So by 7:30am, I now had to scramble back, but now with the pool a little murkier due to me perturbing it, I carefully tried to retrace my steps back to the start of the slot. Then on one fateful step, I managed to slip and dunk into the water thereby getting water into both the Mirrorless camera and the phone.
I knew at this point I was screwed. And the effort wasn’t even justified!
Maybe all the bad decisions in pursuing this waterfall finally caught up with me and I had to respect the limits that Mother Nature threw at me. I even wondered if I saw the Grizzly Bear Falls at all or if that tiny 5ft falls with the rock obstacle further back downstream was it…
- Day 1 (July 21, 2020 – Moab, Utah): “An Awkward Getaway And A Chippy”
- Day 2 (July 22, 2020 – Telluride, Colorado): “Respiratory Taxation”
- Day 3 (July 23, 2020 – Telluride, Colorado): “Risky Requests”
- Day 4 (July 24, 2020 – Aspen, Colorado): “Determined To Succeed”
- Day 5 (July 25, 2020 – Aspen, Colorado): “Dodging The Rain For The Most Part”
- Day 6 (July 26, 2020 – Boulder, Colorado): “Social Distancing Or Lack Thereof”
- Day 7 (July 27, 2020 – Boulder, Colorado): “Rocky Mountain Angst”
- Day 8 (July 28, 2020 – Boulder, Colorado): “Lots of Second Guessing”
- Day 9 (July 29, 2020 – Hill City, South Dakota): “New Adventures In The Plains And The Black Hills”
- Day 10 (July 30, 2020 – Sundance, Wyoming): “Damage Control”
- Day 11 (July 31, 2020 – Wapiti, Wyoming): “Different Worlds”
- Day 12 (August 1, 2020 – Wapiti, Wyoming): “Day One-ish”
Day 1 (July 21, 2020 – Moab, Utah): “An Awkward Getaway And A Chippy”
It was about 6am when both Julie and I reluctantly awoke to our alarms given our late sleep the prior night. Tahia, on the other hand, had slept early as she was motivated by the prospect of playing in a swimming pool at our accommodation in Moab. However, it was going to be about an 11-hour drive (12 hours if you count losing an hour to Mountain Time) so we had to be efficient about making it to Moab before it got dark.
Anyways, today was the first day of our COVID-19 Road Trip to the Rocky Mountains. It was probably the epitome of a last-minute trip because our two attempts at visiting Iceland were not happening due to our country’s mishandling of COVID-19. So we were blacklisted from most foreign countries that we were worth going to.
Julie and I were quite nervous about an imminent shutdown in LA County due to continuing spikes in coronavirus cases. We were especially worried that LA might have shut down yesterday, which was the day we picked up the rental car.
We were being really cautious with the rental car as we sprayed Lysol on the air and let it land on the upholstery. We also wiped down the high-touch areas like the radio, the handles, basically anything with knobs or buttons. So it took us some time to get the car, bring it home, and then spend the next two hours of this morning loading up the car.
It was definitely a strange feeling considering that we aren’t likely to be able to do our annual Summer trips abroad, which is when we feel most alive. Indeed, we had to settle for the US and the irresponsible behavior of what seems to be a large population of people adversely affecting others with irresponsible attitudes and behaviors towards the pandemic as well as the politics in general.
It’s almost like forcing people to breathe cigarette smoke though in this particular case with COVID-19, the consequences are potentially more dire. People really need to stop paying attention to “news” or gossip coming from the echo chamber that is social media and Fox News. All this meddling by state-sponsored hackers seem to be manipulating these media with great effect, and it’s likely a huge reason why the alt-right rose to prominence in the latter half of the last decade and ultimately resulted in the bumbling of the global pandemic.
Regardless, after a real hectic morning, we finally started to leave at 8am. The later-than-hoped start wasn’t surprising to me, and we definitely filled the rental SUV to the brim. That said, we were trying something new with this trip in that we were bringing a bucket topped with a toilet seat cover. We really didn’t want to be using public restroom facilities as that would put us in close contact with people and their droplets.
We also brought a couple of cans of Lysol as well as many cans of disinfectant wipes. Thus, the car was really filling up.
I definitely felt like we were re-learning how to travel or at least do road trips given the whole pandemic constraints. It wasn’t unlike how we had to go back to basics and learn how to travel with a child when Tahia was born. But this time, messing up with coronavirus had potentially more deadly consequences than messing up with our daughter.
So in that sense, I actually treated this trip as more of a learning experience once again as we would figure out what we can and can’t do well on this unusual coronavirus-affected trip. But at least, we were finally out of the house for real. That said, we had to let my Mom know about our trip knowing that she probably wasn’t going to be pleased with us doing this road trip. Nevertheless, for our mental health’s sake, we definitely needed this trip.
We just hoped that it might finally go without a snag though I had a feeling that something might be coming up again. As our luck always dictated that something will happen as it always has.
As we headed into Victorville and beyond the Cajon Pass, Tahia Facetimed my Mom where we broke the news to her that we were going on a three-week road trip. Julie intentionally didn’t say anything to her about this trip prior to us leaving because she didn’t want to hear it from her about us not going. But we were intending to stay as safe as we can on this trip, and then not see anyone for another two more weeks when we get back just in case.
We also let other tutors and instructors for Tahia know that we wouldn’t be doing any sessions for the next three weeks either.
Regardless, as we drove out on the dreaded I-15, we had to get through a few pockets of heavy traffic as we made our way out of the LA basin. In this world of COVID-19 confusion, nothing surprises me anymore regarding whether things would be a ghost town or crazy busy.
These days, the prevailing attitude is that it seems like people would rather make money and risk dying than to isolate. Heck, irrespective of the pandemic situation, even actionable things like wearing masks in public around other people and keeping a social distance is ignored for irrational and tribal reasons instead of paying attention to what science and nature (i.e. the facts) are telling us. Indeed, it seemed like we have a government with blind followers that only do what they feel like without any sense of responsibility.
It’s what I’ve come to realize that we have an “a**hole economy” where our system rewards (i.e. lets you make money and have a bigger influence in politics) as long as you’re an a**hole to other people and to the earth. And this a**holism grows like cancer where it has spread through all levels of society that it’s next to impossible to change since the people who have the most money have the loudest voices yet they’re the ones who were the biggest a**holes to other people and to the earth.
Of course, once we were finally out of the San Bernardino area, we then had to contend with drivers on the I-15 who really don’t adhere to the rule of keeping right except to pass. It seemed like Californian drivers had this really bad habit of clogging the “fast” or passing lane thereby causing traffic.
We were actually making some pretty good progress as we were near Baker within around 2.5 hours after we had gotten started (or roughly around 10:20am). However, Julie had to use the restroom so now it was time to give our little bucket, bag, and gel solution.
After a little bit of fumbling around and trying to remain discrete inside the car, it actually turned out to not be that bad despite the cramped quarters of trying to fit the bucket between the back seat and the front seat. But since no one but the active cooler sitting in the front seat, I finally figured out that we could move the seat all the way forward to give even more room to do our business with the bucket and seat inside the back seat.
Ideed, Julie especially appreciated not having to wait in line to use the women’s restroom.
So the drive resumed at around 10:40am as we continued to make our way towards Las Vegas. It was already burning hot (like 106F) outside according to the “world’s largest thermometer” in Baker, and eventually at 11:50am, we stopped at a Chipotle in North Las Vegas, which was (un)surprisingly in a very busy shopping area.
Our Jeep Cherokee rental was drinking lots of gas so I also had to fill up by this time though driving around the large and busy streets here seemed to induce a bit of road rage by other drivers (as evidenced by unnecessary honking) even if there was a delay for the slightest second. That said, as we tried to turn to get back on the freeway, there was a garbage truck that didn’t seem to know that you could make a free right turn so it backed up quite a few cars in a local street and caused those behind to take matter into their own hands until it finally decided to move.
The drive then continued on beyond Las Vegas as we continued further towards St George. By the time we got to the canyon cut forth by the Virgin River in the Arizona interlude, we were driving through a pretty thick pocket of pop-up thunderstorms that seemed to cause some mild flash flooding. The issue here was that since the speed limit was on the order of 65mph, it was actually quite easy to hydroplane while also trying to maintain visibility as thick T-storm droplets (and spray from trucks) were reducing visibility.
After getting through that little dramatic section, the temperatures had noticable started to reduce dramatically from the triple digits down to the mid-80s as a result of the persistent cloud cover. This made me wonder how hiking might be towards the end of the trip when I expected to visit the Mt Charleston area.
At about 3:30pm (2:30pm according to my watch as it hadn’t figured out we were in mountain time yet), we made another stop in Cedar City. It was yet another opportunity to make use of our unusual makeshift car toilet while filling up on gas without touching anything by the skin. We were also getting used to the idea of filling up cheaply with 85 octane instead of the minimum 87 octane that we were used to in California.
I had recalled that this was the same road where we could have driven further east towards Navajo Mountain and the Cascade Falls. I had also contemplated making a stop here, but with Tahia putting the pressure on us to keep going to Moab so she could swim in the pool at the condo there before it got dark, we had to remain focused.
As we continued along the I-15 towards the I-70, I had heard what seemed like a pebble that struck the windshield of our rental car. At first, I worried that it might crack the windshield, but I didn’t see anything at first.
It appeared that we had just suffered one of our famous calamities where we had at least one of these on every trip that we’ve done. Though in this case, we worried that this crack was gonna grow the rest of this trip (we still had 3 weeks to go), and that for sure we were going to have to pay up front for this damage (even if it happened on paved roads and the pebble released or kicked up by other vehicles) wasn’t our fault. Then, we’d have to test the rental insurance through Chase Sapphire since Julie said that she got in writing that we were covered even though we had used our Sapphire rewards points as opposed to paying for the rental fully with that credit card and declining all other options.
By about 7:20pm, we had finally made it to the town of Moab, which was busy but not nearly as much as when we were last here in April 2017. So Julie went to a small grocery store to pick up some onions while also taking precautions with a face shield, gloves, and mask. It didn’t look like anyone else was taking as many precautions as we were, however. But that wasn’t surprising to us anymore as even public safety had become politicized.
By about 7:40pm, after a 700-mile drive, we had finally made it to the Red Cliff Condo, which was where we were staying the first night. I know this 12-hour drive was kind of pushing the limits of what we could do on a single day (and continuing onto Telluride like this wasn’t practical). Short of doing a Memorial Day Weekend trip to Salt Lake City, this was probably the most ambitious single-day drive that we’ve done.
Anyways, it looked like there were remnant thunderclouds all around us, but it was also starting to clear up. So that kept Tahia’s hopes alive that she’d get to play in the swimming pool at this condo.
In the mean time, we also had to get settled for the night by first spraying the unit and wiping all the high-touch points in there like knobs, buttons, handles, sinks, toilets, tables, and counters. So this took a bit of time, and only then did we start to appreciate whether we had enough wipes and Lysol spray to give us some degree of trust that this unit wouldn’t infect us with coronavirus.
Ultimately by around 8:05pm, we finally got settled in the unit after bringing our luggages, foodstuffs, and cookwear into the unit. So while Julie was busy doing her thing, Tahia and I went to the pool, which was busy with other people chilling out at the deep end.
There was one kid who didn’t seem to understand anything about social distancing so we had to be vigilant about keeping ours. But other than that, I presumed that the chlorine would prevent the virus from spreading through the water contact. The kid did have a sneeze at one point, which made us very nervous even though he was for the most part on the other side of the pool.
Then, later on, there was a group of at least 9 college-aged folks pretty much taking over the jacuzzi and the “deep” (5ft) end of the pool. They also didn’t seem to care at all about keeping a social distance, so again, we had to stay closer to the shallow side away from them.
Eventually by 8:45pm, we finally had our time, and it seemed like Tahia was satisfied. I was glad that she got to fulfill her desires to go swimming and now she’s pretty much a happy camper at least for tonight.
So after taking a tower and doing some last-minute errands by 9:25pm, we then finally had our dinner and tried to sleep “early” at around 11pm given the lack of sleep on my part and Julie’s part the night before. Anxious times for tomorrow as we were continuing on towards Telluride where usual anxieties about parking, the altitude, weather, waterflow, and any other unexpected surprises await…
Day 2 (July 22, 2020 – Telluride, Colorado): “Respiratory Taxation”
It was about 5am when I woke up naturally and without an alarm. But I had been hearing noises outside like a severe howling or whistling through the cracks in the door or in the windows. Apparently, it was very windy out there, and it was eerily reminiscent of the windy night’s camping that we did in Zion National Park in the Summer back in 2003 or 2004 when we did the Zion Narrows but camped in the Watchman Campground during that time.
I’m presuming that these night winds were Nature’s way of radiating the heat accumulated throughout the day only to release such heat against the quickly cooling nights thereby resulting in this reverse gradient of temperatures that resulted in these winds. It was a sobering reminder of what Summer camping in the desert might be like if we were ever to entertain the thought of stargazing or something in the Summertime.
Regardless, with our only planned activity for the day to go to Telluride today, we tried to sleep in and take it easy. That said, I was already pretty wide awake and ready to start the day. It was also very dry so I had to hydrate up given the lower humidities in these parts.
At 7am, Julie awoke and from that point, we did a bunch of chores in terms of preparing breakfast and getting packed up to continue our journey to Telluride. That said, Julie said that she smelled some smoke, which I kind of noticed too. This concerned us because it meant that someone was violating the rules (of no smoking within some distance of the complex) and that we were worried about shared air (a coronavirus threat). Not only that, but breathing that second-hand smoke was not doing anyone favors in terms of our respiratory health, which in this time of COVID-19 was not what we needed.
Whatever the case was, there was nothing we could do about it so we continued on with our chores. Outside, I could see that it looked like it was about to rain. I didn’t think these desert thunderstorms would happen so early in the morning, but here it was showing to me that it wasn’t only an afternoon phenomenon.
I guess you learn something everyday. However, I also realized that this might cause some issues in terms of our anticipated Bridal Veil Falls hike in Telluride, which we were expected to do this afternoon.
It wasn’t until about 9:20am when we finally started to leave the Red Cliff Condo in Moab. By this time, it was definitely starting to rain as we made our way south on the 191 and then east on the 46 through the La Sal Mountains, which seemed to be attracting a lot of the T-storm cells.
The drive went pretty uneventfully except for trying to pass one truck that seemed to be hauling a lot of concrete barriers through these twisty mountain roads. At 10:10am, we also made a little potty break from a pullout using our makeshift toilet again, and that caused us to have to try to pass that truck again. Luckily, there were straightaways in the valley that we were approaching, which went by some hamlet of Bedrock (so I guess there really was a real-life town of the same name as opposed to being from the Flintstones).
The drive continued pretty uneventfully until we started to follow a caravan of cars passing right into the town of Telluride, which seemed to be getting quite a few thunderstorm squalls, especially as we stopped by the familiar Clark Market on the west side of town at 12:00pm.
Then, Tahia and I stayed in the car to play some Uno (which seemed different than the game that I remembered playing).
After having our lunch, we then finally started to continue driving towards the familiar Victorian Inn at 1:40pm, which was just in time for another nasty squall to overtake the area and really make things wet. With the sudden downpour, it made us a bit hesitant about whether we could pull off the Bridal Veil Falls hike under such conditions, but in my mind I was determined that we were going to do it today. After all, I always say that any of our trips doesn’t really start until we visit a waterfall.
Anyways, about five minutes later, we pulled up to the Victorian Inn to see if we would be able to check in even though it was a couple of hours early. It turned out that they did let us check in so we spent a few more minutes doing our sanitization routine of spraying the germicide before starting to wipe as many of the touch points that we could think of.
Then, we brought our luggages into the room, which was definitely quite a bit smaller compared to the condo we were just at. I guess we had to take it while in Telluride because it was a place where parking was hard to find, and we relied on being able to park at the accommodation.
By about 2:30pm, we finally headed out. The rain appeared to calm down a bit as we drove out and through Colorado Ave (the main drag through Telluride), which was now acting as a one-way street. Apparently, they closed off the other side of the street to allow outdoor dining in the street so there could be less incidence of COVID-19 from the lack of social distancing inside the restaurant establishments.
By about 2:40pm, we made it to the Bridal Veil Falls trailhead parking, which now seemed like it had a bonafide trailhead parking area with signage. The last time I was here 3 years ago, it was nothing more than a random pullout with no signage other than those saying the road up to the falls was a 4wd road.
Anyways, I knew that parking for this falls tended to fill up fast, but on a day like today, I noticed that there were at least a couple of spots in the main parking area. Yet the presence of other cars parked closer to the Idarado facility kind of illustrated how hard parking here would have been earlier in the day.
It was still raining when we stopped the car, but within a few minutes, it appeared to die down and we could finally start gearing up. Julie and Tahia were hesitant to do this hike after seeing how far Bridal Veil Falls appeared from this trailhead. However, when she saw signage by the new trail (so we wouldn’t have to walk completely on the 4wd road) that it was only 1.2 miles to the base of the falls, she thought it was doable.
And so after a few minutes more of finally wearing our gear (especially the hiking boots), it was finally time to get going. Tahia was already complaining at this point because her mind was on playing Roblox, but we dangled that carrot if she could complete this hike.
