Day 1 – 9/23/06

Day 1:

September 23, 2006

Everyone got up between 4:30 and 5:00am. We left the house at 5:30am in order to make the almost 2 hour trip to Rochester, NY to catch the plane. We got to the airport around 7:00am where Dad dropped Mom and I off. We checked in and had breakfast at the McDonald’s inside. They tagged our luggage (we weren’t sure why) and we began boarding the plane around 8:10am. That’s when we found out what the tags were for. We couldn’t take them on the plane because they wouldn’t fit. We had to set them on the side where a man would pick them up and carry them out to the plane. It’s called “valet service” for carry-ons. Luckily I had brought my small camera bag with me so I transferred the expensive things to it and left only the cheapest lens and memory cards in the backpack which was inside the carry-on. We were a bit nervous when we saw that we had to duck to get on board the plane. I guess it held about 60 people but boy did it feel small! Overheads were only available on the 2-seat side and were much smaller than the larger planes. It was then obvious that only small bags and briefcases, not larger carry-ons, would fit. The plane left right on time at 8:40am.

About 1 hour, 10 minutes later we were in Chicago’s O’Hare. By the time we unloaded we only had about an hour layover…but then the flight was delayed by 30 minutes. Instead of leaving Chicago at 11:00am, we left around 11:30am and wound up in Denver at 1:00pm rather than 12:30pm. It wasn’t too bad.

Both O’Hare and Denver International were easy to navigate. Denver’s trams made getting around quick. The Hertz shuttle was also quick and easy to use. From the airport, we were at the rental station in about 10 minutes. We were given a choice between a Ford Explorer and a Toyota Highlander. They said the Highlander was a bit smaller but better on gas so we went with it. It was just the two of us, afterall.

Once we got the rental car I called Brent Ward. We decided to meet up at Boulder Falls on Rt. 119 about half way between Boulder and Nederland. The falls were surrounded by small mountains and huge boulders. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, it was there that I realized my 12-24mm was not working properly. Two shots, with the same exact settings came out differently. One was accurate, one was completely blown out. It appeared the aperture on the lens was sticking and no matter the settings, every shot would look different. A real disappointment.

Boulder Falls
Boulder Falls Boulder Falls

By then it was probably approaching 5:00/5:30pm. Brent suggested that we not continue on Rt. 119 to Rt. 7 in the dark because of the winding roads and large dropoffs. He also said it was less traveled. Taking his advice, we headed back to Boulder and up Rt. 36 to Estes Park. We were approaching Estes just as the sun began to set. It was then that we rounded the final corner and the surrounding mountains opened up to the most beautiful sight we had seen. Snow covered mountains towered above Estes and the valley and beautiful colors of the setting sun clung to fluffy clouds. Wow!

Entering Estes Park

We made our way into, and through, the heart of the town to Rocky Mountain National Park. Instead of $20, we were able to enter for $10 because Mom is a senior citizen. She was given a lifetime pass. We weren’t only a few hundred feet from the park’s entrance booth when a coyote ran in front of our car. He wound up standing at the side of the car for a few seconds while we watched him. By then it was too dark to get a sharp picture. A few hundred feet more and we saw herds of elk bugling. It was such a cool thing to see! A massive bull elk walked just feet from our car. We rolled down the windows to get a better look. He began bugling and all the ‘girls’ moved away from him. haha After driving just a short distance we turned back to head towards the motel.

We stayed at the Alpine Trail Ridge Inn (ATRI). I had used‘s user reviews to choose the ATRI. Users had rated the motel very high. I’m usually skeptical when it comes to mom-and-pop motels…especially those priced so inexpensively. We weren’t disappointed in the least. The gentleman at the desk was extremely friendly and helpful. The package we had mailed out was already waiting for us in our room, #104. The room was smaller than usual but was extremely clean and neat. No funny smells, either. Because I had waited for a ‘last minute special’ I was able to get the room for $60/night. A total of $144 (including tax) for the two nights. The room included two queen beds, a table and chairs, a small refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, and hair dryer. The bathroom had only a shower, no tub. It was a bit small but worked fine. I especially appreciated the non-commercial hand pump soap. It smelled very nice. 🙂 The close proximity to RMNP was a huge plus. If it were any closer, it would be in the park. It was really convenient being so close to RMNP, especially for those early morning sunrise shoots. Not being a morning person, every extra minute of sleep is welcomed. I definitely recommend staying at the Alpine Trail Ridge Inn. I know I will again.

Next door to the motel is the Sundeck Restaurant. We went there for dinner. I had Teriyaki Chicken; Mom had Wiener Schnitzel. Both were served with whole cranberry sauce and other sides. It was very good.