Last Call for Old Fall (River Road)

Fall River Rd Pink & BluePhoto by Brett Wilson

As summer winds down, one of the best roads in Rocky Mountain National Park will be closed in just a few more weeks and you will have to wait another eight more months to enjoy it again by car.

One of the best ways to enjoy this magical road is by taking a Green Jeep Tour, which you can book in Estes Park.  That way, you don’t have to worry about driving and can just enjoy the spectacular views.

IMG_6515Photo by Brett Wilson

If you have never experienced this amazing pass up to Trail Ridge Road, (the highest continuous paved highway in the continental U.S.), here is a detailed description of what’s in store.

Beginning on Hwy. 34,  about two miles on the right from the Fall River Entrance Station and ending at its summit at Fall River Pass, this “motor nature trail” was the first auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park, offering access to the “top of the world”. 

A word of caution here!

This road is only meant for vehicles under 25′ in length.  With grades as steep as 16%, many sharp switchbacks, a width rarely exceeding 14’, and a speed limit of 15mph, this gem of a road is definitely not for those in a hurry.  On the contrary, it is meant to be treasured for its up-close and intimate access to nature, giving travelers a classic taste of auto travel of days gone by.

Though the road itself is safe, there are no guard rails.  Obviously, the speed limit should be observed.  After mile 5 or so, the Engelmann spruce and subalpine furs are so close on either side of the road that motorists  and passengers could literally reach out and touch them along the way, adding to the magic of the forested journey.

Old Fall River Road is a 9-mile drive featuring adventuresome twists and turns through Precambrian granite.  Along the way you will experience three consecutive eco-systems, (life zones) – from Montane to Sub-Alpine to Alpine, all the way up to the top.  (Four, if you count the Riparian wetlands that follow Fall River most of the way up the mountain.)

The road begins in Endovalley, and ends at the Alpine Trail Ridge Road Visitor Center “at the top of the world”.  Winding its way up through a series of sharp switchbacks overlooking the valley and following Fall River, you’re sure to encounter a variety of wildlife, waterfalls, and amazing views.

Begin at the Fall River Entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park (Hwy 34) and follow it approximately one mile, passing Horseshoe Park and Sheep Lakes.  After the road curves sharply to the left around Sheep Lakes turn right on to Fall River Road.  Follow it back past the Alluvial Fan into Endovalley.  Continue on until you see a dirt road heading up the mountain.

Before you begin your journey up Old Fall River Road, if you’re in a particularly peaceful, thoughtful mood, (since you are already here), you may want to take a left at the fork in the road and stay on the pavement and drive through the Endovalley Picnic Area loop before making the climb up Old Fall River Road.

This little picnic area is one of the best-kept secrets in the Park.  No matter how busy the season, or how crowded the Park is, the Endovalley Picnic Area always seems to have open picnic tables.  You can point out to your guests that it’s great place to bring the family for a picnic – cool and shady, with a rest area and plenty of picnic tables along the river if you like, as well.  Back here you will often see delightful Stellar’s Jays with their alluring iridescent blue feathers, along with other “camp robbers” such as Ravens, Magpies and Gray Jays.

L1150105 Photo by Mel Tulin www.outdooreyescards.com

 

After enjoying the peaceful, shady picnic setting, you are ready to  head on up Old Fall River Road, one of the most spectacular and memorable drives in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Now make a sharp 180 degree turn and head up the one way dirt road.

Begun in late July of 1913, the road was initially constructed by 38 convict laborers from a Colorado state penitentiary.  Using only hand-tools – shovels, pick-axes, sledge-hammers, and horse-drawn carts, these prisoners carved out the first stretch of dirt road up to about Chasm Falls.

The first phase of construction lasted seven years, and was finally opened and dedicated September 14, 1920.  This was of major significance, due to the fact that up until that time since the first settlers started coming to these mountains, Estes Park had been a “dead-end place”.

If you google Old Fall River Road Images you can find pictures of Model A and Model T Fords, (and even Stanley Steamers), lined end to end around sharp curves and even in high snow banks along the treacherous-looking road.  At its creation, the course was a two lane, two-way road, but now is only one lane, one-way.  The width of the road hasn’t changed, only the width of our cars.

Due to their weak engines and gravity-fed fuel systems, some early automobiles had to climb the road carved out of the side of Mount Chapin in reverse.

As you first begin your ascent, (just after the One Way sign), you can see a boulder that looks like the head of a lioness.  She has a slight smile and a little tear falling on her cheek.  One could possibly think of her as a type of “guardian” of Fall River Road.

Guardian LionessPhoto by Brett Wilson

Just a little further up there is another interesting rock shape on the right that looks very much like an Indian chief or warrior’s head.  He’s looking from right to left with an eye, nose, down-turned mouth and even black war paint. 

A very short distance after the Indian rock the road curves to the left over Chiquita Creek.  This begins at the base of Mount Chiquita (13,069), (next to Mt. Chapin), and winds its way down to Fall River.  Some believe that the name Chiquita may have originated form the Parish version of Chipeta, who was the wife of Ouray, a chief of the Uncompahgre Ute Indians.

On a hot summer’s day this is a refreshing little stop, as you can usually feel a slight temperature drop from the cool of the stream here.

As you reach mile marker 1 you are now above 9,000 feet above sea level, which is a transition zone from Montane into the Sub-Alpine.  Wherever you see aspen and lodgepole pine here, you can  most likely deduce that the are has experienced either a fire or an avalanche.  Eventually, these trees will be replaced by Douglas-fir, spruce and other high-altitude, shade tolerant species.

At about the 3-mile mark you can pull over to your left to park, and walk down a (mostly) stair-stepped path that leads to a refreshing viewing spot of Chasm Falls (pronounced ‘Kaz-em).  It’s about 150 steps down (and feels like 300 back up, due to the altitude).