Right off the bat, the hike was already uphill and a bit on the rugged side as we found ourselves going mostly up (and a few down) around fallen boulders with lots of growth around us. All of us were already suffering from the thin air combined with the exertion of doing this hike, which made the 1.2 miles of hiking seem like quite a chore.
Indeed, this hike was at least over 9000ft and apparently we were to climb another 1000ft to get up to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. So we took lots of breaks, which both Tahia and Julie were really suffering big time. I couldn’t tell if Tahia’s increasingly louder complaints were more to do with her desire to play Roblox or if she really was suffering from what seemed like the started stages of altitude sickness. Julie was also taking lots of stops so progress was really slow.
On top of that, there were also groups of people (some masked, others not) either passing us or going down in the other direction. One guy asked where we were from, and we told him LA. He told us he was from Dallas so I guess we all had this common thing of getting away from coronavirus hotspots (though I wondered if he wasn’t the only Texan to come to Colorado given we saw license plates from states like South Carolina, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Nevada).
Anyways, we slowly made our way towards this “dangerous” creek crossing of Ingham Creek, which was unbridged. While it had a steep descent then re-ascent over its gully, the bouldery creek was actually dry. I presumed that most of the water went beneath us because I could clearly see Ingham Falls was flowing and some of the lower cascades closer to the 4wd road was also flowing.
We had made it to this crossing at 3:30pm so it took us the better part of 45 minutes or so just to get to about the half-way point of the hike (according to my watch, which was actually seemingly unable to get a good fix until a bit later on in the hike).
The trail got increasingly steep and rugged beyond the unbridged Ingham Creek crossing, which made both Julie and Tahia stop even more. At least there were a couple of intermediate waterfall interludes that were actually quite attractive. So I stopped for the first one at around 4pm (where I talked with that Dallas guy again).
Then, we slowly continued on to the next intermediate waterfall by about 4:25pm, which was actually closer to the main trail than the first. So Julie and Tahia got to enjoy that one for a bit though we didn’t bother going to the bottom of this waterfall.
We then continued on with the hike, where Tahia’s complaining got really loud by this time. She wanted to sit and stop but my watch was telling me that we had already gone about 1.2 miles (though I’m sure some of that distance was due to the lack of reception at the start and some of the additional interludes that I did for that first waterfall).
So by about 4:45pm, we made it up to some trail junction where the Ingham Spur Trail was on the left and the Bridal Veil Falls Trail continued on the right. The trail really got more inclined as we continued on this path, but Tahia and Julie were really slowing things down.
So I told them that I’d scout out the base of the waterfall just to try to show them that we were close, and when I separated myself from them on the continuing ascent, it was actually a bit nontrivial. But by about 5pm, I finally made it to the base of Bridal Veil Falls where there were plenty of people also around there seemingly not social distancing (likely because there were two or three separate groups). There was also one guy with a drone trying to take a picture (something I’m not too keen on but seems to be all the rage these days).
Eventually by about 5:15pm, Julie and Tahia finally made it to the waterfall. So at least their pain and suffering from needing to climb to get to the falls was for the most part over. From here on out, after taking our obligatory pictures and videos and selfies (I didn’t bring a tripod for this hike), they looked forward to taking the 4wd road back down to the trailhead.
Meanwhile, I would resume the hike up at least two or four of the switchbacks to get up to the power station. I had entertained the thought of continuing to hike up to the top of Ingham Falls, but it was getting increasingly difficult as I was not properly acclimated for this elevation yet.
Indeed, when we went our separate ways by around 5:25pm (just as another group of rugged ATVs and jeeps showed up here), I started to continue climbing up the road. As I went further up, I started to get better views down towards Telluride as well as profile views up at Ingham Falls (looking smaller at this point). I also looked back towards more elevated views of Bridal Veil Falls and the power station perched right above it.
I then continued on to the next switchback, which was closer to some kind of power station infrastructure below a side falls with a more appealing look at the Bridal Veil Falls in more of a side angle. Perhaps this was the spot that the Jeep Commercial that I saw from before wound up as the falls looked closer to the vehicles in that commercial than what I’m seeing both from below and now from higher up by the switchback.
As I started to continue going up, there were a couple of guys that were also hiking up, and we briefly talked (keeping our social distance of course) about where we were going. It seemed like they were intending to continue up to some lake, and they asked me if there was a separate trail that led me up to this switchback, but I confirmed with them that I also went up the 4wd road.
Eventually at about 6:15pm, I had finally made it a couple more switchbacks to the final spur leading towards the power station. There were now a couple of pesky mosquitoes looking to get a free shot at me, but I was able to evade them by simply moving.
By about 6:20pm, I had finally made it to the power station, but since it was closed, it seemed rather a bit of an anticlimax. It was still another 2.3 miles or so to get up to some lakes further up, but this was my turnaround point. I also saw how much higher the Ingham Falls were and there was no way I was going to do that on this day.
Anyways, the skies also looked like they were clearing up quickly so as I was making my way down along the 4wd road, I was starting to contend with the sun. Since I didn’t have a hat with me, this was non-ideal. But at least I was going downhill so the altitude sickness symptoms were abated the further down I was going.
By about 6:50pm, I made it back down to the base of Bridal Veil Falls, where there were a few more jeeps and people around. However, I went ahead and stopped to photograph the falls as both it and the power station were backed by some blue skies even though the falls was already in shadow.
Then, I continued down the 4wd road where I made it back down to the Ingham Creek Spur Trail at 7:15pm (not before making another stop to get a more frontal look at the Ingham Creek Falls above me), and then after crossing Ingham Creek itself (in a ford and testing the new boots’ waterproofability), I ultimately made it back down to rejoin Julie and Tahia by 7:40pm.
They must have made it back at least over an hour ago or so, and Julie made the classic inquiry of “What took you so long?” which I knew that I would cop. She was concerned about how late it was and how eating late was not a good thing, especially if she expected to cook up some basic stuff in her instapot.
Well, by 8pm, we finally make it back to the Victorian Inn to call it a day. But given the activity that we saw on Colorado Ave in Telluride, she ordered to go at some place called the Floradora Saloon because they had paleo burgers.
After placing the order, we let Tahia play by herself on my laptop in the room since she earned it. Meanwhile, Julie and I walked about in town at around 8:25pm, which was just in time for twilight.
There was definitely a bit of activity in town with people outdoor dining, but it seemed like the vast majority of people were doing as we were doing and taking out. When we picked up our meal, it was almost $70 which seemed quite steep for just three burgers. I didn’t see if we were mischarged or not, but whatever the case, since I didn’t make the order, I assumed that Julie picked up some extras on this meal and didn’t make a stink about it.
So by around 9pm, we were back in the small room and finally able to eat a well-earned dinner. Forget about fitting in a hike to Cornet Falls.
Regardless, the day was finally over, and we were still trying to recuperate from the respiratory taxation that our lungs had felt throughout the hike. So if we weren’t acclimated when we started the hike, I’m pretty sure after sleeping tonight, we should be well acclimated come tomorrow morning…
Day 3 (July 23, 2020 – Telluride, Colorado): “Risky Requests”
It was 6am when I awoke. I took some to get caught up on yesterday’s happenings while also eating a little leftover breakfast before gearing up and heading out of the room at about 7:40am.
Outside there were blue skies and it seemed to be quite the perfect weather for a hike. The hike that I was doing for the morning was Bear Creek Falls, which I knew was a very popular hike because it was doable right from Telluride. However, I made sure to bring along a mask because I had a feeling that I would need it to stay as safe as I could.
The town so far at this time of the day was pretty quiet, but as I headed south on South Aspen Street, I saw this gondola ride that was already running at this time. I also noticed what appeared to be hang gliders up above the gondola.
Anyways, I continued walking down West San Juan Ave until I got to South Pine Street. Then, I headed south past a block towards the bridge over the San Juan River and then right onto the trail entering the Bear Creek Reserve. There were already a family carting up a rugged stroller that could take the pounding it was gonna get from the trail. I also noticed a couple of women hiking fast that went by me on the initial climb.
Actually, the climb was pretty steep at the outset though the trail was very wide (albeit rocky) so it wasn’t too hard to keep the distance from other people.
But pretty soon as I got higher up the climb, I found myself alone for the most part. And as the hike continued its ascent with some nice views towards the east side of Telluride, the trail then veered to the south (or my right) just past another trail sign.
At this point, the tree-lined path provided glimpses of some impressive craggy mountains. As I continued along this straightforward path, I was passed by a few trail runners as well as some people already coming down.
Eventually, the trail started to open up and provide nice panoramas of the cliffs opposite the trail as well as some mountains still clinging onto what’s left of the snowpack for the year. Then, when I was taking pictures of some intermediate waterfall within those cliffs opposite Bear Creek, there was a local who was walking real fast telling me that there was a lot of downed trees just coming up.
He said that there was an avalanche that hit this area a couple of years ago, and the fallen trees were the end result. He definitely upped my anticipation as he continued about his way.
Sure enough, when I got to the next clearing at 8:40am, I saw the impressive line of flattened trees that actually looked like they were reaching to my right. It appeared as if the avalanche came from the pretty cliffs on the opposite side of Bear Creek and was so destructive and forceful that the trees were flattened across the creek and even further up the valley to my right!
It’s pretty impressive how Nature can be so beautiful and yet so destructive at the same time.
Ten minutes later, I reached an unmarked spur in the path. I was curious about the left spur, but when I saw the map on GaiaGPS on my phone, I realized that it was headed to something labeled “Canton Mine”. So I kept right on the wider path to continue on the Bear Creek Falls Trail.
The hike continued to climb but it was more of a gradual climb compared to the more vertical affair that we went through to get up to Bridal Veil Falls yesterday. In any case, by around 9am, I finally started to see the Bear Creek Falls further up the trail. It looked like there were some upper tiers above its main drop, but I had a feeling that it would be concealed by the time I’d reach its base.
After a little bit of an interlude where the trail seemed to have split up around a giant squarish boulder, I found myself scrambling upstream along Bear Creek which yielded a more straighter view of Bear Creek Falls and the tier above it. However, I knew that this wasn’t the real trail so I had to scramble back up a graveled incline to regain the main trail.
Next, the trail entered a narrower and more overgrown stretch where it would definitely be harder to social distance. It was a good thing that I was getting an early start, as a result. Anyways, the path went over a few fallen trees as well as caused me to brush up with a lot of overgrowth while there were also lots of wildflowers blooming here. I guess you can say that there was a lot of moisture near this waterfall, which created this thriving lush area.
By about 9:15am, I had finally arrived at the base of the Bear Creek Falls where there was one family of four chilling out. So I positioned myself right near the base of the falls to get my photos just as the morning sun was playing peekaboo with the budding thunderclouds that were already starting to form.
So I took my time trying to take pictures (and long exposure shots without a tripod) as well as videos of the scene. While the waterfall was nice, I also liked the view downstream in the direction of Telluride.
I finally started to head back as more people were showing up to the falls at around 10am. Since the hike was mostly downhill on the way back, I was making pretty good progress and a pretty fast pace. However, I was curious about the unsigned Canton Mine spur so I pursued it and got there at around 10am.
It turned out to be nothing more than a clearing with some stones arranged in a circular manner. So I didn’t linger here for too long other than to try to capture the scenery around this clearing.
The hike then continued further downhill as I caught up to one lady that I recognized taking pictures at the falls earlier on. When I caught up to her at the avalanche zone, she was busy taking more pictures and conversed with me about how pretty this area was.
Then, she asked if I could take a picture for her. In a time of COVID-19, it was a bit of a risky ask, but I went ahead and did as she asked knowing that I’d probably have to wash my hands and sanitize my gear as soon as I got back to the room.
We chatted a bit more before she went ahead for a bit and chatted with other hikers going up to the falls. Anyways, the rest of the hike was for the most part uneventful but I was amazed at how many people I noticed on the trail going in the other direction. Indeed, this was a very popular hike, and it got me to start getting into this rhythm where I wore my mask around my neck or chin before bringing it up to my nose and mouth as soon as I saw other people.
I also noticed other people doing the same thing. I guess that’s probably the new normal when it comes to hiking because it’s pretty tough to breathe through the mask while doing the exercising to keep it on all the time. So this on-off thing seemed to be the way to go.
At 10:50am, I finally made it back to the town of Telluride, which was quite bustling at the moment. There were lots of people seemingly headed to Bear Creek Reserve, and I also noticed a longer line of people waiting to go up the gondola. That was surprising to me because there didn’t seem to be much social distancing in that line.
By about 11am, I finally made it back to the Victorian Inn to briefly recover from the hike for the moment. It was just in time for Tahia and Julie to get back from their takeout of some breakfast omelette place. So I guess I got a proper bit of supplemental food of whatever they were willing to share with me. They thought I would still be out on the trail so they didn’t get me anything.
And shortly after 12pm, I made it to the Ames Power Station, where there was a narrower road leading uphill just past it. I also noticed another sign on the larger road saying something about private property as I’m sure the owners here had to deal with people pursuing Mystic Falls by crossing into their yards.
Well, as I was driving uphill past a couple of cabins or homes, I then saw how quickly the road got rough. While the Jeep Cherokee that I was driving had some high clearance, it seemed like I needed all of it and more as well as a bit of momentum to get up past these badly rutted craters on the road.
In fact, I wasn’t going up fast enough at one point and I actually had to back up before making another attempt to gun it past the harder obstacles. I was definitely very nervous about doing this with the rental car, but fortunately I got past the initial rough patch and then I carefully tried to maneuver the car past some other tilts and craters though the incline wasn’t as severe as that hard stretch I had just passed.
Eventually, I reached a fork, where I then followed this narrower and rutted dirt road with less rocks to the end where there was a parking area at 12:15pm. There were already three rugged vehicles here so I parked opposite where they were. I also tried to keep my distance from them as it seemed like they were just about to wrap up their visit.
So now that the white-knuckle driving was over, I then had to figure out where to find the Mystic Falls. That said, the first waterfall was already quite attractive, and it drew a pictures from me at the outset. However, I then had to follow some cryptic instructions on how to find the main waterfall.
And it was at this point that I followed some faint trails that went further upstream. Actually, there were two creeks. There was one thinner flowing creek that was real easy to cross, but then there was a wider creek that flowed further downstream that looked more difficult to cross without inundating the boot.
I continued to follow the creek upstream thinking that Mystic Falls was further upstream, but then I eventually lost the trail though I heard a real loud waterfall not far from where I was. Was that the Mystic Falls?
Anyways, I didn’t like where I was at and I kept thinking that I had to keep going back up and cross the stream more easily. So I actually scrambled my way back up where I eventually found the 4wd road that continued past the turnoff leading to the parking area I was at originally. I then continued uphill on this 4wd road as it went past some No Trespassing signs before reaching some trail with a roadrunner picture on it.
I then pursued this trail as it revealed the loud waterfall though getting a good look at it required trespassing. That said, I wondered if this was the Mystic Falls though it looked wider and shorter than what my trail research had suggested.
Nevertheless, I still pursued the trail as it then bent towards a bridge (strange I didn’t see anything about a bridge on my trail research), and then I followed this trail as it continued to climb past some fencing and eventually led me towards an opening with lots of boulders and rocks strewn on either side of me.
I saw that there were a couple of signs up ahead, and apparently this spot was the remnants of some railroad. The panorama from here was very nice, but I couldn’t see anything that hinted at Mystic Falls. That said, I did look across the chasm and see my parked SUV all by itself at this point.
Anyways, I had a feeling that this trail wasn’t going to Mystic Falls so I went back in search of a way to scramble down to that wide waterfall that I had seen earlier. Thinking that this was the steep scramble that I was supposed to take, it was actually quite steep and dicey. It actually took me to a point where it appeared to have the foundations of some cabin and I wondered if this spot was private.
Regardless, I got some obstructed views of the wide double waterfall though I then looked for a way back down to the level of the creek. Eventually after the dicey descent, I got down to the creek level, and then I followed a bouldery path upstream until I was stopped by some wide cascade that looked nothing like what I saw in the trip research. I eventually scaled the embankment besides this falls, but then I stopped short as the creek was too wide and too deep to get a more unobstructed look at the double waterfall ahead of me.
Something didn’t seem right about this waterfall as it was too wide. Yet I couldn’t figure out where was the narrower and taller Mystic Falls that I had seen on the trip research.
In any case, I then headed back downstream and as I saw on my GPS markings that all I had to do was to cross this creek and go back uphill to the parked car, I went ahead and did that. However, as I crossed some logs, one of them broke and I managed to dunk my right foot into the creek. So now the new boots that I was using acted more like a bucket.
Eventually at about 1:40pm, I made it back to the car. There were a few other people that were here scrambling around the smaller waterfall. Regardless, I made one last go at the twin waterfall I had just seen by walking up the 4wd road and back to where I saw that falls from the 4wd road partially. Unfortunately, getting a more fontal view of that waterfall required going into private property so I looked for a way to get to a scrambling spot without trespassing.
But that ended up being futile. So ultimately by about 2:05pm, I returned to the car just as I started to hear the rumble of thunder as the T-storm was about to happen. I wanted to make sure that I was out of the dicey road before it would get wet, so by about 2:05pm, I was back at the car again, and then I made the white-knuckle drive back down to the Ames Power Station.
Eventually by 2:45pm, I finally made it back to the Victorian Inn where it looked like I was shut out of parking at the accommodation until I noticed one spot next to a shed hidden besides some white pick-up truck. When I asked the people at the Inn if I was parked legally, she said this whole area was theirs so I was fine.
