Wednesday, June 22, 2016

DESTINATION: Kawuneeche Valley, RMNP, Colorado

On our second day in Grand Lake, Colorado, we drove Trail Ridge Road (the highest continuous paved road in the United States) through Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Visitor Center Sign
Grand Lake is considered the West Portal of the Rocky Mountains and the entrance to the park is just a few miles from the town itself.  At the Kawuneeche Visitors Center we stopped and bought a park pass and got the first stamp needed for our geocaching tour.  There are four visitor centers in the park and we needed three out of four stamps from the centers to earn the big geocaching prize!

On the west side of RMNP, Trail Ridge Road runs parallel to the Kawuneeche Valley. Kawuneeche means "valley of the coyote" in Arapaho language. This valley runs almost directly north to south and is a marshy valley made up by the Colorado River.

Kawuneeche Valley floor

Our first stop in the valley was the Coyote Valley Trailhead. The trail is an easy hike of less than a mile and is on a level graveled path.  We parked in the small parking area and began a hike that traveled westbound for about a tenth of a mile until we came to a footbridge that crossed the Colorado River.  At the bridge we were less than 10 miles downstream from the Colorado's headwaters.  From this point the Colorado River travels another 1400 miles before spilling out in the Gulf of California.  

View of Colorado River from footbridge
 
Colorado River flowing through Kawuneeche Valley

We stopped for a moment to take in the views of the Never Summer Mountains and the western slope of the Continental Divide. We were sad to see the condition of the lodgepole pines in the RMNP and how they have suffered due to the pine beetle infestation.
 
Never Summer Mountains

At another four-tenths of a mile we reached the end of the trail, or loop, and turned to walk back to the parking area.  We had hoped to see moose, elk, or coyotes in the valley but on this hike the only wildlife we saw were various birds. 

Spotted Sandpiper

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