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Rocky Mountain National Park; Four Mountain Lakes; No Nymphs; A Gnarly Tree or a Gladiator? Oh, No, Not Vegan!

During our Fort Collins stay, I took the opportunity for some meditative time, AKA solo hiking in the mountains. It was a short drive to Estes Park, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. I picked a nice spot at the Moraine campground and set up for two days hiking.

Driving ten miles up Bear Lake Road from the campground to Bear Lake itself meant an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet, which was much easier than walking. The aspen leaves were starting to turn yellow, earlier than I had expected.

Once I got up to elevation, the view improved even more. RMNP is one of our favorite places, and we wish that we could stay up here for several months…

As I hiked to Nymph Lake, I had visions (fantasies?) of being abducted by nubile young maidens as was Hylas in Greek mythology and in this painting by John William Waterhouse.

Fortunately (alas?), this lake was poorly named, as it was devoid of nubile young maidens. It was scenic, however, and much of the lake’s surface was dotted with lily pads.

The hike up to Dream and Emerald Lakes was not made in REM sleep, when most dreams occur, so I was able to observe several root systems of trees that had been felled in storms or avalanches. This one was particularly striking.


The trail occasionally left me breathless –  not so much because of its beauty, but because of its steepness. I was over 10,000 feet at this point, and the air really is thinner, making it harder to catch your breath.

As I climbed, the views continued to improve. The mountains that form the Continental Divide lose their trees between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, leaving the 12, 13, and 14 thousand foot peaks bare.

Dream Lake was indeed a dream destination. I have enjoyed many hikes over the years, but wandering through the woods and mountains in these “later years” has given me a new and more intense appreciation of the beauty of nature than I have ever before felt.  I’m not sure why this is…


Emerald Lake was most impressive, with an almost vertical cirque wall in the background which marked the head of the valley which once held a massive glacier. “Cirque” comes either from a French word for “arena”, a Scottish Gaelic word for “cauldron”, or a Welsh word for “valley”. All would fit the terrain here.

Lake Haiyaha was another gorgeous spot, and almost totally devoid of other hikers, being literally “off the beaten path”. I wish they had allowed camping here, but that was strictly verboten.

As I hike, I see thousands upon thousands of trees, but there haven’t been many as gnarled as this ancient specimen. It almost looks like a Roman gladiator in the arena, on his knees with fatigue, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is about that same age. Wind and snow bend the trees into fantastic shapes, and lightning often sets them afire or splits them into pieces.

As I descended from the upper lakes, more stands of aspens breaking into bright yellow came into view. 

The final stop was at Bear Lake, near the trailhead where I had parked. The sun was setting, the wind dropping, and darkness descending like a veil on the park. It was time to head for my campsite, where I would enjoy a very special gourmet treat: freeze-dried vegetarian Pad Thai. (I normally don’t eat vegan, but the choice was that or even less appetizing entrees.) Unfortunately, my tent would be rather chilly, since My Lovely Bride and our two puppies would not be there to keep me warm, and temps were set to dive into the high 20s/low 30s. Sigh…

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