Here, you can feel the light spray from the nearly 30’ falls, which are one of the most beautiful and accessible falls in the Park.

IMG_7678Photo by Brett Wilson

Watch for the water ouzel, or American dipper, a little grayish-brown bird, characteristically bobbing up and down on rocks along the shore.  It is North America’s only truly aquatic song bird.  If you watch closely, you can see them bob up and down along the shore before they dive into the stream or waterfalls hunting for aquatic insects and their larvae, including mayflies, mosquitos and midges.  They also eat dragonflies, worms and even small fish and their eggs.  They actually flap their wings underwater, in a two-step fashion and then pop up again after several seconds.  Similar to ducks, the American Dipper has a low metabolic rate, extra oxygen-carrying capacity in its blood, and a thick coat of feathers covered with extra oil.  The importance of this unusual species is that it is a good indicator of water quality, only dwelling along the purest of streams and rivers. Fun and fascinating little birds!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Mel Tulin www.outdooreyescards.com

From Chasm Falls the drive gets a bit quieter as you proceed up a series of switchbacks continuing to parallel the river.  When the trees make an opening on your right, look for a long ribbon-like waterfall on the side of the mountain, many hundreds of yards to the south, (your left).  Notice the lush green vegetation along its path down the mountainside.  This is a year-round water feature, but is at its best during the snowmelt in the spring and early summer.

 

Driving up the road, if you look up (north), you begin to get a good view of the rocky spires on the south side of Mt. Chapin (12,454’).  These spires and rock that are located above the level that was reached by glaciers were sculpted and formed by a process called “frost-wedging”.  This is the result of rain and snow running into the cracks and openings in the rocks, and then freezing and expanding, breaking loose pieces of the mountain.

Spires of Mt. Chapin

Last CallSpires of Mt. Chapin  (Photos by Brett Wilson)

And to your right you will see the result of a huge landslide that occurred in 1983, forever changing the south side of the mountain slope.

Fall River GoldPhoto by Brett Wilson

About another half mile up you will round a corner and see what I affectionately call “Machu Picchu of the Rockies”, built by the ancient “Rocky Mountain Mayans”.  It actually is an impressive set of gabions (wire-mesh cages rock cages), built to reinforce the road, and hold the side of mountain together after a huge landslide destroyed it on July 30, 1953.  As a result, this historic motor route was nearly abandoned.  Thankfully, public support encouraged the Park Service to build these fortifying structures, and Fall River Road was reopened in the summer of 1968.

GabionsPhoto by Brett Wilson

These gabions you see here are a similar to the ones that were first used for road construction in the Italian Alps.  (So much for the Rocky Mountain Mayan theory…)

As you round the corner after this, try to make sure there are no other vehicles coming behind you, as you are about to take advantage of a gorgeous photo op!  Right at mile marker 4, you have an awesome view of Horseshoe Park and the whole Endovalley that you have just been driving through.  You can even see a little bit of the Alluvial Fan to the left .

Photo op overlookPhoto by Brett Wilson

Here at the 4 mile marker you are sitting at 10,000’ (nearly 2 miles above sea level).  As you wind on up towards the top of the hill, you will see a two or three more waterfalls, (mostly snowmelt) on the north side of the mountains to the south (your left).

Ribbon Falls on Fall River RoadPhoto by Brett Wilson

As the road levels out at the top of the rise, at mile marker 5, you can stop and look over your left shoulder and see the beautiful Cañoncito (pronounced ‘kan-yun-see-toe) below.  Over the past 7,500 years, this “little canyon” was cut by the steady flow of Fall River following the retreat of the last glacier.  This is “river cutting”, different from glacial cutting which is made by glacial flow and creates more of a U-shape vs. the V-shape you see here.

As the trees open up you can now catch a glimpse of the Alpine Visitor Center and the gift shop on top of the mountain straight ahead.

At this point where the road makes a sharp curve to the right, (just before mile marker 6), there is a barred gate in front of a path that leads back to Willow Park.  You can park here and walk down the trail beyond this gate.

Barred Gate at Willow Park TrailPhoto by Brett Wilson

At Willow Park you’ll discover a beautiful, tranquil moraine setting, featuring an old cabin, happy little stream (which is still Fall River), and a plethora of wildflowers of every color, (depending on the time of season), as well as willows and scattered spruce and sub-alpine fir.

Trail to Willow ParkTrail to Willow Park  (Photo by Brett Wilson)

This is a great place to spot elk, moose, mule deer and even black bears.  The meadow and surrounding woods are rich with tracks and scat.  Listen closely and you’ll likely hear the woodpeckers pounding for bark beetles.

This wide open valley was left behind after the glacier pushed its way down the mountain.  For centuries it had been a glacier-fed lake and river slowly morphing into the meadow you see today.  In years to come, it will eventually become a subalpine forest again, unless the pine bark beetle or fires destroy it before its time.

 

As you walk down the trail through the gate/bar across the path you’ll see a single outdoor restroom on the right.  Just beyond this on the same side of the path is a little shelter that used to be a stable, but is now used to store the bark beetle timber that has been cut for firewood.

IMG_6881Photo by Brett Wilson

Just beyond this point you can see a patrol cabin that was built in 1929 to house the road workers.

If you walk around behind it and peek in the windows and view a rustic, yet inviting, homey setup inside.  I find it humorous that the cabin has 2 wood stoves and a stack of firewood all cut and ready to go with a sign above the door which reads, “No camping, no fires please”.  It’s kind of like putting up a “No fishing” sign next to a baited fishing pole beside a river jumping with fish.  The other side of the cabin is the “bunk house” with bunk beds.

This cabin has many uses including – a shelter for research, and as a staging area in case of fire or lost hikers, etc.  The rangers can also reserve it for their families as a retreat cabin just for fun and relaxation.

