[Backlogged from 6/16/14. Wow these blog posts are crazily out of chronological order. Apologies… it’s been a busy summer!]
Since having two children, our vacation style has changed A LOT. Pre-kids, Papa Gaga and I used to have fun doing lots of advance prep work so we knew exactly what restaurants and sights (yes, in that order) we must try. Post-kids, we are doing all we can to keep our heads above water day to day, so just getting the four of us — plus luggage, baby gear, plane snacks/toys etc — on the plane on time is an accomplishment in itself. This is my long-winded way of saying that I did zero research before we arrived in Estes Park, Colorado for our friends’ wedding. But once we got there and were able to relax a bit, I fiddled around on my iPhone and pieced together that we were staying in what’s considered the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
So once all the wedding festivities wound down, we had one day to explore this massive national park before we would head inland to spend our last night with some friends closer to Denver. We decided to get the most bang for our buck by covering a lot of ground in our car and driving Trail Ridge Road, described as “a scenic wonder road of the world.” This would allow our worn out kiddos to nap when they needed to while Papa Gag and I could still explore this majestic spot. But before we headed into the park for the day, we had to make a pitstop at this awesome little drive-thru coffee shop we spotted (I told you it’s all about the food for us) and try their famous Chicken-Fried Latte.
Yes, you read that correctly. Chicken.Fried.Latte. It was amazing. Forget the Rockies for a second. You should get yourself on a plane to Estes Park, Colorado right now just for this. And no, it didn’t really taste like chicken. But imagine flavors of peanut butter, nutella, caramel, and mocha all mixed into an amazing blended espresso drink.
Pretty much heaven in a cup.
While we caffeinated and got our bearings at the Visitors’ Center, the kiddos enjoyed some treats from a local donut shop.
And now back to the Rockies. This is how the National Park Service website describes Trail Ridge Road:
Covering the 48 miles between Estes Park on the park’s east side and Grand Lake on the west, Trail Ridge Road more than lives up to its advanced billing. Eleven miles of this high highway travel above treeline, the elevation near 11,500 feet where the park’s evergreen forests come to a halt. As it winds across the tundra’s vastness to its high point at 12,183 feet elevation, Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34) offers visitors thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their car.
These photos and that text do it so little justice. But imagine massive snow-capped mountains in every direction you look. I couldn’t help but hum that line about “purple mountains’ majesty” over and over again while we drove along Trail Ridge Road.
As soon as we entered the park Papa Gaga was telling me about how he’d read that if you see lots of cars pulled over, people are likely gawking at wildlife, so it’s wise to slow down and start looking around too. Almost immediately after he finished telling me that, we saw a pack of cars, pulled over, and were within feet of this beautiful big boy grazing. Not bad for ten minutes into our drive. Toddler Gaga got a kick out of this big boy.
In addition to wildlife, there were tons of beautiful streams rushing all around us. It was crazy windy the higher we climbed, but from time to time it was fun to open the windows for a minute to feel the temperature change and hear the sounds of the lively mountains all around us.
We stopped at several overlooks along the way. Toddler Gaga was awake for the first half of the drive, but little girl couldn’t keep her sleepy little eyes open and conked out almost immediately.
About an hour into the drive, we reached the tundra. Toddler G was pretty tired at this point too, but insisted on getting out and braving the windy cold to see the snow.
The combination of his excitement (plus the chilly temps) perked him right back up.
Seriously breathtaking. It almost feels like another planet up there. So isolated and quiet and beautiful.
Much of this road is closed off from Oct-May, so it was neat to see the tall snow poles lining the road and imagine what it must look like covered in several feet of white stuff in the dead of winter.
We traveled a little further and made it to the Continental Divide. This is the line that literally separates what water will drain to the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.
Fascinating stuff. As you can see, we were pretty jazzed about it.
Total nerds, I know. We also had two sleeping kiddos in the car at this point (a foot away from us with a/c running), so we took a moment to talk to a park ranger, pretend we were on a date, and enjoy a silly little photo shoot.
After reaching this destination, the park rangers all advised us to turn around and go back out the way we came. Apparently this is what most people do and it also happened to be the easiest way for us to make it to our evening destination of Johnstown, CO.
On the way down Trail Ridge Road I had to snap a photo of this makeshift stop light. It was so bizarre coming upon a mini traffic jam out of the blue 11,500 feet above sea level. But obviously, this out of place piece of technology is a necessity when construction projects call on a narrow two lane mountain road such as this one.
It also seemed fitting that just as we saw that big beautiful moose on our way into the park, we came upon a beautiful family of deer enjoying an afternoon siesta on our way out of the park.
And before we left Estes for good, we made one last pit stop at Baba’s, our new favorite locals burger and gyro joint, where Toddler Gaga tried (and fell in love with) his first ever corn dog.
We even indulged baby sis and got one for her too. I know, I know… hello, major choking hazard. But I figure if she can crush filet mignon like it’s oatmeal, she could handle a corn dog one time if we watched her like a hawk. Both kids seemed pretty happy.
And so with full tummies full of bison burgers and corn dogs, we drove off into the setting sun, away from the majestic Rocky Mountains and toward the rolling plains where we will spend our last night in Colorado with friends.