If you missed the first 2 posts in this series, check them out here:
The next day, I decided to explore the town and do some shopping. I started with breakfast at Claire’s On The Park, went in to many many “Always Christmas” shops, picked up some souvenirs, a lot of saltwater taffy and generally just embraced life as a tourist in a tourist town. At first glance, I can imagine Estes Park could be perceived as just another tourist trap due to the large number of “t-shirt and hat” stores, with a large selection of easily reproducible merchandise one might also find at the Denver Airport. But in between the generic storefronts, there are some very unique, quaint and altogether lovely stores. The Wildflower Mercantile is one of them – the lovely shop owner will gladly point out the rest of the good ones. Not to mention, my favourite watering hole, Kind Coffee where I spent another hour or so sitting by the river, reading, sipping on my “Tundra Pika Latte” and eating a toasted bagel with herb and garlic cream cheese, all of which was made fresh in store (best bagel of my life). Once I was all shopped out, I drove up once again to Trail Ridge Road to try catch a glimpse of the notorious sunset, thankful today had a clear sky. I chased the sun and found it setting directly behind yet another group of majestic Elk, grazing on the grass in front of me. I also met a nice, retired couple who watched the sunset with me and we talked about their road trip adventures. When I got back to the lodge, Peter, Ellen, and their kids, Nathan and Sarah were sitting around the campfire, making smores. I sat with them and Nathan made me the most gigantic smore of all time. Around 9pm, Ellen made a weird face, and moved her head to look behind me. When I turned around, I saw about 20 feet away, a small black bear approaching the front porch of the lodge. Everyone around the campfire laughed at the little bear’s mischievousness, no one appearing to be frightened in the least. Ellen yelled at it to stay away from her laundry and it scooted away into the the neighbour’s yard. About 10 minutes later, from down the street, we heard a car’s horn blaring continuously for about a minute. It stopped, then started back up again a minute later. Then we watched as a police cruiser made its way down the street towards the horn. We all wandered out to the street to join in the community spectacle and were told by a neighbour that the bear had managed to get inside someone’s car and was happily eating a granola bar while leaning on the horn. The police ended up shooting a bean bag at the bear – harmless, but startling enough to motivate the bear to move on with its life. The smores were finished, the fire was snuffed and I happily made my way to bed, full of chocolate and marshmallow.
The next day, I woke up early and drove to the southern entrance of the park to the Wild Basin trailhead to do the hike up to Ouzel falls. This was basically the epitome of the American Forest hike I had always wanted to experience. Early in the morning, the air was cool, but streaks of sun peeked through the tall trees, the smell of pine needles covering the ground. It reminded me of the treehouse at my grandparent’s house I used to play in as a child. Little woodland creatures scurried around me and friendly groups of retired bird watchers stood huddled every so often staring up at the treetops with their binoculars. There was a skip in my step and I quickly made my way past Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades, with a goal in mind to reach Ouzel Falls with plenty of time to sit and enjoy the view. The smell and sound of water permeated the air as the trail followed the river up to 870 feet of elevation. When I arrived at the Falls, there was already quite a large group of people, enjoying a rest by the water. It was gorgeous and there was a “secret” little pathway that took you behind the falls looking out at everyone, so close you could reach your hand out and touch the falling water. After having a delicious lunch on a log (turkey sandwich and trailmix), I slowly made my way back to the trailhead, taking my time to enjoy the views I had sped past on the way up.
On the way back into town, I stopped at yet another charming coffee shop, Coffee on the Rocks. They too have amazingly creative flavoured drinks and snacks with a sandalwood vibe and chairs by the river so you can feed the ducks while you chill.
After a bit of a rest in my room, I drove to The Twin Owls Steakhouse, and was excited because Tripadvisor had ranked it one of the top restaurants in Estes Park at the time. I won’t go into this in great detail because I don’t want to be “that guy”, but I have to say my experience here was pretty terrible. The hostess was very rude, the server I had was lovely but that was the only saving grace. My cocktail was just a glass of pure liquor (not my style), my lamb which I was so excited about because lamb is my favourite was entirely raw. Not rare. Raw. I tried to suffer through it, but I gave up and asked my server to see if they could cook it longer (to her credit, she made a disgusted face when she actually looked at the meat, and brought it back speedily). All in all, not what I had hoped it would be. And to add insult to injury I think the raw meat did a number on my tummy later that night. So needless to say, not my favourite meal.
That night, to makeup for the bad dinner, I ate a box of cookies and fell asleep watching Stepmom in front of the fire. Evening salvaged.
On my way to Estes Park from Denver on that first day, I had stopped briefly in Boulder for a bio break, a coffee and a chance to stretch my legs. I parked downtown and saw just enough to know I wanted to come back when I had more time. This was my last full day in Colorado, and the perfect opportunity to go back and look around. I parked next to the main strip, where “Pearl St. Mall” is located. The mall is not actually a mall at all but a large, outdoor expanse of red brick pedestrian walkways, connecting the shops. I walked around, did a little window shopping, visited one of the most beautiful book stores I’ve ever been in and ate some sushi. A lot of the stores are centered around outdoor and healthy living, whether it’s a Patagonia store or a healing crystals shop. The vibe is academic hippy and it was a lovely place to be under the shady trees on a warm day. But I didn’t have much room in my suitcase and had purchased most of my souvenirs already so after a couple hours I was ready to head back to say my last Goodbye to the beautiful Rocky Mountains. I drove to the RMNP entrance and made my way through the park to Sprague lake. It was very windy and a storm was rolling in, but Sprague lake turned out to be the best place to say my goodbyes to the trees and the lakes and the mountains. Sprague lake is a very easy loop with man-made trails; a perfect half-hour stroll on regular occasions. But on this day, as soon I arrived at the path, I saw a large group of people huddled, staring at something in the trees. I walked over and saw 2 enormous Moose wading in the water, a Park Ranger making sure no one ventured too close. They were so much bigger in person than I realized and I totally understood why people had been sitting here all day just watching them hang out. After a few minutes, I decided to finish my stroll and made my way around the loop. Towards the end of my walk, as I approached the moose again, it started to rain and most of the people who had been watching, left to go back to their cars. I stood watching the pair a little longer and no sooner had the crowd dispersed than the moose slowly waded towards the path, heaved themselves out of the water and started walking towards me. My heart was racing and I slowly backed myself up until they veered left, up a hill towards the woods. I watched them disappear into the trees until I couldn’t see them at all. I really felt like something special had just happened. Like The mountains were saying goodbye back.
That night, I found myself in my favourite spot in Estes Park. Watching the sunset, from a seat on the white, wraparound porch of the Stanley Hotel with a Lucky Lucy in one hand and and a piece of chocolate cake to go in the other (It was Peter’s birthday). When I finished my drink, I said goodbye to the ghosts and started toward my last stop before bed; smores and birthday celebrations around a campfire with new friends.
Thanks for coming on this Rocky Mountain Journey With me!
If you missed the first 2 posts in this series, check them out here: