Of Altitude and Attitude: 12K and Windy

We met some lovely people on this Rocky Mountain adventure. Two of the nicest were a couple of gals about our age but in better high altitude shape. We met them waiting for the park and ride shuttle at Bear Lake. They live in Colorado and were familiar with the park. One, non-hiking excursion, they raved about was the Trail Ridge Road drive. They drove the full 48 miles to Grand Lake the day before and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Of course, we had to check it out.

In the interest of full disclosure, we did not make it all the way to Grand Lake.[i] With that said, the time we did spend was well worth the effort. The road itself twists and turns around the mountains as it climbs from the 8,200 or so foot level to 12,183 feet before starting down the other side of the range. Every turn brings a new aspect of the mountains into view, from a splash of Aspen yellow decorating the green of the pines, to rock outcroppings and glimpses of the valleys below there is plenty to keep one’s attention.

One of our first stops on the drive was the Many Parks Curve overlook. The overlook is situated on a switchback curve at 9,600 feet. From the overlook, visitors can see numerous features and areas within the park. Its views are magnificent and hard to do justice in a photo, but here is a panorama that might give you a taste of what you can see from this vantage point.

While the overlooks and other viewing areas were fantastic, the drive itself was not shabby. There is not much one can do to make asphalt with stripes on it attractive, though surrounding it with nature can help.

The next stop on our little foray for this day was Forest View Overlook. This small piece of high-altitude paradise is reportedly 11,716 feet above sea level. It is certainly well above the nominal tree line of approximately 10,000 feet. The area surrounding the road and the overlook at this point is classic tundra, with warning signs reminding visitors the tundra is delicate. Stepping off of the path or road is against the rules, if not the law. Tundra is fragile, and tourists tramping around on it is bad for its health.

There was another aspect of being on the tundra at this altitude. The closest trees or other forms of windbreak were hundreds of feet down the mountain. The overlook was cold and windy!   It was not quite a wind tunnel effect, but people were being warned to take off headgear or turn ballcaps around to keep them from blowing away. Still, the views were worth the little walk to the overlook and the chattering teeth one experienced while gawking at the sight.[ii]

Our final stop before heading back to civilization for the day was Gore Ridge Overlook. This location is just a few yards shy of the 12,183-foot level. At that elevation, on that day, a park ranger measured the wind speed at 22 miles per hour, with gusts above 25, making the chill factor at, or just below, freezing. For us folks from Texas and most of the others huddled in their cars, that was a mite chilly. With that said, the view was magnificent.

The Who had a top ten song in the late 1960s, which included the chorus, “I can see for miles and miles.” The history of that song is a bit sad, but the idea of seeing for miles and miles is intriguing. One can certainly see for miles and miles, and miles, and miles, and then some from different locations on Trail Ridge Road. From this overlook, it might have been possible to see Texas, if the clouds had not gotten in the way. Okay, maybe just to northern New Mexico, but you get what I mean.

If I have not bored you to death with my reminiscences and amateur photography,  I have one more installment coming. Stay tuned.

[i] In our defense, we spent so much time, stopping, looking, taking pictures and generally enjoying the drive, making the round trip would have taken the rest of the day.  Or longer, if the setting sun made it necessary to stop and take additional pictures on the return leg.

[ii] The butte on the left above is the same one from the panorama taken at Many Curves.  We’re just hundreds of feet higher, and several miles away at Gore Ridge.

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