I got pretty excited when my friend told me her parents were going to stay at The Stanley Hotel during their visit. It was, after all, the inspiration for The Shining. I hadn’t realized that hotel was so close by, and asked where it was exactly. She told me it was in Estes Park. Then I had to ask where that was. Just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Hm, I thought, a little park outside of a huge park. It seemed a somewhat odd arrangement, but Colorado certainly has more than its fair share of parks. I asked if there was a fee to get into Estes Park to see the hotel. She sounded somewhat confused by my question, but assured me that Estes Park was free.
Not until we were going up there to tour RMNP with an out of town friend, & see the Estes fireworks, did it dawn on me that Estes Park is not a park. It’s a city.
If you’re from Colorado, you’re probably thinking I’m an idiot right about now. But if you aren’t, you might be thinking a big “Ohhhhhh.” I assure you I’m not the only person to get confused by naming a city a park. That very same evening, on my drive home, I was reviewing my 4th of July to an out-of-state friend, and I had to give the ‘Estes Park is not a park’ explanation.
For anyone else unfamiliar with Estes, I’ve compiled this brief list of imaginary Frequently Asked Questions, based on one afternoon there.
Q. Is Estes Park touristy?
A. Yes. In fact, they seem to need to hire in European help for the summer season. This can be good or bad, depending on your desires and expectations.
Q. Is Estes Park over priced granola?
A. Yes. A sandwich and fries will run you about $11 with tip, no drink. Within a single tiny strip mall is both a very righteous coffee shop selling fair trade organic coffee they roast themselves, and a jewelry store that makes their baubles out of dead butterflies, shunning the environmental impact of gemstones.
Q. Is Estes Park interesting?
A. Yes. I was impressed that such a tiny mountain town had their very own roasting company, which gave out free stickers. In the very same strip mall was a store that made jewelry out of sparkling butterfly wings, aspen leaves, and rose petals in acrylic. The aspen leaves were my favorites.
Q. Is Estes Park scenic?
A. Absolutely. Nestled outside of RMNP, every way you turn is gorgeous. The Victorian styled Stanley, built by F.O. Stanley (inventor of the Stanley Steamer), is perched up on the hillside, and is visible as you approach the town.
One day was just not enough to give the area. Our brief drive down Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the United States, did not even cover half of RMNP. It was a rare Colorado day where the clouds were everywhere, sneaking and curling through the mountains.
We were also lucky enough to see three huge elk, munching at a rocky waterfall just beside the road. Unfortunately they were being guarded by the meanest park ranger in the world. He screamed at me for leaning out of the window to take a picture. Then after we parked, he yelled some more when I tried to walk around a woman who was just holding her camera out minute after minute, never even taking a picture. What was she doing? I have no idea. And why was that park ranger such a crab? As my friend pointed out, he only has the most awesome job in the world. To be fair, he didn't just scream at me. He was screaming and shrilly whistling at everyone in the area.
Elk didn't feel the need to confine themselves just to RMNP though. A rather large herd was contentedly munching on a golf course in downtown Estes, presumably in preparation for the evening's fireworks.
A word to the wise: Estes got much colder after sundown than I was prepared for. And thanks to the rain, the ground was all wet, so I was sitting on my jacket rather than wearing it. I'll be honest. The fireworks were not the best I've ever seen. There were some awkward pauses, and a slow firing rate. However, by virtue of being fireworks, I loved them.