Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Monarch Lake and Guanella Pass

Colorado Adventure, Day 3
Saturday, September 12

Our Saturday morning started off bright and early, as mornings when we're camping usually do. We quickly and quietly packed up our car and left the campground, before there was even any other sign of life from the other campers. (How can you even sleep in when it's 32 degrees and you're in a tent?!) I'm not at all saying that I wish we had found a hotel, I was perfectly fine making a cocoon for myself out of blankets and wearing every warm article of clothing that both Curtis and I had with us. I consider this night sleeping outside as one of my greatest accomplishments. ;)

We drove a little further up the dirt road until we came to the trailhead for Monarch Lake. From here, many other trails go off into the Arapaho National Forest and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, but we were perfectly content to hike the 3 mile loop trail around the lake. Our main focus was to get back to where we were strength wise, and adjust to these higher altitudes. In case you don't remember, just one week ago we were approximately 3 feet above sea level in Newport, RI.

That was another fun thought to consider - how just a week ago, we were driving through the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains in Vermont, and now today we were exploring the Rockies. Just 2 weeks before this, we were impatiently anticipating our long-awaited reunion, and here we were now, walking hand in hand on this beautiful trail beside a peaceful lake. Life is good. God is good. These were the moments we had been longing for for so long.

With our early morning start and being the only humans out here, Curtis was really hoping we'd see a moose. As we walked along the lake, he pointed out the areas where we'd most likely see them - in the tall grass next to the water - and both Charlotte and I were constantly looking around anxiously. I really wouldn't mind seeing a moose...on the side of the road...safely from the inside of my car, but maybe not so much on my own out here. I have to admit that when we got back to our car and hadn't seen any, I was still a little disappointed though. I wouldn't say I am scared of seeing all wildlife, I just have a healthy amount of respect for what lives in these areas and a desire to not interfere with their lives.

Charlotte, however, seemed very tense this morning. She was doing her "quiet, sneaky walk" that she does when she's trying to get away from a bigger dog without being seen. Her tail was often between her legs and she would stop and point a lot. It made me nervous when she was like that, but we couldn't be sure what she was sensing. We saw some people on horses and she was scared of those, so it could have been the scent of the horses all along the trail. Either way, we made sure to be careful and look out for our little sweetheart, and do our best to help her relax.

We came across this huge steam winch along the trail, which was once used by lumberjacks. We love finding random bits of history along the trail.

After this lovely, early morning hike, we continued on our way heading South. We drove through Grandby and grabbed some lunch, and planned out our next 2 days while we had wifi. We then drove South on 34, going over the Continental Divide for the second time (the first being in Rocky Mountain National Park). We stopped here for a letterbox and to learn a little about the Continental Divide Trail. (And to dream of the day we could through hike it.) ;)

We thought about hiking 3 miles to the peak of a 13er here, but were completely out of breath and decided to save that for another day. We took in the view, then went on our way.

We drove West on I-70 for just a bit, then stopped in Georgetown, where we'd stay for the night. I tried to get some advice from the visitor's center there, but it turned out to be more of a gift shop than any help to travelers so we picked out a couple letterboxes to find in the area. We drove through the town then up Guanella Pass.

We had been planning to camp up here along the pass, but when we reached the campsite, we found that it was closed for the season. We discussed a little what our other options were, and eventually decided to find a hotel for the night. We were planning to do a longer hike the next morning, so getting a good night's sleep was our top priority.

We did a little hiking and letterboxing at some of the pull offs along Guanella Pass as we made our way back to Georgetown. We enjoyed seeing the fall colors all around, and wandering around the trails. There were so many unmarked trails and we had no idea where any went, so we just wandered for the sake of enjoying the gorgeous afternoon. I know Charlotte was thankful to just burn some energy after all the driving we'd been doing.

We drove back to Georgetown and found a place to stay for the night. Charlotte made herself right at home on the one queen sized bed, taking up as much room as a small basset hound can, so the 3 of us squeezed on the bed and cuddled all night long. :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rocky Mountain and Lake Grandby

Colorado Adventure, Day 2
Friday, September 11, 2015

After our night in Cheyenne, we headed South for Colorado - but not before grabbing our first letterbox in Wyoming! As we drove through the plains, the sky was overcast and it was difficult to see where the Rocky Mountains began. But as soon as we exited I-25 and drove through Loveland, the skies cleared and the views were phenomenal. Both of us had been to Rocky Mountain National Park before with our families, but we were still blown away by the views - everything from the vast canyon walls on the drive in, to the high mountain peaks, and the valleys with the hidden blue lakes.

Our plans for the day simply involved driving through the whole park and then finding a place to camp on the West end. We would have loved to spend lots of time in the park and do some hiking, but the rules for dogs made that impossible for this trip. We understand why there are rules though - to protect the wildlife - and we are okay with that. It's probably for the better anyway, considering that Charlotte was terrified of the bear statue in the visitor's center parking lot. We're talking hair on end, tail between her legs, growling, and refusing to take a single step toward it. You may think "can't you just pull a 30 pound dog toward it to teach her?" No. No I can't. She's a tank. She's the heaviest 30 pound dog ever. You don't ever want to have her run into you. Ouch.

And so, being the loving parents we are, we decided to just drive through and enjoy the scenic pull outs rather than dropping our child off at puppy day care. As much as an inconvenience it can be, we still enjoyed traveling with Charlotte, and seeing how she takes in the views and experiences while on the road. And how could we keep her from great places like this?! Even without a hike, it's safe to say Charlotte thoroughly enjoyed her first time in a national park. :)

With all that said, enjoy our pictures from RMNP, while driving West on highway 34!

We stopped at lots of rest areas, and let Charlotte walk around the parking lots and paved sidewalks. When we didn't let her out, she'd give me looks like this.

Charlotte decided the front row in the Jeep offered better views.

After driving through the park, we stopped at a visitor's center in Grand Lake to get the scoop on dog friendly camping in the area. We chose the campground furthest out, next to Lake Grandby, with some dog-friendly hiking nearby. It was 10 miles off of highway 34 on a dirt road, but the fall colors all around the peaceful lake made the drive worth it. We also enjoyed seeing the dams along the drive. After staking our claim on a campsite, we drove back to Grand Lake for some letterboxing and hiking.

How to keep Charlotte happy on road trips: windows down, sun on her face, ears blowing in the wind!

There are so many good reasons to visit Colorado in the early fall; our favorite thing throughout this whole trip was the golden aspens. Wherever we went, they were there, and they were always our favorite part. Other good reasons are less people, (still lots of people, but less than you'd find in the summer!) and gorgeous weather for hiking. One downside was that some campsites along the way were already closed for the season. It may have been a little chilly some nights, but if I can survive sleeping outside without a sleeping bag on those nights, I'm pretty sure anyone can.

We grabbed several boxes in Grand Lake, then walked around town searching for a local place for dinner. Our only requirement for restaurants was a place with outdoor seating so Charlotte could be with us, but we couldn't find anything that fit the bill there. We gave up and headed South to Grandby to continue the search. There, we found a pizza place called Lina's Pizza and got the biggest Stromboli EVER which the 3 of us happily enjoyed back at the campsite. :)

Curtis set up the tent while I followed Charlotte's nose all over the campground, letting her sniff to her heart's nose's content.

So, our first attempt at camping with a dog kind of turned out to be a fail...Charlotte absolutely refused to get in the tent. She would have none of that nonsense. We ended up cracking the windows in the Jeep and letting her sleep in there. Hey, it was 50 degrees and quickly dropping, so at least heat wouldn't be a problem... 

The cold, however. Yikes. Not sure how I survived that. ;)