As you face the cabin from the trail, you can see a little wooden door under the apex of the roof about ten feet up.  A ranger told me that in the dead of winter the snow gets so high back here that when they snowshoe in, they have to use this feature as an entrance into the cabin.

Patrol Cabin High Door Photo by Brett Wilson

Back in the 1930’s there was a famous ranger named Jack Moomaw.  He was a bit of a rough and crusty character, perfectly suited for the job.  He was also a writer and storyteller.  For a time in the early 30’s he stayed in this patrol cabin and tells the story of a big old 300-pound black bear that kept harassing him and trying to break into the cabin to get to his food.  Night after night it would claw and scratch and make a general nuisance of itself until he finally got fed up and did something about it.  With the help of another ranger, he trapped it in the back of a pickup truck and had it hauled it away to Chapin Pass about a mile up the road.  The ranger watched it wander away north, lumbering up over the pass to the other side of the mountain.  When it had gone out of sight and they were satisfied the pesky bear was gone for good and the problem had been resolved they drove back down to the cabin.  The following night five smaller bears began skulking around the cabin.  Apparently the bigger bear had kept the others out of that area.  Moomaw discovered he had traded one large problem for five smaller ones.  (You just can’t mess with Mother Nature!)

IMG_7831Photo by Brett Wilson

Fall Creek Willow PartkFall River looks more like a creek here in Willow Park   (Photo by Brett Wilson)

Willow Park LoopPhoto by Brett Wilson

You can follow a loop trail south (opposite the cabin) down to Fall River (now a small creek), about fifty or sixty yards away.  During the snowmelt you can’t cross the creek very easily without getting your feet wet, but after August you can step on the rocks in the middle of the stream and get to the other side.  In July there are at least 2 dozen species of wildflowers gracing this area.  Including Little Pink Elephant Heads, King’s Crown and Parry Primrose.  It’s like a little piece of paradise.  You can follow the loop back to the trail you used from the parking lot.

Once you’ve had as much beauty, serenity and wildlife you think you can stand here at Willow Park, hop back in the Jeep and continue up the final stretch of road.

About another mile up you will see Chapin Pass on the right (where Ranger Moomaw had the big black bear released).  This is the Cabin Creek Trailhead (10,640’).  You are now over 2 miles high and nearly at timberline.  Hikers can obtain an overnight parking permit and park here, rather than having to start at the base of Fall River Road.  The hike takes you on a 2,874 foot climb up to Ypsilon Mountain (13,514).  The first part of the trail passes through a subalpine forest for a short distance and then climbs above timberline.  It is a bit of a steep climb across the tundra and up some rockslides to the summit.

From Chapin Pass the road winds around bringing you to timberline, where you encounter a whole other world.

At this point you are viewing some of the highest of the tree growth, which ranges from 3,000 year-old tall firs, to short springy spruces only 2 or 3 feet tall that could be 300 or 400 years old.  This is due to a very short growing season.  They may only grow tenths of inches per year.  The average annual temperature way up here doesn’t get above 50 degrees!

Right about where the treelike begins to open up and there is a rock cluster going down on the left and up on the right, you will often encounter a marmot greeting committee.  About the size of a ground hog or small beaver the Yellow-bellied Marmot is the largest member of the squirrel family.  These mountain cousins of the eastern ground hog are sometimes called “whistle pigs” because of their peculiar habit of standing on their hind legs and letting out a high-pitched “Chee!”

Like the elk, one male may protect a harem of females in a colony.  They feed in the mornings and evenings, and will typically spend the middle of the day and nights in their burrows.  They are omnivores, eating grasses, flowers, insects and even bird eggs!
On this drive, they are quite easy to find, because they love to come out into the road to soak up the warmth of the sun and lick the salt and minerals found there.

 

P8163444Photo by Mel Tulin www.outdooreyescards.com

These cute, fat little guys don’t start out this size.  In the late spring and all summer they will eat and eat and eat, doubling their weight until just before winter.  Then in September or early October, they stop eating all together, empty their digestive system, and hibernate all winter long, (roughly 200 plus days), until the following April or May, spending about 80% of their lives underground.

They share their rocky habitat with a smaller, gray creature, about the size of a large hamster, called a Pika.  Pikas (also called conies or rock rabbits), are the smallest member of the rabbit family with short rounded ears, and lack a visible tail.  Because of their size, and the fact that they’re about the same color as their rocky environment, they are a bit harder to see at first.  Keep staring at the ground though, (especially at the Rock Cut), and you’re likely to see the ground begin to move as they pop in and out of the rock crevices they call their home.

 

P9078713Photo by Mel Tulin www.outdooreyescards.com

Like the marmot, these little guys also also live in colonies and make high-pitched chirping noises to alert their community of your presence.  Unlike the marmot, they do not hibernate, but spend their summer gathering mouthfuls of “hay” made of sedges, grasses and wildflowers, collecting about the size of a bathtub, and storing them in their underground burrows.   This they live off of during the cold winter months, occasionally popping up out of the ground to enjoy a bit of sunshine on warmer days of the season.  Though small, they can be very territorial.  The maximum lifespan of a Pika is about 3 to 7 years.

Now you begin to encounter twisted, scrubby, gnarly-looking spruce, fir and limber pine.  These trees are called krummholz, (German word for crooked wood), decades-old spruce that huddle together in order to survive the sever winter storms, low moisture and hurricane-force winds.  Winds have been known to get up to 150 miles per hour and temperatures can drop to -100°.

The krummholz signifies a transition zone between the sub-alpine and alpine tundra ecosystems.

The alpine beauty and starkness is nearly overwhelming as you take in the glacial cirques, snowfields, boulders, and over 100 species of plant life that thrive in this otherworldly ecosystem.

