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Trip Report Seeking Fall Color in Northern Colorado

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A few trees were starting to turn in Greeley. The TV news said the next two weeks were the time for maximum color in the mountains of Northern Colorado, so DW said it was time to go see them.

Trip # 1 - Sunday Sept 19.
We loaded the car with DS and our dog Sasha and drove to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). It was foggy as we left Greeley on Hwy 34. The day before had been the only rain for weeks. As we approached Loveland, the fog lifted and we had a pleasant sunny day for the rest of the trip. Hwy 34 is the road that goes directly to Estes Park and RMNP. The twisty road goes thru the canyon formed by the Big Thompson River. When first driving up the canyon a couple of years ago, I was struck by the sign saying 'In the event of flooding, get to higher ground'. This is a reminder that on July 31, 1976, 8 inches of rain fell in one hour (12 inches total) and the river rose 19 feet, killing 144.

No flooding today. At about milepost 75, we rounded a corner and saw several cars parked on the left hand side of the road. We knew what that meant and pulled over to the parking area. On the steep slopes were several bighorn sheep. For some reason, this is a place where they are frequently seen. Three sheep were visible (a couple from Texas said there had been two others that were now out of sight). They were all females - two years ago we spotted a big ram at the same spot.

A few colorful trees were visible as we proceeded up the canyon. Soon we were in Estes Park and stopped at the visitor center. This is the town's visitor center, but they also have info on RMNP. We put Sasha on her leash and walked along the river toward the lake. The path goes by the golf course and soon we spotted a bull elk and his harem of 5 cow elk. Right there on the golf course as the golfers played by. It was mating season and the bull was active! There were some nice colorful trees in town.

Back in the car, we drove to the Park, paying the $20 entrance fee with 20 Sacajawea dollars I had recently received from the mint. We normally get the annual pass but ours had expired and we most likely wouldn't be back here or any other NP until the spring so we decided just to pay the daily fee. While dogs are allowed in the park, they can't go anywhere that cars can't drive, so we didn't get out and take any hikes in the park - next year we will make the trip without the dog (we knew this in advance). We drove around the park, getting some good views of the mountains. Not much color however - mainly some trees that were near the roads. Most of the trees in the park are evergreen (or, unfortunately, dead pines killed by beetles).

There are some nice views of Long's Peak, one of Colorado's 14,000 ft peaks. It has been a deadly mountain this year - recently a climber had been blown of he top to his death. Just last week another climber fell to his death.

The meadow that was full of elk on our last autumn visit after Thanksgiving was devoid of elk. Guess it was too early - most of them were still in the mountains (except those playing golf!).

We cut our trip short and started back to Greeley. We retraced our route up. We made a short stop at a cherry store along the way and had some excellent cherry cider.

Not too much in the way of good fall color on this trip. Maybe the very warm fall had delayed the changing of the trees. Maybe we need to get off the road to find some aspen groves. We'll see next year.

Trip # 2 - Poudre River Canyon.
Two weeks after our trip to PMNP, we decided to see if there is good color on the Poudre River. The Poudre is located a few miles to the north of the Big Thompson. We left Greeley and drove via Hwy 34 and I25 to Ft. Collins. Then Colorado 14 up the canyon. Just before we entered the canyon, there were many deciduous trees but just a few were turning color. We hoped the trees would be more colorful as we gained elevation.

The canyon is not as narrow as the Big Thompson and there were many more deciduous tress. Soon we started to see more trees that were turning. The road is quite twisty, but it doesn't go high above the river and so it isn't really a nervous drive. DW spotted several places that she would like to try fishing (I guess that will be our next week's trip).

After a while it seemed that the trees had all lost their leaves. Just then we entered an area that had a sign saying that there were steep grades ahead. I thought we would go for the 3 miles indicated and then maybe turn around. I don't know who put up that sign, but they have no clue what a steep grade is! It was no different than the previous road. Soon the canyon widened and there were many, many trees with very colorful leaves. We continued on, really enjoying the fall color. In some spots where the canyon narrowed, it was very rugged and scenic.

There were several campgrounds in this area, but they were all closed for the season (season ended Sept 30 despite the temperatures still in the 80's). DS was getting hungry and impatient to get some food. There is very little commercial business in the canyon so when we reached a beautiful meadow we stopped to take a few pictures and turn around. DS used a function on one of his electronic devices to determine that the elevation was 7100 ft. Lots of golden aspen in this area.

Back to civilization and a convenience store to fill DW's stomach! We made a turn off Hwy 14 to Hwy 1 which took us thru a nice horse farm area of Wellington and back to I25. Going south we passed the Budweiser brewery. We need to remember that it is there and go tour it. We have enjoyed the Bud brewery in New Hampshire and the Miller (formerly the Oly) brewery in Tumwater Washington.

This route had much better fall color. It was 2 weeks later in the season and there were many more deciduous trees in the Poudre canyon than the Big Thompson. I think in the future, when we want to see animals, we will go to RMNP, but for fall color, it will be the Poudre.

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