In early October, we took a trip to Estes Park, CO to experience what the Rocky Mountains were all about. After such a brutally hot summer in Memphis, we were excited to escape the heat. We even got so lucky to experience winter weather, but more on that later.
We started our adventures in the Rocky Mountain National Park and traveled on Trail Ridge Road - the highest paved road in the US. We stopped along points of interest such as Forest Canyon Overlook and Lava Cliffs Overlook. After taking a quick break at the visitor center (11,796 feet above sea level and four miles east of the Continental Divide), we turned back to find lakes in hopes of capturing picturesque scenery. On the list were Sprague Lake and Bear Lake.
(Rocky Mountains, Bear Lake, and Sprague Lake)
Once we arrived to Bear Lake, we saw a sign for Nymph Lake, and since it was only a half-mile hike, we were up for the challenge. Half of a mile isn't bad, but once you factor in the already high elevation, it's a different ballgame compared to the Smoky Mountain National Park. Once we finally reached Nymph Lake, we knew we were done despite the next lake being another half mile or so. When we got back to the car after our break-taking (literally) hike, we decided we were finished exploring in the mountains for the day and went back to town. On our quest to find dinner, we noticed numerous elk hanging out at the Estes Park Visitor Center, so we made a quick stop to observe. Remember the news story about the woman who got attacked by an elk in Estes Park? Yeah, that was here. There was even a sign on the sidewalk warning visitors about the elk and to keep a safe distance.
For the next day, we decided to drive to the little sleepy town of Grand Lake, Colorado in hopes of seeing more elk, a sunset, and whatever else there was to capture. However, luck was not on our side, so we tried for some star pictures to see what we could get. The cool thing about being on top of a mountain at night is the amount of stars you can see, including the Milky Way.
To optimize our chances of getting pretty fall scenery, we drove down Highway 7 for awhile on the following day. During our adventure, we came across St. Catherine's Chapel on the Rock. It's an absolutely stunning sight sitting in front of a mountain backdrop.
When we got back to Estes Park after driving down Highway 7, we encountered some daring elk who were determined to cross the road because, well, they can. So we parked our car, grabbed the camera, and watched from a distance as several crossed the main road during "rush hour". At one point, a mom and two babies even got within ten feet of Whitney as they walked across the parking lot.
At this point in our trip, we were quickly running out of things to do since there wasn't any snow, therefore skiing and snowboarding were not an option. So we threw the idea of going to a unique place back and forth to each other knowing that it was a mere five hours away. That place is Maroon Bells. Throughout the days of researching and planning our trip, we always debated whether or not to visit this place because we knew the reality of what it'd be like if we visited. But since we were running out of things to do prior to the upcoming snow storm, we decided to go for it.
Maroon Bells are unique because they are the most photographed mountains peaks in North America. Because we knew this trip would take strategic planning due to the optimal time for an unforgettable view is at sunrise, and it being five hours away, we needed to make a decision quickly. We knew that we only had one chance to go during our trip at this point in the week because as the weekend gets closer, the competition for a parking spot and a camera spot increases as well. So what do we do? We wish we could say that we went to sleep that night and got up at 11pm to make our trek across the state. Instead, we decided to go ahead and make the five hour drive to Maroon Bells and try sleeping in the car. Wishful thinking, huh? So after driving through the night, part of it on a mountain in the middle of nowhere (imagine a Halloween night with no visible moon and the fear of something jumping out at you or waiting for you just around the bend), we finally arrived to our spot - at 2:30am. After about two hours of trying to fall asleep and failing miserably, we gave up and settled on watching a few episodes of The Office to make time pass a little faster before making our hike to the lake.
What felt like 2 years later, the sun finally rose high enough to create a surreal atmosphere you'd have to experience in person.
On our last day in Colorado, we woke up to a winter wonderland with the temperature struggling to reach 23 degrees. So since the scenery was different, we went through Rocky Mountain National Park and retook pictures from earlier in the week. It's absolutely crazy how much can change in a matter of 2-3 days.
All in all, it was a pretty decent and fun trip. At first we were starting to wonder if we had made a mistake on making our trip as long as we did, but once we finally got the snow, we were thankful to have a couple of before and after shots. Plus, how often do you see mountains at sunrise? Would we travel that way again in the future, absolutely. Maybe next time we'll try something a little out of our comfort zone such as skiing. Who knows.
"The mountains are calling and I must go." - David Muir