Photo by Brett Wilson

The high and wide bowl shape feature, (to the left of the Visitor Center on the ridge), is the Fall River Cirque, birthplace of this glacier where 1,500’ of ice once worked its way down the mountain creating the valley below.

You are now officially in the Alpine Tundra Life Zone.  This ecosystem is a vast open land of alpine grasses and flowers.  The plants that live here have to have incredible adaptations in order to survive the harsh environment.  They hug the ground to avoid the wind, grow tiny hairs on their petals and stems to keep warm, and contain a red pigment, called anthocyanin that converts sunlight to heat – all so they can grow during the short spring/summer season of only about six weeks.

“Tundra” is a Russian word meaning, “land of no trees”.  This rare and magical landscape and habitat are similar to only a few others like it on Earth – vast stretches of northern Alaska, Canada, Russia and Scandinavia.  You can also fund tundra in parts of the southern hemisphere as well.

When the road curves sharply to the right you may see small herds of humans hiking up the trail to Marmot Point (11,909).

The last quarter mile stretch before reaching the top is called The Big Drift.  It was the most difficult to open each spring due to the fact that the prevailing west winds created huge 20 to 30 foot snowdrifts.  All the more reason to build the new route to the top – Trail Ridge Road.

The road traverses the headwall of this amphitheater-like formation and finally joins Trail Ridge Road at the Alpine Visitor Center at Fall River Pass.  You have nowmade it to the back entrance of the Alpine Visitor Center and Trail Ridge Store parking lot!

“Welcome to the top of the world!

As you enter the parking lot from the back you can look over your left shoulder and see people slowly climbing Huffer’s Hill.  Normally it might take you 15 or 20 minutes to go from the bottom (11,796) all the way to the top (12,008) ].  The summit you see from the parking lot is a false summit.  The top is actually several hundred feet beyond this, and though it is only a 212 foot climb, it is not for the weak or faint of heart.  There are signs along the way telling of the dangers of  the extremely high altitude, including lightning and the serious lack of oxygen (roughly 35% less than at sea level).  The sign begins with something like “Why are my lungs and chest burning and it feels like I’m going to die?”

A lady ranger who works at the Alpine Visitor Center told me that they once held a contest to see who could get to the top the quickest.  The winner was a young twenty-something worker there who made it in just a little over four minutes.  And though he was healthy as a horse, he was gasping for air and thought he was going to have a heart attack!  (Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t try this at home…)

IMG_5710View of Cirque and Alpine Visitor Center from part way up Huffer’s Hill (12,008′) Photo by Brett Wilson

The Alpine Visitor Center and the coinciding Trail Ridge Store (gift shop & cafe) sit at 11,796’ above sea level.  Here, through the great windows on the inside you can enjoy spectacular views of the mountain peaks and glaciated valleys you just drove through.  They are open from Memorial Day through mid-October, 9am-5pm.

Depending on your time and agenda, you can stop here to let your peeps do a bit of valley-gazing, Visitor-centering, or perhaps do a quick bit of shopping and dining, (you can get coffee, hot chocolate, chicken noodle soup and sandwiches, and even a decent cowboy chili in the gift shop).

It’s also not a bad idea to check in with your passengers to see if they need to take a 5-minute potty stop.  We are allowed to park the Jeeps in the RV and bus zone just beyond the little building to your right (dry restroom facilities), as you pass through the parking lot.

You’ll notice that there aren’t any power lines up here.  The Alpine Visitor Center and Trail Ridge Store are entirely off the grid and self-contained.  They have diesel generators underground, collect water from the snowmelt and contain it in a dam behind the Visitor Center.  And, every morning big trucks will come and remove the septic.

The huge log timbers on top of the Visitor Center have been placed there to help anchor the shingles due to the high winds that gust through here.

Nobody “lives” up here or stays overnight.  All the volunteers and employees make the drive up here every day.

At this point, unless you plan on spending the night up here, (not recommended or even allowed), your journey is only half-way over.  However, this post is, so if you want to know how to get home from here you’ll have to come back and read the next post on Trail Ridge Road.  (We will give you one helpful hint though – If you want to go back down to Estes Park, turn left and it’s a 25 mile white-knuckle adventure with unbelievable views.  If you want to go to Grand Lake on the southwest side of the Park turn left for an unforgettable 23 mile drive that offers more beautiful scenery and a good chance of spotting a moose!

Either way – Congratulations and thanks for riding along with us to the top of the world…

IMG_5870Photo by Brett Wilson

Oh My Stars, Did You See the Moon Tonight? (Skygazing in Estes and Rocky)

nathan-anderson-151046-1Skygazing in Estes and Rocky

 

The phenomenal 2017 Solar Eclipse has come and gone.  Now what?

Come to the mountains and be drawn in by the wonder and beauty of the high-altitude night sky.  Or, enjoy the amazing depth of azure and gold that can only be experienced on a crisp autumn or winter’s day.  And don’t forget the “once-in-a-lifetime” daily miracles of sunrise and sunset, graced with glorious clouds and mist!  Every season and every time of the day, the sky is changing, so it never looks the same.

Vast open skies, few city lights, and a clean, clear high altitude atmosphere make the Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park region one of the best places in the country to skygaze.

Often when folks come to this area, they are so drawn in by the magnificence of the snow-capped mountains, that the priceless frame and backdrop behind them are often forgotten or overlooked.  (Or should we say, “under-looked”?)

