November-December Visit To Estes Park

As autumn dissolves into winter the village of Estes Park takes a breath. And exhales. The community’s heart rate slows as snow turns the peaks white in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I remember during past visits how I would breathe in the crisp mountain air and listen to…the silence, the quiet, the serenity. Isn’t this what I’ve been missing?

Rocky Mountain National Park as seen from Estes ParkThat’s why this is an ideal time to visit Estes Park. Instead of shorts and t-shirts, my wife and I pack flannel shirts, jeans and stocking caps for a weekend in Estes Park. We want to escape the politics and constant news chatter so we agree to turn off our cell phones and leave the computer at home.

This weekend will be about us. Let nature renew our souls and clear our brains.

Estes Park is delighted to welcome us. The lodges, cabins and motels we contacted offer discounted lodging rates during the shoulder season when they are less busy.

We choose Aspen Winds On Fall River, three miles west of Estes Park on Fall River. When we arrive we find an Aromatherapy Basket filled with soothing bath salts, a candle, lotion and shower gel. Without telling my wife, I have indulged in one of their specials. This is our weekend. We deserve this. On the deck we sip a celebratory glass of champagne and gaze at Fall River. Below, two bull elk cross Fall river.

After soaking in the Jacuzzi tub, we drive into Rocky Mountain National Park. The landscape has changed since we last visited in the summer. There are no lines at the admission station and the ranger tells us that Trail Ridge Road is closed at Rainbow Curve with snow is expected later in the day. As we drive through Moraine Park along Bear Lake Road the stark whites and blacks make the peaks of the Continental Divide look like an Ansel Adams print. A herd of elk graze in the meadow and an elk bugles. The elk mating season is winding down.

We park at Bear Lake and walk the nature trail around the lake. A brisk breeze kicks up small waves on the blue-black water and rustles through the fir trees. I inhale the cold, crystalline air and realize that I wasn’t breathing city air smelling of exhaust anymore. Could I bottle it and take it home? My wife’s cheeks are rosy-red; she is ecstatic as she looks at the majesty of Hallett Peak.

That evening we drop by Poppy’s for beer and pizza. Owner Rob Pieper comes by and chats about the micro-brew beers he has in stock. We both have an IPA from Oskar Blues, located in nearby Lyons and Longmont.

The next morning after eating huevos rancheros at Claire’s on the Park we rent snowshoes at Kirks Mountain Adventures. Since Lori bought a CamelBak hydration pack at the store she receives her a day’s rental for free! We drive carefully up Bear Lake Road to Sprague Lake. It had snowed last night so we take it slow on the plowed road. In the parking lot my wife and I strap on our snowshoes and head down a trail that is white with fresh powder, the crunch of snow the only sound in the trees. The snow is heavy on the limbs of the lodge pole pines and fir trees, the scene like a picture postcard. We snowshoe three to four miles on a trail that circles above the lake. It is quiet but for gurgling water running somewhere under fresh snow.

That evening we warm up at the Snowy Peaks Winery, tasting an array of local wines handcrafted on site. The winery buys grapes from a dozen vineyards around Palisade and Paonia on Colorado’s Western Slope, plus a vineyard in Burlington on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. We buy a couple bottles of Pinot Noir to take home.

On our final day in Estes Park, we check out from Aspen Winds and drive the three miles into town. We browse through the shops, buying a salt water taffy at the 81-year-old Taffy Shop and a James Frank calendar at Macdonald Book Shop. Book shop owner Paula Steige peeks out from her office and says hello. A local institution, Macdonald Book Shop has been selling books at this site since 1929. Paula has been running things for 45 years.

Shopping builds a terrible thirst, so we walk to Rock Cut Brewery across the way from the big slide and catch the last half of the Broncos game while enjoying a beer. I have the Imperial Librarian IPA (since I’m a former librarian) while my wife enjoys the Blonde Porter.

Reluctantly, we get in the car to drive home. Because US Highway 34 is closed for nine months while the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) rebuilds the road damaged by the 2013 flood, we drive US Highway 36 to Lyons, Longmont to our home in Loveland. It only adds 15 minutes to the drive.

We are relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to face the upcoming week. Thank you Estes Park for this special escape from the ordinary.

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