Having a plan is good. Knowing when to change it is better.
When I left home at 4:45 this morning, I intended to take a long hike up the Colorado River. Instead, I took four short hikes.
My plan began to change shortly before sunrise as I reached the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. I stopped there because I needed to use the facilities and realized that a few minutes later I could be on a mountain top in first light. That was my first short hike today.
The Alpine Visitor Center is near the top of the park at 11,796 feet. From there is a steep but short trail to a knoll at 12,005 feet. Since it was there and so was I, I went.
Of course, I was cold, as I have been every morning that I was there. But the wind was still, so I was warmer than on my previous trips there.
About an hour and 50 pictures later, I went back down to the Alpine Visitor Center. At the height of the summer it’s so crowded that even finding a parking space is a pain. But my SUV was the only vehicle there this morning.
I drove on toward the Colorado River on the west side of the park. Along the way I stopped to look around at the Medicine Bow Mountains overlook. A sign says the mountains are 20 miles away and Wyoming is 35 miles. While I had driven by the overlook many times before, I never noticed an unmarked trail that isn’t on any of my maps. But it was there and so was I, so I went. I saw this pond.
The third short hike took me down to Lake Irene, which the sun was just reaching.
Finally, my fourth short hike was the one that I had planned along the Colorado River near its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park. Only at 9:50 — almost six hours after I got up this morning — did I reach the river’s trailhead. After half a mile, I came to a bridge over one of the West’s greatest rivers.
By then thunderclouds were forming. I returned to Suzy at 11:15 just as thunder, lightening, and heavy rain began to come down.
I had checked NOAA’s online weather prediction for the Alpine Visitor Center last night. The chance of precipitation was only 10 percent today, it said. So I was greatly surprised by the morning thunderstorm. However, my timing was so perfect that hardly a drop fell on me — then.
It was time to return home. Back up over the Rockies the rain came down even harder. Near the top of Trail Ridge Road at about 12,000 feet the rain stopped — and turned to snow.
Then, I just had to stop my SUV and get out in the snow. Not because of the novelty of snow in September, but because of snow on sheep. I saw five bighorn sheep not far below the road.
Otherwise, I had a wonderful morning. Sometimes spontaneity trumps the most considered plan.