Next stop in Colorado was a campground less than a quarter mile from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and the little town of Grand Lake. To get there, we headed North out of Colorado Springs and then turned into the mountains, crossing the Berthoud Pass up and over towards Grand Lake. In nearly any other vehicle, this would be a simple task. In an ’84 Blue Bird bus with a Cummins VT555, not so much. The real difficulty arose when the freeway started a long, gradual climb upwards to 11,000 feet. That is roughly the equivalent of driving over Mt Hood! The bus was already underperforming in the thin, high altitude air, so adding a steady climb like that greatly decreased our power. Our eyes stayed close to the temp gauge, and we had to pull over a couple times to let the engine cool down. But nothing went wrong, and luckily there were multiple lanes so everyone could go around us as we crept along at 20 mph. Once again, our bus did us proud by getting us safely to the other side. It was a little nerve wracking, but in the end we had conquered the mountain, and took in amazing scenery on the way.
As we came down the other side of the mountain, we arrived in the ski town of Winter Park. Scanning the village for points of interest, low and behold we spied a brewery brilliantly called The Library. Still slightly shaken from the high mountain pass, we decided it was indeed happy hour. We pulled over into some empty on street parking and went inside to check it out. The Library Sports Grille and Brewery is a total ski bum bar, with a literary bent to it. I’m sure it’s packed in the winter, but this time of year it did have a decent amount of summer time tourists. We each tried a beer, and I was especially fond of my Oats n’ Cream Stout. When I noticed the shirts the staff were wearing, I knew I had to have my own. So now I’m a proud bearer of the slogan, “Don’t lie to your mom, tell her you were at The Library”.
We got to our campground shortly after our stop, and were very happy at the sight of it. The Elk Creek Campground is an extremely friendly and affordable place, with just under forty spaces for parking your rig with hookups, and also tent spaces, tipis and cabin rentals. I will say the showers are quite wonderful too. We were relieved to meet the owners and find how nice they are, and the fact that they appreciated our bus but never made a big deal out of it was really cool. They also have a very sweet golden retriever that hangs around camp. Our stay there was very comfortable, and they also were able to figure out how to extend our visit to a third night. The campground is also very much surrounded by nature, even though it is so close to town. While we somehow never had the opportunity to witness it, there are several moose, including a cow and her two calves, that like to graze on site, and also a bear reportedly trundled right past our bus our last night there. All the other campers there, even the ones with the fancy top dollar RVs were very friendly and really interested in our bus.
We had great ambitions for our first outing into the National Park. I chose a moderate to difficult (depending on who you ask) hike to Timber Lake, a 10.6 mile round trip. Even after hearing about a difficult detour around a landslide, I was only more determined to reach the top. It was hard, but we enjoyed it nevertheless. We huffed and puffed our way up 2,100 feet, mostly in forest with small waterfalls throughout. Near the top we came out of the trees and into a series of meadows. Finally, long after we had expected it, we reached the lake at the top. It was beautiful and well worth the trek. When we were done, we were ready for dinner and a relaxing evening around the fire. On the way back towards camp, we saw a lot of cars pulled over to the side of the road. This is a sure sign that some kind of wildlife is in sight. So we pulled over too to get a look, and there we saw our first moose! A second moose, a bull, was also just down the road in the next field. They are magnificent creatures.
The next day we quickly realized we wouldn’t be doing more hiking. I woke up still feeling ill after an uneasy night, and Steven was dizzy. We managed to make ourselves breakfast, but didn’t do much else for a few hours. We weren’t sure what the deal was, when it finally dawned on us: we had altitude sickness. Steven was alright, just a little disoriented, while I fought the urge to lose my breakfast. I guess sleeping at 8,000 feet, and climbing higher during the day is one way to make yourself feel weird when you’re not used to it. But the surrounding beauty is so worth it, and we were so happy to be up in the fresh mountain air.
Once we decided we were fit enough to leave camp, we took the motorcycle down the road into Grand Lake. The cool breeze coming off the water made me feel so much better, we were able to get some lunch. We were still feeling strong, so we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the area on the motorcycle. It was a nice day for a ride, not too hot. We went to see Lake Granby down the road, the Granby Dam, and we drove around some back roads full of lakeside cabins.
Upon arriving back at camp, we saw again a crowd of vehicles on the side of the road, so we went to investigate. It was another bull moose, this time much closer to us. We watched him graze for a while and tried to get some good photos. Before turning back, we went just up the road towards the park to see what other creatures were out. Right around the corner we found a herd of elk, with lots of cute calves!
Our last morning there found us on one more bike ride, up into the park. Our time there, even with the altitude sickness, was amazing and we wouldn’t hesitate to go back and see more of the park. I loved how much wildness surrounded us, yet we didn’t need to travel very far from civilization to experience it. As check out time rolled around, we thanked our hosts and turned to brave the mountain pass once more. This time we’d be starting from higher elevation, and gravity was in our favor as we coasted down to Denver.