5. Rocky Mountain National Park

It was with a heavy heart that we left the majestic Grand Tetons, but at the same time we were excited to get to Colorado to see the Rockies, friends and family. Along the way we stopped in Thermopolis, Wyoming for a couple of days on the recommendation of our good buddy Jeremy Philips. Thermopolis, apart from the cool name, is home to the worlds largest mineral hot springs, rock shops, and a sweet dinosaur museum. Great little town! Wendy was a little put off by the huge mineral pools our RV park, aptly named “The Fountain of Youth”, said it reminded her of a B version of the pool in the movie “Cocoon“. However, I found soaking with the elderly campers from our RV park, under the stars, quite relaxing.

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After soaking in Thermopolis, we moved on to the Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins. We found a good campground to explore it from, called Inlet Bay. Unfortunately, we just missed the season but in warmer weather, you can rent out everything from party boats to stand up paddleboards (SUPs). Right next to the campground is a great restaurant you just can’t miss called Al’s Canyon Grill where we waited out a few storms in the comfort of classic rock, bacon cheeseburgers, pizza and Shirley Temples (Indi). However, we were sad to miss the Tuesday special:

Canyon Grill near Horsetooth

Another highlight of this leg was not only exploring the sites of Fort Collins, but also taking our brewery visit count to four. Make sure to check out Odell and New Belgium (and the other 50 kazillion breweries) if you find yourself in Fort Collins.

We did run into some inclement weather during our stay in Fort Collins. I guess we can’t complain, as it has been sunny for 21 of the 22 days we’ve been on the road so far. But after looking at the forecast, we sadly decided to bypass the Rocky Mountain National Park. We were sure it was beautiful, but figured rain, sleet, and freezing temperatures would put a damper on our stay. Regardless, it was more or less on our way so we decided to do a drive-by. Upon reaching the gateway town of Estes Park we found blue skies, warm temperatures, and elk that were in the middle of their rutting season. Glad we didn’t make any reservations in Boulder because we headed into the park and got the last campsite in the Moraine Park campground, definitely the best campground we’ve stayed in so far on our trip.

Not a bad spot

Not a bad spot

The weather forecasters continued to be proven wrong and we got three days of sun and mild temperatures at night. The elk were in full on rutting (mating) season as advertised. We probably saw a couple hundred during our three days in the park; our last day there, we woke up to a harem of more than 15 elk probably 20 feet from our trailer (for you city folk that’s what you call an elk herd). Not only could you see the elk, but the bulls were busy bugling to announce their presence to other elk, either staking claim to their territories and harems, or posturing.

We enjoyed a great ranger talk all about the park and the non-stop elk party.

Aside from the wild life, we of course went on a great hike to Cub Lake, where Indi discovered a love of “bouldering”. We also drove across the park on Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the U.S., topping out at more than 12,000’ (3650 m).

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Our final night, we met up with our neighbors in the campground, a younger couple on their honeymoon. Jill and Ronan. Jill was from Connecticut, where they started their journey, and her husband Ronan was Irish. Well, we figured it would just be rude to not invite an Irishman over for a wee bit of Jamesons, which of course turned in to a fun evening of sitting around the campfire getting to know one another.

All in all, a great stop on our journey. Next up: catching up with friends and family in the Denver area before heading on to southern Utah.

2. Glacier National Park, Montana

Rainier National Park, WA – Winthrop, WA – Sand Point, ID – Glacier National Park, MT

Miles Driven: 1607 miles (2586 km)
States Visited: 4
Campfires enjoyed: 6

After an amazing few days at Mt, Rainier, it was off to visit our second national park but, along the way, we had a few friends to catch up with first. Stop #1 was to visit a friend we worked with in Warsaw, who later became Indi’s totally awesome 5th grade teacher.  Catie is now living the dream in the funky western town of Winthrop, WA, loving cabin life and teaching at a local school. We visited earlier this summer and couldn’t wait to get back. Was this our last bit of summer weather for a while? If so, we wanted to take advantage of it with a swim in the nearby lake, sipping cold ones, while we watched firefighting helicopters scoop up buckets of water to put out hot spots from a recent fire– which forced Catie to evacuate her home (for the second year in a row) a few weeks ago. We even gave Catie’s husband and son–Scott & Brodi–a call in Warsaw where they will be for a bit longer before joining Catie in Winthrop.

Floating around on Patterson Lake near the Barber’s cabin

Facetime with the Barber Boys in Warsaw

Our next stop was catching up with some of Wendy’s old friends from her days attending college in Seattle, Nicole and Eric in Sandpoint, Idaho. On our way, we were able to stop by and visit the Grand Coulee Dam, one of the biggest dams in the world and an impressive structure with a great visitor center; highly recommended by all three Windusts (http://www.usbr.gov/pn/index.html) .

Real world education: reading closely to find key details in the description

Our hosts in Sandpoint could not have been more gracious and kind and we had a great evening getting to know Nicole & Eric’s amazing kids (Mitchell and adorable toddler MJ–we missed meeting Courtney, who was in Nicaragua), reminiscing about college experiences with Wendy, and catching up on everything that has happened in the past 20 years or so.

Nicole and Wendy with their “little” girls

Getting to see family and friends while on this trip is already one of the highlights. If you’re on our route and don’t want visitors, let us know, because otherwise we’re stopping by! Unfortunately, our time went far too quickly and we were off the next day to Glacier National Park.

Before reaching Glacier we noticed a trail head on the side of the road to Kootenai Falls, a great find. A short one mile hike brought us to a very cool suspension bridge, beautiful river, and waterfall. I’m looking forward to all the surprises in store for us over the next several months.

That’s Wendy & Indi up there

Glacier National Park… just WOW! I find it hard to describe in words so I’ll just let the photos do most of the talking. We stayed at Apgar Campground on Lake McDonald, near where we entered the park. One nice perk of camping near one of the park entrances was being close enough to a bar where I could go and watch my first live Monday Night Football game in 15 years. Other highlights included our four mile hike to Avalanche Lake, driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road (if it’s not the most beautiful road in the world, I’m not sure what is), seeing moose and mountain goats, and our three mile hike from Logan pass to the Hidden Lake Overlook.

View from Logan Pass while hiking the Highland Trail

View from Logan Pass while hiking the Highland Trail

Near the Hidden Lake Overlook

Near the Hidden Lake overlook

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

Lake McDonald near the Apgar Campground

Lake McDonald near the Apgar Campground

Wild Moose soaking their feet

Wild moose soaking their feet

And in this world of crazy coincidences, in a park that is 16,000 square miles big and has over 700 miles of trails, over 600 miles from home, I happened to bump into my Mom’s cousin Kathy on one of our hikes when I asked her if she was in line for an outhouse. Luckily, she recognized me which led to a great conversation on the hike back to our cars. Our visit carried over to dinner where her husband Mark prepared us all a delicious steak dinner back at their cabin later that evening, complete with rock skipping and a beaver sighting. Which just so happened to be about three minutes from where we were camping.

Running into Mark & Kathy on the trail

Running into Mark & Kathy on the trail

We truly just scratched the surface of this amazing park. I can’t wait to come back and do some exploring in the back country with my backpack and some more time.

Next stop: Yellowstone!


Map of Glacier, NP