Then, by 2:55pm, I was back in the room to rejoin Julie and Tahia just as they brought back pizza. So while it was starting to rain, we hunkered down in our room to enjoy our meal, and I’d wait until this squall blew over before I’d attempt to hike to Cornet Falls.
After playing a little bit of Uno with Tahia (who suddenly loved playing this game), it looked like the skies remained overcast by 5pm but there was no rain. So I took this time to head back out although I had to wear the wet boot as it hardly dried. In fact, I had switched into a new pair of socks, but the moisture already penetrated through that wool sock. So it was uncomfortable to say the least!
I wished that I had brought the back-up pair of Vasque boots but alas, Julie talked me out of it before this trip thinking that we didn’t have the room in the trunk. But in hindsight, we did have the space, but now for better or for worse, I’d have to deal with this wet boot on this hike.
Anyways, the town was still quite busy as I headed out and hiked uphill along Aspen Street. There were some markets with masked people seemingly starting to break things down and call it a day. There was also quite a bit of traffic (both vehicular and foot) at this time.
As I was laboring up Aspen Street since it was an uphill walk (it seemed like Telluride was tilting to the south), I eventually made it back to the familiar trailhead for Cornet Falls and the Jud Wiebe Trail at around 5:15pm.
I then continued up the familiar trail past the bridge and past some individual about to have a smoke while chilling out by the creek.
I was anticipating the rugged and eroded trail requiring a lot of traction from my new boots, but I was surprised to see that they had fixed up the part I had remembered with the wooden retaining plank. They had put in stone steps to make the erosion-prone scramble unnecessary, and I didn’t even have to scramble up the false path to the right, which I had taken the first time I was here back in April 2017.
So that made this trail quite a bit easier as I got past this first obstacle, but the remaining parts of the trail were still potentially slippery and somewhat eroded. Still, by about 5:30pm, I had made it back to the familiar Cornet Falls where there were a couple of ladies and a dog taking pictures and chilling out there.
In the mean time, I was taking what photos I could, and I had also brought a tripod so I was starting to set up to take some long exposure shots. After all, this would be the first time I was using the tripod on this trip.
Just as I was about to start taking pictures with the tripod, the ladies asked if I could take a picture of them with their phone. Once again, I was faced with that dilemma of the COVID-19 risk in doing this, and she sensed my concern. But I went ahead and did it anyways knowing that I’d have to go back to the room when I’m done to wash my hands and wipe down my equipment or anything else I’d be touching between now and then.
So when the ladies and their dog finally left, I had a few minutes of Cornet Falls to myself. So I took some time for some long exposure shots, and eventually when I scrambled up to the backside of Cornet Falls, that was when the next batch of visitors showed up.
Thus, I wrapped up what I was doing and brought out my mask again. Then, after finally having my fill of the falls, I headed back to the Victorian Inn at 6:05pm. By this time, I was pretty much hiking by myself as no one was coming up this way as I was headed back (a concern of mine considering how narrow this trail was).
Finally at 6:20pm, I made it back to the room where Julie and Tahia were using the Instapot to make pasta. It smelled good, and we’d have our family dinner on our picnic mat on the bed to end off the day.
As we were reveling in the day, I was still bothered by what I saw in my attempt at Mystic Falls, and that was when I saw a drone video showing that I actually didn’t see the correct waterfall as I had suspected. So now I was left with this dilemma of whether I should abandon some of the waterfalls I had planned to do near Ouray tomorrow, and instead try to go back to Mystic Falls for real.
Unfortunately in the evening, it started raining and this time it looked like it wasn’t letting up. The forecast for tomorrow called for rain all day long as well, so now I left with this anxiety about what to do when tomorrow comes around…
Day 4 (July 24, 2020 – Aspen, Colorado): “Determined To Succeed”
It was about 3:45am when I awoke after hearing some kind of banter between Julie and Tahia about jabbing or kicking each other or something since they were sharing the same bed and got annoyed with each other. Once I had opened my eyes and heard that commotion, I couldn’t fall back asleep.
Even though I didn’t get that much sleep, I had this anxiety that I had to successfully visit Mystic Falls before leaving Telluride (after realizing that I had managed to miss it yesterday when the weather was more benign). So the first thing I did was to get right to the computer and look at the hourly forecast given that I needed to know whether this crazy idea of going back to Mystic Falls before checking out was even feasible.
Well, it turned out that after looking at the forecast, the heavy thunderstorm wouldn’t appear until around 9am so I had that window while the rest of the time, it was going to be either cloudy or just light rain between 5am and 8am. And so I used this time to get caught up on whatever blogging and photo management while it was still dark outside.
By the time I started to see some daylight through the window at about 5:45am, I then left our room after texting to Julie that I went ahead and pursued Mystic Falls expecting to be back by 9am. As I got into the car, it was still sprinkling so it was in the back of my mind whether even making this attempt was a good idea, especially since I had anticipated a good deal of scrambling and creek crossings to get to where I needed to be – at the base of Mystic Falls.
Anyways, the race was on before the forecasted 9am of heavy rain, which was said to dump about 0.33 inches in that hour. And as I drove out of Telluride in the darkness, the daylight was definitely increasing. However, the rain seemed to have gotten a little stronger during the drive so it made me even more nervous about my attempt.
I was also surprised by the number of vehicles already out and about this early in the morning, which I’d imagine consisted of people who were driving to work. Indeed, by the time I got to the turnoff down to Ames, there was a vehicle that had been following me until I made the sharp right turn off the highway. The thing that I noticed during this drive was how many rocks had fallen onto the highway as a result of the persistent rain from last night. There were also quite a bit of fallen rocks onto the unpaved county road 631L that I had to watch out for.
By about 6:15am, I had finally made it back to the Ames Power Station after seeing that I wasn’t comfortable parking at some random spot by the brown cabin beyond the road up the power station. Given how wet the roads were, I definitely wasn’t going to attempt that 4wd road beyond the brown cabin either.
Anyways, the rain seemed to have calmed down as I was putting on my boots but this time I attached to my pack a pair of Keens as backup since I suspected that I was going to get my feet wet anyways. But this time, I was determined to come prepared unlike yesterday when I had completely forgotten about them.
The morning was cool as daylight continued to brighten thereby revealing the heavy presence of clouds all around me. The walk up the road was actually quite short, and when I got back to the familiar 4wd parking area for Mystic Falls, it was about 6:30am.
I swore that it took me nearly as long to drive up here as it was to just walk it so in hindsight, it was a no-brainer for me to not even risk further damage to our rental car (since it got the cracked windscreen on day 1 and I risked damage yesterday taking the car up to the 4wd parking lot yesterday).
So next, I didn’t linger at the trailhead and that attractive waterfall there because I had a mission to accomplish. So I went along the familiar trail that ultimately veered towards a short crossing of the narrower creek leading to that waterfall I saw at the trailhead.
Then, when I got to the familiar rocks kind of acting as an embankment to the main branch of Lake Fork, this time I went downstream towards the peninsula separating the two waterfalls where I finally got to see the real Mystic Falls at about 6:40am.
The view from up here was precarious as there were sheer cliffs where I dared not to get too close to the edge especially with the rain wetting the surface. So I spent some time trying to document what I could of the impressive waterfall from this point. I didn’t even bother trying to see the smaller waterfall on the other side from this peninsula.
While the waterfall was pretty satisfying to see from a couple of different vantage points on this peninsula (while my wants were getting wet in the process after brushing up against the wet overgrowth on the use-trail), I then finally had to pry myself away from this spot and pursue the bottom of Mystic Falls.
It was about 7am when I made my move, but when I took a closer look at how high Lake Fork was flowing, there was no way I was going to make the same mistake again by attempting to cross this stream with boots on. So I sat down on the pile of rocks and took the time to change into the Keens. Meanwhile, I clipped my boots to my pack, which was already burdened with a tripod inside.
So when I got back up and slung the pack on me, it felt like I was carrying a lot of weight, which conspired to make an already dangerous scramble even more so!
Regardless, I was now in position to slowly make my way across the stream though the large boulders were all slippery and made the crossing quite tricky since I couldn’t lose my balance or else risk dunking the new camera and other things I didn’t want to get wet.
Once I got to the other side, I then followed a use trail that went up a steep hillside, which was already making me breathe heavily. Eventually, I followed this use trail towards a path that gradually descended towards some kind of hidden outcrop where I could see down towards some private property as well as upstream towards a partial glimpse of Mystic Falls.
Still, I kept following the use trails as it ultimately made an even steeper descent where some paths looked a bit shady so I kept going as far downstream as I could where the scrambling paths seemed more manageable to me. Eventually, when I got to the bottom at 7:30am, the scrambling paths then seemed to disappear in the low-lying brush that was all around there. So I had to blaze my own trail trying to find some of the paths that I had forsaken earlier thinking that they were too steep on the descent.
Surely, there had to be some scrambling paths that I’d encounter again. And sure enough, after a few minutes of just making a beeline back upstream, I found the use paths which then peered over another steep dropoff. So I knew that I had to follow other use trails downstream again until I found a rather hidden-but-obvious path that went the rest of the way down to the level of the Lake Fork.
Once at the bottom, I could see that I once again had to get across the Lake Fork again. So it was a good thing that I kept my Keens on even though it wasn’t getting as good traction as the boots on the steep descents that I took to get to this point.
After crossing Lake Fork again (once again being real careful with how slippery each of the boulders were while also fighting the current on the shin-to-knee-deep stream), I found the use trail that continued upstream. By about 7:40am, I then finally made it to where I could see the Mystic Falls perched right at the head of the narrow canyon I was in.
With such effort it took to get here along with the failure of yesterday’s attempt, I punched the air in elation and said “F**k yeah!”
I guess it just goes to show you that sometimes it takes failures and a determination to succeed to yield this kind of high feeling of finally accomplishing something that wasn’t easy. That said, I also had to temper my excitement with knowing that there was an everpresent danger of flash floods and rockfalls given the narrow gorge that I was in.
So I couldn’t linger here for too long. Besides, I also promised Julie that I’d be back by 9am. So with that, I took out the tripod and started making photos along with some videos using the Sony mirrorless along with my iPhone so it could be more readily shared with Julie.
As much as I wanted to stay down here and keep taking photos, it was starting to sprinkle again and it was also about 8:10am as I knew that time was running out on my promise to be back in Telluride by 9am. So I carefully headed back downstream and then had to cross the Lake Fork again.
But this time, my Keens got stuck between some submerged rocks and I had to release my foot from the Keens and then try to pull with both hands to get the shoe out. It took some effort and I wondered just how it could have been so stuck. Regardless, now that the first crossing was over, I then had to scramble back up the hillside.
So after scrambling around looking for the familiar steep path that I took, I eventually got there. Then, I had to make the ascent, which took a lot out of me given how much elevation gain I had to get back along with all the gear I was carrying on my back. Indeed, I was really huffing and puffing by the time I got up to the top of the climb, and then I had to descend back down to the familiar Lake Fork crossing that I initially made.
I noticed that there were a couple of other people at around the top of the falls but I don’t think they noticed me. So when I went back across the Lake Fork again, I then went past them (again they didn’t seem to notice me), and I was back at the 4wd parking lot at 8:40am where I noticed that they drove a heavy-duty pick-up truck to get here. I’m sure they definitely needed the 4wd capability given the slippery conditions of that rough road to get here.
Anyways, by about 8:50am, I was finally back in the car and made my way back to the Victorian Inn in Telluride at 9:15am. By this time, it was definitely raining though it wasn’t the heavy downpour that I was expecting according to the forecasts.
When I returned to Julie and Tahia, they were mostly packed up and I was just in time to finish off some leftover breakfast. So we took the time to load up the car (in the rain I might add) and by 9:55am we were ready to head out.
Now, we could get going with my intentions of visiting the next pair of waterfall attractions on the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton. But given our late start with the Mystic Falls redo, I knew that it was likely going to be pretty late by the time we’d make it to our place in Aspen, which was where we were going to stay for the next two nights.
Anyways, the drive was for the most part uneventful as we followed a caravan of cars towards Ridgeway and the 550 Highway. It was raining on and off throughout the drive so it made me wonder what the conditions would be like on the drive. And as we finally went into the familiar town of Ouray (which we went to the last time we were in Colorado during Tahia’s Spring Break in 2017), we then decided on the spot to just check out Box Canyon which was on the agenda, and to break up the drive.
By about 11:15am, we finally found the rather hidden Box Canyon parking area, and boy was it busy! There were lots of people and cars at this spot, and many of them were lingering around the ticket area. With so much people, we were nervous about this situation since we knew a lot of people that were in Colorado at this time came from states where people were a bit cavalier about the severity of COVID-19.
In fact, when Julie and Tahia went to buy tickets while I waited outside, I overheard a family complain about having to wear masks. They then proceeded to go inside the building without social distancing as they stood right behind Julie and Tahia.
Anyways, once they got out of the paying for the tickets, we then proceeded to do the short walk onto the ledged walkway leading right to the narrow slotted confines of the Box Canyon Waterfall. It seemed like one of those falls that was mostly concealed and only the bottom two tiers were visible. I wondered if more of the waterfall could have been seen from the High Bridge up above though but Julie wasn’t keen on the idea of doing that given the lack of social distancing that this place already had.
Ultimately, we walked (and squeezed by) some folks as we went into the narrow slot elevated above the roaring turbulence of the creek. The path then went down three levels of stairs where it appeared that the best views of the concealed Box Canyon Waterfall was from the steps.
Because at the little alcove at the bottom, there were large boulders and a cliff protrusion that prevented the falls from being seen from down there (despite most of the people being down there).
So after having our fill of the bottom and then taking a few more shots from the steps, we then got back to the car at 12pm.
It felt like a bit of a relief to get back in the car given how many people didn’t seem to care about maintaining social distance nor wearing masks once they were out of the ticketing area.
Next, we then drove further south on the 550 (now called the Million Dollar Highway) as the road was steep and slow (lots of 25mph and 35mph speed limits) as we pretty much followed a caravan of cars past some busy cascade as well as some overlooks of the Red Mountain.
I made mental notes that we should come back at take some pictures when we are on our way back and headed to Aspen, but for now, my aim was to get to the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls near Silverton.
Julie was complaining about headaches pretty much the entire drive (actually since Telluride) and she was getting them again as we were going up and over some mountain passes. But eventually we descended to the unpaved road leading all the way to the South Fork Mineral Creek Campground. And the parking lot there looked like it was totally full!
Luckily, at about 12:55pm, we managed to find parking. But since Julie and Tahia weren’t in the mood to do another hike at this time, I put on my wet Keens again (knowing there were going to be more crossings) and pursued the waterfall.
Without any signs indicating the falls, I just walked into the campground and followed the loop until I saw that there was a faint path leading right to the crossing of Clear Creek. Clearly trying to get across this in boots wasn’t going to work so I was glad that I came prepared in Keens.
After crossing this creek, I then saw an obvious trail that for the most part followed along the Clear Creek before it ran towards the South Fork Mineral Creek. At this point, the trail then started climbing above what appeared to be another narrow gorge. But it didn’t take long before I started to notice the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls at 1:10pm, so this hike was actually shorter than I had anticipated.
That said, after getting my fill of the elevated view of the South Fork Mineral Creek Falls (there were actually two main drops), I saw that there was a fly fisher down at the base of the lower drop of the falls so I pursued the upper drop first. And after a little more climbing, I then followed a ledge-hugging path that seemed pretty tame as I ultimately found myself at the base of the upper drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls at 1:15pm.
This drop was taller but I only bothered to see it in profile as I didn’t want to spend too much time freezing my feet in Keens in the creek itself. The skies were between revealing moments of sunlight and total overcast so the expected blue color of the water wasn’t as readily apparent. It just seemed like an ordinary mountain stream in clear water as far as I was concerned.
Regardless, I took my shots and videos, and then headed back up the ledge-hugging trail before pursuing the path to the lower drop of South Fork Mineral Creek Falls. As I scrambled towards the ledge trail leading to the bottom of that waterfall, I saw that the fly fisher was leaving and scrambling further downstream.
So I went along the dicier ledge trail to the base of the falls, where the last section required me to sit and scoot my way down. I’m sure going back up would require the use of all fours, which concerned me given this COVID-19 situation we’ve got and how many people before me must have touched the trees or rocks along the way.
Anyways, it was about 1:30pm when I made it down to the base of the falls, and I took my time with more photos and videos of this spot. It was a bit of a tricky waterfall to photograph because seeing more of the bottom meant concealing the upper waterfall. Meanwhile, the converse was true if I tried to see more of the upper waterfall. I guess that’s the twisting nature of this pair of falls.
After having my fill of this spot, I then scrambled back up the ledge and ultimately regained the trail again. As I descended to the bottom, there was one Asian lady I saw on the trail who asked if there were a lot of people at the waterfalls. I told her that she’d be alone there and the relief and smile on her face was noticeable as I’m sure she was also concerned by the amount of people all over the place despite COVID-19.
By about 1:50pm, I rejoined Julie and Tahia back at the car. And now we could head north towards Aspen for the remainder of the day. It was a long drive though, and I was also concerned about the weather for tomorrow since I was supposed to take the shuttle to the Maroon Bells but the forecast called for more rain so they might be covered up by clouds.
