Glacier, Rocky and The Great Sand Dunes

Travels in Review 2019 Finale!

Called the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park was on our must-see list. Covering nearly 1,600 square miles or over a million acres, it is well over the size of Rhode Island!  The park includes pristine lakes and streams dotted with dark red, burgundy, green, and blue argillite sedimentary rocks carried down from glaciers. Because of the cold water temperature plankton does not grow, adding to the clarity of the lakes and rivers.

The park offers expansive mountain views, an abundance of wildflowers, and wild animals, including home to one of the largest populations of grizzlies in the lower 48. Hiking, biking, kayaking, the list is unlimited to the outdoor activities you can do here. We were lucky enough to snag a site in the Big Creek Campground in Flathead National Forest right on the Flathead River. We could virtually walk out our door a short distance to fly fish. Gorgeous!

There are three visitor centers, Apgar Visitor Center on the westside, St Mary Visitor Center on the eastside, and Logan Pass Visitor Center in the middle of the park. At 6700 feet, Logan Pass is also the highest point along Going-to-the-Sun Road. We made this drive a couple of times. Once early in the morning so we could find parking at Logan Pass and hike Hidden Lake Nature Trail behind the visitor center. The drive is spectacular but seemed unusually narrow in our truck. Jagged rock on one side and sheer cliffs on the other. I can’t believe those famous Glacier Red Buses take those curves all day long.

Along the Hidden Lake Trail, you are pretty much guaranteed to see mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, and white-tailed ptarmigans. Flowers and streams are also plentiful. Don’t be fooled by the 1.3 miles listed in their brochure. It’s a steady climb up from an already high elevation.

Many Glaciers Hotel

Our second trip on Going-to-the-Sun Road was to visit Many Glaciers and the Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake, a 70-mile trip. You have to leave the park at St Mary Visitor Center and drive north to reenter the park on the road in desperate need of repair. We arrived only to find that the area was full, Rangers not allowing any additional visitors for well over two hours. Not to be discouraged, we found a small restaurant outside of the park that served Huckleberry pie. Yum! One-hour later, we tried our luck and could pass. I just wish we had had more time to take a hike, but the Hotel and the surrounding area were again beyond belief. The Hotel has a Swiss Chalet feel, including names like Heidi’s Snack Shop and Swiss Lounge. Coco was a little upset with us for our long day away.

Where’s my food!

We took our time heading to our next destination, Rocky Mountain National Park, including a couple of nights at Ekstrom’s Stage Station. A quirky spot with a great restaurant in a reconstructed 150-year-old log cabin. More of an angler’s location, they’ve been serving up pan sauteed trout, homemade bread, desserts, and salads to the fly fishing community since 1974. Of course, we enjoyed a slice of huckleberry pie for dessert!

Olive Ridge Campground in Roosevelt National Forest, just outside of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, is where we set up camp.  Once settled, we went by the visitor center in Estes Park to get information on some suggested treks. An extremely helpful Ranger suggested the Bear Lake area and another hike in the Wild Basin area that was right by where we camped. With her suggestion, we woke up early the next day to hike to Ouzel Falls, a 5.5 miles round-trip with an 800-foot altitude gain that went by three different falls. Calypso Cascade Falls was our favorite, and while there, we happened upon an arctic rabbit in his summer colors munching casually on some grass. What a treat!

Later that day, we drove up to Alpine Visitor Center at close to 12,000 feet. Because of its elevation, it closes much of the year. Here it was July 31st, and the temperatures were surprisingly cold, dropping quickly from their high of 61 degrees. The roof of the Visitor Center was covered with logs to protect it from winds that gust over 150 mph. From that location, you have fantastic panoramic views of the peaks and valleys below.

The last day we made it to the Bear Lake area, a bustling tourist destination, and hiked to Dream and Nymph Lakes. We also visited Estes Park and some rock shops looking for stones to bring back to our daughter Rachel who is doing some beautiful jewelry designs and fabrications.  The weather was cloudy with drizzles, and a gorgeous full rainbow led our way back to the campsite that evening.  

Our final National Park destination this year was Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Mosca, Colorado.  A lesser-known but remarkable park backing up to the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. Who could fathom that you would have dunes in the middle of Colorado? Most of the sand coming from the San Juan Mountains 65 miles west across the valley floor.

Gerry and I were scheduled to volunteer here for August. After setting up camp, we met with Ranger Sydney, the volunteer coordinator for a brief orientation, and watched the video on the park. My first full day of training in the visitor center was with Ranger Patrick and Ranger Catherine. I found all the Rangers to be extremely knowledgeable and devoted. During our stay, we learned a lot about the history, geology, plants, and animals and enjoyed working with the children in their Junior Ranger Program. Gerry had a chance to assist with the telescopes in the ranger-led dark sky night program presented to the campers. With Great Sand Dunes high elevation and distance from city lights, you can see the milky way clearly on a moonless night.  

While there, we had a chance to hike to the top of Mosca Pass, a 1,400-foot elevation gain, but the real challenge is the dunes. Two steps forward one step back! Twice the effort of a typical hike.  We also were thrilled to have Rachel, Mark, and their three puppies visit us for a few days while we were there.

Our dinette window scene of the ever-changing shadows on the dunes never got old.  All-in-all, it was a wonderful time and in which we look forward to volunteering again.  

Favorite nightly stays on this segment:

Farragut State Park, Athol, ID  –  Stayed here a couple of nights on our way to Glacier National Park. Near the picturesque town of Coeur d’Alene on Lake Pend Oreille. Beautiful well cared for park with lots of hiking and biking. You will want to come back.

Big Creek Campground, Flathead, MT – Gorgeous location on Upper Flathead River in the Flathead National Forest. No frills but plenty of scenic views from generous sites. The dirt and gravel road to get here is a little rough but great proximity to Glacier NP. From our location, we could virtually walk out the door and fly fish.

Ekstrom’s Stage Station RV Park, Clinton MT –  Come for the food and the people, not the sites which are close together. Tasty homestyle dinner served in a rustic old log cabin by a friendly staff.

7th Ranch RV Park, Garryowen, MT – Stayed here for one night on our way to Rocky Mountain NP. Very well maintained park with friendly hosts that treated us to huckleberry ice cream pops. We liked these so much they let us buy a pack from them.  Good location to visit Little Bighorn National Monument.  

Olive Ridge Campground, Roosevelt National Forest, Allenspark, CO – We selected #39, a double site, because of the size of our travel trailer. The space around all of the camps is large and comfortable. The challenge comes with the trees and large rocks close to the road that makes backing your RV in a sporting event!. There is no Senior Pass discount on the double sites…..bummer! Close to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Next Up: Our Home State of Florida

Just found out that Florida State Park Campgrounds are canceled for the next 60 days due to the coronavirus.

We are back in Leesburg, Florida with our family.

Wishing everyone the best of health and safe travels!

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