Rocky Mountain Half Marathon and Trail Ridge Road
[Estes Park / Rocky Mountain National Park, Jul 30, 2022]
Finally, the day this entire trip was centered around arrived. It was time to run 13.1 miles in Estes Park, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park. The only problem? We were all tired from all the hiking, and severely undertrained! And with the course being at altitude with significant amount of elevation gain for 3 miles straight, we were in for a treat. It was clear we were going to be walking a lot. We would have been perfectly happy with anything under the course limit of 4 hours.
The start line was right at Lake Estes. There was no rain in the forecast, thankfully, but it was a brisk morning with temps in the low 40s. As the sun rose, we enjoyed views of the Rockies in the distance.
The 3 miles of uphill did, indeed, hurt. But after that, it was downhill for a while and then rolling terrain the rest of the course. I eventually passed the 3-hour pacer and thought that I might actually make it under 3 hours! My time in the end was 2:58:59! It was a reverse PR for me – my slowest half-marathon. I “beat” my 2017 Zion Half Marathon by one minute (meaning I was a minute slower), but I was happy.
The finish line festival was fun. There was a giant Vacation Races sign positioned perfectly for photos.
We didn’t have any plans in the afternoon. That changed quickly when May’s friend Sara decided to stop by for a visit. We decided to go into the park and drive its most scenic route, Trail Ridge Road. This also gave us the opportunity to finally get a photo with the park sign.
Trail Ridge road runs 48 miles from Estes Park to the west end of Rocky Mountain NP at Grand Lake. Eleven of those miles are above tree line – the line at about 11,500 ft where the evergreen forest gives way to alpine tundra. The road tops out at about 12,100 ft, then descends slightly to cross the Continental Divide at 10,700 ft at Millner Pass. Trail Ridge Road is one of ten America’s Byways in Colorado and a national designated All American Road. Driving the whole road and back takes a full day, so we weren’t able to do that. We did, however, stop at a few overlooks.
The first one was Rainbow Curve, at about 10,000 ft. From here, we could see Horseshoe Park, Deer Mountain, the Alluvial Fan and the Mummy Mountain range.
Forest Canyon Overlook, arguably the best on the drive, is near the road summit at 11,700 ft. A paved trail leads to a small overlook with views of Forest Canyon and its tributary canyons, Hayden Gorge and Gorge Lakes. Here the erosive force of glacial ice is unmistakable.
This is also where we saw our first and only marmot on this trip. He caused quite a stir among all the visitors before hurrying into its hideaway.
Many Parks overlook was our final stop on the way back to Estes Park. This scenic vista is a great viewpoint for the low-land meadows of Moraine Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, and Horseshoe Park Meadows with Deer Mountain and Longs Peak as the backdrop.
When we got back, May had to leave for home. Olivia and I had a great last dinner at Ed’s Cantina before departing home the next day. I did manage to squeeze in one last hot tub that morning! We were so sad vacay is over! It was a fantastic week and we both looked forward to visiting Colorado in the not-too-distant future.