Hiking RMNP, Part 1
After three nights of camping at Ohaver Lake near Salida, we followed a Western route through curvaceous and vertiginous roads to Estes Park. Here we stayed at the Stone Brook lodge in our own private cabin complete with a balcony and outdoor hot tub overlooking a roiling, swollen creek. Paula, the owner, was a gracious host, even providing us with a stick of butter for our grilled potato on our last night of the stay. Stone Brook has a strict ‘no children, no pets, no guests’ rule, which would have ruled us out if we’d been traveling with the kids but was absolutely perfect for two tired school teachers running from the cluster and bustle of Houston. The hot tub was listed as a ‘private’ hot tub on the web site, but we discovered when we arrived that ‘private’ meant ‘not shared with other residents,’ as opposed to ‘hidden from view of everyone else.’ Alas, we kept our swimsuits on when enjoying the soothing jets, which turned out to be just the remedy for tired legs and feets.
Our first hike was a 3.2 mile trek to Mills Lake, accessible from a multi-site trailhead down Bear Creek Road. Here’s some very useful advice for hikers at RMNP: get there EARLY! Parking spots fill up and you’ll have to take a shuttle if you can’t beat the crowd, plus RMNP is a popular place, so your trail will be filled with other hikers of various ages and physical condition with their extendable hiking poles, babies, and hurried expressions. We were rewarded within the first mile: an Elk was stopped on our path and after we watched her for a bit before she stepped aside to let us pass within a few feet of her. These animals are used to people but must have an aversion to crying babies and squealing children, because once the path was cluttered with humanity there were none to be seen.
On the way to Mills Lake you’ll pass Alberta Falls, a respectable waterfall which serves as a great photo opportunity. Unfortunately, even at 7:30 a.m. there are other hikers along the path, so communing naked with the water was out of the question.
Colorado this year was unusually moist and there was a fair amount of snow on the ground as we got closer to our destination. Most of it was a bit slippery and squishy, and dirty from hikers plying the route, but it was ‘no big thang’ and certainly not persistent enough to warrant skis.
The views along the route were wonderful. We debated, even as we reached the trail juncture, of traveling an additional 2.7 miles to Sky Pond, but took the shorter route to Mills Lake and were rewarded for it. A serene, mountain lake surrounded by trees, it was mirror clear when we arrived. A swarm of large and logy mosquitos descended upon us as we ate a mountain snack, but they quickly dispersed when repellent was applied.
Having conquered our first RMNP trail we hit the hot tub, rested, then went for dinner at the historic Stanley Hotel. Supposedly Stephen King got some inspiration for The Shining from this place, possibly at the restaurant, which offered a whiskey tasting flight. Choosing three from the hundreds of selections proved difficult, but the Sazerac won the day with its smooth yet complex flavor that settled well into the throat.