Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

It has been over three weeks since I set out on the road and now find myself nestled between snow-capped mountains overlooking a pair of sparkling lakes in central Colorado. This Life is good. Wind is pounding on the side of the Ruck Rig and Ruck is more than mildly distracted by the view and itching to take a hike. Yet, time and events pass so quickly that I must provide an update before my memories elude. I blew out of Wind Cave NP and rolled west through the plains to Casper, Wyoming to catch up with my old Army comrade, Patrick, now a loyal husband, proud father and credentialed Harley mechanic that specializes in classic and early edition bikes. After our brief 26-year reunion, I made my way South into the beautiful state of Colorado. Finding it a bit of a challenge locating a suitable perch near Boulder, I ended up South and West of my intended mark in the small mountain town known as Central City. I spent time visiting my Denver Fam, exploring the accessible areas of Rocky Mountain National Park and…shoveling a great deal of unexpected snow as I reached the final stop of Ruck Route Leg One.

My initial plan was to set up camp as close to Boulder as possible for easy access to the park. That area would also put me in proximity to the numerous friends I have proudly adopted as my Denver Family. Unfortunately, not a single campground for 50 square miles of Boulder had any availability. One campground operator expressed exacerbation and said that in 45 years, he has never seen anything like the last two years. Apparently, the nomadic lifestyle is catching and crowds are up. I optimistically pointed out an opportunity to expand business and he countered that the permits were too hard to obtain to be worth the while. I am curious as to how big of an issue the lack of campground growth is as the van-life movement is growing and many wanderers are well funded and able to work remotely. If the market is there, where are the outdoor-loving investors willing to push for expansion? I am not really surprised that the campgrounds are permit-prohibitive. Historically speaking, most developed cultures appear to generally encourage residency and discourage the nomadic lifestyle. Where are you from? I hear it all the time as if my originating locality is my identity. I suppose constant movement doesn’t make for easy governing nor taxation. White picket fences, pools and Mac-mansions are not road-worthy possessions either, which flies in the face of what many consider representative of the American Dream. Alas, the old saying goes that most people do not remember their dreams in the morning so it’s the freedom to build your own memories that I adore and find distinctly American. I have experienced no greater sensation of true freedom than what I have encountered in the past few weeks and anticipate in days ahead. Every Free person should explore, discover and more importantly, Build Memories. That’s not to say abandon reasonable responsibilities as that simply doesn’t happen in Life as we all must eat and sleep…myself included, as soon as I found a place to park the rig.

I was fortunate to find a spot west of Denver in Central City, a town predominantly comprised of casinos. In fact, I am not sure there were any other businesses besides the casinos. Sign after sign promised the win of a lifetime and boasted of the high accolades achieved by each in the local casino comparatives. I am not much of a gambling man but my loose, shoot from the hip approach to nightly accommodations is a high stakes game so I figured it was lady luck that landed me the spot after struggling through a few dozen unavailable facilities near Boulder. The campground had full hook-ups and a nice view so it was a reasonable fallback and I set to the task of settling in and hooking up which I have whittled down to under 30 minutes. I ventured into Denver on the first morning to price some new tires and more importantly, fetch some Burger King. After several weeks on the road in a rig too large to cut the drive thru, I was suffering terrible croisandwich withdrawals. It only took about five minutes of morning rush hour traffic to motivate a quick retreat back into the mountains after procuring my tasty morning morsel and finding some new tread. Even without the trailer in tow, It is difficult to convey just how undesirable traffic is after living totally at ease without it a spell. Being able to take in the visually distracting surroundings with sparse populations for last few weeks brought about a release that traffic only served to diminish and I wanted nothing of it. I was glad to know I would not see another large city until I passed through Salt Lake in over a month.

Each morning thereafter I was up with sun. The view through the large, curved picture window of my sleeping cubby is breathtaking and everchanging so opening my eyes immediately brings a smile as I take in the sunrise before I even exit the bunk. By 7 a.m. on the second day, I am geared up and heading into the park from the east side, closest to Boulder and Denver. I sought to improve the scenery and avoid the traffic by cutting up through the mountain passes on back- roads to Estes Park rather than using the faster, interstate route that took me through Denver. There are two primary ways into the 265,000-acre park by vehicle via the East and West sides of US Route 34, also known as Trail Ridge Road. The most common access route is though Estes Park from the East. It is fair to say that Estes Park is a bit touristy and too overpopulated to feel any sense of wildness beyond the beauty of the landscape but the locality makes for a great day trip if you are in the area or sporting a family. There are many shops, good local eats and the park entrance lies at the West edge of town but this is where the day’s journey came to a quick and unexpected conclusion as Trail Ridge Road was locked up tighter than a duck’s ass at high tide. Investigation revealed that it would not re-open until May 31st, weeks after my departure from the area. I was glad this was not my first trip to Estes. Not to be deterred, I sought access onto a trailhead in Meeker Park, just East of Long’s Peak and South of Route 34, still to no avail. The snow was deep and while I had picked up a pair of ice cleats at REI while in Denver, snowshoes had not been on the list. A Winter hike/climb rig including snowshoes, pitons and crampons has not been added to my outdoor gear list largely due to lack of necessity to date. The Southeastern US affords some great climbing but none of it through deep snow or up ice. In the recent times past, where there was snow in my proximity, skis were usually attached to my feet. The last time I had donned a pair of snowshoes was in Montana in 2012. On this date, however, they were a necessity and I was unprepared to proceed. A rare occurrence but in my defense, I had decided weeks ago to procure a pair before the next snows fell. Or so I thought.

