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
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
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
frequently shouting, and I quote, “WHOOOOOO.”
It was enough to make me contemplate REDRUM.