Early-afternoon thunderstorms frequently pop up in the Rocky Mountains, they said.
Last year when we visited our middle son in the Denver area, we drove up – literally, up – to the Alpine Visitors Center in Rocky Mountain National Park first thing in the morning. After a respite there at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, we started down the mountain, and heard a thunderstorm up there. We never saw rain, but we knew the mountaintop got it.
We weren’t so lucky this year.
There are several roads to reach the Alpine Visitors Center. A year ago we took the narrow Old Fall River Road. This time we went through Grand Lake.
Grand Lake, population 495, has a pretty waterfall that’s a popular tourist destination. As we returned to our rental car from the waterfall around lunchtime, we heard the obligatory thunder.
We watched the storm roll in. Grand Lake didn’t get the worst of it – more on that in a minute. But Grand Lake did get hail. We watched it bounce off the roof of our rental car.
That’s not unusual, several locals told us.
After the rain and hail stopped, we continued into the mountains. We drove past a visitors center to the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance, where we would begin the Trail Ridge Road drive up to the Alpine Visitors Center, almost 4,000 feet higher than Grand Lake.
But wait. We saw a “road closed” sign.
The park employee at the entrance booth told us the storm caused accidents on Trail Ridge Road, so the park closed the road for cleanup and to ensure that it was safe for passage. He gave us no details on when the road might reopen.
We turned around and poked into the visitor’s center. A parks employee there was on the phone seeking details. None were forthcoming. “The road might reopen later this afternoon or it might be tomorrow morning,” he said. “You might want to wait a couple of hours and check back.” He gave us a phone number for recorded road updates.
After watching a 23-minute film about the park, my wife, son and I retreated to our rental car, where we played several card games while we decided what to do. We called the number a couple of times.
Finally, after nearly two hours there, the road opened. We learned that a motorcyclist lost control in the rain and sleet, but he was not seriously injured. Once the wreck was cleaned up, park officials waited until the weather cleared to reopen the road.
We were glad we waited.
Once we reached the Alpine Visitors Center, we saw a rainbow between the mountains below us.
The drive down the other side of the mountain to Estes Park was beautiful. At one point, we saw a little snow on the side of the road.
When we reached our motel in Estes Park, we saw air dryers on full blast in the lobby. Rain from the storm had flooded it.
We left humid 90-degree weather in northeast Ohio to make this trip. After the storm, the temperature dropped to about 40, with little humidity.
As we left Estes Park the next morning, we stopped at a miniature golf course we enjoyed last year. It was closed this time – due to a lightning strike from the storm.
The storm came up fast and didn’t last long, but packed a powerful punch.
Since this was the third year in a row we’d visited the Denver area, we didn’t do as much sightseeing this time. We hung out with our son and played board and card games. We took the one overnight into Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park.
On Labor Day, we attended a Colorado Rockies baseball game against the San Francisco Giants. The Rockies are in the midst of a heated playoff race, so we thought we’d see a good game.
We did. In the first inning, the first four Rockies scored – single, home run, double, home run. We saw six home runs in the thin mile-high air, three by each team – including two by Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, good for 5 runs batted in off of Giants starter Madison Bumgarner. (In the photo, Story hits this first-inning pitch from Bumgarner into the left-field seats.)
But it almost wasn’t enough.
In the top of the eighth inning, the Giants did something I’d never seen before: They hit back-to-back pinch-hit home runs to turn a 7-5 deficit into an 8-7 Giants lead.
In the bottom of the eighth, Rockies pinch-hitter Noel Cuevas hit a two-run single to give the Rockies the lead again. After closer Wade Davis struck out the side in the ninth, the Rockies won, 9-8.
Denver Botanic Gardens
A couple of days later, we visited the Denver Botanic Gardens, which we had done once before. It’s beautiful. It’s nestled on 24 acres between an upscale neighborhood, a park and apartment buildings. It’s a peaceful, soothing place to enjoy nature and see plants from around the world.
We closed our vacation by watching our son play in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. That’s one of his passions, and he’s very good at it.
We are thankful for family and God’s creation, both of which we enjoyed on this trip.