Saturday, May 23, 2009

Freezing Clouds, the Trail Ridge Road and Estes Park

Trail Ridge Road, the paved road which spans the north half of the Rocky Mountain National Park, was opened for the season yesterday, 22MAY09. So of course, I thought I'd try for Milner Pass which crosses the Continental Divide along this road.

I woke to overcast skies and forecasts of temperatures highs of only in the 50s. Iffy conditions at best for going into the mountains but decided to give it a shot, given the suddenness in which Colorado weather can change you know.

I made good time to Estes Park, the small town at the eastern end of the Rocky Mountain National Park, hereafter referred to as RMNP. I rode up the I-25 super slab to US36 which I took through Boulder and it eventually got me to Estes Park. The ride was a bit chilly and I stopped in the town of Lyons to don my windproof jacket liner and neck scarf!

I was at Estes Park shortly before 1100am and went in to the RMNP Falls River entrance and paid my $10 when I saw that the sign for the Trail Ridge Road indicated it was open!

The skies were still heavily overcast and I could not see the top half to a third of the peaks of the mountains around me. Not a good sign but still I went ahead and pointed Brigitta, my 1987 R80 Beemer down CO34 which is the numerical designation for Trail Ridge Road.

You can't see the top of the mountain on which Trail Ridge road is built

The roads were dry, and things were looking good in terms of traction all the way to this sign by the side of the road:

Note the cloud/fog conditions behind and below the sign

I stopped near the sign above to take pictures of the foggy conditions all around me at this point. As you can see, I was entering the area of the mountains that were socked in by gray clouds.

Here, I hesitated a bit, let a few cars go ahead of me and then decided to forge on for a bit more. Visibility got rapidly worse in the next mile or so, to the point where I could barely see more than 50 feet in front of me! I had my helmet visor fully up since the mist was starting to freeze up on it.

I started to look for a spot to turn around soon after I saw my onboard thermometer read 37°F, which meant it was probably closer to 32°F and I feared that ice on the road was soon to appear. Finally glimpsed an overlook's parking lot, managed to turn into it and got myself turned around. Milner Pass and that particular stretch of the Continental Divide will have to wait for another warmer and sunlit day.

By this point, visibility was less than 20ft and still some of the idiot cagers on the road did not have their lights on! I waited a bit at the exit, trying to peer into the oncoming lane before pulling out of the parking lot.

Made it out with no issues but it was slow and tense going the whole way back to the lower elevations. The roads appear to have been dry but visibility and watching stuff freeze onto the motorcycle's windshield was a bit worrisome! The helmet visor was frozen over mostly, so I had to ride with it in the up position, my face exposed to the cold.

I remember riding past snowbanks that were at least 12-15 feet high on the higher side of the road. It would have made for nice photos but since I didn't want to stop by the side of the road where I'd be invisible to cars behind pictures.

Finally got down to the lower elevations below the cloud ceiling. Woof. I must remember to check cloud ceiling reports now before heading into the mountain passes
on cloudy days!

One last look at part of the RMNP

I decided to wander about Estes Park a bit, hoping for the low cloud cover to burn off. First though, it was time for eat the lunch my loving wife had packed for me with an interesting rock in the background for company:

I think this is Oldman Mountain

Here's a pano shot of the line of rocky hills that kept me company as well for lunch:
After lunch, I wandered over to the Historic Stanley Hotel of Estes Park, here's some then and now shots:

Photo of the hotel Circa 1946
link to DPL - Call#CHS.x444

The hotel's main entrance, which apparently faces away from Estes Park

Wikipedia excerpts: LINK
The Stanley Hotel is a 138-room Georgian hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Located within sight of the Rocky Mountain National Park, the Stanley offers panoramic views of the Rockies.

It was built by Freelan O. Stanley of Stanley Steamer fame and opened on July 4, 1909, catering to the rich and famous. The hotel and its surrounding lands are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Stanley has hosted many famous guests, including the Titanic survivor Margaret Brown, John Philip Sousa, Theodore Roosevelt, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and a variety of Hollywood personalities. The Stanley Hotel also hosted Stephen King, inspiring him to write The Shining.

Here's a fun fact: The Stanley Hotel shows the uncut R-rated version of Kubrick's The Shining on a continuous loop on Channel 42 on guest room televisions.

Continuing to wander, I found myself on the road to Devil's Gulch and while I didn't go all the way there, I did find Eagle Rock and posed Brigitta accordingly:
Eagle Rock

I made my way back to Estes Park and took US36 to CO7, electing to take part of the Peak to Peak highway homewards. The gloomy overcast skies were still no letting up and I gave up at this point hoping for some sunlight to burn off the clouds from the mountain tops and the Trail Ridge Road.

The views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker, the gorgeous mountains one can see while riding the Peak to Peak highway were obscured today by the low clouds. However, here's a couple of shots of the Saint Malo Retreat Center:

From the Camp Saint Malo's website: LINK

It was an August night in 1916 when Msgr. Joseph J. Bosetti saw a fiery meteor fall from the sky. An avid mountaineer and, at the time, a young assistant pastor at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Msgr. Bosetti later related that the meteor seemed to fall into the aspen and pine-covered forests at the foot of Mount Meeker.

