As I left Grand Teton with an eight hour southeast trek ahead of me (destination Colorado) I was filled with excitement on so many levels... First, Rocky Mountain National Park marked the sort of half way point of my journey. Next, I was literally raised on John Denver music and the incredible lure of the Colorado and the "Rocky Mountain High" has had a profound affect on me both in how I see the world and also where I have chosen to call home in rural Vermont. Lastly, and most importantly, I was meeting up with my dear friend and fellow art teacher, Stephanie Busby, who teaches in Lyons, CO just outside of Estes Park and the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park! After many days on the road, traveling solo, sleeping in a tent, surviving thunderstorms and bear/bison/wolf sitings, and basically living on a diet of fruit, nuts, granola and chips & salsa, I was so grateful for a couple days respite in a real house with a bed, shower, great food, beer, and great company! Stephanie was the ultimate host and excellent guide as she climbed on board this "peace train" as my partner in crime to explore Rocky Mountain NP.
After battling the smokey haze in Teton, we were met with treating clouds, rain, and even hail our first day out exploring the park via the Trail Ridge Road which is the an amazing feat of road construction covering the 48 miles between Estes Park on the park's east side and Grand Lake on the west. 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, only after you realize you have climbed over 4,000 feet in a matter of minutes! The views were a amazing despite and because of the threatening weather blowing in. The tremendous height of the Rockies allows you to travel through several zones of forestation to eventually end up above the tree line in the beautiful, barren tundra. We eventually made our way to Moraine Park and were treated by an incredible show of Elk - a Bull and his herd of ladies, including several soundings of the notorious bugling!
After several hours of touring, getting the lay of the land, and stopping for some well earned beer and grub, we made our way to Stephanie's family cabin where we would stay for the night in Meeker Park, just outside of the Wild Basin entrance to the park. What a cozy and vintage through back of a cabin with every bit intact just the way it was when she was a child and such a perfect home base for seeing the park Thank you to the Bice family for opening there doors to host a leg of the Postcards from the Parks project! A great evening ensued in front of the wood stove, hoping for a bear sighting (they had just had a bear manage to break in to someone's car there the past weekend!!!), plotting our course for the next day, and catching up as old friends do. Steph and I met my first summer in France and have been fast friends ever since!
The next morning we headed out to Wild Basin and hiked to Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades (and yes, John Denver's Calypso was playing in my head) Interestingly, it was written as a tribute to Jacques Cousteau, the famed marine conservationist, explorer, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water and pioneered marine conservation. The Lyrics certainly apply to many of us today....
We walked through through a forest of lodge pole pine and beetle kill pine with the music of rushing water to accompany us, stopping often to sit and admire the landscape, river, falls, and changing color of the aspen trees. This was Rocky Mountain unclose and personal nestled into a crevice out of sight of the towering jagged mountain peaks. we were greet on both ends of our hike by a wonderful volunteer ranger Shannon, who hails from Texas but spends her summers volunteering here at Rocky Mountain. She asked us questions and answered ours in turn, was incredibly knowledgable about the area we were in and certainly brightened our already wonderful day with her cheery demeanor. She was very interested in my project and thanked me for what I was doing...."if only everyone would do just a little bit outside themselves, we would be living in a very different world than we are right now". We ended our day with a "must stop" at the Mill Site Inn, a local dive, hole in the wall pub with a eccentric cast of characters behind the bar (that was surprisingly lacking in any beer one might want to drink (out of this and out of that) so we settled on some mediocre coffee :) and talked to a mountain man and surprisingly quite talented watercolor artist (who must have been drinking all day!) and a bizarre lady bar keep that turned vegan when she realized they killed cows to get their milk??? Vermonters understand colorful "locals" and these were some of the best I've met!
Day three: Stephanie had to head back to work, so it was my turn to explore (and PAINT!!!) on my own. Heading back to my favorite spots from he past two days, I set up to paint in two very different locations - up in the alpine zone at the Glacial Circus, a round scooped out valley high in the mountains at tree line that was carved out by glacial movement and also, back down in the dense forest at upper Copeland Falls. Tackling one in acrylic and the other in watercolor made for a frenzied workday for this artist!