That evening, after my unsuccessful attempt into the East side of the park, colorful yet ominous clouds crept in and darkened the landscape. It made for a brilliant sunset and shortly after snow began to fall. Thick, plump, build-you a-Frosty-The Snowman-kind of flakes that covered every surface that would support the weight. The kind of snow that gets you excited and thinking about the slopes and some serious gnar-carving. I wasn’t on skis though. I was hauling thousands of pounds of house around behind me on 10% grades and presently sitting on a high peak as inches quickly accumulated. The last concerning apprehension I had in trailer hauling: Snow and Ice…and while I had not anticipated facing this until far later in the year after hundreds of drive hours, here it was and in abundance just a few weeks in. Around 22 Inches fell overnight yet my worries melted away when I awoke to a crisp, rich and beautiful sunrise.

It continued to snow for several afternoons but the roads remained navigable and after just a few afternoons, the majority had melted and I was able to make a second attempt into the park from the West approach through the Headwaters of the Colorado River around Lake Granby and Grand Lake. I snapped a shot of the peaks across Grand Lake and then set into the parkland. I quickly decided that this approach was my preference over the East side. I saw a dozen vehicles at best and felt as if I had the place to myself for mile after winding mile. Entering the park through an open montane region, I immediately spotted several moose. I shuttered a couple shots before they split into two directions. I opted for the closest one and tracked him for around twenty minutes but had difficulty getting a good shot through the trees and scrubs and eventually moved on.

I made it much farther into the park from the West side and soon after a side hike to a small frozen lake, I was back in the truck and began to gain altitude. The Continental Divide virtually divides the park in half running North to South along the peaks of the Mummy Range and as I climbed into the alpine region, I admired the scenery afforded by Woodrow Wilson’s 1915 official park designation. The land had once been inhabited by Paleo-Indians and later by the Ute and Arapaho tribes until, yup…you guessed it, in the early 1800’s, Stephen Long, namesake for Long’s Peak, “discovered” and expedited the land on behalf of the US Government and Euro-American settlers pervaded in search of gold and new land soon-after. Eventually, the remaining native indigenous were forcibly displaced. In all candor, the price paid for the lands I now enjoy often-times leave me in a state of ambivalence. We should make good use of the parks, support them and treat them with reverence. They came at a steep cultural cost for Native Americans. I made it a few miles past Milner Pass where the main gates of the West entrance were closed off. Warnings were posted discouraging any hiking due to “extreme avalanche danger”. Experiencing the unseasonable dumping we received in the past week, I suspect this was likely wise advice to follow so I refrained yet again and reluctantly headed back down towards Lake Granby for some lunch.

The next few evenings I visited with friends in Denver and tended to domestic responsibilities. A special thanks to Ben and Jenna Wright for their hospitality and generosity…. It is always a pleasure to keep there company and their neighbor Jack makes a mean Halibut Taco. My last night in Central City, I ventured into Black Hawk, another little mountain villa nearby, for a sponsored meal that the Ruck Report was offered by one of the more prestigious resorts. A very special-thanks goes out to Rebecca Sosa, Business Development Manager of Ameristar Resorts for their generosity. The facilities were the standout by comparison and a lively area for such nearby solitude. I also conveniently learned that the height of my truck with the kayak attached is exactly seven feet and six inches as I nearly knocked off the clearance bar at the entrance-way to the casino marked at,7.6 feet. I think I dinged every water pipe through ought the garage but managed to escape any large insurance claims. Note to self, mind your clearance while traveling Clampet style. I enjoyed the buffet and wasted twenty bucks on some slots and cut out to begin prepping the rig for what I hope will be my first successful go at boondocking somewhere between here and Buena Vista, my next reserved location. I’ll let you know how that pans out…

Ruck n roll…


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