Saturday, July 19, 2008

colorado: day 11 (sat 7/19)

The trip to the Rocky Mountains happened. One member of our team rented a car and another person has a car. So the nine of us that went divided ourselves between the two; four in the car with the dog and the other five in the rental car.

We drove up to Estes Park (the town at the base) and from there on into the Rocky Mountain national park. Just after the main entrance, we took the one way dirt road through the park. It was beautiful. We stopped at one wayside to get out and wander a little, walked down to a waterfall and stream.

I'm not sure of the altitude at this point, but it was a significant number of feet higher than Greeley. My increased walking at home, especially the hills and Mt. Tabor stairs, came in handy. On the walk back up my legs and almost all of me was fine with this climb, even with the additional altitude. By the time I reached the parking lot, though, my lungs were not too happy. They hurt quite a bit for a minute - not too long, but long enough to know I needed to be a little cautious and not flip into super-woman mode. I did opt later to not go far up the trail on the tundra at the top; one of the rules of avoiding altitude sickness that I was told was to not push oneself too much. So I decided to just do a short distance up the tundra because passing out or throwing up would not be fun. *smile.

From there we drove out the other side of the park. We first passed the continental divide and then continued on down to Grand Lake. There we bought lunch and ate at a covered picnic table with a view of the lake and full access to the cooling air blowing off the water. We arrived at the town at the end of their Buffalo BBQ days celebration. I never did discover why it was called the "buffalo" bbq; the only bbq they had was chicken, beef, or pork. I did get the BBQ chicken, which was good and enough food for a couple of meals.

Because continuing in the same direction would take somewhere between three to four hours to get back to Greeley, the drivers decided to go back through the park, which would be about two hours. We didn't have to - well, actually couldn't - take the same dirt road back through the park. We followed the main road. This turned out to be a good thing, as we came across a few elk resting in the sun; later we saw a larger herd of elk.

After that, we drove and drove and drove, finally arriving back in Greeley a little after 7 pm. A little over twelve hours from when we'd left. It was a good day. Nice scenery, wonderful company, and a chance to see new-to-me mountains. The following short video is from the trip home, when we were still in the Rockies. There is the sound of wind through the car window, so if your speakers are turned up high, it might sound kind of awful, unless you like the sound of wind whipping across a microphone!

Something you may notice in the final picture, below, are the brown pine trees. You may notice them in other photos here, or you may have noticed them other places. The damage in the Rocky Mountain national forest park is extensive. Throughout our trip we saw the brown trees scattered all across the landscape. We read in the park's newspaper that this is the result of an infestation of the Mountain Pine Beetle. You can read more about this on the Forest Insect and Disease website's leaflet. The beetles have invaded areas reaching from the western part of Canada, the western ten states of the US and down into Mexico. The website includes a map of their infestation. It was a shock to see so many dead and dying trees. And it made me wonder what the park will look like in five years; in ten years. In the higher regions, there were more infested trees than healthy trees. This new-to-me information explains some tree damage I've seen, which I thought was due to human carelessness, emissions, fires, or other similar occurrences. Which may not be too far off the mark from what I read. One of the surest ways to kill off the beetles is the deep winter cold, which destroys the larva; with the warmer and shorter winters, the larvae are not killed off, grow into beetles, and need to search out new hosts. From what I read, there isn't much that can be done once an area is infested. The forest service is doing what they can - but the extent of the situation is probably not imaginable if a person hasn't seen it. If that person hasn't stood on the edge of an open space and seen miles of pine trees being eaten alive, turning brown and gray and the green fading to scattered oasis where something other than pines can escape the beetles' notice.