Rocky Reservations

Leah and I have been planning our current trip since January–looking at various routes, places of interest, and RV park availability. At times it seemed like a logistical nightmare–having to shift dates and locations to accommodate timing, anticipated weather and RV park amenities (service hook-ups).

By April, most all of our mapped destinations (44 in all over 20 weeks) were booked. That’s about the same time the National Park Service (NPS) announced that two of our anticipated stops (Rocky Mountain and Glacier) now require timed-entry permits to be eligible to visit.

Because NPS is grappling with record attendance and overrun facilities at many locations, this additional measure is intended to relieve congestion at the park gates at best, and eliminate park closures due to limited parking and staffing woes.

At Rocky Mountain National Park, two reservation options were available for visitors between May 28 and October 11: Bear Lake Road Corridor plus full park access, which includes Wild Basin, Long’s Peak, Trail Ridge Road, and Fall River Area from 5:00 AM – 6:00 PM; and all park roads except Bear Lake Road Corridor, with a reservation period from 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM.

When the reservations window opened on May 1 at 8 AM (MDT), passes became available on a first-come basis—up to 60 days in advance–with approximately 25% of day passes held for guests planning to arrive within 2 days. I logged on to bright and early, and was eager to claim my permit, but apparently the rest of the world had the same idea.

When the online dust settled, I had my coveted entry pass, albeit with a 2:00 PM start time. While it wasn’t the most ideal situation–losing half the day–it was better than making the trip, only to be turned away. Yes, it’s happening.

On the day of our permit, Leah and I meandered through Estes Park for a few hours, breezing through art, jewelry, sporting goods, and general stores, where Leah found an eyeglass lanyard for a buck. We passed a dress-up cowboy spieling in front of Bob and Tony’s Pizza on Elkhorn Ave. and laughed it off, but we returned for some of the worst pizza we’ve ever tasted, although comparable to spreading Ketchup over a cardboard circle, which I did as a child.

Once we passed through the Bear Lake ranger checkpoint, we stretched our legs with a walk around Sprague Lake, the site of a one-time mountain resort, and immediately, we were greeted by a curious teenager,

who looks as if he had a bad reaction from a slice of pizza from Bob and Tony’s…

and is returning to a healthier diet of tall grass.

Half way around Sprague Lake, we encountered his girlfriend romping through the water, courtesy of Leah’s iPhone…

Completing the lake loop, we stood in awe at the doorstep of the Continental Divide and admired the view…but not for as long as I would have liked, since we only had a narrow window of time to explore our immense surroundings.

Naturally, being inside the Bear Lake Corridor gave us an opportunity to circle Bear Lake,

and its neighbor, Nymph Lake.

But running short on time, I abandoned my goal of hiking the rest of the trail to Emerald Lake,

and opted for time in the higher elevations. Our drive took us through Moraine Park,

till we reached Horseshoe Park at the junction of Trail Ridge Road.

Once we rounded the bend from Hidden Valley…

it was one spectacular lookout…

after another…

and another…

and another…

until we reached the Gore Range, the highest elevation on the park road at 12,183 feet.

We drove as far as Medicine Bow Curve, when a herd of elk happened to wander across the tundra to graze, as if to remind us that we were approaching dinner-time. It was our cue to U-turn.

As we doubled back, our conversation turned to the timed-entry, reservation system. The time we were allotted was just a teaser, considering the 355 miles of hiking trails throughout the park.

While I would have preferred a whole day or two or three to satisfy my craving for mountains, I support more people having a chance to appreciate this country’s beauty without annoying crowds, and to capture a lasting memory…

I’m Not as Young as I Used to Feel

After motoring through half of America in our Airstream for the past 1 ½ months and reporting travel highlights along the way (,

I’m temporarily suspending the chronological order of my posts to confess that I’m not as young as I used to feel. I’m usually up for a reasonable physical challenge, but I have to admit that today’s climb did not go as easily as I wanted it to.

Yesterday, Leah and I crossed from Taos, New Mexico to Alamosa, Colorado, and settled in at Base Camp Family Campground by midday. After hiking in Taos the past 2 days, we thought we had acclimated nicely to the thinner air (more to be said on that later), but we were feeling our age after our arrival. We took an early siesta in air-conditioned comfort, followed by a 27-mile sprint to the Great Sand Dunes National Park Visitor Center just before it closed.

The park ranger suggested a climb to the top of High Dune (699 feet), but to keep in mind that tomorrow’s high will reach 92o F. He recommended a 9:00 am start time in order to reach the top of the dune by noon, and before the surface temperature exceeds 150o F. The ranger predicted the 2 ½-mile trek should average 2 hours, round trip.

