Summer in the Never Summer Mountains

As I continue my northern trek up through Colorado, I sit at the crossroads. I want to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. Though I’ve been there before, it’s been many years, so I remember very little.

Besides, I am longing for some “ready made hiking.” I grow weary having to research every inch of my life. What are those noises and hiccups that the Winnie and Tracker make, and where can I get them fixed? What are the road conditions ahead?  Weather research now includes not just storm clouds but smoke clouds as well. Where are the legal overnight spots? What are my best options for campgrounds?

And then, there’s recreation. Everything from this point north is an unknown which requires not just research, but a strong signal to do so, which is no small feat in Colorado with AT&T. So when I finally come to a place like one of our national parks, it’s a relief to know well marked hiking routes will be spelled out for me just like in menu form, with easiest to most difficult including the price to pay in distance and elevation gain. It’s nice to have my homework done for me for a change, albeit briefly.

But do I turn in a more northeasterly direction, heading towards Boulder and Longmont and approach Rocky Mountain National Park from the more popular, crowded east side of Estes Park? Or do I head northwest toward Grandby for the quieter western side?

I’ve got no reservations in a national park that reportedly books up six months in advance. And the only first come first served campground appears to be on the west side. But the east side has all the more noteworthy attractions, along with a shuttle service to the trail heads. Yes, there is a road that connects the two sides of the park, Trail Ridge Road, but at over 12,000 ft with hairpin turns, no shoulder and steep drop-offs with no guard rail, I am not keen to drive across in the Winnie towing a car. So I must pick one side or the other, east vs west.

If I head up toward the east, I can also make a stop to visit two of my favorite breweries along the way in Longmont, Oskar Blues and Left Hand.  But it’s hot in the lowlands. Like 90 plus.  In spite of the cold beer options in Longmont, I just can’t take the heat, so it’s settled.  I want to stay at higher elevation as much as possible, so I’ll head west.

The little town of Grand Lake is the gateway to the western side of the park. It’s a quaint little mountain town developed alongside a small arm of it’s namesake, Grand Lake, the largest natural lake in Colorado. Its western-style main street is lined with the kind of restaurants with peanut shells on the floor.  There are coffee shops and the ubiquitous homemade-style ice cream shop. But you’d better get what you need before 9:00pm, as everything, even the gas station and market close at 9pm. If one should discover, for example, their Diet Coke supply has just run out at 8:55pm, that person would be SOL. (Checked the Laundromat, scoured the hotel lobbies in town. Nowhere to be found…not even a freekin’ vending machine!! Addiction is a bitch! But I digress.)

The town of Grand Lake is right alongside the waters edge of Colorado’s largest natural lake. Interesting to read how water is diverted under the Continental Divide to the eastern slope by way of a tunnel.

It’s a quaint little mountain town, just about the right size.

Friday night bingo in Grand Lake!

And if bingo is too sedimentary for you, there’s always calisthenics in the town park!

Next up the road just before you reach the gates to the national park is the beautiful Grand Lake Lodge. Even though this lodge sits just outside the park, it is built in the early 1920’s style of the grand park lodges. Beautiful views can be had from their large front porch. Between the porch and the lake is a lovely terrace with huge fire pit and surround-seating area, with views overlooking the town and the lake. It’s a good place for a dinner treat and a wifi fix. Or at a minimum, a nice glass of red beside the fire.

Parking lot at Grand Lake Lodge. The red one is a fire truck.

Grand Lake Lodge, established in 1920 with it’s fireplace, hickory rocking chairs and swings, does not feel as pretentious as some grand lodges.

Scenic views from the lower deck.

This was a memorable spot to enjoy a glass of red and write a blog post!

Through the western side of the park runs the park’s only volcanic range, the “Never Summer Mountains.” I love that many of them are named after clouds. I am reminded of my high school science class as I read the names; Mt Stratus (12,520,) Mt Nimbus (12,706,) Mt Cumulus (12,725,) and Mt Sirrus (12,797.) The valley below the Never Summer Mountains, Kawuneeche Valley, is named for the Arapaho Indians who inhabited the area in the early 1800’s. Before the Arapaho, it was the Ute Indians, believed to be here for 6,000 years.

The RMNP Visitor Center on the west side of the park is named for the Kawuneeche. I stop in for info on hiking in the area, and overhear a conversation with a ranger when a visitor asks “Where can I see a moose?” to which he answers, “Just look for the cars.” It doesn’t take long to see what he means, as I come to stalled traffic on my way to the campground. Is it an accident? Construction? No, just a lone moose grazing on the side of the road.

The roadside paparazzi is an indicator to pull off, or at least slow down!

Do you see what they see?

Finally, she moves out into the sun for her close-up.

