The Desert in Bloom – Part 1

When I think about visiting a desert location, I do not think about seeing green landscape everywhere I look, and I certainly do not think of beautiful flowers that are so prevalent in the landscape that they literally change the color of it as you gaze across it from a distance.  This was our experience as we visited the Davis Mountains of far West Texas for the first time in a non-winter month this past weekend.  We had such a fabulous time, and I will share more about our brief time there in a series of upcoming posts soon.

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Wild yellow daisies turned the Davis Mountains into carpets of green and gold.

We had the happy task of introducing two of our favorite state parks, the quaint town of Fort Davis and the famous McDonald Observatory to two special friends for the first time this past weekend, and I believe they fell in love with this area just like we did three years ago when we made our first visit in our new-to-us RV in the last week of December in 2011.  Honestly, it would be hard to not fall in love with this place when it is absolutely gorgeous like it was during this trip, especially since the fall monsoon rains were quite generous to the area this year.

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The hills were alive with yellow daisies near the entrance to Davis Mountains State Park.
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On top of Skyline Drive, the scenic and colorful views were just amazing.
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It feels like you can see all of far West Texas from the top of Skyline Drive.

Over the past few years, my love and appreciation of this mountainous desert area has grown as we have spent more and more time there, and seeing God’s unique handiwork in this region is always such a treat.  It is a very popular place to visit, and we have to plan further out to reserve a spot for the RV now than we did just three years ago.  If visiting by car, having a hotel reservation in advance is an absolute must most of the time, especially on weekends and holidays.

I have previously written about this unique part of Texas, even though both of those posts told about our experience in winter months.  We love this area even in the winter, and those first posts have a lot of good information in them for potential visitors, which I will try to not repeat in this post and upcoming posts.  I would still encourage everyone to make this area a bucket list destination at least one time in the appropriate season of your choice.

Winter in the Davis Mountains (2013)

Springs in the Desert at Balmorhea (2014)

Normally, we escape chilly winter weather in the Texas Panhandle for the more moderate climate in this area in the winter months, but I suspect we will now likely add yet another yearly visit in the fall.  We may even try a spring trip sometime, as the scenery is supposedly beautiful then, too.

Seeing the Davis Mountains region at a peak time of beauty really cinched my love of this place, for sure.  And as strange as it may sound, a few views on this trip reminded us of the mountains of Kauai from our trip back in May, especially on Friday morning when the weather was very cloudy and a bit rainy as we drove across Wild Rose Pass between Balmorhea and Fort Davis.

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It felt like we were back in Kauai for this beautiful drive over Wild Rose Pass.

If there was a slight disappointment for us on this trip, it was the fact that we saw very little wildlife as compared to the winter months when mule deer and javelina roam freely around the campground every day.  It was only a small disappointment, and the beautiful scenery more than made up for it this trip.

Visiting two iconic mountainous areas in four weeks has certainly been a blessing for us this year, as we just visited Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time over Labor Day weekend and loved every moment of our time in that area, too.  In fact, I think we may likely look back on this particular travel year as one of our best ones ever, even though the year started out quite rough in that respect due to bad weather and my mother’s bad fall in late January.  I can already feel that “look back” post coming later on after the year is done, too.  😉

In my next post, I will share more beautiful detailed photos of Balmorhea State Park.

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Fair Week

One of my favorite weeks of the entire year is fair week.  Typically, the weather is cooling down, and we may even receive beneficial rains, which proved true in a big way this year!  I have a little rain update toward the end of this post, too.

While my parents were really not fair-goers, I began going with my friends on school days back in the 60s, and I have been attending the fair almost every year since then.  These days, I seldom even venture into the area where the rides are, though, as we mostly just enjoy the area where the local food vendors and the exhibits are located.  The fair does not charge to get through the gates until after lunchtime, which helps to support the efforts of all of the local food vendors and their respective charities.

I have been taking my elderly mother out to the fair for lunch every year now for a while, and even at 93, she is still able to walk that area on her own with the help of her walker.  I am so grateful for her good health and how she recovered so well from her fall back in January, and we had a nice time together at the fair on Monday once again.  We sat in “our booth” inside one of the larger restaurants and enjoyed some less-than-healthy food, as I am taking a week-long break of sorts from my diet for the fair and for our upcoming camping trip with friends on Wednesday.  Honestly, I enjoy a burger without the bun as much as a traditional burger these days, but we both enjoyed traditional burger and a very few curly fries for lunch.

I have posted several times about my fair experiences in recent years, including the year not long ago when I won two blue ribbons for my photography.  I have not entered any photographs since that year either, as it was quite a bit of work to prepare the photographs and get them framed properly.

