Day 5:

I woke early, eager to get going.  I was packed and out of my Zapata Falls campsite by 8am, headed back down the rough Zapata road one last time.  Whew!

On to Rocky Mountain National Park.

IMG_2235It was mostly a driving day, but I took it easy and stopped to take a few pictures along the way.  I wasn’t impressed passing through Denver on the interstate, but Boulder was lovely and Estes Park is delightfully quaint, if touristy. Even with a few stops, I had my tent up in time to make it back down to the local library.  My computer battery was nearly dead, and I hadn’t had wi-fi in days.  Gotta make theselovely posts somehow!

Also, I saw elk.  ELK!!!!  I think I may like it here.IMG_2258

Day 6:

Still struggling a bit with the altitude, I took it slow and easy in the morning, sleeping in a bit, cooking breakfast, reading in the sunshine.  Not until after noon did I get my hiking shoes on and hop a shuttle to my first Rocky Mountain hiking trail. It was probably a good thing, all things considered.  As the shuttle bus climbed the road, clouds rolled in on the mountain top, and thunder started to roll.

Just as I stepped off the bus at the Bear Lake trail head, lightning flashed and rain started to fall.  Wind. Thunder. Pouring rain. Dropping temperature.  And then more hail than I have ever seen before in my entire life. People who had been on trail began streaming back toward the bus stop shelter, hunkered down against the cold, wet, and ice, some prepared with rain gear and long sleeves, some not at all.  Together we crowded in under the shelter, warmer from body heat and steaming from warm breath and wet clothes alike, to wait out the storm.  Pea sized chunks of hail covered the sidewalk, piled in cracks, and slushed off the roof in great, wet fist-fulls.

IMG_2288After about 45 minutes, the waves of storm seemed past, and I headed off.  Bear Lake was gorgeous, and cold.  Steam rose from the water, snow-pack still covered about half of the trail, and water from the recent storm dripped and ran everywhere.  Still, in spite of the snow, green abounded.

IMG_2292After the half-mile loop around the lake, I headed down mountain following the Glacier Gorge trail.

3.5 miles of muddy trail, stream crossings, towering pines and aspens, flowers, birds, and slowly warming air.  The farther I went, the less snow-pack there was, and the easier the hiking got.  The upper reaches were, by far, more beautiful though.

Day 6

IMG_2394I woke up to a gray, chilly day, still not loving the altitude or the off-and-on nose bleed that kept plaguing me.  But I’d learned a lesson the day before: hike earlier rather than later, as thunder storms roll in around 2 every day.

I started a little ways up mountain, where I’d left the trail the afternoon before, and hiked down to my camp site.  Pretty but not as lovely as the higher elevations, and the gray day seemed to keep most of the animals out of sight.

 

After lunch and a relaxing hour of reading at my campsite, I hopped another shuttle and picked up a trail near the Moraine Park area, and spent another few hours hiking the hills and forests.

Day 7

The sun rose bright and warm, and I headed out after breakfast, planning a short hike around Moraine Park before heading into town to check out Estes Park.  I’d seen a ton of cute shops and restaurants when I’d passed through before, and I wanted a little civilization after several days of camping.

IMG_2553What started as a short, flat, 2-mile hike ended up a 6-mile trek around, up, and then back.  I couldn’t help it, though.  About the time the trail forked and I should have headed around the meadow of Moraine Park, I saw elk in the distance.  I was pretty sure it was a mama and babies, and I couldn’t turn away.  So, up I went.

 

It was a grueling climb, but so very worth it.  I found my elk, and then some.  A whole herd, enjoying the lush grass and cooling waters of the upper meadows, frolicking in the lake, chasing geese for fun, and lounging in the sun.

And then there were flirtatious chipmunks and more birds than I could count.

I didn’t make it into Estes Park until dinner time, but I didn’t care.

 

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