We offer here some of the best places in the area to enjoy the ample celestial sphere:

Alpine Vistor Center at Sunset

Start at the top

We highly (no pun intended) recommend an evening drive up Trail Ridge Road in time for sunset.  Being the highest paved highway in the U.S. gives this gem of a road the distinction of getting as close to the sky as possible while still touching the ground.  In order to plan your trip just right, you will want to leave Estes Park at least an hour before sunset, and arrive at the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot on time to catch the last dying rays of the day.  Or you may want to leave an hour before sunrise and watch the mountains turn pink with glory as the night fades away.  If you are prepared to stay another hour or so, and the sky is relatively clear, your eyes will feast on the most awe-inspiring view of the Milky Way you could ever imagine!  The experience leaves one feeling particularly small, still and delighted all at the same time, bringing a deep sense of wonder and pleasure to your soul.

 

Open meadows such as Upper Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park, or even the Kawuneeche Valley on the west side of the park.  While you may not be able to see as much of the horizon as you would at a higher, more open elevation, there is something quite magical in experiencing the silhouette of a mountain forest under the dark and dreamy sky.

 

 Bear Lake is another high altitude viewing spot far enough away from civilization to help you get an empyrean view.  Though remote, you still have the advantages and comforts of a nearby parking lot and (rustic) restrooms.

 

And finally, be sure to take advantage of the Estes Park Memorial Observatory.

Operated by the Angels Above Foundation (and a group of dedicated volunteers who maintain the equipment and lead tours of the night sky from the observatory’s 16 foot dome), the observatory offers many incredible features.  It sports a top of the line Paramount ME II robotic mount, along with a new computer system to run advanced observatory software.   The mount supports a new 16 inch Ritchey-Chretien f8 telescope. The telescope, mount and dome are synchronized through the observatory software to provide robotic control that allows rapid and precise pointing to any deep space object in the night sky.  Just a tad more powerful and impressive than your home scope or binoculars!

 

So, the next time you have the opportunity to come to the mountains here, remember to lift your gaze a little higher, and take in the enormous heavenly expanse of the Rocky Mountain sky.

Be sure to check out a variety of talks and events about stargazing hosted by RMNP.  These events include night hikes with astronomers, telescope-viewings and more.  If you have kids be sure to catch The Story Behind the Moon & the Stars, every other Friday in the summer at the Moraine Park Visitor Center.

The Push

Local climbing legend Tommy Caldwell chooses difficult journeys,

with little chance for success, because he believes they teach him the most.

Tommy Caldwell - Dawn Wall

Photo Credit: Brett Lowell – Big Up Productions

To say Tommy was born to climb is like saying you might find a big horn sheep in the Rockies.  He told me that he’s climbed the nearly thousand-foot Diamond on the east face of Longs Peak, here in Rocky Mountain National Park, four times in one day. 

Child’s play…

As a young boy, Tommy’s dad encouraged him to embrace fear and doubt, and allow them to turn into inspiration.  Adopting this attitude has pushed him into establishing some of the most difficult routes in the country.  In fact, he has free climbed 12 of them on El Capitan in Yosemite. 

Perhaps his most famous ascent though, was Dawn Wall in 2015.  Considered the longest hard free climb in the world, Tommy and his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson,  pushed themselves to unbelievable “limits”, doing the “impossible” ~ typically having to wait until dark, when the temperatures were cold, and the friction was high, in order to give themselves every opportunity for success in climbing the route’s hardest moves. 

 

“What sticks with me about the Dawn Wall are the incremental steps;

when I felt myself growing and getting stronger.

I realized the power of a big goal.  That pursuit is the true magic.”

~ Tommy Caldwell

 

Enduring Nature’s relentless elements, and given unbelievable odds, these two visionaries scaled some 3,000 vertical feet along some of the most widely spaced, razor-thin, frictionless granite holds imaginable.

In the end the payoff was huge!  After spending 19 days on the side of the rock wall, their courage, belief, mountain-sized will, and dauntless work and dedication, (along with the support of family and friends), have provided them the honor of knowing they accomplished what the “experts” said was “too steep and too difficult to be climbed!”

Tommy documents this incredible accomplishment, along with the journey of his adventure-filled life in his new book, “The Push”(Now available)

 

The_Push

 

Tommy’s 2017 Book Tour includes stops all across the nation, from New York to  San Fransisco. 

He will be right here in his hometown of Estes Park, Colorado at 3:00pm this Sunday, May 21st,

at MacDonald Bookshop.

Estes Park Music Festival

Estes Park Mountain Music Festival ~ May 13, Noon-9:00pm, Estes Park Events Center

mountain_music_festival_0a8f796f-70d2-4c1c-9400-7728204071b9

If you love bluegrass, newgrass and grand mountain music you won’t want to miss the first annual musical extravaganza featuring national and local bands and fun for everyone!

The festival is an all day event with great music, food and beverages, vendors and family friendly activities.

There is an amazing band lineup that includes: Front Country, Rapidgrass, Chain Station, Bonnie & the Clydes, Monacle Band, and Bella Betts & Will Thomas.

 

 

 

Chain Station

The best part is that all proceeds benefit the Estes Park Schools music programs!

Bella & Will

 

This concert event is a benefit for the K-12 Estes Park Schools Music Programs. The organization of this event has been a wonderful collaboration of caring adults and hard working mentored high school students. Come help support our young Estes artists in training.  Your financial support, be it through ticket purchase (for yourself and/or as a gift to a friend), or as a monetary donation of any amount to the cause, will help our youth in the public schools fulfill wishes and expand upon the wonderful music programming opportunities.  Invite your friends, through word of mouth and/or through your social media outlets, to learn more about this cause, spread awareness of the K-12 music programs, and join us in giving to this essential cultural component of our Estes Valley area.

An investment in youth is an investment in our future.

 

For information about the event, band lineup, and ticket sales go to > www.epmmf.org

Spring Hiking in Estes & Rocky Mountain National Park

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If you’ve ever been to the mountains of Colorado in the spring, you know it can deliver all varieties of pleasant and not-so-pleasant weather in the blink of an eye.  Temperatures can rise and fall faster than Scarlet O’Hara changed her mind in “Gone With the Wind”. 

