Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park

10th - 20th September 2008

On arrival in Colorado, we made our way to Highline Lake State Park, which had a fishing lake.   However, on discovering that the nearest source of state fishing licences was six miles away, we decided against the twelve mile round trip and instead pressed on further into Colorado, hoping to obtain the necessary licence on the way. 

We tried our luck at the nearby large town of Fruita.  One outlet told us we couldn't buy a licence without a Social Security number, a story we'd heard before in several states but which had always proved untrue.    We were pointed in the direction of the Colorado River State Park, where the friendly rangers tried valiantly to get in touch with the Department of Fish and Game but failed.    They directed us to the local specialist fishing store, where the friendly assistant not only succeeded in selling us the licence but also some bargain shirts from his sale rack and we left even happier with a gift of a bag of free local grown organic peaches.  

We spent the night at the Island Acres campground of the James M Robb Colorado River State Park, which was scenically located on the banks of the river but not so idyllic in its positioning between the interstate and a busy railroad.   

The fisherman's shiny new licence was burning a hole in his pocket, so we set off in search of a perfect fishing spot.    Our first stop was Rifle Gap State Park where the size of the lake was somewhat daunting for those only equipped with a paddle powered fishing boat.

Back to the trusty map, we selected another state park to try.  After fifty miles of interstate, followed by a nine mile bounce up a washboard gravel road, we found ourselves at beautiful Sylvan Lake.   

Other campers in the park, all from the locality, were stunned to see our Florida plates, even more stunned to hear we were actually from Wales.    "How did you find this place", they wondered.    It seemed we'd stumbled on one of the best kept secrets in Colorado.

Beautiful Sylvan Lake.

Eager not to waste any further fishing time, Phil set out to try fishing from the bank of the lake.    He returned with two rainbow trout for dinner and had released another large Brook Trout.    The next day the weather was uncooperative and we had one of the rare rain days of our trip.    The keen fisherman was undeterred and quickly exhausted our supply of dry waterproof clothing in his pursuit of the fish.    The phantom paddler, however, could not be persuaded to inflate the canoe and sit in the middle of the lake in a boat filling with icy cold rainwater.   

We were living at a pretty high altitude, around 8,500 feet and whilst we were getting damp, nearby mountains, not much higher, received a sprinkling of snow.    With no electricity to heat Harvey and an icy wind blowing, it was pretty chilly. 

Once the rain stopped, we finally took to the water in our canoe but there was a sudden, conspicuous lack of fish.   To break up the monotony of our unsuccessful fishing excursions, we set off on a trail hike, only to discover, shortly after setting out along the trail, that only the very first section had been constructed, after that we ended up bushwhacking for a while before giving up and retracing our steps.

We were keen to move on northwards to the Rocky Mountain National Park before the weather turned any colder.    Bearing in mind the altitude and the cold, we decided to find a commercial campground on the eastern side of the park in the town of Estes Park.    However, to reach the eastern side from our westerly location meant driving over the 12,000 foot high pass through the park.    

Harvey huffed and puffed his way up the mountain side towards the pass.   When we reached the snow line we stopped for a snack at what must have been one of the world's most scenic lunch stops.    

Lunch break at the snowline cafe!

We pushed on up to the summit at over 12000 feet, where the roadsides were thick with ploughed snow.    The road closed for the winter in October but keeping it open until then must have been quite a challenge and pretty perilous for the snow plough driver.

Harvey certainly enjoyed the downhill section more than the climb, although the same can't be said of his brakes!   We checked into the lovely riverfront Manor RV campground in Estes Park.   Here, for only a couple of dollars a night more than the National Park's primitive campsites, we enjoyed electricity, on-site fishing, cable TV, flush toilets and hot showers, what a deal!

Next day we returned to the National Park to hike the 6.5 mile loop trail to Dream and Haiyaha Lakes.    We had to pace ourselves to climb the steep hill in the thin air at the high altitude.  Our pauses gave us the chance to appreciate the stunning mountain scenery along the way.   By the time we had ascended to Haiyaha Lake, the scenery was quite barren and bleak but the Lake was perfectly tranquil, with the exception of the occasional jet plane flying (not so far) overhead!

Dream Lake

Lake Haiyaha

Elk rutting season was in full swing and at around 5 pm each evenings, the meadows lower in the park would fill with the different herds.    Elk stags tried to impress the ladies with their eerie bugle calls, reminiscent of a hinge in need of oil.    It was quite a sight to see the grassland filled with such large numbers of elk and to watch the standoffs between the rival stags, as the girls grazed on with disinterest.

