Saturday, June 19
Seems like I’ve missed the last few club drives for one reason (excuse?) or another. I enjoy going on the club drives for a few reasons. One of the main reasons is that we’re often driving routes that include some time on roads I’m not familiar with.
This time, though, we took a route that is quite familiar to me. My typical modus operandi when I hike on the west side of RMNP is to take I-70 west to US 40, cross Berthoud Pass, cruise through Winter Park, Fraser, and Granby, and from there catching US 34 through Grand Lake and into the park. After my hike, I typically take Trail Ridge Road into Estes Park, then head home on US 36. Today’s route was exactly this, but in reverse. Nothing new here for me to see.
But it’s always a pleasure to meet up with a group of folks with whom I share a passion. And, besides, my annual park pass has expired and I need to get a new one. And, finally, this would be my first chance to get a glimpse of the damage done by the East Troublesome wildfire that blew through the Park late last summer.
We met at the Safeway gas station in Estes Park early enough that we didn’t need any timed entry passes for the day. Which meant we needed to be through the entrance station by 9am. I’m typically in the Park and on the trail by 7 or 7:30, so I didn’t really have any idea how many people are trying to get in at about 8:30. It turns out it was a good thing we left our assembly point a few minutes earlier than planned: the line was already quite long, about half way from the entrance station to the Beaver Meadows visitor center.
It was a long wait. I didn’t time it, but I’m sure it was 20 or 30 minutes. This proved to be an uncomfortable wait for some visitors. A few cars in front of me was a family in an SUV. At one point, the father got out of the car and helped his son. The son, about 4 years old and still in his pajamas, really, really, really needed to pee. Dad got him a few feet off the road where he dropped trou and let fly. Like a firehose. I’ve never seen anybody pee such a great distance. I’m sure he was quite relieved!
Once we were into the Park and moving again, I don’t think we topped 25mph on our way to the Alpine Visitor Center. I’m not sure the timed entry passes are keeping visitors out of the Park. Everybody knows when access is restricted, so they (like us) just planned to get there before a pass was necessary. All the parking areas along Trail Ridge Road were pretty full. I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to park our more-than-a-dozen cars. My concern was unfounded: there was still plenty of parking available.
Our planned photo stop was at a small dirt parking lot at Beaver Ponds picnic area. It’s just big enough to get all our cars into, assuming there’s nobody else already there. We were in luck: there were only a couple of cars there. The kids who were there were much more interested in looking at our cars (and asking lots of questions) than they were in the beautiful natural scenery.
From this stop to the entrance station, I was quite curious to see the fire damage. The main problem I had was that I was driving. As such, I’m pretty much required to keep my eyes on the road. So I just held the camera one-handed out the window or over my head, pointed it more or less in the direction of whatever I wanted to see, and snapped away. I shot a couple of dozen pictures this way. The combination of my inability to compose a shot and moving at something like 50mph makes for less than stellar pictures. But some were interesting nonetheless.
One of the things that struck me was the number of trees that were broken eight or ten or twelve feet above the ground and all facing in the same direction. I’ve hiked many times through burn scars and have never seen anything like it before. Typically, these dead tree trunks just topple over, lifting a disk of roots with them. I’ve only seen tree trunks snapped off above the ground by avalanches. In those cases, I’m thinking the trunks are snapped off six feet above the ground because there was six feet of snow on the ground when the avalanche struck.
Here, I can only think the wind must have been the agent. Why else would all the downed trunks face the same direction? And it wasn’t just in one spot – I saw this several times along those few miles of road. True, the trunks aren’t always snapped off. Quite often the trees are just bent over with the tops touching the ground. I find it very interesting.
Our next stop was lunch in Winter Park, at the Winter Park Pub. They had cordoned off most of their parking lot for us and we basically occupied all their outdoor seating. I couldn’t help but be amused that they pretty much were out of everything I wanted to order. I’d have loved to have had iced tea, the turkey avocado bacon sandwich, and onion rings. Before ordering, I changed my mind and decided on fries instead of rings. In the end, I had diet Pepsi (“Sorry, we don’t have any iced tea.”), and substituted chicken for turkey on the sandwich (“We’re out of turkey”). Kevin ordered onion rings, but they were out of those, too. I can’t help but wonder what they’d be out of by dinner time.
There were quite a few people on this drive who I hadn’t met before. I generally try to introduce myself to anybody I haven’t met before but somehow managed to sit at a table with folks I’ve known for quite some time. I’ll have to try harder next time to mingle. These drives aren’t just about the cars and the roads: it’s the people who make it all worthwhile.
Lunch was the end of the organized portion of the drive. From Winter Park, we were all on our own to get home. The only real effect this had was that, rather than keeping together in a tight group, we got spread out over the countryside. Most of us were still more or less together over Berthoud Pass, and I wasn’t on my own until I was just a few miles from home.