Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Drive With Altitude

On a misty Friday when the rain made hiking unappealing, Tim and I ventured up the 11 miles of Old Fall River Road, the first auto route through Rocky Mountain National Park, gaining 4,274 feet in elevation along the way.  

Begun in 1913 and finally finished seven years later, this gravel road was built with Ford Model T's in mind.  

Only 14 feet wide, the lane is a one-way adventure with twisting switchbacks, turning radii as tight as 20 feet, and steep grades that sometimes reach 16 percent.  Some early automobiles had to make the climb in reserve gear due to their gravity-fed fuel systems.  

Oh, and did I mention?  There are no guard rails. 

Luckily for us, cars have improved since the Model T.   

Still, Tim had to shift our Jeep into second and even third gear as we ascended to the Alpine Visitor Center at the summit.  

But it was worth it!  Not only did we see some incredible views, but also wildlife like these elk. 

Arriving at the summit, we had a choice to make.  Should we return to Estes Park via Trail Ridge Road or extend our journey down the other side of the mountains to the charming town of Grand Lake, Colorado?  That was a no-brainer!  We decided to make it a day trip and set our course for Grand Lake.  

We made a few stops along the way.  The first was the Colorado River trailhead where Tim and I searched for the headwaters of the mighty river which today quenches the thirst of much of the Southwest.  

This photograph of the Colorado Riverside was taken at the trailhead kiosk.

I feel a special connection to the Colorado River.  During the last years of my teaching career, I assisted seventh graders in a research project that pitted Native Americans against Colorado River rafters, hydropower industrialists and southwestern communities dependent on the river's water, always an interesting debate with such conflicting stakeholders. Then, at the end of each school year, the science teachers organized a field trip to Glen Canyon Dam, one of a series of dams that harness the power of the river. I rode along as an additional chaperone on the three-day trips, an incredible opportunity for first-hand learning.

Returning to our car, Tim and I continued down Trail Ridge Road to the Holzwarth Historic Site, the homestead and later dude ranch of John G. Holzwarth, Sr.  How resourceful this man was!  Baker, brewer, Texas Ranger, saloonkeeper, boardinghouse owner, homesteader, rancher, taxidermist, dude ranch proprietor!  For a 15-year-old German immigrant who travelled to the U.S. alone, Holzwarth deftly parlayed his skills to survive and provide for his family.

By the age of 19, he had migrated to Denver, married Sophia, and together opened a saloon, a business that morphed into a boardinghouse when Prohibition was passed. 

Dissatisfied with city life, Holzwarths homesteaded this site, but found the conditions too extreme for farming or ranching. So they built additional cabins and transformed the homestead into a profitable dude ranch, the Holzwarths Trout Lodge, an amazing success story. 

Hungry, we headed to Grand Lake where the historic Grand Lake Lodge sits majestically above its namesake's waters.  On the lodge's back porch, we ordered bowls of soup to warm us up on a chilly day.  Later we walked the streets of the town, ducking into the shops that drew our attention.

By then, the sun had burned the clouds away.  Perfect timing to return to Estes Park via Trail Ridge Road!

No comments:

Post a Comment