That said, the drive back towards Ouray was mostly uneventful though we made a couple of stops. We made one stop to get views of the Red Mountain, where I also noticed some cascade down below. I guess that was more of the unnamed incidental variety since it was thin and it was only seen from an unmarked pullout.
However, Julie had us stop by the more official lookout for the Red Mountain and the Idarado mining operation remnants here. There were also interpretive signs explaining this place’s past though lots of people were standing close to the sign reading it so I had to wait to the pictures of the signs and then read them at home.
Next, we continued our drive north where we then got to the Ouray Overlook at 2:55pm where a sign proclaimed this place to be the “Switzerland of America”. Having actually been to Switzerland ourselves, it was kind of a strange thing to proclaim since Ouray was surrounded by red rock mountains and there weren’t as many cable cars leading up to the high steppes beneath Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. That said, I was able to see over the town of Ouray as well as the Box Canyon area that we were at earlier.
With us getting back cell reception here, Julie was on the phone trying to sort out the accommodation situation in Aspen since we weren’t sure how we were going to get the keys or combo since that level of information wasn’t available. Plus, we were anticipating a late arrival given that their front desk would be closed by 5pm.
As we drove north of Ouray and towards Montrose, we made an unexpected stop at the Natural Grocers there at 3:45pm. When Julie came back at 4:10pm, she eventually got the situation all sorted out with the accommodation at the Chateau Eau Claire in Aspen, and then we continued about the long drive through mountain passes and valleys en route to Aspen.
It was mostly fair weather throughout the drive though it was raining around the turnoff for Marble at the Crystal River and nearby this roadside signed waterfall that we didn’t stop for called Hays Creek Falls. Eventually, we got to the town of Basalt, where we stopped at the Whole Foods there at 6:55pm.
Julie’s shopping run here was very long, and we didn’t continue our drive until about 7:45pm. Anyways, the drive further southeast into Aspen was pretty light, but the rain seemed to get heavier as we got into town.
Ultimately at 8:15pm, we finally got to the Chateau Eau Claire in the rain, and then it was time to for our sanitization procedures of the unit while we were busy unloading the car.
Indeed, it was a long evening full of chores as we Lysol’ed all the bedding and the unit in general, and then we wiped down all the high-touch areas including all the handles, knobs, buttons, you name it. Indeed, it was a lot of work, but eventually we’d have our rotisserie chicken dinner after about 9:30pm and we’d finally chuck stuff into the fridge so they wouldn’t be spoiling without proper refrigeration.
It was around 11:30pm when I dozed off in bed leaving all the photo management and blogging activities for tomorrow morning. The focus for tomorrow was me doing a solo hike at the Maroon Bells while Julie and Tahia would likely try to walk around the main drag of Aspen…
Day 5 (July 25, 2020 – Aspen, Colorado): “Dodging The Rain For The Most Part”
It was about 4:30am when I awoke. I was dead tired from last night and fell asleep some time around 11pm. So I guess this was my body clock telling me that it was time to get up.
Anyways, today there was a bit of anxiety as I was about to take a shuttle up to the Maroon Bells, which concerned me from a COVID-19 standpoint since there were other people going to use this same vehicle. And I know there was bound to be people who probably have COVID-19 and don’t even know it, and they probably refuse to take the precautions necessary to ensure public safety (making the job harder for those who are trying to keep places open let alone the public safety workers).
On top of that, I also needed Julie’s help to get a private vehicle entry pass reservation into Rocky Mountain National Park at a more reasonable hour than 12pm, which we secured since that was all that was available prior to this trip. So with their rolling 2-day window coming up at 8am this morning, I was hoping that we can enter the park at a more reasonable time like 8am.
Regardless, when Julie awoke to her alarm, I had already had a kefir breakfast by then. And by 7:15am, both of us went to the Aspen Highlands Center so she could drop me off and then get back to our accommodation while Tahia was still asleep.
By about 7:45am, I was waiting for the shuttle to take people with reservations up to the Maroon Bells. It was cloudy and lightly sprinkling at the time, and of course, I was worried about the cloud ceiling with all the rain that we had experienced last night.
Shortly thereafter, the 8:15am bus picked me and 14 other people up, and I guess it worked out in this case because there was one group of 6 people who sat together at the front of the bus.
That left a lot of space to socially distance towards the back of the bus.
Still, with the windows closed, I was concerned about the recycled air putting riders at risk regardless of whether they were wearing masks or not. After a little comical commentary by the driver Gary (or was it Cary? pun intended since he liked to say “carry on”), we were dropped off the stop at the Maroon Bells.
After getting a map from him, I then went on my way walking towards Maroon Lake where right away I could see that the famous mountains were indeed visible as the cloud ceiling hadn’t obscured their summits yet. So by 8:30am, I was spending quite a bit of time showing the Maroon Bells reflected in Maroon Lake.
Even with the overcast skies, it was quite a sight to behold. Plus, it was also pleasant to see the birds zig-zagging around the lake as if they were bats that never landed it seemed. It was hard to take a picture of them since they were moving randomly and so fast, yet they were fascinating birds.
Anyways, after taking my time with the photos at the lake, I finally went up on the trail headed for Crater Lake. But before I did that, I saw that the threat of rain was always present on this day and I also wanted to see if there was a legitimate waterfall here. So when I saw that there was a path leading back down to the Scenic Loop, I decided to do that first.
There were actually two scenic loops, but apparently there was a bridge wash out at the lower end of the lower loop. Anyways, I walked up along the trail leading past Maroon Lake and eventually up to a bridge with some small cascades beneath it.
I wondered if this was the waterfall that was referenced when it came to the Maroon Bells area, but this cascade hardly counted as a legitimate waterfall and was toeing the line between being a rapid.
Regardless, I then decided to go on the upper loop to see if the West Maroon Creek up ahead might have the waterfall. But after getting my boots and pants wet brushing up through some overgrowth in this lush trail that climbed a bit before leveling out and curving in a counterclockwise manner, I then realized that I had passed West Maroon Creek on my GaiaGPS app, and thus I knew by then that there was no waterfall here.
Nevertheless, when I started to head back towards the bridge, I noticed that there were some clear sections of the trail where I looked behind me to get nice views of the Maroon Bells again.
As I continued onwards on the upper scenic loop, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had done this loop in the wrong direction because I would have seen the Maroon Bells more frequently had I done this loop in a clockwise manner.
Anyways, I got back to the bridge at 9:55am, and then I decided to pursue the lower loop just to see what was going on there. It didn’t take long before I got a spot where I took decent photos of part of the rapids below the footbridge. But then I continued downhill a bit more where I got more views across Maroon Lake looking north while the Maroon Bells were behind me and the imposing mountains to my right were also prevalent along with all the wildflowers flanking the trail.
I got down to the bridge washout where it would have been nice to cross the stream here, but it didn’t look suitable to cross. Thus, I had to come back the way I came, which added a bit more walking that I had anticipated.
Therefore, it wasn’t until about 10:15am when I returned to the start of the scenic loop. I took a few more shots before a group showed up, and that was my cue to head up to Crater Lake with the rest of my time here.
This hike was a bit on the rocky and breathtakingly uphill side, and there were quite a few people heading back downhill while I was going up. So that made for a lot of stop and go where I’d pause to mask up and wait for people to go by before I kept going up. All that stop-and-go also made an already tiring hike even more so with the thin air.
So I can see why a lot of people don’t want to wear masks on the trail though the heavy breathing by hikers still meant there were droplets in the air as we’d pass by each other so the masks would hopefully dampen the amount of droplets still in the air under these conditions.
The trail was for the most part benign, but it became increasingly rockier the higher up I went. I also encountered even more people the higher up I went, and it wasn’t until I was near the apex of the climb when a couple of Michigan behind me went past me. They were the only people that passed me from behind as they were fast hikers.
At 11:15am, I had finally arrived at the shores of Crater Lake as the trail made a final descent towards it. Even though there was a moment of some light rain and the cloud ceiling threatened to cover the Maroon Bells, I still managed to see the calm lake fronting the mountains while also observing an interesting multi-tiered cascade almost seemingly right beneath one of the Maroon Bells.
Perhaps this was more of the legitimate waterfalling reason to come here even though that waterfall was seen from quite a distance. So I spent some time examining the lake and the surroundings from what appeared to be an avalanche zone as there were lots of fallen trees near the north end of Crater Lake.
The people who were along the shores of the lake also provided nice subjects to convey the size of the Maroon Bells as well as the size of the Crater Lake.
After having my fill of the north end of the lake, I then decided to walk a little further to see what else there was here as I had noticed quite a few people continuing to hike further along the lake. And as I got towards the upper end of Crater Lake, I noticed that Pyramid Peak was visible in a U-shaped valley to the left. Then, as I continued into the growth, I also noticed there was a larger and more voluminous waterfall to the right somewhere near where signs said “Site 6”.
I wasn’t sure if that sign was a historical site or if it was nothing more than a remote campsite. But after seeing that other waterfall, I was motivated to see if there was a way to see it more cleanly rather than with all the tree obstructions from the trail. So after going a little further past a thick log bridge, I ultimately decided it was time to turn back after talking with a lady with a pack who was on the way back as I had inquired about what else was up this trail.
She said it was actually going up to West Maroon Pass in another 4 miles, and so I knew that it was probably beyond the limits of what I wanted to do in a day. But before I headed out, I noticed an old camping area by a now-revegetation area yielding a nice view towards Pyramid Peak and the U-shaped valley that it was in.
So by 11:55am, I finally decided to head back since I did promise Julie that I would be back at around 1pm or 2pm. And so I did that while there seemed to be plenty of people still making their way up to Crater Lake. However, after the initial climb, it was all downhill so it was easier for me to pause and let people go back while wearing a mask when I encountered them.
When I boarded the bus, it was getting hard to social distance no one wanted to sit in the seats facing each other. So there was a couple of women sitting diagonally from me in front of me, but then I was surrounded by a pair of people sitting across from me and behind me. That was definitely not social distancing.
So for the next half-hour, I thought about the risk that I was taking by sitting on this shuttle like this, but there was nothing I could do. And for the next 25 minutes or so, I was looking out the window and up at a funny pet care sign with a dog laying back with eyes closed just to keep my mind off of the social distancing (or lack thereof) situation.
By about 1:30pm, I was back at the Aspen Highland Center where I phoned Julie to let her know that I was back. When she picked me up, we then ran a quick errand to the UPS store before returning to the Chateau Eau Claire at 2:10pm.
So for the next couple of hours, we had a bit of a late lunch of leftovers. Upon conversing about how their day went in Aspen, Julie said that she did go to a market in town but the quantity of people and the lack of social distancing made her anxious and concerned. So she didn’t spend too much time out and about in town. She really treated it as nothing more than a grocery run.
I was also starting to fight a little bit of food coma or some sleepiness during this time, but then when 4pm came around, we decided it was finally time to go to the Grottos, which was not far from where we were staying. That would at least give Julie and Tahia a taste of the outdoors in the Aspen area.
By about 4:15pm, we arrived at the Grottos Day Use Area, where we just parked in the spaces near the highway. Not surprisingly, this place was busy because I knew this was also an easy place to experience. After the initial descent to the lower part of the parking lot, we then took the first path, which was right before a bridge over the Roaring Fork River.
The wooded path was pretty quiet as I had suspected that most people would head right to the Ice Caves on the other side of the river. Anyways, it didn’t take long before we showed up to the lookout of the Cascades (at 4:35pm), which was a nice frontal view. And it was bigger than I had anticipated though pictures didn’t do it justice since the cascade was visibly blocked in segments by rocks and deep channels.
There was one group of people that showed up after us, but they pursued other climbing paths so we pretty much had the views to ourselves for the moment. After having our fill of the Cascades, we then headed back towards the bridge and crossing it as we now pursued the Ice Caves and other views of the Cascades.
Shortly after the bridge, we then encountered a sloping rocky area where there seemed to be glacial erratics dropped there on top of the slabs. That was obvious evidence of glaciers that were once here. They were reminiscent of Olmstead Point in Yosemite’s Tioga Pass, which was the last time I had encountered glacial erratics like this.
Next, we continued towards the well-signed Ice Caves, which was basically a slot canyon-like crevace that I’d imagine once supported an Ice Cave when the area was under ice. That’s because the crevace was narrow enough to perhaps bridge the crevace and thus leave the space underneath to yield the “cave”.
There were a couple of women who scrambled down into the crevace, but we were content to just get our views and to keep going. And as we did that, we noticed that there were more slot canyon-like crevaces further by a small footbridge peering right into the darkness. By this time, it was starting to rain a bit so we were for the moment under the cover of the trees but Julie opened the umbrella so at least they were covered.
That rain kept me from going further out in the open along the crack to see what else there was to see because I knew with the rain that the slabs would be too slippery (and I didn’t want to fall in).
So we continued going up the trail to the Cascades. From this side, we were pretty much side-by-side with the tumbling Roaring Fork River, but this side let me go higher up the top of the cascades where I saw that there were more tiers to see.
After having our fill of the upper parts of the cascades, we then followed the signs which had us doing this trail in a bit of a loop. So we descended the trail, which got us a nice frontal view of the cascades as well. By this time, the rain was coming down harder so we got our shots and then followed the river trail.
With the exception of one little rock obstacle adjacent to the river and by another bridge, this was a pretty straightforward walk. Yet by about 5:35pm, we were back in the car all pretty much wet from the rain. Even though Julie and Tahia were sharing an umbrella, both their packs were wet. Meanwhile, I had my rain poncho on (the first time I needed it on this trip), and that was pretty wet too.
Nevertheless, we had our fill of this attraction just in time before the forecasted T-storms had finally showed up. So in many respects, we were lucky that we managed to accomplish what we did before the weather would take over.
The rest of the evening was spent having a salmon dinner, letting Tahia play her Roblox, doing laundry, and then having a few rounds of playing Uno as a family. It was a pretty chill end to the day while it was still raining pretty hard outside, but at least we got to enjoy this spacious unit one last time before we were back out on the road tomorrow.
Day 6 (July 26, 2020 – Boulder, Colorado): “Social Distancing Or Lack Thereof”
It was about 4am when I awoke naturally. I had no inclination to want to go back to sleep so I promptly went ahead and did some catching up on yesterday’s activities. I also knew that I had about 4 hours to secure a Rocky Mountain National Park reservation for Tuesday after Julie was successfully able to score an 8am-10am entry timed ticket yesterday. But for today, I was aiming for a 6am-8am ticket so I could try to beat the forecasted return of the thunderstorms.
Once Julie awoke, we got busy loading up the car while also trying to get some breakfast ready before checking out and heading out. By about 8am, I was already on the computer and got right to it to secure one of the limited spots available to enter Rocky Mountain National Park with our reservation.
It was a tense minute of clicking separate windows on the recreation.gov website to score the 2-day rolling window reservations because I knew from the campsite reservations a couple years ago for Yosemite that they were really hard to get.
Luckily, I managed to score the 6am reservation because after getting the reservation at exactly 8am, when I checked again five minutes later, everything was gone for the day! Once that was done, we then released or cancelled the 12pm reservation we had made weeks ago when we were planning out this trip just in case. I figured that eating the extra $2 for the non-ideal reservations were necessary to ensure that we wouldn’t be shut out completely had this morning or yesterday morning’s reservation attempts didn’t go our way.
Now with that out of the way, we could resume the rest of the day, which involved finishing up with loading up the car, eating breakfast, and cleaning up the unit.
By 9:20am, we were finally leaving. With the sun finally out, I was thinking to myself that it was a shame that most of today would be spent driving and experiencing this sun from inside the car. But that’s how things go on our trips as you just take what Mother Nature throws at you and hope it doesn’t mess things up too much and adapt when things aren’t ideal or timed right.
Anyways, the drive out of Aspen was uneventful as we saw ski runs and mountains almost within walking distance of most of the town. Perhaps that was the main reason why it was a ski resort first though the Maroon Bells and summertime activities definitely didn’t seem to slow things down, especially since COVID-19 was going on.
The drive continued pretty much uneventfully as we drove all the way towards Glenwood Springs where we then got onto the I-70 heading east. Traffic was pretty heavy due to a lane closure while also following big rig trucks needing to obey the 50mph speed limit, but we actually didn’t mind the slow down since we were going through a very scenic stretch of Glenwood Canyon.
Indeed, this was the stretch of road where I remembered seeing a piece on the Science Channel about how locals and environmentalists fought hard to save Hanging Lake and Glenwood Canyon from blasting due to proposed roadwork to make the road less prone to rockfalls, avalanches, and generally just straightening out the road some more.
Ultimately, a compromise was reached where the road would pass through a tunnel system to avoid most of reservoir around the Hanging Lake exit while also double-decking the freeway to make this one of the most scenic stretches of the I-70 that you could ever want to drive through.
Back when we visited Hanging Lake in April 2017, we only went as far as Hanging Lake and then did the hike up there to see both Bridal Veil Falls and Spouting Rock. However, we never bothered to continue driving east through the rest of Glenwood Canyon since we were staying further west at Grand Junction at the time, and we still wanted to visit Rifle Falls.
That said, on this day, it was definitely a visual treat going through the canyon along the I-70 and this was one of those rare moments where I didn’t mind the slow down to really enjoy this scenic stretch of the Rockies. Down by the Colorado River, Julie noticed people actually having fun on rafting rides on the rapids below. While they looked like a lot of fun to partake in, the thought did cross our minds on how you could possibly social distance in this activity.
