Colorado: Rafting, Sand Dunes, and Hiking (Aug 9-14)

We had family visiting from Connecticut, so we did a whirlwind tour of some fun Colorado activities.

Jack, Tony, Meg, and Mike at Rock Cut in Rocky

We did the obligatory drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road and walked around near Rock Cut.

On the trail near Rock Cut

Scrambling near Rock Cut

We also had some fun at the Climbing Gym at the Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Climbing at the Estes Park Mountain Shop

Mike on belay

Then we hit the road to go rafting in Brown's Canyon on the Arkansas River. As always, Wilderness Aware in Buena Vista did a great job.

Construction delays on Hwy 24 on the way to Buena Vista, Colorado

Our group rafting "Zoom Flume" whitewater in Brown's Canyon on the Arkansas River

After the rafting, we drove down to Alamosa, Colorado to explore Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

The night we arrived was the full moon, so we drove to Great Sand Dunes as the moon was rising, and then played on the dunes by moonlight.

The next morning, we returned to the dunes with 2 sand sleds and a sandboard. It was really fun to take the grandkids to the highest dunes in North America.

About to go across Medano Creek to the Dunes

On the dunes

Sledding down the dunes


Posing with a sand dune garden of sunflowers

Hiking on the dunes

Panorama, looking east

On the top of High Dune, about 700' above the valley floor

After Great Sand Dunes, we returned to Estes Park where we hiked up to Gem Lake and climbed on the rocks above it.

On the way to Gem Lake, near "Paul Bunyan's Boot"

Scrambling on the rocks above Gem Lake

Pano taken above Gem Lake (lower right)

Hand stands are almost always a good idea :-)

Gem Lake from above

And we couldn't resist going to Ride-A-Kart to play minigolf and do the amusement park thing.

Minigolf at Ride-A-Kart

Go Karts!

And bumper boats!

Glacier-Waterton Trip, Part IV: Home via Yellowstone and Beartooth Highway (Jul 18-21)

After quick stop for photos in Waterton townsite, we headed out of Canada, and stopped for lunch at the Park Cafe in Babb. They're famous for the pies, and we had to verify that this was true. :-)

Pat's in Waterton townsite

We drove back into Glacier National Park, planning to take the long way home via Going to the Sun Road and heading for Missoula. We very much re-enjoyed the spectacular drive, but didn't stop until we were closer to Apgar at some of the pullouts along the river. While we played around on the rocks, we found a spot where butterflies were drinking from a tiny puddle on the rocks. 

We joked that we'd seen a lot of "Bs" on this trip -- bison, bears, beaver, badgers, and butterflies!

Along the Flathead River in Glacier National Park

Susan at the butterfly watering hole

Butterflies getting a drink

Us on the glacier-fed Middle Fork of the Flathead River in Glacier National Park

Our plan called for a stop in Missoula, as we wanted to visit the Smokejumper Center there, something we'd wanted to do several years ago when we were passing through. We drove to Missoula via the highway on the east side of Flathead Lake, but the scenery wasn't that scenic as our views were shrouded with smoke. When we arrived in Missoula, we found the wildfire smoke to still be pretty bad. 

Smoke-shrouded sun at the Smokejumpers Center in Missoula

The tour at the Smokejumper the next morning was excellent and well worth our time! 

Smokejumpers are firefighters first, and jumpers second. They have to be incredibly fit, and to our surprise we learned that they also have to be handy with a sewing machine, as almost all smokejumpers sew/manufacture their own clothing and other gear. 

Our tour guide talked about technology used by smokejumpers

Smokejumpers use industrial strength sewing machines to make their own gear and clothing

Parachute hanging room

Parachute packing room

Ready room with lockers and personal gear

Ready room

Sherpa C-23 and Douglas DC-3 aircraft 

We got a really good tour of the Aerial Fire Depot at the Missoula airport, seeing all the facilities used by the smokejumpers, from parachute packing rooms, to ready rooms, to the aircraft they jump from. 

From Missoula, we drove on to Gardiner, Montana and the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, where we planned to do a quick in and out, visiting some spots neither of us had seen before. 

We really enjoyed seeing the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls, and got in some exercise going up and down to visit all the viewpoints. 

Roosevelt Arch at the Gardiner, Montana entrance to Yellowstone National Park

We also visited the other viewpoints of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. 

Rainbow in the mist of upper Yellowstone Falls

Upper Yellowstone Falls

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Susan heading down the 328 steps to view the Lower falls

Us with Lower Yellowstone Falls in background

Lower Yellowstone Falls; can you see the people at the top right of the falls?

View of Lower Yellowstone Falls and Yellowstone River from Artist Point
Another view of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Tower Falls, our last stop of the evening

We spent a short night in Gardiner, and the next morning we stopped by the Mammoth Hot Springs before driving out via the Lamar Valley, a place we hope to return to, possibly in the winter to see wolves.

Mammoth Hot Springs

We did see a lot of the Yellowstone bison herd in the Lamar Valley. 

Wildflowers with the bison herd at Lamar Valley

Bison at Lamar Valley

Scene from Lamar Valley; each dot is a bison, one of over 3,000 in the Park

But our main goal this day was the Beartooth Highway, so we continued out the north east entrance of Yellowstone, towards Cooke City. The Beartooth Highway is a National Scenic Byways All-American Road and Charles Kuralt called it "the most beautiful drive in America." 

View from along Beartooth Highway

Wildflowers along Beartooth Highway

We were not disappointed and drove most of the Beartooth Highway in both directions. 

Above treeline on the Beartooth Highway

We made many stops along the way, but our favorite stop was the short drive up to the Clay Butte Lookout tower, where we found volunteers helping visitors. We learned that they were part of a private group which helped restore and continue to operate the tower for visitors. 

The Clay Butte Lookout tower

After learning that the volunteers live in a small apartment in the tower for two weeks, without electricity and other conveniences, Susan was keen to return there and stay. 

The view from the Lookout tower

We found that the Beartooth Highway reminded us a lot of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. A lot of the road was above treeline, weaving through the alpine tundra. 

We decided to continue on the scenic backroads, going down Chief Joseph Scenic Byway in Wyoming and heading for Cody, Wyoming and then one last night on the road, in Casper. As we drove on Chief Joseph highway, we saw the very beginning of a wildfire in the mountains along the road. 

View from the Pass on the Chief Joseph Highway; note smoke from wildfire

We arrived later in Cody, ate dinner at the Irma Hotel, and then continued on to Casper. 

The next morning we drove on to Estes Park with a detour to long term parking at Denver International Airport, where our home-exchangers had left "Tina." Soon we had ourselves and both cars at home. 

Another really great trip to new and old places was concluded. In this 14 day trip, we'd driven almost 3,000 miles, hiked over 32 miles, seen countless lakes and waterfalls, and visited three spectacular National Parks in two countries.