Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rocky Mountain High

After the brief detour to Mt Rushmore we headed south and into Colorado, our eventual destination being the Rocky Mountains National Park (RMNP). Hopefully since we had not been under 1200m since Seattle I would be acclimatised by now to the higher altitudes.

We stopped off to visit our tour leader from Russia (he was the one who did the sauna/vodka then roll in the snow naked thing), who actually lives in Fort Collins. Chris is very proud of his town and showed us around. With high mountains, lakes, lovely countryside and a progressive populace sporting a large variety of alternative shops and eating places we were spoilt for choice. After a couple of weeks of the limited food choices of the Upper Midwest (not very gluten free vegetarian friendly), we were disappointed that we could only choose one.

Marijuana Shop
First visitors from Perth :-)
Colorado is the first State to legalise marijuana and we visited a shop called Organic Alternatives to see it in action first hand. We had to show our passports and were then seated in the waiting room. Eventually a salesman calls us into the showroom where there are two long display cabinets, one on each side of the room. One side is for medicinal products and the other side is recreational. Everything from edibles such as muesli bars, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, lollies etc to soaps, creams, lip balm, massage oil and much more. Elizabeth briefly considered buying a bath soak but we were not sure if we could finish it before leaving the State, a point at which the product becomes illegal. Really interesting. There was a map on the wall with a pin for the different places in the world visitors have come from. Perth was not represented until we placed our pin there.

We bid Chris goodbye and headed off to the charming tourist town of Estes Park, the town that borders RMNP. Surrounding the town the towering mountains looked gigantic. We had a fabulous time there on small hiking trails and driving around the mountains but one day stands out in my mind.

Since it turned into a fine day (we had some dodgy ones), we decided to do the drive up to the RMNP Alpine Visitor Centre, the highest visitor centre in the US. There were many overlooks on the side of the road showing off the fantastic scenery, and a few small hikes, gradually changing to the rich colours of a harsh alpine tundra landscape as we got closer to the top. We reached the visitor centre at just over 3,500m (11,769 feet) then made our way back down.

As the weather was still fine we decided to do a hike and headed towards Bear Lake. We did the hike to Alberta Falls and took in the fantastic power of the raging falls, clambering over rocks to get that 'perfect' picture. We then walked around Bear Lake before deciding it was getting late and we were getting hungry so time to make our way back to town and our favourite Italian restaurant (yes you can have a favourite after a few days).

Not this bear!
This one
On our way back we noticed a herd of cars gathered all over the road and decided to add to the mellee as this normally means there's some wildlife near. Sure enough there was a brown bear in the brush, first bear since we had arrived in the contiguous US. We watched it jumping for leaves, running and eating before disappearing into the forest.

Content and pleased with ourselves we headed off again only to come up against another herd of cars. We found a safe spot and hopped out to see a large bull elk with numerous females in tow. He was a loud boy, regularly 'mooing' as he wandered around, first time we had heard that sound. He tried to cross the road but found it too difficult with all the cars and then tried again and successfully crossed near us. As is normal practice I kept several tourists and sometimes a car between me and the wild animal, but needed to call back Elizabeth at one point. I tried to catch the sound but kept missing it, but finally succeeded by fluke, just pressed record to catch him walking away and he let rip at the same exact moment. I showed off my brilliant timing by playing it back to Elizabeth and the phone was so loud a man in front of us whipped around thinking an elk was right behind him. We needed to calm him down and explain it was just a recording :-)

All in all another fantastic US national park to cross off the bucket list!

Bear Lake

Alberta Falls

Rocky Mountains

Gem Lake

Hero of the moment

The elk letting rip (turn up the sound)

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