As always, our main incentive to attend the fair is to partake of the amazing apricot fried pies.  They are legendary here, as they are made by members of a local church.  Church members make and freeze them over the course of the entire year to have enough to sell during the nine days that the fair is open, and they are cooked on site at the fair.  I purchased a few extra pies to take with us on our upcoming RV trip tomorrow, and I will just have to hike a little more this weekend to work off those extra calories, which should not be hard to do at all.  I planned this break back in January when I talked myself into starting my diet but only if I had lost at least 30 pounds.  I am now close to 40 pounds down, and my blood pressure has dropped 40 points, so I am enjoying a guilt-free week of enjoying a few foods that will once again be off-limits for a while next week.

My previous posts and pictures about the fair can be found here.

My celebration treat - a homemade apricot fried pie!
My celebration treat – a homemade apricot fried pie!

Our area has recently received some much-needed rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Odile, and two of our watersheds are up significantly.  Lake J. B. Thomas was 1% full and is now 43% full!  Lake Alan Henry, which is a significant water source for us, was 53% full and is now up 8.8 feet and is 76% full!  There are other reservoirs that desperately need water, but we are so thrilled about the rise in these two lakes, especially Lake Alan Henry.  The water gain at Lake Alan Henry over the past week equaled the entire evaporation loss in the worst year of the drought in 2011, which is just absolutely amazing to see.  In that year, the lake lost 5.5 billion gallons of water due to evaporation alone, but over the past week, the lake’s storage capacity increased 5.54 billion gallons.  The drought continues, but we are ever so thankful for the blessing of ten days of much-needed rain!  Many prayers have been answered, and we will continue to pray for more rain and an end to the drought.

It is wonderful to see everything so green again, and we will enjoy our upcoming weeks of fall temperatures and beautiful landscapes until winter finally sets in later on.  I absolutely love this time of the year, and we are very excited to be traveling in the RV again this week to one of our favorite camping destinations!

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Alberta Falls, a Flashback and Elk Up Close

On our final afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park on Labor Day, we opted for a shorter hike to Alberta Falls.  The total hike was a 1.7 mile round trip with only a 200 foot elevation change going up to the falls, but after our more adventurous hike in the morning to Nymph and Dream Lakes, we decided that this would be a good option.  Unfortunately, this particular trail was quite crowded with other hikers, and it was especially crowded once we reached the falls.  We just made the best of it and enjoyed our time in this beautiful area as best we could.  I also tried to be patient at the falls to find opportunities to take photographs without too many people in them as I could, with some good success.

The further we hiked on this particular trail, the more it reminded me of an epic hike we made at Yosemite National Park on May 18, 2011 – the famous Mist Trail hike to Vernal Fall.  The hike to Alberta Falls seemed so similar to that hike to me, only on a much smaller and drier scale.  Our hike to Vernal Fall will likely be our most strenuous and memorable hike ever, as it will be hard to beat our unforgettable experience on that day.  Let me share a quick flashback for just a moment, since this hike came back to mind in a big way on this day.

Mist Trail in Yosemite
The famous Mist Trail in Yosemite after an unexpected snowstorm on May 18, 2011

The Mist Trail to Vernal Fall in Yosemite is a 2.4 mile round trip hike, but it has a 1000 foot elevation change.  The last 600 foot climb from the footbridge to the top of the fall is a much steeper (and wetter) climb that is adjacent to the fall.  It is labeled a “strenuous” hike, and it deserves every bit of that designation.  We almost made it to the top of Vernal Fall but stopped just short because we were absolutely soaked and freezing to death.  Snow had unexpectedly fallen the night before, and it was melting everywhere around us that next morning, almost like a rain storm as it quickly melted from the trees.  When we encountered the mist of the falls past the footbridge, the cold damp water on our aching bodies finally just got to be more than we could endure.  The trail got quite steep toward the top, and I was afraid of falling on the wet rocks.  Nevertheless, it was just an amazing hike and one that we will surely never forget.  I have some great photos from that hike, and I really need to share much more about that memorable trip here sometime.

Mist Trail Yosemite

I kept thinking of our hike to Vernal Fall as we hiked this beautiful trail up to Alberta Falls on a much sunnier and warmer day.  The trail to Alberta Falls is a lovely trail with wonderful views, and the fall is especially beautiful.  I’m glad that we ended our trip with this wonderful hike, and I would love to hike it again sometime when it is not so crowded.  It was especially neat that it brought back the memory of our Mist Trail hike so vividly, as I had not thought about that hike in quite some time.

