Day 3 Soundtrack:
Morning - AA Bondy, American Hearts
Afternoon - silence.
It didn't take long after leaving Denver for the Rocky Mountains to swallow us whole. They rose up in front of us, then consumed us as we climbed the steep and winding road into their depths.
Through the winter the park doesn't take reservations – instead you self register, and set up camp at whichever site you'd like. $18 a night, plus a $30 entrance fee. Not the cheapest, considering there is no running water in the cold months, but the beauty of the park was worth the expense. We were one of only 6 sites occupied on the large loop of ponderosa pine forest. Our site was right on the outskirts, so a short walk up the hill and a view of looming peaks awaited us. We were surrounded on all sides.
After setting up our tent and getting comfy for the night, we ate dinner over the firepit grill (did I mention that every single park has had emmaculate, super fancy grills?) and cuddled up in our sleeping bags.
And then the wind started.
When we arrived at the park, the ranger warned us they were expecting up to 2ft of snow over the next couple days – be prepared to dig yourself out.
Well, that first night it didn't snow, but the wind came down with GUSTO and shook our tent with an incredible force. We could hear the wind starting on the other side of the valley and slowly building in volume and speed as it made its way down the mountain and up the hill into our campsite. I enjoyed laying in the dark listening to its strength. But we didn't get much sleep that first night.
The next day we didn't have to drive anywhere (HOORAY!) so we spent the day exploring the park. We started our hike at Bear Lake (9475ft) and trekked up to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes (1011ft) – a 4 mile round trip. The steep climb and icy hike across frozen lakes was worth it. The wind was wicked, but the views were spectacular – great open spaces surrounded by snow covered peaks, shaggy pines growing from the side of boulders, and more wind, whipping across the lakes and blustering snow in their wake.
The hike down was easier on the lungs, but harder on the knees. By the time we got back to our campsite, we were ready for another big dinner over the fire.
It snowed over a foot that night. The sound of snow delicately sprinkling on our tent was peaceful to wake up to through the night. In the morning we had to dig ourselves out of our tent-turned-igloo before hitting the road.
Onwards to the next stop, (and the one I was most excited about seeing) the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.