Before he left this morning for his daily bicycle ride my Airbnb host Eric asked me what my plans for the day were. I told him I was going to stop in the Rocky Mountain National Park, not far away, to get a map and get my bearings. I also wanted to go to Steamboat Springs which is further west of the Park.
He suggested that rather than go through the Park to get to Steamboat that I go north and take Route 14 instead. He rides his bike up there frequently and said it is a very nice drive. Boy oh boy was he right!
Route 14 runs along the Cache la Poudre River (ooh la la… it’s French!), which is known for having an abundance of brown, brook and rainbow trout. The name is from the French phrase which means “Hide the Powder”. It was so named after a group of French trappers were forced to bury some of their gunpowder along the river bank when stranded by a snowstorm in the early 1820’s. The locals have taken liberties with the pronunciation and call it “CASH la POO-ter”, or simply “the Poo-ter”.
What follows are just a few (some may think too many) of the amazing things I saw in the first 15 or so miles of Route 14. It wasn’t on my radar and should have been. I’m going to write to National Geographic to ask why it wasn’t in their book (which is my bible).
As I started driving down Route 14 I saw this sign and had to stop and get a picture. It really gave me a good laugh for the day.
Some enterprising person had put stickers on the existing roadside. I thought it was very clever, and I hope the Transportation Department leaves it as it is.
As expected, the venue my Airbnb host had told me about wasn’t open yet, but I did stop to take some pictures. It is a very unassuming place which wouldn’t really have drawn my attention but for all the signage and the long fence which runs beyond the restaurant itself.
This place is a local legend. It is the Mishawaka Restaurant & Concert Amphitheater. Locals call it simply “the Mish”. It is surprisingly large inside and in addition to serving great food in a beautiful spot along the river, they host music events on stages located both inside and out (behind the fence). They draw huge crowds and parking is very limited so they shuttle guests in from remote parking spots.
As I was taking pictures a guy, who I presumed was the owner, came outside and asked what I was doing. I said I was just a simple tourist from North Carolina who had been told about this place and was planning to come back when they were open to eat, as I was told they serve really good food. You’ll read more about this in my last post of the day.
As I was walking back to my car from taking the picture of the road sign I noticed the half moon, high overhead. Can’t wait to get some pictures of the full moon in a black sky.
As I drove further up the road I saw the guy in black fishing in the river. His two buddies were still getting prepped near a tunnel through the rock. I talked with them briefly, then asked the guy you see if I could take his picture before I left (his other buddy was already making his way toward the river to join the guy in black). They were local guys, just out for a fun day fishing.
As I drove further up the road I stopped at a roadside park to use the restroom. There was another car there with Louisiana plates which I had seen earlier in the day driving past as I was out taking pictures. As I was walking back to my car he had gotten out with his dog and they were walking towards the river. We talked for a few minutes. He had moved to Ft. Collins a few months ago and said he was playing hooky from work, so I didn’t take his picture. He was a real nice guy and we had a pleasant conversation.
As I drove further up the road I passed a good photo op and went up to find a place to turn around. As I got to it there was a big white pickup truck doing the same thing. Well, he turned off at the same spot I was planning to. They were a young couple from Greeley, Colorado, not far from Fort Collins. Riley said this was his favorite fishing spot and he had brought his wife, Haley, and their dog Sophie with him to enjoy the day together. They were real nice kids (Riley said he’s 19) and I really enjoyed talking with them. They suggested a place further up the road to stop and get breakfast.
I stopped at the place they suggested and ordered sweet creme pancakes with bacon and scrambled eggs to go. While I waited I visited with a young lady I had parked next to, as well as two of the restaurant employees. As I walked up to the restaurant I got this photo of some huge flowers.
When I got my food I drove on up the road in search of a picnic table. I found one at a US Forest Service center just a few miles away. It was a perfect setting. A quiet spot in the shade with the scent of a wood stove in use (much more pleasing when you know it isn’t from a wildfire). After I ate I filled my water bottles with water I had brought with me (theirs was marked as not safe to drink). Before I left I popped in the building to thank them for a providing nice setting and met the young couple from Houston who were manning the center as volunteers. They get to camp for free in exchange for working around the facility, and had been there since June. My former co-worker Shari’s daughter is a state park ranger in North Carolina and had told me about this program that the US Park Service has. This was a US Forest Service facility and clearly they have the same program in place. They were just a charming couple and their young son was there too, absorbed in a game on his phone (his mom said a bear had been spotted in the area so she wanted him to stay inside today).
