecosystems (aspens starting to turn color, conifer forests), past the treeline and into tundra — to the Center at the top. There was a trail there, but it was short, and the surface was either steps or paved — the tundra was delicate, like cryptobiotic soil in Utah, and you couldn’t walk on it. It ended at the very top of the hill, with a sign saying “Elev 12,005 ft.” It was freezing, with heavy winds, and we returned to the Center for hot chocolate before the drive down. We had more energy than the day before, so we also visited another section of the park, a valley with more elk and a lot of photographers. We parked and went for a short walk into a fenced-off plant restoration area, where the elk couldn’t go — the difference in vegetation across the fence line was stark. This was our last night in the cabin, and we had BBQ take-out.

We stopped in Boulder yesterday on the drive back, and visited the National Center for Atmospheric Research, an I.M Pei building on a hill outside of town. More hiking ensued on the trails behind the Center, and then we went inside and checked out the exhibits. Got back to Denver, checked back into our hotel, and went out for fabulous pizza.

The one thing we haven’t done yet is bicycle. Our free time was rainy for our first days in Denver, and high winds precluded the road riding we planned for Estes Park. Today is beautiful if cold (now), and we’ll break our streak within the hour, by riding the trails on Green Mountain Park just west of here.