Since we were already at the park, we decided to have a look around. We found it very refreshing to glide through three inches of snow melt, ebbing and flowing from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Considering it was a Sunday afternoon, and peak traffic was winding down,

there was still plenty of activity around us;

far too many interesting vistas to ignore;

and surprising driftwood sculpture to admire.

We arrived at the Dunes parking lot by 8:45 am the next day, and we were not alone. Many other families were already parked and trekking across the sand flats with sandboards in hand. Canopies and shelters were already sprouting up throughout and within Medano Creek, and kids were romping in the water and shaping wet sand castles.

We surveyed the 10,000 acres of dunes and plotted our course as there are no marked trails, but we followed along the ridgeline like most others.

Looking back gave us some satisfaction, because it reminded us of how far we trudged,

but looking ahead reminded us how much more we had to cover. The closer we crept to the top, the deeper our feet sunk into hot sand, slowing our progress.

We took a lot of breathers along the way,

and rated the sand boarders as they attempted to carve out a run…

but mostly, it was uphill twenty steps, pausing to catch our breath, having a look around, sipping some water, and repeating the process. Slow and steady wins the race. Right?

Many hikers passed us on the way down offering words of encouragement, but Leah–realizing her feet were about to catch fire–decided to mush down the sand slopes and soak her feet in the creek while I continued to the top.

And so I pushed myself, and willed myself up the final ascent, foot by foot, grabbing air along the way, until I finally reached the summit with barely enough energy to greet the younger people who passed me on the way up, and wave my arms for Leah’s snap.

Perhaps it was self-gratification…

realizing that I can still push myself,

or maybe I needed to see the other side of the mountain.

Either way, it’s all good. Ironically, as I admit to myself that I’ve lost a step or two, to my surprise, I often find myself taking a victory lap. As I get older, I’ll eventually have to make do with being young at heart.

But until then…

Regular programming resumes…

Rocky Road National Park

With so much attention being paid to the over-crowded conditions at National Parks this year, Leah and I were optimistic that Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) would allow us some breathing room—despite a doomsday article recently published by Denver Post that boasted a 21% increase in visitor attendance at RMNP over the same month last year (Denver Post). According to the NPS, more than 1 million people will make RMNP their vacation destination in the next six weeks and that does not bode well for the visitor who comes to enjoy the park.

Apparently, when Trump announced a federal hiring freeze one week after taking office, the park was unable to move forward with seasonal hires, leaving the Park Service unprepared to staff its most popular and profitable parks. Additionally, there was no budget allowance for background checks and bonding of future employees, which has translated into longer lines at Park Service admissions, and fewer transactions at Park Service Conservancy Nature Stores. Penny-wise, pound-foolish economics!

We arrived in line at 1pm on Monday. After half-an-hour, we crossed the threshold into RMNP. Signs were posted along the way announcing full occupancy at all campgrounds. I felt fortunate snagging a camp-site for three nights at Glacier Basin—a no-services facility—through the NPS reservations web-site over six months ago.

I produced my Senior Pass credentials to the ranger at the gatehouse, and received an obligatory park map, but not a newspaper, because the official newspaper of RMNP had run out before noon. The newspapers are a vital resource to the park’s success, given the hands-on information that visitors rely on when planning their stay, notwithstanding: safety protocols, hiking trails, shuttle bus schedules, ranger-led programs, road and trail conditions, and visitor center(s) hours of operation.

After unhitching the trailer, Leah and I elected to tour the north side of the park, following the Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center,

rainbow curve
Rainbow Curve

forest canyon panorama
Forest Canyon

Iceberg Pass Panorama
Iceberg Pass

and past the highest point of any NPS road (12183 ft.).

Gore Range 2
Gore Range

Gore Range
Medicine Bow Curve

Several look-outs along the way provided ample opportunities to be blown about by sustained winds of 50 mph, admire wide-open views of nearby mountain ranges in the blistering cold, and escape from the occasional driver who negotiates a hairpin turn while pointing a camera outside his window.

With such a high number of drivers who suffer from altitude stupidity, it’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents like the one we came across that closed the road for an hour until a tow-truck arrived to cart away the collision. It’s also a special breed of driver who comes to the park and thinks it okay to stop in the middle of the road to observe a crowd watching something off the side of the road.

3 elk

elk portrait (3)

Sadly, it’s probably the same driver who lollygags at 18 mph, when all the vehicles trailing behind are aching to achieve the 35 mph speed limit. It’s as if people have come to the park to practice their driving, turning the roads into a fright of passage.