Once we got out of the scenic stretch of Glenwood Canyon, we then resumed driving east on the I-70 which was going at a very fast pace (I believe it was a 75mph speed limit) as the road considerably straightened out.
Eventually, we’d end up leaving the I-70 at the Highway 131 near Wolcott, where we then headed north on what turned out to be a seemingly drier part of the Rockies through what seemed to be rolling hills interspersed with minor canyons.
Aside from a tricky left turn onto the heavily trafficked US40 going into Steamboat Springs, we eventually made it to the Fish Creek Falls at 12:30pm, where we were lucky scoring a spot right by the trailhead just beyond a No Parking area painted on the ground.
Given this place’s close proximity to the town and the short hike to reach the waterfall, I knew that this place was going to be real popular. And sure enough, there were lots of cars parallel parked along the street well before the full parking lot at the end. Just to give you an idea of how bad the parking situation was and how lucky we were, one person was unfortunatey tandem parked in by someone who took it upon himself or herself to box her in so she couldn’t drive out!
I guess in this age of people not being considerate with public safety with COVID-19 by not keeping social distance nor masking up, perhaps crappy moves like that shoudn’t have been surprising.
Anyways, I opted to wear my smelly Keens which were still not dry from doing the Mystic Falls hike from two days ago while it took Julie and Tahia to get ready for the short hike on this rather hot day. Indeed, with all the rain we had been getting throughout the trip, it definitey felt different at the moment with the sun out. But that also meant that there were lots of people on the trail who couldn’t wait to get in the water.
So when we eventually got our stuff and started on the hike, we were on the well-used trail where there was heavy traffic going in both directions so we had to keep our masks on. There were lots of people who didn’t bother wearing masks when they were heading back up as well as going down, which was definitey a concern, but we were hoping that since we were outdoors that the UV from the sun might at least lower the percentage of exposure and by at least us masking up that it might decrease the odds of contracting COVID-19 as well.
After all, life is all about playing the percentages even if we had stayed at home and did our errands or went to work where the confines of those environments were every bit as much of a threat as going on this road trip. So we acted on information learned from how other countries like Australia and New Zealand handled the situation and even the subsequent spread in Melbourne which went to Victoria and New South Wales after a botched quarantine where hired personnel were actually hooking up with people in quarantine to cause the reclosure of the state.
Of course, the USA’s bumbling of COVID-19 is a lesson to the rest of the world of how not to handle this situation as that’s how we found ourselves in this situation when it could have been nipped in the bud months ago. Now, we’ve pretty much gone the Sweden experiment where the country just carries on as if COVID-19 didn’t exist because the way we make money is more important than public safety when the science was clear about what we should have done in the first place.
This wasn’t surprising though since we saw how science gets routinely ignored regarding Climate Change and Global Warming since it runs contrary to how people make money, and thus we find ourselves in an economy that is completely detached from the laws of Nature and how we as a society want to live and value. Indeed, there’s no moral compass when it comes to making money, and this is clearly evident with this administration and the population that enabled it in the first place.
Anyways, we continued walking downhill towards the level of Fish Creek where indeed there were lots of people both on the trail as well as on the creek itself to cool off. Social distancing was next to impossible so we had the mask on at all times.
Eventually, we got to the bridge at the bottom where we could look upstream at the impressive Fish Creek Falls, which Julie and I agreed that it was probably deserving of a 3 at least. However, there were lots of anxieties about the COVID-19 situation so it was a rather tense experience just taking pictures and videos on the bridge.
Nevertheless, from my trip research, I knew that it was also possible to see this waterfall from a lookout higher up so I decided to do that while Julie and Tahia would look for a spot along Fish Creek where they can be in the water while also away from the mass of people throwing caution to the wind regarding social distancing.
Usually it’s the kids who don’t care about wearing masks nor getting close to other people so they seemed to be the biggest vectors of spreading the disease, but there were plenty of people from states where the culture stubbornly treats COVID-19 as a hoax so that also played into our anxieties.
So I headed back up the short trail, which was surprisingly taxing given how warm it was but also because the air was still thin from the altitude. So breathing through a mask made the walk surprisingly tough on the lungs, and I had to remove my mask briefly when people weren’t around to catch my breath before putting it back on when other people were coming down as I headed up.
But then I saw a spur trail signed for a picnic area which no one seemed to bother to take, and I followed that towards the picnic area and restroom, which I actually used since it seemed like all the doors and even the toilet lids were open for as much touchless potty breaks as you can do in these times.
After that, I then continued uphill along the paved hiking path (passing by one family that didn’t bother masking up and even giving me a look as I went past them) before I was momentarily alone at the first overlook of the Fish Creek Falls at 1:15pm. Indeed, given how busy it was down below, I was savoring the moment of being socially distanced and the peace of being here.
There was one lady that eventually arrived here while I was on my way to the main overlook, but it was just refreshing to still experience this kind of peace amid the chaos down below.
At the main lookout just a few paces further, the trail made a dead-end where there were picnic tables and a shelter. But the view of Fish Creek Falls here presented the full waterfall as well as the context of the people down by the bridge below. I even noticed that there were people at the top of the falls though I wasn’t sure how they managed to get there since the trail maps that I had on GaiaGPS didn’t seem to indicate that there was a sanctioned path to get there.
Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to go up there knowing that the views I was getting was enough.
While I was enjoying the experience here alone, there was one family that came by but kept their distance (without masks, I might add). But they didn’t linger and left after getting their shots. Then the lady that had caught up to me also came and went before another couple showed up to enjoy the views.
By about 1:30pm, I took the overlook trail all the way back to the trailhead to complete a short loop as I had passed by a few more families going the other way (again a lot of them, especially the kids, didn’t have masks). And plus, I was getting more looks from a couple of the families that didn’t seem to friendly as I suspected maybe it was me wearing the mask all the time around them or maybe because I looked Asian. Who knows?
All I know was that I was doing what I could for the public safety of myself as well as those around me, even if they weren’t as considerate to other people.
The drive to the southeast was for the most part smooth as we headed east on the US40, but then the GPS had us take a road south towards Silverthorne instead of through Rocky Mountain National Park (since we didn’t have tickets to get into the park that way anyways). That put us on a road where there were no passing lanes and we had to really pick our spot trying to pass the slower vehicles.
There was one scary passing where cars on opposite sides had to slow down to let us complete the passing maneuver, but other than that, getting to the I-70 was uneventful except for the onset of the return of the thunderstorms. We eventually found ourselves in heavy traffic on the I-40 near Idaho Springs where the pace was a sluggish stop-and-go at maybe 30mph or so. Often times it seemed like staying in the slow lane was better than the tailgaiting on the fast lane which would be stopped a lot.
I guess that was reminiscent of the infuriating drives on the I-15 between LA and Vegas, and I knew that we must be getting close to Denver as a result of this traffic exacerbated by the thunderstorm squalls.
Anyways, we’d ultimately make it to the town of Boulder where we then had to find our accommodation which was a cottage in Chautauqua Park. Little did we realize that it was actually tucked away at a dead-end behind this park, but once we figured that out, we finally got to our unit at 5:25pm.
Then, we commenced our sanitization procedures by spraying Lysol in the air and wiping down as many of the touch surfaces as we could identify to ensure we wouldn’t contract anything from past guests or workers who might have COVID-19. That took the better part of a half-hour, and then we got our stuff into the room.
We then took the new several minutes where Julie looked up Yelp to try find a good restaurant since she knew that Boulder was a foodie kind of place while her friend Dana said she loved the city when she was living here with her husband. However, with COVID-19, we had to do this fine dining splurge takeout style because we knew that eating at a restaurant was one of the primary ways that people contracted the virus as futile attempts to open up the economy resulted in an out-of-control surge of cases.
Julie eventually called this place called The Kitchen, where we wound up ordering $120 worth of food. When I heard that, I knew that this was a fine dining establishment, but I kind of tempered expectations trying to eat fine dining food as takeout given the whole COVID-19 situation. So that would obviously impact the experience.
Anyways, we headed out at 6:45pm, and drove into downtown Boulder as we skirted along the west side of the University of Colorado (with its historical-looking buildings). When we got into the downtown area, we had to circle once looking for the place (the restaurant was on a closed street to accommodate outdoor eating), and we ultimately saw one person pull out of a lot and took that person’s spot at 7pm.
Since it was Sunday, we didn’t have to pay. And then we walked towards the closed street to grab the takeout. However, we could already see that the fine dining experience was going to be tense given how close together the seating was outdoors and how many people who were out and about (mostly our age and younger folk).
In the chaos and anxiety of trying to keep our social distance while drawing looks since we seemed to be the only Asians here or maybe our N95 masks might be a bit more unusual for others who think a cloth mask is sufficient, we ultimately decided to sit near a buffalo statue since no one was around there at the time.
However, as soon as we started to unmask and start eating on the steps in front of it, kids started to come back doing I don’t know what, and then some dude walked by with something sarcastic to say about the spot we picked (and he said so pretty close to us and unmasked). That kind of heightened our anxiety even more, and I wondered if we somehow broke some cardinal rule about eating in some random spot near the statue.
Maybe there was a reason why no one else was chilling around there? I don’t know. We didn’t know any unwritten etiquette about eating out in the open away from people but near this statue. Other people where smoking and chilling out on the other side of it, so why were we singled out?
Anyways, all that kind of upped our anxiety of eating the otherwise pretty good food. However, since it was takeout given all the COVID-19 paranoia, our dinner felt rushed and we didn’t really get to savor the experience. So I considered this a rather costly $120 fine dining experience splurge where we tested it out, and figured out that for the rest of this trip, it’s probably not a good idea to do it again.
So by 7:50pm, we were back at the car. After a little arguing about whether we should have eaten at the “park” (where Julie thought there was one nearby we could have eaten at but only ended up finding out that the tree-lined and grassy area was nothing more than front yard lawns), we ultimately did the right thing by eating takeout as soon as we could away from the closed street where foot traffic was pretty heavy. But in hindsight, it turned out that the buffalo statue we ate in front of was also pretty high traffic with kids running around unmasked and not social distancing. So we were damned if we do, damned if we don’t.
After that, we then drove over to the Whole Foods in town at 8pm, where Julie did some grocery shopping and we eventually got back a half-hour later. By 8:50pm, we made it back to the accommodation where there were some kids and an adult playing some kind of game at the parking area in front of our cottage.
They were wrapping up when the adult asked if we’d like to join them in a game of “Kick the Can” tomorrow. It was a nice gesture by him, and we appreciated the ask, but we weren’t sure if it was a good idea. So we’ll see tomorrow if they ask again as we said we’d consider it.
Anywyays, we spent the rest of the evening getting settled and playing a long round of Uno before crashing and anxiously anticipating our timed entry into Rocky Mountain National Park tomorrow…
Day 7 (July 27, 2020 – Boulder, Colorado): “Rocky Mountain Angst”
It was 5:25am when I awoke. This was a little later than I would have liked because there was still stuff to get caught up on from yesterday. Nevertheless, I knew that we had booked an 8am start to get into Rocky Mountain National Park, and I thought the park service limiting the number of visitors might alleviate some of my concerns about the lack of social distancing and the lack of parking.
Julie didn’t get up until about 6:30am, and that left us about a half-hour to try to quickly get together something to eat before going into the Rocky Mountain National Park. And it wasn’t until about 7:10am when we finally left the Chautauqua Cottages bound for Estes Park and beyond to Bear Lake.
Well, the drive started off innocently as Boulder was pretty quiet and sunny, and the highway leading from Boulder towards the Highway 36 leading up to Estes Park was getting progressively busier. Eventually, the road started climbing in earnest and we found ourselves amongst a long caravan of cars, which immediately got me thinking about the crowd and parking situation long before even getting to the Rocky Mountain National Park.
The plan for today was to spend most of the day at Bear Lake and Alberta Falls. And I was hoping that we might score a parking spot at one of the trailheads either at Bear Lake or at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.
Anyways, the drive descending into Estes Park was actually quite scenic, especially with the blue skies backing the jagged rocky mountains behind Estes Park. There was a lookout that we could have stopped for to get this nice view, but my anxieties about parking and the unexpected logistical maneuvering within the park that I’m coming to realize was forcing us to adapt and force us to keep going. Julie and Tahia were still asleep given the early start for them, but I had a sense that it was still not enough for things to go as planned on this first day of Rocky Mountain National Park.
It wasn’t until around 8:15am when we finally drove through Estes Park and went into a three-lined gate area where the rangers were checking for reservations as well as passes. So we passed through without incident and we then went right to the road leading down towards Bear Lake and the Alberta Falls Trailhead.
However, there were signs already saying that the parking lots were full as we were driving the road leading to Bear Lake. And sure enough, we (and a few other cars) drove past the turnoff for the park and ride (which the signs encouraged everyone to do), and we made it all the way to the Bear Lake parking area.
Not surprisingly, there were three rangers there turning back vehicles. And they wouldn’t even allow dropoffs though they did say that Glacier Gorge dropoffs were possible. And so that was exactly what we did, where I drove back to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (the same as the Alberta Falls Trailhead) at 8:35am, and then I left the vehicle with Julie and Tahia while I got out of the car to get my gear, camera, put on hiking boots, and bring water, hat, and sunscreen. Thereafter, Julie and Tahia drove the four miles back to the park and ride.
In the mean time, I told them to meet me at Bear Lake as I had fully expected them to be there while I was busy hiking the Alberta Falls Trail. I also contemplated hiking all the way up to Emerald Lake, but then that meant that I’d spend more time away from Julie and Tahia on the only day where they’d be in the park. Tomorrow, I was going to hike solo to a few more waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park.
So with all these thoughts running through my mind, I ultimately decided that I was going to visit Alberta Falls first. Then, I’d hike up the connecting trail to Bear Lake where I hoped to be seeing them by the time I’d get there.
After a brief restroom break (where I saw the volunteer worker intelligently use his hat as a glove to open the restroom door), I did the same, then I briefly chatted with the guy about when the parkings had filled up by. He said that they were all full by 7am though no one checks for early entry until around 6am. That was good intel since I was coming back tomorrow with two different hikes to target though now that second hike would likely be in jeopardy if there was no shuttle going there.
Anyways, it was pretty quiet at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, and I promptly went up the connecting trail pretty much as planned. After passing by a couple near the trailhead, I then went on a semi-shaded forested path that went over a bridged stream and then merged up with the busier trail between Alberta Falls and Bear Lake.
Then I hung a left and continued the gradual uphill hike towards Alberta Falls where I managed to pass some slower hikers while a handful of others were headed the other way. In that sense, it was refreshing to see that there weren’t that many people around though I fully expected this to change the closer to Bear Lake that I’d get.
After getting up past a bend in the trail at an outcrop over the Glacier Creek rushing below, I then followed the trail alongside the creek itself as the trail was getting closer to the level of the creek. Finally by 9:10am, I made it up to the Alberta Falls where there were a handful of people by the falls while others were continuing further upstream along the Glacier Gorge Trail.
I was pretty content with scrambling onto a rock by a tree next to Glacier Creek where I tried to steady myself as best I could without a tripod to take pictures of Alberta Falls. This waterfall wasn’t particular tall, but considering it was the first waterfall I got to see in Rocky Mountain National Park, it was my first taste of waterfalling in this park since it also my first time in this national park.
I took some additional time to scramble up towards the top of the falls to see how else this waterfall could be experienced, and that was when I noticed a nice view downstream towards some mountains in the distance over a bed of healthy-looking trees covering the forest.
Aside from one mosquito managing to get a pot shot on my hand and an aggressive chipmunk obviously acclimated to being fed by thoughtless visitors, I then headed back down in the direction of Bear Lake as lots more people were showing up at 9:25am.
The hike heading back down the Glacier Gorge/Alberta Falls Trail went by pretty much without too much drama though I did encounter countless hikers going the other way as apparently this trail was pretty popular.
And so as the sun was rising higher, the day was getting hotter but the trees provided some decent shade throughout the hike.
Eventually by about 9:50am, I had made it up to the Bear Lake Bus Stop, where lots of people were being dropped off in waves. I was hoping to see Julie and Tahia here already, but then I thought that perhaps they were already at Bear Lake. My initial thought prior to being here was that it was going to be a wide open lake where it might be easy to find people.
But when I got to the lake itself five minutes later, I got to the first main viewing spot and they weren’t to be found. However, I waited my turn to take some shots of reflections across Bear Lake towards a couple of rocky mountains acting as nice backdrops.
I then went to another lookout just further to the east where I got a slightly different angled look at the lake. However, I also didn’t find Julie and Tahia over there either. So I took a few more shots and tried to bask in the experience of looking across this lake where I had the spot to myself in moments before the next wave of park and riders would show up.
Then, I looked across the lake to see if Julie and Tahia had already started maybe walking around Bear Lake. But the more I looked, the more I realized that it wouldn’t be like them to keep going. I also contemplated doing the hike to Emerald Lake, but with the nice weather, perhaps I just needed to rejoin Julie and Tahia at the Park and Ride thinking that they might have just slept in the car and not bothered to do any hiking due to COVID-19 fears of being cramped close together with other people.
