Summer Refresher in Estes Park

Ron Hargrave

Wanting to take a slower, scenic route, I took Left Hand Canyon to Ward and the Peak-to-Peak Highway. If you have never been there, it’s a great ride on a bike or in a car. I’ve done both, but I prefer my bike! We passed a few bikers on the way up the hill, and many cyclists were headed downhill at high speed. This was obviously a popular route; a tree-lined road through a twisting canyon. Shortly before we got to Ward it started raining, which caused us to have bad thoughts about the rain and concern for our much-hoped-for weekend of bike riding. The rain came down harder and harder as we got closer to Estes Park, our destination. Lucky for us--the rain began to let up, as we approached our hotel.

After we checked into the hotel, the rain finally stopped. With camera in hand, we decided to take a walk into the tourist part of town. Janine and I enjoyed the walking tour along the river walk and stopped at a coffee shop. I remembered that there were a number of shops renting bikes, but we couldn’t seem to find one. Just as we headed back to our hotel, we spotted a small shop. The sales clerk gave us a map (not much detail) and showed us one of the popular bike routes; Devil’s Gulch through Glen Haven, to Drake and back to Estes Park. The clerk said most bikers ride the route clockwise in about two hours. That sounded good to us, so Janine and I decided to seek adventure on two wheels instead of four.

We woke up on July 31st to a beautiful sunny albeit a little cool morning. Janine and I readied ourselves for an adventure of riding an unknown route through the Rocky Mountains. We started with a hearty breakfast buffet at the hotel.  Then, with our new map in pocket, we headed out to discover what the roads had to offer. We thought we would begin with a short loop around Estes Lake, and then follow the route we were given. Somehow we ended up on the opposite side of the lake than we planned. We decided to just forge ahead on Highway 34 to Drake, which was the opposite direction from what we were told. We passed a sign showing Drake a short ten miles down the road to our first turn. As it turned out, it was an exciting downhill run,enabling us to hit speeds around 45 miles per hour. The road and scenery were great. Not a wide shoulder, but adequate for riding downhill.

Along the Big Thompson River, we passed romantic cottages nestled against the canyon walls. Occasionally we saw people fishing, waist deep in the rushing water, possibly trying to catch their next meal. It was interesting that we didn’t see any bikers headed up the hill as we flew downhill. Finally, after what seemed like an hour with the wind roaring past our ears, we reached our first turn in Drake. We were going downhill against the traffic and couldn’t make an easy left turn in the two-way traffic. So, we stopped and waited for traffic to clear then darted across the road toward our next point of interest. Along the way, we saw a nice gentleman selling handmade wooden toys at the corner. After a short greeting to him, we were on our way to Glen Haven.

As soon as Janine and I started up the road, I knew the bike ride was just beginning. After a ten mile downhill, we had to climb to get back to Estes Park. We began at Devil’s Gulch Road and biked along the North Fork of the Big Thompson River! We maintained a good pace of ten to fifteen mph on the climb to Glen Haven. We stopped to take photos along the way. Finally, we made it to Glen Haven, and stopped at the country store for refreshing drinks. We were both tempted to splurge with the smell of their huge, fresh cinnamon rolls! We’ll plan for a snack next time! We chatted with some locals, who were surprised we were biking up the hill… They warned us about the switchbacks and the steep grade. However, Janine and I had no choice but to continue on our way.

This was another good road; not a lot of shoulder but not much traffic either. We came to a point where the road appeared to go straight up. We stayed in our lowest gears, rotated the pedals and up we went. I was actually down to three mph at one point, but continued to move forward. After a couple stops in the switchbacks to rest, we made it to the top of the hill at Overlook Ranch to enjoy the great view of Estes Park and the mountains beyond. Another couple rode up; they were visiting family in Estes Park for the weekend and brought their bikes, too. They rode ahead of us, while we took a couple photos. Then, we caught up with them part way down the hill. They talked us into taking an additional few miles with them up the road to the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The sign said it was only 3 miles, but it was all up hill and it seemed like it was 20 miles. We did it! Then, we rode back to the hotel. Total miles: 40.033 Riding time: 2 hrs, 56 min.

We arrived at the hotel a little before noon and relaxed in the hot tub. Janine and I found a nice buffet of Indian food, which was good except for the flies in the rice pudding! After lunch, we walked and walked, touring the town, walking to the Stanley Hotel, taking pictures and enjoying quick drink. While driving around the outlying parts of town, we took good picture of elk. Later after learning about a free jazz concert, we walked to the far end of town to enjoy the good music. Then, it was time to locate a place to refuel. I had some fairly good ribs, but Janine’s choice was tuna kabobs that appeared to be more like shoe leather on a stick. Then we headed back to the hotel to sleep, before heading out on our mountain bikes in the morning.

Sunday morning began cool and clear. Janine and I had a good breakfast and unloaded our bikes for another adventure. We discovered the turn to go around the lake that we had missed the day before. From that point we discovered another trail that headed up Fish Creek. We followed a wide paved path around a golf course, uphill past beaver ponds, fishing ponds and residential areas. It was quiet and peaceful. At the top, we turned around retracing our route to enjoy the scenery. We were surprised to see turkey vultures sitting on fence posts along the trail; there must have been fifteen of them. They finally took flight from all of our picture-taking. Janine and I pedaled around the lake and returned to the hotel. We cleaned up, packed up, checked out and got ready for our trip home through Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). We opted to have lunch somewhere else!

Leaving the hotel, we headed through some of the back roads to the entrance to RMNP. Onward and upward we drove on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in the USA. The highpoint is 12,183 feet above sea level. Janine and I stopped at a few viewpoints along the way to take photos. At a few of these stops, the weather and lightening appeared to be moving closer. At the highest point on the road, we stopped and hiked up a trail to see the view. But, before we got to the top, the weather moved in quickly. We reached the safety of our car, just as the rain started. We continued through RMNP, occasionally getting pictures of wildlife. Just before the park exit at Grand Lake, we came upon a traffic jam. We assumed a wild animal caused the traffic jam and cars stopped on the road. A single Park Ranger was frantically running up and down the road, attempting to keep traffic moving. As it turned out, a couple moose were lunching on the brush just off the road. These were huge animals had monster antlers. They could barely be viewed above the brush, but we could tell they were BIG! Rain started to fall again, so we continued on our way. We stopped in Granby for a delightful lunch. We enjoyed barbeque brisket and turkey club sandwiches, and some outstanding green chili.

The rest of the drive home was uneventful. There was lots of traffic on I-70 through Idaho Springs, which is a typical pattern on a Sunday evening. Janine and I finally drove out of the rain. We took the scenic route through Perry Park, Palmer Lake and Monument on Hwy 105 before getting on I-25 to arrive home. Along the Perry Park Highway, we got our last and most surprising “wildlife” photographs – two camels grazing in a pasture along the road! Overall, it was a great weekend of fun bike riding and touring. Neither of us was too impressed with the food in Estes Park, but we didn’t starve to death. The views, scenery and challenging bike riding made it an A+ destination for us, and we highly recommend it!

Bent Fork Chronicles - Vol 3 Issue 6 December 2010

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