Canning season is upon us and completely stolen my ability to post this last stop on our roadtrip. Now that the fruit flies have let up, we can properly finish.
Our last stop had us travel all the way through Kansas. I lost my mind in Kansas and I still can't really tell you why other than it was a very long day. There are quite a few National Parks and Historical Sites in Kansas as the California, Sante Fe, and Oregon Trails all went through the state and the routes for the mail all stopped in Kansas before splitting different directions. They are pretty cool and many ruts still exist in the soils from how worn they became. However, there is only one National Forest and it is actually a grassland. It is also in the far southeastern corner and no where near where we needed to go. So it was a hotel for Kansas and just a whole lotta drivin'. After pounding out Kansas, the Rocky Mountains were our destination.
Just outside the park, we got to take a short stop to go into the Estes Park Mountain Shop. For years, Jules was a buyer for Mountain Crossings on the Appalachian Trail and has the strong desire to visit other famous outfitters. Estes Park is one of those. The expertise at Estes Park makes REI look a little silly. Though he chose not to take over the store, talking shop with other guys in the business still makes him happy. I smile, answer the Barracuda's questions about gear, and try to figure out the pattern of various Silcoat stuff sacks. When all is said and done, they refill our WhipserLite fuel and we are off.
It is hard to write about the Rockies because words like amazing, incredible, majestic are so overused. But it's the Rockies! Just driving in you are struck with their magnitude. At home, everywhere we drive is framed by 2 mountains (one 11, 250 ft, the other 9,670 ft.) and everywhere you hike is framed by at least three others (10,500 ft; 10, 800 ft.; 12,300 ft.). They are huge and beautiful and majestic and all those other words. When I hiked in Appalachia, I kept waiting for "the mountain," because I have grown up living in the Cascade range. We are used to mountains that are destination places for travelers. But not mountains like this! This is some of the best rock climbing around because of the immense granite peaks which are so strong and yet create incredible spires.
Originally, we were only going to spend a day in the Rockies, but once we got to the park and witnessed it that was all out the window. We wound up spending the night. You can't camp wherever you want in this park anymore due to global warming. In fact, the foot traffic is having such an impact that there are signs literally explaining how to walk off the trail for the most minimal impact on the "endangered dirt." Keep on the Trail signs aren't enough here because the permafrost is beginning to melt and there is nothing to hold the top soil in for the plants. As such, campgrounds are all you get. Luckily the camp ground on the farthest side of the park still had vacancies. Whew!
To get to the campground, there were two routes. One was the standard tourist drive which travels at less than 5 miles per hour for a 25 mile trip and is crowded with RV's and people from Florida marveling at the snow. The second option, was the forest service road which cut about 18 miles from the trip but wasn't paved and a bit, shall we say, exciting. Can you guess which road Jules chose?
The Old Fall River Road is a one way road which closed in the winter and, though it had its moments, our 20o3 Mazda Protege made it just fine. Take this road. It rivaled Zion Canyon in the breathtaking raw views of the park. There are very few other cars, no guard rails, and you aren't just looking out at the mountain scenery, you are submerged in it.
Most of the park is far above treeline, but you are forced to drive through the clouds (not fog, but actual clouds) and cut above the cloudline to look down through the mountains.
I managed a few pictures, but was boundlessly excited from all of my environmental studies classes. "Look at that incredible glacial cirque!"or "Oh my goodness, that is the moraine from the receding ice this last summer!" or "Did you hear that? It was a pika!" There were landforms to identify, and wildlife I'd only seen pictures of, and landscapes out of National Geographics, and almost no people, and abundant hiking, and and and..... I was as obnoxious as an 8 year old on their birthday. But Dude! I could seriously spend at least 3 weeks being this excited before even coming to terms with the fact I was able to spend time in the Rockies. If I ever have a honeymoon, I'm spending it in the Rocky Mountains.
Fortunately, The Barracuda got to fulfill his desire to see some constellations. This was one of his major goals for the trip. He laid huddled in his sleeping bag on top of the picnic table looking up and finding multiple constellations we would never be able to see at home. I tried desperately to name them while bumbling through a star map. Unfortunately, the viewing happened in the Rocky Mountains at one of the highest points in our continental United States and North America. It is going to be a bit of a let down for us to now hang out in the backyard.
The next morning was off to hike. I personally believe that all you reading out there should quit your jobs right now and go hike in the Rockies. However, that might not work for many of you with this whole recession thing going on. In the least, you should make it there in your lifetime and definitely get out of your car and hike a bit.
We decided to hike up Mt. Ida (5.5 miles one way, 2,112 elevation gain) because it would make a good day hike and we could still leave before noon. Doesn't that sound so very practical? In reality it wasn't as practical as much as just "ooh oh what about this one?!" The Barracuda was highly impressed with all the rocks and put up with me pointing out the water cycle everywhere we went. He also got to see quite a bit of alpine wildlife that were completely unimpressed with humans. Deer, elk, marmots, pika, none even gave us a blink as they sunned themselves or went about eating away.
The major benefit of this road trip (other than exposing The Barracuda) was to see each other in spiritual moments. Jules and I are not having another child (willingly), we are not taking large emotional plunges with our relationship like many who decide to marry early, and we do not participate in religion actively to have great awakenings of God. However, moments of such large emotional response are what really test the closeness of people and allow others to see some inherent characteristics of personality. They are the milestones.
Regardless of the creator you wish to worship, places like Zion, Sequoia, Gila, or the Rockies are undeniably hallowed ground. Together, experiencing these places for the first time creates those spiritual moments whom many only connect with in times of birth, death, or ceremony.
The journey to Georgia forces our family to confront Death (Jules' mother has Alzheimers), but can hopefully be a place where we can come to terms with other aspects of ourselves along the way.