We understand that more athletic types will visit the Rocky Mountains on foot or horseback, camping out in the wilderness. For us, the drive across Top Mountain Road of the Ridge Road was immensely satisfying.
We spent the night before in Steamboat Springs, which is a mountain resort town that would repay a longer visit. Besides oodles of ski slopes, Steamboat Springs boasts hot springs and waterfalls, lots of vacation homes and condos, and a first class shopping district, which told us that the typical visitors have plenty of money to spend. We checked out the one book store, which turned out to be excellent, crammed full of new releases and western history and photographic collections and just about everything to satisfy a curious traveler's curiosity.
Heading north from Granby, we entered Rocky Mountain National Park and drove up the long valley towards the source of the Colorado River. At the visitor center, we learned that if we stayed the night we could hear the elk in rut bellowing across the meadows; but we wanted to reach Denver so we missed a good wildlife show.
We were already at 9,000 feet; then the road turned away from the Colorado - barely a burbling creek at this point and this time of year - and began Near the summit cutting switchbacks. Up and up we drove, and shortly emerged above treeline, where the ground was covered with tiny plants and the climate was officially arctic.
The road is courteously furnished with dozens of pull offs for tourists to gaze at the scenery, ooh and ahh a bit, and exercise the cameras. The docent at one view point told us that after mid-August the crowds diminish, and September is a great time to visit. We spotted a couple of high mountain jays - a western gray jay and a Clark's nutcracker - which we identified with the aid of our Sibley.
We stopped at the alpine visitor center, and looked through a small gallery of exhibits, including photographs of the first woman to winter over at the research station. She suffered lots of frostbite, but helped to advance the field of alpine biology. We saw pictures of ptarmigan and pika and glorious sheep, but unfortunately none of the real thing. Even with the slow season there were too many people at the small center. Looking down to the trees
The three best parking places in front of the center were reserved for "GOV," and we decided that, in a perfect world, their reserved places would be at the far end of the parking lot. Two of the parking spots were empty.
We both noticed the thin air and bright sunshine at 12,000 feet, and continued our drive, marveling at the snow poles, ten to fifteen feet high, to help the plows in their month-long spring plowing to open up the road by May. We'd like to come back to see that.
The Top of The Ridge Road was gentle for the few miles it snaked around above tree line, and then we began cutting more switchbacks and shifting to a lower gear for the descent towards the Great Plains. After lunch in Estes Park, we moved along to look for the night's lodging. Interstate 25 is straight and level, and the Rockies make a lovely skyline to the west.
We think the view of the Sierra Nevada from U. S. 395 is more dramatic, but this drive through Rocky Mountain National Park is something we want to repeat.