While planning our Colorado vacation, I had conceived a tremendous desire to visit the source of the Colorado River. That would have involved either a long hike, for which I was not prepared, or a drive twice as long as the one we took, which my family was not willing to make. Shortly after we crossed the Continental Divide, we came upon the parking lot at the Colorado River trailhead, and I knew I had to try to get a picture.
After entering the park I had thought to buy the NGS trail map, which showed me that I only had to walk about half a mile to get to a little bridge over the upper reaches of the river. The map didn’t show that the first few hundred feet of the trail went steeply upward, before it leveled off for the remainder, but I managed.
The hike was beautiful, filled with quiet solitude of a kind I rarely get. At this point, the Colorado is a pebbly mountain stream, not the mighty water it becomes in the Southwest, and I flatter myself that my picture is equally unpretentious.
It was past dinnertime by my kids’ body clocks when I got back to the car, and we were close enough to the western end of Trail Ridge Road that we decided it was time to call it a day. I heartily enjoyed my first visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, and I will go back someday when I don’t have to move quite so fast.
It turns out that there was volcanism in or near Rocky Mountain National Park, some 25-30 million years ago.
The Lava Cliffs are not quite correctly named. They’re not the remains of an ancient lava flow, but instead are welded tuff, a type of igneous rock formed from pyroclastic fragments that were hot enough to weld together after being deposited. The rock that formed the Lava Cliffs was ejected during an explosive eruption in the Never Summer Mountains, which are about 12 miles to the west. The range of colors in the cliff face suggests that it was formed from rhyolite, a silica-rich rock that produces very viscous lava.
My older son was not particularly perturbed by the ancient eruption, and since we were not immediately threatened by local volcanism, he thought the Lava Cliffs were cool.
We had now passed the highest point in the park and were approaching the Kawuneeche Valley, the upper reaches of the Colorado River. I had a personal project to fulfill in that regard….
The thinner the air, the better the view.
We had stopped to let the kids use a park-built walkway across the alpine tundra to get to a region of snowpack. My wife took them across while I tried different combinations of road and mountains. In the end, I couldn’t improve on the first one I took.
My kids appreciated the novelty of being able to run around on snow in July. They even waited for me to finish taking pictures of mountains before they demanded one of themselves.
This little pool caught my eye because of its shape; I see a pig or wild boar, or possibly a tapir.
My older son is interested in volcanoes, and he was worried that one of the mountains in the park might erupt. I told him that there are no volcanoes in the park now and that there never had been. As we learned a few hundred feet down the road, that last is not quite true….
After a nice lunch at Sprague Lake, we returned to Trail Ridge Road and continued through the park. The choice of our next stop was given to my wife, and she asked to pull over at Rainbow Curve, one of the most popular overlooks. The clouds were already gathering for an early afternoon thunderstorm.
The standard view from Rainbow Curve looks down the valley of the Fall River, but it didn’t excite me as much as the interplay between mountain and cloud. I dodged the three bright spots into greater prominence and increased contrast in the clouds.
The Mummy Range is visible to the north, across the Fall River. Ypsilon Mountain is named for glaciers on the east face which form the shape of a Y; they are visible in part here to the right. What color there was, mostly in the sky, was beautiful, but it seemed to me to distract from the shapes and textures of snow, clouds, and rock.
I was thinking about trying a few more frames when a peal of thunder suggested it was time to move along. Trail Ridge Road goes above 12,000′ at its highest, and we hadn’t even broken the tree line yet….
I have wanted to visit Rocky Mountain National Park since I was a child. When I was 13 my parents took me to Denver, and we had time for everything except the park. It seemed incredibly unfair; we made it to Mount Rainier on a trip to Seattle, so why couldn’t we do the shorter drive from Denver to RMNP? Twenty years later, I was determined to finally get there, and I succeeded.
We started out with one of the family-friendly trails, which circles Sprague Lake on the eastern side of the park. It was a nice day, not too hot, with a pleasing mix of clouds and sun.
I found myself alternating cameras throughout the day. For this walk, the Fuji X100 was perfect, for two reasons: 1) it didn’t encumber me if I had to pick my kids up, and 2) the leaf shutter and fill flash made people shots a snap, as you see above.
But there was much, much more to see down the road….