Tuesday, August 2-Wednesday, August 3
A little after three p.m. on Saturday, Ian and Kathy arrive at the hotel to take us to their mountain vacation home just outside of Estes Park.
Ian is a colleague of Embry’s at the Urban Institute, and more important, is now the co-owner of Carolina Blue, the sailboat I raced for about 10 years with Ian being one of the crew. He and Kathy built their vacation home a number of years ago though the home site has been in the family since Ian’s grandfather purchased it from the YMCA during the Great Depression. Their cabin and a dozen other, privately owned vacation homes occupy a hillside which is within the huge YMCA complex with camper and family lodges, a huge indoor swimming pool, stables, family reunion compound, fishing lake, and all sorts of activities available.
When we left Peggy and Perrin’s house, I was sure I would never see another cabin with as much charm and appeal. If this cabin is not equal, it is surely close. It is tastefully designed—similar in many respects to Peggy and Perrin’s with natural wood siding, a huge fireplace, a loft, and huge porch. The view, however, is unsurpassed with unobstructed views of 14,000 foot peaks on all four sides.
Having known Ian for some time, I knew that he was a bit of an adventurer—an amateur race car driver, once a serious cyclist, and now a racing sailboat owner—but I did not know that he was an elite hiker, having hiked up (and scaled in in some instances) 20 peaks in the Rockies over 14,000 feet high. This 15-hour effort per hike requires starting the climb at three a.m. in order to reach the summit and return before routine, afternoon thunderstorms hit.
I gracefully suggest that such an activity might not be appropriate for his current guests.
We did not scale a 14,000 foot peak, but we did hike trails that most visitors to the park take—the Beaver Lake trails—which lead to several alpine lakes. (Due to the steep incline—and continuing knee issues– I made it only to one of the three lakes that the others hiked to.) The trails were crowed like most accessible and relatively easy trails but beautiful and the crowds did not ruin the experience.
We end up spending two nights and two days with Ian and Kathy enjoying the views, a delicious dinner cooked by Kathy, a Mexican lunch in downtown Estes Park and just hanging out with them.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to the Rockies and to our last national park on the Road Trip of 2016. The magnificent beauty of the Rocky Mountains is about as good as it gets.
But wait, you say, haven’t you said this about every national park you visited? You have a point, but I suppose that actually is the point. These parks are all spectacular in their own way and get five stars.
Okay, maybe not Death Valley in the summer.
We have now visited eight parks—Sequoia, Yosemite, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Arches, and Rocky Mountain. That is eight out of a total of 412 national parks and monuments. No other country has anything like what we have. We even invented the idea. I suppose it is something that most of us just take for granted. But it was not preordained. We could just as easily have trashed these natural treasures and probably would have were it not for enlightened national leadership starting over 100 years ago. We have so much to be proud of and thankful for in the U.S. in this Age of Discontent, and the national park system is surely at or near the top of the list.
But what I wonder is how many Americans actually do get to visit the national parks. Last year there were some 307 million visits–the most ever– which sounds like a lot, but this includes people from other countries, and some people make multiple visits in one year like us. What a shame to grow up in this country and miss out on seeing how beautiful it is. My guess is that there are a whole bunch of us Americans who have not visited any national park and only a very small percentage who have seen as many as we have this year. So we are the lucky ones, and for this we are deeply grateful.