Grant Teton…June 14, 2018
“When the air is thin
it makes your heart bigger.”
A long day in the car…
Before we were able to enjoy the magnificent landscapes of the Rockies, we had to spend the whole day in the car driving through Wyoming and into Colorado. Therefore, we made an effort to leave Kozy Campground early in the morning to get as close to the Rocky Mountain National Park as possible. Although sitting in the car for hours on end can be quite dreadful at times, the gorgeous scenery of this part of the US definitely made it a little more bearable. While driving, we decided to make our way all the way to Lake Granby to spend the night at Stillwater Campground. Exhausted from traveling, we enjoyed a simple dinner and headed to bed to rest for two exciting days in the Park.
Moose after moose…
The next morning, we drove the remaining 10 miles to the Grand Lake park entrance just passed the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. We made sure to stop at the Visitor Center to discuss our plans with the help of a Park Ranger. We wanted to make sure to do some hiking since we had spent a majority of the previous days in the car. Still hungry for more wildlife, we chose the Kawuneeche Valley as the perfect location to see some of the Rocky’s animals. We set out to hike the 2.5 miles from Green Mountain Trailhead to the Big Meadows. The moderate trail took us through a wooded area with occasional small meadows along the way. About 1.5 miles into the hike, we came across a female moose (known as a cow) grazing in one of the meadows while her calf was hiding in the tall grass. We decided to wait patiently to see if the calf would make its way to its mother. Eventually, it paid off as the calf joined its mother, giving us an opportunity to watch the two quite closely.
Watching the two in the meadow
Getting a real close look
After a while, we continued on the trail until we reached the Big Meadows, the largest montane meadow in the Park. It is surrounded by a handful of mountain peaks that each surpasses the 12,000 feet (3650 m) mark. The Tonahutu Creek that also passes through the meadow adds to the beauty of this special area.
Strolling through the woods
After eating some of our snacks and resting a little, we made our way back just to see the mother and baby moose still hanging out in the same meadow. We once more spent some time observing the two. Around noon time, we reached the trailhead and continued to drive north through the Kawuneeche Valley, where we passed 4 more female moose as well as elk. Unfortunately, we were unable to spot any larger male moose with their majestic antlers.
Bumblebees love wildflowers
Heading way up…
At the end of the valley, we left the montane part of the Park and headed up in elevation on Trail Ridge Road. The road is the longest paved high elevation road in the United States and reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet (3713 m). We made multiple stops along the road to take in the stunning views it offered.
Just passed the road’s highest point, we stopped at Rock Cut to stretch our legs once more. We hiked the 1-mile (roundtrip) Tundra Communities Trail which put us at 12,285 feet (3745 m) and provided outstanding views in nearly any direction. At this elevation, the air provides approximately 35% less oxygen than at sea level, which made the fairly easy hike a bit more challenging. Besides the panorama, we were entertained by marmots chasing each other around in the alpine tundra.
Heading way down…
After climbing to the top of the mountain road, we had to make our way down toward Moraine Park, a large valley located on the east side of the Park. Along the way, we used the Many Parks Curve turnout to get a fascinating view of Moraine Park as well as Longs Peak, the largest peak in the Park. It towers over the Rockies at a height of 14,259 feet (4346 m).
Moraine Park with Longs Peak in the back
Shortly after 5 PM, we reached Glacier Basin, our campground for the next two nights. We surely made the most of the day and were quite exhausted once we set up camp. We decided to make a quick supply run at the nearby Estes Park, before making dinner and ending the night under a sky full of stars in the Rocky Mountains.
An Adventure on Horseback...
To end our time in the parks with an epic adventure, we got up early the next morning and headed to Estes Park to saddle up on horses and ride up into the mountains. Neither of us has much riding experience, but we decided to take the four hour trip for an unforgettable experience. We arrived for our trip at 7:45 AM, where we learned that we'd be the only two people taking this tour. This turned out to be such a great thing for us, as we really got to talk and learn more about the park from our awesome wrangler (tour guide). In total, we climbed approximately 2,000 ft (610 m) by horse to the top of Rams Horn Mountain, which gave us impeccable views of the Continental Divide, Estes Park Valley, and the Park. We couldn't have asked for a better last adventure!
Riding through the Rockies
Estes Park ...
Once back at the corral, our first priority was to grab lunch in Estes Park and also take showers since we were in desperate need of them (it had been about 6 days since our last one). Fed and clean, we headed to the shops in downtown Estes Park for some souvenirs. Gifts in hand, we made our way back to our campsite to start up dinner. Thanks to Mother Nature, we received one last gift of pouring rain just as we began to cook. Although it was not ideal, it made for a peaceful night's sleep as the sound of the rain against the tent put us right to sleep.
A Final Send Off...
On the day of departure, we awoke to blue skies and sunshine. We fired up the stove to cook our final camping breakfast of eggs wraps with peppers and avocado. While Janek watched over the eggs and peppers, Amanda was to cut the avocado, but instead, Amanda went and cut her finger open with the knife. Thankfully, Janek was there to continuously emphasize keeping the pressure on it until it stopped bleeding, and also bandage the cut up afterward. Other than this incident, we are happy to report that there were no major injuries throughout the course of our trip. Also, since the avocado lay untouched, we were still able to enjoy our breakfast after the whole situation was settled. After we ate and the car was packed up, we said our goodbyes to this beautiful place.
The sadness has begun to sink in that we will soon be back to reality. After a night in Kansas, we will make a stop in St. Louis, Missouri to have lunch with Amanda's best friend and roommate from AIC, then continue on to Findlay, Ohio. There, we will spend two days with the Richter family, Janek's host family during his high school exchange year in America.
Amanda & Janek