Day 5 – OK, so it can reaallly rain

I woke up to a cloud filled sky, so I just kind of hung around camp for awhile before I made up my mind to go.  I headed into the park planning to go on a fairly long hike, but as I got closer to the trailhead, the clouds never seemed to clear.

Rather than having to hike in the rain, I decided to drive the Trail Ridge Road up to the Alpine Visitor Center, which is at the midpoint of this road .  This is the same road I’ll be taking tomorrow on the way to Utah, so I figured I would save time by getting some of the photo stops in today.  The Alpine visitor center is situated at 11,796 feet above sea level which makes it the highest visitor center in the entire National Park System.

It was a nice cool morning, so I drove with the top down.  The temperature drops rapidly as you ascend so I had to put a sweatshirt on about halfway up.  I made a few stops along the way and took lots of pictures.  It was cloudy so the lighting wasn’t great, but I still got some good shots.

At the visitor center is a short hike up to a scenic viewpoint at just over 12,000 feet.  I hiked up there only to have the batteries in my camera run out – and wouldn’t you know this was the time I left everything in the car.  Oh well, I went back down to the visitor center, had some lunch, grabbed new batteries and headed back up.

As I was on my way back up, I noticed lots of rain cells over various peaks and one that appeared to be headed my direction.  I hustled up to the top, snapped a few pictures and got back down as fast as I could.  I couldn’t believe I was passing people going up – most with no rain gear whatsoever, and it was only about 55 degrees as well.

I made it into the visitor center just in time to miss the downpour and hail and luckily stayed dry.  I hung out there for about an hour waiting for the rain to let up and then listening to a ranger talk about lightning – very appropriate topic!  He also explained that the afternoon thunderstorms were more or less a daily occurrence during the summer due to the morning heating of the east and south faces of the mountains – now I find this out!

I made it back to my campsite about 3:30 and decided to take in a movie – Pirates of the Caribbean as I didn’t feel like hanging out at the campsite.  The movie was pretty good, I’ll definitely see the next one, just to know how things wrap up.  As I walked out of the movie there was a huge thunderstorm blowing through, so I hung out in the lobby for about a half hour waiting for it to let up – no sense going back to the campsite just yet.  Afterwards, there was a tremendous double rainbow that I snapped a couple of pictures of.  An for about a half hour after the rain stopped, the clouds were making all sorts of spectacular patterns in the sky, got some pictures of those too.

The good news is that through all the rain today, my tent stayed nice and dry – OK there were a few drops that managed to sneak through but they wiped up easily.  I’m looking forward to the next couple of days as I’ll be out on the basin and range area of Colorado, Utah and Nevada which are arid regions.  So I should stay dry at least until I reach Yosemite.

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