As we worked our way south through Colorado toward our cabin in New Mexico, I was thinking about detouring over to Durango to ride the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad. Rather than go that far out of our way, I decided to settle for the Cumbres & Toltec railroad from Antonito, CO to Chama, NM, which was on our route. When I mentioned the train ride, Pamala’s response was “And you want to do this why ?”. To which I replied “It’s an old-fashioned steam train ride through the mountains, hanging off of cliffs, why wouldn’t I?”. She once again saw the error of her ways and we booked the ride. We booked the cheap seats rather than the “period correct”, full service car, which turned out to be a good plan since I spent the vast majority of the time enjoying the views from the open gondola car. The weather turned out perfect for the day and the Aspen trees were changing so even Pamala ended up enjoying the ride.
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I stifled a moan when Jim suggested going to Rocky Mountain National Park. My immediate response was how many tree-covered mountains must we see? Were Denali, Glacier, and Yellowstone not representative enough? I love nature and enjoyed visiting the National Parks we patronized very much, but did not feel Rocky Mountain would be different enough from the others to warrant the time and expense of going there. Yet because Rocky Mountain was on Jim’s list for this trip, I acquiesced. So we traveled through the wind-blown prairie of Wyoming and encountered 19 degree temperatures and snow in order to reach the park. I must admit that I had awful flash-backs of the trip to the North Slope.
I was distracted from my flash-backs when we encountered multiple herds of antelope en route and immediately rewarded when entering the park by the presence of a large bull elk. A family of marmot and a herd of elk entertained us while we were at the visitor’s center. Upon reaching the park, I was pleased with the more temperate weather, since the park is located in the north-central region of Colorado. More on this later!
Perhaps because we were at the park on a Sunday, it was very crowded. We had to bypass many of the scenic turn-outs due to lack of available parking for RVs, but we were still able to experience, I think, the essence of the park. Driving the Trail Ridge Road through the park was quite an experience. It is the highest, continuous paved road in the U.S. reaching 12, 183 feet of elevation, and based on my declining level of physical fitness, I would never have reached the peak by foot. It is quite a steep climb up.
I discovered that Rocky Mountain is different from the other parks we visited in that it has three distinct zones: the montane, subalpine and alpine zones. The montane zone is the lowest (below 9000 feet) and warmest zone. Most of the animals are found here and this zone is indeed where we saw the bull elk. The subalpine zone is between 9000 and 12000 feet of elevation and is directly below the treeline of the park while the alpine zone is naturally above the treeline. When we reached the alpine zone, the weather was quite chilly (code phrase for unbearably cold) due to the elevation and lack of trees to block the wind. All the zones are beautiful, although I tend to favor the areas with trees over the rugged, treeless areas. We were in the park too late in the season to see the wildflowers that blanket the alpine zone in the spring and summer months. Fall was definitely in the air, as was evident by the brilliant foliage found on the trees in the montane zone.
I concluded that Rocky Mountain is unique in its own right. We experienced several climate and geographical zones within the park. Our senses were stimulated by the range of colors, the bodies of water and the wildlife. In addition, Jim is happy that he can now check Rocky Mountain National Park off his list, but I am still cold from the time spent in the alpine zone. I think I need another spa day to warm up! Is Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Spa and Resort near by?