Piney Mud

One might expect tourist crowds in a national park to be somewhat smaller on a Thursday mid-afternoon. But apparently the people come out in droves for Rocky Mountain National Park regardless of the day.

Many are friendly trail users who offer a “Hello, how you doing?” as they let you pass or overtake you on a steep stretch. Most are there for the same reasons I come — the smell of pines, the physical challenge, a photo opportunity, a quiet visit with nature. But there are always a few tourists.

They wear sneakers and jeans and Michigan sweatshirts, rarely prepared and often oblivious, the tell-tale signs of RV road warriors. They bring grapes for their kids, who inevitably drop them on the trail to mingle with the piney mud. The green orbs never last long thanks to the booming population of chipmunks, who are about as timid as the park’s elk herd (which means not much at all). Some of the tourists let their kids throw snow at each other, which means they also throw it at passing hikers trying to escape the crowd. We were pelted today by a 6-year-old aiming for his mom, who seemed not to notice.

About a mile or so in, the tourists usually turn back; they reach the less-worn sections of trail and decide today is not a day for bouldering, especially when you’re wearing Crocs. But there remain a few determined visitors.

On the way down from Mills Lake (which we didn’t quite reach, thanks to a washed-out bridge), around 1 p.m. amid burgeoning thunderheads, we ran into a family with a 20-something daughter who asked how far it was to the lake. It was at least another mile up from that point, and we tried to discourage their ascent based on the bridge, which meant they wouldn’t reach the glacial lake anyway. I should have told them explicitly to turn back — I should have said, it’s 1 p.m. on a mountain in Colorado in late May, and you ought to be going down, not up. But they wouldn’t have listened, which I could tell from the determined look on the parents’ faces. At least they had jackets; I hope they turned around when the rain started in earnest.

Oh well. Maybe we’ll try our luck on a Wednesday next time.

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