We awoke just before daybreak to the sound of coyotes conversing with their yelps just beyond the tree line of our campsite. We listened, at first wondering what sort of animal makes that sound, then relishing in its proximity. The sun lit up the east side of the camper with a warm glow and we greeted another day for adventure.
Today was to be our “rest” day – a chance to do some hiking between bouts of driving. We were camped at 9,500 feet. After a night at this elevation, we were feeling more normal than when we arrived, winded last night. The cabin heater failed to ignite at this elevation – something we had been warned about by other Westy owners. There is a solution, but we’ll have to look into that after we get home. For now, we warded off the mountain chill with a few more layers of clothing and all was fine.
After a brief stop at the visitors center at Beaver Meadow, on rt 36, we connected to 34 west and began the long climb up and over the Rockies within the park. The road was spectacular climbing to well over 11,000 feet on it way westward. At first we skirted a river lined with aspens which had almost entirely shed their golden leaves. Then the road began to climb more steadily and we crossed through the tree line and found ourselves in the high alpine tundra above all timber. Evidence of recent snows still lingered in the shady cures, but not in sufficient quantities to close the road for the season. We parked the camper at a trail head well above timber line and spent a glorious 2 hours hiking across the vast terrain. In all directions we could see recently snow covered mountains. Looking down the valleys we could see the deep green of the healthy forest creeping up as high as it dared. The wind was brutal, blowing what I estimate at over 35 mph. – and cold. We were bundled up and enjoyed the exposure after being cooped up in the car for so long. Occasionally, a small hillock, or roll in the terrain would afford us a break from the biting wind, and in one such spot with a grand vista over the whole valley eastward, and our campsite from the night before we had a light lunch. The sun at this elevation is very warm, and in no time we were stripped down to just flimsy layers.
Once our all too brief hike was over, we collapsed short of breath, and a bit dizzy in the car and recovered briefly before continuing our push to the west. The mountain road was in great condition, and the slow speed limit allowed us ample chances to take in the wonderful mountain scenery. We dropped back below timberline and passed Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby, the first catchments holding back Colorado River water on its journey downhill. We wound our way back down hill to Rt 70 near Mt Evans and headed westward. We’ve driven this stretch before on our way to the famed summit county ski resorts – only this time, the hillsides were bathed in large patches of golden from the aspen trees, rather than a blanket of snow. Route 70 follows the Colorado river for a long ways here, and we were delighted to head into Glennwood canyon for a stretch. The mountainsides rose immediately 1,00 feet on each side of the river, with barely enough room at the bottom for a train track, a bike path, and two overlapping roadways for the highway. We hope to return here in the future on bike, making sure to ride east to west (downriver) on the 20 mile stretch of unique riverside canyon bound path. It was like a Swiss roadway, with most of the road bed supported on bridges or passing through tunnels. Exhausted, we pulled into the town of Rifle around dusk and camped at quaint Rifle Falls State Park. There are just a handful of campsites here, and we are perched just above the banks of a wonderfully babbly brook. The falls, people here believe was formed in the waters of a beaver dam. The stagnant water behind the dam became saturated with natural chemicals, forming thick limestone deposits that are now exposed as cliffs. Between the 1840’s and 1850’s this area was full of “mountain men” making their living trapping beavers. In the morning we will hike to the nearby falls before moving on.