Alberta Falls Hike 1

Alberta Falls Hike 2

Alberta Falls Hike 3

Alberta Falls Hike 4

Alberta Falls Hike 5

Alberta Falls Hike 6

Alberta Falls Hike 7

Alberta Falls Hike 8

Alberta Falls Hike 9

Alberta Falls Hike 10

Alberta Falls 1

Alberta Falls 2

Alberta Falls 3

Alberta Falls 4    Alberta Falls Panorama

After we returned to our car, we made a quick drive through Glacier Basin campground nearby to look at the RV sites, and we had mixed feelings about the campground after seeing it.

Glacier Basin Campground
Glacier Basin Campground

While the location is absolutely wonderful in the park, especially the views and the proximity to the popular hiking trails and bus routes, we were honestly not impressed with the campground itself.  So, we decided to check out a few private RV parks in Estes Park before starting our drive back to the Denver area that evening.

If we ever decide to bring our RV all the way to Estes Park, we would likely try to stay at Spruce Lake RV Resort, if possible.  To our great surprise, we happened upon a “family” of elk in the Spruce Lake campground, too!  What a treat it was to see them up close.  They are such magnificent animals, not to even mention how cute that baby was!

Estes Park Elk 1

Estes Park Elk 2

Estes Park Elk 3

Estes Park Elk 4

Estes Park Elk 5

We loved the town of Estes Park so much and would thoroughly enjoy spending our days in the park and our evenings in town.  To that point, we would also be happy to just leave the RV at home and stay at a motel in town, especially for a quick trip to the area.  We also might consider leaving the RV at a park at a lower elevation near Longmont and just commute back and forth about an hour each way.  There are several ways for us to work this trip in the future, with or without the RV.

 After visiting three campgrounds in town, we enjoyed a quick Mexican food dinner at Grumpy Gringo in Estes Park, then drove back to our hotel in the Denver area.  We took a different route back to Denver on Highway 36, which had apparently just re-opened after being closed for road repairs after the big flood in September 2013 that washed away part of the road.  The highway was in great shape and made for a much faster, although less scenic, drive back to our hotel.

We turned onto the interstate just as the sun was setting to our west over the mountains, providing us with an amazing Rocky Mountain sunset to enjoy.

Denver Sunset

I was truly sad to leave this beautiful area and hope to return sooner rather than later.

 

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Nymph and Dream Lakes

After we finished our half-mile walk/hike around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, we began our uphill trek to see two more beautiful Alpine lakes, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake.  Our goal was to hike to both lakes, then return to our car for a late picnic lunch before hiking to Alberta Falls in the afternoon, although we held open the possibility of hiking on to Emerald Lake once we were at Dream Lake.

While our hike around Bear Lake was on a trail at an elevation of 9,475 feet that was basically flat, the trail up to the other lakes was a slow and steady climb, with a few breaks along the way.  Fortunately, we were more acclimated to the high altitude on this day than we were two days earlier at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, when we attempted our first hike above 9000 feet and had to cut it short.  In fact, we thoroughly enjoyed this particular hike to the lakes and got a good, calorie-burning workout in the process.

The entire hike was amazingly beautiful, and that is likely an understatement.  This is one of the most beautiful sites that anyone will ever see, so rather than repeat that fact over and over again, I will try to refrain from stating this fact and just show a few photos to share that fact.

 The first part of the hike to Nymph Lake climbed to an elevation of 9,705 feet over a distance of a half-mile, and the climb began right away once we left Bear Lake.  It felt like climbing a long staircase for much of the way, but it did not take long to finally arrive at our first scenic stop at Nymph Lake.  We had a nice rest break here, enjoying the view and catching our breath a bit.  I was surprised to see that I actually had a little cell signal here, so I took that opportunity to take a picture with my phone camera and send it to a couple of good friends who were dealing with brutally hot weather at their respective locations that holiday weekend.

Nymph Lake 1
Nymph Lake
Nymph Lake 2
Pond lilies at Nymph Lake
Nymph Lake 3
Beautiful Nymph Lake
Nymph Lake 4
A curious squirrel posed beside me as I took a hiking break at Nymph Lake.

After taking photos and enjoying the views, we then continued onward and upward to Dream Lake, which sits at an elevation of 9,912 feet and is .8 mile from Nymph Lake.  It was the highest elevation we ever attempted to hike, and thankfully, it was a great experience for us.

Dream Lake Hike 1
Hiking to Dream Lake
Dream Lake Hike 2
The trail to Dream Lake often rimmed the edge of the mountain.
Dream Lake Hike 3
Mountain stream on the hike to Dream Lake

Dream Lake is just amazingly beautiful.  There, I said it again.  It is hard to not gush over the beauty of this place.  We spent quite a bit of time here at the end of our planned morning hike and just enjoyed being there.  I was quite surprised to see how many people were already there along the banks with their fishing poles, too.  It was such a peaceful, serene place at almost 10,000 feet, and our reward for our climb was definitely worth it.

