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Rushmore’s Plan; The Needles; A Crusty Colonel; Sprague Lake; A Cold Night at Fern Lake; New Friends; Bob and Jan

One of the interesting facts we learned at Mt. Rushmore was that the sculptor, Danish-American Gutzon Borglum, had originally planned on carving the likenesses of the four Presidents from head to waist, as shown in this photo of the model in his studio, but lack of funding led to only the faces being carved. Where was the National Endowment for the Arts when we really needed it?

On the way back to our campground, we took the Needles Road. The name comes from hundreds of “hoodoo”-like rock formations like these.

The road is very narrow in places, like this 8’4″ wide tunnel through the rock that My Lovely Bride is measuring with her arms. Our car did make it, but we drove very slowly through it.

Our next stop was Estes Park, Colorado, but because of violent thunderstorms and flash flooding warnings, we stopped short and spent the night in one of the most luxurious, exclusive RV resorts in the US… the Loveland Wal-Mart parking lot. This worked out very well, because we were able to call up Retired Army Colonel Charlie Cunis and His Lovely Wife Elaine, who met us for dinner at Biaggi’s, a great Italian restaurant. Charlie has read several of Suzanne’s books, and Suzanne had met him on our visit here last year. Charlie and I had exchanged Army-Navy emails, with his code name “Crusty” and mine “Salty”, and we were looking forward to trading more sea and land stories. It was a great evening, and we will be seeing them again later this week.

When the weather cleared the next day, we headed for Estes Park. Our route took us up Route 34 through Big Thompson Canyon, named for the river that cuts a very steep, narrow course through the Front Range Mountains west of Loveland. This was the site of severe flooding last September. Many bridges across the Big Thompson River are still out, and dozens of houses were washed away or are unfit for use because of flood damage. After arriving at Estes Park, we set up camp and went for a short hike at Sprague Lake. There were several fishermen out, but no one was catching. (Yes, Bob, I’m setting up my excuses…)

Suzanne wanted to do a meditation, and I continued on for another half hour hike. When I finished at the car, she was still meditating, but I didn’t know where. I listened to the roar of a stream, asked myself “Where is the perfect place to meditate?”, and wandered about 200 yards to this beautiful spot, and there she was…

Estes Park is the town supporting Rocky Mountain National Park. One of our all time favorites, RMNP is hiker heaven. I was planning a two day solo backpacking trip to a high mountain lake, and much to My Lovely Bride’s chagrin, I had all my gear spread out in the coach the afternoon before departing. (And yes, I did use a checklist this time to avoid any embarrassing lapses in memory.)

My Lovely Bride dropped me off at the trailhead and returned to the coach to give readings. I shouldered my 35 lb pack, made much heavier than normal because of the bear canister for food and the cold weather clothing required even for this short two-day trip. My hiking route took me up the Fern Lake trail alongside the Big Thompson where it was much smaller, but still fast-flowing due to the snowmelt from record winter snows and recent thunderstorms. The first mile of the trail to a waterfall is a popular day-hiking trail; this hiker is obviously not equipped for the snow I was expecting further up the trail. (I should note that MLB gave me some totally undeserved grief about the scantily clad young woman in this photo… “I thought this was a solo backpack trip? Who is that little vixen?” Smack, smack…)

Two hours later, I arrived at my campsite at 9,500 feet; just before my arrival, I discovered that snowline was at 9,200 feet, meaning that I had to slog through some three feet deep snow to reach my goal at Fern Lake. Sinking up to your hips in soft snow is called “postholing”, and isn’t a lot of fun. But Fortune had smiled upon me, because my campsite was the only one of eight that was snow-free. Nestled in a grove of pines, it had just enough sun exposure from the east and west that the heavy snowpack had already melted. I set up camp, and rigged for fishing.

The native trout here are called Greenbacks, but most people call them cutthroats. It is a catch-and-release lake, but since none were biting, I didn’t have to worry about carefully releasing the fish so as not to hurt them. In spite of the lack of fish, the view was spectacular. I did fill my water bottles from the lake after filtering the water, and it was quite cold. As you can see, the lake still had a lot of ice floating on the surface, so I opted not to go swimming. I had a pleasant evening, and snuggled into my 32 degree goose down bag for the night. Around 0200 I had to pull on a fleece jacket and put on a stocking cap, so I guess the temp dropped into the 20s.

I had planned on hiking to an even higher lake the next morning, but the trail was hip deep in snow, and I decided to drop down in elevation for a hike to Cub Lake instead. On the way, I met two delightful day hikers from Clearwater, Florida, 79 year old Dick Fuhr and his much younger and vivacious wife Louise. They are avid hikers, and I hope that if I reach 79, I can hike like Dick. We got together later for drinks and found out that like us, they had been sailors and cruisers, and are now RV’ers.

Cub Lake was the site of a big forest fire a few years ago that burned thousands of acres. The view from a few hundred feet above the lake shows a stark burned forest surrounding a lake with lots of lily pads.

In spite of the heavy fire damage, the area is starting to recover. These beautiful wildflowers are in an area scorched black by fire; it is encouraging to see Nature coming back, slowly but surely.

The next day found us driving to the Denver airport to pick up My Good Friend Bob and His Lovely Wife Jan; they are neighbors back in The Villages and also RV’ers. This would be their first trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and we were looking forward to sharing one of our favorite destinations with them. We were a bit late picking them up due to construction to repair roads and bridges damaged by flooding, but it turned out to be serendipitous because the detour, although a bit longer than the most direct route, was over windy mountain roads (Colorado Route 7) and very scenic. On the way back to the coach, we stopped to admire the beautiful Chapel on the Rock at the St. Malo Retreat Center in Allenspark, CO. Visited by Pope John Paul II in 1993, it was spared during devastating wildfires in 2011 and rockslides in 2013, although the retreat center itself is closed.

Not wanting to waste a moment of their vacation, we went for a hike at Sprague Lake right after they got settled in The Coach. It also has several side trails, one of which we hiked. In spite of their long flight and the altitude, Jan and Bob had no trouble with this hike. That was encouraging, because the next day’s hike would provide more of a challenge. (Suzanne was promising a Dreaded Forced March, a hard 5 miler up steep terrain to Cub Lake and back… Bob and Jan had better get their rest!)

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