Rocky Mountain Magic

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ROCKY MOUNTAIN MAGIC
Following the Trail Ridge Road and Beyond
By Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid

In the wee morning hours we packed up the car and said our goodbyes to beautiful Greeley, Colorado and headed west to Rocky Mountain National Park. We were on our way to Florence in southern Colorado, and decided a park detour was in order. Besides, the legendary Trail Ridge Road had just opened up for the season. We headed west on Highway 34 through Loveland and Estes Park, and entered the park through the Fall River Entrance Station.

Trail Ridge Road, which is Highway 34 and also known as Beaver Meadow National Scenic Byway, is the highest paved through-road in the state, as well as the highest paved road that crosses the continental divide in Colorado.

The route led us through three main ecosystems: Montane (below 9000 ft.), Subalpine (9000-11,400 ft.), and Alpine (above 11,400 ft.) We stopped at quite a few scenic overlooks, picnic spots and trailheads. Our first was Sheep Lakes Overlook near the entrance, where we watched elk and a very chirpy magpie. West Horseshoe Park overlook provided incredible mountain views along with the sighting of even more grazing elk and deer. We spent some time at the Beaver Ponds enjoying the fresh air and scenery, then stopped for a while at Hidden Valley (9,400 ft) where there’s a picnic area, restrooms, and an interpretive trail.

Many Parks Curve Overlook (9,640 ft.) offered amazing panoramic views of Beaver Meadows, Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park and Little Tuxedo Park, as well as Long’s Peak (14,255 ft.) and Deer Mountain (10,013 ft.). This is where the “Rocky Mountain High” started to kick in altitude wise. We really started to feel the climb when we reached the snow laden Forest Canyon Overlook (11, 716 ft.). From there we passed Rock Cut Overlook (12,050 ft.) and continued along over Iceberg Pass, crossing the highest point of the road at 12,183 feet. We were above tree line, and at 12,010 feet, Gore Range Overlook provided spectacular views of the Never Summer Mountain Range and numerous other mountain summits. The Alpine Visitor Center was next, as was Medicine Bow Curve and Overlook (11,660 ft.).

Of course we had to make a stop at the iconic Continental Divide sign at the frozen over Poudre Lake at Milner Pass (10,758 ft.). The altitude was decreasing and our stomachs were calling for a brunch picnic. The picnic sites at Lake Irene were a little too covered with snow, so we opted for the picnic site at the sunny forest setting of the Colorado River Trailhead. Big shout out to the folks at My Place Coffee for loading up our picnic basket with delicious and hearty sandwiches, along with cookies and pastry snacks. Of course, we had our trusty PortoVino backpack with us for yet another lovely “PortoVino with a View” moment, and our new collapsible Tahoe Cooler from CleverMade. If you need to travel light like we do, both of these cooler bags are stellar!

After taking a post-picnic walk along the Colorado River Trail, we continued along Trail Ridge Road to beautiful Beaver Ponds and then on to the Holzwarth Historic Site. Back in 1917, John and Sophia Holzwarth used the Homestead Act of 1862 to make a home in the Kawuneeche Valley. As tourism to the park grew, they opened a guest ranch called Holzwarth Trout Lodge, and then a few years later, opened the Never Summer Ranch on the east side of the Colorado River.

We stopped for a little more walking and a Colorado River “PortoVino with a View” moment at the Coyote Valley Trailhead, where we gave a special toast to the fifth longest river in the US that flows south to the Sea of Cortez, passing through Yuma, Arizona which is our Love Your Park Headquarters.  We kept our eyes peeled for a moose sighting, especially in the Harbison Meadows area, but unfortunately didn’t get to see them this time round. After a quick stop at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, we headed out of the park towards Grand Lake and Grandby. It was a gorgeous drive through the Arapaho National Recreation Area and even more stunning lake and snow capped views.

From there we headed south with some stops at Shadow Mountain Reservoir, White River National Forest, Blue River State Wildlife Area, and South Park National Heritage Area. As we neared Cañon City and Florence, past the Royal Gorge, the landscape melded into a lovely lush high desert region.  What an epic experience that went from jaw dropping and magnificent mountain views, to snowfields and frozen waters, lush meadows and forest areas, wildflowers, reflective ponds and rushing waterways, roaming elk and deer, bustling marmots and squirrels, and all kinds of birdlife.

Rocky Mountain National Park was designated as one of the first World Biosphere Reserves. From elk and moose to bobcat and black bear, the park is home to almost 70 mammal species, around 300 bird species, and over 140 butterfly species. With over 300 miles of hiking trails to explore, along with rock climbing and mountaineering opportunities, wildlife viewing and bird watching, camping and picnicking, horseback riding, fishing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, scenic drives and ranger led programs, it’s no wonder that Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited parks in the nation. For more information call (970) 586-1206 or visit https://www.nps.gov/romo

This Love Your Parks Tour “Picnic and PortoVino with a View” Story was assigned by Ruth Milstein, author of the Gourmand award-winning recipe book “Cooking with Love: Ventures Into the New Israeli Cuisine,” and Marisa and Gunnar Hammerbeck – co-founders of PortoVino.

 

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