Dream Lake 1
Hallett Peak (12.720 ft) and Dream Lake
Dream Lake 2
Emerald green water at Dream Lake
Dream Lake 3
Looking back over Dream Lake from the west end
Dream Lake 4
People fishing at Dream Lake
Dream Lake 5
Fishermen at Dream Lake
Dream Lake 6
The trail hugged the edge of this beautiful lake for amazing views.

After hiking to the far end of the lake and just a bit beyond, we made a decision to return to the car for a late lunch, rather than skipping lunch to hike on to Emerald Lake.   It was nice to hike downhill for a change, too.  Just like a trip by car, the scenery is often quite spectacular behind us, and we discovered that happy fact as we made our way back to Bear Lake.  It was just a grand hike in both directions.

Dream Lake 7

Dream Lake 8

Dream Lake 9

Dream Lake 10

Once we were back at the car, we enjoyed another picnic lunch in the park at a scenic spot nearby, which was handy for us.  It was nice to not have to sit in the car to eat this time, as the weather was pretty much perfect.  Clouds and cooler breezes began to roll in a bit, so we made it a quick lunch, then set out for our last adventure in the park on this trip – a hike to beautiful Alberta Falls, which I will share in my next post.

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Hiking at Bear Lake

On our last day in Rocky Mountain National Park, the skies cleared for the first time in our trip, and we were finally on our way back into the park to do some hiking.

RMNP Sign
Sign near the Beaver Meadows entrance

After looking over our park map and reading reviews of the different trails in our Fodor’s guide-book, we opted to begin our hiking day in the Bear Lake area.  The trails at Bear Lake are among the most visited trails in the park, and we were aware that we needed to begin our day pretty early to get a parking spot, especially since it was Labor Day and many people were in the park this day.

Long's Peak on a beautiful morning
Long’s Peak on a beautiful morning
Driving to Bear Lake
Driving to Bear Lake

We arrived in the area just before 10 am, which was a bit later than we hoped to arrive in the area, and we were not surprised to find a sign stating that the small parking lot at Bear Lake was already full.  The sign directed us to park in the large overflow lot, and we were quite surprised to find that lot almost full.  Thankfully, we found a parking spot toward the back of the lot near a picnic table, which would come in handy for our picnic lunch a bit later after our first hike was done.

Bus Stop in RMNP Overflow Lot 2
Overflow lot and bus stop near Bear Lake
Bus Stop in RMNP Overflow Lot
Overflow lot and bus stops near Bear Lake

The overflow lot had stops for three different bus routes, so after seeing a bus called “Hiker’s Route,” we decided that must be the bus we needed to take us to the Bear Lake area.  We waited about ten minutes, then hopped on the bus with a few other people.  When the bus turned the wrong way on Bear Lake Road, however, we immediately knew we had made a big mistake.  Fortunately, we were sitting right behind the bus driver, who was kind enough to return us back to the overflow lot, and he directed us to the bus we needed to take.  We definitely detected more than a little irritation in his voice, but we were just grateful to not have to ride that bus *all the way back to Estes Park!*  Seriously, that bus should have that destination listed somewhere for visitors to see, at least on its return trip back to town.  I seriously doubt we are the only ones that have made that mistake, too.

A few minutes later, we boarded the correct bus, which finally dropped us at Bear Lake after making a few stops at other trailheads along the way.  The Bear Lake bus stop reminded me of a bus stop in a major city due to the large number of people there, and my heart sank just a bit.  I knew we would not have any trails to ourselves on this busy holiday, but this seemed a bit much.  Fortunately, there were several trails that people could take from that drop point, and we enjoyed a truly great day of hiking, despite a few more people on the trails than we would prefer.  The fabulous scenery made up for it, and people were dispersed on the trails pretty well for the most part.

 We saw three beautiful Alpine lakes on our 2.5 hour hike – Bear Lake, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake.  It was such a fabulous hike in absolutely perfect weather, too.  Bear Lake sits almost adjacent to the bus stop area, and the half-mile trail around the lake was our first hike.  This was an easy trail on a level path, and our early reward this day was some truly gorgeous views!  No wonder this is such a popular place, especially for people who are not up to more strenuous hikes but still want to see some beautiful scenery.

Bear Lake 1

Bear Lake 2

Bear Lake 3

Bear Lake 4

Bear Lake 5

Bear Lake 6

Bear Lake 7

In my next post, I will share the rest of our beautiful morning hike to Nymph Lake and Dream Lake.  Both are amazingly beautiful and at altitudes higher than Bear Lake.

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