Rocky mountain two miles high
by Wayne Wood
Two miles high.  
That’s the elevation of the highest point on the Trail Ridge Road, the section of U.S. Highway 34 that runs through Rocky Mountain National Park in Northern Colorado.
This means that you are driving along a smooth and wide two-lane blacktop road between two very pleasant mountain towns, Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the west, and in between find yourself at an elevation that tops out at 12,183 feet above sea level. That’s almost as high as Mount Fuji in Japan, and higher than many mountains that people have to like, actually climb. It’s almost twice as high as the highest point in Tennessee, Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies.
And to get there, all Sharon and I had to do was get in our rental car and drive. I find that amazing.
Here’s something else that’s neat: the road begins in a evergreen-intensive Western forest, and gradually with the gain in elevation, the trees get smaller until they resemble ornamental shrubs, and then, suddenly, the road is still climbing, but there are no trees.
You’re above the timberline in a tundra landscape that is suffused with an eerie beauty. There’s even a short hiking trail across the tundra near the Continental Divide. Here’s something to know about hiking above 12,000 feet: there is a lot less air up there. Seriously, I’m no athlete (as I can still hear the voice of my junior high gym teacher informing me), but in air that thin, I was out of breath in about 20 steps.
Luckily, before we had walked very far, we saw a marmot sitting on a rock, which served the twin purposes of  giving me an excuse to stop and catch my breath as well as giving me an excuse to use “marmot” in a sentence. Nice marmot.
And that wasn’t the only example of wildlife. As we drove into Estes Park, we saw an elk standing beside the road. Just standing there, as though he were some sort of ambassador of welcome from the Chamber of Commerce or something. We also saw a herd of elk on a nearby golf course, which, in my mind, would instantly make televised golf WAY more interesting. We even heard coyotes howling at night (but of course some of us can hear that in Nashville).
I looked up some publicity material on Rocky Mountain National Park, and came across this, which ran under the headline “Did You Know?”: “Daily during the summer, Rocky’s custodial crew cleans 102 toilets in comfort stations at trailheads and along roads. They also clean around 100 toilets in campground comfort stations, 30 visitor center toilets, and 35 toilets for park staff. That’s 267 toilets cleaned every day of the summer!”
This is why I would never make it in the highly competitive world of National Park Tourist Information. If I were trying to tell people interesting facts about a park, I would focus on the awe-inspiring and spirit-enhancing sights. It would never occur to me to focus on the toilet cleaning aspect of things, although there were certainly many toilets in the park, and they did appear to be well-maintained.
Speaking of well-maintained, we stayed at a historic hotel in Estes Park, the Stanley, which is a 100-year-old wood-frame building that has so much character that it inspired the setting for Stephen King’s “The Shining.”
Given that the book, movie, and mini-series involve a man who is hired as a winter caretaker in a haunted secluded mountain hotel, and who goes insane and attempts to kill his family, you might think that the Stanley Hotel would be eager to play down this connection.
Boy, would you be wrong. It turns out the Stanley is actually quite proud of its association with ghosts, insanity and murder.
• There is a video channel at the Stanley Hotel that plays “The Shining” all the time.
• There are REDRUM-brand chocolate bars for sale in the coffee shop. (This is, of course, MURDER spelled backward and figures in the plot of “The Shining.”)
• There are tours sponsored by the hotel that play up the alleged presence of ghosts in the hotel, and also highlight the role of the hotel in “The Shining.” 
• Our room even had a form on the table at check-in that asked guests to fill it out detailing any experiences of the paranormal experienced at the Stanley.
I regret to report that we were not awakened by any ghosts, spooks or spirits while staying there, although we were awakened by revelers leaving a wedding reception who saw fit to stand under our window for what seemed about three hours
frequently shouting, and I quote, “WHOOOOOO.”
It was enough to make me contemplate REDRUM.
To listen to Watching the Wheels audio version click here
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