He never found the meteor, but at dawn, did discover an impressive lichen-covered rock formation. Bosetti regarded this as a message from heaven and vowed to build a chapel on the site.
Kind of cool huh, how the chapel ended up being built where it is above.

As I neared the town of Boulder, I could see that the cloud ceiling had lifted high enough by 3:00 PM to allow one to see the tops of the flatirons. That's the name of the eye-catching rock formations near Boulder.

I detoured away from US36 and wandered the back streets of Boulder's western side till I found some pretty good photo angles to pose Brigitta by. But first, I rode up a city park which twisted its way up a mountain. A few hairpins and views of steep drop-offs later I was at the Flagstaff Summit. I am sure the views, on a clearer day, must be awesome. Today though, they were marginal at best, lots of haze in the air:


I made my way down this mountain park (it was located on Flagstaff Mountain) and parked Brigitta along Baseline Road for several shots of the Flatirons.

The "today" shot, this one was the best of the bunch. I must go back some other day when the light is better. Note that I lucked out and unknowingly framed the rolling hills in the foreground pretty much where the "before" shot above had them lined up.

The Flatirons
Shot of the Flatirons Circa 1898-1900
 DPL - Call# X-11713

Near where I took the above shot, is the Colorado Chatauqua Park Historic Landmark site. Here's an excerpt from their website: LINK

On July 4, 1898, over 4,000 people gathered for the opening day of the Colorado Chautauqua. Boulder civic leaders and Texas educators had joined together to create a cultural and educational summer retreat. Today, the Colorado Chautauqua is one of three remaining Chautauquas in the United States, and the only site west of the Mississippi River, in continuous operation, with its original structures intact.

Before radio and television, the Chautauqua Movement united millions in common cultural and educational experiences. Orators, performers, and educators traveled a national Chautauqua circuit of more than 12,000 sites bringing lectures, performances, concerts, classes, and exhibitions to thousands of people in small towns and cities. Theodore Roosevelt called Chautauquas, "the most American thing in America."

Located at the base of Boulder's Flatirons, Chautauqua Park is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a local landmark. The Colorado Chautauqua Association, a 501 (c) (3) organization, leases twenty-six acres of land from the City of Boulder, on which are situated:

The Auditorium (1898) included on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been voted one of the top ten places artists love to play because of its superior acoustics and intimate feel.

I'd never heard of the Chatauqua Movement and was pleased to be able to add a bit of learning to today's mediocre photography results.

I give you then, pictures of the Auditorium, today and back at the beginning of the 20th century:

Circa 1900, in bright sunlight
link to DPL: Call# MCC-305
Circa 1902, on a cloudy day, just like today
link to DPL: Call#x-11721

About this point, I had been in the saddle for over 7 hrs by rough reckoning and was feeling cold and tired. I pointed Brigitta homewards, retracing my route outwards and was home by a little after 5:00 PM.


Electra Glide In Blue said...

One of these days we will have to meet up on "top" for lunch...
Electra Glide In Blue

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

I have said this befire, after reading your blog on a number of occasions, and I am compeled to say it again now. You very often produce the kind of ride report that easily lends itself to extrapolation for an article in the BMW MOA's Owners News, and certainly Road Runner magazine as well.

Your rides are ideal fodder for intermediate riders bordering on expert. While you yourself demonstate many advanced rider techniques that belie a higher set of skills, your rides are tailored to those who want to raise the bar on adventure -- without going extreme.

This piece -- the Trail Ridge Road ans Estes Park -- is a bit of a departure from your usual fare. For example, you generally do not combine historical elements with exploratory rides that probe challenging weaher conditions. Yet you did in this one, casually noting you spent 7 hours in the saddle. The average rider (and I mean no insult to anyone) will go out for a four-hour run and spend 90 minutes of that at lunch.

I have done it myself on occasion.

Yesterday, I did a short run of 121 miles, in heat close to 90 degrees. Sweat was pouring out of my ears and the ride was like sitting in a jet engine exhaust. But you were slogging through fog (big deal, so what) THAT WAS FREEZING ON YOUR HELMET. In my experience, when it's freezing on the helmet, it is freezing on every bridge, overpass, expansion join, manhole cover, and culvert.

I was mesmerized by your tale... And I think you deserve a broader audience. Your story had a good deal of high adventure in it that struck a chord with me. I think your work would be greatly appreciated by riders who are tired of the same old bullshit poker runs, roads that they cover every weekend, and views that never change.

Just my opinion...

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Charlie6 said...

Electra Glide, lunch would be good, a ride down one of your favorite roads would be great too. Thanks for reading my meanderings.

Charlie6 said...


thanks for your ego-stokingly kind commentary!

I probably should have broken the posting into two separate postings since they were quite disparate subjects, however it was all part of the same day's ride, I'll have think on that.

I lack your ability, nay talent, to "extrapolate" real life into vivid imagery heavily laced with humor. Still, I will keep trying....

Derek said...

I agree with Jack. Your writing and photography deserve a broader audience. While I often fall into the category of the four-hour tourer, I'm also a commuter who dreams of his next long ride. In this piece, it was the picture of the chapel that really got me hooked. Too many years in Catholic school, I guess.

Charlie6 said...

Thanks for your kind words Derek, as I've mentioned to Jack, it's the "extrapolation" part that's slowing me down. : )