Speaking of wind, you’ll also find that it can get a bit gusty at times, making the task of planning and preparation a wise decision indeed.

If you are aware, informed, and properly prepared though, the not-so-pleasant weather and wind can actually add to the fun and adventure!  When weather is less than ideal, you will discover that you may be the only human around for as far as the eye can see and the ear can hear.  The magic of the tranquility and solitude can be healing, breathing energy and life into the care-worn soul.

 

Here are a few tips and reminders for Spring hiking in the Rockies.

 

Dress in layers. 

Wearing clothing, (like Under Armour) that is designed to wick the perspiration away from your body, along with long sleeves, long pants, and a light jacket, will ensure your best comfort.  Water-resistant boots are a must also, as the spring snows can turn wet and slushy. It’s easy to find places in Estes where you can buy or rent outdoor gear and snowshoes. You can check out the Warming House, or Estes Park Mountain Shop for starters.

 

Bring a light pack.

Because you are coming for the outdoor experience, you’ll probably want to bring a small backpack, rain gear, water bottles for high-altitude hiking, maps, headlamps, hiking boots, and a whistle to attract attention – in case you get lost and to alert wildlife.  (Remember, hungry bears are just waking up and coming out of “hibearnation”, looking for breakfast.  It’s best if you try to avoid being breakfast.)

You may also want to pack binoculars, and a camera.  In fact, definitely bring a camera! And don’t forget to bring extra batteries and a charger. There are so many opportunities to catch once-in-a-lifetime photos you won’t want to miss because your batteries died…

 

Most importantly ~ Keep your tummy wet and your head and feet dry! (Stay warm and hydrated)

 

Prepare for wind.

Now, when it comes to wind, it’s best to stay low and avoid the gnarly gusts and arctic blasts, which can actually push you off balance, snap branches and even knock over whole trees.

Estes Park resident and freelance editor, writer, blogger, Stephanie Granada writes,

 “While it’s true that we get blasted pretty good from time to time, that doesn’t have to keep you from getting outside. It’s what you came here to do, after all.  Still, it’s smart to come prepared with some basic know-how about staying safe.

Jacob Leithead, a long-time Estes resident, avid hiker and GM at Dancing Pines Distilling Co., advises visitors to stay below elevation 9,000 and definitely cancel any peak bagging plans. “Always figure a four-degree drop in temperature for every 1,000 feet you ascend,” he says. Those degrees may seem insignificant, but it makes all the difference when the wind is blowing at 30 miles per hour. “The trees are also thicker the closer you are to town and less likely to snap.”

While you may be bummed about skipping the higher peaks, there’s one undeniable silver lining: “You can see the greatest diversity of plant and animal life below 9,000 feet,” Leithead says…”

For more on this article and to find out what experts say are the best trails to hike on a windy day, checkout the Visit Estes Park post here >

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Photos by Brett Wilson

Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony In Estes

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Go Tell It On The Mountain!

A very memorable and beautiful way to start the holiday season in the mountains is to celebrate in Estes Park at the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony!

Bring the whole family to enjoy crafts for kids, cookie decorating, and even visits with Santa from 4 to 6pm as the western sun sets and the exciting countdown begins to flipping the switch and illuminating the whole village with thousands of twinkling lights!

Cowboy Brad Fitch performs beautiful holiday music, followed by the lighting of the tree from 5 to 6pm.

The ceremony is held at the George Hix Riverside Plaza behind the shops at the confluence of the Big Thompson River and Fall River, (Rockwell St. and Riverside Dr.).

After the tree lighting the Estes Park Elementary Mountain Echoes Choir wraps up the ceremony and enchanting evening with their angelic voices. ~  Joy to the World from Estes Park, Colorado!

photo by Visit Estes Park

Scotfest Estes Park 2016

The Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highlands Festival

Celebrating Its 40th Anniversary!

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In 2016, The Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highlands Festival, (affectionately known as Scotfest Estes Park), celebrates it’s 40th year in the Rocky.

Referred to by many as the “Best in the World”, Scotfest Estes Park – a non-profit corporation, celebrates heritage and history with international performances, pageantry, precision, inspiring music, patriotism, and more.

Known throughout the world for its beautiful mountain setting and powerful performances, Scotfest Estes Park is the place where bagpipes fill the air – over 500 Irish and Scottish Dancers storm the land, and courageous jousters risk their lives to win major cash prizes, honor, and respect from the ladies. You’ll find Dogs of the British Isles, sounds of the canons over the lake, live bands, strong man athletics competitions, Scottish-Irish food, Celtic shopping, and even an official Festival Leprechaun! And of course, there’s ales, lager and Scotch from the old country as well.

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Celebrating forty years of the best military bands in one beautiful location, Tattoo Estes kicks off Scotfest 2016 with a new and exciting, fast-paced lineup – including the Denver Broncos Stampede Drum Line!

“It has been said, that one does not know where the soul of a military regiment lives but one must acknowledge that it is expressed in its band.”

When you attend the Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highland’s Festival Tattoo your heart will thrill as you hear the souls of these bands – the drums, the pipes and the horns – echoing off the mountains surrounding Estes Park. With a cast of over 300, the Tattoo is filled with pageantry and patriotism, as well as spirit and spectacle, expressing its gratitude to the USA military and its long alliance with Great Britain, Canada and the Commonwealth. It has continued to thrill audiences for four decades now with a spectacular, awe-inspiring ceremonial performance of military music by massed bands.

As Scotfest founder Dr. Jim Durward has written in his memoirs,

“…let me share a few favorite old sayings that for me that still contain a lot of wisdom. They are as follows:

“Slippery are the steps at the Big House.”

“Light a lantern for somebody else to see the path and it will also light your path.” And,

“What all men and women and children live for is to find their roots and belong.”

