Colorado Vacation: Part 4 – We Play Tourist in Grand Lake

This is a multi-part trip report. If you haven’t already, you should start with Part 1. Remember that you can click on any of the photos to see larger versions of them.

Back in Grand Lake, we checked out a few places before settling on the Lone Eagle Lodge, a motel-style park-in-front with hanging baskets of purple petunias. We got a two-bedroom ‘room’ right next to a deck with a grill and a hot tub. Supper at the Sagebrush Cafe – big cheeseburgers and trout and onion rings and local spinach – was yummy.

In the morning, Bryan and I spread out the map on the motel bed and revised our plans, replacing the failed loop trip with a couple of days’ dayhikes. We planned routes above treeline for Mandy, but with easy ways for Bryan to bail out if he felt worse again. We packed slowly, letting our tents and sleeping bags dry in the sunshine outside our room, and re-sorting the laundry and the gear and the food. I always feel better when things are put away.

And the headache DID get worse, after the drive up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine visitors’ center. We were amazed to see a group of bikes parked in front – the ride up must be terrible, but the ride down would be tons of fun. Bryan walked with Mandy and I for a few hundred feet on the Ute Trail, then drove back to town for more Advil and a nap.

It was a beautiful day above treeline, sunny and breezy. We could see for miles and miles.

I rounded up, when I estimated the time it would take to hike the four miles or so from the visitors’ center to Milner pass, and I did it intentionally. After the twenty miles of hard backpacking of the last couple of days, I wanted a nice, easy wander, with time to stop and enjoy just being here. And that’s exactly what we did on this hike, with a long lunch break and a couple of stops just to sit still and look at the mountains and the sky. Mandy and I still arrived at Milner Pass too early, so we headed up the steep trail toward Sheep Rock, stopping at around 11,000 feet. She napped in the sunshine, while I sat looking across at the friendly green peaks nearby and the more distant, more imposing purple ones.

Somewhere during the day, Mandy’s smile returned. What are days like this, to her? How do long walks outside, and naps in the sunshine just at treeline, change her? How do they shade and color the person she is, the person she’ll be? Does it matter if I don’t really know the answer?

And then we were at Milner Pass, and Bryan arrived to meet us. He’d called his mom on the phone, who suggested that he sounded a little stuffy. He’d picked up some good cold medicine at the store and spent the afternoon napping, and was beginning to feel better. He grilled brats while Mandy read a book and I puttered around, unloading the car again and straightening up our things. (That’s Mandy on the left, under her purple bat blanket.)

After supper, we sat in the hot tub together for the second night in a row. We were all MUCH cleaner, at that point in our trip, than we’d intended to be. I walked to the Dairy King down the street for milkshakes before bedtime.

Grand Lake’s a nice town to be stuck in unexpectedly. Nearly all the buildings are brown and calm-looking, and there are boardwalks instead of sidewalks, and there are giftshops and useful little stores and a nice public park with bathrooms.

The next morning, after another trip to our favorite bakery (the Blue Water Bakery) we checked out of our motel and headed across to the east side of the park. We did an above treeline hike on another part of the Ute Trail, and Bryan felt well enough to come with us this time. Apparently his altitude problems had combined with a head cold to make him miserable – once the cold symptoms were treated, the altitude didn’t bother him as much. We walked out to an enormous pile of rocks and climbed it, and sat there together looking east toward the rest of our trip.