Today was our second full day in Rocky Mountain National Park. We had some up-close wildlife encounters, hiked to a waterfall, and ate some excellent ice cream.
Sprague Lake and No Moose
Dad, Faith, Walker, and I woke up early, left the townhome around 06:30, and drove back to Sprague Lake for the second morning in a row. Hoping the moose would come down to the lake today, we again arrived just before sunrise (which was very un-colorful compared to yesterday) and walked around to the reeds and marshland on the backside of the lake. Unfortunately, there was no sign of moose, even though there were fewer people. Faith and I hiked up the hillside to get a higher perspective, but still saw nothing.
Cinnamon's and Kind
We all headed over to Cinnamon’s Bakery on the other side of town to get some of their acclaimed cinnamon rolls, and wound up getting a half-dozen. We got a classic (cream cheese), a salted caramel, a raisin roll, a pecan, a raspberry, and an un-iced roll.
After stopping at Kind Coffee by the river to get some drinks, we headed back to the townhome to eat. All the rolls were excellent, but we especially enjoyed the raspberry – I’d never experienced fruit sauce on a cinnamon roll before.
Estes Park, CO
Excellent cinnamon rolls, salted caramel rolls, and raisin rolls, plus a rotating fruit flavor. Try everything if you can justify the calories!
Trail Ridge Road
After finishing our breakfast, we started up Trail Ridge Road for the second day in a row. Today, we planned to allow time for stops along the way. Our first stop was Beaver Ponds, a boardwalk to some ponds created by beaver dams – it wasn’t really much to see; I don’t think I even took any pictures.
Many Parks Curve
Passing Hidden Valley, a defuct ski area, our next pullout was Many Parks Curve – this time in the daylight. The name “Many Parks” comes from the old French trappers who visited the area. To them, a “park” was a meadow surrounded by mountains. From this vantage point, you can easily see how the overlook got its name.
Forest Canyon Overlook
Climbing above the treeline, we stopped at Forest Canyon Overlook, where there’s a short trail to a stone observation platform. I was the only one brave enough to venture out in the wind and cold to take some pictures.
Tundra Communities Overlook
Next, we stopped at Tundra Communities Overlook. Faith and I hiked part of the way up a short but steep trail towards Mushroom Rocks, but ended up turning back because of the pounding wind gusts. By the roadside, we saw a variety of wildlife: a ewe and lamb bighorn sheep, a pika, and a rather elusive yellow-bellied marmot. All were very vocal, and the sheep seemed mostly interested in licking minerals from the rocks and dirt.
Alpine Visitor Center
Finally, we crossed the highest point of Trail Ridge Road at 12,183′, and stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center, the highest visitor center in the National Parks system. There are actually two visitor centers – one run by the NPS and the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, and a for-profit cafe and gift shop called Trail Ridge Store. We waited in the tremendously long (and cold) line for the restrooms, bought a couple souvenirs in the visitor center, and then headed in the Trail Ridge Store to get some lunch at the cafeteria. The visitor center had some interesting exhibits on the wildlife, including big animals, but also smaller ones like ptarmigan, chipmunks, ground squirrels, pika, and pocket gophers.
Dad and I split a bison bratwurst and the remaining sandwich halves from yesterday. Mom got some mac and cheese and a salad, and Faith got a bowl of chili. It was very good for cafeteria food.
P.S.: If you can spot the herd of elk on the hillside in the second photo below, comment below! I never would have seen them on my own, but they had a spotting scope set up in the visitor center.
Coming through the Kawuneeche Valley, I spotted a cow moose (tagged C7) grazing just on the other side of the Colorado River, with her calf hiding behind a bush beside her. We were unable to get a clear view of the calf, but we stayed to watch the cow for over 30 minutes.
Driving past downtown Grand Lake, we parked at East Inlet Trailhead, and started a relatively short and easy hike to Adams Falls, this time taking Walker with us. I believe this was his first official hike! We passed some horseback riders on the trail, and soon arrived at the falls, which plunge down into a barrel-like basin so steep one can barely see the bottom. The fall foliage on the trail was gorgeous, and we enjoyed views of the surrounding mountains and Grand Lake.
Miyauchi's Snack Bar
After driving back to Grand Lake, we drove down to the waterfront and stopped at Miyauchi’s Snack Bar for a sweet treat (this would actually turn into supper, for reasons I’ll detail soon).
Dad got strawberry melt (strawberry ice cream with Belgian chocolate shavings), butter pecan, and mocha almond fudge; Mom got chocolate chip, strawberry melt, and butter pecan; Faith got raspberry sorbet; and I got sweet tangerine (with Belgian white chocolate shavings), butter pecan, strawberry melt, and mocha almond fudge. All the ice cream was excellent and unique.
Miyauchi's Snack Bar
Grand Lake, CO
Miyauchi’s has unique flavors of homemade ice cream – everything is very high quality and delicious.
Starting back on Trail Ridge Road, we planned to drive back to Estes Park to get a late dinner. However, our plans were quickly thwarted when we saw yet another moose, this time a bull. We spotted him as he had just sat down in the grass to rest. We decided to forgo our dinner plans and stay to watch him, hoping he would stand up so we could get a better view.
After what seemed like an eternity (but was probably more like 25 minutes), he finally stood up and began lumbering in the direction of the town. I’ve never seen an ungulate that was so muscular!
We saw the direction he was headed, and realized he was cutting across a curve in the road, so we scrambled back in the car and drove down the road to our calculated point of intercept. I guess this is as close to “head him off at the pass” as I’ll ever get. Thankfully, we estimated perfectly, and were treated to the bull crossing the road right in front of us!
He finally crossed the road, and wandered through the meadow slowly, much to the delight of the gathering onlookers.
No Moose, Again!
We decided we’d try to head her off as well, but this time miscalculated. Even though she never came to us, we did get a nice gloaming view of the valley and surrounding mountains as the sun set. Faith and I met some App State grads who’d recently moved out to Colorado, and had a nice conversation with them as the sun went down.
The temperature was dropping rapidly, so we headed back to the car and drove Trail Ridge Road back across Fall River Pass and Iceberg Pass to Estes Park. We’d missed dinner, but at least we got to see some wildlife!
The Best Things we Saw Today
The best thing I saw today was… “the bull moose and the view from Trail Ridge Road”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the raspberry cinnamon roll at breakfast, and the ice cream in Grand Lake”.
The best thing I saw today was… “the bull moose crossing the road”.
The best thing I ate today was… “bison bratwurst”.
The best thing I saw today was… “the bull moose”.
The best thing I ate today was… “strawberry chocolate ice cream and the raspberry cinnamon roll”.
The best thing I saw today was… “the moose right beside the car”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the raisin roll”.
Here’s a video from today.
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Tomorrow, we’ll finish up our time in Rocky Mountain National Park, and then travel east.
– Isaac & Co.