After spending some time visiting with them I resumed my trip up Route 14.
I had explained to the young couple who were working at the Forest Center building that I was driving west towards Steamboat Springs. While her husband was talking to another visitor who had come in for information, his wife gave me a map of the region and suggested I turn left about 15 miles up the road onto a dirt road where wildlife sightings are often reported.
I drove back that road a few miles, stopping at various points to get out and use my spiffy new binoculars to survey the terrain. It was getting close to mid-day and I wasn’t sure how much activity I might see, if any.
I drove up and down the road to various stopping points. Finally, as I was heading back towards the main road here were two moose, a cow and her calf, about 20 yards off the road to my left.
They were much darker than the moose I had seen up in Yellowstone. They seemed oblivious to my presence and didn’t seem bothered by other cars that passed by.
Eventually some other cars stopped and one guy had a camera with a huge telephoto lens. As the two moose slowly worked their way to the right I suggested he walk up towards where my car was parked to be looking at them more from the front than the side. He did, and got some excellent pictures of them looking right at him after they both turned their heads.
After watching the mother and daughter moose for a while I moved on down the road. Ole eagle eye JohnBoy then spotted something way off the road to the left. I pulled over to that side of the road and shut the car off. With my camera I could see that it was a bull moose, laying down in the grass.
He was just to the left of the tiny tree I am pointing at (pretty clever under the heat of the moment, eh?).
I watched for a few minutes and it started to drizzle. I closed up all but the drivers side window and continued to watch. I saw some movement to the left and learned there was another moose laying in the grass not far from him.
The rain got steadier and I rolled up my window until action was needed. Well, it didn’t take long. As I was looking at the rain through the windshield here came a huge moose, running from right to left across the road about 10 yards in front of me. Scared me half to death!
He slowly worked his way toward the two who were still hunkered down way off the road. Once they saw him coming they stood up and watched him slowly approach them.
As the third moose (an even younger bull with shorter antlers) got very close the older bull bugled, I presume to express his dominance.
They all kind of walked around in a circle for a while, getting acquainted. Eventually all three headed for the woods for some privacy.
As I drove further down the road from my second moose encounter it had stopped raining and the sun was back out. I saw a marmot run across the road a ways from me and slowed way down, crossing over to park on his side of the dirt road. It didn’t scare him off, in fact he walked right along side my car just outside my window. I took some quick pictures with my phone then, making no sudden movements, switched to my digital camera. After a few more pictures I looked down to make sure I had put the car in Park. I had, so I took my foot off the brake and the car rolled forward just a few inches. Down the marmot hole he went….
Since he hadn’t run off when I first pulled up I decided to play the waiting game. I sat there for about 5 minutes waiting for him to emerge. For all I knew he had used another exit and was now quietly letting the air out of my tires on the other side of the car. Well sure enough, after a few more minutes out popped his head.
While I had been waiting I had shifted my attention to a marmot up on his hind legs just a little further up the road. He was apparently scouting the area for predators and he was fascinating to watch. I took some pictures but they were through my windshield so they came out blurry.
He sat upright facing right. Then he quickly shifted his position 45 degrees to his left. After another few seconds he shifted another 45 degrees to his left. It was neat to see.
During this time I started hearing a chirping sound. That is their alert sound and the guy still thinking about coming back outside perked up, then dropped back underground.
I decided to stick my head up and through the sunroof (in a marmot-like fashion, it occurs to me as I write this) to get a clearer view of what was going on ahead of me (which I’ve never done before, honest). After I shifted my position inside the car (and looked even more ridiculous than I already did in my Safety Sam vest) I got comfortable for more picture taking. I saw one or two marmots cross the road ahead of me. With my binoculars I discovered that there were two marmot sentries, high on a rock formation off the right side of the road, who were making the chirping sounds.