The Lord of the Rings
About 2 hours into our hike up the AlluvialFan trail in Rocky Mountain NationalPark we heard a piercing sound that was across between Godzilla and those scaryhooded riders in movie. Westopped for a brief lunch, brushing away the patchesof snow (it's September) to find a suitable resting spotand still the bellowing sound echoed through themountains. It's louder now, undisturbed by the shuf-fling of our clumsy hiking feet.
We conjure up all of the possible sources for thenoise: a bear, an eagle, an SUV screeching to a halt atthe edge of one of the steep dirt roads, or a missinglink dinosaur ready to make us dinner. Or maybe thealtitude is just beginning to get to us.
It's so easy to let your imagination run amok withinthe wilds of the park. One moment you're scopingout a trail surrounded by other happy-go-lucky hikers,and then within a quarter of an hour you're totallyalone, far from civilization.
There is no need to fear though, when you are thisclose to the village of Estes Park, Colorado, there areplenty of creature comforts waiting to greet you whenyour hiking day is done. The streets are lined withevery imaginable configuration of wilderness kitchystores peddling the likes of moose pajamas and log-framedking-sized beds. You can easily lose track oftime weaving in and out of each of them convincingyourself that a red fleece throw with a huge bear on itwould be perfect in your family room.
The main drag of Estes Park's town center isflanked by huge cliffs that remind you that the wild isnever far. Don't be surprised if you get stuck in a traf-fic jam consisting of a herd of elk deciding to take astroll into town. If you want to take cover, there areplenty of rustic shelters to choose from, but if you arelooking for distinct accommodations with a spookyhistoric backdrop, look no further than the StanleyHotel (800-976-1377; www.stanleyhotel.com).
The Stanley Hotel was constructed by FreelanOscar Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer, andopened its doors on June 22, 1909. The hotel ingeniouslymet the growing demand for a luxury resort inthe area and played host to many glamorous tourists.And you can happily take your place among them,because it is a charming place to settle for the night.The hotel was in fact so beloved by its guests thatsome of them never left, or so the story goes.
The Stanley Hotel houses a small museum andoffers tours that cover not only its history but also itspresent ghostly phenomenon. The ghost tour (970-577-1903) is very popular and you should book ahead,because it's not to be missed. Among the tales spun isthe hotel's eerie connection to Steven King's . King was supposedly inspired to pen this horrorclassic after his "experience"as a winter guest atthe hotel. If you're not familiar with this literary work,not to worry—the movie version is played 24 hours aday on a channel available in each guest room.
If you worked up an appetite afteryour paranormal escapades (shiveringand gasping can really burn calories),you may want to head toward Claire'sGazebo (907-586-9564), which is rightin town and serves classic fare in a casualstyle. The fresh rocky mountain troutis one among many great choices for dinner.The atmosphere is very laid back.
If you are looking for somethingjust off the beaten path, you may wantto consider the Twin Owls Steakhouse(970-586-9344), which is so named forthe curious rock formation that can beseen perching over Estes Park. The settingis rustic and cozy, and the food istop notch. We both had a healthy servingof red meat and potatoes and couldnot wait to face our next adventure.
There is some spectacular scenery inEstes Park and in Rocky MountainNational Park, but the sights that wecan't get out of our heads were seenfrom Route 34 as we took it easttoward Loveland. The drive snakes inand out of soaring canyons and alongsiderushing rivers. It's scenic as well aspractical because it takes you in thedirection of the airport, so you maywant to brighten your journey homewith this path.
Giddyap, City Slicker
Also, if you have time for one morestop and you enjoy horseback riding,visit the Sylvan Dale Ranch, which isright off of Route 34. This may havebeen one of the best trail rides we'veever taken. The fearless horses climbthe cliffs surrounding the ranch to givetheir riders heart-stopping views. Youdon't have to be a cowboy to feel likeone at this ranch. The horses are well-keptand well paired with the skill levelof their riders.
In Estes Park and beyond, wildlife is aconstant fixture that makes your experienceexciting and unique. As for the mysterysound that made our hike so memorable,it was elk mating season and thoseelk gents sure know how to use theirvoices to get a lady's attention.