You won’t get too much of it in this blog, though. Nope! After going through all the photos I took during this ride, I realized I paid a lot of attention to my riding buddies. So this blog is going to be about the fun, camaraderie, laughter, and pure enjoyment of riding motorcycles with friends along with a bit of a nature talk. Oh and yes, I will share my photos…there’s a bit of scenery plugged in along with the goofiness of my friends.
If you want to see photos of the ride from aboard an MV Brutale, then check out the slide show in my blog titled, A Pictorial Byways Tour. All the photos were taken by my riding buddy, June, who said she wanted me to be in the photos since this is my tour…lol.
Trail Ridge Road
This route takes you through the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the main route in the park and in the summer is a quicker route to get from Grand Lake over to Estes Park…about 47 miles as compared to 161 miles in the winter.
Oh yeah! The scenery is spectacular; even with the pine beetle kill. I still love wandering through RMNP and over Trail Ridge Road over to Grand Lake, despite the loss of so many pine trees. To me, it’s nature and a sign of rebirth. If it wasn’t the beetles killing the trees, it would be fire. But, don’t let this news keep you from taking your own journey over Trail Ridge. Nothing stunts the beauty of the scenery along this road on a clear day…nothing.
Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. And while I’d love to talk about all the technicalities of this road, I won’t. I will include a couple of links below that help visitors learn more about the road and what to expect if they’ve never been there.
For me, the natural splendor that lies along Trail Ridge is what brings me back, time and time again. I always see things I’ve never seen before and am always awed and inspired. From the moment I enter the park, I am greeted with pine and aspen trees. The animals I typically see along the route include elk, mountain goat, big horn sheep, chipmunks, marmots and various birds including the Blue Jay and the Clark’s Nuthatch.
Rising up 4000 feet from the RMNP entrance to the top of Trail Ridge (between 11,000 and 12,000 feet), I find myself along the tundra and unless I stop, I don’t really get to experience the delicate beauty of this world. Because it is the tundra, the growing season is extremely short…maybe eight weeks at best. With such a short growing season, what I can see from the road is sweeping tundra grass, but stopping at a pull-out, or parking in a parking lot and taking a walk along a trail, yields much more. In the middle of the growing season, the tundra blows up with tiny blooms of roses, asters, sunflowers and much more.
There are a couple of short hikes and a couple of long hikes you can take from the top of Trail Ridge. I did not take any of these hikes on my ride, but the ones that are along the road include the Rock Cut (about a half-mile one-way) and there’s a trail that goes straight up to the top of a hill by the Alpine Visitor’s Center.
The Rock Cut hike is an interpretive hike. All along this trail are low-lying signs that describe the tundra, the wildflowers, and the wild life as well as the mountain formations. This hike can be strenuous at first because it begins with a steep rise, but after about 100 yards, it levels out and as you walk along the trail, you get a sweeping 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain ranges. There isn’t a day that the views are not absolutely breath-taking at this point…well, except when the snow is blowing, which it can do even in the middle of summer. If you have never been at this elevation, or you live at much lower elevations, like sea level, then be prepared to stop every 50 feet or so along the steep rise. It tends to take your breath away in more ways than one.
What my buddies and I did on this road
I don’t want to forget the wonderful surprise we had when we road our motorcycles along this route. As it turned out, June 9 was National Get Outdoors Day and so many places around the country had free admissions. Typically, the admission into Rocky Mountain National Park is $10 per motorcycle. Today, we got in free. As we rode along the route, we came across visitors who had parked along the roadside (not in the right places, I might add) and found ourselves hamming it up at each photo op stop.
I made two planned stops along this route. I should have made more, but to be honest, I’m never quite sure about how much patience my riding buddies have with me stopping and taking pictures. I plan on testing that patience further though, when I take them on an over-night byway tour. Anyway, I digress. One stop was on the east side of the park just after the Trail Ridge Road Byway sign. There’s some spectacular vistas at this point, as the mountain rise harshly in the distance.
The second stop was close to the Alpine Visitor’s Center at the west end of the tundra part of the road. The pull out parking area is great for viewing the Gore Mountain Range. What I ended up doing was take photos of my friends being particularly goofy. The wind was also blowing pretty harshly at this point, making for a very chilly photo op.
And yes, again…like previous byway tours…there was this particularly unique individual who was also riding his motorcycle and had also turned off at this point to take some photos. He was an older gentleman…maybe mid-sixties…and was riding a very comfy-looking white Honda Goldwing (I think). We nodded our respectful motorcycle rider nod at each other and as I got off my bike, I pretended to get blown over by the wind to which he chuckled. Yes, I shoulda got his picture…gah! My brain is always off in too many different directions.
What’s so interesting about this rider? Later down the road, he sees us pull off on one of the pullouts, so he pulls over and comes over to us to find out if we were ok. He thought one of my buddies had gotten a flat. When he spoke, he had this thick Aussie (I think…or it coulda been South African with the way he said ‘flat’) accent. Too cool! And that’s what I like about motorcycle riders…always willing to lend a hand no matter what part of the world they are in.
Places and eats
I’ve got to mention a couple of places you’ve got to check out along this route aside from the hikes…
Grand Lake – this cozy little mountain town is on the west side of the byway. The main street sidewalks are boardwalks. There are plenty of fun things happening here all times of the year. This time, because of the Get Outdoors Day, there was a festival going on with arts, crafts and food. As far as staying here? I would love to some day. My first choice would be at the Lemmon Lodge. This wonderful place is tucked away along a point that sits along the shores of Grand Lake (largest natural lake in Colorado) and Tonahutu Creek.
- Poncho and Lefty’s – wonderful Mexican food with high mountain flair
- Max and T’s Bar and Grill – tasty patio side eats, as well as fine evening dining
Estes Park – I’ve stayed here, eaten at various restaurants here, played mini-golf here and loved every time that I’ve been to this wonderful mountain town on the east side of Trail Ridge.
- Mary’s Lake Lodge – always a nice stop for a very filling lunch with friends as well as some very yummy fine evening dining
- Ed’s Cantina – another wonderful Mexican restaurant with high mountain flair
New Byways Tour Item
Interactive Map – check out the interactive map I created of the route we took this day. I think I found a new way to share my adventures and will create one of these for each byway I take. I’ve identified directions, hikes, photo ops, towns and places to eat.
I’ve been saying it all throughout this blog: “parking lots” and “pullouts”. Now, why would I make special mention of a parking lot, or a pullout? Because too many times, I’ve seen visitors to Trail Ridge Road stopping in the middle of the road, or pulling off to the side, where there is no pull-out, or parking lot. What people don’t understand is that the tundra is extremely delicate and can die easily when stepped upon. There are many “restoration area” signs along this route where people have just walked along the tundra where there was no park trail. So please, please, please…if you ever drive along this byway, be mindful of the area that you are in and park in designated areas, as well as hike along the park’s designated trails. There’s plenty of signage to guide you.