Tuesday, August 03, 2010
The sun tried to wake me up this morning, but since I had gone to bed late, I slept in late. Late while camping is about 8:30am. =) Mostly I finally woke up because the 3 little kids next door to be were running around yelling and it wasn’t worth trying to sleep through them.
I decided to drive along Old Fall River Road today. Old Fall River Road is a one way dirt road up hill to the Alpine Ranger Station and Visitor’s Center. Then, I’d come back along Trail Ridge Road. This proved to be an excellent way to spend my day for many reasons. I saw lots of wildlife, escaped the afternoon rains, and met some interesting people.
First, on the way to Old Fall River Road, I found a pair of coyote walking along the road I was on. I was able to take pictures and then pull over and get out of the car for more photos. At one point they were so close that I thought about getting back in the car. =) Then, they turned down a second road and on a whim, I decided to follow them. I’m glad I did. I followed them until they decided to lay down in the grass and lounge right next to a parking area. I met some people while photographing the coyotes. They were a family from Nebraska and all had a camera. The older man was the photographer with a large telephoto lens. The older woman was a hobbyist with a small DSLR. And the teenage boy that was with them was out having fun with his point and shoot. We had a good chat while taking photos.
After the coyotes crested the hill and out of sight, I headed towards Sheep Lake where I arrived just in time for a ranger talk about the bighorn sheep in the area. Apparently there is this one stretch of road that was really just built in the wrong spot. The sheep live up on the mountain, but have to come down to this Sheep Lake to eat the mud and get their nutrients. Well, to get to the lake crosses the road. There is a group of volunteers called the Sheep Brigade that volunteer here 7 days a week to make sure the sheep stay safe as they cross the road. They watch for sheep and then stop the cars so the sheep can pass. It’s very similar to watching school traffic guards at duty. I also learned a great deal about sheep from a ranger who knew how to give a talk. He did an excellent job of telling us all about the bighorn sheep while using the metaphor of the St. Louis Rams football team. In fact, I can now tell you all about sheep by thinking of a football team. It was really an excellent way to teach. Anyway, no sheep had been spotted for the last two days and I didn’t stick around to see if one was coming today because I wanted to get on my way before the rains.
Old Fall River Road was a marvelous drive. There were many things to stop and see along the way and everyone was driving just as slow as I like to drive when I’m in the wilderness. I stopped off at the Falls for lunch and also for photos. I actually took of my shoes and waded into the stream for one of my photos. It was freezing cold! My feet were completely numb when I came out. I sure hope that photo turned out well.
I was able to get an excellent photo of a bird who just stood on a rock until I was about arms reach away to take its photo. I saw so much wonderful scenery that it will be hard to pick out the best photos from the drive. When I got near the top of the mountains, it was now cloudy and 55 degrees outside and I was chilly. I got some marvelous panoramas at the top of a rock outcrop that showed a 360 view of the valleys below. At this point the sun came out as well and made interesting cloud shadows on the far mountains. I could see that on the East side of the park it was dark and stormy, but the west side was sunny.
At the Alpine Visitor’s Center, I was able to get spotty cell reception and I was hoping to get in touch with Mark for our schedule call, but I was unable to even send a text message to him letting him know I had services. Oh well. In the meantime I was 12,000 feet up and enjoying the view.
On the way down the mountain I traveled along Trail Ridge Drive. The road is being repaved this summer, and I indeed found the section of the road with the construction traffic. However, I pulled off to sit and wait for the line of cars at Lava Cliffs. After I had been there a while, I noticed a small herd of elk on the mountain side across from me. Too far for photos, but fun to watch.
At the Rainbow Curve pull off I sat looking off into the valley that holds Estes Park and my campsite. I could see that it was still raining down there, though I was high and dry in the afternoon for the first time since I got here. The views were magnificent, but unfortunately at this stop all the visitors were feeding the chipmunks who were begging for food. I was disgusted to see people actually encouraging the chipmunks to crawl in their laps and beg for the food they offered. I was trying to work up the courage to say something, but someone else said something before I got there. It didn’t change anything. Anyway, while I sat there trying to get a photo of the running pika down on the rocks below, a few chipmunks crawled in my lap to beg ME for food. I told them that I would not feed them as it was illegal, and harmful to them. The chipmunk didn’t listen, but headed down to find someone else who would acknowledge his cuteness.
By now it was after 4pm and it still wasn’t raining! Or at least it wasn’t raining where I was, so I decided to go see if the elk were still in the Moraine area. On the way I met an amateur photographer who latched on to me and decided to follow me where I went to see what I was getting photos of.
The elk were not in the area, but a coyote showed up again. This was the third coyote today! I didn’t hang around for more pictures since I already had some and I decided to chase the light and hope to get some photos in the golden light of late day/sunset.
While chasing the light, the clouds rolled in and it started to rain. =( I decided to keep moving and then the rain turned to hail, and then back to rain again. I gave up finding a sunset today and headed back to my campsite early. It was still raining, so I ate dinner in the car and typed up some blog entries while waiting for the rain to stop long enough that I could get in my tent.
Finally, I was able to get in my tent and I was in my sleeping bag before 9pm in anticipation of waking early for a sunrise tomorrow.