To add to his extensive fishing skills, Phil booked a guided fishing trip with excellent guide, John, from Kirk's Flyshop.    They left at 8 am for the four hour trip, on which he was to learn how to fly fish with nymph, smaller flies designed to resemble insect larvae, which sink below the river surface.    Seven hours later he returned from his four hour trip, beaming with excitement about the new skills he'd learned from John.   To ensure complete mastery of these new talents, we headed out to the river below the dam again the next morning for more practise.

Elk Stag eyeing up the girls

It was high time for another hike and we set off on a loop trail to Bierstadt Lake.    The uphill section involved scrambling up what seemed to be the bed of a stream or drainage ditch for quite a while.    When we emerged from the dense woodland at the summit lake, thick, menacing thunderclouds were gathering, it was best not to linger too long!

The return route was a total contrast, gone were the large trees and we found ourselves hiking down a series of long, scenic switchbacks carved into the mountainside.    On the way we found ourselves at very close quarters with  a group of seemingly unconcerned elk, which were snacking on the greenery around the trail.   On the surrounding hills, it was clear from the brightly coloured leaves on the trees, that autumn was on its way.


Uphill all the way to Bierstadt Lake and downhill all the way back again!

From his guide, John, Phil had learned of "gold medal fishing waters" at the Eleven Mile State Park.   The river was appropriately named The Dream Stream.   This was to be our next destination.    After a long and beautiful drive along some of Colorado's backroads, we arrived at the remote park.    It was late in the day, we were in the middle of a severe thunderstorm and there wasn't a Ranger to be found.    From a map at the entrance to the park, we selected the campground nearest to the famed stretch of fishing water and set off for the several mile drive to reach it.   By the time we'd crossed the lake and travelled the gravel road to reach our spot, visibility was down to almost zero in a serious bout of Welsh rain (the type that falls sideways!).   We were alone in our campground, in a particularly bleak and remote spot but disinclined to move in the poor weather.   

During the night Harvey was surrounded by a pack of coyote, yipping to one another in the darkness, it was all very eerie.  

Next morning, however, dawned bright and our camping spot had a totally different feel to it.    As the lake mist rose we found ourselves in a tranquil and beautiful spot, which reminded us of the bleakness of the Welsh moorland.   Straight after breakfast we were off in search of the Dream Stream.

We hiked across the moors, past a grazing buffalo, until we reached the famous fishing water.   A river stretching between the dam of one lake down to another within the park, the water was known to be technically difficult to fish.    

We walked along the river, fishing all along the way.    After a couple of hours the patient fisherman had still had no success.   As the deadline for our checkout time from the park approached, he determinedly fished on.   His patience was finally rewarded when he reeled in the big trout he'd been after for the best part of an hour.   This was quite an accomplishment, managing to land such a big fish hooked only on a 22 fly, a couple of millimetres in size.  Christine balanced precariously on a wobbly rock, landing net in hand.   Our prize was quickly freed from the line and photographed before being liberated back to his river.    Philly was one happy fisherman!

Our Dream Stream Prize

The mountains had taken their toll on Harvey's brakes and our next stop was in the city of Colorado Springs at a brake repair shop.    The verdict was that Harvey needed new brake pads on the front and the calipers needed to be rebuilt with new seals.     Our brake doctors seemed competent if perhaps a little disorganised.  After whiling away several hours in the workshop's waiting room, we hit the road again, now confident we would be able to stop too! 

Unfortunately by now it was already late and the light was fading as we headed out of the city on the interstate.    We'd planned to travel on to another State Park around 80 miles away but we were getting weary.    Suddenly we spotted a Camping World store nearby.    We'd heard you could park in their parking lot overnight and decided we were tired enough to test out this rumour.    Sure enough we were allowed to live at Camping World overnight and enjoyed a peaceful night, snuggled between other RV's in the parking area, the large store building blocking out the interstate noise.

Next morning after another maintenance stop for a much needed oil change, we headed to Lathrop State Park near Walsenberg.    The trusty canoe was inflated but as we carried it down to one of the park's two lakes, a downpour started, sending us scampering back to the shelter of our camper!    Finally we got on the water at Horseshoe Lake and Phil fished in the shallows for bass, whilst the temperamental trolling motor (Christine) became disgruntled in the now windy conditions on the lake.     Despite nibbles from two bass, we didn't have any success in keeping them on our hook.    Frustration set in and eventually the poor fisherman took an oar of water from his irritated paddler, it was time to give up and return home, to let him dry out!   An inflatable canoe is a very small space for two frustrated people!

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