While it was difficult to completely avoid the road toads, Leah and I managed to steer clear of much the traffic tie-ups by exploring more remote regions of the park during our three-day visit. One 7-mile hike on the edge of Grand Lake took us to the top of Cascade Falls,

Colorado River

where so much run-off from late snow had produced a torrent of moving water.

Cascade Falls1

moving water

Drainage from the Ptargiman Mountain was becoming an issue, so a crew was dispatched to redirect the spill over from the falls.


The next day, a 5-mile hike off the Moraine Park spur led us to Cub Lake in the shadow of Steep Mountain.

cub lake

Considered an easy hike by the trail guide, Leah was unconvinced by the steep rocky incline to the gorge—narrow and muddy, and shared by horses—which led to lots of side-stepping.

trail horses cub lake

Not to be deterred, Leah would lobby for a label that was more suitable. After following the half-mile loop around Bear Lake, one of the park’s most popular subalpine locales–distinguished by its late thaw,

bear lake with mountains

and smooth-as-glass lake surface–


Leah stopped to ask a ranger’s opinion of the Cub Lake Trail. To Leah’s delight, the ranger agreed that the hike should be upgraded from easy to moderate, but only because of its duration.

The thin air and jaw-dropping views of mountain peaks, canyons, snowfields, lakes, meadows, falls and forests left us breathless. But we came for the animals as well. We waited patiently for nearly an hour at Sheep Lake with the hope that the park’s bighorn sheep and their lambs might descend from the mountain to graze and lick mud in the meadow below. The timing was right—no coyotes were spotted at the pond—but the sheep had other ideas, and stayed where they were.

But there was no shortage of chipmunks, squirrels and marmots.

RMNP is a delicate ecosystem that has been managed since 1915. With so many visitors eager to pilgrimage to the park, the importance of preservation and land stewardship along with proper funding will drive the next one hundred years, provided Sunday drivers stay off the roads.

Pikes Peak Pot


We arrive at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center on the edge of Colorado Springs, not quite knowing what to expect other than what we’ve read. Yes, it’s crowded, and it’s hotter than usual–that’s also to be expected.  But the park is free and open to the public, which probably helps explain why it’s so crowded.

Garden of the Gods is a 2 million-year-old geologic wonder of sandstone fins, fans and finials balancing in the presence of Pikes Peak, as if performing for an audience of one mountain’s pleasure. It is an impressive act, and beloved by the Colorado Springs stakeholders. But…having just arrived from Utah’s National Parks, and having seen miles upon miles of looming red rocks, it all seemed a bit underwhelming to me. We took a short trail to view the Siamese Twins with a keyhole view of Pikes Peak, but other than that, the hills left us flat.

Siamese solo

Siamese Leah1The twisting road through the many park features and attractions carried us out to Manitou Springs, the gateway to Pikes Peak, and a pop culture village filled with hipsters, curiosity seekers, and wannabees.

Our drive to the top of town took us through droves of tourists filtering through the galleries, boutiques and juice bars. Leah and I found it hard to resist ice cream at Patsy’s, a local landmark on the edge of Amusement Arcade row.


We followed the rotary around, and u-turned out of town to tend to an errand, but we would return to catch the 5:20 pm cog railway to the top of Pikes Peak.


The parking lot was overflowing, as was the overflow lot, but I managed to shoehorn the F-150 into a compact car space as per the instructions of the gun-toting parking attendant. It’s as if I was required to undergo a motor vehicle coordination exam to determine my customer-worthiness. If I can park a big truck in a small space in a crowded lot, then I get to buy weed.

Maggys farm (3)

We were warmly welcomed at the service counter by effusive Eddie. “How’s it goin’ today? Are you guys first timers?,” he asked, taking our IDs.

“We’re visiting from New Jersey,” answered Leah.

“Welcome to Maggie’s Farm,” he gushed. “We’re here to take good care of you.”

“Is it always crowded like this?,” I wanted to know.

“It’s the weekend, and it’s summer, and the tourists are coming,” he responded. “This won’t take long,” referring to our driver’s licenses. “I just need to record these, and you’ll be on your way.” While typing, “By the way, we only accept cash. There’s an ATM by the wall if you need it. Okay?”

When he was finished, he handed back our IDs with a paper stub–the same kind of numbered ticket you’d pull at the deli counter in the supermarket. “Hold onto your number, and move to the next room past the door. Then take a seat, and wait for your number to be called,” Eddie advised. “And have a high time.” were his parting words.

We were number 57. We sat on a foam bench waiting our turn with six other people sitting on both sides of us, all of them different. I noticed three generations of women from the same family, a millennial on his phone, a middle-aged man who had to be a tourist since he was wearing a Tilley hat, and a tattooed Vet who seemed to still be fighting in the war.

