The first day we walked around the town of Estes Park, outside a storefront my wonderful daughter Elisabeth spotted a bunch of people hopping aboard a big jeep.
We wondered about the adventure awaiting.
The next day, we ducked inside, grabbed a brochure, and talked turkey with the woman behind the counter. Well, elk, actually, which we hoped to see on the sunset tour on which me, my dear wife Karen, wonderful daughter and terrific boyfriend George Three signed up for Saturday. That gave us the rest of the day to talk about the trip with those with us in Colorado for Karen’s Family Reunion. The jeep sat 14, the reservation was under my name, and seats were just a phone call away. Load-up was 5:45 p.m.
We ended up with 10 total takers.
But first those that passed wanted to take a morning hike, and we said yes to that, too.
Into Rocky Mountain National Park we drove in our rented SUV, following brother Steve and his wife Joan, nephew Ross, and daughter Flynne with husband Jordan and baby daughter Lanie.
It was a great day for a hike. In fact, the parking lot around Sprague Lake was full. Undeterred. our lead vehicle, piloted by Jordan and Flynne, found a nearby spot on the side of the road.
That allowed us a walk to soak in the scenery before our hike around the lake path.
We all started off together, but eventually Elisabeth and George Three hung back so he could take his time with the great camera dad George Two loaned him for the trip.
Our park, our lake, our treat this sunny Saturday afternoon.
I caught a crow relaxing on a dead tree.
And then I caught an artist capturing what his mind and hand made of this beautiful day.
After the circle, we all took off up the hill, after carefully reading the bear-watch instructions.
George Three said he was ready for anything.
That night, we were ready for the park on wheels.
In the office, we discovered that a full bus would be going up the big mountain. Our group of 10 would be joined by two other couples.
Niece Kimi was especially glad that our jeep was named Kimmy.
On the way to the park, tour guide Neil chatted us up, making sure he learned the names of all 14 passengers. Nice man. Engaging. He knew where to take us, too.
Our first stop mandated a short but strenuous climb up a rocky path. At the top was a breath-taking waterfall made by nature when a lake flooded in 1983.
This we know because Neil told us the what’s and when’s.
On the walk down the hill, we all decided we’d never have found this place on our own, and declared the $69.95 price of the tour worth it.
Driving up the mountain, we all had our eyes open for animals. Neil told us to call out at any spotting. The first stop was for a deer.
The gentleman behind me, from Austin, Texas, informed me that this particular species was a mule deer. The guys we have up in Syracuse are whitetail.
Neil didn’t even have to do a turn-around for the big guy that appeared on the right side of our jeep.
Some folks excitedly shouted out that a moose was ahead.
I dreamed of my days of watching the TV show Northern Exposure and the majestic creatures that roamed Alaska, where my sister-in-law Jana, niece Dacia and nephew Drew on this very Jeep lived.
Alas, it was a big, brown elk. Cool, still. Happy, yes.
Neil also pulled off at a spot with a majestic vista. This National Park at dusk …
Setting sun …
The last stop was our friend Sprague Lake from our earlier visit.
Beverages and snacks, included in the price, were unloaded to picnic tables. Our choice was beer, Lime- or Berry-a-Ritas, soda and water, and chips, cookies, power bars …
The group there before us left us their campfire and a bag of marshmallows, too.
On the way back to the storefront, Neil put the sides and top of the Jeep up. The temperatures had fallen. We all were wearing the sweatshirts they’d told us to bring for the trip. He put a soothing soundtrack on the PA. A good time was had by all.
Tomorrow: Denver really is a zoo
Sunday: The crush baseballs, don’t they?
Have you ever been to a National Park, and if so, what did you think? Have you taken a group tour, and if so, how did it go? Which is your favorite photo, and why?