Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Now I know what Rocky Mountain High means!

We gladly welcomed the beautiful Springlike weather that Tuesday morning brought us. The fog had lifted and the skies had cleared, and sure enough, there were mountains! And oh! what mountains! So lush & green. I just looked around and soaked it all in. Then I suddenly caught my breath, because there to the right were snow-covered peaks! As each kid walked out of the motel room, I’d say, "Look straight ahead." They would say, "Wow!" Then I’d say, "Now look right." And they would gasp! Wish I could have recorded those responses on video.

It was a ten-minute drive from Estes Park into Rocky Mountain National Park. Admission is $20 per day, or $50 for a one-year pass to all of the national parks. We got the $50 pass since we'll be stopping at many more national parks on this trip. But it will be hard for the others to top this one! To quote Teddy Roosevelt (though I think he was talking about Yellowstone), "The scenery bankrupts the English language." There is just no way to describe it. We were snapping pictures like crazy. Everywhere you look you want a picture! I have seen a lot of albums of friends’ western trips and thought there were an overabundance of mountain pictures. Now I see why! I don’t know what we would do without a digital camera...all six of us had fun snapping away at our favorite images, then we’d go through them and save the best ones. Can’t imagine how much we would have spent on film & developing otherwise! The camera card can hold 55 images and we filled it quickly at Rocky Mountain National Park. I’d told Alan ahead of time that I didn’t want just mountain pictures, I really wanted people in the pictures. But how many family pictures in front of beautiful mountains do you need? So anyway, go ahead and enjoy these pictures, with and without us in them, but here’s the bottom’ve gotta go! No amount of album-looking could give me the appreciation of being there, in the midst of the most gorgeous of God’s creation that I’ve ever experienced. You should have heard the "oohs" and "aahs" in our car (primarily from me, I think!). Sometimes I even had to clap!!

In the park there are pull-offs about once every quarter mile. And you need to stop at almost each one! I thought Alan would get tired of me shreiking, "STOP! I need a picture!" but usually he was already pulling over because, he too wanted to check it out. At one point we came upon a big old elk lying in a field. We were probably about 50 yards away, and zoomed in as close as we could and shot lots of pictures. There are signs everywhere not to approach wild animals so we didn’t go closer even though we were tempted. Finally we moved on, and a short time later we came upon some elk RIGHT by the road!! We quickly deleted all those first elk pictures we’d just taken, and this time were less than 20 feet away. We sat there and watched and watched, and of course snapped away. All of the people talking and cameras snapping didn’t faze these animals. I’m sure they are very used to it. The park ranger explained to us that the elk were "in velvet," which means their antlers were still growing and looked very velvety. I really wanted to touch them! Elk lose their antlers each year and grow new racks in the spring that start out velvety and then harden; then eventually fall off, providing a lot of calcium for smaller animals who eat the antlers.

Alan was really into finding a nice place to hike, but the kids and I were much more into horseback ride. The horseback riders won, 5 against 1! We found stables in RMNP and found out that it was $40 per person for a two-hour ride. We knew it was going to be expensive, so probably would have sprung for it, until Emily told us she had read about Sombrero Ranch that offered a two-hour trail ride that included a steak dinner for $45. We called Sombrero and made a reservation. (Can you believe we got cell phone reception in RMNP?!) Our ride was scheduled for 4 PM which gave us just an hour left to hike before heading to the stables. We found a popular hiking spot called Bear Lake, a one mile hike around a lake. They actually had a gravel path there, so Alan declared that this was simply a walk and did not count as a true hike. Halfway through the girls were belly-aching about how long it was, and Alan told them, ‘You girls walk ten times farther than this at the mall!" The walk/hike was really beautiful though, with huge mountain peaks providing the backdrop for the sparkling water. Near the end of the hike we hit snow! All that rain we had driven through on our way to Estes Park had been snow in the higher elevations of RMNP. We slipped and sloshed through the snow, launching a snowball or two along the way. When we got back to the car Coleman suddenly gasped and said, "My pocket knive! It’s gone!"

