Tuesday, September 3—Another Blessed Day

We set aside today to give John and Sandy a road tour of Rocky Mountain National Park, and provide the “girls” some shopping time in Estes Park. The charmed life John and Sandy lead continued today, at least as far as animal sightings go. Just after entering the park, we saw a cow and calf moose adjacent to the road, and then crossing the road right in front of us. A big bull appeared out of nowhere and followed them across the road. Regrettably for us, a truck pulling a fifth wheel AND a boat stopped beside us on Trail Ridge Road, completely blocking our view. At least we saw the tail end of the bull. We stopped at Fairview Curve, Milner Pass, Gore Range, and Forest Canyon Overlooks along the way, marveling at the majestic mountains, deep valleys, and distant hanging lakes left by glaciers. Estes Park seemed a much different town than Sunday, with most of the traffic gone. John and I dropped Sandy and Kay off in Estes Park for some girl time, and we drove the Old Fall River Road, the original road over Rocky Mountain National Park. The Fall River Road was the first road to cross the Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado. Started by Larimer and Grant counties in 1913 before the establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park, the early construction was carried out by state prison inmates. The convicts made little progress and contractors completed the road in 1920. The unpaved mountain road climbed from Horseshoe Park on the east side up the steep Fall River Valley over a series of tight switchbacks to reach Fall River Pass at 11,796 feet; from there, the road continued down the west side of the mountains to Grand Lake. Despite the popularity of the route, the road proved difficult to traverse and maintain. Automobiles had trouble mastering the steep grade and tight curves and avalanches often buried the road forty feet deep. Following the completion of Trail Ridge Road in 1932, the eastern half of Fall River Road became a one-way scenic drive (Old Fall River Road) from Endovalley near Estes Park up to Fall River Pass; the western half was abandoned or overbuilt by the Trail Ridge Road. The road climbed to Fall River Pass on steep grades sometimes reaching 16%. Some early automobiles had to climb in reverse due to their weak engines and gravity-fed fuel system. Motorists had to negotiate sixteen switch-backs with radii as tight as 20 feet. Some vehicles had to turn back and forth repeatedly to make the curves. The road width rarely exceeded 14 feet, too narrow for cars to pass safely. Passing turnouts were provided, but these were few and far between. The roadway was largely built out from the hillside. In the steepest places, multiple switch-backs were stacked one above the other. Few pullouts were provided to allow motorist to stop; some were located on switch-backs, making the curves even more difficult. We found that little has changed; it was one of the most exhilarating drivers I’ve ever made.

Our one-way drive ended at Alpine Visitors Center; we drove Trail Ridge Road back to Estes Park, met Sandy and Kay, and had lunch at a locally recommended restaurant. The food was okay, even good, but not great. Shortly after leaving Estes Park and entering the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, we saw a large mule deer buck, still in velvet, nibbling grass alongside a side road. We turned onto the side road and had great close-up views—charmed life!

The ride back up and down Trail Ridge Road to Granby was anticlimactic, despite seeing a bull moose at a distance in Grand Lake.

After our WOW day, we ate Rotel cheese dip and Fritos, and called it a night. Oh, by the way, the girls saw the parking lot fox this evening.

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