Even arriving mid-week in RMNP’s only “first come first serve” site is risky for an RVer, as I get the last site large enough to accommodate my meager 24 ft in the tightly packed Timber Creek Campground. Were it not for the extremely helpful campground host who guided me in, inch by inch until the Winnie was within a hairline of hanging out into the road, I wouldn’t have fit in that one either. The site is so small, the itty-bitty Tracker must park in overflow!

This is the view on the other side of the trees from the crowded Timber Creek Campground.

Hard to believe this is the “Mighty Colorado” that will be raging through the Grand Canyon before long…

This miner’s cabin, one of the oldest buildings left standing in the Kawuneeche Valley, dates back to 1902.

The Colorado River runs right beside the Timber Creek Campground. In fact, it gets its meager start in the Never Summer Mountains forming from the Continental Divide, flowing through the Kawuneeche Valley, meeting up with hundreds of tributaries to flow 1,400 miles to the Gulf of California. The kiosk near the campground reads, “This vast watershed provides most of the Southwest with water for agriculture, industry, and growing populations. To meet these demands, modern civilization has harnessed this once wild river with many dams and diversions along its course – until only a trickle reaches Mexico.” Take heed.

A nice 1.5 mile walk from Timber Creek is the Holzworth Historic Site.

The original site was known as the Holzwarth Trout Lodge, 1920 – 1929.

Interpretive Volunteer gives tours around the site. Three of the original cabins remain, the newer Rose (1951) and Twin 1 (1921) and Twin II (1923.)

Inside the oldest of the cabins, the volunteer asks if anyone would trade their social media addictions for a week in the 1921 cabin. Surprisingly, all say a resounding “YES!”

That was until we got a look at the outhouse!

The original ice house. The property was later expanded and renamed the “Never Summer Ranch,” but the NPS raised the newer buildings since they had no historic significance.

I ask “Can I touch it?” The volunteer says “Not only can you touch it…”

“It’s that full length fur coat you always dreamed of…”

Hiking is good on the western side offering views of old town sites, meandering along the clear Colorado River, and scenic vistas. I find enough to keep me occupied for six days. But I tell my friend Maureen in an email “It’s pretty….but it doesn’t hold a candle to the San Juans.” Albeit quiet with lighter crowds, I would discover a couple of weeks later why all the masses are drawn to the eastern side…

Some of the many “ready-made hiking trails” on the west side of the park.

I am headed to the Lulu City Site, once an old mining town with population of 200. Along the way, I pass what’s left of the old Shipler Cabins.

Still a few small wildflowers left.

I have not seen anyone for quite a while on this hike, and I have this eerie thought…”What would you do, Suzanne, if you came across a bear?” At that very instant, I look over to my left and see a moose!

Just me and her…no roadside paparazzi here.

It’s another couple of miles to reach Little Yellowstone Canyon, so I keep going.

I think of my friend Gayle at this point…

Finally, I start to see signs of the canyon. But I meet a man on the trail, “Mando” (as in Armando) from Italy who tells me it’s another mile to get to the good parts. So I keep going…

I’ve been six miles at this point. Gotta STOP and turn around, or I won’t have enough leg power to get back home!

“My analyst told me…”

15 thoughts on “Summer in the Never Summer Mountains

  1. You look fine in that fur coat and Stetson hat Suzanne! Based on those views, I too would have sacrificed my legs for that 12-mile r/t hike, especially with moose in the picture. As for that last photo, could you be referring to Joni Mitchell’s “Twisted”?

  2. Oh Buffalo Woman! Six suns in such a place….magical. Looking forward to your post from the East side. And you are right…. nothing like some “Court and Spark” on a Sunday afternoon.

  3. We have pictures of our kids in that coat from 30 years ago. This year we got pictures of some of our grandkids in that coat. Now my question is can it be the same coat??? Haha!

  4. was that a moose coat. what a beautiful part of our wonderful country. whenever I can see moose I am happy. As usual we love both the test and pictures.

    • Hi, Allen. It was a coat made from buffalo hide, on display at the Holzwarth Historic Site in RMNP West. It was understandably quite warm. I always marvel at how the pioneers were able to survive the harsh winters, but the buffalo hide had to be their best defense.

  5. As much as I enjoy your reflective posts I glean both knowledge and joy from your informative ones as well. Grand Lake Lodge…looks grand, indeed! And I always look forward to hints of verse from song. As much as I enjoy Joni Mitchell’s voice and style, I had to have help with this one. 🙂 This one phrase, however, strikes a different chord: “…and growing populations.” For sure, the present time necessitates taking heed (and action and readiness) for our future. A final thought from this post…give me calisthenics over Bingo every time. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *