We left Grand Junction way too late at night….which put us arriving near the park around 11:30pm. We had directions to BLM camping, but we had a really hard time finding it in the dark. Not only that, but once we did find it, we found that the dirt road into it was absolutely terrible. We had already started on the road, and there was no place for us to turn around, so our only option – in the pitch black – was to keep driving forward. The road seemed to get worse as we drove on and I kept imagining us having to go back out the way we had come in once the morning light arrived. At one point Adam stopped and got out with his spotlight to see if we were even going to make it very much further. Lucky for us, the road ended up being a loop and we were able to park right where we were, and then drive straight out onto the road in the morning. When we pulled up to the first overlook inside the National Park, we realized that in our off-roading the previous night, we had bent the rim of a tire, which had caused the air to leak out. Our first flat tire….4 days in.
After changing the tire, and heading to the Visitor Center to get our Junior Ranger booklets, we hopped back in the truck and took the East Portal Road down to the river. It is a windy, steep road that only vehicles under 22 feet are allowed down. At the water, we let the dogs out and enjoyed the freezing water on our toes and trying to get the dogs to swim. This portion of the river did not have the steep cliff walls on either side, so the views were not as pretty as they would be if we had hiked down into canyon at a different point.
Since we had had poor luck with BLM camping the night before, we decided to stay one night in the Park’s campground, South Rim Campground. During the heat of the day, we came back to our campsite and took naps, finished up the Junior Ranger booklets, and then the kids and I hiked a portion of the South Rim trail, the beginning of which was just a few hundred feet away from our campsite. This was a beautiful trail that led to a great opening into the view of the Canyon. Although, I was pretty damn terrified to be on that trail with my three wild kids by myself. In order to get a photo, I made all three of them sit down as FAR AWAY FROM THE EDGE as they could get and I told Axton to not let go of Mira no matter how much she cried. I speedily took my photo and got back to them before one of them could go barreling into the canyon.
In the evening, we drove the entire South Rim Road and stopped at almost all the lookouts. Our personal favorites were Tomichi (the very first lookout when you arrive into the park), the Visitor Center’s lookout, Pulpit Rock (which had a cool, narrow walkway out to the lookout), and Painted Wall.
Our last morning at the park was spent hiking at High Point overlook. It was just long enough and steep enough to require some dragging on Rhenner’s part, but my 6-year-old kept up fine.
Next time: Spend time in the nearby Curecanti Recreational Area. Take a ranger-led boat tour.
Without the kids: Hike Rim to River.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Halfway in between Black Canyon and Rocky Mountain, we followed online directions to Gross Reservoir, where there was supposedly some free camping space. Well, there was tons of camping…but it was not so good for hauling our trailer over! I was so nervous driving in, I was clutching the door handles. I finally figured out that sometimes it’s just better for me not to watch, then to agonize over each and every bump I can see coming up. We ended up popping our SECOND tire on this road, but it was due to a nail in the road, not because of the crummy road conditions. The reservoir ended up being gorgeous, but not worth the trek in with our equipment.
Our camping situation was SO much better while we were visiting RoMo NatPark. We were parked on some BLM land about a half hour outside of the park. We had a neighbor, but they kept to themselves as we did, too. But our truck was parked right up against a little creek with a steep mountain slope on either side of us. It got chilly, but in the mornings, I would take the dogs out for a walk and the sun warmed us up just right. The boys had a blast riding their bikes up and down the dirt road, digging with their shovels in the dirt, and even getting to paint their favorite scene (Rhenner painted a rainbow. There were no rainbows). I loved having the river right next to us to rinse our dishes out, and then to collect and boil water to use for washing. We also loved the sound of the water, and the cove of pine trees next to us. We knew we would be at this site for at least a few nights in a row, so we set it ALL up – the canopy and our tables, which adds so much space to eat/play/do dishes in. It’s like a whole new living room addition.
The next morning, we got up early and went straight into the Park and spent the whole day there. We picked up our Junior Ranger packets (of course!) and hopped on the shuttle as parking was already full at most trailheads (crazy!). We first got dropped off at Bear Lake, which was a short little walk to see the lake, and then a flat trail that went around the circumference of the lake. While we were there, we saw a sign for another lake that was 2 miles away. I thought, “We can handle two miles!” So we went on our merry little way. We were pretty happy to reach the second lake, Bierstadt Lake, as the kids were beginning to complain. Nothing too major, but we were relieved to make it there….until we saw the sign that pointed another 1.5 miles to the next shuttle stop. Oh riiight….I forgot about that minor detail.
Well, there wasn’t much we could do at that point so on we went. Rhenner, who is 4, was starting to get pretty tired so I carried him for a short time until my back started hurting too much. I put him down, and Adam kept the kids laughing and happy by walking into trees and tripping on branches. We even spotted some moose, but they kind of terrify me so I made the kids walk as quickly and quietly as we could past them. We kept going…and going….and thinking that this was probably the LONGEST mile and a half known to man until we finally made it to a road, and walked just a bit further to the shuttle stop. When we got there we checked a map and realized we had indeed hiked much longer than 1.5 miles. We had hiked twice as far! So our 2 mile hike had accidentally turned into 5 miles. Both boys were legit crying by the end, but we MADE IT!! We promised them we wouldn’t do any hiking the next day 🙂
In the morning, we met up with a Ranger to learn about bugs and the boys enjoyed digging nets into a pond to catch and interrogate water insects. Afterwards, we finished the Alpine Loop, and stopped in at the Alpine Visitor Center which is at an elevation of 11,000 feet. This drive is incredible! We saw tons of elk (which the boys called reindeer. “Mom, where’s Rudolph??”). The wind was also insane up there. It was cold, but we were glad that we were there in the summertime!
We think (but it’s so hard to say for sure!) that Rocky Mountain National Park has been our favorite one so far. It was just amazing to be so high up on those mountains and to see the sky and land meet in such a glorious way! It was a peaceful park to be in.
Next time: Go to the historic sites + Moraine Discovery Center
Watch the video to hear some more stories from this week!!