Colorado Trip: Rocky Mountain National Park; Roosevelt National Forest; Pawnee National Grasslands

 

The road to the Park's entrance had some lovely views of its own.

The road to the Park’s entrance had some lovely views of its own.

It just seemed right to get a photo with trees, grassland, mountains, and the open road to start this post – because this was exactly what our day consisted of.  Our planned route looked something like this:

mapped route - Home 2 Suites to Rocky Mountains through Roosevelt Forest to Pawnee Grasslands... back to the hotel.

mapped route – Home 2 Suites to Rocky Mountains through Roosevelt Forest to Pawnee Grasslands… back to the hotel.

To be sure: it was a very, very long day in the car (and in my case, driving).  A car too small for us but also very comfortable.   Regardless: I really pushed for us to have a day of natural wilderness in several forms – and this, we got thoroughly over the course of the day!  We started at…

Rocky Mountain National Park

This national park is made of a 48 mile main road (Trail Ridge Road) and then the optional 11 mile switchback-laden, guardrail-free Old Fall River Road… presumably named for all the cars which have fallen off the damned thing). We decided on doing ~25 miles, up to the Alpine Point tallest point in the park, and then turned back around.  Photos of this initial portion of our outing are as follows:

Officially entering the park, though we had been through the Rockies at length already over the whole week.

Officially entering the park, though we had been through the Rockies at length already over the whole week.

As previously mentioned: touring the Rockies... in *style*

As previously mentioned: touring the Rockies… in *style*

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Arguable the coolest part of the trip was experiencing the alpine tundra above 10,000 feet of elevation, with the attendant leftover snow in August, herds of elk, lack of many trees at all, and thin oxygen.

But mostly, the views were just glorious:

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A portion of a 150-200 strong herd of elk on the alpine tundra.

A portion of a 150-200 strong herd of elk on the alpine tundra.

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Nice marmot, Dude.

Nice marmot, Dude.

We reached the halfway point going up, turned around, and made our scenic way back down, exiting this park and instead entering the winding road extending through the…

Roosevelt National Forest

A location I was hoping to see anyways, it worked out well that we needed to drive through the forest on our route east.  And what a Coloradan forest it was, with all the rocky outcroppings; coniferous trees; small rivers and streams with multiple signs warning about climbing to safety during a flash flood.  The usual!

Another park, another handsome sign.

Another park, another handsome sign.

Wildlife crossing signs in the area are different, and big horn sheep-oriented.

Wildlife crossing signs in the area are different, and big horn sheep-oriented.

The typical view in the portion of the Forest we drove through - a series of pine trees, jagged cliffs, and some streams. A beautiful backdrop for our traffic-free drive.

The typical view in the portion of the Forest we drove through – a series of pine trees, jagged cliffs, and some streams. A beautiful backdrop for our traffic-free drive.

We (eventually) got out of the winding Forest roads and onto the open road to a larger suburb of Fort Collins CO – and then we QUICKLY made our way directly east, to the…

Pawnee National Grasslands

The final stop for the day was the most dissimilar from the rest of our (mountainous) trip.  We drove very (very, very) fast eastward, trying to beat the setting of the sun and getting ourselves ensconced deeply into the prairie proper, to get the real flavor of the place.

Luckily for us: the prairie was functionally empty of humanity AND extended into eternity… so we had plenty of space to ourselves:

Perhaps the best example yet I have encountered of "the open road" - our view into the grasslands

Perhaps the best example yet I have encountered of “the open road” – our view into the grasslands

At first we didn't really think much of this sign - until we began to rack up the miles driven at 80mph east into the unending grasslands, and found all manner of unmarked and/or unpaved roads...

At first we didn’t really think much of this sign – until we began to rack up the miles driven at 80mph east into the unending grasslands, and found all manner of unmarked and/or unpaved roads…

We followed the GPS to wherever it said “the national park” was located (more on that in a second) and it took us down some rather rough roads indeed:

... unpaved roads like this one.

… unpaved roads like this one.

As we continued, we actually got some grand photos of the fauna.

The Wildlife Shots Section:

Coyote, running scared from our big, mean Mercedes

Coyote, running scared from our big, mean Mercedes

A pronghorn, dashing away

A pronghorn, dashing away

The GPS, it turns out, led us to a random privately owned farm in the middle of NO WHERE on a road marked “not for public use.”

A road which we sort of drove down to see what was there (nothing but a gorgeous sunset across amber waves of grassland):

"Amber waves of grain*" *or a grain-looking substance

“Amber waves of grain*”
*or a grain-looking substance

The storm front rolling in which gave us the heat lightning show.

The storm front rolling in which gave us the heat lightning show.

An entirely non-creepy misty graveyard on the middle of the open prairie in Nowhere, Colorado, as the sun sets in the background.

An entirely non-creepy misty graveyard on the middle of the open prairie in Nowhere, Colorado, as the sun sets in the background.

I kept us in the area as the sun set, as I was really hoping that being so, so very far in the middle of nowhere would give us a pass on light pollution and allow us to see the stars in their unimpeded brilliance.  Instead, the aforementioned storm system rolled in and we got front row seats to…

The Heat Lightning Show:

One of the first bits of heat lightning we caught in a photo, it is still light enough to see the water tower and work lights on the horizon.

One of the first bits of heat lightning we caught in a photo, it is still light enough to see the water tower and work lights on the horizon.

IMGP5436IMGP5468IMGP5479I will say: the heat lightning show on the prairie after dusk with no other humanity besides us around = my favorite part of the trip, in retrospect.

I did try and take a single decent shot of the night sky – and this was it, complete with a streak of a passenger plane/UFO on the right of the frame:

Finally, the cloud-ridden shot of the sparse starfields visible that night on the prairie

Finally, the cloud-ridden shot of the sparse starfields visible that night on the prairie

At day’s end, the sun long since set, we drove our way out of the prairie, and eventually again reached towns, and then cities, and then the highway, and finally (in an exhausted state, after singing most of the Hamilton musical’s lyrics from memory as the slap-happy kicked in), we got back and promptly passed out.

What a hell of a great day!

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