So come, find your clan, raise a glass and join in the joy and celebration of Scotfest 2016.

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Episode 9 – “Rocky – Celebrating 100 Years with the National Park Service”

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Episode 9 – “Rocky – Celebrating 100 Years with the National Park Service”

 

“This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. Join us on a journey to the ‘Rooftop of the World’ as we celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service in the Wilderness, Wildlife, and Wonder of Rocky Mountain National Park, the 10th oldest park in the National Park System.”

This show is brought to you by all of the wonderful “Friends of Mountain Town West” – our Subscribers, Sponsors, and Faithful Supporters. Were it not for these Friends, there would be no one, and no way to tell the story.

Photo by Brett Wilson

Episode 8 – “Come Play in the Mountains – The Top Ten Things to Do in Estes Park”

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Episode 8 – “Come Play in the Mountains – The Top Ten Things to Do in Estes Park”

In this episode you’ll find a quick and helpful overview of all the best that Estes has to offer.

Sponsored in part by Colorado Life Magazine, Visit Estes Park and all the Friends of Mountain Town West.

Photo by Brett Wilson

Why We Love the Mountains

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“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” ~ John Muir, Our National Parks

 

My wife and I share the same sad disorder. We LOVE the mountains! (That’s not the disorder). We love their beauty and just looking at the mountains. We love to visit the mountains, take our vacations in the mountains, and are making plans to, actually live IN the mountains, not just at the base of them or here in the foothills.

 There is something we find so invigorating, soul-awakening, renewing, restoring, refreshing and healing about being in the mountains for us. (That’s still not the disorder). The disorder we have is the let down and sadness we feel as we head down out of the mountains. For both of us, it is actually physically depressing – altering our moods and making us long for and ache for them. It seems that no sooner have we left them, that we then begin planning our next trip up into the mountains.

 Perhaps you share the same disorder, and wonder exactly what it is that draws us to this beautiful topography. Here are a few of the countless things we love about the mountains.

 
1. Their Ability to Awaken Our Senses

 The atmosphere of pure, fresh air, the scent of pine needles, cool, dry breezes, winding rivers and babbling brooks, the whisper of wind through the aspen and pines, and the smell of cozy campfires – all provide a sense of well-being, and even offer a kind of euphoria, similar to that of being in love.

Our bodies crave fresh air. Our senses crave stimulation. And our hearts desire the thrill of something to awaken us, and makes us feel alive – that life is worth living.

These desires and needs can all be met by the invigorating atmosphere and incredible scenes found in the mountains.

 
2. Their Offer of Simplicity

 In the mountains time stands still. If there is one thing that feels both massive and non-existent at the same time in the mountains, it is TIME.

 When life is reduced to meeting one’s basic needs – eating, resting, and enjoying simple recreation – the man-made stresses of city life tend to quickly melt away. So often we put unnecessary and harmful demands on our minds and bodies that drain us, restrict our capacity for joy in life, and actually begin to slowly kill us mentally, spiritually and physically.

 Author Philip Connors writes, “The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time. Time to think or not think, read or not read, scribble or not scribble — to sleep and cook and walk in the woods, to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills. I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being utterly useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.”

 When one returns to the simple lifestyle and activities the mountains offer – things like hiking, fishing, cooking over a campfire, and wildlife viewing – life becomes new again, and all the cares and worries of the world tend to wash away downstream as by a refreshing mountain river.

 

3. Their Beauty and Grandeur

 Just by their sheer size and magnificence, mountains give us a sense of wonder and awe that is not found in the valleys and plains below. Every ecosystem and handiwork of Nature has its beauty and purpose, but there is something about these peaks, slopes, and spires that make us feel both small and significant at the same time.

 

Ansel Adams said, “No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.”

 

 4. Their Altitude

 Also, the mountains are a great place to go when you have an important decision to make. They give us a better view of the world below, offering a sense of perspective that can be found nowhere else on the planet. When standing at heights thousands of feet above sea level, things just seem to make more sense, life takes on new meaning, and old paradigms disappear, giving the viewer a clearer vision of his life and purpose in the world.

 You are closer to the sun and stars, and all of heaven when standing on a mountaintop.

 

5.  Their Wildlife

 Surrounded by Nature and her creatures, one becomes aware once again of the fact that we are not alone, but are all one – a part of the same Universe and circle of life. Not only is it entertaining to observe and interact with the plants and animals dwelling in the mountains, but it can actually be educational as well.

 Sitting quietly by a stream, watching the water ouzels and other birds finding food and playing in the water, or standing in a meadow or woods watching a mother deer interact with her young can teach one so much about life in the human world. Elk, moose, bears and mountain lions, beavers, badgers and bobcats all have something unique to teach us about life, and how it should be lived. In the wildlife, one has a tangible reminder that we are not an island, or living in a bubble but that every living thing affects every other living thing, and that we should strive to cherish and preserve our planet.

 

6. Their Tranquility and Remoteness

 In the mountains there is a remoteness and unexplainable reverie; a stillness leading to a sense of abiding peace and well-being; there is a feeling of connectedness to the Headwaters – the Source of it all…

 Sit by a still mountain lake surrounded by tall rocky spires pointing to heaven, or in a high mountain meadow graced with sunshine and cool breezes, and your heart begins to slow down to a calm and healthy pace.

 Stress and anxiety lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other illnesses and sicknesses that can be avoided or greatly reduced by the peace, solace and solitude that being in the mountains brings.

 These are just a few of the myriad reasons we love the mountains. Do your body, mind and spirit a giant favor; plan your next vacation or lifetime in the mountains as soon as possible and gain their many grand joys, benefits, and rewards.


In the meantime, if you find yourself in the lowlands, longing for the mountains or planning your next trip or permanent move to the mountains, remember this –

 You may not always be able to be in the mountains… but you can always carry the mountain within yourself.

