Colorado, Saturday June 12th 2010

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO (Photo credit; Jeff Hayes)

The day began with cloudy skies and cool temperatures for the middle of June in Denver for the second day of our trip. Denver features 300 days of sunshine each year, making it one of the sunniest cities in the US. So it was unusual to have clouds and rain two consecutive days. It was against this backdrop that we decided to visit Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, CO.

Google Maps showing the 75 minute drive from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

Located about an hour and 15 minutes from the hotel, we passed through the foothills into the mountains via the Big Thompson Canyon, the site of devastating flash flooding in 1976. Traveling along the steep walled highway, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how dangerous this place could be when heavy rains fell in the mountains. As we gained altitude on the mountain road, the impressive topography became increasingly shrouded in the persistent cloudiness until we reached the park itself.

After checking in at the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center, we decided to follow the Trail Ridge Road. Unfortunately, clouds obscured much of the viewing along the highway, leaving us with shadows of mountains as we wound our way toward the higher peaks, in search of clearer vistas.

This view was typical of our trek through the lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As we drove above 10,000 feet snow became more prevalent. Along the way, we would occasionally pull to the side of the road to take pictures. We could only imagine the views we were missing as the clouds kept them out of our sight. Instead, we had to be contented with the natural beauty the park would unveil through the bleakness.

Caught between seasons at two miles above sea level, we saw fields of snow melting into alpine creeks that flooded the side of the road as we climbed ever higher in our rented Toyota Prius. Eventually, though, winter won out, and we were faced with snow covered roads, for which the Prius was clearly no match. Thwarted by conditions once again, we were forced to seek lower elevations to explore.

One of the myriad alpine streams fed by melting snow in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On our way back down the road, we pulled into one of the many turnouts we found along the way. Despite the dismal weather conditions, there were many people visiting the park, as evidenced by the number of cars in the turnout. The view at the turnout was no better than anywhere along the road, but the stop did provide us with a close up look at one of the parks full time residents.

A chipmunk feasting on a cashew I tossed to it. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Scurrying along the granite parking barriers was a chipmunk, one of many weaving their way through the people in the parking lot. Though there was a sign that clearly stated that we were NOT to feed the wildlife, virtually nobody was heeding that command. Stopping for snacks in Denver, we had pockets full of food for the wildlife, and in direct violation of federal law, we tossed nuts for the chipmunks. Based on the reaction of the chipmunks, they were accustomed to people flouting the rules and keeping them supplied as winter slowly changed to spring.

Once the chipmunks were sated, they scattered into the rocks and crevasses surrounding the parking lot, so we headed back down the mountain road. The view on either side of the road was dominated by fields of melting snow and cloud covered peaks. Descending the mountain was a much slower process than ascending it, as we intermittently stopped to allow the car’s breaks to cool. Failure to tend to the condition of the breaks could lead to the failure of said breaks, so we took out time dropping out of the clouds back toward the visitors center.

This view was typical of our ride back down the mountain road toward the visitor center. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As we were approaching more level ground near the visitors center, we spotted some larger wildlife along the side of the road. Just behind a row of trees that obscured a small meadow, we spotted a pair of elk. Parking the car along the side of the road, we walked toward the elk in hopes of a close up picture. Surprisingly, the elk (which appeared to be a male and a female) paid little attention to us as we slowly approached them, seemingly more interested in munching on the greenery all around them.

While my brother took pictures of the female elk, I closed in on the male. Not thinking about the danger in which I was putting myself, I got within an arm’s length of the elk, who was still paying me no particular attention. Foolishly, I leaned in with the intent of touching the elk. That movement finally got his attention. Rather than react aggressively, he simply snorted, which was enough to make me recoil.

This picture does not accurately depict how close I was to this elk before he made it clear that I was TOO close.

Thinking back, not only did I put myself in danger coming that close to the elk, I disrespected the animal. That lesson remains with me until this day, changing my approach when photographing wildlife. While we were taking pictures of the elk, others driving along the road saw what was transpiring, and stopped to get their our pictures of the elk. Of course, the increased human presence spooked the elk, who slowly but deliberately walked away, ending the encounter.

Spending more time in the park than originally anticipated, we left in search of a late lunch before heading back to the hotel to change for the game. On the way back, we passed Broncos Stadium at Mile High, the home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos. Light rain and drizzle prevented us from exploring the stadium beyond a cursory pass, after which time we headed to the hotel to dry off and relax before the game.

Broncos Stadium at Mile High on a cloudy, dismal late afternoon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Coors Field

Coors Field on yet another cool and wet evening. (Photo credit:Jeff Hayes)

Once again, clouds, rain and drizzle put a damper of our Coors Field experience. Though the weather was more reminiscent of springtime in the Northeast US, it wasn’t so bad as to threaten the game, and we arrived not too long before the first pitch. Conditions were less than optimal for exploring the ballpark, but we did manage to wander more this evening than the previous one, allowing us a better look at the large ballpark. However, the cool raw late afternoon cut short our exploration. Looking to escape the weather, we sought a ballpark dinner in the lower concourse, then settled into our seats.

The view from behind home plate in the upper deck. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In an attempt to get a different feel of the ballpark, we sat in the left field bleachers, in the lower level toward the fence. There was no protection from the weather here, but it afforded us some perspective when it came to the size of the outfield at Coors Field. The crowd was once again held in check by the weather, and had much of the left field section almost to ourselves.

The view from our seats in left field. (Photo credit; Jeff Hayes)

The rain stopped just before the first pitch (which occurred at 610 pm), but temperatures dropped into the 40s, giving the late afternoon/early evening a raw feel to it. Hardly feeling like baseball weather, we settled in for the second game of the three game series between the visiting Blue Jays and the hometown Rockies.

The pitching matchup for the evening’s contest featured right hander Brandon Morrow for the Blue Jays against right hander Jason Hammel for the Rockies. Both pitchers were in the midst of mediocre seasons for their respective clubs. However, the cool and damp conditions seemed as though it might dictate the scoring in the game, rather than the starting pitching. This was, of course, Coors Field, and expecting a low scoring game, even with less than ideal weather conditions, could be asking for too much.

Blue Jays’ starter Brandon Morrow warming up in the outfield before the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Both starters were sharp, mowing down the opposing lineups through the first five innings, as the game pace kept the fairly light crowd (certainly less than the announced crowd of 26,000+) engaged. The quick paced game was appreciated by those in attendance, as intermittent drizzle fell through the game, and temperatures dropped through the 40s.

The Rockies scored a single run in the bottom of the sixth, as a Todd Helton double was followed by a Carlos Gonzalez RBI single. That was the only blemish on the otherwise impressive evening for Brandon Morrow. The Rockies’ Jason Hammel was just as impressive, tossing eight shutout innings in the Rockies 1-0 victory. Following the game, the small crowd made exiting easy, and we returned to the hotel to relax after a long day.

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