This year I realized we had not used the “foot paths” at the north end of the Park for over 10 years, so I made a proclamation that I would do one hike a week with the group. Today, we did the Ute Trail; one I had avoided because I don’t normally choose wide open, windy, desolate trails if given a chance to hike in lush forest. Vowing to do better, I put on a smile and headed off to meet the group in Estes Park.
The day was perfect for this kind of hike; we were above treeline, just shy of the Continental Divide. Although it was sunny and 60* when I left the lodge, it was much colder at altitude. At first, I worried that the wind-breaker I was wearing would not be warm enough, and cursing the fact that I had taken my ear band out of the pocket before leaving this morning – as I see a couple of the other hikers donning stocking caps and gloves. Then I reminded myself that I had some major advantages over these hikers, such as being acclimated to the altitude, and used to being outside a lot in cooler weather.
|The beginning of the Ute Trail. One of the guides speaking with a hiker.|
|Another guide and a couple of the hikers. The tundra is covered in very short, cushion type plants that are very fragile. It's important to stay on the trail, or jump from rock to rock.|
We hiked along the Tombstone Ridge, on the tundra on the Ute Trail, for about 2.5 miles, to a rocky overlook.
|We got to hop-scotch across all these rocks over to those two points, to look down on the fire area. The tall, flat peak on the left (behind the points) is Long's Peak, our only 14-er at this end of the state.|
|Wherever there is a spot protected from the wind, flowers grow. These are our state flower, the Columbine. I had never seen pure white ones before. The purple ones are considered the natural state.|
After leaving the Ute Trail, we continued along Trail Ridge road to the highest point, and then hiked a ½ mile trail to the top of more rocks, where a large, young bull elk lay about 30 ft. off the trail, posing for pictures. I thought to myself that this must be a right-of-passage to adulthood for these young bulls; they need to spend so many hours being the ‘local attraction’.
|This is the Mushroom Rock formation at the top of the trail.|
We had a wonderful lunched, served picnic style - or really, tailgate style - out of the back of the van, courtesy of our guides, while located at a pull-over near the top of the ridge. After lunch we drove further up the road to a lava cliff created from ash blown over from a volcano on the other side of the divide, many centuries ago. On our way down, we were also treated to a sighting of seven or eight Bighorn Sheep, with their curly horns, grazing on the slope next to the road. Slightly further we spotted three massive bull elk, preening for the public.
After reaching the bottom of the road, we spent some time at the Alluvial Fan, created by the Lawn Lake flood back in 1982. A dam broke and carried huge boulders down the mountain side, creating the Fall River Falls and this fanlike layout of all the rocks. It is now such a beautiful sight, coming from a catastrophe. Mother Nature at her best. It was especially fun for me, as our youngest son got married there a year ago, and renewed their vows there this last June.
What a day. I guess I need to get out on foot more often.