When I changed careers, from court clerk to software development, the biggest culture shock was the amount of travel that I was thrust into. When I worked the 8 to 5 grind, I had a very steadfast routine, and I rarely drifted outside of it. With my new corporate credentials, I became a jetsetter. Our team, while based in Georgia, made frequent trips to the western United States and Canada, which didn’t always sit well with my phobia of planes. I still have a ton of flight anxiety, but it’s a thing that I make myself do, because the rewards are worth the distress – it’s the easiest and most efficient way to see some pretty amazing places, and it always helps if its paid for while on work assignments!
One of my earliest assignments was to head to Denver, CO with my team. We have an office there, and were headed in for a week of training and team building. Our close knit team always takes the opportunity to travel in a day early, and spend that extra time taking in a park or attraction. This is kind of where “Adventure Forever” began to take its footing. On our trip to Denver, we made a decision to head to Estes Park and see the famous Stanley Hotel. Its about an hour and a half drive from the airport to Estes Park, and while most people don’t have a sense of adventure that includes getting into a car for 90 minutes after being in planes and airports for 6 hours, this is the kind of adventure sense that I have. I pretty much stay on the move whenever I travel, trying to see and do everything that I can when a new location becomes available to me!
We filled the time in the car with podcasts and laughter, and it wasn’t any time at all before we arrived in picturesque Estes Park. The first thing to greet me? ELK! I was absolutely in awe of these enormous animals – having only familiarized myself with smaller Cervidae back home (Whitetail deer), literally only 1/3 of the size. On this particular afternoon, the elk had taken over the front lawn of the Stanley, and part of the parking lot, and two young bulls were lazily sparring. I excitedly texted a photo of them to my dad, a dedicated big game hunter. Within seconds, he was calling me, making sure that I was a safe distance away from these deceptively dangerous animals. I assured him that I was using a zoom lens and was a safe distance away, and that I would keep my wits about me. I know better than most about the inherent dangers of large animals, even domesticated ones.
After spending an inordinate amount of time gushing about the elk, we made our way into the Stanley. It is certainly a beautiful hotel, with a rich history entrenched within. I particularly liked photographing the “Stanley Steamer” in the lobby, a 1910 model 60, capable of 55mph. That was quite a machine for the time!
The grounds of The Stanley Hotel are also beautifully maintained. There is a small garden and a labyrinth hedge maze paying homage to “The Shining“, as The Stanley is reportedly the inspiration behind Stephen King’s novel.
We set out to explore some of Estes Park immediately around the hotel. We grabbed a bite to eat at an impossibly small, but delicious, pizza joint (I can’t remember the name!) and gawked at the 700lb Elk that meandered all around the town, pretty much doing whatever they pleased, crossing the roads and hanging out in parking lots as they wished. We ended up driving west on “Park Entrance Road”, never realizing that we were rolling into the National Park until we got to the gates. The entry fee was $20, and we actually turned around, intending on heading back “home” to Denver, but only made it a few minutes into our departure before I said “I’ll pay the $20 just so we can say we did it!”.
We had less than an hour of daylight left. We began climbing the ridge, as our car gained altitude, we began to see snow on the banks of the road. Being Georgia folk, snow is always something we get excited about! With every overlook, we would park the car, excitedly jump out and snap some photos, then continue the climb. It was like a race to the summit!
We reached Marmot Point just as the sun began to sink back behind the ridge. In that last photo, you can see the Alpine Ridge Trail as it snakes up to an overlook point. Those two little dots? My coworkers. I RAN up this ridge, and quickly found out that 10,000+ feet of elevation is not my friend! It was bitterly cold, and windy, but the view was AMAZING and so worth it. On our way back down, we kept hearing this loud shrill scream – a quick googling revealed that they were Pika – small furry rodents with very unique vocalizations. We never saw one, but apparently they were abundant!
We continued our drive to Milner Pass, which marks the Continental Divide, where all rain flow is divided between flowing the the Atlantic and the Pacific. It was at this point we decided that driving down the Trail Ridge Road in the dark might not be as fun as racing the sun to the top, so we turned back to head back to our Denver hotel. We had one last notable moment, as we neared Estes Park again, a large bull elk stood on the side of the road. We stopped the car, able to get a very close look at him, and I rolled my window down and exclaimed “YOU’RE GORGEOUS!” to which he lost his mind, running terrified back into the forest. I guess he’s never been talked to by a car before ?
There’s so much to see and do in Rocky Mountain National Park that a two hour car tour over the Continental Divide and back is only a small fraction of it, but its a pretty amazing way to spend the afternoon if thats all the time you have. It’s definitely on my list of revisits, and Id love to take in some of the hiking trails on my next go round!