Monday, October 25, 2010

Great American Road Trip, Part XII: Rocky Mountain National Park




Jackson Hole certainly felt like civilization after our days in Yellowstone and our drive through Grand Teton National Park. The town is very western, with wooden boardwalks and covered walkways all over town. Just as with Cody and Deadwood, I wasn't sure how "authentic" all that was, but it was still charming. The town square has an archway made of antlers at each of the four corners. Man, that's a lot of antlers!




We spent the evening arguing about where to eat dinner. My son was not fond of the first pick of the rest of us, so we compromised on The Bunnery, and ended up very pleased with our choice! One of my least favorite parts of travel is trying to find a place to eat, but when it works out well, dining in fun, local places is one of my favorite parts of travel.




The next morning we had a very long drive ahead of us, since our plan was to reach Boulder, CO, that same day. However, the realization that we were this close to Idaho was too tempting to resist, so even though it was opposite of the direction we needed to go, we decided to drive through Teton Pass and stick our toes into a new state.


Unfortunately, as we began our descent towards Idaho, we saw the much-dreaded "flag man" road sign, and sure enough, after a bend in the road, there stood a construction worker holding a Stop Sign. We were the only car there, so I rolled down the window and asked how long he thought the delay might be. "An hour," he said. "An HOUR!" we cried. He looked taken aback and said "Well, maybe only 10 minutes." Knowing that we had 500 miles ahead of us that day, we couldn't take the risk of it really being an hour wait (and possibly another hour wait to make the return through the pass), so we asked if we could make a U-turn. He said yes. Before we did, though, I asked hopefully "We haven't crossed into Idaho yet, have we?" and he said "No, it's about 4 miles away." Argh, so close, yet so far.

We did enjoy the drive through the pass, with its stunning vistas, and this humorous sign on the return to Jackson Hole.






We also noticed this enormous bird's nest on the top of the electric pole. You don't see stuff like that where I live!






We had a long drive through Wyoming that day, and even though I'd been in the state almost a week, I was still in awe of the terrain and the scenery. Big huge sky, brown scrubby desert, mountains ranging the edges. We saw a thunderstorm way off, but the road conveniently circled it, and we felt not a drop of rain. Lunch was a picnic in the town park in Pineland, WY, and for dinner we stopped in Laramie and took a quick driving tour of U of Wyoming. The town looked just like any midwestern college town, with brick colonials, green lawns, and mature trees. Such a contrast to the surrounding desert!


We neared the Colorado border as the sun was setting. I felt a bit sad to leave Wyoming. Such a wondrous place, so beautiful, so different than home, so dramatic, and even a little bit dangerous. Good-bye, Wyoming!


My first views of Colorado were in the dark, so it didn't make much of a first impression, but in the morning we headed straight for Estes Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park, and I was impressed indeed.



I took this next picture because I thought it was so picturesque, and found out later that that lovely building is The Stanley Hotel, which was the inspiration for the setting of Stephen King's The Shining. The only thing of Stephen King's I've ever read is his autobiography. I'm not a fan of horror. Nope. No thanks.






Rocky Mountain National Park was just as gorgeous as you'd think it might be. I tell you, by this point in our trip, I was sort of looking forward to the plains of Kansas on the drive home, because I was getting exhausted from all the awe and wonderment I felt from the non-stop spectacular mountain scenery.

















(This looks to me like the beginning of The Sound of Music)







We drove up Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest paved road in the US, peaking at 12,183 feet. They have a visitor's center/gift shop at 11,796 feet. I was definitely feeling altitude sickness. I had felt mild effects of the altitude while we'd been in Yellowstone, but nothing remarkable. Here I felt light-headed and weak, and my chest felt oddly constricted. My heart was also pounding harder than normal. I have a couple of congenital heart defects which, for the most part, don't bother me that much, but when in a situation like this where I can feel my heart laboring, it can be a little scary. Then I don't know if the physical sensations are getting exacerbated by nervousness, or if they are "real". I think in this case they were "real" because as we descended I felt better and better and better. Whew!


My kids capped some empty water bottles when we were at 12,183 feet to see what would happen to them as the altitude changed. The bottles shrunk in on themselves as we descended. This is what one of them looked like when we finally got home:

(And just a side note: we are not regular consumers of bottled water, and in our everyday lives we each have reusable water bottles for times we want bottled water, but on a big long vacation such as this one, we buy bottled water, and save the empties until we find a recycling container. Or we do science experiments with them!)

It's not a vacation for us without a stop at a Rock Shop. The one in Estes Park was a good one.




We headed back to Boulder to walk around campus and town there, and to find dinner. Campus was lovely, with a lot of red stone and tile on the buildings. At first you feel like you could be at any midwestern campus, but then, hey look, it's mountains!






Sometimes I wonder why I live where I live when there are places like Boulder, CO, in the world.