Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day 10: Vail, CO to Estes Park, CO

We packed up quickly and hit the road early.  The lure of Rocky Mountain National Park was calling us.  It was a short driving day but we had some intense passes to climb.  Right out of Vail is a big one and then an even larger one follows.  We unhitched my car and I drove separately (right into town to get some coffee!).  I figured I’d catch up with them on the road since I can do the passes at speed and even unhitched, the FMC has to do the passes slowly.  Our first stop for the day was Central City, CO which Greg remembers fondly from visiting as a young teen on a family camping trip.  Well, the FMC did so well on the passes that I didn’t catch up to them until we were nearly at the turn for Central City!  The passes were well graded and it was early so the air temperature was low.  At any rate, no problem.  We zipped up them.  
Central City was a disappointment to Greg.  Rather than the fun family tourist town he remembers with mine tours and gunfighters, it has turned into a casino town.  We parked and walked around -- it was 10:30 am.  Nothing was open and the whole town was just one big casino.  The good news was that it was in good repair.  Everything looked great.  Some of the buildings are empty but it still seemed to be doing well.  We found an ice cream shop and had a cone and went on our way, feeling a little sad about how things change.  
We stayed unhitched as Colorado roads are windy and climb and drop without much warning.  We decided to take byways to Estes Park instead of going by freeway.  We stumbled across a really cute little town called Nederland, CO.  It was having an art festival and is very charming anyway.  We parked right near a smokehouse/brewery where we had lunch (yum!) and then we walked through the art festival.  Nederland is home to Nedfest (, an annual bluegrass, jazz, and ??? Festival.  It’s a fun, hippy, kickback kind of town.  We loved it.  So, our kids will have memories of how fun Nederland was on their family camping trip to Colorado in their early teens!  
After lunch, we continued on our way and zipped up and down a few more mountains -- along the path of a bicycle race (a century!) -- which added a new challenge for Greg:  finding a place to pull over to let faster cars go by without messing up a bicycle rider’s climb or descent.  It kept life interesting!  
We arrived in Estes Park, eager to set up camp and spend the rest of the afternoon snoozing in front of the creek with a drink in our hands.  Our campsite is right on the water and we’d been anticipating this afternoon for days! 
Oops.  The best laid plans of mice and men . . . 
When we drive unhitched, we have family band radios so that we can communicate easily and safely.  As we got into town and were navigating the directions to our campground, we started picking up chatter from some other campers heading for an RV park saying how they couldn’t get there and the road was closed and what’s all that smoke and . . . Well, it was true for us as well.  At our turn toward RMNP and the campground, we had to go straight.  The road was closed.  Helicopters were flying overhead, getting water and dumping it on the fire.  We found a spot to turn around and I called the campground.  Yup.  Road closed.  Fire near them.  They were evacuated.  
Helicopter over Estes Park, CO
One of two helicopters sucking water out of nearby lakes to help put out the fire near Estes Park

But, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.  The wind was blowing the other direction and there was an indication that maybe the road would be reopened later in the day.  So, we turned back and did our Miller thing . . . Make the best of it.  Our afternoon would not include sitting by the creek with our feet up, sipping drinks.  No problem.  We ran a couple of errands and then went to see a movie -- Brave, (Which we thoroughly enjoyed!).  And, finally, when we tried the road again and got farther this time but still not far enough, we went to the Estes Park Family Fun City and the kids and Greg rode go-karts, did giant slides, and played miniature golf.  
And, finally we were able to go our campground.  An inconvenience for us but 22 homes were destroyed by this fire.  The firefighters got it under control quickly and kept it from being a huge disaster -- it was literally at the gate to Rocky Mountain National Park and on the edge of the city of Estes Park.  The whole time we were watching them deal with this little fire, we could see the smoke from the big Ft Collins fire to the North, looming over the mountains.  Yes, it could have been much worse. 

(Sorry for the lack of pictures . . . . sometimes driving days are like that!)

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