I am posting this article to my blog today, rather than yesterday, because I spent yesterday afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is the time of year when the aspens are changing color and I thought it would be fun for my wife and I to get out on an overnight to Winter Park. Rather than taking the normal route over Berthoud pass I decided to mix things up and take her over Trail Ridge road in RMNP. She had never been on the road before and I wanted her to see some of the incredible scenic vistas, especially of Longs Peak, to be found along the way. So yesterday morning we threw some things in a bag and headed out to Estes Park, the eastern entrance to RMNP.
We like to get out and hike rather than just drive along the road when we are in scenic areas. I had done some advanced scouting and discovered that Trail Ridge road runs along an alpine ridge that contains two official twelve thousand foot peaks. A foot trail, named the Ute trail, runs along the crest of the ridge while the roadway snakes its way along several hundred feet below. After looking at the topo maps of the area if seemed obvious that starting at the Alpine Visitor Center and accessing the Ute trail would allow us to hike to the top of those two summits. The plan was set and we were on our way.
We made the easy drive to Estes Park and approached an entrance station to RMNP. There were five lanes of traffic at the entrance and each of them was open. Each lane had several cars waiting in line and a seemingly friendly ranger stood in the roadway moving his arms in such a way as to indicate which lane had the shortest wait time. I followed his motioning and moved to the lane next to where he was standing. As I approached him I rolled down my window and he immediately accosted me verbally. He shouted "Slow Down!" even though I was barely doing 5 mph. He then asked for my season pass. I informed him that I did not have one and he told me that the lane he was motioning for me to enter was for season pass holders only. With a disgusted look on his face he told me to get into another lane. We got into another lane, paid the $20 trespass fee and were on our way. That was my introduction to the government agents that work at RMNP. They are just like any other agents of the government of the Socialist Democracy of Amerika in that they are surly, rude and see customers as a hindrance to their personal happiness. I should have known what I was getting into but I proceeded blithely onward to my doom.
The park was crowded yesterday but we did not mind. Going more slowly on the road afforded us more opportunities to look around. We drove through the lowlands and were soon rising sharply to Trail Ridge. We breached timberline and were treated to some fantastic vistas of Longs Peak, the Mummy Range, the Never Summer Mountains and other peaks with which I am not familiar. It was a perfect weather day and we were very much looking forward to our planned hike to the two twelve thousand foot peaks. We could see the summits as we drove along below them. Soon we were at the entrance to the Alpine Visitor Center, where would park and pick up the Ute trail back to the summits.
The first thing we noticed about the Alpine Visitor Center was the fact that it was way too small. We had to circle the small lot twice just to get a parking spot. Others were doing the same. Parking was not permitted along the roadway and the lot was far too small to accommodate the demand for parking but the rangers did not seem to care. After slamming several cups of coffee on the drive up we both needed to use the bathroom. We found the bathroom on the far end of the parking lot and noticed a long line, stretching well into the parking lot, of folks waiting to relive themselves. We passed on the opportunity to wait in line and made plans to take a nature break along the trail. I could not help but think to myself that no profit seeking company would ever treat customers the way we were being treated. Ease of parking and access to clean bathrooms is a must if one is going to make a profit. But government does not make a profit and it does not care about the convenience or comfort of its customers. All it does care about is dispensing propaganda about what a great thing it is and how nothing would exist in its absence.
After finding a place to park we got the packs out of the car and started looking for the junction with the Ute trail. I could see the trail coming up from below and I could see it rising up the ridge and it appeared as if the junction with the parking lot was behind a large red sign informing us that the area we need to go into was closed. I wandered over to the sign and had a look about, confirming my belief that it was in fact the trailhead for the Ute trail. Not being able to access the trail there we hiked up the road a bit and looked for a place to head uphill to intersect the trail. Unfortunately, every reasonable place where we could have done so had a sign informing us that the area was closed for "Tundra Repair." I looked around at the many square miles of tundra surrounding us and saw precious little of it in need of repair but who was I to question my government superiors? We returned to the parking lot.
I noticed that a door to a room just a foot or two behind the "Area Closed" sign was open and there appeared to be several rangers milling about inside the room. We decided to ask them for advice on how to access the Ute trail. We took two steps beyond the "Area Closed" sign and I peered into the room where three lady rangers were standing. One lady ranger saw me and practically screamed, "You are not allowed to be here!" She quickly barked orders to a junior lady ranger telling her to shut the door post haste. The junior lady ranger shut the door and stood outside with us. I told her we were looking for access to the Ute trail and she informed us that the entire trail was closed for tundra repair, never to open again because of all the damage hikers like us had done to a minuscule percentage of the total tundra in Colorado. I could see there was no point in talking to her as she was only interested in lecturing us about how man is evil and nature is good and government is god. We walked away, back to our car, in disgust.
We threw our packs back in the car and finished the drive of Trail Ridge road. It was a beautiful scenic drive and we took some time to savor the area when we finally got outside of the park at Grand Lake. The moment we crossed the "Park Boundary" sign it felt as if a giant weight had been lifted from our bodies. Government rules and regulations are powerfully oppressive. The lack of freedom found within RMNP is oppressive. That is why I am writing this blog post today. If you love freedom, avoid RMNP like the plague. I asked my wife as we left the park to shoot me if I ever say I want to go back again. She promised to do so.