 

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Episode 7 – “Butch Cassidy in Estes Park?”

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Episode 7 – “Butch Cassidy in Estes Park?” (The Wild Bunch Photo at Real West Old Time Portraits)

This special episode of Mountain Town West is dedicated to the loving memory of Dave Logan, …one of Estes Park’s finest.

In this episode, Dave Logan, owner of Real West Old Time Portraits, and descendant of Harvey Logan, (one of the original members of “The Wild Bunch” with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), tells the story of the famous “Wild Bunch” photo that hangs in his shop in Estes.

 Visit Real West Old Time Portraits in Estes Park, CO

 

Episode 6 – “Planning the Perfect Mountain Getaway (Part 2) – Where to Stay”

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Episode 6 – “Planning the Perfect Mountain Getaway (Part 2) – Where to Stay”

One of the many things that make Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes so special is the variety of options you have when planning your trip.
In this episode we speak with Brooke Burnham, Director of Marketing & Communications for Visit Estes Park, and give you mountains of helpful tips, hints, and straight-out advice on where to stay and how to book your reservations for staying in Estes Park.

 Sponsored in part by pet-friendly Mountain Shadows Resort, Castle Mountain Lodge, and by Visit Estes Park.

Photo by Brett Wilson

Episode 5 – “Two Rivers Run Through It – Fly Fishing Estes Park”

 

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Episode 5 – “Two Rivers Run Through It”

One of the myriad things that make Estes Park such an awesome place is the fact that the middle of the village finds itself at the confluence of two beautiful rivers that flow out of Rocky Mountain National Park – Fall River from the northeast entrance of the Park, and the Big Thompson River, heading from the west where they converge along the Riverwalk, finding their way to Lake Estes…making this place a mountain angler’s dream!

Today we explore the joy of fly fishing in Estes Park, Colorado.

Sponsored in part by Kirk’s Fly Shop and by Estes Park Mountain Shop

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl

Episode 4 – “Lions, Coyotes and Bears, Oh My!”

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Episode 4 – “Lions, Coyotes and Bears, Oh My!”

Coyotes howling, beavers building, elk bugling, moose munching, bighorn sheep climbing, and eagles soaring, all in a pristine setting, with amazing views and a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains towering to 14,000 feet into the heavens! – No wonder Rocky Mountain National Park is one of America’s favorite places to see wildlife and birds!

When you come to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, you are sure to have a wild encounter – guaranteed! Even if it’s just with the Ravens in the McDonald’s parking lot.

Join us for a wonderful wildlife adventure in today’s episode of Mountain Town West.

colorado-life-magazineSponsored in part by Colorado Life Magazine

 

 

 

 

 and The Evergreens on Fall River.

Hawk screech & elephant recorded by Mike Koenig. Attribution 3.0

Coyote photo by Josh Felise

Episode 3 – “Duck Race to the Stanley Film Festival”

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Episode 3 – “Duck Race to the Stanley Film Festival” – (A Scary Quackin’ Fun-Packed Weekend!) [Featuring an interview with Elijah Wood of “Lord of the Rings”]

Join us on a zany tour of Estes Park on one of the busiest days of spring in this mountain town village, where we cheer on the ducks racing down the Big Thompson River, and meet a hobbit at the Stanley Hotel! Well…sort of…)

Photo by Brett Wilson

Episode 2 – “Planning the Perfect Mountain Getaway (Part 1) – What to Pack”

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Episode 2 – “Planning the Perfect Mountain Getaway (Part 1) – What to Pack”

Helpful information and insider tips on what to pack when planning your perfect mountain getaway to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Tip #1 – Above all else be sure to bring a grateful heart, a spirit of wonder and a good sense of humor.

Photo by Brett Wilson

 

Sponsored in part by Colorado Life Magazine and by Village Laundry of Estes Parkcolorado-life-magazine

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Episode 1 – “Welcome to Mountain Town West”

Entering Estes Park from the East on Hwy 34

 Listen to Episode 1 – “Welcome to Mountain Town West”

Welcome to the pilot episode. Here we introduce you to Estes Park, Colorado – an insider’s overview for first-timers… Get an up close and personal look at all there is to do and experience in this magnificent mountain town, and be inspired to make it your next vacation destination!

Photo by Brett Wilson

Inspire

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“A lone peak of high point is a natural focal point in the landscape, something by which both travelers and local orient themselves. In the continuum of landscape, mountains are discontinuity – culminating in high points, natural barriers, unearthly earth.” ~ Rebecca Solnit

 

“Perhaps the reason our hearts leap at the sight of jagged rock and majestic peaks has as much to do with the fact that, for our eyes and soul it is a departure from the ordinary, everyday, flat scenery that we are accustomed to, and gives us new and fresh perspective and inspiration.
At one time or another, each of us has an opportunity to be a lone peak, a mountain so to speak, a focal point for someone else.  What a privilege and an awesome responsibility to be something by which weary travelers in this world, and locals alike can orient themselves and be inspired to hold fast to hope, to live true, and to feel wonder at life once again.”
Stand out. Grow. Inspire.

Study

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“Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything – even mountains, rivers, plants and trees – should be your teacher.”

   ~ Morihei Ueshiba

 

“What if all of creation was put here not only for our pleasure and enjoyment, but for our learning and personal growth? Every detail of life on the mountainside has a pattern, and a purpose, and is part of a bigger plan. How do the snowcapped peaks relate to the rest of the world in the lowlands?
The snow that melts and collects into streams which turn into rivers bringing life and rejuvenation to all in the meadows, moraines and valleys below, eventually evaporates, and when the conditions are just right, turns once again into falling snow. There are myriad lessons not only in this cycle but in every snowflake within the cycle.
Study. Learn. Discern.