A perky forty-something with a fire-red pixie haircut, pushed open the “employees only” door to announce, “Our budtenders are very busy, and the checkout line is backed up, so please be patient.” Then she disappeared, back behind the door. All we could do was stare at the wall four feet in front of us. There was a closed door marked “ROOM 1” and a closed door marked “ROOM 2” separated by a LED-TV monitor broadcasting the marijuana menu–breaking it down by strain, THC content, and price per weight. One could choose between flowers, concentrates, edibles, or patches. At the bottom of the screen was a tax disclaimer, breaking down the percentages taken by city (9.03%, and 6%), and state (10%). I couldn’t believe I was surrendering 25% of my purchase power to the government.

A tap on the glass by a bearded face peeking over the wall above “ROOM 1” beckoned us into the inner sanctum. “Me?” I mimed. He nodded and we stood ready to accept his religion.

The other side of the wall revealed an emporium of earthly delights displayed the way a candy shop would showcase their variety of fudges. “Buddy” asked for our IDs and scanned them with a UV pen. Looking up, he grinned and proclaimed, “Congratulations! They’re real.” Handing back our IDs, “So what would you like to do–smoke, eat, or vape?”

Leah and I glanced at each other, but I decided that smoke was the way to go.

Buddy popped open several containers of THC-laden buds of different shades of harvest green, and aromas ranging from musky to fruity to diesel fuel. Dropping our noses into the jars for a full-blown whiff gave us enough of a heady bouquet to prepare us for an anticipated revelation.

“These buds are huge and seedless,” I exclaimed, reaching in and extracting a jaw-breaker sized nugget of Triple Diesel Sativa hybrid.

“Uh, that’s a no-no,” Buddy cautioned. “No touching. Here, use these,” he suggested, handing me mini tongs to more closely inspect the wares.

“You’re looking at about 2 grams there,” Buddy advised.

“Looks good to me. I’ll take it,” I asserted.

“Sorry, you can’t buy this,” Buddy interjected. “These samples are just for display, but I’m entering your order now…[a few key strokes by Buddy at the computer], and it’s ready at check-out where those customers are standing. Thank’s folks, and have a high time.”

We joined the lengthy line where customers from both rooms converged against the far wall. Buddy was already engaged with the next customer ushered inside the room. “So what would you like to do–smoke, eat, or vape?,” I heard him ask.

The line reduced quickly. Finally, one of three cashiers motioned for us to approach the counter. “Got your number?” Money Man asked.

I fumbled around inside my pockets, but came up empty. “I must’ve left it on the other counter,” I apologized. “But it’s ’57’ if that helps.”

Money Man called out “57” to the pharmacist behind the wall, and soon returned with a plastic vial, offering it for inspection. Uncapped, it smelled as pungent as before. The transaction was finalized. I handed him cash, and he inserted a “Consumer’s Guide to Responsible Recreational Marijuana Use” in my paper sack before stapling it shut.

“Remember to wait until you’ve left the lot before lighting up, and have a high time,” he exclaimed.

The ride back to town had thinned, as most of the visitors had withered and wilted under the heat. But Leah and I were prepared with sweatshirts for our cog-way assault on Pikes Peak, the second most visited mountain in the world behind Mt. Fuji.


The rail cars were packed except for two seats directly facing us, giving us flexibility to change our inclined perspective between looking up the mountain or looking down.

Leah on train

The pull to the top was slow and steady at a 25% grade. The rail car cut through a trail of boulders and evergreens, climbing up the mountainside, eventually reaching Inspiration Point…

at the top

a sight so inspiring, that Katharine Lee Beats was compelled to pen “America the Beautiful” after seeing it for the first time.

America the Beautiful

Once we cleared the tree-line, the vistas opened on all sides, providing views of distant peaks,

above the treeline

and the valley beneath us.

garden from peak

It also exposed us to an uncommon drop in temperature, with shades of winter resting on the rocks,

snow field

and gusting gales blowing across the barrenness,

windy point

causing marmots to wonder what happened to Spring.


At 14,115 feet, Pikes Peak ranks as Colorado’s 30th among 53 fourteeners, but it remains more famous than all the other fourteeners put together, thanks to breath-taking panoramas on the summit,

peak panorama
enlarge to appreciate

and a cog railway that’s been bringing millions of visitors to the mountaintop since 1891.

cogAlthough the views are enough to distance you from the rest of the world, the cold is enough to bring you closer together.


Dedicated to Leah, who thinks I never post enough pictures of her. I hope this makes up for it. Love you.

BTW, this marks my 50th post and my first fourteener.