Now you gotta understand about this pocket knife. For a couple years Coleman has asked Alan for his own pocket "knive" as he calls it. He has wanted one more than you can imagine. (Only thing he has asked for more often is a brother.) Alan bought him one and brought it along, so it was just earlier this day that Coleman was presented with his very own pocketknive. You should have seen Coleman. Proud and happy as a boy could be! Alan sat with Coleman on his lap as they carefully checked out all the "gadgets." Alan was instructing him in the safety of pocketknives, and Coleman listened intently. Alan also showed him how to whittle a stick. Coleman tried it, feeling very grown up. But then, whoops! his knife slipped down towards Alan’s lap. You should have seen Alan jump! From then on his instructions came as he stood a safe distance away!

Anyway, now the precious knive was missing and Coleman was distraught. I told Alan that Coleman had slipped a few times in the snow just near the exit of the trail so he headed back there. He was asking people as they came out if they’d found a red knife on the trail...none had. When he asked one man, the guy said, "No, but there’s one right there!" And there it happy boy reunited with his knive!

We arrived at the Sombrero Ranch just in time for our "steak ride." Coleman was thrilled to find that he was old enough to ride his own horse. The wrangler asked, "Who wants a big horse?" Coleman yelled, "I do!" And a big horse he got...a big white one named Blue. We laughed to see him astride the horse, his little legs practically making a split across Blue’s wide back. They asked him if he had riding experience, and he said, "Yep!" So off he went, no training needed. He forgot to tell them that his only "experience" was on a pony being led around a ring. They warned him that Blue liked to eat the grass along the way...turned out to be oh too true. But what a wrangler Coleman turned out to be!

I’d also told that guy I has some experience, so the guy put me on a horse who he described as "a litle frisky, but you’ll know how to handle him." Oh, thank you so much! So off we go, a group of 10 headed up into the steep mountainside, the wrangler (a young girl named Emily) in front, followed by 7 novices (including Alan, who’s rode plenty of horses!), and then the highly experienced, then Coleman. This was no walk across a pasture; instead it was a steep hike through narrow ditches and gullies up the mountain. I pointed to a mountaintop early on and joked to Coleman, "That’s where we’re headed." Or at least I thought it was a joke until eventually we actually headed right up that mountain! When Coleman’s horse stopped about every 10 minutes to graze, the wrangler would shout back, "Kick him, Coleman!" and you would see these little legs go straight out and try hard to kick that old Blue. Coleman never got frazzled, but just kept plugging away. The rest of us did, however, get very worried at one point as we were on a steep incline near the top of the mountain when Blue turned around, now facing down the hill as if he had had enough of this hike and was heading back to the barn. I contemplated jumping off my horse and grabbing his, but about the time Wrangler Emily (do not confuse her with our daughter Emily!) saw the danger, bolted down the mountain and got Blue turned around. Whew...but Coleman worried? Not a bit, he loved the excitement of it! So on we went, soon smelling those incredible steaks on the fire. Like cowboys who’d been on the trail for days, we were ready to eat! We had a feast of steaks, potatoes, and pinto beans. As we sat down to eat, Coleman said, "Well, I guess I shouldn’t have asked for such a big horse." And I said, "Don’t worry Coleman, any of your sisters would be glad to trade horses with you." And they all looked at me like I was out of my mind & shouted, "No way!" He was pretty proud that he was the only one man enough to ride Blue.

Dinner was great, and when Alan went up for a second helping of beans, I just rolled my eyes! We are enjoying this Mexican food, but evidently our bodies are not used to it, especially Alan’s. His horse kept tooting along on the trail ride and he just loved it because no one knew if it was him or his horse! Anyway, after an hour or so ride back down the mountain, we arrived at the stables with that kind of satisfied exhaustion akin to what a runner who's just finished a marathon feels. (As if I would know!)

The kids were ready for a swim at that point in our hotel’s heated pool. Good thing it was heated, too, because by then it wasn’t more than about 55 degrees outside. I, on the other hand, was ready for a massage, but to no avail. While the others swam, Emily, Elly & I walked around the town of Estes Park, a village full of shops & restaurants along a riverwalk. Pretty town, very commercialized, though. Our only purchase was that necessity, ice cream at Dairy Queen. I am starting to realize that we are going to see Wild West & Indian souvenir stores in every town & village...they all sell that must-have western stuff you pay a mint for and sell at a yard sale a couple years later.

We started a movie around 9 PM, one that Coleman had really wanted to watch. But by 9:10 my little wrangler was sound asleep, prized pocketknive in his hand.

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