Indeed with plans seemingly to be constantly changing by the minute in my head, I eventually got back to the Bear Lake bus stop at 10:05am. After lingering around to see a few shuttles come up and drop off passengers and not seeing Julie and Tahia at all, I started to wonder if they even started to get up and out.
Surely the park and ride couldn’t have taken that long (about 90 minutes since I started hiking), could it?
Well, after asking a couple of rangers who were chatting about whether they noticed an Asian woman and daughter (knowing it might not narrow things down much but maybe we might stick out to them since everyone else seemed like they were Caucasian or Hispanic), they mentioned other people who did show up but it wasn’t them.
So I ultimately made the executive decision to head back on the shuttle bus (being one of the only people to do so) before I realized that maybe I might have cell service for voice. Well, it turned out that I did and I did manage to get a hold of Julie but not many words could be heard.
All I heard was something like “wait for us” but by the time I learned that I could make this call, I was already back on the bus. Perhaps they happened to be on the way up while I was on the way down. Anyways, I told them that I’ll meet them at the park and ride as I had already determined in my mind that we were going to drive the High Ridge Road maybe to Grand Lake before coming back.
By about 10:20am, I was back at the park and ride, where I had some time to kill to wait for Julie and Tahia once I found our parked Jeep Cherokee amongst the sea of cars here. Then, I just chatted with the bus driver about the mountain bark beetles since he was chilling out by a sign there, and he mentioned that their damage was being done further to the west on the other side of the divide.
He mentioned that they were a direct result of dry seasons where the trees couldn’t secrete the sap that would keep the beetles at bay. But with the implied Climate Change, that was turning those trees into tinder for the next major wildfire. And this was pretty much the story throughout the western states and especially in the more vast forests of Canada and Alaska.
So while I was sitting at a bench waiting for Julie and Tahia to show up (knowing now that we had missed each other by probably a few minutes and that perhaps I should have held on for another 15-30 minutes longer at the Bear Lake Bus Stop), I then played a little Duolingo while waiting for them.
I saw how long the line was at the Park and Ride, and perhaps that was the main reason why it took them so long to get up to Bear Lake in the first place. Indeed, this was the National Park experience that I was becoming more and more familiar with as time goes on. Gone were the days of being able to hike the trails at will as these places were becoming loved to death even despite the COVID-19 restrictions in place. And the federal infrastructure was pretty much lacking to meet this demand, especially since the NPS was pretty much left to fend for itself depending on which administration was in charge.
So after waiting until around 11:15am, Julie and Tahia finally made it back to the park and ride, and we then returned to the car as we pretty much made up our minds to do the High Ridge Road. Julie was telling me that I should have waited, and she was right. So they ended up taking their shots of Bear Lake without better family photos or at least photos taken by me of them by the lake.
Anyways, that was done and now it was time to auto tour since I figured that they didn’t want to deal with any more bad parking situations and any more shuttles.
So we pretty much drove up and over the Continental Divide as the road was climbing up beyond 2 miles above sea level as we stopped at a few random lookout spots like the Rainbow Curve and the Forest Canyon Overlook.
However, when we got towards Poudre Lake area, we noticed some cars stopped up ahead and that was when I noticed that there was a moose grazing by there!
This was probably the cleanest look at a moose that I could ever remember and Tahia was excited to finally see one in the wild. So that alone was probably worth doing this High Ridge Drive with them and make the experience worthwhile for them. Too bad my DSLR camera didn’t quite have the zoom for them, and the Canon DSLR was left back in the cottage, which wasn’t great since that was the whole reason why I brought the second camera (the old Canon DSLR with the L zoom lens) in the first place!
So we carried on as the road continued to descend towards Grand Lake, but as we gradually descended into a sickly-looking forest where Julie noticed that more than half the trees seemed to be dead from bark beetle damage, I then ultimately decided to turn around at the Never Summer Ranch Drive at 1:10pm.
After all, there was still a ways to go to get to Grand Lake, and I thought there wasn’t going to be much in the way of any more views nor any other waterfalls or hikes that we could have done. I would learn later on that there was an Adams Falls down there, but I had found out too late and besides, with how crowded this park was, perhaps it also wasn’t realistic to think we could park and hike there let alone socially distance.
So back up the High Ridge Road I went while making more stops for overlooks missed on the way to Grand Lake in the first place. But now that I was going in reverse with Julie and Tahia sleeping in the car by this point, I eventually made it towards the Many Parks Curve parking area at 2:15pm.
This was a view towards the east in the direction of Estes Park though with thunderclouds budding overhead to the west, it really wasn’t much to look at that drew my attention. But I did notice that there was a second pullout that was closer to the spots so I walked back to the car. When I saw that Julie and Tahia were about to head out, I told them to get back in the car as I would pull into the next pullout so they wouldn’t have to exert themselves as much while getting some people shots there.
After finally having our fill of this overlook, we were now headed back out of Rocky Mountain National Park and looking to visit Boulder Falls, which was very close to Boulder. However, as we drove back to the town, there were signs saying something about Road Work being done and asking us to seek an alternate route.
So I was worried that Boulder Falls might be closed as a result. Still, I had to try, and when we headed west on Boulder Canyon Road, we were stuck at a standstill at around 4pm waiting for the caravan of cars to move. We hadn’t moved for what seemed like forever and I thought about turning back into town, but eventually the cars started moving five minutes later.
By about 4:20pm, we finally made it to the Boulder Falls where there seemed to be enough parking, fortunately. I had to ignore the Garmin GPS which wanted to take me on a joyride on Stagecoach Road. Anyways, we quickly and carefully crossed Boulder Canyon Road (where lots of cars were going fast), and then we promptly did the short 0.1-mile walk to the base of Boulder Falls.
There were lots of people playing in the water here, but Tahia was more interested in Roblox time so we actually wanted to make this visit quick and head back to the cottage so she could get what she wanted in terms of screen time. I was kind of in the mindset of wrapping up this visit so Julie could do her grocery run at Whole Foods in town.
And so by about 4:50pm, we were back at the car. And by 5:30pm, we made it to the Whole Foods again where Julie started on her shopping run.
It wasn’t unti about 6:45pm when Julie finally returned to the car with the groceries so it was an unexpectedly long wait in the car for us, but Tahia didn’t mind since she was busy playing Roblox in the car on my phone. Meanwhile, I was listening to sports talk.
By 7pm, we were finally back in the cottage, where we had a compliant pizza dinner while we managed to play a couple more rounds of Uno afterwards. Of course, I haven’t once won against them. And with that, we were done with the day, and I had to sleep early (like around 10pm-ish) in anticipation of my early start and solo hiking back in Rocky Mountain National Park tomorrow knowing that early starts were mandatory in order to get anything done.
Indeed, the plan was to visit Ouzel Falls first and then visit Alluvial Fan next, but that second waterfalling visit might be a pipe dream given the parking situation that we had witnessed today…
Day 8 (July 28, 2020 – Boulder, Colorado): “Lots of Second Guessing”
It was 3:05am when I awoke knowing that I needed an early start to ensure I’d have parking to do some waterfall hikes today. Based on yesterday’s experience along with reading the blogs and talking with a volunteer ranger concerning some intel about when the lot filled up (by 7am), I felt the pressure to get a pre-dawn start to ensure I could at least do the first waterfall of the day, which was Ouzel Falls.
However, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get shut out for the other waterfalls that I was targeting like Chasm Falls or even Horseshoe Falls at the West Alluvial Fan. After all, I had read that the lots concerning those waterfalls could be full by 7:30am, and after yesterday’s experience, I believe it!
After getting caught up on yesterday’s happenings while also making a hasty kefir breakfast, I promptly got my stuff together and went out the door by 4:40am. It was still dark outside so the thought of encountering wildlife on the roads was always a concern, especially since I had prior experiences with hitting a deer and a kangaroo in the past.
The drive towards the Wild River Basin of Rocky Mountains National Park pretty much went uneventfully. In fact, I managed to take my time driving, and I even contemplated going to Chasm Falls first and then coming back to Ouzel Falls Trailhead thinking that the parking situation in the main part of the park would be just as bad as yesterday.
But instead, I just stuck with the plan, and then let the chips fall where they may afterwards. And so I eventually followed a different road towards Allenspark instead of Estes Park. And I ultimately followed a couple of cars in front of me that was headed to the Ouzel Falls Trailhead. Indeed, I had a feeling that I wasn’t the only person thinking this way when it came to experiencing Rocky Mountain National Park given the lack of parking spaces even despite the reservation system.
The last bit of road leading to the Wild River Basin of Rocky Mountains National Park was actually unpaved and a bit rough, which a sign said. But it was nowhere near as bad say the 4wd roads that I had seen near Telluride earlier on in this trip.
Anyways, all the cars in front of me (including myself) went past the National Park Gate, which was unmanned at the time (just as the volunteer ranger had said to me yesterday). So we all got to the Ouzel Falls Trailhead, which was actually called the Wild River Basin, by 5:55am.
I was actually amazed by how many other cars were parked at this lot, which made me think that this place would definitely fill up by the time I’d be done with this hike. I guess a lot of people knew about this hike and knew to get an early start.
So I quickly got my gear, laced up the hiking boots, got the camera gear and iPhone with GaiaGPS loaded, and then proceeded to hike towards Ouzel Falls. I started off by getting past a couple of guys while I knew there were some parties in front of me that had been here earlier than my sunrise arrival.
Sure enough, I started seeing people leaving what appeared to be Lower Copeland Falls. This was a small turtleback-shaped waterfall that was pretty though it was probably on the order of 10-15ft tall or so. Then, after having my fill of this spot, I then continued up a side spur trail that led up to the Upper Copeland Falls.
That upper waterfall was more of a longer running cascade with about 2 or 3 distinct drops towards its top. Again, there were other people briefly taking pictures of that waterfall from near its top. And after a few more minutes, I’d eventually catch up to them and pass them.
By about 6:15am, it seemed like I had passed the last of the immediate group so I spent the next fairly significant stretch alone and apparently setting the pace.
However, I did make some miscellaneous stops to notice some interesting no-name cascades and waterfalls along the way for the next half-hour. It was good that I was alone for the most part because the trail was pretty uphill, and it was hard to breathe on those uphills with the mask on if people were around.
Eventually by about 7:05am, I eventually reached the Calypso Cascades, which was signposted and can be seen from a trio of footbridges though the leftmost bridge had the best view. Without a tripod with me, I tried to use the bridge railings to take long exposure shots.
So once I had my fill of the Calypso Cascades, I then continued hiking past the bridges and along a mostly flat path before it started climbing again. There was one couple that went past me as they were hiking pretty fast. There was also starting to be some people heading back in the other direction as they clearly got an even earlier pre-dawn start than I did.
Ultimately by about 7:40am, I had finally made it up to the Ouzel Falls, which was gushing and throwing up quite a bit of mist that would have come towards me if not for the huge boulder at its base. Of course, that boulder also conspired to make the falls look small since its bottom part was not properly visible.
It didn’t take long to get my fill of the main lookout for Ouzel Falls, but that couple that had passed me earlier on in the hike had taken perhaps the choicest viewing spot. So I asked them if I could get some shots, and they we welcoming about it. So I managed to get more shots and videos from there before I backtracked to the main trail, and then I headed back to the trailhead by 7:50am.
The hike back was pretty uneventful as I had used my momentum on the largely downhill return hike to do a little bit of trail running. So by about 8:10am, I was back at the Calypso Cascades. And then by 8:40am, I had made it back to the Copeland Falls spur trails that I had taken earlier on in this hike.
By about 8:50am, I had made it back to the Wild River Basin Parking lot, which was almost completely full. However, I had noticed there were still quite a few open parking spots available upon closer inspection. So maybe in hindsight, I kept thinking that I should have gone to Chasm Falls first and then come back to Ouzel Falls.
So I then promptly went back into the car with the mindset that I needed to try to get lucky with the parking situation on the Old Falls River Road as I wanted to pursue Chasm Falls and maybe Horseshoe Falls at the West Alluvial Fan area.
I kept thinking that I might be shut out of the parking situation since I had read that in the Summer nad on weekends the parking areas would be full as early as 7:30am. Well, the GPS was predicting that it would be closer to 10am by the time I’d get there.
And so I made haste to leave the Wild River Basin Area and head north towards Estes Park and eventually into Rocky Mountains National Park again. The drive went along uneventfully as I followed the Route 7 towards Estes Park though I did make a stop at a view of Longs Peak, which I wasn’t sure if it was this impressive rocky crag backing some farm in an open pasture or if it was the conical mountain towards its right.
Anyways, I then followed a caravan of cars into Estes Park but then it appeared that the GPS led me on a more northern route towards a different entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. And indeed, I wound up not following the entrance that we took yesterday. Instead, this route seemed quite a bit quieter with a look into a valley.
Eventually, I turned right onto the Falls River Road where I then pulled into the Lawn Lake Trailhead at 9:40am. I managed to find parking at this trailhead though I wasn’t sure if this was the right place to stop. All I was thinking was that the Old Falls River Road was supposed to be one-way and I wasn’t sure if that had already started where I was at.
So if say I had miscalculated and kept going, there was a chance that I might get shut out of parking had I gotten closer to Chasm Falls. Thus, I decided that I should just take the parking spot that I had found and then walk the rest of the way to Chasm Falls. But I had a feeling that I might have gotten started on the hike a little earlier than I was supposed to as I continued to see cars passing by me and I was the only person seemingly willing to walk this road.
Sure enough by about 9:55am, I managed to walk to the West Alluvial Fan parking area, but I saw that the access to Horseshoe Falls from both the East Alluvial Fan and West Alluvial Fan areas were closed due to some active construction work. So that kind of killed off one of the motivations of me wanting to take it slow on this road since I wanted to experience Horseshoe Falls.
With red fencing and lots of workers and heavy duty equipment around, all I could see of Horseshoe Falls were some partial glimpses of the cascade between boulders and trees. And that was disappointing. I also noticed that there were a couple of parking spots available at the West Alluvial Fan parking area even though the construction workers blocked off the rest of the spots closer to the Horseshoe Falls access. Along the way, I also noticed that the workers had blocked off the East Alluvial Fan parking lot and its access to Horseshoe Falls.
So that kind of sucked. that perhaps even walking this distance from the Lily Lake Trailhead might not have been necessary. But I still wasn’t sure if parking was available at Endovalley Picnic Area, which was half-way between here and the Chasm Falls. So instead of going back and getting the car to continue along the Old Falls River Road by vehicle like everyone else seemed to be doing, I kept walking the paved road.
At least I could see the head of the valley which was backed by impressive peaks still clinging onto the last bits of snow from its snow pack this year. I also noticed that there was some private property along this road, which I thought was unusual considering that this was a national park. I figured that it must have been grandfathered in.
Anyways, at 10:15am, I eventually made it to the Endovalley Picnic Area turnoff and the start of the actual Old Falls River Road which was one-way and unpaved at this point. In hindsight, I could have driven this far and scoped out whether there was parking at the Endovalley Picnic Area and then start the walking from there before turning back.
But there was no turning back now. I had already walked this far, and now I had to continue walking up along the unpaved road. By this time, there seemed to be more vehicles driving past me. Sure enough when I ascended the one-way unpaved road, I started to see that there were still plenty of parking spots at the Endovalley Picnic Area. And by this time, I was really feeling stupid for at least not driving out this way. That could have saved me at least a half hours walk by this point.
Well, since I was already here and going at a very slow pace, I started to look for the Thousand Falls which was supposed to be across the Endovalley. But as I looked over, all I noticed was a thin cascade mostly hidden between trees. I did manage to scramble onto an outcrop just to get a more elevated look without the immediate trees before me getting in the way at around 10:25am.
Sure enough, I did manage to see that faint or distant and unremarkable waterfall. However, I also noticed an nice cascade tumbling beneath the Old Falls River Road beneath me and beneath a road bridge. I’m sure most drivers on this road would have missed all this action so I guess that was one benefit for walking this stretch.
The unpaved road continued to climb as it made a couple of switchbacks after a series of curves on a ledge. It might seem scary in a vehicle, but from where I was walking, the road was pretty wide and it looked worse than it really was for sure.
Anyways, there were people parked at this switchback, and that kind of created a lemmings effect. There were still spots to pull over and scramble upstream towards some cascades that I at first thought was Chasm Falls, but then I looked at my pre-trip printout and could see that this clearly wasn’t the Chasm Falls.
So while an unmasked family was busy taking their shots joined by other people who did wear masks, I headed back and resumed the walk up the switchbacks. Eventually by 10:55am, I finally made it up to the Chasm Falls. It was signposted, and the parking area here was busy, but I saw that there were still plenty of parking spots here, and now I really felt stupid for not driving here in the first place.
That would have saved me over an hour of walking, and who knows how much other time I would have time left to pursue other waterfalls in the day or to get back to Julie and Tahia in Boulder with still a lot of time left in the day.
Regardless, I then promptly masked up and went down to the main lookout area where the falls went into a narrow chute and there wasn’t a whole lot of places to get a good look so as soon as more people were coming down, I knew that it would be pretty much a lost cause to take pictures and videos here in peace (especially regarding the unmasked families here who apparently don’t think public safety is a priority).
I only managed to get a few shots in and a video before one of the unmasked families with lots of kids were behind me and not very well social-distanced. So by 11am I was heading back up just as even more groups of people were descending on this spot. In hindsight, had I driven here in the first place, it was likely to be quieter because there weren’t many cars that had passed by me until recently when I started to see lines of them.
