Day 5 – The Roller Coaster

Heading into Rocy Mountain National Park

After what felt like a very successful day of painting at Red Rock Park, I was ready to put in a few more miles and head for Rocky Mountain National Park. Although I have gotten behind in my writing, I did manage to come up with titles for each day I didn’t write. Sort of my own little cue for my strongest impression on the day. Actually it seems to work better that way. Starting out the day with an entry might not have the same flavor working off of a single phrase that sums up the day.

As earlier stated, this was the day to head for “the Rockies”. Remembering 15 years ago when we first came here with our kids I was thinking it would be fun to go back to Bear Lake and paint that. It was where we’d come for a short hike after an exhausting overnight backpacking hike in the Tetons. It was just so we could say we’d hiked here as well. Frankly though, we’d had our fill of hiking at that point. Telling myself this is a painting trip not a trip down memory land, I went into the gift shop/Ranger station located a mile or so from the entrance gates. I asked where a good place to paint was while purchasing more postcards. The clerk liked the question (I believe she was a retired person volunteering there, so someone who knew the park well). She pointed out a place on the map taped to the counter and told me I’d get a map at the gate. So, off I went, my painting location all planned.

I got to the gate, got my map and my pass which is good for a week and immediately made a wrong turn. It was the route to Bear Lake, not my painting spot so I turned around to get back with the plan. At the hairpin turn pull into the parking lot instead of making the full turn, roger that. Except when it did come time to pull into the parking lot it felt like it was too soon, so I continued on. There were lots of trees there sporting beautiful yellow leaves of Autumn, but I’d still be in New England if it was just about the foliage. I wanted great big mountains. As I continued on, I continued upward, higher and higher with more and more spectacular views. I pulled over frequently taking pictures but not yet finding the perfect place to paint.

Looking out from 12000 feet

When I’d made it to the 12,000 foot area, I once again got out to take pictures. There was a paved trail there which went further up than the road by a half mile. I was good with that so on foot I started up, reading the posts along the way that had encouraging messages. I was quickly winded by the altitude and I realized that was partly why those little sayings were posted along the trail, giving people an excuse to stop and catch your breath. After some amount of time I was reminded again of our hike in the Tetons and I needed to push on and make it to the top. It was then I thought, at some point in your life you must stand on top of a mountain. If at all possible some part of that journey must be by foot and must be hard. Both for the view and to say I did it. There is real joy in both I thought. This time it was a shorter trail though, I was alone and on a much different adventure.

Heading back down, past the Continental Divide

After reaching the top of the trail, more pictures and then I headed down. The wind was brutal. I was trying to convince myself to move the truck so I could paint from inside, maybe just a little 6″ x 12″ canvas. I decided to stick with pictures and continue on. By now though time was once again getting the better of me. I had passed the mid-way point and I needed to figure out if I needed to turn around to get back. I looked at the map and found there was another route if I continued on and exited the park from a different gate, pleased with my finding I was now more intently looking for a place to paint, minus gale force winds.

The Pacific side of the Continental Divide

As I got further down in elevation, the land leveled out some and there were some open fields and streams, just what I was looking for, except I wanted the craggy mountains, not the rounded tree covered ones. Then I remembered what Alice said, when taking pictures, always turn around. So I did, and there was just the scene I wanted to paint. I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish, but I got started anyhow, taking lots of pictures once again so I could finish at some later point. I was happy, I had the perfect spot and an exit strategy.

While I only got a start on this one, I know I'll be spending lots of time with this image.

At 4:00 I decided to call it quits, I had enough done and I had a two hour drive back on unfamiliar roads. With all my equipment back in the truck, my iPad set up with the GPS running I was ready to enjoy the ride back to my hotel. It wasn’t long after I had exited the park, took more pictures and settled into the driving that I was again talking to myself. What in the world made me think that because I had exited the park I was no longer going to be descending mountain roads?

At first it wasn’t too bad, and there were some interesting little towns I passed through. In fact I thought, tomorrow I’ll come back this way and take pictures of these places for my Main Street series. But the hairpin turns kept coming with more frequency. The slope had me reaching for the brake quite often. I was clutching the wheel and driving as carefully as I could. That’s when I thought up the title for this posting, it was like driving a roller coaster. I did regret not taking pictures of those interesting places along the way, because there was no way I was going back that way again! But then life is like that, remember the grandmother in the movie Parenthood?


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