Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Rocky Mountain & Canyons Trip

For our big summer trip this year, we planned a trek through the Rocky Mountains up to Missoula, Montana (to visit the Thompsons again), with a return through the canyons of Arizona and the desert of West Texas.  This was the longest trip we've gone on thus far, at a whopping 21 days.  We traveled over 4,000 miles in the truck, went though 8 states, stayed at 7 different hotel (plus the Thompson's lovely home), visited 4 Texas State Parks (Lake Arrowhead, Copper Breaks, Franklin Mountains, and Hueco Tanks), and explored 6 National Parks (Rocky Mountain, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Petrified Forest). 

The biggest surprise of the trip - and also what made it the most memorable - was that it was still really cold and snowy in the Rocky Mountains in May.  It was serious snow, like nothing we've experienced before.  Roads were closed and trails were packed with over 20 feet of snow!!  It was beautiful snow, all soft and powdery.  For the first time ever, the boys were able to have a real snowball fight, build a good-sized snowman, make snow angels, and frolic in huge snow piles.  It was amazing!  The best part of the trip, for sure.

The biggest joke of the trip was that every single hike that I had painstakingly planned - after pouring over travel books and reading online articles to pick out the just-right-for-us hikes - was foiled in some way.  No joke - every . . . single . . . hike.  It happened so often that it stopped being frustrating and just came to be expected and laughed about.  The biggest culprit was the snow - trails were either completely closed because of the bazillion inches of snow, or we were unable to hike very far along the trail because we did not have proper winter gear.  The second big hindrance was the bears - either blocking our path on a trail, or the rangers had closed trails because of bear activity.  Then there were snow and sleet storms, rivers furiously gushing from all the snowmelt, and Memorial Day crowds creating long theme-park level lines at trailheads.  

Even with the setbacks, the trip was a real blessing.  We got to see and explore many areas of this beautiful country that most people never get an opportunity to see.  I am extremely grateful that we are able to take our boys on trips like this and create memories that will last a lifetime.  

I've created separate blog posts for each part of our trip, but want to include a few of my favorite pictures here:

Texas State Parks

On our way out of Texas, we stopped at 2 state parks, getting us closer to our goal (okay, my goal) of visiting every state park in Texas before Dawson goes off to college.

Lake Arrowhead State Park:
The prairie dog town here was a real treat!  The prairie dogs are obviously accustomed to people and will come right up to you, begging for food.  We also some adorable goslings by the lake.

Copper Breaks State Park:
This was a good one to just swing by and take a look.  It's not one we would have wanted to stay and camp at, so it's a good thing we got this one "checked off the list" while on the road trip.

YMCA of the Rockies

We stayed at YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado.  It was the best location, in a pretty wilderness setting with Rocky Mountain Nation Park bordering it on 3 sides (it even has trails that connect to those in the national park).  It was made more lovely by the snow that covered it on the day that we arrived.  

While we were there, we made use of the great YMCA facilities that guests are free to enjoy.  We especially liked the game room and the mini golf course.  There's also a basketball gym, indoor pool, several playgrounds, a rock wall, archery range, and craft room.  This is the perfect place for families to stay and we hope to return soon, rent a cabin, and stay for a week.

Rocky Mountain National Park

This was our first time to Rocky Mountain National Park and we LOVED IT!  It was a beautiful snowy winter wonderland.  Everywhere we went was just gorgeous.

We went to the park 2 days and hiked as much as we could in our tennis shoes on the snowy trails.  Some of the trails I had planned for us to hike were closed because the snowfall was too deep.  Others trails, we were able to partially hike, but we couldn't make it up and down the slippery snowy trails without proper winter shoe gear.  The other, smarter, more prepared hikers had crampons, snowshoes, or cross-country skis.  Who knew it would be so incredibly snowy in May?!  But we loved our snowy hikes, and definitely want to go back (with the proper gear next time).

First Day at Rocky Mountain NP:

Starting our first snow-packed hike.

At a frozen lake, covered with snow. So pretty!

Slip sliding.

And falling.  Hehe!

The top of a trail sign buried in the deep snow.

Driving up the mountain - look at the wall of snow created by the snowplow.


This was as far as we could go on the road - the rest was closed because of snow and ice.

Second Day at Rocky Mountain NP 
(which happened to be Mother's Day!):

Waterfall at the top of the picture - falling into a hole of melted snow.

When the downhill is treacherously slippery, slide down on your shoes.

Brady following Dawson's example and sliding down the hill.

Hiking some switchbacks up a mountain. 

It was super snowy once we got to the top of the mountain.

Brady's snow angel.

We hiked to this mountaintop lake - so beautiful with the snow-capped mountains in the background.

This little squirrel was eager to snag some of the tasty snacks the boys were eating.