Anyways, I proceeded downhill on the walk back to the Lily Lake Trailhead now feeling totally stupid about how I was going to blow two hours of my time doing this walk. Well, at least the silver lining was that I got to go in the opposite direction of the vehicular traffic and view the Endovalley itself which most drivers would miss since they’d be looking in the other direction.
By about 11:25am, I had made it back to the Endovalley spur, and then by 11:45am, I had made it back to the West Alluvial Fan parking lot.
The whole time I could see dark clouds looming overhead, and I knew that it was a matter of time before it was going to dump its load so I had to make haste. At the same time, the sun was still stubbornly trying to pierce through the thin cloud layers adjacent to the dark clouds so I still had to keep my hat on which made things a bit hot on that hasty walk back.
Finaly at around 12:10pm, I had made it back to the car, and it was just in time as it started sprinkling. That said, there was one guy who asked if I was leaving as this Lily Lake Trailhead Parking Lot was now full. So he waited for me to pull out. However, I also had some time to pursue one more waterfall for the day.
And when I saw that the Graffiti Falls near Colorado Springs was at least a 3-hour drive away, I decided that maybe I should pursue Adams Falls, which I noticed from the park map that was provided to me yesterday at the gate. I knew that it was only a quarter-mile hike, but I had to drive back on the Trail Ridge Road to get all the way to Grand Lake.
At least the GPS said that it would be closer to a 90-minute drive to get there. And that’s what I ultimately decided to do.
So I wound up doing what I should have done in the first place and driven the Old Falls River Road along the very route that I had just walked, and before I knew it, I was back at the Chasm Falls Parking area at 12:25pm. Indeed, it only took 15 minutes to get here instead of the 2.5 hours that I wound up doing by foot.
Anyways, this place was even busier than when I had walked here earlier, and I decided that I wasn’t going to go back to the waterfall and fight the crowds and the potential contraction of COVID-19 since the vast majority of families here didn’t bother to wear masks.
So I kept going and it didn’t take long before I caught up to a bunch of cars going super slow on the road, which was a little more rough and rutted, especially on the switchbacks. The rain definitely started to come down by this time, but I did notice a handful of minor waterfalls and cascades along the way, which I managed to stop and take photos from the car for, especially since the car in front of me was doing the same so I knew there was something there.
The road was actually quite scenic as it continued to climb up towards the Chapin Pass and ultimately towards the Fall River Pass. And it looked like the road eventually would go right into the busy Alpine Visitor Center area there which I was pretty sure that I saw yesterday when we drove the High Ridge Road.
Anyways, now that I was back on the High Ridge Road, I then continued towards Grand Lake, but by this time, the rain was really coming down so I had to watch out for hydroplaning and for fallen rocks already on the road.
I was trying to descend in low gear as the wiper blades were going back and forth pretty quickly given the rate of rain, and I knew that by the time I’d get down to Adams Falls, I might have to be doing it in the rain.
So by around 1:45pm, I had finally made it to the Adams Falls Trailhead, which had a nice and wide parking area. So there was plenty of parking. I didn’t bother making any stops to overlook any of the lakes by Grand Lake since I felt like I was racing the next onset of rain.
And like all the other waterfall attractions within Rocky Mountain National Park, I saw that there were lots of people. So once again, I masked up, but since I knew this was a short walk, I didn’t bother bringing any of my rain gear and I hiked barefoot in Chacos wielding only the Sony Mirrorless camera and the iPhone with battery pack with GaiaGPS still tracking my moves.
About 10 minutes later, I made it to the Adams Falls where there were indeed lots of people, but I didn’t have to wait long before I got to a choice viewing spot and documented the cascading waterfall. I did see that some people scrambled down to an outcrop below the lookout spot for a seemingly more direct look at some parts of the twisting falls.
And it was around the time that I made my move down there that it had started to rain. So I managed to get what hasty shots I could before heading back up. I guess the weather-seal of the zoom lens I was using was definitely being put to the test now.
The rain continued to intensify as I mulled whether I should complete the Adams Falls Loop, and I ultimately did, which was kind of unremarkable other than maybe another miscellaneous cascade further upstream as well as nice views back towards the lakes adjacent to Grand Lake.
But as I was trying to protect the camera while getting wet, I was jogging (and almost tripping on one of the steps) as I tried to get past slower individuals and groups occupying the whole width of the trail. It was hard to run and breathe with the mask on, but I figured it was necessary considering how most people didn’t bother, and I figured they were likely going to have it and spread it to anyone coming in contact with them. It sure felt like the majority of people coming to the state of Colorado were definitely from the COVID-19-is-a-hoax part of the population.
Regardless, I was finally back at the car by about 2:15pm. My head was dripping and my clothes were a bit wet but not soaked. The camera bag was also a little damp but not soaked either and it seemed like the camera was unaffected.
From there, I then headed back over the Trail Ridge Road eventually towards Boulder. The GPS wanted to take me back to the I-70 towards Denver from Grand Lake, but I knew better given yesterday’s stop and go traffic from west of Idaho Springs.
Eventually, I made it back to the Chautauqua Cottages by about 4:50pm where my legs were sore, but I at least finally got to complete my survey of the most accessible waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park.
I also got to know the park quite a bit in these last two days though I’m sure there’s always room to do more exploring here. But since I’m not a resident of Boulder nor Denver, I’m not likely to experience those other trails and lakes nor would I learn the 3-seasons-in-a-day kind of weather that this place seemed to be exhibiting.
Regardless, I was pretty out of it for the rest of the evening as Julie took the car to run a few more errands at the Whole Foods in town and then preparing a Sloppy Joe dinner. After having our fill, we then played one round of Uno where after Julie one the first round, we played one more round when I finally got into the winner’s circle.
And with that, I crashed and was dead asleep probably before 10:30pm, which was pretty early for me on these trips. But with still lots of stuff to pack, clean up, and get going for tomorrow’s early start, I knew that tomorrow was definitey going to be a pretty busy day as we were finally going to leave the state of Colorado for a brief interlude in South Dakota before spending the next half of the trip mostly in Wyoming…
Day 9 (July 29, 2020 – Hill City, South Dakota): “New Adventures In The Plains And The Black Hills”
It was 3:40am when I awoke. I took some minutes to get all caught up on the blogging again though when it got to 5am, I had to really get going with packing up, loading up the car, eating breakfast, and making sure the rest of the family was ready to go before 6am. Well, it wasn’t until about 6:30am when we were finally leaving, and that made me a little concerned about whether we’d still get to see Mt Rushmore today despite the later-than-hoped-for start to the day.
The drive started off by the GPS having me go south on the US36 towards Denver, which was unexpected. I would hae thought we were supposed to be going northeast or at least north, but when we eventually took the Northwest Parkway to the I-25 north, that was when I saw that the speed limit of that stretch was 70mph. However, I also learned later that it was a toll road!
I was annoyed that now I had to pay for this usage of the high speed road, especially since it wasn’t necessary, but I guess their website said that we were going to get billed (passed on from the rental company I’m sure).
Anyways, with that out of the way, the I-25 north started off with quite a bit of heavy but very fast-flowing traffic as we proceeded to head north beyond Loveland and Fort Collins. Then, we proceeded to head north beyond the state border where we then crossed into Wyoming towards and beyond the state capital of Cheyenne, where we did pause at 8am for a potty break.
By this time, the traffic was way lighter, the speed limits were at a whopping 80mph, and we could comfortably employ the keeping right except to pass (except for a stretch of about 3 or 4 lane closures due to road work).
So it was smooth sailing under the sunny skies as we’d eventually make one more potty break at 9:30am somewhere in a random parking area for trucks before finally getting off the high-speed highway for the Ayres Natural Bridge exit just west of the town of Douglas.
From there, the well-signed road went south (though we did see one deer by the road – something we always had to watch out for) before finally reaching the road’s dead-end right within the Ayres Natural Bridge Park. We then promptly parked the car in a shaded spot at 9:55am, and the park appeared that visitation was free.
When we got out and promptly walked across the bridge over the La Prele Creek, we were then greeted with the impressive natural bridge letting the rushing creek right through. It was actually quite a refreshingly quiet place as it felt like we were the only people here even though there were probably two other couples that we were here.
But the place had a nice picnic ground, and it was very easy to enjoy this place while taking family shots with the tripod. Then, Julie and Tahia were busy chucking rocks into and over the rushing creek while Tahia also enjoyed dipping her feet into the water at a calm part of the creek.
Even though the two other couples didn’t wear masks, it was pretty easy to socially distance here.
After having my fill of the bottom of the natural bridge, I then went up the mini trail to the top of the natural bridge, which was short but steep and rocky. It was still easy to follow, but that was where I saw one of the other couples come down, and then when I got up to the top, I saw the other (older) couple.
When they also vacated the top, I had it to myself momentarily to look down at the picnic grounds on one side and what appeared to be some facility area that we had driven past to the picnic and parking lot on the other side. But I didn’t get any way to see the profile or opening of the natural bridge through this little jaunt.
By about 10:45am, we were back in the car. Next, we drove further west towards the town of Casper in search of the Garden Creek Falls, which I didn’t have much expectation that it would flow. But then again, a waterfall way out in these less-visited and remote parts of Wyomimg seemed like a good reason to make the detour out here before heading back east towards the Black Hills of South Dakota.
At 11:40am, we arrived at the nearest parking area for the Rotary Park, where there were already a handful of cars here. That said, it was easy to find a spot despite this place’s close proximity to the town of Casper.
Anyways, after getting our cameras (though Julie and Tahia took longer to get ready), I got started first. And I first went across the parking lot where I saw a Rotary-related thing in the middle of the parking area as well as an invasive species scrub in between the two short trails to the waterfall.
I first took the path on the right, which led to a trio of signs of the area that were also apparently sponsored by the Rotary Club. Then, I followed the flowing creek upstream past a couple of unmasked families and then eventually to a pair of blue benches fronting the base of the Garden Creek Falls set back from its base.
There were some kids playing at the base of the falls with a mother looking on so I briefly documented this experience here, but then I saw on the way up to this endpoint that there was also a bridged path, and that it led up to an overlook.
So I briefly pursued that path thinking that I could always come back here once Julie and Tahia would finally show up. Thus, I backtracked, then took the bridge where I got a partial look at the Garden Creek Falls from its far side (while also noticing that there was another trail likely leading back to the lot), and then there was a steep rocky trail but quite doable leading to a lookout platform.
Once I got up there, I got a view over the town of Casper just as there seemed to be some budding thunderclouds starting to take over the town and this waterfall, but I also noticed that I could look back towards the Garden Creek Falls for a more elevated view along the rocky ascent.
While I was enjoying this lookout spot, there was one friendly unmasked gentleman who greeted me and said “Welcome to Casper”. I didn’t expect such a friendly greeting, and he inquired where I was from. I told him that we drove up from Los Angeles, and we wished each other a good rest of the day. So that kind of already disarmed whatever suspiscions that we might have had about people not bothering to mask up in the states where a large percentage of its population are politically against wearing masks in public.
Regardless, after having my fill of this spot, I then headed back down the path, crossed the bridge again, and then went back to the base of the Garden Creek Falls again for a little more time documenting it. Eventually, Julie and Tahia finally showed up, and then we proceeded to get right up to the waterfall’s base while also enjoying this nice little spot until more kids started showing up.
By about 12:20pm, we returned to the car to end off this nice little waterfall that probably rivaled any of our local waterfalls in Southern California. We briefly had to wait for one rough looking guy to get out of his car since he was parked next to us and not wearing a mask either. Indeed, it seemed like we were the only people in the area wearing a mask and taking the COVID-19 threat seriously.
Regardless, by this time, it started to sprinkle and then it started to rain as we drove out of Casper and back onto the I-25 due east towards Douglas again. And sure enough, the weather was a far cry from the nice sunny morning we had at the Ayres Natural Bridge as we were now surrounded by thunderclouds as we appeared to be heading right into the darkness further to the east and northeast as we made our way towards South Dakota.
At first, the drive was pretty uneventful but I was started to get a little drowsy behind the wheel. However, as we continued heading towards the small town of Lusk, we then headed north right into the heart of the thunderstorm where the rain was coming down so hard that even the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up!
So I was always maintaining visual contact with the vehicle in front of me who seemed to be used to this kind of thunderstorm as he kept powering through the downpour. We had also run through seemingly invisible stretches of standing water while was a hydroplaning risk since we were still going around 60mph. And well, that bit of drama and danger seemed to have kicked in my adrenaline and I was sleepy behind the wheel no longer.
Indeed, for much of the next stretch of this long drive through seemingly long rolling hills of farmlands and grasslands, we were in and out of squalls while seeing lots of flashes of lightning though not the accompanying thunder (so it must have been far away).
As we crossed into the Buffalo National Grasslands en route to the town of Hot Springs, South Dakota, the weather seemed to have calmed down a bit though we were still surrounded by squalls of thunderstorms in all directions.
Eventually, we’d make it to the outskirts of the historical town of Hot Springs before following a road leading to Cascade Falls, where we did notice a sign saying something to the effect that it was about 9 miles away. There was a cop looking for speeders here so I made sure to obey the town’s speed limits.
The final stretch of the drive leading to the anticipated waterfall also yielded a little bit of drama because there was another menacing looking squall and dark cloud where we were headed. I kept hoping that the drive would end before getting into another round of downpours.
By about 3:25pm, we finally arrived at the Cascade Falls Parking Lot a little past the Cascade Springs Trailhead, which at first we weren’t sure if that other stop was it. Just as we showed up, it was sprinkling a little bit, and we had feared that we might have showed up a little late for the experience as we were real concerned that the skies might dump on us again.
Anyways, we went ahead and got our stuff to document the experience, but the apparently dark clouds and the sounds of rolling thunder didn’t seem to deter the people here (and there were lots of them all in bathing suits).
Sure enough, after a brief jaunt down to the level of the Cascade Creek, we saw what appeared to be a lush series of small cascades running over travertine. For some reason, I had this notion that the creek might be geothermally heated, but both Julie and Tahia felt the water as said it was cold. So perhaps, this place was more interesting due to its rich mineral content resulting in the travertine presence.
However, other people just enjoyed the fact that this place was a fine swimming hole.
The most attractive of the cascades here was the bottommost one, and this was where most of the people were hanging out and swimming while other kids went further upstream where the water was deeper but also had some travertine dams to keep from getting swept further downstream.
Once again, with all the people here, we were the only people who had masks. Actually, I had forgotten to bring my mask when Julie and Tahia showed up to bring mine. So I tried to maintain social distancing while enjoying the scene, but with practically no one with masks, the risk of COVID spread here was definitely a concern.
We even smelled cigarette smoke as apparently someone decided it was a good idea to do that on this public land. So the air kind of filled with the lung-constricting second-hand smoke (again, an obvious sign that people didn’t seem at all concerned about COVID-19 here), and after documented what we had to here, that was kind of our cue to head back up to the car and continue driving towards Mt Rushmore and our accommodation nearby in some place called Hill City or Custer.
As we got back into the car at 3:50pm, it started to sprinkle then rain again. Meanwhile, as we drove back to the town of Hot Springs, we could see that there was another cloudburst in a valley just behind Hot Springs though we apparently just missed it as we filled up gas in town.
Hot Springs seemed to have a bit of a small-town historical feel to it in its main drag, and apparently it was started in the 1890s. We didn’t linger around other than to drive right through the place, and we had even noticed a small and thin runoff waterfall spilling into a creek adjacent to town.
We weren’t sure if that was a legit waterfall since there appeared to be some kind of town infrastructure above it. Though I wondered in the back of my mind if I’d regret not stopping for this thin waterfall as well.
Anyways, beyond the town of Hot Springs, the Highway 385 then entered what appeared to be Wind Cave National Park. Although signs said something about not approaching buffalo here, I didn’t see any as the drive continued to weave in and out of some minor episodes of thundershowers. I knew we didn’t have time to stop into this caves themselves since it was getting late in the day.
So we continued on as we’d ultimately arrive in the town of Custer, which seemed to be a somewhat touristy cowboy-themed town kind of reminiscent of West Yellowstone, Montana. By this point, the GPS wanted to take some kind of Sylvan Lake approach to our accommodation at the Harney’s Camp Cabins, but Julie’s phone instead had us continue on the Hwy 16 deeper into the Black Forest until we got to the top end of the Sylvan Lake Road.
Along the way, we saw that there was some kind of Crazy Horse turnoff that piqued my curiosity, but we were running out of time in the day so we opted to keep driving. We’d eventually arrive at the Harney’s Camp Cabins at 5:30pm, and then we had to get right to our usual procedures of doing our own sanitization of all touch areas, the sheets, couches, and spraying the air with whatever Lysol we had left (trying to ration as much of what we had at the time).
Again, it seemed like we were the only people masking up at this accommodation though we did notice pedestrians were masked up in the town of Custer, so I’d imagine they had quite a few out-of-towners there.
Regardless, we quickly got our stuff into the charming cabin, which sat between a pretty cliff and a gurgling creek. Even though our unit was a bit on the small and rustic side, Julie and I really did appreciate the charming back-to-nature feel of the place. However, without internet here, Tahia was very upset about not getting to play on Roblox.
