Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Big Road Trip: Day Nine - A Drive Through the Rockies

We awoke Day Nine at the Baymont Inn in Pinedale, Wyoming. Naturally, Henry and Malcolm continued their intensive survey of motel pools and hot tubs:

Monique was the true genius of our stop in Pinedale. She realized that with the camping legs of our trip done we could ship the sleeping bags and pads back to Michigan. Suddenly, the spacious backseat of the Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas Supercharged Saloon was spacious again!

After the swim and breakfast we hit the road for one of our longer legs of the trip. Come along for the drive. Our itinerary takes us from Western Wyoming through the Rockies to Denver, then to points east:

By the time we hit mid-central Colorado we started to climb into the mountains. We went up:

And up.

And up.

And up.

And up and up and up into the foothills of the Rockies.

At this point I had begun to lose hope for a good drive along Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park because of the dark clouds and rain that had gathered in the mountains. Trail Ridge Road is generally considered one of America's most scenic drives. It rises high above the timber line in the park -- all the way up to a high point of 12,183 feet, more than two miles above sea level -- and provides sweeping views from its many curves.

But the weather ahead looked like it would be a washout for us. Nonetheless, we drove on:

At the base of the park we hit the three-lakes area near Grand Lake:

Then, as we headed up, up, up into the park itself, the clouds broke right in the area we hoped to drive.

Here's a photo of Big Smoky at one of the best overlooks, with its view back across the valley with Big Timber Creek and the North Branch of the Colorado River.

Yes, it's true. My beautiful, elegant Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas Supercharged Saloon has officially been nicknamed "Big Smoky." This may come as a shock to some of you, but it turns out that my fifteen-year-old Jaguar burns quite a bit of oil -- especially after long runs and at higher altitudes. Mostly, this just led to a mildly embarrassing but harmless cloud of blue smoke for a few miles as we pulled out of motel parking lots and hit the highway.

But here we had parked for a bit at high altitude after one of our longer runs of the trip. This led to our most mortifying Big Smoky moment of the trip. We started up again just as another group stepped out of their car to enjoy the view. Unfortunately, there soon was no view as they were enveloped in the biggest smoke cloud of the trip.

Um, sorry, fellow sightseers. I really do regret that one.

A little further along the road we came across a herd of elk grazing on a hill:

Soon we found ourselves up above the timber line and among the glaciers. The pace of the photos slows quite a bit at this point. After we cleared the timber line chief Trail Ridge Road photographer Monique quickly decided that she'd had enough of the view because it involved few guardrails but lots of catastrophic-looking dropoffs two feet from the passenger's window:

At one point we looped around a curve to see two elk fighting on the hillside behind us.

After a long time among the glaciers the road began to head back down:

Another elk, this one resting at roadside!

Just about the time we hit the valley floor the setting sun disappeared for good and the rain started again, this time in earnest. We were unbelievably grateful to have hit a hole in the rain just when we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Once we left the park a couple of dark, damp hours of driving brought us to Denver. We parked downtown near Union Station, walked around a bit, and had an entirely delicious dinner at a P.F. Chang's:

After dinner we continued our nighttime stroll in downtown Denver. We walked over to one of the most important destinations of the trip for our basketball enthusiasts, the Pepsi Center, home of the NBA's Denver Nuggets:

... and then ... yup, back in the car for a couple more hours of driving. We finally stopped for the night at a motel somewhere off I-70 in Central Colorado.

Next destination: Lake Lotawana, Missouri, for a visit with Monique's sister Babs.

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