Nevertheless, after convincing Julie that the weather had calmed down enough to go for seeing Mt Rushmore before it got dark (and not requiring them to get up early tomorrow to see it), we proceeded to drive towards Mt Rushmore by 6:15pm.
The drive was pretty uneventful though the knobby hills here seemed quite attractive. Eventually, we’d arrive at the large parking structure by 6:30pm, but they didn’t accept national parks passes as payment as this parking lot was managed by Xanterra so it was a flat $10 fee no matter how long or short we were going to be parked here.
So we promptly got up to the stairs and the flag-lined walkway with the four faces of Mt Rushmore clearly visible up ahead. It was quite a cool thing to see this, but we were quite aware of how much the Native Americans didn’t like the apparent usage of ancient ancestral lands some sort of monument. And it made me wonder whether the Crazy Horse Mountain was a response to this by honoring someone who fought the invasion of the settlers back during the days of nation building in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The flag-lined walkway showed all the states and territories of the United States, their state flags, and the year of annexation as well as the order of annexation with Delaware being the first and Hawaii being the last.
This place was still busy with people, but it was probably nowhere near as busy as earlier in the day considering how empty the structures were when we showed up. Still, when we finally got to the Grand View Terrace, we overlooked an amphitheater below and looked up against the sun (which was covered by thunderclouds starting to break up) towards Mt Rushmore.
When the sinking sun went behind the thunderclouds again, we got even lighting and used some of the benches as a makeshift tripod so we could take family photos. For the most part, people around us were wearing masks and being somewhat respectful of social distancing.
Once we had our fill of the Grand View Terrace, we then headed back to the car. The whole time, I was also looking to see where the Presidential Trail was as well as the trail that would lead me to Grizzly Bear Falls, which I would target for a visit first thing tomorrow morning. I still didn’t see anything official about that trail, but it was in plain sight on my Trails Illustrated map layer on Gaia GPS.
I wasn’t sure about taking a trail from the Grizzly Bear Creek Campsite, but I figured I at least ought to give the upper trail a try though I wondered where that trail would start given that this parking structure didn’t seem conducive to having any infrastructure pointing any would be visitors of going in the opposite direction of Mt Rushmore’s presidential heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.
By 7:30pm, we were back at the car. We then headed back to the Harney Camp Cabins but not before making another stop at the Profile view of George Washington’s face.
Finally, at 8pm, we were back at the camp cabin, where we finally got settled for the night and had a late dinner of hot dogs wrapped in lettuce accompanied with mushrooms.
I was dead tired from the long day of driving and the early morning start so I didn’t join Julie and Tahia in their Uno game. All I could remember from that night was that I had brushed and flossed and showered and then promptly crashed in bed by around 10:30pm…
Day 10 (July 30, 2020 – Sundance, Wyoming): “Damage Control”
It was 3:45am when I awoke. So I took some time to get caught up on yesterday’s activities again as this was becoming a routine of mine throughout this first half of this COVID-19 road trip.
By the time it was 5:30am, I started to head out. That was when I realized that it was still raining! I was hoping to catch Mt Rushmore at sunrise, but as I drove out in that direction, I noticed that the skies were pink in that direction.
I couldn’t drive at a normal speed because I was afraid of deer dashing out in front of the car. In fact, I managed to see a couple on the road before they dashed off.
When I finally found parking at 5:55am (apparently a sign said it was for administrative use only; somewhere between the Profile View and the $10 concessionaires lot which we paid for yesterday), I wasn’t sure if I was going to be cited here or not. Nevertheless, I was betting that no one was going to enforce this rule this time this early in the morning.
I guess I had just missed possibly seeing Mt Rushmore bathed in the purple and pink skies though the cloud ceiling seemed low enough to obscure the sun quickly after it might have gone up due to the unexpected rain this morning.
By the time I parked, I put on my rain poncho, day pack, and the usual camera gear. I had contemplated scrambling with Keens, but I figured I’d put the Goretex boots from Salomon on another test to see just how waterproof it was.
And so I promptly walked along the road and then towards the Blackberry Trailhead, which was right behind a closed off clearing full of heavy duty equipment and some local license-plated cars.
The trail descended from the Blackberry Trailhead and it was pretty straightforward to follow. The rain remained lightly dropping so I was glad to have brought the rain poncho. However, by about 6:35am, I ultimately reached a crossing of Grizzly Bear Creek.
After briefly following this trail, it appeared to veer away from Grizzly Bear Creek, and I started to doubt that the trail would lead me to the desired waterfall. So by the time I realized that the trail was climbing and going away from where my pre-trip waypoint for Grizzly Bear Falls was, I then decided to turn back to the stream crossing.
At this point, the only way to know if I’d hit Grizzly Bear Falls was to do a scramble either along the creek or in it. Part of me had wished that I had brought Keens instead of the Salomon boots because it might have been easier to wade through the creek instead of scrambling through wet vegetation and deadfalls. Yet with how I was equipped, I had no choice but to proceed by trying to avoid wading in the stream.
Right off the bat, the scramble initially started with faint trails alongside the Grizzly Bear Creek, but then it quickly degenerated into a wet and very messy bush scramble through deadfalls, poison ivy, and shrubs (all of which were wet from the rain) which soaked my pants and the hiking boots which really weren’t waterproof at all.
I kept looking for some kind of waterfall according to the GaiaGPS map’s survey label (from USGS Topo), but all I noticed that might have been it was a tiny 5ft waterfall near a rock and pool obstacle by about 7am. However, it still seemed to suggest that I had to scramble further to reach the waterfall, which meant more scramble, and I had to be sure.
By about 7:20am, I got to what seemed like a narrow gorge where the canyon seemed to narrow in and there was an ominous-looking standing pool of water there. By this point, I knew that I had to leave stuff behind, but in order to document whether there was a waterfall there or not, I decided to bring the camera and phone.
So after taking off my shoes and socks and leaving the backpack and rain poncho behind, I decided to wade barefeet into the pool, which eventually got to chest deep. With very careful and nervous maneuvering, I ultimately made it to the other side of the standing pools and the gorge, but on the other side was nothing more than more bouldery obstacles with what might be a cascade under higher flow. If this was what produced the sound of a waterfall and what was Grizzly Bear Falls, then this was a real disappointment.
So by 7:30am, I now had to scramble back, but now with the pool a little murkier due to me perturbing it, I carefully tried to retrace my steps back to the start of the slot. Then on one fateful step, I managed to slip and dunk into the water thereby getting water into both the Mirrorless camera and the phone.
I knew at this point I was screwed. And the effort wasn’t even justified!
Maybe all the bad decisions in pursuing this waterfall finally caught up with me and I had to respect the limits that Mother Nature threw at me. I even wondered if I saw the Grizzly Bear Falls at all or if that tiny 5ft falls with the rock obstacle further back downstream was it.
But whatever, after that calamity, I finally found the right footing I should have taken in the first place and then made it back to the stuff I left behind. In hindsight, I should have left at least the Mirrorless camera back with the backpack as I really had no business trying to get past this pool with that.
At least the iPhone was still working though it too might have seen some water going through its USB connector. But the Mirrorless was already showing signs of damage and I had to shut it off immediately. But with everything wet, I didn’t have the presence of mind to also remove the batteries and memory and perhaps separate out the lens and body. given the conditions.
So at this point, I started to throw caution to the wind and scrambled back without my poncho. With my feet soaked through the wool socks (proving that these boots weren’t waterproof at all as this was all due brushing up against the wet plants), I eventually got back to the 5ft waterfall and rock obstacle at 8am.
Sure enough the Mirrorless camera didn’t have a prayer at capturing this spot (and I probably shouldn’t have tried in hindsight as it probably did more damage in the attempt). However, the phone did manage to capture something.
Roughly 5-10 minutes later, I got back to the start of the Grizzly Bear Creek scramble where I met some woman taking pictures on the creek itself. I wasn’t in too much of a talktative mood after the calamity that befell me, but perhaps I should have asked if they knew where the Grizzly Bear Falls was since it looked like they might have taken a different trail from the Grizzly Bear Campground.
By about 8:25am, I was back at the Blackberry Trailhead where I managed to see some workers walking back from the construction zone that now doubled as a hidden trailhead, and five minutes later, I finally made it back to the car. By about 8:50am, I had returned to the cabin, and when I told Julie what had happened, I knew I was going to get a tongue lashing about making bad decisions.
Well, they were slowly getting ready so I kind of knew that they took their time to get out and about. And I guess with what had transpired on the attempt for Grizzly Bear Falls, my mind was starting to gravitate towards the sentiment that my carefully planned itinerary didn’t seem to matter anymore.
So after stripping down and changing into dry clothes, I left the wet clothes in the car next to the AC to dry with the camera. Then, after loading up the car, we finally left the rustic cabin at 10am. And mentally I was starting to feel out of it as I had to face the reality that I might have to go without the Sony Mirrorless camera for the rest of this trip.
So the drive happened fairly uneventfully as Julie was helping out trying to dry the camera body, but it seemed like there was nothing I could do regarding the expensive 24-105mm G lens. We were following a long caravan of cars driving towards the town of Lead (another one of those historic mining towns with a cowboy western feel to them), and then we headed into Spearfish Canyon as the day continued to be sunny.
Really, our drive through Spearfish Canyon should have been very beautiful and every bit worthy of taking road shots and basking in the surprise that such a canyon like this could exist in a state that we’d think of as flat. As we wanted to take photos from the wet iPhone, Julie figured out that the battery charger wasn’t working until she removed it and dried it off. Then after doing that, it worked and maybe we might have dodged a bullet when it came to still having all the iPhone functionality and especially taking pictures without the DSLR.
If there was anything that could salvage our ability to document this trip, it was going to be this camera in the form of the iPhone.
Eventually by 11:30am, we managed to find limited parking for Spearfish Falls. I don’t know how but we must have pulled in at just the right time because there were quite a few cars circling around looking for parking here since it was next to the road through Spearfish Canyon.
Without the extra camera gear to bring around since the DSLR was incapacitated, I just got out with the iPhone and started using it like it was the DSLR. Maybe I should start getting used to this even though I knew that there were subtle differences regarding image quality and data stored in the image itself along with manual tweaking capabilities that still made the DSLR more superior for the time being.
At first, I went right to the overlook at the top of Spearfish Falls, but then by 11:55am, all three of us made it down to the bottom of Spearfish Falls. Once again, it seemed like we were the only people wearing masks as people seemed to be carrying on as if there was no pandemic going on.
I’m pretty sure from South Dakota residents to Wyoming residents and all the many visitors that drove out these parts, it just seemed like we were living in a different world where Trump’s word was gospel and only select science would be listened to as long as it wasn’t inconvenient.
After checking out the three main lookout areas at the bottom of Spearfish Falls, we then headed back up to the car and got there at 12:15pm.
I had contemplated walking to Roughlock Falls on a scenic trail in the canyon, but Julie and Tahia resisted and wanted me to drive and try our luck at parking at the Roughlock Falls, which was on an unpaved road.
By about 12:20pm, we eventually made it up to the two or three parking lots for the Roughlock Falls where the lots were very busy, but we managed to find a spot to park (albeit in a muddy spot). So Julie and Tahia were kind of rubbing it in that they were right, but with the day I was having, I didn’t want to hear anymore backseat driving from them.
The trigger point was when I backed up to claim some corner spot. Since the guy took his time and tried to go around our car, I backed up first, then he gave me a dirty look and crossed in front of the car. Julie was claiming that I didn’t see him, but I did, and I thought he was just being a hard ass.
Regardless, after parking, I just left the keys with them, and I took off for Roughlock Falls knowing they’d take their time to get out of the car while I didn’t want to hear anymore backseat driving. So I quickly made my way to the top two overlooks of the Roughlock Falls, which seemed smaller than the Spearfish Falls that we just saw. However, there were nice views of the side canyon we were in looking downstream.
I was a bit nervous given the amount of large gatherings and amount of people at this waterfall, and yet I seemed to be the only person with a mask. Again, I had to get my head wrapped around the idea that the pandemic doesn’t exist to some people whether they admit it or not. And I certainly didn’t want any of their droplets knowing that they could be spreading the disease asymptomatically. I guess that just goes to show the kind of mentality of people where they want their freedoms but they don’t consider the consequences of their actions. They’re only thinking about themselves.
And perhaps that’s what characterizes our country at the moment – that we’re a country of selfish people. Of course, I think this is more of a product of the economic systems we have in place that drive our behavior to get ours at the expense of someone else (an a**hole economy, if you will, where we have to be a**holes to other people and to Nature in order to survive in this economy).
So I don’t think I can blame them entirely since they may not have other alternatives (at least in their minds) other than to stick with their “conservative” tribe who might be better taking care of their well-being than the “liberal” tribe.
Anyways, I also managed to make it to the bottom lookout, which always seemed to be constantly busy with people. At the base, there was a wide intermediate cascade fronting a partially concealed main drop of Roughlock Falls. I also noticed that there was a scenic trail that would have connected the Spearfish Falls along a one-mile trail, and part of me wondered if the experience would have been more intimate and better if I had done this trail instead of done the shortcut.
Well, I remembered the Chasm Falls experience in Rocky Mountain National Park where I wasted time doing that instead of driving it, so perhaps Julie and Tahia were right in this case.
In any case, when they finally showed up after I had returned to the upper main lookout, we briefly got our views before heading back. They didn’t bother checking out the other viewpoints for Roughlock Falls.
By about 1pm, we were back at the car. I still couldn’t help but wonder the strange looks we’d routinely get from other families or groups of people without masks passing by us. I don’t know if it was because we were the only Asians out here or because of the masks with the filter and valve, but it all seemed a bit baffling to us.
Next, we made a roadside stop for the busy Bridal Veil Falls at around 1:20pm. The parking area was on the opposite side of the road on the left, and this place was quite the busy and happening spot. While we could see the waterfall between trees at the busy lookout deck, there were lots more people who scrambled down to the creek to either get right up to the foot of the falls or just play in the water.
Tahia had an opportunity to play, but her mind was on playing Roblox at the next accommodation instead of being in the moment. So we didn’t linger around, and perhaps the number of unmasked individuals here also gave us cause for concern for not lingering any longer.
Anyways, we were back in the car at 1:35pm, and after a little maneuvering to get back on the downhill lane of the slow-moving highway through Spearfish Canyon, we eventually got to the town of Spearfish for a fill up, and then we headed to Sundance.
By about 2:30pm, we checked into the room at the Bear Lodge Motel, which was a typical room to stay in, but Julie didn’t want to stay in a place where we had to go inside a common area to check in and to get in and out of the room. So a roadside motel suit us just fine.
I perhaps foolishly tried to test whether the DSLR camera might have been sufficiently dry since it only got in the water for a moment. But it appeared that it still didn’t work. And in fact, I had a bad feeling that we might have made it worse. In hindsight, I should have just left the camera be for several days because it did look like there was still some signs of moisture inside the camera lens, and the camera body seemed to have some symptoms that it wasn’t behaving properly either.
The final nail in the coffin was when the shutter closed and remain closed. I don’t think I had ever seen the camera in this state before, and that just seemed to reinforce that perhaps we had pushed our luck too far this time, and now for good, we had to deal with going without the DSLR for the rest of this trip.
After sanitizing the room and putting our refrigerables inside their mini-fridge, we then headed to the Devils Tower at 3pm. It was still sunny outside, but there were some buddy cloudbursts and thunderstorms to the south of us as well as to the west of us.
As the road eventually approached the Devils Tower, we could see finally see the imposing basalt mountain jutting up in the distance. Indeed, this had been a bucket list item for Julie and I for a long time, and it was nice to finally see it.
The drive continued past a gate where no one was manning it. So I guess our National Parks Pass wasn’t necessary for this spot either. And so we eventually pulled up to the large parking area for the Devils Tower at 3:45pm. For the rest of this afternoon, we opted to take a short trail that went around the base of the tower so we could experience it a little more intimately than if we had just autotoured it.
But a lot of other people were thinking the same thing so it was quite busy and we had to mask up even though it was a pretty hot day today. Fortunately for us, taking pictures look at the tower backed by blue skies was a pretty cool thing given the contrast. The paved path around the base of the tower weaved in and out of some tree shade as we were towards the base of a boulder field of chunks that had already flaked off the mountain.
So we took our time and let faster individuals pass. However, Julie had overheard some guy in a blue shirt talking loudly on his phone about saying he’s supposed to be in quarantine.
However, he was unmasked and quite obviously not taking responsibility for his actions. So we tried to steer clear of this guy, but the truth is that we really don’t know who else was doing the same thing as he was. He was just idiotic enough to proclaim this fact loudly.
We ultimately found a spur path leading to some binoculars and benches, and he didn’t bother taking that route so he continued on the circular path and from this point forward, we were way behind him. But there would always be other groups of people coming up behind us as we were taking our time.
When we got to the other side of the Devil’s Tower, we noticed that there was someone with rope gear who was actually climbing down from the vertical parts of the Devil’s Tower.
Since I had brought the other DSLR camera with the telephoto lens, I could capture that better than the iPhone. I could also do the same thing with these eagles or hawks that were gliding around the top of the Devils Tower.
Eventually by about 5:25pm, we were back in the car. As we were heading back to Sundance, we made a few roadside stops to take a few more shots of the Devils Tower, except in one instance, we started to see what appeared to be marmots of ferrets or something munching on grass.